September 19-30, 2022
Well, the countdown has finally arrived as we are about to depart on our pilgrimage to Ireland. Led by Jennie Weeks, Liz Curtis Higgs and myself, members of Christ Church Methodist, Louisville, and friends, will soon begin an 11-day journey to the “Island of Saints and Scholars” where we will reflect upon the ancient practices of Celtic Spirituality.
For your information, we first planned to leave on this pilgrimage back on May 12, 2020. We were quite strategic in our thinking and in our planning. Jennie Weeks was about to retire following a 41-year career at Christ Church. Many of us thought a pilgrimage to Ireland would be a wonderful way to celebrate her amazing ministry and transition into retirement. Wrong!
COVID came along and shut the doors on travel. We then thought by the end of the summer the pandemic would pass, so we decided to reschedule for September, 2020. You can imagine what our poor travel agent went through (registrations, airlines, guides, lodging, buses, etc.) as we followed the pandemic and changed our plans six times (!) before we finally found a date and the clearance to go. We weren’t the only frustrated travelers. For your information, during this period, Ireland lost 12 billion euros in tourism. That hurt.
I mention this because we are still going. And the word “pilgrimage” is fitting. In Latin, it is called a pereginatio which means pilgrimage or a voluntary abandonment for a greater purpose that requires travel. A pilgrimage is not a get-away, or a trip, nor a vacation. It is not necessarily about the destination or the calendar. It is about the journey. Again, for the pilgrim the journey refers more to “why” we are going, rather than “where” we are going. For each person the answer or response to the “why” may be different but trust me, pilgrims are adventurers, lifelong learners, and people who are open to God’s guidance and direction and God’s time—not ours.
There is a gift waiting to be discovered. For the religious person of the bible the idea of a journey can be found in the stories of Abraham who left his country and experienced a transformation and understanding of God that brought life to a new nation. The same holds true for Moses as he wandered for forty years until entering the Promised Land. For the Irish, the practice of becoming a pilgrim was at the heart of Celtic Spirituality because it tapped into the call of expanding the Kingdom of God. Rome was no longer considered eternal. Augustine reframed the narrative by declaring “the city of God is eternal.” With this in mind, we will stand on the same ground with such saints as Patrick, Columba, Brigid and countless others who were considered “athletes of God.”
As I begin to close this reflection on pilgrimage the question “why?” comes back to me. Why am I going to Ireland? Perhaps, part of the motive is the opportunity to do something with my wife we have never done before. And after six attempts I’m also determined to go! But there is something deeper than Ireland being on a bucket-list. I know expectations can get in the way of the “why,” so I set aside my itinerary, my agenda, my plans and I think about Jesus who simply but powerfully says: “Follow me.” Soon we will depart. I’m ready. So, the pilgrimage begins and I am reminded I am going to Ireland for the gift that awaits me as I follow Jesus.