A Virtual Pilgrimage

Something in me shifted in October, and I have been unsettled since. Unable or unwilling to recognize, much less commit to, any kind of desire.

I am in a liminal space – for so many reasons.

As of Christmas this past winter, I lived half my life in Norway. The “fertile” half, in so many ways. Now, turning 54 this month, my life breaks neatly into a third chapter.

In many people’s minds, I will forever be an American. They call those early years the “formative” years. But those years were muddy and painful. And pain, left to itself, breeds more pain. I hurt people.

I remember all those years in school with the perennial essay assignments: “What Does it Mean to Be an American?” America has always been a dissonant song. A whole reflects something other than the parts. It’s hard to know exactly which is the illusion.

Regardless, illusions are a source of real pain.

I am no lotus blossom. But I have grown. In this foreign landscape –

dissonance has its own aesthetic.

I have hurt people here, too. But I have also nourished them. And that matters, as well.


I have left and long for my childhood faith. I have grasped at the rituals of faiths that were never mine.

I have listened and interpreted the events that appear in contexts of magical thinking.

And I have had a psychiatrist tell me not to be so quick in discounting magical thinking.

I walked to the entrance of the little church, “The Pardon of Assisi” in the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary.

Wishing I believed enough to walk on my knees.

In Ohrid this summer, I watched the pilgrims put their ear to the tomb of St. Naum to hear his heartbeat. Someone whispered that we hear our own heartbeat when we press our ear against any stone that way.

Maybe that is exactly the point?

One should never underestimate the truth of poetry manifested in stone- and in our very bones.

I’ve wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela for nearly 20 years. I have had the guidebooks on my img_20200410_0924435124935810112272171.jpgshelf and tried to figure out how to get a month that kind of privilege. By the time my children were grown, the route became so popular I dropped the idea.

Questioned my own motives.

I have been so fortunate to have traveled quite a bit already: Bishkek, Kyoto, Cairo…

In Crete, the summer hills are fragrant with oregano. Outside of Zagreb, the hills are covered with jasmine and juniper.

And I do not doubt the power of defamiliarization for personal growth.

The strangeness of the smells of herbs in a landscape, the strangeness of the smell of human sweat in a crowded marketplace in an unfamiliar town –

the familiar smells pervading a familiar architectural space against a background music of foreign vowels –

all make me question my knowledge.

Can make me question my knowing.

Why a pilgrimage?

Maybe it is nothing more than following my desire for devotion.

It’s interesting that devotion requires faith and the surrender of personal knowledge in a pursuit of a new personal understanding.

I have a faith that I cannot define. But I believe the language of God is Metaphor.

Metaphor is simultaneously the only thing that can be translated, and the thing that cannot be translated.

Metaphor is a means of action, not a state of being. It is life after death, it is the transference of experience: the pursuit of understanding, but never the presentation of knowledge.

I have to admit that all my life I have reached out to the community of the dead. It’s why I read. Why I love the marginalia and the forgotten artifacts left in the pages of used books.


It’s why I write. Why I have always written – to search for the thing that is greater than all of us, greater than a constellation of atoms. Metaphor is a call waiting for a response.

I want to walk where others have walked. What metaphors did their view provide them?

I want to participate – not pronounce.

Why a virtual pilgrimage?

Because I do not believe the Pyrenees hold secrets that the Jæren landscape does not share.

Because in our world – the way it is right now – I will still meet people intentionally taking the same route, who will be translating their experiences – not for me personally – but also in an effort to create community.

Because Amy Gigi Alexander has offered to guide strangers along the route.

And because a psychiatrist once told me not to be so quick to discount magical thinking.

Because I am at a starting point.

9 Replies to “A Virtual Pilgrimage”

  1. This was beautiful to read and take in. I struggle with all things spiritual although I also know there is so much beyond the mere teardrop that I know to be true. Having lived now for *almost* half my life in Germany and Italy, I see myself as entering into a new phase, more knowledge based. Last year I spent a good amount of time in the woodlands of St. Francis outside of Assisi. It wasn’t for naught that I was led there. Now to make sense of what’s happening, if there is a sense.

    The language of God is metaphor. I will take that thought with me into the pottery studio this afternoon.

    Stay well.

  2. I was struck by so much, but along with Diana I note “The language of God is a metaphor” and “Metaphor is a call waiting for a response.”
    Thank you, Ren


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