As I sit at my writing desk in the Maya Highlands of Western Guatemala and prepare for my journey to Ohio and the pilgrimage I will take through the Earthworks found there, I wonder what others are thinking about this year's "Walk with the Ancients" from Chillicothe to Newark Oct. 10-16.
I have walked as a "pilgrim" in "pilgrimage" in Spain, as well as in Guatemala and Peru, and what struck me most about those experiences is that the people walking in them almost never used the word "pilgrimage" or "pilgrim" to identify themselves and the journey they had set out on. Pilgrimage in a sense is a term almost too loaded with meaning for those who partake in its transformative and all too human experience of people taking to the road as a community of walkers in a sacred landscape. The reason for this I think is that being a "pilgrim" is almost too sacred an identity in our time for those humble modern walkers who take to the road.
But this year's theme of the Newark Earthworks Day is all about pilgrimage, so why not reflect on the idea of pilgrimage and the ancient act of walking together in community through sacred space and time? Doing so will teach us all a great deal about ourselves, as well as the essential experience of humans equalizing themselves by walking across the face of the earth as one single solitary spirit and soul.
To be sure it doesn't take much to become a pilgrim. It is a simple matter of taking a few essential items, throwing them on your back, making a vow, stating a personal intent to oneself and then heading out on the road with everyone else as one. That is the point of pilgrimage: to leave the burdens of life behind in order to step lightly on the spirited path of knowing with the intention of renewal.
Pilgrimage is a sacred act, yet it doesn't have to be solemn. In the pilgrimages I have participated in, the solemnity of a soulful moment only came when the joy of walking together issued forth an unpredictable opening to a wholly other world of sacred experience: a rainbow, a star on the horizon, a field of flowers illuminated by a miraculous sunset. Pilgrimages are informed by a belief but that belief is up to each individual who takes to the road as they set out towards unification with themselves, their lives, the earth they live upon, their sense of the sacred and the people with whom they share this magnificent world. What more meaningful act can humans participate in than walking together as a like-minded people into the wilderness and through the landscape towards the sacred goal of transformation in the eternal embrace of nature? It is only the walkers of the path that give themselves the sacred gift of "knowing" by walking the face of the earth on their own two feet and as one with a devoted community of pilgrims.
Americans are individuals who unlike other nations live out their lives with diverse identities that are often left an unfinished process of becoming. This is why I am so extremely excited to walk in a community made up of diverse Americans: so I can experience for myself the creation of an American identity founded in the simple yet profound act of walking together through our beloved American landscape with the hope of moving closer to becoming a unified nation of loving yet diverse people. I hope others, many others, will join us on the road to know ourselves as individuals and as a diverse group of Americans by remembering that pilgrimage is just another word for human beings walking together as a community in search of the good, the true and the beautiful.
Newark Earthworks Day and the Walk of the Ancients are public events planned by the Newark Earthworks Center of Ohio State University at Newark. For more information see www.newark.osu. edu, e-mail earthworks@osu. edu or call (740) 364-9584.
Stanzione is a historian of religions from Guatemala who is coming to Ohio to participate in the Walk with the Ancients from Chillicothe to Newark Oct. 10-16.