How I was Saved by a Sense of Belonging

through the trees onto prairie

My dilemma: I know from my own experience that being a pilgrim on a certain bit of the planet helps a person identify better with that bit of the planet. I’m not Norwegian. But I feel more of a connection to Norway having walked several hundred kilometres of the mountains and streams my ancestors knew. I AM a prairie person – sort of, still – even after thirty years in Quebec. Remembering my appartenance (belonging) to the prairie was hard-won with every gust of wind, every blade of speargrass burrowing into my foot, every sunburn, every call of the coyotes at night and every Pils beer consumed in a prairie tavern. If you haven’t tried it, do. It’s great. Not just the Pils. The whole pilgrim experience.

So my thesis for the conference to be held at the College of William and Mary, in Virginia, is simple: walking pilgrimage helps ‘ground’ people like me as Canadians, in our land, so long as we are mindful of the land’s history and of its First Peoples (in other words, so long as we walk honestly).

Then I remembered that “pilgrim” actually comes from the word ‘foreigner’ or ‘alien’. How can a foreigner gain more of a sense of belonging by practicing their pilgrimage (ie foreignness)? I thought my paper was ruined. I stewed on this for several days before it occurred to me. For Newcomers like me, being a pilgrim describes my status EXACTLY. The foreigner (pilgrim) doesn’t own land. Pilgrims only go on by humbly accepting generosity from the land and its inhabitants. The pilgrim needs to be in relationship with others, or they perish. Belongingness (if there is such a word) is reversed. Not the land to me, but me to the land. For a non-First Nations person like me, it means seeing that my belonging to this land in Canada has always been by hospitality. It ONLY comes through recognizing my foreign-ness and the ways in which I have been invited to share in belonging TO the land, by those – ie First Nations – who have belonged to it for so long already.

That makes a whole lot more sense. I think I can present that at the conference.

Lyndon walking with paint

The Problem of the Definition of Pilgrimage – one half of a dialogue

Craig Baird boom shot Cypress L walkers (photo courtesy of Craig Baird)

(please click on the link)

A conversation over morning tea at Concordia’s Dept of Theological Studies between Matthew R. Anderson (on camera) and Sara Terreault (staying off camera).

Reconnecting with Land article

buffalo wallow rock

Clink on the link below for the article that will appear tomorrow (Aug 28 2015) in the Prairie Post. Thanks to Matthew Liebenberg for his questions and writing!

Prairie Post Aug 28 2015

Hugh magnified by valley

Un pèlerin des temps modernes retrace les pas de ses ancêtres


You can find here the radio broadcast of my interview with Radio-Canada, in French, as well as a photo essay by William Burr, also in French, about the trail and our pilgrimage.

A Musical Moment

Kathryn Scott, Madonna Hamel and Matthew Anderson try to remember the words and harmonies to Java Jive. We were camping overnight at Chimney Coulee, near Eastend SK, and half-way through our group’s 350 km trek along the North West Mounted Police Patrol trail. This is a moment from a summer 2015 pilgrimage organized by Hugh Henry and Matthew Anderson. The video was shot by James Page, photographer, from Val Marie SK. on the NWMP Patrol Trail pilgrimage July 30, 2015

The Things We don’t Know We’re Missing

Gusts cottage

Tonight Greg Gust and I sat in the darkness on the dock of their cottage, heads back, cool wind coming off the water, Scotch in our hands, and looked up at the stars. We saw two shooting stars and several satellites. I tried with my usual lack of success to identify constellations other than the Big Dipper. The sky was so alive that even the Milky Way made an appearance, stretching its belt from horizon to horizon, one tree-shadowed end of the lake to the other. On the NWMP trail pilgrimage, I remember several times standing breathless beside my tent, under the dome of such a night sky, amazed at how alive the heavens could be when I was far from the ambient light of a city that never stops. Even though, because of 24-hour artificial light, many of us never see such a bright night sky now, for most of history it’s been the reverse. We are among the first generations to be denied, or better, to deny ourselves, the most amazing cinema of all – the stars that have been humanity’s companions in the deep darkness from the beginning.

Likewise with movement. We tend to think of walking as an alternative activity – something we do only if we have time, something that we choose to do. For most of history walking was not a choice but a necessity. Our default is car travel, and so in the last hundred years only, we’ve come to think of distance in terms of hours (three and a half hours from Montreal) and of vectors (green line metro until Place des Arts, then bus 80).

In walking – feeling the real, physical distance in our feet, in actually seeing the night sky, and in so many other ways, we don’t even know what parts of the long and rich human heritage we’ve been missing. It’s been good to rediscover some of this. And there’s so much more. Even when there are only two shooting stars.