The remainder of Maggi Dawn’s book, “Accidental Pilgrim”, looks at times when everything seems to dictate that pilgrimage is foolish or impractical. The two chapters, “Pushchair Pilgrim” and “Armchair Pilgrim” look at times when the circumstances of our lives make pilgrimage more difficult or even, apparently, impossible. At times like theses, though, we have an opportunity to both adjust our lives and our preconceptions of pilgrimage in ways that make us realise that both are so much bigger than we previously believed.
“Pushchair Pilgrimage” looks at the times when our dreams and plans are threatened by unexpected changes in our lives, whose ‘timing’ seem to be awful and inconvenient; times when we feel tied down and restricted, particularly by our family circumstances.
With many stories and illustrations from her own experience of the adjustments to life necessary with the unexpected, though not unwelcome, birth of a son, the author leads us through themes like “life as pilgrimage”, the idea that Christians are “pilgrims and strangers” in the world and how the early Church developed this way of viewing life in a time when life was constantly threatened by persecution and where they lived in expectation of the imminent return of Jesus. She asks, “do pilgrimage and spirituality have to always be somber affairs or is their a place for joy and even fun on pilgrimage?”.
She examines the way that pilgrimage is often more about the journey than the destination, and considers the stresses and life-changing opportunities and challenges of travelling in the company of others not always of our own choosing.
Once again the personal stories are inter-twined with a trip through church history and helpful theological reflection.
“Perhaps, like motherhood, pilgrimage occurs despite imperfect circumstances and inconvenient timing. Perhaps, like motherhood, there is really no set of rules that qualifies you to be a pilgrim.” p70
“From what we know of the earliest Christian communities, there is little to indicate that they made pilgrimages in the same way that later generations did, and rather than travelling to specific holy places to carry out votive rituals or healing prayers, there seems to have been more emphasis on the idea of life itself as a journey.” p70
“But although this may have meant that the kind of journeys we associate with pilgrimage were unfamiliar to them, by constantly treating their homeland as a temporary camping space, they maintained a mobile, nomadic view of their life on earth. Christianity, in the early centuries, was not for those who wanted to settle down or make their home their castle.” p73
“But I was less sure whether a pilgrimage should be fun. Does it always have to be a serious endeavour, marked by penance and sober reflection, or is there room for joy in a pilgrimage? p75
“Christianity really doesn’t do itself any favours by turning virtue into the equivalent of a pinched, joyless existence, and there is really no basis for doing so either in Christian doctrine or in the biblical record – the opposite in fact.” p75
“I simply needed to admit to myself that there are forms of church that prove more of a hindrance than a help to me. I am not much at home in the strictures and rigid rules of reformed evangelicalism which seems to demand a spirituality without beauty and a life with no spontaneity, and neither does my heart lift to the excessively theatrical, ritualised liturgies of Anglo-Catholicism. The smoky patina, musty fabrics and chaotic clutter make me restless, and the underlying objections to women’s participation in church life leave me feeling desperate for some fresh air. It would be easy to conclude that I am not cut out for Christian spirituality at all, except for the fact that there are thousands of others like me…” p83.
“The Celtic peregrini seemed to speak volumes to my pushchair pilgrimages, not because my little voyages were particularly dangerous, but because rethinking one’s life in the new set of circumstances that motherhood brings is, in some respects, a journey of unpredictability that involves the loss of control over one’s own life and destiny.” p89
“In today’s language, when we speak of pilgrimage either literally as a physical journey or metaphorically as a description of a life of faith, the emphasis has shifted to the journey itself, rather than the destination. p94