Experts define pilgrimage as “a journey to a sacred place or shrine, a long journey or search.”
A decade ago, a long-awaited journey with my just-graduated seminarian and youngest daughter, now an ordained pastor with the United Church of Christ, welcomed the end of May. It was a retreat to the peace-filled Island of Iona with Oasis Ministries for Spiritual Development. Accessibility was limited via two ferries.
Our life journeys are always in progress, more than one big list. Being off the beaten path in the Sea of Hebrides, due West of Oban, Scotland and the Isle of Mull, sits the three and a half mile long and one mile wide Island of Iona.
It is just half the size of my first week-long island exploration off the coast of Boston: Thompson Island.
There is no need for cairns direction on this sacred ground, full of history. The mixing of Celtic Christianity and Pagan traditions blends from the founding by Saint Columba.
When people asked me what I did there, “Did you stay in a castle?”, I find it difficult to give an understandable answer. When you have your senses heightened through the beauty of nature, new bird songs and sightings, historical memories at your feet, fresh air and late night light; walk around sheep scat bedecked with flowers; view flowers growing through rocks-new life from the old past; freedom to walk off trail (with respect to closing any gates/styles) to roam the land of endless mounds of grass and stones, I had one of the simplest, healthiest, and rewarding pleasures of life: “the walk.”
Robert Reber, managing editor of Illinois Stewardship, refers to “the walk” as “one of life’s most intimate experiences with nature.”
When eyes and hearts are opened to the beauty of nature and our human connection to it, new awakenings occur. Sometimes this is referred to as an “ah ha” moment. The ability to connect is realized. Respect for the colorful embedded stones and labyrinth root the history of Iona, mirrored through the legacy of Columba.
Later this month, I will join another pilgrimage stateside, this time to the Southwest and the Ghost Ranch of New Mexico, two hours from Albuquerque. It was formerly the residence of artist Georgia O’Keefe and is now under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church. My sister will be joining me, along with a small group of other Oasis Ministry travelers.
Like the spiritual gifts of strengthening that the apostle Paul shared with the Romans, we will be hoping for what is not seen and waiting with patience and renewing of minds, “rejoicing in hope and persevering in prayers, extending hospitality to strangers and living peaceably with all” (Romans 12:12-13).
“Sometimes one must travel far to discover what is near” Uri Shulevits, The Treasure.
“Hold on to what is good, even if it is a handful of earth. Hold on to what you believe, even if it is a tree that stands by itself. Hold on to what you must do, even if it is a long way from here. Hold on to your life, even if it is easier to let go. Hold on to my hand, even if someday I will be gone away” Pueblo Prayer.