I have just returned from an amazing five week journey through Europe, leading pilgrimages in both Provence and the Dordogne and researching sites and stories for next year's quests in Italy. Like a good pilgrimage does, it stretched me and revealed something essential.
At times it was arduous, filled with unexpected challenges (floods in Paris, train strikes, the serious illness of my musical collaborator) that called me to growth, humility and trust. Each and every day was also filled with profound connection and meaning as our pilgrims bonded together through the challenges we faced and as we delighted in the generosity and hospitality of one another and the magnificent people whom we encountered and now call friends.
In leaving the familiar behind and shaking up our routine, we have an opportunity to see the world with fresh eyes. Sometimes this helps reveal what is essential and most true about ourselves. I savored every five course meal, and like my companions, experienced a sense of awe at the stunning cave paintings, castles and chapels of France. The progression of the week was intended as an echo of Dante's Paradise, with each day's sites being more beautiful than the last. But what will linger most in the memory of my heart is the rituals every morning and evening as we gathered in the 12th century Benedictine chapter house to sing, meditate and share our hearts. Every morning we would light a candle, each speaking aloud our intention for the day. Every evening, we would light a candle again, naming a moment of beauty or love we had encountered that we were grateful for. Such a rhythm of remembrance, simple and sincere, is my most precious souvenir. I found that these daily rituals of music, meditation and recollection nourished my soul even more than the spectacular Michelin starred meals we savored.
I also realized that my heart is most overflowing and fulfilled when guiding people to these sacred places, and that has caused me to ponder anew the scope and scale of what I do. Two things arose in response. The first is the desire to lead ever more and more of these soul adventures, and I am working to substantially expand our offerings in Europe for next year.
The second thing that arose is the determination to create a "virtual pilgrimage" of books for those who cannot cross the seas to come with me abroad. Tomorrow, I head off to the coast of Northern California where I will be lecturing on Beethoven for the Mendocino Music Festival (click here for the link to the Festival ). While I am holed up in a cabin in the redwoods between concerts, I will also be drafting the first book of a series on pilgrimage, bringing together the stories and hundreds of images it has taken me over a decade to collect.
Travel through Europe makes clear how history and culture are so multi-layered. One of my favorite sites in Rome conveys this beautifully even in its name: Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, which translates to "St. Mary On Top of Minerva". Now a glorious Gothic church which houses the remains of Fra Angelico and Saint Catherine of Sienna, it is a site which was first dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis, then the Roman goddess Minerva (who had been known as Athena in Ancient Greek mythology). While the walls of this luscious landmark tell the story of Christianity, the vaulted ceilings contain frescoes of the prophetic Sibyls of the pagan world.
The great mythologist Joseph Campbell took great delight in these layers of history, and is reputed to have said that there were really only eight basic stories in the world, though with endless variations. He believed that in the archetypal depths, there is one myth of the hero- whether that hero is King Arthur or Luke Skywalker or Buddha. And yet, when asked "What about the journey of the Heroine? What is her quest?", Joseph Campbell was at a loss. I believe that we are now living in a time where the answer to that question is being revealed in fascinating ways, bubbling up from the depths in both the recovery of ancient texts like The Gospel of Mary and Thunder Perfect Mind- and in the shifting of images of the feminine in such Hollywood films as The Hunger Games, Ex Machina, Pan's Labyrinth and The Force Awakens.
It is these common depths that most interest me, to see the ways that the Medieval image of the Black Madonna of Rocamadour bears an uncanny and unmistakable resemblance to statues of Isis from 1000 B.C, or to discover vivid echoes of the ancient Summerian goddess Inanna's descent into the underworld re-emerge in season five of the HBO television series Game of Thrones. This August, Mythica will be launching the first of a series of one-day workshops on The Heroine's Quest. Diving deep into cross-cultural mythology, art and film, we'll identify the archetypal themes that are a part of each one of us in days that combine lecture, guided journaling and community building through rituals like labyrinth walking.
One of the most moving experiences this past month was returning to Taize- an ecumenical site deep in the Burgundy countryside where three times a day, thousands of pilgrims gather together to sing simple chants in dozens of languages and sit in meditative silence. I learned new songs there last week- ones that I will be bringing to Christ Church in Sausalito on Friday, August 19th for the first of a series of Taize Evensongs with my dear friend Christopher Love, former cantor at Grace Cathedral when we'll be offering a candlelit evening of music and silent meditation.
Taize is a living testament to the power of beauty to shine through simple ritual. Tonight, before eating a simple salad made from ingredients gathered at the morning's farmer's market, I'll light a candle and sit in silence, returning to the rhythm of my pilgrimage in Provence, remembering to reflect on the many things, and many people I have to be grateful for. You- even if I do not yet know your name- are one of them.