Iona Pentecost Pilgrimage: A Mirror of Questions

pilgrims going to the abbey

It is in the spirit of Quest that we walk towards an answer, a hope, an ache, towards healing, while on a pilgrimage. It is the desire to seek and find. While we are walking, while we are looking for the answer, creates a constant state of expectancy, which raises our spirits and lessens much of the “normal” stress or fatigue of everyday life.

The Pilgrim’s Path requires you to look at all exchanges, all events, all emotional reactions with fresh eyes; always looking for the divine to show up, expecting a synchronicity, expecting an answer. We must stay aware. The stranger is often such a deliverer of the divine response. We see this pilgrimage possibility as early as the book of Genesis, in which Abraham and Sarah greet three strangers in the desert, who actually turn out to be angels. But Abraham and Sarah are unaware of this sacred presence; they are simply practicing an ancient law of the desert, honored among the nomadic peoples of the Near East, which required that if a stranger appeared at your tent, you were to welcome them, and share your food, drink and shelter. In the searing heat of the desert, the law of hospitality was a matter of human survival. It is still practiced among the Bedouins today and seen along the Pilgrim’s Path, even here on Iona. It is a way of extending yourself to Other, acknowledging the ever-present possibility of the Divine showing up and the sacramental sharing of a meal or a moment of time.


As a way of attuning our eyes and ears to the possibility of angels and answers, our group is using the following “mirror of questions” to center in on the God-given value of each day. This is in line with the Jesuit tradition’s of The Examen, which was believed to be a method to seek and find God in all things and to gain the freedom to let God’s will be done on earth. Honing in on the daily experience is a way of discerning the movement of the Spirit in our lives; in this critical accounting, there is revealed answers for authentic expressions and guidance to personal quests and conflicts.

At the End of the Day: A Mirror of Questions

What dreams did I create last night?
Where did my eyes linger today?
Where was I blind?
Where was I hurt without anyone noticing? What did I learn today?
What did I read?
What new thoughts visited me?
What differences did I notice in those closest to me? Whom did I neglect?
Where did I neglect myself?
What did I begin today that might endure?
How were my conversations?
What did I begin today that might endure?
How were my conversations?
What did I do today for the poor and the excluded?
Did I remember the dead today?
Where could I have exposed myself to the risk of something different?
Where did I allow myself to receive love?
With whom today did I feel the most myself?
What reached me today? How deep did it imprint?
Who saw me today?
What visitations had I from the past and from the future?
What did I avoid today?
From the evidence, why was I given this day?

-From John O’Donohue’s Benedictus, A Book of Blessings


Threshing Time

ImageWe wait for much, do we not?  And conditioned are we to defend ourselves against this posture and we use every tool we can to avoid that quiet distance between departure and arrival.  Whether it be at a stop light, in a ferry line, or stuck in red-light traffic, we quickly deploy means to lessen the wait.  Let’s be honest, despite the laws of safety in place to prohibit such behaviors, we may quickly check our smartphones for an email response from a friend, update our Facebook status and even get caught up on Twitter.  Radios get turned on, phone calls are placed and what would’ve been just waiting time, just actually became highly productive and we drive through the green-lighted intersection already more ahead than when we initially stopped.

And while it be Advent, a time pregnant with the charge to watch and wait, we are summoned by seasonal sales, called out to by copious Christmas carols, and booked solid with events, parties and gatherings.  We certainly don’t want to…wait for it-whatever that IT may be.  But it is certain that the thrill of the season is made available even as soon as Thanksgiving night.  And the gifts that often come with the wait become elusive and hard-found amidst all the glitter, gaiety and lights. 

ImageFair enough, but are there things in our lives for which we are actually waiting, things we simply cannot rush–rush delivery or otherwise?  I’m talking about threshold seasons, where we are called to depart from one way of being and enter another.  The threshold is that moment of stepping over, and into, a new region, a new landscape; it is that moment of tension between goodbye and welcome.  It is a waiting place, however short that stride may be, over the decisive line that divides the what was from what is hoped for.  This goes beyond the sense of waiting in line at the grocery store (isn’t your phone already out by then?).  This is waiting for the heavy-with-meaning things of life to shift, move and heal…and it is wearing work. 

This sense has been heavy within me this week as I find that I am weary of this great call to wait; and yet, I have been reminded that it is in this waiting where our strength is reclaimed and renewed.

 My dear mother just had major back surgery two weeks ago and I’ve been bedside to her up in Snohomish, WA in this post-op time.  I’ve been waiting with her for her strength to be revived and this sort of tension is near exhausting, I must admit!  However, last week as I was abiding with my mom, three majestic bald eagles flew over my parent’s pasture and lighted upon a large evergreen tree east of her living room window.  The Psalmist words sung in my heart and never did this ancient verse feel so true: “They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength; they shall mount up on wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint,” (Isaiah 40:31) and the contemporary song of this verse continues with the sweet bidding, “Teach me Lord, teach me Lord to wait.” 

There is something, something that is of deep soul-value in these seasons of life that summon us to the quiet, in between times. These are the times that simply cannot be rushed and require us to be ‘bed-side’ to something greater, and beyond, ourselves.  Today many people may describe their lives as being ‘in transition.’  This phrase can describe relationships, work, location; or more significantly, to the inner work of the soul or world view.  Technology changes our realities daily as do any such standards in our communities.  In a culture where speed and development are so highly regarded, this certainly places our psyche constantly under relentless strain. However, the word ‘transition’ seems flimsy and light to the real work of waiting that ‘threshold’ requires.  The late poet, John O’Donohue, says it this way:

      Originally, ‘threshold’ related to the word ‘thresh’, which was the separation of the grain       from the husk or straw when oats were flailed (often at the doorways of homes).  It also includes the notions of ‘entrance’, ‘crossing’, ‘border’ and ‘beginning’. To cross a threshold is to leave behind the husks and arrive at the grain. -John O’Donohue, Benedictus (2007)


ImageWith this sense of the word, there actually is action.  This needn’t be a quiet waiting.  We can ask questions, we can seek answers, we can thresh.  This is the movement of one who is waiting for something that was to become something made new.  And it is in this movement, in this threshold-crossing, shaking and separating that strength and renewal is found.  This is the place where the Spirit resides; this is where Strength and Love fully exist to give us the means to survive, and thrive!, once we have crossed over into new and unknown territories.  This threshing, this waiting, is what results in the glorious grain that will feed and nourish us as we move forward on our life’s  journey. 

So, I find that I am leaning into this waiting time with hopeful expectation that there will be a renewal of strength and stamina, both for my mom in this healing season, but for myself personally in this Advent time.  I greatly anticipate the “grain” of this waiting, this threshing, season!