Saturday, December 6, 2014

Sellner’s Pilgrimage is Not Mine

I am reading a book on pilgrimage, and I am pissed off. That wasn’t supposed to happen.

I should have known. I should have been smarter.

Standing in the bookstore at the Campion Retreat Center in Weston, Massachusetts, this morning, and looking for a book on pilgrimage, for obvious reasons, I opened Pilgrimage by Edward C. Sellner, for obvious reasons.

As my dear Dad, a southpaw, used to do, I thumbed through the book with my left thumb from back to front, and I immediately came to this page, just before the bibliography:

Five Great Pilgrimage Movies

OK, that was interesting. I looked to see if “The Way” was on the list. It wasn’t but still I gave Sellner a pass. His book must have been published before the making of Emilio Estevez’s film about the Camino de Santiago.

Then I saw his list.

It wasn’t the inclusion of “Wild Strawberries” or “Field of Dreams” or “Lawrence of Arabia” that should have been the tip-off—although already I was thinking, Really, Ed?

It was this, at #3: “Meetings with A Remarkable Man—Chronicles cult leader A. J. Gurdjieff’s journey through Asia in search of the meaning of life.”

Seriously, Ed? A. J. Gurdjieff? Has anyone at Ave Maria Press ever heard the term fact-checker? Proofreader? It’s G. I. Gurdjieff, not A. J., and the title is plural: Meetings with Remarkable Men. There are some things I don’t know about but Gurdjieff doesn’t happen to be one of them.

What this listing told me was two things actually. First, Sellner is in the spiritual-not-really-religious camp. Second, even in that select company, he is a dilettante. He doesn’t even know from Gurdjieff.

And still that was only the tip-off that I might get pissed off by the book.

What pissed me off—and I’m still reading, so the jury’s out, but they’re already napping—is that Pilgrimage, published by a putatively Catholic press and written by a Ph.D. from an allegedly Catholic college, St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota, is all about following your star, about developing one’s spirituality, about stages of the monomyth, in the terms of Joseph Campbell.

I think you know how I feel about Joseph Campbell.

I am reading now with a sharp pencil, looking for a single mention of either of the following words: devotion or penance. 

As in, Some people go on pilgrimages not to follow their star or dream or gleam or bleepin’ bliss, i.e. selfishly, but out of devotion, or as an act of penance. That was what the medieval pilgrimage was all about. If I don’t read either of those words somewhere, I will begin assuming that all this modern-day talk about pilgrimage—the Camino and whatnot—is just another spiritual smokescreen.

Does anyone even know what they’re doing anymore?

According to Sellner, today’s modern pilgrim, or cultural tourist, a term he equates with pilgrim (wtf), is about as Catholic as a Hindu yogi or the wonderful but certifiably Jewish Moshe Feldenkrais, and as self-sacrificing as a woman with a personal Pilates trainer.

Have I vented enough? OK. I’m going to read some more.

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