A Pilgrimage for Healing
15.56 mi. Mapped by Michael Drell.
This pilgrimage is an invitation to service through contemplation in action. The destination is the San Francisco Foot Clinic at the Gubbio Project / St John the Evangelist Church in the Mission District. For this pilgrimage, we’ve partnered with Gubbio, which provides people living with housing insecurity with a safe and quiet place to rest, personal supplies, foot care, massage, referrals, and chaplaincy necessary for those living on the streets.
Like all BAIPP pilgrimages, can participate virtually or by physically walking the route.
Background and inspiration for the pilgrimage:
I scouted out this route in March of 2022. I am a volunteer at the Gubbio clinic, taking people’s medical history and bringing them in when it is their turn. I also help translate Spanish for the nurses and bring donations of socks when I go to volunteer.
Before ministering to human feet, I worked with horses. I learned from working with horses and especially hoof pathologies that care is the instrument of health and healing. I learned about hygiene and wound care, adjustments to horn materials, cutting and rasping of increasingly softer tissues, treating fungal and bacterial imbalances, and applying treatments of all sorts to various problems. In the hoof care field, it is commonly held that movement is key to healthy feet for the horse. The adjustments made with tools are intended to allow the form to encourage optimal movement, which then leads to proper growth and wear. The significance of the relationships amongst form, care, and movement cannot be overestimated.
The route to the cathedral winds through densely built urban downtown environs, but with a significantly higher number of people facing housing insecurity whose shoes, if they have them, are in terrible shape. The Tenderloin in particular, just behind the Civic Centre was very busy with people. Walking through a crowded plaza, I noticed several people actively using or preparing crystal methamphetamine. There were also people passed out against the side of a building. One woman stood out for the fact that she looked dead, propped against the building in the blazing sunshine. I spoke to a police officer who said that she had checked on this woman earlier and would again now. I overheard snippets of frustrated conversations and saw people seemingly engaged with unseen companions or wandering around in conversation towards the sky.
The pilgrimage itself was confronting; I was confronted by the task of using unfamiliar technology. I was confronted by the insecurity I felt as the planner of this route. I am accustomed to pilgrimage as a process of noticing and following signs along a well-worn way. There is a lack of choice in direction that I love about walking on pilgrimage. The destination is clear and predetermined, and I only need to follow the way.
The pilgrimage brings out the relationship between body, spirit, and space as graphed across a type of devastation, a holding and enwombing (exemplified by the ferry boat and the water metaphor in general), and also the concept of ‘care’ as processing and religious practice (exemplified by the labyrinth and the AIDS memorial at Grace Cathedral and the foot clinic at St John’s). One’s sense of self becomes materialized anew emerging through embodied, spiritual, and environmental movements. This movement is patterned through a geography of the body, emotional/spiritual senses, as well as the terrain of ground, concrete, other bodies, vehicles, and buildings in the environment.
Because I was already in San Francisco that morning and had arrived by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), the pilgrimage was undertaken in reverse from the Mission back home to Berkeley via Grace Cathedral. In countless ways, my journey was shaped by this fact of encountering space and locations in this order, however, the linear nature of the pilgrimage became obscured by more complex layers and patterning of my experience.
Though this pilgrimage includes specific anchor points, these are suggestions for a Way of reflection, which could be undertaken anywhere. This route visits St. John the Evangelist where I volunteer at the Gubbio Center’s foot care clinic run by Gloria Escalona, DNP, RN. There was meant to be a visit to Mission Dolores, however, the grounds of this site were closed and it is suggested that one collect holy water from the basilica, there, if open.
There are also stops to the Tenderloin at the Civic Centre, Grace Cathedral for its labyrinths, and chapels, especially the AIDS memorial chapel designed by Keith Haring. I also suggest the meaningful encounters available reflecting on visits to parks with active gratitude for the beauty, peace, and healing offered by their vegetation as well as recognition and appreciation for the human gardeners and maintenance workers. There is also the ferry ride and the bay, itself, as locations which offer reflection and experiences for this pilgrimage as does the visual culture, such as public mural art, advertising, as well as various forms of graffiti to be seen and read.
I encourage others to undertake the route in either direction or by walking round trip, if time and energy allow. Please also make any adjustments which may become necessary or desired but do pay attention to how patterns emerge through your own movements across the internal and external geographies I have discussed.
First, source a pair of brand-new socks. This will function as a pilgrim offering, which has a long tradition in the form of tokens of gratitude for divine and human help.
If you are participating in this pilgrimage virtually, you may mail the socks to the clinic:
The Gubbio Project, Attn. Gloria Escalona, 1661 15th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103, USA.
Next, if you are in the San Francisco Bay area, or wish to travel on foot, map the route from where you are currently to the first Station – the Mission Dolores Church. This pilgrimage can be undertaken by walking or by using busses/other transport.
It is important to consider your own suitable entry points into the spirit of the journey, rather than adhere to strict rules about the modes of travel.
The site comprises the original Mission building, which is the oldest in San Francisco city and county. The mission was founded in 1776 by Fr. Junípero Serra, a Spanish Roman Catholic missionary and priest. The Basilica was built some 100 years later in 1886 and the towers were changed in the early 20th century. Both buildings survived the significant earthquake and fires of 1906. The site contains both church buildings as well as a museum, gift shop, and cemetery.
Reflection & Action:
We invite you to reflect on the colonial history of this site and the emergence of the city around it. How can the church reconcile this history? What prayers for forgiveness can we offer as directly and indirectly benefitting from this history? There are many layers of this relationship. What prayers and reflections can we offer towards our ignorance and privilege?
Collect holy water from the spigots available in the Church to use as blessings along your way today and at home. Visit the cemetery, reading aloud as many names as you are able with particular attention to the Indigenous bodies buried there. Take note of the nature flourishing in this urban garden, a place that memorializes those who have come before, but is also teeming with life! There are flowers, butterflies and hummingbirds that change with the seasons. Think of the trees and rose bushes having grown with the nourishment of the human bodies buried in this soil.
Our honest relationship with the history of the church and European colonization is the first step towards necessary processes of truth and reconciliation with the Native Peoples of these lands. Acknowledge how the people buried here have become physical and spiritual components of the geology and geography. Consider your relationship to living Native American people and their continued presence here in California and elsewhere. Learn more and help to educate others in your community.
Station 2: The Gubbio Project Foot Clinic at the Episcopal Church of Saint John the Evangelist
1661 15th St, San Francisco, CA 94103
The Gubbio Project offers direct services to the local community including giving out around 150 blankets per month, 100 pairs of socks per week, as well as hygiene kits, razors, and tooth brushes. https://www.thegubbioproject.org/about-gubbio
Reflect on the needs of the community members accessing and serving others at Gubbio Project and St John’s. Consider the condition of the feet of the patients of the clinic. Where have their feet carried them? Think about the many steps supporting their movements daily and over time bringing them here. What capacities for care lead to the problems and pathologies being tended to by the nurses?
Station 3: Tenderloin District and Civic Center
The Tenderloin neighborhood borders Opera Plaza just north of Civic Center and Market Street and south of Lower Nob Hill.
Reflect on the poverty and substance use experienced by so many people here. Contemplate the proximity of this reality so close to the grand municipal buildings of government, as well as wealthy neighborhoods nearby. How does policy, governance, and economics relate to the realities of poverty, exclusion, and the relationships between pain and drug use? Questions may arise about solutions – what are some practical ways to help? For example, can you offer prayers, letters to policy makers, financial support? Right now you are taking an important step by simply bearing witness to the situation, allowing this witness into your heart to shape your world view and political activities?
Station 4: Labyrinth Outside Grace Cathedral
1100 California St, San Francisco, CA 94108
A labyrinth is a walking meditation and a kind of ancient pilgrimage, a circuitous path inward to a center that winds back out and into the world again. We move our bodies through the labyrinth, which engages our senses and offers a closer encounter with the Divine. The stillness of meditation and contemplation is juxtaposed with the action and dynamism of our walking bodies and focused (or sometimes yearning) minds.
For many there are profound inner journeys instigated by labyrinth walking, though expectation of experience is its own distracting burden. Anatomical tension easily builds around expectation by holding and carrying. Often, the outward journey of our footsteps can make the space for the inward journey of our souls.
Some say that labyrinths are based on medieval maps of Jerusalem. The labyrinths at Grace Cathedral were inspired by a pilgrimage taken by Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress to Chartres in France. The design we have in San Francisco is taken from the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral (see Resources and Links), which was built around 1200. Rev. Dr. Artress has been at the forefront of the resurgence of labyrinth popularity and she founded Veriditas, which has a very useful website on labyrinth walking and other practices. There are finger labyrinths and other tools to use for those at home (see Grace Cathedral Labyrinth page and the Rev. Dr. Lauren Artess).
“The labyrinth is an ancient pattern found in many cultures around the world. Labyrinth designs were found on pottery, tablets and tiles that date as far back as 5000 years. Many patterns are based on spirals and circles mirrored in nature. In Native American tradition, the labyrinth is identical to the Medicine Wheel and Man in the Maze. The Celts described the labyrinth as the Never Ending Circle. It is also known as the Ka bala in mystical Judaism. One feature labyrinths have in common is that they have one path that winds in a circuitous way to the center.” (from veriditas.org)
As you approach the labyrinth, where do you find yourself along life’s pilgrimage? What part of your walk today is done and what is yet to come? How does this situatedness relate to a broader understanding of the inward and outward journeys of your whole life? What specific contemplations arise to the surface of your awareness now, and how does this labyrinth prepare you for what lies ahead inside the cathedral, on your way today, and beyond? Offer this micro-pilgrimage as an apophatic prayer utilizing the mind-clearing qualities of labyrinth practice. What do you need to let go of as you start and continue through to the center and out again?
Allow yourself a slow and complete encounter with this interior space. This can look very different for different people, but I would recommend taking some deep breaths and finding a chapel within the Cathedral where you can sit or kneel and allow your thoughts to slow down. Maybe you are able to recite a prayer or simply meditate with your reflections? How does this Cathedral, as a container for worship, hold you now and influence your processing of the journey you have made to get here? What do you notice about the sounds, temperature, light, colors, and forms of the structures and spaces?
What places for prayer are drawing you closer? What themes are you relating to with your choices for time, body position, candle lighting, prayer content, etc. What are you given and how do you interact, incorporating larger narratives into your own?
Station 6: Trees, gardens, parks
The location for this station is unspecified as there are many opportunities for this reflection theme throughout the pilgrimage, whether you undertake it here in the Bay Area or another location. There is a small park directly across from Grace Cathedral as one option.
Reflect on the health you feel from these plants and green spaces. If you are engaging this route as a pilgrimage-in-place, spend a moment with a favorite house plant, or by an open window where you can feel the fresh air on your face or body.
Spend time looking, smelling, and listening amongst them. How do your feet, ankles, and other joints feel differently than when walking when instead standing on grass or other non-concrete surfaces?
What difference does this vegetation make to an urban landscape?
Speak to other people enjoying these spaces. Talk to gardeners asking questions about the species and their care. Interact with the vegetation as closely as possible using all your senses without damaging the plants.
If you have collected holy water, offer prayers and blessings utilizing this water.
Station 7: Murals, art, graffiti, advertising, and other slogans and designs in the visual realm that are presented to you
What do they ‘say’? How do you hear and see them? What stories do they bring up from your life and what stories of others do they share with you?
Station 8: Food and nourishment
Are you hungry? What will you eat and drink on this journey, moreover, when and why? What choices are available to you with regards to budget and taste? How might these choices differ from that of others around you and from other locations? Are their opportunities to share food or other types of nourishment with those around you?
Reflect upon what you can consume and what you can offer to other people, animals, and plants. Pay particular attention to thirst and it’s quenching through the availability of clean water. What emerges as a result of this attention and how does that change your relationship to your own thirst and that of others?
Station 9: Ferry and the San Francisco Bay
Pier 9, Suite 111, The Embarcadero
San Francisco, CA 94111
As you wait to board the ferry reassess your body. Where is there soreness? What movements alleviate pain or what attention to muscles can alleviate tension and lengthen fibers that immediately tighten having stopped walking? Can you take this opportunity to stretch your legs and other parts of your body? Are there physical preparations that you wished you had done earlier? How are you affected by the weight of that which you are carrying? How heavy is your bag and how do you feel in relation to its weight and the value of its contents?
Looking down at the water from the pier or embankment allow yourself to pay close attention to it with your senses.
What movements does it make? What colour is it and how else would you describe it to someone else?
Can you see fish or other sea life moving?
Reflect on other times you have travelled by boat.
How is the water today in comparison to other journeys you have taken across water?
How are you the same or different, today, from the occasions of these other journeys?
What qualities and narratives are held in boat travel, which differs from crossing water by bridge or high above in a plane?
What awareness do you have of others travelling by boat? Take notice of the commuters, tourists, and sailors on this boat journey, but also reflect upon the experiences of pilgrims, migrants, fisherfolk, coast guard, naval personnel, pirates, smugglers, barge operators, people who have been or are being trafficked, cruise goers, and even swimmers and divers.
How does a boat journey and the buoyancy on water change our sense of time, grounding, control, and support?
Station 10: Healing Foot Balm
Included here is a recipe for a healing foot balm using ingredients mentioned in Bible. Making your own balm is an added meditation and offering of care to the feet. However, it is also possible to use one that is bought or made by someone else for you.
The point of the balm is to highlight the direct care relationship to one’s feet through time, attention, and intention in its application as massage and healing of the skin, muscles, and joints involved in these amazing and complicated structures which carry us standing and while walking. They support our relationship to the ground with their contact and movement across terrain and engagement with the shapes and structures of the ground where we stand and walk. Care of our own feet is an important gesture of gratitude and a great chance for reflection on our perpetual journey.
The washing and care of feet is a strong biblical mandate within Christian scripture and the customs of other pilgrim faiths such as Islam. During the application and massage with balm, take time to focus on the narratives of your feet, but also those of the ingredients used in the making of the balm.
This recipe contains locally sourced beeswax which is made by the work of bees in conjunction with beekeepers collecting the wax. There is the story of the olive oil too. This olive oil comes from a family-owned business here in northern California, but the history of the olive tree connects us to Mediterranean cultures throughout southern Europe and the Middle East as well as countless stories throughout scripture and other sources. Olives, their oil, and the trees on which they grow, carry narratives involving nourishment as food and topical application for healing and moisturizing. The frankincense types used come from a dealer in London who sourced the resin from trees grown in Somalia, Oman, India, and Kenya. The Myrrh is from Somalia and also has a rich story of medicinal and religious value. The ancient trade routes involve pilgrimage stories of commerce, friendship, hospitality, and the transfer of goods and culture across landscapes through the ages. There is also significant relationships amongst humans and animals as coworkers in agriculture and transportation as well as the innovation and engineering involved with the development of vehicles, roads, bridges etc. as the infrastructure of transport throughout history.
Simple Myrrh and Frankincense recipe with olive oil and beeswax.
Source the highest quality ingredients.
Crush myrrh and frankincense as finely as possible.
I used a powerful coffee grinder.
Take a heat-happy mason jar and fill with powdered resins about 100 ml.
Fill the rest up to 500 ml or ½ liter with strong olive oil.
Store in a cool dark place for one month mixing daily by rotating and shaking the jar in a rounded way that simulates stirring.
If you don’t have time there is an option of heating the jar in a pan of water less than boiling. To the temperature that you can leave your finger in for 3 seconds. Make sure to be careful that the jar doesn’t break. Burp the pressure every 15 mins or so and stir with a wooden spoon every hour for 5 hours.
Melt beeswax (amount according to density of balm desired ½ to 2 oz.) in a Pyrex jug in a bath of hot water in a pan. Once it is clear, add infused olive oil and stir until all the contents are clear.
Turn off heat and allow to cool until there is a more solid ring around the edges. Stir again and allow further cooling until the mixture is even.
Add any other oils and a tablespoon of raw honey.
Stir again and pour into containers for further cooling.
The consistency will vary depending on the amount of beeswax added.