This post is by John Valters Painter of Abbey of the Arts. John is our Pilgrim in Residence throughout the month of December, sharing tales of a life-long pilgrim each week until Christmas. Learn more about John and read the other posts in this series here. -Lacy
My wife, Christine, and I have been to Europe on several occasions over the course of our marriage.
Christine’s father was a Latvian-born Austrian national. He worked in the United Nations headquarters in New York City, but never became an American himself. This allowed Christine to claim dual U.S. – Austrian citizenship and so we began planning a sabbatical year to Vienna in 2012. But when the class I had been teaching was eliminated in favor of a curriculum that I could not in good conscious teach our extended vacation turned into a possible permanent move.
We filled out all the paperwork (a lot of paperwork) for my extended visa, we sold our condo, our car, most of our belongings (including a substantial number of beloved books), and booked passage back to the land of our ancestors. Flying would have been more conventional in our modern age, but while researching how we could bring our dog with us, we discovered that a small inside cabin on the Queen Mary 2 would cost about the same as two, one-way tickets and an extra week’s lodging and food.
It felt like a rather extravagant mode of travel for a pilgrimage, but it gave us time to adjust to our move and reflect back on the journey our ancestors took from Europe to “the New World” many generations ago.
The fog bank we were stuck in for 6 of the 7 day trans-Atlantic voyage was symbolic of our journey. We knew where we were going and were making good progress, but much beyond the immediate moment was a mystery. There was so much we could not plan for or expect. It was a great leap of faith that seemed a bit foolish, even to us.
Vienna was, as it always is, wunderbar. The people we meet and the places we went and the experiences we had are beyond the 500 word limit of this post. We love it.
Well . . . most of it. In the end, Austrian immigration proved far too slow and incoherent for us to stay. Five months into our move, the only clear thing about my residency status was that it wasn’t going to be resolved within the six month visa I had to obtain before moving. And so we were off to “Plan B: Ireland.” (Or is this Plan C or D? I’ve lost count.)
In short, because of Christine’s status as a citizen of a European Union country (Austria), it is easier for me to live in another E.U. country as her spouse than in her home-country. (No, it doesn’t make sense to us either.) At any rate, the west coast of Ireland was calling us. And more practically, the Irish/E.U. immigration process was far quicker and welcoming that that of beloved Austria.
We had a slight misstep in the lovely (but internet-challenged) village of Kinvara before finding our current home in Galway City. But even that “misadventure” proved valuable. We meet new friends and learned a lot about Ireland and our own needs (personal and professional).
Pilgrimages usually involve a specific, sacred destination. Our pilgrimage to Galway proved to be far more in line with the ancient practice of Peregrinatio where Irish monks would get into rudderless boats and place themselves in God’s Hands to take them where they needed to go.
How would letting go of the need to know your final destination change your attitude and approach to pilgrimage? Share your response to the question or the post in the comments.