Monday 16 June 2014

Journey as metaphor

I am just back from a pilgrimage: walking from Notre Dame de Paris to Notre Dame de Chartres. That's some 70 miles in three days, camping overnight en route.  The power of a journey, particularly a pilgrimage, as a metaphor for life is very ancient. 

Those who know me will remember my interests in the links between the physical, mental, social/emotional and spiritual or existential issues we face.  The research on the impact of all of these, on resilience in the face of increasing pressures, for example, is very powerful.  Each can support the others, and a deficit in any one is likely to impact on the others.

So a fairly gruelling walk, with a large number of people, some friends, some strangers, complete with meditations as we walked... well you can see why it appealed.

But I remain curious about the power of the link between the physical hardships (26 miles a day under a hot sun is quite tough!), the spiritual insights, the mental stamina, and the relationships one builds on the way.

Part of the power, of course, lies in taking the time away from all the busy-ness of normal life. I deliberately turned my mobile off at the start, and kept it off.  So there was plenty of time to reflect, prompted by the various meditations. Then there is the physicality: the need to keep putting one foot in front of the other, even when all you really want is a hot bath. And on top of that, the need to support others who may be struggling a little more than I am with the final miles. 

This was not quite Chaucer's trip to Canterbury, with everyone telling a story in turn; but friendships sprang up between people who might not ordinarily talk to each other.  And curiously, the tiredness and heat helped with that. The veneer of easy chat was stripped away by the rigours of the walk, and conversations seemed more authentic.

And then, of course, there is the exhilaration as one reaches one's destination.  As we arrived in Chartres the heavens opened, with the most almighty thunder storm directly overhead. Vivid lightning cracked the sky open, as we sang lustily to help us up the final hill to the Cathedral.

The final liturgy, in Latin, with bells and smells, plainchant and polyphony, in the glory of Chartres Cathedral, was quite stunning.

As I said at the start of this post, I am sure this is all a metaphor; now all I have to do is to work out what for...

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