Pilgrimage into Compassion

Where do our journeys take us? Do we need to leave home to be transformed?

When April with his showers sweet with fruit

 The drought of March has pierced unto the root

 And bathed each vein with liquor that has power...

And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye...
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,...

Prologue to Canterbury Tales, Chaucer, 1388 AD

My daughter has gone on pilgrimage in this month of April, and so my thoughts have been much with the idea of making spiritual journeys. For countless eons folk have been moved to make such peregrinations.  For some it involves setting out; for others, the journey is inward. 

I was blessed with my own experience of crossing a threshold last Sunday evening. I had been graciously invited by Tom Granum to join his First Presbyterian Chancel Choir to perform a choral Lenten meditation, and I was transported into the grace-filled world of Dame Julian of Norwich, English mystic, 1342-c.1416.  The work, called “Light in Deepest Night” by A.D. Miller, is a contemporary piece based on the writings of Dame Julian, who spent most of her life as an Anchoress, walled up in a cell attached to the parish church in Norwich.  A typical anchorite’s cell had three windows; one into the sanctuary with a direct view of the Mass; one for service of food and removal of “ablutions”; and one to the outside world for the purpose of giving spiritual aid to supplicants. 

Dame Julian was born into a world gone mad.  The Black Death decimated the population of England by 50% during her lifetime.  Yet, remarkably, she saw everything in creation as a pure expression of love. Struggling to understand the pain and suffering all around her, she came to an understanding that “All will be well, all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well.”  And, though pilgrimage was a concept very familiar to the 14th century world,  she chose to stay “anchored” where she was, to transform and be transformed by what she found outside her three windows.  They became her thresholds; one to the sacred, one to the necessary, and one to service. 

Most of us are “anchored” to our daily lives and the vistas from our windows.  From time to time, we transcend the madness of the age and the strictures of our self-interest to see the sacred, to do the necessary, and be of service to others.  In other words, we go on pilgrimage into compassion.

I hold my pilgrim daughter in my heart and mind’s eye as she crosses the threshold of the Atlantic to reach the British Isles and on to her destination, the sacred Hebridean Isle of Iona.  She goes to find her own transformation and with it a way to transform the world. 

I wish her well.


Sara Baker April 13, 2011 at 01:25 AM
I love this, Lane. It is good to be reminded that we can journey even as we are anchored, and I having the three windows as metaphors is a tidy and salutary way to remind ourselves of the all the ways in which we are called to interact with life. The sacred and the necessary, I think, give rise to service. "All will be well, all will be well, all manner of thing will be well." Indeed.
Lane Norton April 14, 2011 at 01:40 AM
Thank you, Sara!


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