Sacred Walking Stick

imageHow many times have I started down the path towards a healthier lifestyle?  Probably as many times as there are stars in the night sky.  Along the way, I did manage to complete such goals as achieving lifetime membership status in Jenny Craig and walking 10,000 steps a day while on a long, luxury vacation.  But those accomplishments weren’t sustainable for me, and I quickly fell back into old patterns once the goal was met.

I have made some smaller changes that have stuck.  Several years ago I gave up all forms of diet soda and other packaged no or low calorie drinks.  I switched to water…sometimes with a spritz of lemon or lime, or the more expensive version labeled Perrier.  Last year I gave up adding Splenda to my daily cups of tea.  What made that easy was spending several weeks in Ireland where it is difficult to find artificial sweeteners.  I went “cold turkey” while there, and now I am quite used to unsweetened tea.  But now it is time to make bigger changes.

On a recent visit to my primary care doctor, he strongly urged me to move headlong into a healthier lifestyle.  He warned me that “my numbers” were going in the wrong direction and it was “medically necessary” for me to make some changes…now.  But how to begin again?

In Christine Valters Paintner’s book, “The Soul of a Pilgrim,” she devotes a whole chapter to “The Practice of Beginning Again.”  She quotes Rumi: “Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times.  Come, yet again, come, come.”  (Inscription on Rumi’s shrine in Konya, Turkey.)

“Beginning again is about letting ourselves be surprised by God and encountering the familiar with holy wonder.  Instead of feeling cynical or dulled because of our experience, pilgrimage invites us back to our lives, open to receiving the gifts that are present even in the mundane.”  (“The Soul of a Pilgrim,” p. 106)

The changes I want and need to make require first a change in attitude.  Instead of grumbling to myself that it is time to diet and exercise again, I would need to re-vision what was before me.

“Pilgrimage.”  I would need to embrace the practices I had read about in “The Soul of a Pilgrim.”  Christine writes: “Beginning again is essential.  We fall away; we lose our will to persevere for so many reasons.  The problem is not with the waning of our inner fire and perseverance.  We are human beings and go through times of dryness.  What becomes soul killing is not returning at all….  We need practices to act as touchstones so they can sustain us during our journey.”  (“Soul of a Pilgrim, p. 16.)

One way for me to re-vision the exercise portion of my lifestyle was to see it as a pilgrimage.  But where would I go?  Isn’t a pilgrimage all about walking to a holy site, and along the way asking for God’s direction and blessing?

I recalled that in Sibyl Dana Reynold’s book, “Ink and Honey,” the sisters of Belle Coeur left their home near Vezelay, France and set off on pilgrimage to the great Cathedral of Chartres.  I checked google maps to see how far a journey that was.  140 miles to be exact.  Wow.  How long would it take me to walk 140 miles?  I considered trying to walk that distance during Lent, but then I came back to my senses.  Ok…what would be a reasonable time frame to accomplish this distance?  I decided to set my sights on walking 140 miles between now and when I would see my Belle Coeur sisters in the fall while on our annual retreat.

An important part of being on a pilgrimage is to find traveling companions.  So I invited some of my Belle Coeur Sisters to travel this Holy Road with me.  And they accepted!  We are going to check in every week, online, to see how our virtual pilgrimage is proceeding.  Then, when we meet on All Saints Day, we will be together as we complete this journey.

I needed a symbol, or a touchstone, to help me visualize my walking as a pilgrimage.  How about a walking stick!?!  I found a beautiful birch stick at Michael’s, of all places!  Then I decorated it with petit cadeaux, small gifts that I have been given through the years as I have walked along on my spiritual journey.

“Just for today, I am willing and ready to begin again.  Just for today, I will see my life with holy wonder.  Just for today….”

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