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Artist in Residence

A proposal by Bramwell Ryan

We may not cover much distance in our lives, at least physically, but as God’s pilgrim people, we are always on the move, slowly but surely making our way through the wilderness of this life, to the land of promise in the next. This pilgrim journey of ours is marked not so much by miles traveled, but by hearts melted.

– James Koester, SSJE | Superior of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist in the fall 2018 edition of Cowley, which examines pilgrimage at length

Maybe not…

Long before Gore-tex lined boots and quick dry undies, before credit cards and Google maps, back when the world was a fearful place that moved at four miles an hour with bandits, deplorable roads and no ATMs, the faithful set out on pilgrimages. Some went to pray near dubiously authenticated body parts, others to walk where the founders of our faith once trod.

For the ancients, pilgrimage was one of the precepts of belief. All pilgrims faced a common set of criteria: they left the familiar to embrace the unknown. They traded the comforts of home for the hardships of the road. A people who believed the world was flat and that dragons lived in faraway seas were brave enough to go to where faith was more acute, where prayers were heard and where transformation was on offer.

Today some say – like the quotation above – that since Christianity is a pilgrim faith, there is no longer a need to embrace the physical imperative. Soothing us in our lassitude and expanding girths, we are lulled with the comforting notion that actual physical hardship isn’t a prerequisite of a pilgrimage because it’s really about the journey of the mind, soul or heart. Since the path of faith is internal, why break a sweat? There’s no need for the sharp sting of sleet, the ankle twisting of a rough path, the terror of being lost and the predations along the way.

But what do we forsake if we move our only notions of pilgrimage from out-there to in-here? What do we miss by not putting one foot ahead of the other, of not prying ourselves from our comforts? If pilgrimage is an internal journey, a find-God-everywhere kind of thing… why did the ancients ever leave home? Why did they risk it, when it was infinitely more dangerous than it is now? Why did they go there if they could have had it all here, at home?

I suspect there’s something key to the physical act of a pilgrimage.

I want to take a closer look at pilgrimage. I want to examine what it could be in this hyper-connected, easily plotted Instagram world. Is pilgrimage real if we don’t have bloodied knees or bloated blisters? Is it authentic if our journey is moderated by flight schedules, Air BnB reservations, cheap domestic SIMs and not a whiff of uncertainty? In the 21st century, what is pilgrimage? This is what I want to explore as a short-term saint benedict’s table artist-in-residence.

Deliverables

 

In looking more closely at pilgrimage my research and analysis will be textual, visual and conversational. I will interview experts. I’ll record SBT folk who have actually walked the way or journeyed far from the comforts of modernity. With analysis of ancient and contemporary imagery, gathering history and facts and melding it all together in to a radio documentary, I intend to explore pilgrimage and package it as compelling audio that can be presented on the SBT website and podcast channel.

At this juncture I wonder if the key image concept of pilgrimage is renunciation, the walking away from what is known and cherished in pursuit of adventure and proximity to God. Since it is hard to abandon what we know and easy to forsake the ephemerality of hope, I wonder if the bedrock motif of pilgrimage is that of casting-off? That is but an early hint of that which I search for in this project.

I suspect this project will take many hours (reading, interviewing, analysis, script writing, recording and editing) but for the purposes of this application we could confine it ‘officially’ to a two-month term. There will be costs associated with the project (SaaS fees, music licensing, stock audio purchases and possibly audio archival usage fees) but they can and will be covered by the stipend.

Text & Tech

It should be no surprise that technology is changing faster than our language. Accordingly the words “radio”, ”audio” and “podcast” are used interchangeably in this proposal and should be treated as synonyms. Essentially I intend to put together 15-20 minutes of edited audio (including narration, interview clips, music, sound effects and archival tape) that examines the topic of pilgrimage. Depending on a variety of factors the end product could appear on over-the-air radio, can be posted to a website, uploaded as a podcast episode to iTunes, Stitcher or Spotify, streamed via Dropbox… and on and on.

The long road… Ordinary Time

While a pilgrimage would have been – and remains – a major event in the life of anyone embarking on such a journey, I suspect that once the excitement of departure wanes, this is indeed an ordinary time activity. It’s a long-haul act of the will and the imagination; it’s the daily grind and the small discoveries; it’s the plod of one step in front of the other. Yes, the bookends of leaving and arriving are feasts, like the bookends of Ordinary Time itself, but the pilgrimage is the long expanse between the summits of celebration. Let’s journey together on those roads of discovery.

I have always connected with the imagery of saint benedict’s table being a tent people, squatters if you will, along the song lines of faith taking place everywhere in Winnipeg (and elsewhere through virtual connections). Like all who wander but are not lost, SBT knows to carry little that encumbers. While grounded in core beliefs, SBT holds gently and is open to awe and wonder. As people of the way, we celebrate what lies around the next corner… and the next. I believe a better understanding of pilgrimage will yield a better understanding of ourselves.

Applicant | Bramwell Ryan

My present involvement at SBT is limited to sclerotic singing from the front row, active encouragement of the musicians each week, occasional ideaExchange input and an intentional connection with some of the ‘orphans’ in our community. In times past I have been involved in SBT’s media efforts.

There are times I wonder if I have always been a pilgrim. Having lived in more than three dozen places and travelled to 60 countries, with “nomads.ca” being my most cherished URL, having undertaken two pilgrimages to Mount Athos and launched several other ad hoc sorties of faith onto holy ground, I have always been on the road to somewhere else.

My prayers often feel like a clanging gong or cracked cymbal so I have long been in search of locations where prayer sounds more melodic and real. Some think of such spots as thin places or patches of ground still warm from burning bushes we no longer have eyes to see but regardless, they are destinations I seek.

I have experience producing audio, freelance and as a CBC Radio reporter. I have research and interviewing skills (3,000+ published articles). Samples of my work are available on Dispatches and Lyyf Studio. (Sadly virtually all of my radio work was lost in a hard drive failure.)

I have a deep Christian faith – osmotic, rejected and reclaimed. SBT is my spiritual home, has been for more than a decade and remains so even as I’ve wandered near and far.