40-day pilgrimage takes faithful on spiritual journey along 400-mile river. But something's missing ...

Years ago, during my Associated Press days, I wrote about running feeding the body, mind and spirit of a Texas seminarian.

This was the lede on that 2004 profile:

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — In what he calls his “Mother Teresa Run,” Roger Joslin looks for the divine in the faces of everyone he meets. When “Running With Alms,” the Austin seminarian takes along a few dollars to help those in need.
In Joslin’s view, a spiritual experience — even an encounter with God — is as likely to occur along a wooded trail as in a church, synagogue or mosque.
The 52-year-old master of divinity student at Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest relates his experiences in the book “Running the Spiritual Path: A Runner’s Guide to Breathing, Meditating and Exploring the Prayerful Dimension of the Sport.”
Published last year by St. Martin’s Press in New York, the book combines Joslin’s insights from 30 years of running with the spiritual journey that guided him toward the priesthood.
Joslin maintains that through chants, visualization and attention to the most obvious aspects of the present moment — the weather, pain or breathing — the simple run can become the basis for a profound spiritual practice.
“When running, search for the divine in the ordinary,” he writes. “Each run is not a pilgrimage to Chartres, to Mecca, to Jerusalem, but it is a pilgrimage nonetheless. … If the intention is to converse with God, you are a pilgrim. It is the very ordinariness of the run that enables it to become a central part of your spiritual life. When God appears in the midst of the mundane, we are making progress toward him.”

I was reminded of that old story when reading a feature this week — also by AP and also involving the search for God in nature — about a New England river pilgrimage.

The top of the AP report sets the scene:

Charles Montgomery welcomed the challenge of hiking the steep terrain of the Connecticut River headwaters in remote northern New Hampshire, admiring the birds, the plants, the woods. He also loved the opportunity to pray.
For four days, the 82-year-old retired doctor was part of the first leg of a 40-day pilgrimage of canoeists and kayakers of all faiths along the 400-mile river, New England’s longest. The group traded cellphones for paddles to partake in a spiritual journey, the first event of its size on the river, which flows from the Canadian border to Long Island Sound.
“You begin to let go of stuff,” said Montgomery, of Walpole, New Hampshire.
The Episcopal dioceses of New England and a group called Kairos Earth organized the “River of Life” pilgrimage. The idea came from Robert Hirschfeld, New Hampshire’s bishop. Hirschfeld, 56, an avid rower, sees the journey as a way for people to renew their relationship with God, connect with one another and with nature, and have fun.
“It’s become something far greater than I had imagined,” said Hirschfeld, who traveled the first leg and plans to get back on the river with his daughter next week in Hanover, New Hampshire. There are times, he said, when all you hear is the sound of loons and paddles hitting the canoes.
“It causes one to recalibrate one’s soul. You don’t use your cellphone; your laptops are nowhere to be seen,” Hirschfeld said. “You’re suddenly reconnecting on a totally different level with one’s being.”

In an age in which it seems like every other headline is about, well, you know who ... I found a story on a spiritual quest refreshing and a nice change of pace. It made me want to put down my iPhone and my iPad, step away from my laptop for a few hours and grab a fishing pole (which is saying something since I'm not a fisherman).

But I'll admit that the AP feature left me less than fully satisfied. I'll apologize in advance for that because I really wanted to like this story and give it a totally positive review. However, the vague nature of the spiritual/religious details in the story prevents me from doing that.

Readers are told that the pilgrimage involves "canoeists and kayakers of all faiths." But Episcopal dioceses are the only religious folks specifically mentioned. Did the AP writer actually encounter folks of different faiths or was that reference taken from the event's promotional materials (which say people of all faiths, beliefs and paths were welcome to participate)?

Also, I wish that the story — instead of just telling me that participants prayed and read Scripture passages — had quoted some of those prayers and Bible verses.

And instead of just noting that the pilgrimage will "explore a different spiritual theme each week," why not delve into one or more of those themes. The story itself covered the first week of the pilgrimage, when the website material says the theme was to be "baptism and immersion in God." That's interesting to me. You?

I'm even curious if — just maybe — there's some sort of spiritual significance to the 40-day length of the pilgrimage.

Please don't misunderstand: I'm not saying AP needed to give in-depth treatment to this subject matter. The length of the original story — roughly 600 words — is probably about right for a national wire service feature.

What I am suggesting is: I would have welcomed — and readers would have benefited from — a bit more attention to the heart-and-soul details.

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