In times of pestilence and warfare, early pilgrims were forced to find safer alternatives to travel, and many walked the labyrinth, like the one embedded in the floor of Chartres Cathedral, in symbolic pilgrimage. Unlike a maze, which is designed with deceptive turns leading nowhere, all turns in a labyrinth lead the pilgrim toward the center, toward God, allowing one to free oneself of worry and to delight in the journey.
How might we reimagine pilgrimage during this time of COVID-19? Can we open ourselves to the movement of the spirit and imagine entering into a sacred space of beauty and deep spiritual inspiration in a journey safely close to home?
The inspirational messages of the saints that continue to resonate and inspire are certainly not confined by location. And since our options for travel remain limited, we, like early pilgrims in times of plague, have been planning safe alternatives to this in-person pilgrimage. In our other programs and activities, we are finding that virtual technologies (like Zoom) can offer creative ways to build sacred community. Large group activities help bind us together while small groups allow for more intimate sharing and discovery. Pilgrimages provide structures and companionship which enrich and encourage personal and community journeys closer to God. We invite you on such a journey with us as we walk in the footsteps of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi.
As the stories of these saints unfold, the glorious art which echoes their lives can be explored in new and creative ways and used as inspiration for a contemplative practice based upon these images. Designated private time for journaling and reflection helps deepen the personal experience. We will support one another in making space in our lives and locations for this journey and, with the aid of labyrinthlocator.com, we can find local labyrinths to walk as part of our collective journey. We are excited and energized as we reimagine pilgrimage to meet these challenging times. There is the possibility of being filled with great joy.
Won’t you consider joining us on Zoom as we safely walk in the footsteps of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi in May?
Margaret Benefiel, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Shalem Institute, has led or co-led ten previous pilgrimages to Italy. As a Quaker and a spiritual director, she finds great inspiration from Saints Francis and Clare. Dr. Benefiel is also a teacher and retreat leader and has served in various leadership roles in Spiritual Directors International and as the co-chair of the Christian Spirituality Program Unit of the American Academy of Religion. Dr. Benefiel is the author or co-editor of five books and numerous articles.
Chuck McCorkle, MSW has an undergraduate degree in Fine Arts and has long felt a strong spiritual connection with art and contemplative practice. In the mid 1980s, he relinquished his privileged role in the studio to follow a vocational calling to do AIDS work. In retirement, the call to service brought him to Sierra Leone to provide mental health support to an Ebola Response Team. To find balance and to feed the spirit, he has volunteered at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Phillips Collection, and the National Gallery of Art, where he is currently a docent. During his first pilgrimage to Assisi he was struck by the rich diversity of sacred space and visual art associated with Francis and Clare, all of which deepened his experience of prayerful renewal. He has collaborated with Margaret Benefiel in past workshops on prayer and forming spiritual support groups.