Post 2 of 40 of the Humanist Lent Writing Project
Humanist Institute Reflection 1 of 9:
In religion and spirituality, a pilgrimage is a very long quest/journey or search of great moral significance. Sometimes, it is a journey to a shrine of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith. Members of many major religions participate in pilgrimages. A person who makes such a journey is called a pilgrim. (wikipedia.org)
My pilgrimage is a journey both of distance and of time. Years of change, thought, struggle, and questioning has gone into who I am as a religious person (for a brief synopsis see my first post). As with most people in the world I began as who I was told to be by my parents and progressed through adolescence into adulthood from acceptance to testing to reflection. My religious identity evolved and changed during this period to what it is today, but I in no way think the way I view the world now will be exactly how I will view it at 70, 50, 40, or even 30 years old. I think the words I use to identify my faith tradition will change less and less but there will be more subtle and nuanced changes that come with life experiences. I think of the people in my life who are recent parents and note the profound change in who they are and the way centers of their worlds shift to the little humans they now care for.
So that is the time part, life happens to us whether we try to resist or not, years pass. The other piece of a pilgrimage is the distance piece I think this is both moving physically far from where you are now on a quest and mentally moving far from where you started. Thinking and considering things that never crossed your mind before. For me both these pieces come together in my graduate program of the Humanist Institute.
Three times a year for three years I travel. I’ve traveled abroad and around the United States during college but somehow these trips are different. I now travel alone for one. Before I traveled with a class or at least others going to the same conference as myself, but now I make the journey alone which provides time for reflection. On these trips from the time I hit the airport until I come back I’m away from everyone I see daily. I think this gives these trips a mark of difference for me mentally. They aren’t a vacation or a conference trip, they are something more.
Between these trips I’m also exploring topics in rapid succession. I’m reading deeply of humanist history, world religions, philosophy, development psychology, spirituality, American history and politics (and that is only in the first year). I’m energized to make connections to community organizations and other people in the movement and thinking about projects to tie together what I am learning with the larger Humanist Movement (things like this blog).
At each gathering I’m with colleagues and fellow travelers. Some head national or local organizations, some are chaplains and celebrants, all are there to grow into something different and learn from those present. All of them are contributing to their local humanist communities in different ways. One of the main goals of the Humanist Institute is to train and develop humanist leaders. I see that happening in very real and powerful ways but I think there is something else going on that is less planned and yet far more important. The Humanist Institute is a place where humanist cultural heritage is being passed from generation to generation.
This cultural memory, the stories of days past, organizations started, and early leaders. These stories aren’t in the books we read to prepare, they aren’t on any lesson plan but they too are part of the education. They are the experiences that bind together a community. The jokes told and the meals shared that make a gathering of individuals into a community.
At the next gathering of the Humanist Institute — in mid-April at the New York Society for Ethical Culture — I hope to learn from folks and make connections between the current stack of books I am reading (about World Religions) to the previous two stacks of books I’ve read, skimmed, and made notes about. More importantly, I hope to soak up as much gossip, jokes, good food, and stories about days past. These are some of the most precious parts of these gatherings, the things that don’t land on publicists’ desk, or get into newsletters. The things that make us human.