Pilgrimage as Homemaking

Dr. Denise Starkey Presents SAL Colloquium

Alexis Anderson

Hardships. Everyone experiences them throughout their lives, but every person’s experience is different. As part of St. Scholastica’s SAL Colloquium series, Dr. Denise Starkey, chair and associate professor of theology and religious studies, presented the idea of spiritual homelessness as a way of naming the experience for survivors of childhood violence.

Starkey said that violence survivors “often have an overwhelming desire to belong and to find a home.” Often survivors are seen as lost, eccentric, or out of place, but that may not be the case, borrowing J.R.R Tolkien’s quote, “Not all those who wander are lost.” She also argued that while survivors may be healing, often this seeking and searching process is misunderstood and misjudged, a “false stability is prized over what is misnamed as instability.”

Traditional metaphors for God and understandings of suffering place the burden for continual suffering and experiences of trauma upon the victim. Meanwhile, idealized images of home, belonging, and comfort, that are spoken about in Christian tradition, also place arrival or homecoming in an “after-this-world realm,” said Starkey.

She explained that while some survivors adapt to a certain religious or spiritual traditions, others come to recognize that well-known metaphors, images of God, conceptions of sin, and explanations of suffering do not fit the experiences that they have had. So they look elsewhere and they search for understanding and acceptance.

Starkey introduced the idea of pilgrimage to the audience. Usually, the idea of a pilgrimage is associated with some sort of religious quest or journey, but Starkey encouraged attendees to see it in a different light. Instead, the ancient practice of pilgrimage can be seen as a way of “home-making” for those who are on their healing journey.

Both the practice and the metaphor of pilgrimage provided the audience with an additional way of understanding home as more than a destination, a place one returns to when the pilgrimage is completed.

“Pilgrimage as homemaking offers ways to explore that God travels with us and makes a home within us,” she said.