St. Ludmila Pilgrimage - Days 2, 3 & 4by Thomas Zahn - 2021-06-18
In due course progress is measured in footsteps instead of kilometers, opportunities to cooperate, companionship, solitude and prayer. Full disclosure, when this idea hatched it did not yet have legs. Now that I have walked, in search of a plan, beyond my own spiritual enrichment, something tangible finally begins to take shape. It is not something external, however, as might be described with words, but a stirring inside in response to the signs I now find along the way.
A poster that could very easily have slipped my attention, was found while looking over the pictures taken on the 2nd day. There it was, a notice posted on the gate of St. Bartolomej church in Libčice. It was an announcement to walk the path, from Mělnik to Tetín, with some minor variations from my own path. I opened the link that the fancy QR code took me to, and found there a beautifully thought out description for each stage of the journey.
This in fact was good luck that I found this when I did, as it allowed me to alter my course to include Budeč, site of an ancient fortress, and the remains of the oldest church (rotunda) in Bohemia, both from the time of St. Ludmila. And so it was on this 3rd day of walking that signs describing the life and times of Ludmila first appeared, tied to trees along the way. I was also fortunate to find the church of St. Peter and Paul in Budeč open, which on previous visits it had not been. There were young men and women in period costumes demonstrating some of the old customs and crafts to elementary age children.
Both the poster, with its themes for each stage, and the inclusion of Budeč into my journey, on this particular day, left me feeling that indeed I had met some companion who was now traveling with me. It helped me understand the broader context of this experience. Admittedly, I did not have a clue a month ago, when I first articulated this wish, to make a pilgrimage in honor of St. Ludmila, someone I knew very little about. After only 3 stages, she was beginning to come into focus.
It helped that in between my walks, back in Prague, I discovered a symposium taking place, as part of this “Year of St. Ludmila”. Not much different than walking on a trail in the forest, searching for sign posts, wading through the myriad of lectures, to find those that spoke to me, conjured in my mind a picture of this woman, and her journey through this same landscape of life.
All other concerns about how this pilgrimage might make sense financially, what my role should be, or if in fact I was physically up to the task of such an enterprise so late in life, fell away. Yet it was not the sort of experience that is easily shared. In fact, quite the contrary, it is deeply personal. In many respects this was a journey inward, despite distractions, it was a walk with solitude. For those who know this feeling, you know too that there are few words or pictures that can capture these moments.
Just as every sign post is a welcome friend, on the journey through the forest of life, being alone in the quiet stillness of thought is also reassuring. There is more to it than simply watching each step and taking care to not lose the path. The space inside grows in proportion to the rate of our steps, the slower and more thoughtlessly we move, the broader and more eternal (timeless) the horizon appears.
I found myself walking alone with many people. This included my mother, my father, my wife, my children, my in laws, my friends, my adversaries. As I walked in silence, I found myself listening for their voices. Listening to understand, not to respond. It was as though my ego had been lulled to sleep through sheer boredom, and I was finally free to hear with my soul. In this way I came to the awareness of Ludmila, her struggles and her great faith.