Vol. 54 No. 5 1
Dear Friends, As the New Year is upon us, the turning of the calendar bids us to new beginnings and endings. This month, January, is named after the Roman god Janus, whom the ancients portrayed with two faces—one looking back and one looking forward. Like Janus, we may be preoccupied this month with both reflecting on where we have been and looking forward to where we are going. It is as though turning the page of the calendar encourages us to consider setting a new course for the coming days, months and years of our life. The New Year offers the opportunity to set our compass for our congregational life, to set our collective pointers, and then to set off on our journey together.
From the Intern Minister’s Mailbox
In his slim volume Walking, Henry David Thoreau tells us: “I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks – who had a genius, so to speak for SAUNTERING, which word is beautifully derived ‘from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked for charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre,’ to the Holy Land, till the children claimed there goes a Sainte-Terrer,’ a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander.”
In the absence of travelling to the Holy Land, people of the Middle Ages would take pilgrimages to Holy sites such as Santiago de Campostela in Spain or the great cathedral and shrine of Canterbury in England. Pilgrimages were long, shared journeys, of religious and spiritual significance or for physical healing. People would travel together with a sense of obligation, shared adventure or devotional spiritual quest as famously captured by author Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tale. In traveling to Santiago de Campostela in Spain—to the shrine of St. James (one of the first apostles to join Jesus)—pilgrims would wear a scallop shell around their neck—it was a reminder of the setting sun—and to let others know that they, too, were a saunterer making the pilgrimage. The scallop shell signified they were walking to the place which—in the Medieval mind—they knew of as the farthest point west and the place where the world ended. The scallop shell was also a way of finding fellow pilgrims and it came to signify they shared a common experience and destination if not a destiny. The pilgrims walked along “El Camino de Santiago” or the “The Way of Saint James,” stopping along the way to rest and take sustenance from monasteries and inns that catered specifically to their needs. Walking was more than just a means of travelling for these pilgrims, it was a journey. “To journey” comes from the Old French, originally it meant “a day’s travel.” But for these pilgrims, and for us, "to journey" means to make a ‘pilgrimage’ or passage through life, or to travel by ordinary daily stages. For those en route to Santiago or Canterbury it very often was the journey of a lifetime. As the New Year is upon us it is fitting to ask these questions: “Where is our communal journey as a congregation taking us? In which direction is our compass pointing? And to what destination are we journeying?" Let us pick a destination and saunter together. This January, consider donning a scallop shell to let your fellow congregants know that we are in this together. Let us take comfort in knowing we have made a promise to each other, and that we each have a promise to keep. We must trust ourselves and have faith in all the good things the New Year will bring. Happy New Year!