I’ve been home from Italy for a week now, and I’m slowly finding the words to share what it was like to meet a group of pilgrims and journey with them.
In the wake of such a formative experience, I’m finding that slow is how I want to go. I want to slow down, to simplify.
Now that I’m back home, people keep asking what I did each day in Tuscany. On the surface, the answer is pretty simple: we woke up, walked for a few hours, ate lunch, walked a couple of more hours, arrived at the day’s destination, showered, washed clothes in sinks, I doctored blisters, we ate dinner, then went to bed.
Those were the days, one right after another. And yet, of course, it was so much richer than just that, about so much more than getting to food and the final destination each day.
We moved slowly. Always stopping to wait for the slowest person of the moment (often, folks waited for me to catch up or hung back to walk at my much slower pace). We prayed with each step. We shared stories and our reflections. We asked questions, both of God and one another. We asked for mercy and grace, both of God and one another.
Walking each day—sometimes 8 miles, sometimes 18, sometimes something in between—was the most physically and mentally challenging thing I have done. I was in a lot of pain, I needed the people around me, who were a constant source of encouragement and care, in order to keep moving.
Before beginning my journey to Italy I was thinking a lot about what it means to pray without ceasing; to keep my attention tuned to God’s presence. What my relatively short time on the Via Francigena taught me is that unceasing prayer is possible when I am fully present.
The journey, one step at a time, could only be experienced in the present. I couldn’t really plan for anything, but rather had to trust that I would have what I needed each day…really, each moment.
Sometimes what I needed was a bus and people willing to take a break from walking and navigate public transit in a foreign country with me. Sometimes what I needed was to know God was present as I breathed through the pain of blisters and kept putting one foot in front of the other—up one hill and back down and up and back down the next. Sometimes what I need was a breeze to give thanks for, sometimes a field of poppies. Sometimes I needed the songs of birds to focus my attention on and consider the way God provides and cares for them, even as God is doing the same for me and the rest of creation.
Now that I am home, I am leaning into the slow—I wrote this blog post by hand first, something I have never done before. I am savoring the present and asking my body what she needs to recover and thrive.
I am embracing the slow, repetitive tasks of laundry and dishes. I am dipping brushes into water and pigment and marveling at the color of the world, just as I did looking at the vibrant flowers spilling out of Italian windowsills.
I am finding the slower I go, the easier it is to tune to God’s presence and continue to discover what it means to pray without ceasing; even here in the busyness of the routine of life.
Because life here, at its core, is marked by the same things as my days on the Via Francigena. Everyday I wake up, I eat, I walk, I accomplish some things, I talk to some people, I rest, and then I wake up and do it again. It is the posture of pilgrimage that changes how I view the things that fill my days, though. Are they marked with gratitude? With a slow deliberate listening to God and to other people? With trusting God to provide and be with me step after step after step?
I want my days to be filled with these things and more. I’m practicing this posture of pilgrimage and discovering a bit more each day what it means to journey with God and with others.
I don’t have to be in Italy to practice pilgrimage, and you don’t either. My hope is that this post and future things I write will invite you to discover a posture of pilgrimage on your own journey of faith. I’ll be sharing more here and through other avenues in the days to come, but I invite you to keep your eyes, ears, and hearts open for the words “pilgrim” and “pilgrimage” as you move through your days and I’d love to hear what you discover along your way.