restricted access 6 The Long Voyage Home: Transformation and Rituals of Return
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160 > 161 Often, it is after pilgrims return that they most clearly confront the dynamic tension between global travel and reships at home, a tension that is also bound up in the question of how their own (newly reconfirmed ) relationship with God can be translated into material evidence, such as photos and souvenirs. In Connie’s case, her new outlook particularly affected her relationship with her sister, who is a former nun. Connie recounts how after she got back she invited her female relatives to lunch to hand out souvenirs and tell them about the trip. [My sister] said, “You’ve changed. I don’t know who you are.” She felt kind of left out and my daughter and my daughter-in-law, they felt kind of left out. They said, “What happened to you?” I tried to explain, but my sister, being a nun for 24 years, thought she knew every little nook and cranny about the religion. . . . When she said, “You’ve changed.” I say, “O.K. so how did I change?” Maybe that’s what they don’t like—that I like it. Connie’s pilgrimage reordered a previously close relationship; she now claims to have authoritative knowledge stemming from an experience that her sister has not had. It was especially difficult, acknowledges Connie, because her sister’s identity in the family has always rested on being “the religious one.” Two years later, Connie says that she no longer mentions the pilgrimage much, though she believes that its effects are still apparent: her relationship with Jesus is forever changed and continually growing. In some ways, though, transformation is a lonely path. She feels that she lacks conversation partners in her family and at church. “I have come to know Jesus far better than I ever have before but I never have anyone to talk about him to. . . . I can’t talk to anyone at home in my own community.” “You will never be the same again”: The Role of Transformation “Very dear friends in Christ,” began Father Mike’s first promotional letter, “IamsohappytobeabletoinviteyoutojoinmeonpilgrimagetotheHoly Land, to a place and an experience that will change your life.” Pastor Jim’s material made the same assurance: “It is an experience that will change your life. Every time that you open your Bible for the rest of your life you willhaveapictureinyourmindofthesettingbecauseyouhaveseenitwith 162 > 163 expect might happen upon return. Following Turner, most scholars affirm that instead of seeking transformation, contemporary Western pilgrims more vaguely conceive of the experience as making one a “better person.” Other scholars suggest that pilgrimage affirms salvation, reaffirms identity, and results in healing.7 In his formative study of Holy Land pilgrims, Glenn Bowman views it as renewal. Comparing Eastern Orthodox and English Catholic pilgrims, he concludes: Pilgrimage serves as a revitalization of spiritual energies drained by involvement in the labours of the secular world [which] makes Catholic pilgrimage much more individuated than that of the Orthodox; instead of a cosmological celebration of the community of mankind in Christ the Catholics engage . . . in a process of being repossessed by the power that gives meaning to their personal lives and labours.8 Bowman’s description is applicable to American pilgrims—with a few caveats. As discussed earlier, the individuated nature of the experience does not preclude cosmological connections. Nor should “labours of the secular world” be taken to mean that women such as Connie see “worldly” work as secular. Rather, they characterize their work in the world as part of a struggle to live out Christian lives, and they assess the results of their trip based on the patience and diligence with which they commit to these responsibilities anew. Most important, few American pilgrims (and here Connie is an exception) feel that they are drained of spiritual energy before the trip. Although they may be frustrated with aspects of their lives, they describe their faith as peaking: they are closer to Jesus than ever before, which is precisely why they undertake the trip at this moment. An evangelical woman from Chicago explained: “You grow in stages. Things along the way . . . deepen your relationship [with God]. When I felt like I was so close with Jesus that I needed to be with him even more, that was when I went.”9 This response illustrates an important facet of pilgrims’ stories of self: most describe the trip as one step in a lifetime of steady growth with God. Frey notes something analogous in her work on European and American Camino pilgrims...


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