Editor’s Note: Guest contributor Tim Leadem begins 2023 with reflections on the lessons he has found as a practitioner and student of pilgrimages around the world. Spiritual writers often refer to life as a journey or pilgrimage. Tim’s writing has evolved from prose to poetry. Enjoy the compact power of each word in his reflections and their application as we begin another year of individual and community pilgrimage.
Steps, repeated in a pattern
And then meeting
The peregrinos.[i] The ohenros.[ii]
Along the way.
Each with a story of why
They too are stepping.
And at first the newness of the excitement
Of just being there
The destination is so far off to be unreal
And it is a foreign land
The weight on the shoulders is heavy
But the heart is full of that lightness that
Arrives with beginnings
The days unfold in pattern
Of coaxing the body into movement
The initial enthusiasm is long since faded
And instead persistence is the key
Each blazing sun to be witnessed
Each hill knoll mountain to be traversed or climbed
Each dusty path to be tolerated
All soon become a jumble of fleeting images
There are still events- almost miracles- where time becomes suspended
And the magic of the way takes over
But often too it is sheer tedious steps that take you closer
To where you meant to go all along.
The heart becomes heavy with memories or the reason that the journey had begun or
Any of the myriad stories that the heart tells itself
As it plods along
And the chanting of the heart sutra becomes languid and slow.
But still the daily cleansing rituals at the temples or the daily blessings from the churches continue. And each albergue,[iii] ryokan[iv]
Just when you have thought that it could not get any worse
A blister pops, an ankle is twisted, a bee stings, a thirst is unquenched or the heat becomes so oppressive
Even the conversation of friends does nothing
The dark days and nights
That the soul has to weather
And you search for answers to questions
That arise now incessantly
What began in earnest is now lost in shuffles
Of the doldrums
But still you sense there is progress
As you look for an exit strategy
The pace quickens
Like a horse returning to the barn
You realise that the
Journey does have an end
And perhaps you may spy afar in the distance
The fleeting mirage of the quest’s purpose
So there is this new found energy that had lain dormant
For so long
You burst out of the shackles and fetters that
To the quotidian existence of your days
The heart quickens
To keep up with the feet that are now stepping again in tune
Arrival and acceptance
Coincide on the last temple at the cathedral
Or you finish where you had started
For pilgrimages are circles of coming and going
A walking with intent of the spirit
One day you had no idea and the next
There you are walking upon the path
With a different perspective
Of the nothingness
Of our paltry existence
But now you have an open Heart
To all of the possibilities
And it is that state that allows
The grace to flow within.
[i] Peregrinos is a Spanish word for pilgrims
[ii] Ohenros are Japanese pilgrims who visit the 88 Temples on Shikoku Island and recite or chant the Heart Sutra at each temple.
[iii] Albergues are inexpensive Spanish hostels where many peregrinos (pilgrims) stay for the night.
[iv] Ryokens are rustic and traditional Japanese inns that pilgrims use
Thank you Tim. Your poem speaks to me deep down in my hidden feelings and emotions. I shall read this often in 2023 as my pilgrimage continues.
Tim. Your words bring back memories of my Camino de Santiago in 2018. I had hoped to go again last year but it didn’t happen. I have experienced the blisters, the alburgues, the sun, the thirst, all to find a hunger in my soul. My latest pilgrimages have been less physically taxing, but even still rewarding. Thank you for taking these blessed treks and describing them so accurately and beautifully.
Thanks Don, as an alum of the Camino, you know if which Tim writes. Enjoy your ongoing pilgrimage, Tom
Thanks Syd, indeed each day is a camino, each breath a step! Be well, Tom
You captured the range of experiences from enthusiasm to discomfort and how persistence allows grace to flow.
Thanks Daniel, for checking out this post. You speak as a pilgrimage veteran. Look forward to more on your journey. Tom