The 40 day River of Life Pilgrimage concluded yesterday at Long Island Sound. Pilgrims paddled from the headwaters of the Connecticut River to the ocean – from the Source to the Sea. Led by Mark & Lisa, guides on the water and in prayer, people of all walks of life, ages, and religious affiliation joined a journey of prayer and transformation. As Mark & Lisa write in the concluding pages of the River of Life booklet:
“Our many thoughts, petitions, meditations, hopes, and intentions have woven together into a great river of prayer, flowing forth into the ocean of Divine love. Along the way, we’ve reconnected our individual lives to the great River of Life.
As we walk, as we paddle, as we listen and trust, we learn to see the presence of the Living Christ in our midst. And do our hearts not burn within us as he opens our souls to the mystery of his presence in all things?”
Where on the river did we encounter that mystery of presence? Where do we encounter it in the course of our daily lives? What will we carry with us from the river?
Below are reflections, observations, and photographs from the final days of the pilgrimage, exploring these questions.
Canon Heidi Shott of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine joined for a three-day segment, beginning in White River Junction. The pilgrimage prompted her to reflect on what it means to pray with our eyes open:
“Two elements of this pilgrimage were to pray and to paddle, and, at first, they seemed to be mutually exclusive. But since it’s impossible to paddle with our eyes closed, we were required to pray with our eyes wide open. We had to watch for rocks, the ripples that indicate fast water, and the boats of fellow pilgrims. There is no separating the praying and the paddling. For a long time I’ve kept my prayers sequestered from the daily business of living: working, parenting, mentoring, cooking, nagging, gardening, hiking — all the things I do, many of which I worry about constantly – instead of allowing prayer to infuse and, perhaps, defuse my daily routines.
As I drove across New Hampshire toward home, my trusty kayak firmly strapped to the roof, I vowed to live in closer, clear-eyed proximity to the surface of this gorgeous, complicated, fearsome, world.”
You can read Heidi’s full reflection here.
The Hartford Courant produced an article and a video about the Pilgrimage:
“Pilgrims spend the first four hours of the day in what Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas calls ‘the great silence.’ Then, at 10 a.m., he said they break the silence with a song.
“The practice is to clear our minds of all that is distracting,” he said. “The journey is inward just as much as it is down the river.”
“Along the way, Douglas said he has seen countless blue herons and bald eagles swooping overhead as he prays. He described the sights of the river as incredible.
“Though beautiful, Bishop Rob Hirschfeld said the journey wasn’t always easy. In the first 100 miles, there was still some snow on the ground, there was no cell service and the temperature dipped to 38 degrees. However, Hirschfeld said the trip was never unpleasant, even when the pack was caught in a storm in Vermont.
“It was raining and we were standing on our life preservers in the middle of a field in case lightning struck the ground and we were looking at each other in silence and we were utterly happy because we were connected with each other,” he said. “We’ve found that even without shelter, we are at home.”
Indeed, the journey began with plunges into downright cold weather. Over the course of the journey, winds brought heavy rain and high waters.
Below, Jo and Lisa share in a yoga pose — first in a late Spring chill and, 40 days later, at the height of summer warmth and sun. Notice the consistent joy on their faces.
The truly wonderful thing about pilgrimage is that reaching the final destination does not mark the end of the journey. If it has done its work, the end of a pilgrimage is only the beginning of something much greater and folded into Divine mystery.
May the joys and blessings of the winding and beautiful journeys ahead be with you, Pilgrims!
(Photos from: Jo Brooks, Heidi Shott, Bishop Tom Ely, Bishop Ian Douglas)