Peace Pilgrim

In 1952, Mildred Lisette Norman felt that the time had come for her to speak out for peace.  The Korean War was raging, the McCarthy era in the U.S. was in full stride, an era when you were assumed to be guilty until you proved your innocence.  In her words, ‘It was the proper time for a pilgrim to step forth.’  The journey that would take her more than 25,000 miles, on foot, had begun.  Henceforth she would simply be known as the Peace Pilgrim.

This book tells the Pilgrim’s story in her own words and it is a fascinating story.  She begins by describing her ‘Spiritual Growing Up.’  The path to such growing up included:

  • Purification of body, thought, and motive.
  • Relinquishment of self-will and of all attachments.
  • Learning that true living consists in giving rather than getting.

The chapters in the book that caught my eye included:

  • Living the simple life.
  • Living the spiritual life, especially the sections on ‘The change called death,’ and ‘The way of love.’

She tells simple stories of encounters with people wounded by violence, and stories of encounters with peaceful communities, including the Amish.

I can imagine the reaction to her message:

  • The politicians and magnates ignored her.
  • The children were fascinated by her.
  • The Quakers embraced her.

As I read I remembered some words by Abraham Heschel, the great Jewish writer.  In the 1960s he walked with Martin Luther King to protest the racial injustice that black Americans endured.  When asked why, he answered:  ‘I was praying with my feet.’ 

I think that’s what Peace Pilgrim was also doing.  Though you may not agree with all of her perspectives, her commitment to a gentler, saner world stands out in our driven, consumer-addicted society.

Ironically, Peace Pilgrim died in a car accident as she was being driven to a speaking engagement.  She died unafraid as she made what she called ‘the glorious transition to a freer life.’   

[Thanks to Ray P. for this suggestion]