Last month, I had the opportunity to spend five days at Sanibel Island, Florida. It was a magical time. I had planned the get-away to be a personal retreat of sun, beach, and books. It was all that, and more. I had chosen three books for the week — a memoir, a book of meditations, and a “beach read.” What was unplanned was that the three books had a common theme: pilgrimage.
What appealed most to me about The Book of Wanderings: A Mother-Daughter Pilgrimage by Kimberly Meyer (Little, Brown, and Company, 2015) is the telling of two parallel journeys, one with Dominican Friar Felix Fabri in 1483, the other with Kimberly and her daughter Ellie in 2011. The map at the front of the book is very helpful if you are not familiar with the changing geography of countries along the Mediterranean Sea. I wish that I had a more solid background in the history of the regions they visited, as well as the mythology that originated in these lands. The only place of holy sites in their pilgrimage that I have personally traveled to is Jerusalem, when my sister and I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2007.
The book I had chosen for reflection also had a pilgrimage theme. In The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within (Sorin Books, 2015), Christine Valters Paintner invites us to reflect on practices for the pilgrim, whether at home or traveling far away: hearing the call and responding, packing lightly, crossing the threshold, making the way by walking, being uncomfortable, beginning again, and embracing the unknown. The author also wrote the book that we have been using as our guiding text in “Photography as a Spiritual Practice.” In the fall, I would like to incorporate some of the chapters of this pilgrimage book into our photography class.
The Canterbury Sisters by Kim Wright (Gallery Books, 2015) was the third of the pilgrimage-themed books that I read on my beach retreat. Although it is a novel, it reads like a memoir and I will recommend it to my spiritual legacy class in the fall. It is a warm and touching novel about a woman who embarks on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral after losing her mother, sharing life lessons — in the best Chaucer tradition — with eight other women along the way. As they walk the 60 miles from London to Canterbury, each woman tells a story. The guide has promised that the best story would earn dinner for the storyteller once they arrived in Canterbury.
I said that it was a magical time. In future posts, I will describe some of my reflections and experiences beyond reading these wonderful books. When I returned home, I wondered how I might continue this retreat experience. In fact, en este momento (as my Latino friends would say), I am sitting on my lanai with (real) Colombian coffee, my books, and my journal. God is with me whether I am at home or on Sanibel Island. I won’t be going to the beach every morning, but hopefully there will be time today at the pool, with other soul-nourishing books.