With bleary eyes, I write this first blog post from the office of First Congregational Church in Dalton, where we will be turning in tonight following an evening of potluck, fellowship, reflection, and a bit of song. We walked today through strip malls along busy roads, by a pulping mill, and past Silver Lake – contaminated by PCBs from the adjacent factory, and apparently for some time unable to freeze in winter. We exchanged glances with a troupe of deer and highway drivers as we walked bearing our one banner, “Climate Change: an invitation to new life? #pipelinepilgrimage.”
Though only we walked under five miles today, we’re all pretty beat – the day has been a joyful whirlwind of introductions, conversations, and new faces, some of whom will we with us just for the day, others who will be with us for the full twelve. Tomorrow there will be other new faces joining us, and others blessing us with food, lodging, and support. It is particular to perch on the end of the first day, and ponder what manner of Pipeline Pilgrimage sub-culture might emerge as we continue on this walk.
About a year ago, I took a class on Christian Pilgrimage. Fascinating as the course was, I didn’t expect that it would have a direct application to my own life. But in light of the Pipeline Pilgrimage, I find my mind going back to the experiences of all those pilgrims trekking along the Camino de Santiago, climbing Mt. Sinai to see the burning bush, seeking miraculous cures from the bones of saints and from desert hermits living atop pillars. To set out on all these pilgrimages meant leaving behind comfort and custom to seek a different and more faithful walk, and it is in this spirit that we engage in this pilgrimage, too. Through our walk, we aim to look inside ourselves and understand what it means to support infrastructure that threatens the wellbeing of the next generation, and all those beyond.
More or less the biggest concept in pilgrimage theory is “communitas,” the idea that pilgrimage creates something of a sacred space in which parties can transcend conventional social boundaries. It seems to me that this is precisely what it means to address climate crisis effectively –to come together, to unify despite boundaries and ideologies, to together forge a new path, a walk both more faithful and more sane.
The most striking instance of this communitas we all felt today was cross-generational participation. One family, in particular, joined us for the day, spanning three generations, from grandmother to 4-year-old granddaughter, pushed along in her stroller. The young pilgrim’s frog-hops and pig noises brought an appropriate light of joy to our walk, but also grounded our footsteps in somber authenticity. For me, her presence was a reminder – as to why and for whom we make this walk, as to what is at stake – and a question mark, as to how we will change ourselves, as to what we might do.