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

9 replies on “How I was Saved by a Sense of Belonging”

Timely post. Relevant to me particularly now.
Also makes think of the recent migratory shifts in the global population. And the relationship between migration/immigration, and even refugee to pilgrimage, belonging … And how could pilgrimage, even small ones, help facilitate grounding in oneself, the part of the land one is currently on, and the culture.
Thanks for this.

Thanks Pamela. I agree….and I think the paradigm of pilgrimage may be one of those that’s helpful in setting a new ecological awareness sometimes as well. The question of whether a refugee can be a pilgrim is particularly interesting.

To me, pilgrimage always includes a relationship with powers greater than myself, that help me align not only with self, the land I walk on, or those who belong to it, but to the cosmos, and God. The relationship is not only lateral, nor does it move only downward into the earth, but upward to the Great Beyond as well…the Universe, and spiritual realms. (This forms the graphic of a cross by the way, such an ancient symbol of spiritual wisdom long known by indigenous cultures.) In leaving behind our comforts of home, in shedding material goods and relying on the goodness of the land and people who accept us in their midst, we allow our intuitive, true nature room to express itself…to know itself better, to understand where it might come from and where it might go after this earthly pilgrimage – after the body dies and becomes part of the earth again. For me, I walk as a pilgrim when all four branches of the ancient cross are activated, and I move with the intent of not only belonging to land and people in a healthier, more balanced way, but to origins of Spirit as well. Best wishes for Virginia, Matthew! Say hi to George et al for me…

thanks Wanda…..we’ll miss you at the Symposium! For me it has to do with receiving rather than demanding (or buying). We don’t always get what we want, exactly, as pilgrims, but we receive something….

Hi Matthew,

I was struck by this line “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”.

Many of the feelings you have in a walking pilgrimage can also be applied to long distance cycle touring. You can choose to call it a pilgrimage or not, but there is a deeper sense of connected-ness with a place, a people and a culture after you’ve spent time and a great deal of effort, including a sore and tired body, to get there (where ever “there” might be). A connected-ness you can not get when travelling by car.

When Ken and I are cycling, we are in some ways totally independent, but in other ways so very dependent on the people in the towns and village we pass through. We need them for food and shelter. We need them for information and for interesting conversation. And sometimes we need them to help us out of a tough spot. It’s the people we meet, when we make our totally crazy trips, which make the travelling so worthwhile.

Enjoy your conference, you’ll do just fine. And even more, keep walking!


It’s so nice to hear from you, Jocelyn! I agree completely; when I think of your accounts of your adventures while cycling, it was absolutely a case of being supported by the people and places you passed through. And while I’ve never done any long-range cycling, it sure sounded like the same sense of connectedness that I’ve felt walking.
Been too long since we’ve seen each other. I hope that can be remedied sometime soon!

Hi Matthew and Jocelyn,

I am a little late catching up on these posts. The lines that Jocelyn picked out press another question upon me: besides *receiving*, what does the pilgrim *give*: to the land, the culture, the people … ? Each other? Does this enter into the meaning of “pilgrimage”?

Best wishes!

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