The third chapter of Maggi Dawn’s “Accidental Pilgrim” is entitled “Armchair Pilgrim”. She begins by looking at the way that pilgrimage has developed to the point where “place” has become as important as the “person” who is remembered. Pilgrimage has also become popular with ‘non-believers’ who are looking for space, challenge and change.
Possibly the most renowned pilgrimage route is the Camino, which converges on northern Spain and the city of Santiago de Compostela. It is a gruelling challenge, and Maggi decides that she will tackle it. However, just before she is due to leave she is struck down by what turns out to be a form of auto-immune arthritis, which makes walking any distance painful.
She has to give up the idea of the walk, and instead is forced to consider, from her armchair, the whole idea of pilgrimage as an inner journey, where by reading and paying attention to life’s small details it is possible to make a journey of the imagination.
She particularly cites the example of the Desert Fathers and Mothers as those who went to a desert place in order to be better able to make the inward journey. This leads her to the practice of going on a retreat as a way of going to our own ‘desert’, where we can practice rhythm and be free from distraction to hear God’s voice. She discovers the importance of rest and slowing down as spiritual disciplines, and encourages us to discover our own pace for our own pilgrimage.
“Ignatius, de Maistre and Coleridge all seemed to be offering me the same piece of advice: I could read to distract and entertain myself until I was up and about again, or I could, through reading and paying attention to the minutiae of life, embark on a real journey of the imagination.” p113
“I can’t be a tourist by staying at home, but I might make a better pilgrimage in my own kitchen than by walking hundreds of miles, if this is where I learn to watch and listen to my own soul.” p114
“‘Oh, and by the way,’ he added, ‘don’t even think about praying for hours on end. There’s really no need for you to pray much at all while you’re here. We are praying for you, so you can relax. That’s why you are here.’ This was nothing like the punishing religion I’d been expecting. I had never in my life before been told not to pray!” p121
“My armchair pilgrimage, it was clear, was not a matter of running away, denial, disappointment or any other escape mechanism. I wanted an interior journey that would not only keep me occupied while I was laid up, but would also give me a means of coming to terms with life as it was for me at that point, in the discomfort of the present moment and the uncertainty about the future.” p134
“Of course our personal history matters, and extreme minimalism isn’t good for everyone. Nevertheless, being weighed down with too much paraphernalia that we no longer use or need is not a good place to be either. Choosing those things that matter and letting the rest go is a liberation; it makes a house easier to clean and cheaper to insure, and frees up time to get on with life.” p142
I can’t sum up the book any better than the author herself does – “In the end, whether by accident or on purpose, it’s not where you go but who you become that makes you a pilgrim.” – I found this book a helpful guide to use on the way to either destination