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.

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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

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Iona Pentecost Pilgrimage: Solviture ambulando

walkingHere on Iona, where it is often stated in promotional material that sheep outnumber people and cars, everyone walks.  There is but a single road and upon that one walks to get to the ferry, get to the Abbey, get a cup a tea.  It is both a means to a destination and a value in and of itself.  By walking, I get in tune with my body.  I am aware of what feels good, and what is creaking more than it used to.  I become attuned to my overall health and well being: am I out of breath?  Do I feel strong?  Do I need to stop, slow down or speed up?  Taking such stock of myself, I’m also more aware of others.  Incredibly different than when driving within cars, when I pass someone on this solitary street, I am significantly aware of their presence, even when they are yet yards and yards beyond me.  I sense them really; because I am removed from my insular vehicle, my soul feels the life of what is around me. So not only am I aware of others walking the road, but I hear the kerrx-kerrx of the Corn Crake nesting in the farmers’ fields.  I hear the bleating cries of young sheep trying to find the warmth and milk of their momma’s.  I feel the wind whipping about me and the moist mist accumulating on my face.

Because I can trust the undulation of my walking, I can also look about me without worrying about crashing (hopefully!).  I watch the ferry crossing the Sound of Iona.  I note the craggy height of Dun I.  I look for the turquoise hues in the sea.  And if I do happen to bump into another person during my perusals, it mandates human contact, and always elicits laughter and communication, despite language barriers.

That’s really it, I think.  Walking removes barriers.  Issues of class and status don’t exist on a road of pilgrim pedestrians.  There are no BMWs or Mercedes Benz.  There are no pimped out wheels or self-defining bumper stickers.  There is no road rage as we all are relying on the same bi-ambular locomotion.  We are just simply, ourselves, on our two feet, walking the way we were designed.  And we appreciate our fellow roaming creatures as well.  A leveling effect takes place even between us and the sheep, us and the cows.  I see these creatures a bit differently when we are on the same plain, looking at one another with only a fence between us.  As I look into these creatures eyes, as we both stand on our feet, and I witness the lamb bumping up into his momma’s udder to drink her milk, and I think, “We are not all so very different, you and I.  What can I learn from you today?”  Walking teaches us about things that matter and things that don’t.

As my feet walk this road, I find that my life is slowly set back in order.  Priorities fall back into place.  I cannot rush to get somewhere and pack more into my day.  For I simply can only do what my body is capable of and where my feet can physically take me.  I cannot squeeze in one last Target errand, while rushing to get children to baseball practice and swim lessons.  In walking’s simplicity, a gift of simplicity is given back to me and how I choose to live my life.

Augustine was onto a great truth when suggesting that we have the answer to our problems in our own two feet as he said, “it is solved by walking.”

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Iona Pentecost Pilgrimage: Arrival-Hospitality

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The warm invitation that this island, and its people, extend to new comers is quite profound.  There is a very real sense that there are no strangers in our midst.  In the context of the single road, the hostel or the beaches, there are ready smiles to lift yours, gregarious laughter rushing out to include you, and generous invitations to share tea, a meal or a bit of chocolate.  One Swedish pilgrim noted to me today how, even though he just arrived yesterday, he has felt like he is with family.  There is a sense of general community and conviviality that spans generations and gender.

In my short time on the island, I have been lovingly embraced by a group of British women staying at the hostel.  I had opened the door of the hostel’s common area to review some receipts and in a manner of seconds was instead drawn in to their circle with stories of shared faith, red wine and chocolate.  There is a very special feeling when surrounded by a group of wizened women who claim themselves with a mesmerizing confidence.  Since the late hour last night when we first all met, we have continued to enjoy countless conversations about our different countries and mutual faith.

Once again, I’ve been reminded how these journeys challenge the best of us to put our agendas away and embrace the gift of humanity right in front of us.  This type of soul journey is inevitably tied to how we connect and commune with others.  Their very presence reminds us of the absolute value of the most precious gift: life!

The vibrancy of this island is seen all over, from the colors of the sea, to the crashing waves, to the delightful hand-made signage.  Walking the streets and trails on Iona, while the wind bustles you about, truly brings one back to a fullness of life!

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Crashing waves at St. Columba’s Bay

Iona Hostel

Welcoming sign to the Iona Hostel, voted best eco-hostel in Scotland

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Labyrinth at St.Columba’s Bay with green stone searching on the beach, the same beach where Columba is said to have landed on the Day of Pentecost in 563.

Martyr's Bay

Martyr’s Bay-In 806 a violent massacre happened on these shores when 68 monks were slaughtered by marauding Nordic vikings.

Nunnery

The Augustinian Nunnery was built in the 13th century, and stands as a reminder of the offering of a beautiful balance between the masculine and feminine in the Celtic Church.

Iona Pentecost Pilgrimage-Departure: Fire and Fear (May 8)

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The last load of laundry was finally folded and last minute pre-travel errands run.  Whispered prayers and silent repetitons of the “do not forget list” infused rain gear, woolen layers and inspirational books as they were packed tightly away in the suitcase.   Today I departed for my pilgrimage to Iona and I couldn’t be more eager to get past this stage!

The pilgrimage’s archetypal stage of departure is wrought with tension and conflict.  While our souls are desperate for this life-giving journey, our egos are inherently set against anything that would bring about such unity and peace for ourselves.  Traditionally, this struggle against Self– to get over and through the leaving threshold– is represented by two great sphinxes that stand guard and strike fear into whoever would dare bypass them.  The only weapon that can defeat the sphinx is self-assurance and the ability to see through their fear tactics. To garner the strength to acknowledge the ruse of dares and distresses they throw at the pilgrim, is to seek strength from our Sacred Source and boldly call out to these foes that they are but a distraction from our destination.

I’ve studied pilgrimage for years and yet am always surprised at how very real and strong these archetypal stages are.  The events and occurrences that lead up to the departure are absolutely hallmarked by despair, and lead one to second guess the need to go on such a soul journey.  This particular pilgrimage has been no different and the sphinx have sure been doing their dandiest to scare me away from the day’s journey; it has been a nonstop onslaught of attempts to waylay and mislead me.

Beyond the leading-up weeks of fluish fevers, car problems and financial woes, we almost had a house fire last night.  Seriously.  To commemorate my departure-and Seattle’s brilliant May weather-we decided to grill a salmon and enjoy our family’s meal outside.  I decided to leave the grill on high heat to burn off the residual fish skin following dinner…and promptly forgot about the outside oven as I packed and put the children down to bed.  Late into the night, after my husband had swept the kitchen floors and laid the shaken out kitchen rugs on top of the grill, which is inches from a bakers rack containing shoes, coats and outdoor miscellany that stands against the 100 year old wooden paneling of our home (!!!!!), I smelled burning smoke through the kitchen window I just happened to open earlier in the afternoon to get a cool spring breeze through the house.  I opened up the back door only to find the kitchen rugs in flame atop our gas grill!  Grabbing an un-torched corner, I flung the rugs to the ground and rushed around looking for water to douse the firey inferno.  The flames were inches away from our house…I still shudder to think about what would have happened if I had gone to bed at my regular bedtime, and not been awake fussing about my packing.

That incident behind me, I anxiously laughed in the faces of the sphinxes; “Oh you archetypes!  Trying to get me all afraid and what not!  Nope, I’m getting past you and continuing on with my soul journey!”

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It was time to leave for the train, which runs just a block away from our house, to get to the airport in time to catch my flight.  My husband and two of my children were home to walk me to the station.  The sidewalk to the station takes us past a nuisance property where felons, prostitutes and drug addicts are want to hang out.  Typically they are active in the wee hours of the morning and are rarely out and about during the bright sun-filled days.  However, just as we were about to make our way to the train, a handful of these unsavory household guests gathered on the sidewalk.  Their presence induces silence and fear; and as their eyes bore through my own, I desperately just wanted to turn back home and forget this whole pilgrimage affair.  Strengthened by the innocence of my children, and my bold husband, we walked past these people who had become apparitions of fear itself, daring me to be strong enough to pass by them.  With an exhale, I tightened my grip on the hands I love most and felt joy returning as we made our way quickly to the train.

However, the sphinxes weren’t through with me yet.  It appeared they wanted to throw one more thing of fear at me to see if I truly dared pass them and engage the heart of this pilgrimage journey.  We stood waiting at the street’s crosswalk-just beyond was the train station-and directly across from our little family was a man, who with one glance, made my skin crawl and move around me like a snake.  His ogling eyes didn’t ask permission as they seemed to look through my clothes, his jeering toothy smile centered on my son and his lips moved with unheard incantations.  I clutched my children, for in the urban wilderness, these are the types from which we are warmed to stay far away.  Through pursed lips, I whispered to my husband to remember to lock all our doors and stay vigilant; indeed, I was scared!  The pedestrian crossing sign changed and we embarked across the street, brushing shoulders with this man as we passed.  The snakes swarmed in my stomach, but were released as soon as we made it safely to the other side of the sidewalk.

A beacon of welcome seemed to embrace my safe passage through the threshold of departure: just feet away from me was a transit sign displaying a dove, sacred symbol for the patron saint of the Holy Isle of Iona-St. Columba, for whom this particular Seattle station was named.

Coincidence?  I think not.  Grateful for this sign of affirmation, my heart leapt past the fear and foreboding; and eagerly boarded the train for this pilgrimage journey.

The Labyrinth: Stepping into the Sacred Path

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The labyrinth is itself an astoundingly precise model of the spiritual understanding of the universe. Not only are the exact cosmic rhythms built into it, but as well, the other sacred measures that represent our relationship to the “journey back” to our spiritual wholeness.

Keith Critchlow

Today is World Labyrinth Day! Did you even know such a day existed? Such a designation joins the ranks of days, weeks and months dedicated to a cause and a purpose. And hopefully, such an emphasis does indeed bring a broader awareness to an ancient tool that can be used to facilitate spiritual growth and awareness. World Labyrinth Day, a project of The Labyrinth Society, is a day “designated to bring people from all over the planet together in celebration of the labyrinth as a symbol of a tool and healing for peace.” (The Labyrinth Society 2013 promo materials)

A powerful symbol, labyrinths are usually in the form of a circle with a meandering but purposeful path, from the edge to the center and back out again, large enough to be walked into. Each labyrinth is unicursal, that is to say it has only one path (whereas a maze is multicursal-they offer a choice of paths, some with many entrances and exits), and once we choose to enter it, the path becomes a metaphor for our journey through life, sending us to the center of the labyrinth and back out to the edges via the same path. In this way, it becomes a microcosm of a pilgrimage or a sacred journey. We journey inward to discover more of ourselves, to encounter God, and even to receive healing or answers. And like a pilgrimage, after we go, we must return back home, bringing back the “boon” and the blessings that we received at the center. The labyrinth is a spiritual tool meant to awaken us to the deep rhythm that unites us to ourselves, to our collective community on our earth and in the cosmos, and to the Divine Light that resides and calls to us from within. In choosing this ancient winding path, and surrendering to it, the soul discovers healing and wholeness.

Labyrinth at Columba's Bay, Iona Scotland

Labyrinth at Columba’s Bay, Iona Scotland

Lauren Artress, author of Walking a Sacred Path (1995, The Penguin Group), writes about how this ancient symbol and method connects us to the greater community of things:

Based on the circle, the universal symbol for unity and wholeness, the labyrinth sparks
the human imagination and introduces it to a kaleidoscopic patterning that builds a
sense of relationship: one person to another, to another, to many people, to creation of
the the whole. It enlivens the intuitive part of our nature and stirs within the human heart
the longing for connectedness and the remembrance of our purpose for living.

We see this pattern repeated all around us in nature-the unfolding curls of the fern, the spider’s web, galaxies spinning outwards from themselves. And when we engage this shape, with our eyes, with our fingers and with our feet, we are connecting ourselves to the Creator who manifested this sacred symbol and we come away with a sense of release, illumination, and union to God and ourselves.

A group of women walking the labyrinth at The Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island, WA

A group of women walking the labyrinth at The Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island, WA

While people are universally drawn to this symbol and its rich metaphors, surprise at the inevitable soul-work is a common response after participating in walking the labyrinth. I recently convened a pilgrimage retreat for a group of women in the San Jaun Islands where we walked a labyrinth to further explore the archetypal stage of transformation. Many of the participants had never walked a labyrinth before and, while curious, were doubtful they would be moved or have any kind of soulful experience whatsoever. It was a thing of divine mystery and beauty to witness the unfolding of personal discovery, even while walking the path together.

One woman expressed how she was dubious of the whole process up until reaching the labyrinth’s center. However, at the moment she reached the center, which was met with surprise as the long, winding path can seem so long and delusory, she was moved to tears. Relinquishing herself to a posture of kneeling, she remained at the center for quite some time experiencing a sense of release and profound clarity. Another woman scoffed at the potential for an emotional, spiritual experience, and she too was taken off-guard by what she believed to be a very clear message from God for her life.

These women, and people around the world for ages, have expressed how empowered they feel after walking the labyrinth. This sense of union provides a grounding effect that allows the “seeker” to integrate what they experienced at the center with their exterior life, which was, in a sense, left at the threshold of the labyrinth. People desire a transformative spiritual experience that will energize their lives in such a way so to live forward in authentic, integrated ways. We want to serve the world with compassion and self-awareness, believing we were created for a unique purpose that only we can fulfill. Walking out of the labyrinth empowers the seeker to move back out into the world, renewed, inspired and directed. This is what makes the labyrinth a particularly powerful tool for transformation.

Watercolor labyrinth by Peg Conley

Watercolor labyrinth by Peg Conley

Solvitur ambulando…It is solved by walking…-St. Augustine

May this day extend an invitation to your soul–an invitation to get up and go and engage an ancient practice that facilitates relinquishment, illumination and insight. This process is a gift to our souls and to our surrounding world as it nurtures in us a call to live forward with wholeness and authenticity. May you be blessed as you step into the sacred path!

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Further resources for learning about labyrinths and discovering how you can incorporate them into your spiritual practice:

Want to find a labyrinth near you? Use the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator!

Christine Sine’s Godspace blog

The Labyrinth Society

Veriditas

Cheasty Greenspace: A Place of Goodness and Grace

The detective called inquiring after whether or not we had found “anything” in the woods since the fatal shooting that occurred near Cheasty Greenspace/Mt.View on February 4, 2013.  While we have certainly unearthed some curious, and somewhat disturbing, artifacts during our forest restoration work parties (lined up pairs of shoes next to an axe, dismembered dolls, rosaries, and large singular bones to name a few), no, we had not found the weapon involved in this fatal incident.  He went on to inform us that a team of officers with metal detectors and a K-9 unit would be canvassing the area the following day.  Mind you, just a few months ago, there was the horrendous reality check that came along with 40 search and rescue volunteers and cadaver K-9 units looking for the remains of a young women in Cheasty/North, so I was already edgy about the resurfacing street-cred of our Rainier Valley forest.  However, I don’t think I was prepared for the potential emotional unraveling the impact of this dynamic in our beloved forest would have on me.

You see, we have been faithfully involved in the reclamation and restoration of this urban forest for the past six years.  We have hosted over 80 community work parties dedicated to the vision of reimagining this landscape as a safe and welcoming resource for our neighborhood.  We have written for, and received, grants that have funded our hope to build trails within this 10 acre woods that would connect neighbors, encourage walking to public transit, and provide local access to nature.  And the beauty that has resulted from this grand grassroots effort is as real and glorious as the noon-day sun!

What used to be a landscape filled with invasive plants, such as English ivy and Himalayan Blackberry,  and illicit behaviors, such as prostitution rings and illegal drug trades, has been replaced with the balance that true restoration brings.  Our native Northwest understory is thriving due to the absence of ivy.  Children now play in the forest, and their laughter mixes with the chatter of songbirds and the cries of our resident Red Tail Hawks.  The trails are a resource to neighboring youth organizations who now can bring their students into their own backyards to study, learn and just be in nature.  Our neighbors, who have worked literally shoulder to shoulder for years to see the effects of this hope-filled vision, have become a networked community of friends and families.  These woods have become apart of the vibrant, social fabric of our neighborhood.

And so my heart was heavy when I saw dozens of marked and unmarked police vehicles lined up against our trees.  My spirit sunk when I witnessed uniformed men, shoulder to shoulder, working their way through freshly budded Indian Plum, Trillium and Sword Fern.  Their presence conjured up the spirit of negativity that brooded over this place for so many years, the very spirit that we have worked so hard to drive away from this place.  I felt my repose unravel and give way to the erosive work of despair and hopelessness.  “You can never change these woods,” the line-up of police cars seemed to sneer. “These woods will always be the cover for dark deeds!  No vision for hope and help can change that!”

I awoke the next day to clouds over my head and heart, hardly able to utter a morning prayer, but with the imperative to get out of bed and prepare for our monthly work party we host.  Begrudgingly, I set out shovels, buckets and First Aid kit.  Grumbling, I laid out our registration table materials and sign up sheets.  Demoralized, I wondered if this slow and steady, long term effort to affect change in our little corner of the world was even worth it anymore.  Yup.  My little pet dark cloud was beginning to rain on me.

However, contrary to Saturday’s Seattle forecast (and my attitude), sun began to beam on South East Seattle and neighbors began to convene at our home to gather up tools and gloves, and log their dedicated time towards making a tangible difference.  And then Ed approached, scuffed toe-shoes ambling down our sidewalk, threadbare coated-arms raised in greeting and dusty top hat ready to blow away with the wind.  I presumed he was on his way past our home to visit one of our neighbors, who are involved in some unsavory practices…but he stopped.  Right in front of me.  And smiled.  Turns out, he was here for our work party, but his car ran out of gas and stalled in the middle of the street, just up from our main trail head into the woods.  Can I help, he asked?  My heart softened towards Ed; of course, I can help, but give me a minute to kickstart the volunteers and get the work party going.

Lesson #1: It always amazes me what kind of help shows up in a minute. The momentary pause before immediately responding to a need that you know you can meet is almost an invitation to allow those around you to participate in an assistance that is easy to presume only you can do.  All that to say, when I was able to finally direct my attention back towards Ed, Neighbor Mike had already fixed him up with a five-gallon gas container and a Seattle Parks worker was ready in the wings to tow his truck to safety.  I felt a sun beam penetrate my hopeless haze.  This community that has been created through a hope for the common good, without question, took care of a stranger in our midst.  My heart tried to soar with the pride for my ‘hood, but quite honestly, I figured I would never see Ed again and that sense of being “had” was enough to tether my fragile mood.

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I followed the last volunteers up into the woods and was mentally making a game plan for the variety of ferns we would be planting (grown by spores from a forest friend), and how we would disperse the five cubic yards of mulch, when I was called out of my reverie by the beating of a drum.  The repeated rhythm was coming from the trail head where we would be working for the bulk of our work party.  I crested the trail into view of the forest’s entrance and there was Ed, top hat and all, sitting on a stone, surrounded by a medley of musical instruments and a growing number of children.  Ed smiled at me and proceeded to play music for the duration of our work party.  Trombones, clarinets, bongos, tamborines, all were enlisted to lift the spirits of the volunteers and provide a special joy for the children.  Oh, forgot to mention the unique detail that we were the host-site for a local preschool co-op parent group who wanted to participate in a local Earth Month volunteer opportunity.  We had dozens of preschoolers running around the woods on Saturday.  And it would be important to note, too, that the sun shone during our entire work party.  Sunshine.  Children.  Music.  Ed.  My heart was unfettered and finally flew.

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Now, some who knew of these back to back unique and unplanned occurrences probably could just attribute it to the Wheel of Fortune, for that would explain such a social spectrum in Cheasty Greenspace.  However, I’m one who is always interested in the quiet cadences of God and what one would call a coincidence, I’m eager to see the synchronicity.  Essentially, this means that when you really need something, and often when you really want something, it is there.  Furthermore, the ancient practice of pilgrimage maintains that help, and the divine answer, are most often found in the company of a stranger.  Pilgrimage is this radical practice that turns upside down the ways of the world; in each other and in the strays and strangers en route, pilgrims meet-not the paupers-but the princes.  In the gestures and greetings in gravely roadside places, prayers are answered, and what you are in need of is given.  In this nontraditional way of journey-living, the road taken to a better place is one where divisions are bridged: race, status, and gender are irrelevant.  I would further go on to say that this mode of being also exists in Nature.  For in the woods, all are recipients of the goodness and grace inherent in nature.  All are apart of the greater community of things.  And to a degree, all become Kings.

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Lesson #2: Rough, worn edges and the grime of a harder-than-mine-life under the fingernails are trumpets heralding the presence of a stranger who has the potential to deliver great gifts, should we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.  Ed transformed my day and realigned my hope-filled vision for Cheasty Greenspace.  He was a vehicle of grace to me and his music was like incense, cleansing and purifying the bullet-weary woodland air.

Following the work party, volunteers (including Ed!) gathered under the large tent we had set up in our drive way.  As the expected rains began to pour down, we shared meager cookies and rich laughter together.  The rains were washing away the sundry steps of the officers and were watering our newly planted ferns.  And we, we were an intimate community of Kings, believing and working together, shoulder to shoulder, for a better place. 

Easter: The Place of Our Resurrection

Raphael's The Transfiguration (1520)

Raphael’s The Transfiguration (1520)

This Easter evening we resurrection-believing types are likely sitting down, basking in the power of today’s symbolism, while licking the stolen-from-our-kids’-Easter-basket chocolate off our fingers and pondering what to do with all those hard boiled eggs.  Our Lenten journeys over, we are quickly back to sipping on our coffees, wine or whathaveyou’s, secretly grateful that that discipline practice is over and we can return back to ordinary life.

And here is where the ever ironic and paradoxical-pilgrimage ways of the Greatest Journey ever made continues to resound and clang, making that Lenten home-coming not as comfortable as we anticipated and certainly not what we thought it would seem.  For the journey made by Jesus through Gethsemane to Golgotha didn’t end in darkness and death.  This tormented trek didn’t return a man unchanged from his travails.  No, this most sacred of all journeys ended in transformation, restoration and resurrection!  Nothing in the universe would ever be the same again because God set out on the greatest venture ever beheld, journeying towards an end that really has only been The Beginning.

We set out on the pilgrim-path traveling towards transformation.  All bets are in that indeed, this ancient mode of sacred migration will connect us to the divine and that we will return changed.  And it most certainly does!  For no one who has ever encountered the Holy remains the same, so how can we expect to arrive home, pull up the ottoman, pop open a beer and exhale, “Whew!  Glad that is over! …Now, what’s on TV?….”  Pilgrimage just doesn’t work that way.  For you see, from the earliest recordings in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we witness a universal life force that is always on the move.  Jehovah was a pilgrim-God, always walking, always moving, always going out towards the edges of society and calling to the least of these.  Author Charles Foster in A Sacred Journey (2010, Thomas Nelson), says it fantastically, “[God traveled] in a box slung over the shoulders of refugees and worshipped in a tent.”

Pilgrimage is wandering after this nomad-loving God and seeking after a divine-kingdom whose powers are established on the periphery.  And if we take up our cross and follow Him to these places, how can we expect to return home, content to put our walking stick in the closet and our souvenirs on the mantel?  We were made to walk, hence our amazingly designed bipedal bodies.  When we sit for too long, bad things happen, there is really no denying it.  We develop physical issues that lead to chronic pain and poor health habits.  We start to engage the world through screens instead of through touch, resulting in an apathy that is hardly characteristic of Jesus’ radical pilgrimage through Palestine.  We get cozy and comfortable and no longer long for a quest that will transform and reform us.  Content, we are happy to scroll through our iPad finding hints of God’s presence there.

Understandably, our technology indeed offers new and unique ways of engaging the world, and yes, even bearing witness to testimonies of God’s presence throughout the earth.  However, there is something fundamentally changed that occurs when journeying after God outside, when the created elements are participating in the blessings and bumps that are experienced on the road.  In the Celtic tradition, peregrinatio (Latin for “pilgrimage”) takes on a special meaning as it refers to a different kind pilgrimage.  Instead of setting out to walk to a specific holy site or destination, the ancient Celtic monks would undertake a maritime excursion to find their “place of resurrection,” which is a place to which God is calling the wanderer to settle, serve and await death.  The boats used at the time were called coracles, which were small vessels made of animal skins stretched across a wooden frame and sealed with pitch.  These early Celtic saints would set off in a coracle without  oars, trusting the wind and current to guide them to arrive where they are being called to go.  They would literally cast themselves adrift to sea for the love of God, following only the direction the wind would take them.  In this ancient practice of peregrination, the natural world was a critical element to the journey.  The wind and waves interacted with and informed the wayfaring, ever obedient to the will of God.

These journeys were acts of complete trust and faith in God, and resulted in new monastic establishments, some of which would define the Celtic Christian world (Iona and Lindisfarne being great examples).  The place of resurrection was one in which absolute assurance in God would become the new normal; this certitude would become the ordinary time in which these pilgrims now lived.  And death, let’s say death to self, would come in the form of no more comfortable couches on which to recline until the next call came.  No, the cross was borne and convenience was exchanged for connection with God through creation.

Our Lenten journey need not be over.  Our Easter celebrations should not be checked off the list of this month’s activities.  Because we set out to experience grace in the pilgrimage conditions of Lent, we were changed.  And because we are changed, so will be our home-places.  These environs of patterned thoughts, behaviors and lifestyle should be affected by the grace we experienced on the road, thereby causing even these familiar modes of being to be radically impacted, so much so that home no longer looks or feels the same.  So much so that we discover that we are hoping more, living more, desiring for difference more.

Our pilgrimage didn’t end on Friday, nor does it conclude today in a dyed, candy coated frenzy.  Today, because of the Resurrection, we are lit up with our Easter-people reality!  And this awe, this grace initiates another inner prompting, to again leave behind the familiar (because indeed, it takes mere minutes for something to become familiar), to again engage the cyclical patterns of pilgrimage, and go where the Spirit now leads to continue to walk to the place of our resurrection!