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My Great Big Spiritual Hike

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In just one week, it begins. On Monday next, that is, the 27th, I begin my three week hike from Trysil to Trondheim. I will walk, on average, 20 km (or 12 miles) a day for seventeen days, all alone. Just me, the trees and the occasional moose. In fact, I'll walk all the way to the Nidaros cathedral, along one of the old pilgrim trails; Østerdalsleden.

People have asked me why I'm going to do this, actually. In a lot of interesting ways.
"Oh, you're an outdoors enthusiast kind of type?"
"Are you trying to lose twenty pounds?"
"Did you lose a bet?"

The answer is, none of the above. I am going on a pilgrimage. I am dedicating three weeks of my summer vacation to wandering through woods and mountains for no other reason than I want to do this for myself and my faith. And yes, this is an act of faith and worship. Just in case the word pilgrimage didn't cover that. When people ask me, I smile at them and say that I'm doing this for the same reasons people have always gone off on pilgrimages. It's a spiritual journey as much as a physical one, and the reasons people have for going are between them and their chosen deity.

The sad part, and the reason why I feel compelled to mull this over in blog form, is that people don't like the answer I give them. Of all the people I have told about this endeavor so far, only one (my oldest, bestest friend) understands what it means to me. All the others have frowned a little and uttered some concern or lack of understanding. Most of it ammounts to that they don't understand why anyone would bother to waste three weeks of summer just because they believe in something, and especially not something as dated and stupid as a deity. In fact, I've just stopped telling people why I'm going and let them believe I'm trying to lose weight, instead. Defending my faith is getting old.

Religion is old-fashioned in my little corner of the world. The idea of "good, Christian people" isn't catching on anymore; I know more people who are ashamed of belonging to a church than people who are secretive about their political orientation. And excessive shows of belief, like this pilgrimage of mine? It offends people; out-and-out offends them, for some reason. Just like the little crucifix necklace I wear sometimes, and the fact that my family actually celebrates Christmas as a church holiday as well as a family holiday. When I read the Sookie Stackhouse books, I was shocked at how openly and honestly the main character admits to going to church and trying to be a good Christian - I figured it must be an American phenomenon, the whole being-proud-of-your-faith thing.

There are many reasons why people hate religion, and many of them are extremely hard to disagree with. People have been beaten, killed, raped, ostracized and worse because of religion. There have been wars and there has been hatred. There are Catholic priests having too much fun with altar boys, there are Protestand ministers sneaking money off their congregations. Television preachers and fanatics go utterly monkey in the media, overriding anyone of a more moderate view. Homosexuals, women and other minorities have been discriminated against. I don't condone any of these things, and I find it extremely annoying that people who claim to follow a doctrine of love and tolerance turn around in the next moment to claim that God doesn't love queers, or people with a different skin colour, or girls who sleep around. There are a lot of good, valid reasons why organized religion is a bad, bad idea.

And when I try to explain why I believe, why I go to church sometimes during Christmas and Easter, why I am going to walk all the way to the St Olav cathedral, people just don't want to hear it. They refuse to accept that there's a huge chasm of difference between that old stone building they remember from baptisms and weddings, and my faith. Because there really is, and it just kills them to hear that my faith has nothing to do with hate and discrimination and everything to do with thankfulness and joy.

When asked some time ago by a very aggressive atheist to describe my faith, I told him that every single day, I feel a strong sense of being safe, loved and looked after. This isn't a reasonable idea, or something I've rationalized into being; this is the same feeling that I've always had, no matter what was going on elsewhere in my life and the world. I felt like that when I was five years old and I feel like that at the age of twenty-three. This sounds like cheesier than a bowl of Cheetos, but that feeling makes me feel like bursting at the seams with joy. I've never doubted, and I've never been able to talk myself out of my beliefs. People often say that their prayers have been answered, but I feel more like things have been handed to me on a silver platter before I even knew I needed them, and I have sometimes shown more strength than I give myself credit for having. I believe, and I am grateful and happy about it.

This is far too 90s to be admitted to in public, but the following video from Sister Act 2 is actually a pretty good description of what I think faith - real faith, not a set of church rules - boils down to: it's colourful, it's joyful, and it's that feeling of being so happy you just have to sing and dance or you'll pop something.



I guess all I'm saying is, isn't it better to have something to die for than to not have anything to live for?
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On June 22nd, 2011 02:32 am (UTC), hazeltea commented:
I think that everyone should be able to observe their religion as long as it doesn't infringe on the rights of others. People who are offended by you just trying to be a good person in your own way are just pushing too far in the other direction. Militant atheists annoy me as much as pushy religious people do. Everyone should be able to do what is best for them without being criticized.
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On June 22nd, 2011 02:51 am (UTC), little_seahorse commented:

Thanks so much for sharing this. I find it valuable to hear how people's faith manifests, and how they experience their spirituality on a day to day basis.

I dated a girl briefly last year who was a militant atheist, and I couldn't help feeling that she was filling a part of herself as a human being that needs something larger than itself, with scorn and hatred for religion.

Personally, my religious and spiritual self is focused on the earth, as it was for my ancestors thousands upon thousands of years ago.

I wish you all the best for your upcoming pilgrimage - I hope you enjoy yourself and keep well :)

xx

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On June 22nd, 2011 05:24 am (UTC), storyfan commented:
If I had three weeks all in a row to do something like that, I'd do it. My reasons would be different, but in the end this is something you do to either prove something to yourself or to affirm what you already know to be true.

I wish you well on your journey, and I hope you write and let us know how it went.

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On June 22nd, 2011 10:12 am (UTC), soul_bonnie commented:
Oh, that's why you asked on twitter if gospelmusic was obligatory on a pilgramage! :D I was wondering. (If I translated that correctly.)

I'm an atheist, but I understand. There are many things that can give you a sense of belonging, a feeling that there's a point to your life. If you're doing this to get into better contact with it, I think it's a marvellous idea.

I'd say "Have fun", but maybe that's a bit too trivial. So: I hope you find what you're looking for and many things more that you weren't looking for!
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On June 24th, 2011 11:32 am (UTC), shewillfall commented:
When asked some time ago by a very aggressive atheist to describe my faith, I told him that every single day, I feel a strong sense of being safe, loved and looked after. This isn't a reasonable idea, or something I've rationalized into being; this is the same feeling that I've always had, no matter what was going on elsewhere in my life and the world. I felt like that when I was five years old and I feel like that at the age of twenty-three. This sounds like cheesier than a bowl of Cheetos, but that feeling makes me feel like bursting at the seams with joy. Vakkert!

Kult at du skal gå så langt! Minner meg litt om en bok av Tomas Espedal ("Å gå eller kunsten å leve et vilt og poetisk liv")- den type vandring fører jo til mange tanker. Men ja, kult! Jeg vil gjerne vite mer etter reisen!
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On June 25th, 2011 08:50 pm (UTC), niektete commented:
Thanks, all :) It's good to have at least some support, though I'm a stubborn bastard and would probably have made the journey out of spite even without such support :P

Will keep y'all posted when I get back! ^^
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On July 31st, 2011 03:17 am (UTC), roolime commented:
I stumbled onto this looking for a stroy you wrote, but felt I'd give my two cents. Faith is something that people today seem to misunderstand in the worst way. It can't be forced or taught, but if felt, it can be the single most uplifting thing we have. If you feel that and wish to express it in such a way I say more power to you. I've often gone on walks to spend time focused on my faith. We believe in different things it sounds like, but no one should ever deride you for your faith. And as an American I can say that certain faiths make it no easier if you are a minorty faith, but christianity is very prevalent here.
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