Monday, April 16, 2018

the tourist and the pilgrim...

Let me return to yesterday's "karma of the road" theme: there is a world of difference between tourists and pilgrims. This isn't an original distinction, to be sure. Phil Cousineau has been mining this vein since 1988. Parker Palmer, Pico Iyer and Jim Forrest have also penned valuable insights on this subject. And the best-selling Eat, Pray and Love by Elizabeth Gilbert wanders along this road, too. Having experienced both, however, we have clear chosen to travel as pilgrims.

In 1983 I traveled to the former Soviet Union as part of a study tour of US peace-makers. On many levels, it was a life-changing experience. And I will be forever grateful to the organizers, my local church, and my family for the privilege of participating. We spent time in Finland, Sweden, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, GDR and Denmark. Over the next decade I returned to the USSR three more times including two large tours I facilitated. Each encounter was holy ground in different ways for me and my understanding of the world was changed forever. But I will never lead another tour again nor participate in one - and here's why.

Americans in a group become obnoxious and demanding no matter how deeply committed we are to peace-making. When checking into our Russian hotels, too many of our crew resorted to shouting at the clerks when there was a language barrier. In Marshall Law Poland, where food rationing was the rule of the day, grown adults carried on like spoiled children when they were denied a second cup of coffee. Our crowd was too loud in public, too self-absorbed to notice, and too privileged to care. I've been on mission trips where those of us accustomed to our own comfortable beds carped constantly about having to sleep on lumpy cots for a few nights. Or refused to go on side trips after hours to see a town's night life. The ugly American syndrome put me off traveling as a tourist big time.

So did the structured pace of the tours. I understand that there are mechanical necessitates to moving 50 people from point A to point B. Such realities require careful attention to time. Still, over and again, most of our departures were delayed by people who believed the rules didn't apply to them. They went off shopping 20 minutes before the bus was to leave without telling anyone. The same disrespect born of privilege was in effect in moving the luggage of our ensemble. By luck of the draw, I was assigned to moving baggage on and off various trains. It was explicitly stated in our pre-instructions that all luggage needed to be modest in size and able to be managed by its owners. But time and again, our peace-makers violated this simple courtesy by bringing HUGE and HEAVY Samsonite bags that they couldn't even move by themselves when empty.

I still had a blast and learned a ton on each trip. On our mission trips, too. But collectively they showed me I when I travel I want to do so as a pilgrim rather than a tourist. The biggest difference between tourists and pilgrims is soul. I am not making a moral judgment here as I understand soul simply to be an inner yearning to go deeper. Some among us love the fast pace of cruises zipping from port to port each night so that the morning can be filled with new locales, adventures and shopping. I know and love people who can't wait for the buzz of resorts. The thrill of Disney World-ish/Club Med-like excursions offering a myriad of luxuries and fantasies brings them unimaginable delight. These good souls include introverts and extroverts, Republicans and Democrats, women and men, young and old, gay, straight and bi. Tourism provides a hassle-free break from the ordinary. It is a safe, clean and standardized way to be cared for by others for a spell. And, I suspect that for some who live in one of the various pressure cookers of our culture, tourism provides a respite from the bottom line.

Believe me when I say that I get the need to "get away." For almost 40 years, we have practiced taking regular "mental/spiritual health" retreats. But I have not personally found anything relaxing or even interesting in travel as a tourist.

+ First, I need relative quiet when I get away. At least half of our time away is spent sleeping: long afternoon naps, luxurious late morning breakfasts after being out late, rest without reference to a schedule. To say that I seek a degree of solitude while on pilgrimage would not be an understatement.

+ Second, I love to walk and explore when the Spirit moves rather than go on pre-arranged events. Indeed, I resist schedules of any type on our trips. Sometimes my back hurts. Other times I crave quiet time. And almost always we both don't want to start the day until sometime past noon. This is impossible to do in a group setting.

+ Third, I like to learn the stories of the people all around me. I want to know where they shop, what they eat, what is of value to them each day, and how they find meaning in their lives. So, time and again, I find myself sitting at a sidewalk café - or in a jazz bar - watching people saunter by. And if it happens that we strike up a conversation, all the better. You can't plan for this, it just happens. Having the freedom to follow-up is essential for the pilgrim.

+ Fourth, I need time in one place to get grounded rather than racing from one locale to another. For me, being away requires settling in for at least a week - and longer if possible. Local non-hotel Air BnBs are a blessing in these pilgrimages as they plant us real neighborhoods and homes. Sure, there always surprises in these apartments. But the connections they help us make with real people are invaluable. The ancient rabbis used to say that a person cannot pray for a few days after making a trip as our souls need time to become settled. Such is another difference between the pilgrim and the tourist. 

I believe that the fundamental difference between a tourist and a pilgrim, however, is this: one seeks to consume and observe while the other strives to be immersed in the moment. "There never was a pilgrim who did not come back to his village with one less prejudice and one more idea." (François-René Chateaubriand, 19th-century French writer) Both for my own well-being as well as how my life might encourage trust in these trying times, the way of the pilgrim rings true. I know that there are "different strokes for different folks,"  and still I rather like the way Danielle Shroyer summarizes these difference at Patheos:

A tourist is an outsider. A pilgrim is an indweller. A tourist tends to encounter at a distance, looking more through the lens than the heart. A pilgrim travels with his whole self, seeking to indwell the place he beholds. Tourists remain separate from the place they travel. They are visitors, just passing through. They don’t belong there. But pilgrims understand that they are connected to the place, even if they make their permanent home elsewhere... A tourist is harried. A pilgrim is carried. Pace matters on pilgrimage. You are not in a contest to determine who can see the most sites in a matter of days. You will not win a prize for the number of punches you get on your national parks card... A tourist is harried. A pilgrim is carried. Pace matters on pilgrimage. You are not in a contest to determine who can see the most sites in a matter of days. You will not win a prize for the number of punches you get on your national parks card.

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