Plague Year Pilgrims: Let’s Keep Walking

A way marker on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain.

Throughout our long Covid crisis, our daily walk offered precious respite from the tedium of being perpetually housebound and viewing the outer world through electronic screens. Walking brought us exercise and fresh air. It cleared our heads, lifted our mood, and even gave us the rare opportunity to have socially distanced conversations with other humans, face to face.

As we come out of this pandemic year, let’s keep walking. What if we turned our daily walk into a pilgrimage? If we reframed each walk as a daily leg of a journey that will eventually lead us into a post-pandemic future? A pilgrimage in place, as it were.

A pilgrimage is a journey, traditionally taken on foot, to a sacred destination, Mecca, Jerusalem, and Rome being some of the most famous examples.

Before Covid, an estimated 300,000 pilgrims walked to the shrine of Chimayó, New Mexico each year in the week before Easter. Some pilgrims even carried heavy homemade crosses to participate in Christ’s journey to Calvary. During my visit to Chimayó some years ago, I witnessed the faithful arriving in the simple adobe church and kneeling before a round pit in the floor to take handfuls of the tierra bendita, the blessed earth, believed to have healing properties.

Jasmin Perez, 17, of Espanola, New Mexico, carries a cross on a pilgrimage to the small adobe church in Chimayo, New Mexico, on Friday, March 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

Pilgrims’ eyes perceived the sacred as manifest in what would mundanely be viewed as dirt. To be a pilgrim is to step into a realm of wonder and grace, where anything might happen. The Church itself won’t comment on any purported miracles, yet pilgrims leave abandoned crutches behind in the sanctuary as testimony of their experience.

Perhaps this revelation of the holy in the commonplace means that we can also be pilgrims without even leaving our neighborhood.

You don’t have to be an observant practitioner of any particular faith—not every pilgrim is religious or even spiritual. Some people walk the path to try to figure out what their spirituality even is.

When I walked the Camino, the iconic pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, I encountered people of diverse backgrounds making the pilgrimage for a variety of reasons. Some were taking a break from the stresses of their career to experience a simpler existence—sleeping in hostels and sharing communal meals with strangers. Others were walking to heal trauma and grief. I met grim-faced ex-military guys marching so fast that they wouldn’t deign to respond to other pilgrims’ cheerful greetings of, “Buen Camino!”

Each pilgrim was walking their personal Camino. There is no false reason to go on pilgrimage. Aren’t we all searching for something—some deeper meaning and sense of purpose? In a world so fractured by divisiveness and hatred, sharing the Camino with these vastly different people was an incredible experience of hospitality and spiritual homecoming that I will never forget. The pilgrim’s path is big enough to include us all.

So, what’s the difference between a pilgrimage and a walk? Your intention and your attention, which make all the difference. To have the richest possible experience, we need to be present in our physical bodies, here and now. Not staring at our smart phones or curating our experience on Instagram. Pilgrimage is a time out, a refuge from the news cycle and social media feed.

Pilgrimage doesn’t need to cover a lot of physical distance. It doesn’t even need to be linear. It can be circular. When visiting Nepal, I observed Buddhists circling for hours around the great Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu. All the while, they chanted mantras and fingered their mala beads. For one afternoon, I joined them, if only because I was too intimidated to walk elsewhere with the crazy traffic and air pollution. The shrine seemed like the safest and most peaceful place in the city.

Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal

This kind of Circling the Center can be practiced anywhere and gives a whole new perspective to walking round the block or your local park.

If you feel so inspired, you could even draw a labyrinth in chalk on your driveway and practice the ancient and meditative art of labyrinth walking.

Pilgrimage isn’t about the external destination as much as the journey, the inner process. The ultimate pilgrimage brings us to the shrine of loving presence within our hearts.

There are many ways to be a pilgrim, but there are still some rules to be respected. The most important is practicing open-hearted hospitality for those you meet on your way, maybe stopping to chat with lonely neighbors.

Likewise, we need to be compassionate and welcoming to all the shadowy parts of ourselves that don’t feel the least bit spiritual—all our fear and rage and despair concerning this pandemic.

We come to our pilgrimage as we are and meet ourselves with radical acceptance.

Let us embrace the street where we live as our personal Camino. The sacred is present all around us and, indeed, within us, if we only look through pilgrims’ eyes and pay attention.

Buen Camino!

Mary Sharratt 
is on a mission to write women back into history. Her acclaimed novel 
Illuminations, drawn from the dramatic life of Hildegard von Bingen, is published by Mariner. Her new novel Revelationsabout the mystical pilgrim Margery Kempe and her friendship with Julian of Norwich, is now available wherever books and ebooks are sold. Visit her website.

One-In-A-Million by Marcia Mount Shoop

Today I am fully vaccinated. It’s been two weeks since I got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The day after I got the vaccine was the day the New York Times headline read, “Johnson & Johnson Vaccinations Paused After Rare Clotting Cases Emerge.” People told me not to worry, “it happens to only one in a million people.”  

That “one-in-a-million” argument isn’t what calmed me down. The “one-in-a-million” odds had already struck once in our household over the pandemic when my husband was diagnosed with a rare kind of cancer. A one-in-a-million kind of cancer. And to top it off, it was his second cancer diagnosis during the pandemic. He turned 51 years old this past August and has spent most of the pandemic either waiting for treatment, receiving treatment, or in recovery from treatment. A lot of the year he has been and continues to be in considerable pain and discomfort. 

Continue reading “One-In-A-Million by Marcia Mount Shoop”

Homebound by Joyce Zonana

When my parents left Egypt, they left behind everything they’d grown up with, all the objects that carried their deepest associations and memories. They taught me to scorn such “things”—what others value as mementos or souvenirs—rightly reasoning they can be lost in a moment. But while we have them, it is lovely, I’m learning, to let the spirits embedded within them, the memories and feelings they evoke, surround and comfort us. As I move through this house, I feel bound to my own and others’ histories, embedded in a rich and complex life that nurtures and sustains me. And as I sit still and knit, I sense that I am knitting (knotting) up the by now long, loose threads of my own life, shaping them into a coherent and satisfying whole.

Joyce ZonanaWhen I was growing up, home was the last place I wanted to be. It’s not that ours was an abusive or angry household: both parents loved me and my mother labored to create a calm, clean space to contain us all. It’s just that I felt suffocated.

Part of the problem was that we were immigrants. My parents were struggling to find their way in an alien culture, and, with little else to hold onto, they clung to their customs and traditions. I wanted to be “American,” to mingle with classmates, to venture into the vastness (New York City!) just beyond our door. The Middle Eastern culture from which we hailed had strict rules for women and girls, and my mother expected me to follow them. She herself was an excellent cook, a creative seamstress and scrupulous housekeeper, a devoted and dutiful wife. I rejected all of it, refusing to cook, ripping out seams, balking at my weekly chores of dusting and vacuuming and ironing. Instead I dreamt of life as a writer, a renegade, an outlaw. My role models were hobos and witches and gypsies; more than anything, I yearned to be free, longing to “walk at all risks,” like Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh.

Continue reading “Homebound by Joyce Zonana”

On Mikeitz: How Joseph Brings Meaning to My Hanukah Observance during This Pandemic by Ivy Helman

It is Hanukah.  I have discussed the reasons I have found observing it difficult in a past blog.  Namely, as an ecofeminist, I will not celebrate the violence of war or the slaughter of animals at the temple.  This year presents a new challenge: how to celebrate the miracle of the oil in the midst of a global pandemic.  For inspiration, I have looked at this week’s Torah portion: Mikeitz.  Its Joseph tale has helped me find a meaningful practice for my Hanukah observance this year: the power of a human community’s action to preserve life.

The parshah begins with pharaoh having bad dreams.  He has called on every interpreter he can think of and no one could interpret them for him.  That is until he hears tale of Joseph and summons him.  After hearing his dreams, Joseph satisfactorily explains the dreams’ meaning.  Joseph says that there will be seven years of abundant crops followed by seven years of famine.  The pharaoh believes Joseph and begins to make preparations.  He appoints Joseph to oversee them.  

Continue reading “On Mikeitz: How Joseph Brings Meaning to My Hanukah Observance during This Pandemic by Ivy Helman”

Turning Five by Sarah Frykenberg

My daughter turned five years old this week. I am now a five-year-old-mother of one. Big Five <3. I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that this is the age when children’s brains are developed enough to start creating more permanent memories of their childhood. What will my daughter’s earliest memories be when she is grown?

Four was a pretty chock-full year.

Fires—though those may seem like just another California season to her by now. Pandemic; staying home with Mommy, Daddy, and our new roommates, Auntie and Uncle for weeks on end.

Learning to ride a bike.

Pages upon pages of art, including a whole notebook almost exclusively dedicated to her “study” of “Hazel Vampire” (I blame Uncle and Auntie for this one).

Pandemic. More pandemic.

Continue reading “Turning Five by Sarah Frykenberg”

Living with Uncertainty by Sara Wright

I was deeply moved by Carol’s willingness to share deeply personal feelings about how her visit to the hospital , enough so that I decided to write about how the Covid virus has impacted my life and the lives of those around me.

Here in my corner of the world summer is a time to be outdoors, and so returning to Maine in the early spring has allowed me to be emotionally present in a joyful way for Nature’s turnings, first from winter to spring, and then from spring to summer. But I am a naturalist and only too aware that my love for the wild is not shared by everyone.

Because I have no family, the longing to be with loved ones does not pierce my heart in the same way it does for others. Continue reading “Living with Uncertainty by Sara Wright”

Lammas after Lockdown by Laura Shannon

Today, August 1, 2020, is Lammas, the Celtic festival of late summer, the ‘feast of bread’, time of harvest and of golden grain. Here in the UK, Lammas arrives just as we are emerging from our coronavirus lockdown. It’s hard to feel a personal sense of ‘harvest’ when most people’s lives have been on hold since the spring.

Confined to our homes, many people could throw themselves into tending their own gardens (if they had one), but most of us could not cultivate the symbolic gardens of our lives and work in the way that we wanted. Many have faced deep loss, the withering of seeds planted in the past which could not now come to fruition.

Despite the tragic times, the earth continues to dance to the sacred rhythms of sun and moon. The trees are full of fruit, the fields are full of grain. Although I too have had my share of sorrow and grief in recent months, today I feel moved by the season to look at what we can harvest from our experience of the coronavirus pandemic.

Continue reading “Lammas after Lockdown by Laura Shannon”

Octavia Tried to Tell Us: Parable for Today’s Pandemic by Monica Coleman

In national quarantine and sheltering-in-place or is it “safer-at-home,” all I could think about was that we were living in a scene from the late Afrofuturist writer Octavia Butler’s book Parable of the Sower. So I texted my friend, Afrofuturist writer Tananarive Due and said: hey let’s do a webinar on this.  And this turned into weekly – then monthly – free webinars on the wisdom we can glean from Octavia Butler as we live through these political days.

Here, I share a recent workshop and dialogue that lifts up Octavia’s Parable of the Sower and highlights themes of prophecy, dystopia, theology and a way forward in times like these.

If you are interested in engaging more intimate work centered on Octavia’s work, visit for more information.



Dr. Monica A. Coleman is Professor of Africana Studies at the University of Delaware.  She spent over ten years in graduate theological education at Claremont School of Theology, the Center for Process Studies and Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Coleman has earned degrees from Harvard University, Vanderbilt University and Claremont Graduate University. She has received funding from leading foundations in the United States, including the Ford Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation, among others.

Answering her call to ministry at 19 years of age, Coleman is an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and an initiate in traditional Yoruba religion.

Dr. Coleman offers workshops, lectures and books for your organization, university or church. She warmly connects with people as she shares principles for growth and liberation. Read her story here.

My Green Spaces by Esther Nelson

I don’t do well being cooped up (staying at home) all day and every day.  Thankfully the state of Virginia, where I currently live, has kept their parks open during the COVID-19 pandemic.  For two months, I intentionally scheduled a “green space” time into my daily routine.  Usually I’d hike.  Sometimes I’d just sit in the car and look at the natural scenery in front of me.

The James River at Pony Pasture Rapids was my “go-to” place during the pandemic lockdown.  In addition to refreshing themselves by the river, people use Pony Pasture as their launching point for a variety of floatation devices, but mostly kayaks, to paddle around the river.

Pleasant Creek Trail is one among many paths along the James River at Pony Pasture.  After meandering a half mile or so, I came upon this view.  I call this scene “Entering the Emerald Forest.”

Showcasing Richmond, Virginia, in an attractive cityscape.  I walked along the floodwall to capture this Richmond skyline.

One day, I went to a local park (Maymont) and stared up at this tree like infants do with their mobiles hanging over their cribs.

Straight, sturdy tree trunk

Spreading its leafy branches

Green shelter in place

Richmond has had a goodly amount of rain this spring.  This is the James River after several inches of rain throughout the state.

Even when the rain came, I made it a point to get out of the house, sit in my car, dream a bit, and read from my Kindle for two or three hours.

Had a visitor one day while enjoying the sunshine and breathing in fresh air at Byrd park.

Bench-sitting alone
Cold winds blowing through the trees
Mother Goose visits

Earlier in the spring, I watched the dogwood tree bloom in my front yard.

Amidst clouds and chill
Nature still blooms pink and white
In my damp front yard

One of my favorite days at Pony Pasture Rapids put me in touch with this family.

Blessed be!

In sunnier weather, I’d visit beautiful, old Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.  From the web: “Hollywood Cemetery was designed in 1847 as a “rural” style garden cemetery to escape the grid-like monotony of city cemeteries. Landscape architect, John Notman, specifically left trees and other plants untouched when designing the cemetery’s landscape in order to create a peaceful haven for Richmonders. Today, our 135 acres of valleys and hills are covered with heritage roses, stately trees, and other blooms that live up to the name of a garden cemetery. In 2017, Hollywood Cemetery was named a recognized arboretum with the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program.”

One day I went hunting (and I did have to hunt!) for inscriptions that made me take notice.  There’s such a paucity of creative, interesting text on tombstones.  Of those I’ve seen so far, Andrea Smith Kauder’s is my favorite.  “Neal, Adam and Bryan–I love you very much. I thank everyone for visiting. Now go and be happy.”  Andrea died as a relatively young woman—44 years old.  I think I would have enjoyed knowing her.

And, I’m moving again!  Going to a condominium just three miles down the road from my current address in Richmond, Virginia.  Wonder where in the world I will eventually land.  I can’t seem to settle down in any one spot.  Here I am scrubbing the floor of my new condo in preparation for move-in.  My only green space on this day was the green gloves I used to protect my hands during the onerous chore.

My grandmother, Jessie, often told me, “Only way to clean a floor, honey, is to get on your hands and knees and scrub.”  Jessie was right.  Perhaps a fitting text on my tombstone might reflect the necessity of women’s domestic labor to keep the wheels of society moving.

She cleaned like a fiend

Hoping…yes, always hoping

For a little dirt.


Esther Nelson is an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va. She has taught courses on Human Spirituality, Global Ethics, Christian-Muslim Relations, and Religions of the World, but focuses on her favorite course, Women in Islam. She is the co-author (with Nasr Abu Zaid) of Voice of an Exile: Reflections on Islam and the co-author (with Kristen Swenson) of What is Religious Studies? : A Journey of Inquiry.

Look for the Helpers: The Sikh Community by Anjeanette LeBoeuf

AnjeanetteI struggled with what to write about for my May post. Would I write about the ridiculous notion which has countless Americans buying into the idea that COVID19 is a hoax? I could write about how it is fool hearty for us to even consider lifting stay at home orders when the number of infected patients are still rising daily. The list goes on due to the rising pressures, frustrations, and anxieties that are surrounding each one of us.

Yet what I really want to talk about is a shining example of the goodness and compassion of humanity. During times of utter sadness, fear, and the unknown, we need to keep talking about things that warm our hearts, remind us there is beauty and happiness in life. So, for the next few monthly posts of mine, I am going to be highlighting specific communities, organizations, and peoples that are doing extraordinary things during these uncertain and challenging times. The first community that I want to talk about is the Sikh Community.

Continue reading “Look for the Helpers: The Sikh Community by Anjeanette LeBoeuf”

Moments of Beauty by Sara Frykenberg

Last week a friend of mine started a post asking people to share something that they’ve enjoyed or appreciated since shelter-at-home orders began across the country and globe. This friend was in no way trying to minimize the very difficult situations that so many of us find ourselves facing during this pandemic. Rather, the list she elicited and generated helped to create, at least for me, a moment of hope or peace—a moment that I suspect many of us need right now.

Inspired by my friend (who has quite a talent for pointing out the potential for joy or happiness), I would like to add to her list here by sharing a couple of my “moments of beauty” in the hopes I can share this hope or peace. Continue reading “Moments of Beauty by Sara Frykenberg”

When Life Hands You Lemons… by John Erickson

“When life hands you lemons, sometimes you have to make applesauce.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about something my grandmother would always tell me: “When life hands you lemons, sometimes you have to make applesauce.” I know, it sounds crazy, but life right now appears to be more on the crazy than the sane side.

We’re all in a state of uncertainty right now. The news is scary. Twitter is scary. Heck, even TikTok is losing parts of its humor. Everywhere we seem to turn, it’s more information about COVID-19, new cases, new lockdowns, and new things that we shouldn’t do for the foreseeable future. Continue reading “When Life Hands You Lemons… by John Erickson”

Mourning What Is by Karen Leslie Hernandez

My daughter has seen a lot in her 29 years.

Never was Katy able to play outside alone without the watchful eyes of us, her parents.

School became an unsafe haven for mass shooter safety drills.

9/11 brought a whole new understanding of how to navigate “the Other.”

Insurmountable wars still rage across her TV screen.

Global climate disasters that require her to have a mask handy in case of choking smoke from fires hundreds of miles away.

And, now, a pandemic. Of all things. A worldwide pandemic that has literally affected every single person on the planet.

Although Katy is an adult now, the last week has left me stunned and asking, what world did I choose to bring her in to? What world did I help create for my adult daughter? And my wider questions – what world are we leaving our children? Will there be a world for those who we await in mind and heart, unborn – just a thought for the future? Continue reading “Mourning What Is by Karen Leslie Hernandez”

Community and Social Distancing by Gina Messina

Our commitment should be to the wellbeing of all; our own wellbeing is dependent upon it. This virus does not recognize borders or walls, nor racial or religious divides. Oppressive structures have caused our communities to crumble; and yet, it is only through a collaborative community effort that we can hope to “flatten the curve.” 

We are in the midst of a global crisis unlike anything we’ve seen during our lifetime. Admittedly, I gave the situation little attention, even when relatives were under forced quarantine in Italy and cases were piling up in California where many of my family and friends live. It’s typical; we often don’t realize the seriousness of a particular issue until it is one we experience ourselves — we can empathize, but can’t fully understand something that hasn’t hit home.

I wasn’t afraid when the NBA suspended its season, or when March Madness was canceled. When I received an email that a child at my daughter’s school had been quarantined, I told myself it was precautionary. Still, when a neighbor who is a nurse in an ER had provided care to a patient who tested positive for COVID-19, I thought how scary it must be for her — but assumed that nurses of all people know how to protect themselves from getting sick. 

Once school was suspended in my state and people started to panic, buying up every last roll of toilet paper and hand sanitizer pump, my concern was not COVID-19, but instead what I deemed overreaction. Nonetheless, I jumped on the bandwagon and stocked my pantry just in case…although I was too late for the toilet paper. Continue reading “Community and Social Distancing by Gina Messina”

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