The weariness of the pilgrim

I have been silent too long.  My intention to use this blog as a lenten discipline, to marshal and express my thoughts more clearly, and get used to doing so, has failed.  However, something has come out of my recent experiences which feels worthy of some exploration.

One of the hazards of pilgrimage that I have definitely experienced recently is genuine, visceral, shock.  Avoiding pilgrimage for a time, keeping oneself within a sphere which comes to feel familiar, if uncomfortable, makes restarting pilgrimage an unsettling experience.

Before going further with the question of pilgrimage, I think it is worth setting out my experience of the opposite.  My experience of attempted rootedness was in some respects a disastrous failure, though I met many good people on the way.  The problem with it was that it was precisely, in large part, an attempt to avoid pilgrimage, to shelter from a process which had got me not very far at all in my time living in Colchester. I arrived in Norwich determined that, come what may, I would find someone not horrendously uncongenial, and settle down.  I would explore the experience of ecclesiastical nest building, of making myself a home out of whatever materials I found.

What I learned is this.  The intention to build a home is all very well.  It is of itself a noble intention, if it is undertaken in the right spirit.  However, if the materials it makes available for nest building are in fundamental respects uncongenial, however attractive, it leads to a nest that can never be homely, never be heimlich.  It also leads to a kind of self-rejection, because this nest one has built doesn’t feel like home, so one feels simultaneously homeless, with all its attendant distress, discomfort and discomfiture, and incompetent, since one hasn’t even managed to build a basic shelter.  One finds some temporary alternatives, attempts to build others, but none of these are home, because none of them are within the space designated for the construction of home.

This creates a profound feeling of loneliness, an unbridgeable distance between oneself and those who, as far as one can tell, are finding their homes within the same space more congenial.  They are in the right place, and therefore in the right because they are congruent with the space.  Alienation, in a nutshell.

So one emerges – it cannot be any worse outside the former space, and the world outside may include a space within which a genuine home can be built.  Of course, during the time of stasis, the world outside became unfamiliar, and the layers of skin needed to encounter it without trauma fall away.  This adds inevitably to the trauma of pilgrimage, because the world outside is irreducibly different from the space previously inhabited.  Then there comes a shock – an unfamiliar voice, uncongenial in an unfamiliar way – which cannot be processed.  Pilgrimage, having been a nourishing experience, becomes an experience of pain and anguish, and the desire to continue reduces to a dread-filled since of inevitability.  One has left one place and not arrived anywhere else in particular, which must mean one is on pilgrimage.

In short, I’m tired, and I hurt.  Where is the empty tomb?  Is it more than a void?


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