IN APRIL, 2016, 23 PILGRIMS SPENT A WEEK TOGETHER ON THE ISLE OF IONA; HERE ARE A FEW SNAPSHOTS OF OUR OUTER JOURNEY. THE INNER PILGRIMAGE, WHILE IT MAY TAKE LONGER TO UNFOLD AND UNDERSTAND, WAS EQUALLY VIVID AND BEAUTIFUL.
Our pilgrimage began with a two-day trans-continental journey, finally crossing the glens and lochs to Oban, a seaside town with some of the best seafood we could hope for!
Walking the island on pilgrimage
Iona has been a major pilgrimage destination in Europe since the Middle Ages. In modern times pilgrims are again coming to the island in significant numbers. Yet when we arrived, our pilgrimage had just begun. We continued the journey spiritually as we created a community of prayer and reflection, and we continued it physically by walking the island, individually and together. Instinctively, we visited those physical points of connection between the present and the past, like so many pilgrims before us.
South of the Abbey: Columba's Bay
The south end of the 3-mile-long island is the untamed end - rocky and boggy, with a beach that is remembered to be the spot where Columba landed in 563 to begin his work. We made station-stops along the way, circling for readings, prayers, and song at sites of memory and meaning: at the Nunnery / the Crossroads / the Common grazing ground / the loch / and finally Columba's Bay.
What wonders are there to behold.
- Bobby McFerrin
(we sung this song all over the island, everywhere we stopped to read and pray)
North of the Abbey: the Hermit's Cell, Dun I, the Spring of Eternal Youth, and the Reilig Odhrain (burial ground)
Next day, we set out from Bishop's House to gather around the standing cross at the Abbey, then crossed overland to the Hermit's Cell on the other side of the island and then to the top of the highest-point hill, "Dun I". Sounded easy. It was not. We got lost, and sunk into bogs, and the road was steep and cold and windy and slippery. Many of us would not have walked it if we had known what we were getting into (- and the accomplishment of arrival at the top was exhilarating, and the memories of that day are becoming epic). In that sense, it was a lot like life's pilgrimage.
spring time flowers coming up everywhere
Wild geese, the Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit, wheeling overhead all week.
You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -- over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
- Mary Oliver
Ferns growing in the Abbey windows.
Grass on the path that has endured hundreds of feet and keeps coming back
The whole worlds that exist on rocks at the shoreline
the moss, brown from a distance but vivid and diverse up close.
The generosity of the islanders on hand at every turn
The isle of Iona framed through the cave on Staffa.
Accumulated pilgrim offerings in a window of the burial chapel in the ancient burial ground of the Reilig Odhrain,
Found objects on our walks were added to a shared altar under the Paschal candle.
No one narrator or slideshow can tell the story of these pilgrims because it was told in a hundred different conversations, solo walks, communions, clean-up assignments, journal entries, etc. Each person made a heroic journey, and discovered God and themselves more deeply on this island, often described as a thin place, where the visible and invisible worlds seem united.
On the last day one of the pilgrims said "I'm realizing that I am the thin place". YES! We have traveled far from home to learn the truth that is closest to us. Now we begin the further, equally heroic work of living out of this awareness in the world to which we return.