How to Be a Pilgrim
Air travel is like
ancient pilgrims walking on their
knees, flight delays and narrow seats
offer their own kind of penance.
You jettison excess baggage,
leaving behind the heavy makeup case,
knowing the rain will
wash you free of artifice.
Books you wanted to carry left too,
no more outside words needed,
then go old beliefs which keep
you taut and twisted inside.
Blistered feet stumble over rocky
fields covered with wildflowers and you
realize this is your life,
full of sharp stones and color.
Red-breasted robins call forth
the song already inside,
a hundred griefs break open under
dark clouds and downpour.
Rise and fall of elation and exhaustion,
the tides a calendar of unfolding,
a bright star rises and you remember
a loved one waiting miles away.
A new hunger is kindled by the sight of
cows nursing calves in a field,
spying a spotted pony, you forget
the weight and seriousness of things.
Salmon swim across the Atlantic,
up the River Corrib’s rapids to the
wide lake, and you wonder if you have
also been called here for death and birth.
This is why we journey:
to retrieve our lost intimacy with the world,
every creature a herald of poems
that sleep in streams and stones.
‘Missing you’ scrawled on a postcard sent home,
but you don’t follow with
‘wish you were here.’
This is a voyage best made alone.
—Christine Valters Paintner
Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
I wrote this poem several years ago soon after arriving to Ireland and spending time wandering the landscape. It appears in the opening of my book The Soul of a Pilgrim, a book close to my heart because it explores what pilgrimage meant in my life after having embarked on a grand adventure, to see where the Spirit had led us and the challenges along the way.
Now, after having guided pilgrimage groups for the last six years, this all feels all the more true, an invitation to continue to deepen my intimacy with the world around me, to see how the stones and salmon, the birds and the tides, call me to new awareness of what it means to live a meaningful life.
This will be the final poem video for now in the series we have been creating for Dreaming of Stones. There will likely be more in the future as time and resources allow, as it has been an exhilarating project to collaborate with other artists and see how the poem’s layers are revealed in new ways. I deeply appreciate Luke Morgan’s work as a filmmaker on these, and his brother Jake who composed most of the music. I love how each video had its own atmosphere and emotional quality and took me on a journey through the imagery in new ways.
I invite you to read the poem once through slowly and see if there is an image that shimmers for you or sense of invitation that arises from it. Then watch the video and see if there are any other layers that are revealed.
You can order your copy of Dreaming of Stones. I’d be so grateful if you’d consider posting a review to Amazon.com and Goodreads! It helps authors so much in getting their book seen by a wider audience.
Want to dive into sacred poetry with me in Chartres, France? Join me June 10-14, 2019 for a transformative week of reading and writing poetry together (no experience necessary) and the chance to walk an ancient labyrinth. Step onto the threshold where new possibilities beckon. Register here>>
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Video © Christine Valters Paintner