Lately, I have been very interested in a way of thinking that is often referred to as the “ancient-future” view of Christianity, one that seeks to recover what we know and can know of the ways of those first Christians, struggling in faith, struggling to live together before the creation of the institution that we know as “church”, and to take that knowledge and use it to forge a way of Christian living in the 21st century. It is this view of faith that has led to such movements as the New Monasticism, among others.
I however, have been approaching this interest, not by moving into a big house with several others, but by research (is anyone surprised?), and I have begun to read a series called The Ancient Practices Series, that includes books by well-known expositors of our time on the Abrahamic ancient practices: fixed-hour prayer, fasting, Sabbath, the sacred meal, giving, the observance of sacred seasons, and…pilgrimage.
It is only because of all this thinking and reading that I was able to recognize that I was practicing the act of pilgrimage this weekend. And I only realized it after the pilgrimage had begun, of course.
You see, for the past couple of days I have been in the city of Chicago. My original reasons for planning this trip were secular and silly, really: to visit the Christkindlmarkt in Daley Plaza (because there was just no way to go to Germany this year), to eat at the Frontera Grill (after a couple of years of watching Rick Bayless re-runs on Public Television), and to finally stay at a Kimpton Hotel. Oh yes, and to add to my frequent flyer miles total in my annual quest to maintain my Premier status.
But as the plane took off Thursday morning from Reagan National, my mind was flooded with memories…memories of all the times I had been to Chicago…all the times I had thought about living in Chicago…and all the times that life took a completely different turn.
As I find myself at another decision point in my life, a critical one, I was receptive to understanding my real reason for going to Chicago this December: I was going on a pilgrimage.
Now, don’t misunderstand, I have done everything on that list I gave you above, and I have more than enjoyed my stay at the fabulous Hotel Monaco in Chicago (in fact, I will, after this experience, always choose a Kimpton Hotel if it is available when I travel, as it is the first U.S.–based hotel group I have ever found to satisfy completely my pseudo-European tastes)…but as I have walked these streets (in the freezing cold) I have also remembered.
I remember the anticipation of my very first trip to Chicago, when I was moving to next door South Bend, Indiana, to attent the University of Notre Dame. We drove, and we stopped here to visit the Tutankhamen Exhibition at the Field Museum, on its first-ever tour of the the United States. I was so frightened of the big city that I wouldn’t park my car in a garage where I had to hand over my keys (no one had ever asked for my keys in Kansas City, after all). And there was that first big-city dinner at a french restaurant, where I had my first white wine ever (a nice Vouvray, as I recall, but what did I know about wine at age 19?). And then, there were the weekend drives from South Bend to Chicago, weekends spent in museums and roaming the ethnic stores and restaurants of Devon Street.
And after failure in Indiana and a return to Kansas City, I remember the anticipation of the train ride from Kansas City to Chicago on my return to the big city, when I came to present my first academic paper as a student member of the Schools of Oriental Research; I remember the desperate desire to study archaeology at the University of Chicago. The study that just wouldn’t happen.
A lot of life transpired between that moment and now, a lot of changes in how I live, what I am called to do and, well, who I understand myself to be. And it was really only possible to see this and feel it through the practice of pilgrimage. Brian McLaren describes pilgrimage as the act of leaving your daily life and seeking a new, unknown place where God will show us something that we need to learn. Well, Chicago may not be a new and unknown place, but it has definited provided me with a pilgramage experience.
And some nifty new ornaments for the tree.