"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Friday, 5 November 2010

To be a Pilgrim or a Tourist

Are you a tourist or a pilgrim? Do you travel within the landscape of desire and greed, never fulfilled, seldom satisfied, always seeking something more? Or do you travel in a landscape of love, recognising the sacredness of the place you visit, the sacredness of the earth on which you tread, travelling as an earth pilgrim?

Pilgrims celebrate what they find with gratitude; they do not complain. Tourists find plenty to complain about: the bed not soft enough, the room not big enough, the food not good enough, the view not pretty enough. We all can recognise ourselves I am sure.

Last weekend I went to an excellent conference in London, “To be a Pilgrim or a Tourist,” organised by Resurgence. These were the opening comments from the editor of that wonderful publication, Satish Kumar, who introduced an excellent team of speakers for the day. We heard Rupert Sheldrake, Ursula King, and Peter Owen Jones, with poetry readings from Deborah Harrison and Martin Powell, and some lovely singing from Annemarie Borg accompanied on the piano by Gabriel Keen. Sadly Caroline Lucas Leader of the UK Green Party could not be there. Between them they gave us all plenty of food for thought.

Why, asked Satish, do we go on holiday? Why do we run away from ourselves and our homes and countryside, which is so beautiful; the autumnal colours are particularly spectacular this year. Why do we fly to far -flung places just to laze away time in some “paradise” that does not meet expectations, and contributing to the greenhouse gas emissions that are changing our climate?

That is all very well – and he has a good point to make. But…..

The previous day we had delivered harvest festival food goodies from our church to another church community in our diocese; in a very poor and run down part of the city. The traffic ground along at snail pace, the streets were dingy, no sign of greenery anywhere to relieve the landscape, apart from a few trees grimy and poisoned from being bathed in constant exhaust fumes.

I am no expert on eschatology, but as we drove through this gloomy and deprived suburban sprawl towards our destination it crossed my mind that God would be justified in weeping at what we have done to his beautiful creation, and I would not blame Him wanting to destroy such as this and start again. As Peter Owen Jones observed later in the day, we are travelling to get away from what we have created.

Satish lives in a very beautiful part of England and has all the wonders of nature on his doorstep. Not everyone is so privileged.

OK, so we want to get away on holiday but do we have to travel solely as tourists? Could we reintroduce the spirit of pilgrimage into our travel?

Yes we can and we should. Rupert Sheldrake, following on after Satish, gave us some ideas, and I’ll write about his thoughts in my next post …

The event was filmed with a view to showing it on the Resurgence website. As of time of writing this has not appeared, but the link takes you to the details of the conference and its speakers.

The photo is of the Priory Ruins at Walsingham, taken on my pilgrimage there earlier this year.

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