I hope you don’t mind, but I want to set aside these next couple of blogs to “unpack” our pilgrimage to Ireland. A pilgrimage is not a packaged 5-star holiday, or a Disney getaway, nor is it simply a trip. A pilgrimage is not about the destination but the journey. A pilgrimage is more about “why” one is travelling rather than “where” one is going. There is a big difference. As we returned from Ireland the “why” found meaning.
Sure, we planned this pilgrimage as a way of honoring Jennie Weeks and her 41-years of ministry at Christ Church. But then COVID came along and we rescheduled the pilgrimage six times. One insight for me came with the frustration of planning. In fact, I was about to throw the towel in by the fifth time we rescheduled but then I became aware—finally—I realized we were not on our time, but God’s time. The pilgrimage had less to do with my planning as it did with God’s individual plan for each person who registered and signed-up to go.
And it was immediately apparent each person brought certain gifts, competencies and skills that contributed to the pilgrimage and the Body as a whole. We learned first-hand a characteristic, of “Celtic Spirituality” is found in community. We had ample time to talk and listen one to another. Each person had their own story to tell and their own “why” a pilgrimage was important at this particular time in each of our lives.
A community was formed not only around caring and sharing for one another but there was an awareness, an attentive, discerning Spirit, at work drawing us closer one to another and ultimately to God. Sure, we were all adults but we also were like a bunch of wide-eyed kids looking for what was next not simply with eyesight but insight that was making this pilgrimage real. Coner, our guide, told us over and again something special was at work within our group as he personally observed the shaping and deepening of a community in Christ. Liz Curtis Higgs primed us each morning with a mediation and song to help center ourselves and focus on the day.
Sunday rolled around and I told Coner we would like to carve-out some time and a place for worship. He wasn’t sure where but he would give it some thought. It was then the bus driver Brenden had a place in mind. Within minutes we pulled off the side of the road and were told to go to the top of the hill where we would find some peace and quiet and space for worship.
What met us at the top of the hill was an ancient Druid worship site created around 500 BC. From the picture you can tell we gathered in a circle. Celtic Spirituality is all about circles and cyclical movements in life, as compared to linear. Bill Higgs, in fact, gave the sermon on the Transfiguration and spoke eloquently of the change in Jesus on top of a mountain who now invites us into transformation in the breaking of bread. What followed were prayers and holding hands in the silence. Then from miles off, a church tower bell rang, entering our silence and calling us to worship. As I opened my eyes, I noticed a small dove-like bird flying over head and everything within me seem to come alive. We were standing within a thin place.
We experience a thin place when heaven and earth touch, the Divine and human embrace, the eternal and mortal merge, opening us to life with God that “really is life.” (I Timothy 6:19). Following worship, we left quietly and reverently. We were leaving but going on pilgrimage.