+ First, when the conferences are in NYC, I get to stay with my oldest daughter and husband who have purchased a condo in Brooklyn. Not only is that always fun, but it feeds my soul to reconnect with my children. They always feed my soul - even when we are at odds - and thankfully that is rare.
+ Second, it gives me a time away from the work of the parish for reflection. I always return refreshed and renewed both physically and spiritually. These events are filled with serious and authentic thinkers who are also people of faith. When I was younger I questioned the need for such times away - there were too many important things to be accomplished - and now I hope I am not in such a rush. Besides, as Niebuhr observes, really worth accomplishing will be bigger than my life time.
+ And third I have started to cultivate a sense of pilgrimage about these trips that adds another dimension. They are no longer just about the conference - or the difficulties involved in getting from one place to another - they are also about who I will meet along the way and what I will discover about myself.
A few years ago, for example, I found that returning to New York City terrified me. I wasn't physically afraid about crime, but I was overwhelmed at how fast the city moved. And how slow I had become - partially through aging - but also through contemplation. At first I wasn't sure why there was such anxiety rushing through my veins when I got on the subway. And then as the sweat poured off me it began to become clear that I no longer knew this terrain and needed more time to get my bearings. I now like to pause and make certain I'm heading in the right direction - and the NYC crowds already know where they're going!
I also came to realize that because I know longer know the drill, I feel like a rube. A sitting duck. At the very least a mugging waiting to happen until I get my "city attitude" back and can fake it. Back in seminary I used to have travel late on night on the subways - from Jamaica, Queens to the Upper West Side of Manhattan - and it always terrified me. But I was quicker and cockier back then - and I had a great street disguise, too that made me look like a homeless mad man - so NOBODY messed with me back then. Today... well let's just say I've been nurturing more of the tender warrior and it takes about 48 hours to get the urban groove back. Very humbling.
And I still love the pilgrimage. I meet the kindest most fascinating people on the drive - on the train - on the subways - and at the events. I am given the privilege to study and think deeply about art and spirituality and I embrace this as a sacred responsibility. And I get a chance to feast with two of my favorite people which is blessing upon blessing.
Once again I will travel solo this year because of Di's work commitments - and that always changes the nature of the pilgrimage - and I will miss her. I am ready for this next pilrimage to begin...
NOTE: After posting this I had a chance to sit and read the Sunday NY Times - one of my most favorite habits - and what do I discover by an article called, "Soulful Music at Its Heart" about a jazz club. Tillman's, at 165 W. 26th Street in Chelsea is just a stone's throw from my conference this week. Hmmmm.... looks like part of the journey is already being revealed. (www.tillmansnyc.com/)