Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

A pilgrim’s poems from the heart

Joan Callahan


I am a daughter, sister, wife, mother, school nurse, colleague, friend and neighbor. My vocation is healing in all dimensions of my life. I care for spirit as well as bodies, knowing that spirit guides and informs how we care for ourselves. Spirit is what guides my path, which is why my spirit leapt when I read of the opportunity to travel to France with other nurses and take time for myself in a new setting, alone. It was time for my spirit to renew itself.

I took a solo leap across the ocean to a place that was removed from my familiar daily life and community, a place that informed and challenged me to grow in my understanding of myself in many dimensions. The travels, activities, companionship, and discussions provided a beautifully guided personal experience for the integration of mind, body and spirit that has carried me along since I returned home. I returned with a deeper sense of myself, a deeper appreciation of the mystery that guides me.

Poetry was part of my journey. I love poetry because, in my mind, it attempts to capture the heart of an event or feeling in a manner which draws on the whole of an experience, but distills it to the essence. As I journeyed along with my fellow “pilgrims,” I sometimes just sat in wonder at the feast of sensory experiences. I would write down words and phrases to get at the heart of the moments and my heart. Sometimes the words would begin to shape themselves into a poem. I found the sorting and shaping of words another way to journey into myself and deepen my experience. I have written poems for my own reflection for many years, but not to share with others. It speaks to the purpose and community of our pilgrimage that I wanted to share my poems with our group. It was a step out of my personal space to do so, yet it felt right. My journey to Paris took me along paths I had not expected nor planned for, but I am forever grateful.


Paris to Taizé

Paris to TaizeThe river of Paris runs light, wide, fast.
The water carries us out of our ourselves into light, song, and dance. We bob and weave

through narrow streets and broad avenues,
Our faces ever lift to the dome of Sacré Coeur and the spires of Notre Dame.
Our laughter spills over sidewalk cafés and lit windows,
Our spirits soar with birds over the roof tops of Paris.
Yet, we are pulled toward Taizé, into the earth.
We leave the city behind, winding through soft rounded hills,
We wander through fields of hay and flower to find new songs.
The bells of Taizé welcome us and we are drawn into ourselves.
Our songs are different, our notes deeper, traveling into core of our being.
Our notes carry us into landscapes fertile with joy and sorrow.
Our spirits journey toward God.

We dance between the City of Light and the City of Prayer.
We are grateful.


Pilgrims of Paris

We heard a call and turned our hearts toward Paris.
We were pulled by Spirit
Each one a thread of different color and texture.
We gathered in circle, entering the mystery from different points.
We moved, slowly, cautiously, with open hearts.
We walked along the path, sometimes alone, often with others.
We brushed shoulders, we followed, at times we moved aside,
To stand still in our own silence.
We shared stories, laughter, prayer, good wine.
We always were moving to the center of the labyrinth,
Mine, yours, ours.

And now,
We the Pilgrims of Paris
Leave our circle.
Like Ariadne, we carry our thread along as we leave,
to begin a new journey,
To a new center.



JOAN CALLAHAN, MSW, RN, is a School Nurse at Sacred Heart Schools in Chicago.


Highlighted in Frontispiece Winter 2009- Volume 1, Issue 2
Winter 2009  |  Sections  |  Travel

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