Author: Andrew Wilder

Camino de Santiago Inspires Self-Discovery: Pilgrimage focuses on journey not goal

What is the purpose of pilgrimage? What does going on a pilgrimage tell us about our own lives? And what might the experience of pilgrimage tell us about Jesus and the Gospel of John?

These are the questions Marty Stortz, Christenson Chair of Religion and Vocation at Augsburg College, addressed in her talk “Footprints in the Gospel of John: Pilgrimage and the Body’s Knowing” on April 29 in Dittmann Center 305. The event was sponsored by religion professor and O.C. and Patricia Boldt Chair in the Humanities John Barbour as part of his three year focus on travel and cultural criticism.

The talk focused on Stortz’s experience walking the Camino de Santiago, translated as the Way of St. James, a centuries-old pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain, and the way religious pilgrimage helps her understand the meaning of the Gospel of John.

“Jesus puts to words the homelessness in a pilgrim’s heart,” Stortz said, quoting verse Matthew 8:20: “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Using that quote and other examples of Jesus’ language of journeying and wandering “Follow me”; “I am the way”, Stortz argued that Jesus is portrayed as a pilgrim. “Is it surprising, then, that the disciples followed suit?” she asked.

Stortz defined pilgrimage as “a journey to a sacred center that involves intentional dislocation, for the purposes of transformation, that invites the body to mentor the soul.”

Pointing out that many of the world’s major religions recommend pilgrimage as an important spiritual practice, Stortz said pilgrimage is a metaphor for life, the arc from cradle to grave. For that reason, she argued, there is much to learn from the experience of pilgrimage about how to live our lives.

Her journey began, however, not in Spain, but in Tanzania. After her husband died of brain cancer, Stortz set out to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with a group of friends. While some climbers tend to fixate on reaching the summit, Stortz said she prefered to think of the climb itself as the main point of the journey.

“I realized that we weren’t reaching the top of this peak unless it wanted us there.” Stortz said. “It was pilgrimage, not conquest. We had to find a rhythm of walking, or a pace, no matter how slow, that allowed steady forward motion, without stopping and starting over and over. We had to be steady. This seemed to me a great metaphor for the spiritual life.”

Stortz and her friends did reach the summit, and after returning to the U.S. she quickly found herself searching for another journey to embark on. She and one of her friends decided to walk as much of the Camino Frances, the most heavily traveled route to Santiago de Compostela, as they could in three weeks.

What she learned during those three weeks was that in the end, you have to walk your own camino.

“By the end of the second week, I realized that I’d been walking the author of my guidebook’s camino and not my own,” Stortz said. Many popular guidebooks map out the camino into sections that pilgrims, in theory, can walk in a single day. But Stortz said she realized she was focusing on getting to the end of each section and not on the act of walking itself.

“I realized that I had to find my own pace. I reverted back to the rhythm I learned on Kilimanjaro.”

And in the end, she said, the pilgrimage was more about the journey than it was about the goal.

“We had run into the sacred so much on the path to Santiago that when we made it there, it was almost a let-down,” she said.

But how does this relate to the Gospel of John?

“John relates a journey without a guidebook,” Stortz said. “Jesus simply issues an invitation, ‘Follow me,’ and discipleship appears to be simply a matter of keeping this guy in front of you. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Ultimately, Stortz said, what makes pilgrimage so important is that it “makes the body the vehicle for transformation.”

“Pilgrimage lets the body mind the soul, so to speak,” Stortz said. “In the ancient world, people thought that the soul had to be in charge of the body. But pilgrimage flips that relationship. We learned a lot from our feet on the Camino. It forces you back to the basics.”

Stortz left the audience with a challenge to live as if life were a pilgrimage in the form of a quote by a medieval mystic named Hugh of St. Victor: “He who loves his own country best is yet a beginner; he who loves all countries as if they were his own has advanced far; but he is perfect for whom the whole world is as if it were a foreign country.”

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Musicians find new groups post-graduation

With the release of Merino Wool’s album “All I Need” last weekend, we are reminded that St. Olaf has a thriving community of campus bands. These groups come and go as new musicians filter in with the first-year class and out with the graduating seniors.

This high turnover makes for a healthy and dynamic music scene, but no one likes it when a band splits up for good. However, these musicians don’t always hang up their instruments for good once they get their diplomas. The Manitou Messenger reached out to some former campus bands to find out what they’re up to these days.

Moon Like Mars

Folk duo Moon Like Mars was made up of Ethan Hiedeman ’13 on guitar and Amanda Burgdorf ’13 on the cello. After jamming together on Damien Rice songs in their first year, the two played their first gig at a benefit concert in the Lion’s Pause after the Haiti crisis.

The duo still gets together now and then to play together for fun and has been toying with the idea of performing at a repurposed convent “with some great acoustics,” where Burgdorf is now living. Hiedeman is also collaborating with Lauren Piper ’12.

“We’re putting together a set of original songs and looking to book gigs,” Hiedeman said of the new project. Hiedeman plays guitar and sings, and Piper plays banjo and piano and sings in the as yet unnamed group.

“Our collaboration mostly consists of playing and harmonizing on each other’s original songs and a handful of covers,” said Piper, who also performs as a solo musician. Her next gig is at the Acadia Café in Minneapolis on March 21, along with another Ole grad-band Fox & Coyote and Daniel Lohmann ’12 and his band.

Dirty Petrov and the Gentillionaires

When Alex Van Rysselberghe ’12 and Shane Allen ’14 discovered their shared love of eastern European folk music, Dirty Petrov and the Gentillionaires was born. Originally a gypsy quartet, the lineup grew to a nine-piece band featuring Van Rysselberghe on drums, Allen on accordion, Taryn Arbeiter ’12 on violin, Eric Metzger ’13 on double bass, Neil Hulbert ’13 on trumpet, Chris Bouxsein ’12 on tenor sax, Francis Maginn ’12 on trombone, Noah Mitchell ’12 on guitar and percussion and Sarah Chao ’11 on bilingual vocals.

The band, which made “the music for premium dance,” according to its Facebook page, played their brand of Klezmer- and Gogol Bordello-influenced tunes at a number of shows on campus and in Northfield and closed what would turn out to be the last Lutefest ever. The group disbanded after over half of their lineup graduated and dispersed, some pursuing graduate degrees and others working as far afield as China and Russia.

However, the two founding members are still making music at St. Olaf: Allen, now in his senior year, plays with newer campus bands such as the Loose Cannons and Megatherium Club, and Van Rysselberghe works as a staff musician in the dance department. He also plays the drums for Daniel Lohmann, whose campus band was called The Parachutes, and for Fox & Coyote.

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Dancers in residence expose students to new experiences

Alexandra Beller and Toni Melaas ’00 of the Alexandra Beller/Dances Company of New York are currently in a guest residency with St. Olaf’s Dance Department, teaching classes and choreographing a piece that students will perform in the Companydance Spring Concert in May. The residency, which began on Feb. 22, will conclude with a master class and final performance on Saturday, March 1.

The residency program is meant as a chance for students to gain new perspectives and experiences in the medium of dance.

“We try to have a variety of experiences for students,” said Professor of Dance Janice Roberts, “so we look at artists and the different skills that they have and how they work with students. We’ve done a historical work, we’ve worked with African-American artists and next year we’re going to do a jazz work. And [Alexandra Beller’s] company is sort of a cutting-edge, young company that’s out there. So we try to have a variety of experiences over a span of four years for the students to encounter in different ways.”

“It’s great to get a new perspective on movement and movement creation,” said Karina Culloton ’15, one of the ten students who will perform in the piece being choreographed by the guest artists. “We have awesome professors here, but sometimes it is good to change it up a little bit and learn what other people are doing.”

“When you come to a college like St. Olaf [as a dancer], we have some faculty, but our expertise might only lie in this field or that field, so we like to give them a nice, broad spectrum of what’s happening in the world of dance,” Roberts said. “It gives them a broader experience, a more worldly experience. And it also gives them contacts. You know, if one of them wants to move to New York to dance, now they have people that they can contact there for help or advice.”

At the beginning of the year, students had the opportunity to audition to be part of the dance being choreographed by the guest artists. For these students, the week-long rehearsal period is an intense sprint to create and learn an entirely new piece before the guest artists leave.

“[The students] have rehearsal every single day, some days for seven hours, some days for eight hours, so it’s really long,” Roberts said.

“We are creating this piece in such a short span of time,” Culloton said. “And by the end of the week we will have been in rehearsal for almost 30 hours. But it is so worth it.”

But this year, the residency has been expanded to include more than just a weeklong intensive with a small group of students. This year’s additions to the program include the final performance at the end of the residency, classes taught by the guest artists during the week and a master class open to students and the public before the guest artists’ final performance later that day. These additions enable the visiting dancers to connect with more students during their short time on the Hill.

Another significant part of this year’s residency is alumna Toni Melaas, who is a living example of one of the many trajectories students majoring in dance – or any of the arts – can take post-graduation.

“We want students to understand these conduits of how they might forge a pathway in the arts,” Roberts said. “I think it’s wonderful for students to have these people that they can talk to and ask, ‘How did you do this?’ I really love that aspect of the residency this year.”

“Both Toni Melaas and Alexandra Beller have such an amazing wealth of dance and life experience,” Culloton said. “I just want to soak in as much as I possibly can.”

The guest dancers’ master class will be from 11 a.m to 1 p.m., and their performance will be at 7:30 p.m. on March 1, both in Dittmann Center Studio One. Both are free and open to the public. Tickets to the performance may be reserved by calling the Dance Office at 507-786-3248 or by emailing

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River Doctors links art and conservation

On Friday, Feb. 21, internationally-recognized conservation photographer Chris Linder will visit St. Olaf for the opening of an exhibition of his photography called “River Doctors: Taking the Pulse of the World’s Largest Rivers” in the Flaten Art Museum. Linder will give an artist’s talk in Dittmann Center 305 at 4 p.m., which will be followed by an opening reception from 5-6:30 p.m.

The photographs in “River Doctors” chronicle the effects of deforestation, land use and climate change on four major watersheds around the world – the Fraser, Kolyma, Amazon and Congo river basins – and scientists’ efforts to study these effects.

The title comes from a metaphor Linder uses to explain the importance of watersheds to the environment: Just as doctors determine the health of a person from samples of their blood, earth scientists learn about the health of the land from samples of river water.

Linder, who began his career as an oceanographer, now uses photography “to educate and inspire people about science and conservation,” according to his website.

“I would go out to sea on these expeditions participating as part of the science team,” Linder said, “and I’d see all of these great stories happening all around me, and I’d think, ‘Nobody really knows about this.'”

Now, Linder works similarly to an embedded photojournalist, living and working with teams of scientists in the field for an average of 100 days per year.

It was on one of these expeditions that Linder met John Schade, an Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at St. Olaf and a principal investigator with the Polaris Project, a collaborative climate change research organization in the Siberian arctic. Schade set the ball in motion for “River Doctors” when he approached Visiting Assistant Professor Jill Ewald, former director of the Flaten Art Musuem, with the idea of exhibiting Linder’s photography. He thought “River Doctors” would be appropriate for the St. Olaf community in part because of its interdisciplinary nature.

“John knows that the kind of work Chris is doing ties art and science together in this way that works really well on a liberal arts campus, where we’re trying to break down barriers between disciplines and do more collaborative, interdisciplinary work,” said Jane Becker Nelson ’04, who is in her first year as director of the Flaten Art Museum.

Final preparations for the show came together over Interim, when Becker Nelson worked with Annelise Brandel-Tanis ’14 on an independent study in curatorial practice. Brandel-Tanis, a studio art major concentrating in environmental studies, helped organize and prepare the show.

“The fact that I was also interested in the ideas of conservation photography and documentary art and environmental issues was completely coincidental,” Brandel-Tanis said, “so that was really exciting.”

Part of Brandel-Tanis’s work was to refine placards providing scientific background information for the photographs.

“The show is very didactic,” Becker Nelson said. “It’s meant to be a teaching show. It’s meant to be a totally concise experience, where a visitor could walk in not knowing anything, potentially, about rivers or river health or watersheds, but by following the chronology of the show clockwise, you would get this introduction to the subject.”

The show ends with a final panel calling museum visitors to action.

“Basically it turns the educational piece around and says, ‘If this is something you’re interested in, you can participate and help be a part of it just by collecting a small sample of river water and sending it in,'” Becker Nelson said. This facet, along with the extensive information and captivating photographs in the exhibit, fulfills Linder’s goal of both educating and inspiring.

“When I’m looking through the camera, my objectives are to try to figure out what essence of the project will engage people, broadly,” Linder said. “I want to bring people in.”


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