Immersions: A Pilgrim Experience
An immersion experience is a rewarding one. It offers participants a privileged insight into culture, time and place. Such an experience is one of journeying beside with those you are travelling with, those visited and those met along the way.
The modern immersion journey has its roots in the pilgrim journey. In our Christian Catholic story, pilgrimage plays a vital role in the deepening of faith and allowing a tangible experience into that which a person may only understand in abstract. For example, journeying in the footsteps of a Saint or significant figure such as the Santiago de Compostela (the Way of Saint James) in Spain, or to the Holy Land and Jerusalem to experience the Jesus story come to life. Likewise, our Muslim brothers and sisters also partake in the annual holy pilgrimage of Hajj to Mecca to deepen and renew their faith through following the footsteps of Prophets and significant figures in Islam. Pilgrimage implies preparation of mind, body and spirit. It requires an open and willing heart in order for the fruits of such an experience to grow in the life of each pilgrim.
The immersion journey too has such power. The immersion experience of ‘crossing cultures’ allows the development of an informed cultural sensitivity that participants can then share in their own day-to-day lives. Often the power of any immersion is on the return home when sometime later – weeks, months or years – the experience makes sense in their own lives. Once a story is shared in the immersion context, there is a responsibility to nurture and promote it positively.
There are many gifts that are provided as a result of an immersion experience or pilgrim journey. It necessarily prompts participants to ask profound questions of themselves, about their life and the lives of those they meet on the way. Participants are challenged out of their comfort zones, understanding that the systems that govern their peaceful existence at home, often do not apply to all the people of the world who are impoverished or oppressed. From this comes the gift of balance and reassessing the balance between the wants and needs in your own life.
Finally, and most importantly, an immersion allows its participants to truly understand the shared humanity of all people. Like the great pilgrimages of our time, immersions are the most rewarding when entered into in a spirit of mutual vulnerability. Just as those strangers who walk the gruelling Santiago de Compostela may become friends in faith, or the ritual removal of social class and separation for Muslims who travel on Hajj allows them to grow in their faith together as one united group, so too must an immersion be focused on listening, collaboration oneness, relationship and friendship.
Students at Loreto Normanhurst have many opportunities to begin their own immersion journeys in the relative comfort of school-based structures and friendship groups. The challenge is to take what is learnt and experienced in order to apply it in all areas of their life.
Mr Phillip Merchant