Article: Peace Pilgrim

Discussion in 'Spirituality/Worship' started by TwoCatDoctors, Jul 6, 2009.

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    Peace Pilgrim
    By Thomas James Martin
    Jun 12, 2002

    Living to give rather than to get. ~Peace Pilgrim

    I should like to have met the Peace Pilgrim while she was alive. She was within 200 miles of me once, but what with the comings and goings, ups and downs of a young man’s life, I never quite made enough effort.

    Rest assured that it was my loss.

    Peace Pilgrim, otherwise known as Mildred Norman Ryder, died in 1981. She had spent the previous 28 years walking the highways and byways of the United States on a personal pilgrimage for peace.

    This great soul journeyed from 1953 to 1981, vowing to "remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food." In all she walked more than 25,000 miles during her journey, touching the lives of thousands with her simple way to peace:

    This is the way of peace.
    Overcome evil with good,
    Falsehood with truth,
    And hatred with love.

    Peace, who always emphasized "the message not the messenger," dressed in a navy blue shirt (monogrammed with "Peace Pilgrim") and slacks and a short tunic on her pilgrimages. In her pockets she carried her only worldly possessions: a comb, a folding toothbrush, a ballpoint pen, copies of her message and the latest correspondence.

    This silver-haired lady, an inspiration to the thousands with whom she met or heard her speak, was born on a small farm in 1908 in New Jersey of parents of modest means. As with many of us she grew up and lived a life that revolved around making money and buying things.

    However, she came to look upon her life as self-centered and meaningless, feeling that worldly goods were burdens rather than blessings. She took a long walk through some woods all of one night (around 1938) until I felt "a complete willingness, without any reservations, to give my life to God and service."

    According to her writings, conversations and speeches collected by five of her friends in Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words , she gradually adopted a life of voluntary simplicity and began what was to become a fifteen-year period of preparation. While not knowing just what it was she was preparing for, she did volunteer work for peace groups and also worked with people who had physical, emotional and mental problems.

    During this preparation period and in the midst of some spiritual turmoil, she found inner peace--and her calling. The inspiration for the pilgrimage came in 1952 after she had become the first woman to walk the entire 2,050-mile length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to northern Maine. She writes of that time:

    I sat high upon a hill overlooking rural New England. The day before I had slipped out of harmony, and the evening before I had thought to God, It seems to me that if I could always remain in harmony I could be of greater usefulness--for every time I slip out of harmony it impairs my usefulness.

    Shortly thereafter on the morning of January 1, 1953 she began her pilgrimage for peace. She walked alone and without money or any ties to charities, churches or other organizations. She walked "as a prayer" and as a chance to inspire others to pray and work for peace

    She actually finished the first 25,000 miles in 1964. Though increased demands for speaking eventually led her to accept rides in order to make her schedule, she still continued to walk.

    Peace said so many beautiful, poignant words as she walked into eternity, touching all with whom she came into contact with her gentle ways and simple, profound message. I like the following very much:

    We who work for peace must not falter. We must continue to pray for peace and to act for peace in whatever way we can, we must continue to speak for peace and to live the way of peace; to inspire others, we must continue to think of peace and to know that peace is possible.

    The Pilgrim believed deeply that the road to world peace lay in each human being finding inner peace. Perhaps her simple message bears repeating one more time:

    This is the way of peace.
    Overcome evil with good,
    Falsehood with truth,
    And hatred with love.

    On November 19, 2000 a new statue of Peace Pilgrim by Costa Rican sculptor, Fernando Calvo, was dedicated at the United Nations University of Peace in Colon, Costa Rica. The life size statue joins busts of other world peace makers such as Gandhi and Tolstoy on the grounds of the University.

    Searching for an ending to this story of an extraordinary and inspiring life, I find myself gently remembering that Peace Pilgrim would have kept it simple and emphasized the message not herself. I see, perhaps, that her own words say it best:

    I never want people to remember me except in connection with peace. . .

    Editor's Note: I wish to acknowledge the wonderful web site, Peace Pilgrim Website devoted to the works of Peace, and from which I learned much of her life and times. I urge you to visit this place of beauty and spirit on the Web to learn more about Peace, her pilgramage and above all her message. There, you may download freely her beautifully written and inspiring booklet, Steps Toward Inner Peace as well as the book compiled and written by her friends after death, Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words .