The irony is not lost on me that I have worked hard in recent years to live my life as a pilgrim, meaning one on pilgrimage, when it was the Pilgrims who centuries ago began the experiment of white colonialism in America, leaving a legacy of oppression and slavery that we still struggle with today. I could never have guessed where my own pilgrimages would lead me; how they would open my eyes to what we must do 400 years later to dismantle the oppression embedded in our nation’s foundation and still playing out today.
My pilgrim experiences all began rather early in the ministry of Rob and Janne. It was while my partner Karen and I were attending a class at Unity Church to become members, Rob approached us about making a “pilgrimage” to Transylvania, our sister church. Now being a pilgrim in Rob’s mind had nothing to do with being a capital P, Pilgrim. He was suggesting we approach our trip to Transylvania with the “eyes” of a pilgrim, as one on pilgrimage. Simply put, “traveling as a pilgrim” meant traveling to a new place or through life with no expectation as to what one would see, experience, or learn about. It was the beginning of one of my most important spiritual practices; how I might move in the world; how I might be open to new experiences and new understanding. It has been a mighty change in my life. It is perhaps the essence now of my being a Unitarian Universalist, being open to new revelation.
Over 20 years, I have taken advantage of every “pilgrimage” Unity Church has had to offer and some outside of Unity. Many of those pilgrimages came with travel but in recent years my pilgrimages have become much more local. They have been about moving out of my comfort zone to be on pilgrimage in my everyday life.
Recently I participated in the “Sacred Sites Tour,” with other members of the congregation. It was a tour of the land I call home, led by Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs, a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation. Over about four hours, we visited three sites that are sacred to the Dakota people, all located around the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, all part of their creation story. Traveling as a pilgrim, I was able to let Jim Bear’s telling of local indigenous people’s history and personal stories, mixed with moments of silence and reflection, sink in. I learned why the land was and is sacred to the Dakota people. I learned again of how the land was taken by deception, threat of starvation, and through treaties that were often broken and ignored. I learned how the Dakota people were pushed on to ever smaller plots of land and eventually banished from Minnesota altogether. It was, in the end, a chance to see history as seen through the eyes of another. It was a chance to see my home ownership on that land as part of another’s story, part of another’s trauma.
Last month we were being asked to ponder the place for curiosity in our Unitarian Universalist faith and at the same time being asked to look hard at what it means to be in Beloved Community. I am finding that my spiritual practice, my “pilgrim eyes” are critical right now. I am finding that curiosity and pilgrimage need not mean travel to far off places. Pilgrimage can just as easily come from reading a book or stepping out my back door and seeing and listening to the other, which is sometimes my own neighbor who helps me see the place where I live with new eyes.
Indigenous Justice Team
A new team is forming at Unity Church around indigenous justice and reparations. Last fall, a Wellspring Wednesday program, “Repairing Broken Trust: Congregational Approached to Reparations with Indigenous Peoples” with Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs, inspired a small group of congregants to continue the conversation. For more information, contact Jess Landgraf.