To be a pilgrim…
Article by Peter Crosby (from July 2016 eNews)
“What is the purpose of your visit to Scotland?”
My first thought in response to the standard question at the border was, “Pilgrimage and the refreshment of my spirit!” However, my second thought was, “That’s way more than what is being asked!” So I just replied, “Holiday.”
My Iona pilgrimage with Shalem, “Reclaiming Our Oneness with Creation,” June 2 to June 12, 2016 was indeed a succession of “holy/ whole-y days.” After more than 30 years of ordained ministry, it was an answer to prayer: a Scotch mist of living water for the soil of my life.
The origin of the word “pilgrim” comes from the Old French, “peregrine,” meaning “stranger” or “foreigner.” And yet my experience of pilgrimage was one of coming home to myself, to Creation, and to God. There is something about going away and leaving the familiar, and becoming a stranger in need of welcome, as did St. Columba that opens us to the movement of the Spirit.
The Reverend George McLeod, the founder of the modern Iona Community described Iona as a “thin place,” where only a “tissue” separated heaven and earth. I found the entire pilgrim experience from gathering and meeting in Glasgow, travel through the Highlands, our experience on Iona, and our trip back to Glasgow, to be a “thin time,” suffused with the presence and grace of the Holy One.
Day trippers come to Iona in great numbers to see the Abbey, and perhaps to share in services of worship; to visit the historic sights and holy places; and to soak in the elemental beauty of the island. I was pleased and blessed to do all of these. But as a pilgrim on an organized pilgrimage, I was also enriched and strengthened by the knowledge and guidance of our leaders, and by the wisdom and the spiritual gifts of the group. In short order we changed from being a company of strangers to a caring community of mutual ministry.
Here are two brief vignettes of my pilgrim experience. On a particularly hot and sunny day a group of us spontaneously came together to walk up Dunn I and explore some of the holy sites. This was one of many smaller “pilgrimages within the pilgrimage.” One member offered leadership from notes she had taken from one of J. Philip Newell’s books. We shared food and drink on the summit and paused by the Well of Eternal Youth (Blessings). When the location of the Hermit’s Cell proved elusive, we drew good cheer from the group, encouraging and persisting together, long after I would have bailed on my own. In the end we found the cell and the deep meaning of being in that place.
On a rare rainy day I went to Staffa to see Fingal’s Cave and puffins. The captain told us to go near the edge of the cliff where the puffins have their burrows and simply stand and wait as a group. Whether it is curiosity or the safety from predators afforded by our presence, the puffins would eventually emerge. There was nothing we could do to make them come. Our role was to wait expectantly, and be present and available to simply notice and respond with appreciation and wonder. Puffin watching was an invitation to a more deeply contemplative approach to life as a gracious and holy mystery, as was the entire pilgrimage!
When I returned home to Canada, the border official asked me where I had been in Scotland. I said, “Iona.” He asked, “What was there?” This time, I didn’t just say, “A holiday.” I said, “A wonderful place of pilgrimage!”