“Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’” mountaineer John Muir once asked an interviewer. “It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’”
‘Why do you stay here, Father?’I asked. ‘Why don’t you leave?’ He gave the impression of a man in whom some small part had already died. There was already something missing. ‘I cannot,’ he answered. ‘Someone has to guard the church.’
“The hermitage garden is designed to provide a place where nature, scripture and Glendalough’s history are combined in harmony, delighting the eye, comforting the soul and leading pilgrims to prayer and a deeper awareness of God.”
One day last week I tramped through a dark wood, up a very steep hill, and around a couple of bends and came out at the edge of meadows and meadows full of…could it be?…I was pretty sure…heather! I’ve never seen my namesake flower growing in the wild so this was a rare thrill.
Pilgrimage doesn’t necessarily involve traveling, or traveling into the country. The journey is to our own hearts, and can thus take place in the poustinia (a sparse hut or room) of our apartments, or by walking through the streets of a city. Wherever we go, we go with bare feet—in spiritual poverty—and because we end up walking into the fragmented stones and sharp rocks of other people’s hearts, our feet get bloody.
My brother Joe is a 40-year veteran of the punk scene and frontman for The Queers.
We had a long zoom chat the other day, yukking it up about our childhoods on the NH coast, reminisching about our drinking years, and and giving thanks for having followed our respective callings. Watch it on YouTube!
I visited the house in Combermere several years ago and was awed by the community’s self-sufficiency. They grow or raise almost all of their own food. St. Benedict’s Acres, the community farm, boasts vegetable beds, cows, chickens, and sheep whose wool is sheared, cleaned, dyed, spun, woven and knit into products for gift shops.
I ever more believe that the “small,” the silent, the ones who ponder go a very long way toward keeping the world spinning on its axis. The ones who quietly devote their lives to searching for beauty and making things beautiful, and by beauty I include moral beauty.
Saint Kateri Habitats and Parks is a ministry that “inspires Catholics and all people of good will to restore and manage homes, yards, gardens, parishes, schools, farms, parks, forests, rivers, and wetlands as healthy habitats for people and wildlife.”