The Pilgrimage (work in progress)
Malin Kjelsrud, librettist and lyricist
Embarking on a pilgrimage is known from most religions. Humans have always sought their origin, a closeness to the eternal, something which is sacred to them. A place where the distinction between the earthly and the heavenly is thinner than elsewhere, a place that speaks of the divine presence in the existence or a place of special importance in the individual’s life. Therefore, the goal is the most important in the pilgrimage. The way is a means to arrive.1
In Norway, the pilgrimage tradition stretches back to the end of the 13th century,2 but people have probably sought out holy places for many thousands of years. Making a physically challenging journey can be done for healing and purification or seeking penance, comfort, forgiveness and hope. «Side effects» of the journey are exciting adventures, coming into contact with foreign cultures and sometimes developing a profound nearness to people one walks with or meet along the way. One gets to test one’s strength and to challenge the limits of one’s body and mind. Being in silence, and being alone with one’s own mind over a longer stretch of time is difficult for many people, so a pilgrimage can be very useful and clarifying for the mind and soul.
The pilgrimage concept has in recent years become very popular also for people who define themselves outside of an ordinary religious context. (Along the main pilgrim routes across Europe, hostels flourish, often with facilitated practical help, such as having their luggage transported from place to place while walking). It’s easy to imagine that this increased popularity is a response to a changed world, and that modern people again feel a legitimate need to get in touch with something bigger than themselves. Bonaventura3 sees the soul buried in the sensuous world, dazed by worries and desires. That makes the soul unable to return to itself, as a picture of God.
Inspired by both Bonaventura’s The Journey of the Mind into God, and by Dante Alighieri’s Divina Comedia – both structurally and partly in content, we imagine the piece divided into three textual parts. Neoplatonism’s distinction between between body, soul and spirit / intellect was the basis for Bonaventura’s three-part division.
1. Body / belief: the preparation and start of the journey. One focuses outward onto the landscape and is mostly concerned with contemplations of the beauty of nature. For Dante, the journey goes down through hell (inferno), but in any way this does not yet concern him personally, he observes and pounders on it more than he experiences it. Bonaventura’s first step is to look outward and find traces of God in the outer world. Humans use their five senses to observe the created things, which are all pieces of God.
2. Soul / Hope: The way forward leads from the outer world into one’s own inner self. This is the difficult middle part where one realizes how difficult and demanding the journey really is. One has to struggle with oneself and one’s thoughts. One is silent, introverted and meditative, trance-like. With one’s mental faculties one can derive the existence of a perfect being, God. But neither nature nor one’s inner self possesses the absolute perfection that can express God’s being adequately. Dante ascend the mount Purgatorio. Bonaventura’s second step is, by means of memories and contemplation, to gaze inwardly to find traces of God in oneself.
3. Spirit / Love: Completion of the journey, a walk and an ascension towards the light, the sun, towards home. Both Dante’s and Bonaventura’s final steps lead to God (paradisio). Only when the intellect liberates itself from its bondage to the material and its own ego may a human – through a purified love, approach God and grasp his eternal nature. The ecstasy – which cannot be explained by reason, is a personal mysterious experience of the absolute – may arise. One realizes that God is the true knowledge and that all knowledge leads to God; though with scripture as a guide, for humans cannot do everything alone. With faith, hope, and love one may rise all the way up and behold the beauty in the end. Bonaventura ends the ascension with the insight of ecstasy: God is like oneself. One is «at home».
Bonaventura. Sjelens vei til Gud (The Journey of the Mind to God). In Jan-Erik Ebbestad Hansen (ed.). Vestens mystikk. Verdens hellige skrifter. Oslo: De Norske Bokklubbene, 2005
Dante, The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso. Penguin Classics, 2012.
Laugerud, Henning, Reformation without people – Catholic Norway in pre- and post-reform, Oslo: St. Olav forlag, 2018
Pilgrimsleden.no: https://pilegrimsleden.no/no/about/historisk-om-pilegrimsvandring, (visited 15.03.19)
2 Henning Laugerud, Reformasjon uten folk – det katolske Norge i før- og etterreformatorisk tid, s.273
3 Bonaventura. Sjelens vei til Gud (The Journey of the Mind to God). I Jan-Erik Ebbestad Hansen (red.). Vestens mystikk. Verdens hellige skrifter. Oslo: De norske bokklubbene, 2005