Looking over the edge of the water, my reflection comes into view. The image looking back at me stretches out her hand and touches the surface. Here I am in this moment; I am a product of my past and a seed for my future. 2011 has begun!
14 months ago I left the USA and traveled to the northern part of Spain. I hiked over 500 miles from the French border to Santiago del Compostella and by such completing the Camino de Santiago. 2 months ago, I traveled to Italy to study religious history in Rome and find ‘paradise’ amongst the art in Ravenna. Today I leave the country once again to travel to Israel and Palestine, the Holy Lands, a place fertilized for centuries with human blood.
When I was a freshman in college, a beautiful friend of mine sent me a book called The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. This book spoke of journey that uncovered the soul of the world and in such a state of beauty, happiness was found. Coelho also wrote a book titled The Pilgrimage where he mentioned three pilgrimage trails; ancient roads where seekers wrote their lives and their tears into the ground. Those three pilgrimages concluded at Santiago del Compostella, Rome and the Holy Lands.
A year and a half ago, when my life altered from its predicted course, traveling to Spain was a fulfillment of a grandiose dream of engaging in pilgrimage on a traditional scale. Little did I know that a bit more than a year later I would be completing the triad. Nor did I know I would be studying comparative mythology or asking questions regarding the use of myth and ritual in peace building!
Last semester, I did a research project on a 4th century woman who engaged in what was called wandering monasticism. Egeria traveled extensively through Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa and while she visited many of the Christian holy places, she traveled to meet with dear friends, spread news of good works, and inspire others with her freedom. There were many other women who lived lives like Egeria and they formed a network of friendships across the continents.
In the 6th century, monasticism transformed into the cloistered lives we think of today. And while the remote romanticism of mountain top monasteries pulls me from time to time, America has instilled in me too great a sense of freedom and restlessness for such a life. Perhaps then, as a scholar of many different religious traditions, for the next month I will be more like Egeria wandering the land, visiting friends and learning as much as I can.