Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Gravel road leading to Merton's hermitage. Photo by Harry L. Hinkle

"Man’s free the moment of his contact with God …
The law of freedom is an appropriate theme for today. When those worshippers knelt in homage on the floor of the humble stable with everything else put behind them – their homes, the wilderness, the guiding star, the agony of the city – when all these had lost their value and their impressiveness and the worshippers’ whole being was concentrated in the single act of adoration, the symbolic gesture of laying gifts before the manger signified the achievement of liberty. They were free. "
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ

The “journey” is one of the great spiritual archetypes found in every major religion and culture. Even though Western monks are characterized by geographic stability, monastic life is still viewed as a journey, although essentially an interior one.

St. Benedict, the founder of most Western monastic orders, was skeptical of those who adopted a wandering lifestyle. He made a point to distinguish between authentic spiritual pilgrimage, and what he called “gyrovagism”.

“While the gyrovague is rootless, and therefore cannot really grow, the authentic pilgrim is someone solidly rooted. Either he has a “home” from which he comes and to which he will return at the end of his pilgrimage; or – if he has adopted the existence of a permanent pilgrim – he has found enough inner rootedness to go beyond the supportive environment of a geographical and cultural rootedness.

"The pilgrim is at home everywhere without trying to build a home anywhere. He has a sense of freedom that can easily become a threat to anyone who still finds his security in the fact of belonging to a specific place and group or to a solid system. He is not a good client for the merchants of foreign spiritual goods. The gyrovague, on the contrary, builds temporary homes everywhere he goes, buys all the last products on the market and becomes the naïve disciple of the last self-made master. "

Armand Veilleux, o.c.s.o., from an article that appeared in a special issue of Monastic Studies [n 16, Christmas 1985] “In Honour of Dom Jean Leclercq”


  1. Have I said I REALLY love this blog! What? Six times already? Okay, but I'm sure I'll say it again.
    Gyrovague. Thank you for adding a fabulous word to my vocabulary. How incredibly descriptive it is.
    I have a feeling it's going to turn up in one of my future poems.

  2. THanks, Pardes. I'm rather fond of "Gyrovague", myself. I think that I've had some gyrovague tendencies myself :-)

  3. I like what he is saying about inner rootedness; it gives us the ability to grow, but also the freedom to go wherever the Lord leads us and to deal with the circumstances that come upon us without feeling like we are being tossed about by the wind and rain in our lives or hanging on by a thread.

  4. Yes, Gabriel, I too like that reference to inner rootedness. I have always hoped to feel at "home" no matter where I was, that I didn't need a geographical "home" - I could follow wherever life took me.

  5. I am intrigued by the comparison of the pilgrim and the gyrovague, one of the great "villains" of the Rule! And I found the modern adaptation of the term gyrovague to be so spot-on. Thanks, as always.



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