Pilgrimage and Presence

“It’s sad to leave the people you travel with.
How much moreso those who remind you of God.
Hurry back to the ones protecting you.

On every trip, have only one objective,
to meet those who are friends
inside the presence.”

(excerpt from Rumi’s “A Pilgrimage to a Person,” The Essential Rumi)

I am just back now from a trip to Kingston, Ontario with Inshallah, the 100+ voice choir I have enjoyed for 8 years or so. There we joined Open Voices, a community choir in Kingston with similar numbers. Between the two choirs, we were 170 voices strong, and performed a concert in support of Kingston’s Interchurch Refugee Partnership.

The event was spectacular indeed. It was a rich experience to sing with another choir, with two different directors and two different cultures. It truly was an opportunity “to meet those who are friends.” I like the way Rumi puts it: to meet those who are friends rather than meet those who will become friends. This presence he speaks of seems to reference a place and way of being where we are drawn into relationships that almost seem to have been prepared in advance: a feast awaiting our taking place at table.

I had the happy opportunity to be fed by and billeted with Open Voice chorister Stewart and his lovely wife Aileen. They were consummate hosts, a description that befits Open Voices. As we gathered around a programme featuring music both familiar and not, each choir had the challenge of learning to sing together, a process expedited – I think – by the realization that we were there together for the sake of refugees coming to Canada from Syria. They framed “presence” for us in their permanent pilgrimage.

But it wasn’t only the concert and cause that made “presence” real. The trip to and from Kingston on the bus, too, was a gift with much laughing, a bit of napping, some rich conversation and that sort of small talk that builds bridges and opens doors. I have been learning a bit about pilgrimage these last few years, and have discovered that leaving allows you to return to a part of you that might well be buried below the busyness of the everyday. I think this truth obtains for communities as much as for individuals. As a group we experienced ourselves anew, and this was a gift. And so it was so very poignant to come home and pick up my volume of Rumi and read that “it is sad to leave people you travel with.” But sadness is tempered by the memory that together we entered the presence, and were therein gifted.

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8 thoughts on “Pilgrimage and Presence

  1. Mary says:

    beautiful experience…”therapeutic presence of connection”

  2. shoreacres says:

    I think you’re exactly right that groups can experience a kind of corporate refreshment and renewal in the course of stepping away from ordinary routines. Clearly, the trip and the concert were a wonderful experience for you, and your group — and no doubt for those who heard you, too.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Yes, it was a great experience complete with the kind of hiccups that remind you why you do what you do, and help you to see who you are (each you here corporate)!

  3. diannegray says:

    This sounds like it was a wonderful experience, Allen. I love your words “leaving allows you to return to a part of you that might well be buried below the busyness of the everyday”. Beautiful xxx

    • agjorgenson says:

      Thanks so much! It was a grand experience, and interestingly, I have read a couple of articles this week about the health benefits of singing in a choir. Timely!

  4. dianerivers says:

    How wonderful to experience relationships as “a feast awaiting our taking place at table”. What if we considered all friendships, new and old, this way? In a sense, I believe that indeed, they are all prepared in advance as a gift we receive upon entering the presence. I’m so glad you found (and continue to find) this to be true in your pilgrimage.

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