Packing Lightly


Give up the world; give up self; finally, give up God.
Find god in rhododendrons and rocks,
passers-by, your cat.
Pare your beliefs, your absolutes.
Make it simple; make it clean.
No carry-on luggage allowed.
Examine all you have
with a loving and critical eye, then
throw away some more.
Repeat. Repeat.
Keep this and only this:
   what your heart beats loudly for
   what feels heavy and full in your gut.
There will only be one or two
things you will keep,
and they will fit lightly
in your pocket.

-Sheri Hostetler, A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry

In the days before I left on my pilgrimage I carefully considered what to pack.  My husband and I are good about packing lightly and always travel only with carry-on bags (and that includes one backup just for the camera equipment!).  But as we considered what we would really need for our month away I was aware that this process was a metaphor for the whole of my life.  We live fairly simply in our small condo in the heart of the city, we share one car, but we do have endless rows of books and music on our shelves and a small collection of Northwest native art we love. When we returned home I did some purging, went through the closets and cupboards and discovered all manner of things gone unused for so long.  Even in our small space we live a consumptive lifestyle and end up with lots of “stuff.” 

While on our journey we each had a small rolling bag for clothes and a small backpack.  Even so, after dragging those things from place to place it occurred to me that wearing some sort of pilgrim dress day after day would be much easier. The two most important things I carried with me (apart from my passport and tickets) were my journal (seen above with me holding it on the train) and my camera.  These were the places I could inscribe our journey in words and images and I have gone back to those pages and pictures many times since our return.

We don’t tend to buy many souvenirs while traveling, just a couple of inexpensive but thoughtful remembrances. The etymology of souvenir comes originally from the Middle French, literally, the act of remembering; it is an object that reminds one of a certain place, occasion, or person; a tangible and visible entity; a reminder of past events; an entity that can cast a shadow (that last dictionary definition was my favorite of the lot).

My travel pin collection began unintentionally.  I had placed my “Oblate of St. Benedict” pin on my backpack before leaving as a reminder of the spiritual nature of my journey.  Then serendipitously I realized when we landed in Vienna that it was the Feast of St. Benedict, a connection I had not made prior to our journey.  My Benedictine roots were very important to me on this trip and so in each city we stayed in I added to the remembrances: (from left to right, not in order of our itinerary) Salzburg, Hallstatt, Vienna, Hallstatt (again — more on this symbol in another post), Oblate pin, Latvian flag, Riga, Munich, Schwandorf, and Brussels.  Now these souvenirs go with me through my days in ordinary time as a reminder of extraordinary journeys and a vast landscape– both internal and external — still to explore.

In Salzburg I found these replica antique keys in a small key shop across from our hotel.  I love keys and doors and often have dreams of discovering hidden rooms, so this has gone on my key ring as a reminder of the doors I am opening within myself.

Do you pack lightly? (both for traveling and life?) What are the things you could leave behind to lighten your load?  What are the remembrances you want to carry with you? What are the symbols in your life right now that would help you to remember the expansive journey you are on, the many doors you have yet to open?

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

**Make sure to visit this week’s Poetry Party and read the marvelous poems! **

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