Day 12 – Celebration

Today is Peters birthday, and he is soooo excited about spending it on Iona. Iona is the home of his family seat, the Maclean Duarts. “That’s my castle!” He proudly exclaimed as we passed the looming edifice that burst from craggy rock and glowered over sea. He was delighted to find the remains of some ancestor entombed at Iona Abbey. “I’m so glad you could all come to celebrate with me on MY island! He chuffed.

My birthday gift to him? I’m buying his wine and dessert tonight at dinner (we’re heading back to the local pub because it was delicious!), and loaning him storage space in my suitcase for his ever growing stash of newly purchased books and souvenirs. “They’re not souvenirs! They are pilgrim relics!”

The girls are AWOL today, romping across hills and fells like feral wild women, climbing the mighty Dun-I (the massive hill pictured yesterday), and finding a secluded cove to swim in. I’m sitting happily in the sun, and apologizing to the flock of local sheep who have wandered over for a visit, because tonight I’m planning to try the lamb dish.

Speaking of ancestors, I was pleased to find the hostel associated with the Iona Abbey is called the Macleod centre, after my predecessors.

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Day 11 – Silence

What I love about Iona is the deep quiet. It is a small island with few pilgrims and fewer inhabitants. There are only a handful of cars, and we are off flight paths.

We’ve had two days of brilliant sunshine. Unheard of for mid October in Northern Scotland. The azure sea, just outside my door and down the hill, has barely a ripple. I’m sitting in the back garden of our hostel, surrounded by silence.

Silence punctuated with some friendly chirrups of a native bird I cannot identify.

In my younger years I could not stand the quiet, to be alone in stillness with my own thoughts. As I age, and I think due to the rigours of my urban monastic lifestyle, I crave solitude and silence in ways I did not in my earlier years.

And it’s not like I need alone time to think, to get things sorted out. It’s more like I need alone time just to be. To be present to myself and to God. I feel quiet, and strangely, empty.

I wonder if that was the appeal of Iona to the earlier monastics. Because there’s nothing here. Just sky and sea, rocks and sheep. Beautiful desolation, empty spaces full of God’s presence and declaring His glory.

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Day 10 – Just Call Me Mario (Andretti)

Today started like any other on my journey. Creeping out of our dormitory room early so as not to wake my travelling companions. Some prayer. Some felting. And some packing.

Today we were leaving the quiet alcove of Northumbria, driving up the coast of the North Sea, and then right across the middle of Scotland to our ferry on the Atlantic to the isle of Mull, and then beyond that, the second ferry to Iona. We had consulted fellow travellers and maps about routes, rest stops and times, and now were ready to make the trek.

The first bit went well. The seaside was beautiful, the sky was blue. The roads were windy.

Very windy. Some of us began to feel a little green around the gills. Surely it wasn’t going to be like this the whole time?

Apart from a little highway stretch between Edinburg and Glasgow, it was. We dug out barf bags.

We seemed to be making good time until we reached our lunch stop, a touristy wayside called “The Green Wellie”. But once we gathered everyone after lunch, we looked at the time and gulped. We were going to be hard pressed to get a grocery shop done before the ferry, as we were planning to bring all our food with us over to Iona.

So I put the pedal to the medal, at least, the best I could on very narrow, increasingly windy roads. I felt like a stunt car extra on the Dukes of Hazard. We barrelled on, looking nervously at our watches.

Finally we burst happily into the ferry town, but then realized we didn’t have the time to get groceries. Ah well, worst case scenario, we will buy some on Mull, between ferries. So got in line for the ferry.

And wait and wait and wait. The ferry was late.

Which would have been no problem at all, except at the other end, we had to drive an hour across the Isle of Mull to catch the six o’clock ferry to Iona. The last ferry of the day.

The ferry ride across was fantastic. Amazing views!

When we got to the other side, we hit the ground running.

Here’s the thing though. The isle of Mull has only single track roads. Which means that as you drive, you have to keep your eyes peeled for oncoming traffic, and then pull aside to make room for oncoming vehicles to squeeze by. Yep, single track windy roads. Like an hour long game of chicken. And we did it at 100 km an hour.

Not to mention that the sun was setting directly into my eyes. Not even my sunglasses were helping, and I had to hold out one of my hands in front of me to block the piercing rays.

Single track windy roads. 100 km an hour. One handed and squinting. My car mates alternately cheering me on, vomiting into bags, (sorry, no time to stop!), interceding fervently, or craning their necks one side or another to see around the bends so that they can see cars before we crash into them.

Miraculously, we made it to the ferry terminal unscathed.

Five minutes after six. No groceries at all, of course.

But in the graciousness of God, the ferry was waiting for a bus load of passengers, and was still there. We gratefully stumbled aboard.

I think I’m ready for Nascar now. And I only bumped one curb the whole way…

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Day 8 – Felty Moments of Consolation

I’m obsessing a bit about my needle felting. I brought a creative task to do, because one of my goals on the pilgrimage was to reclaim some lost creativity. So as we’ve gone from one community to the next, I’ve added a portion to the scarf.

I found, to my great delight, that the administrator at Northumbria is an avid felter. She showed me today how to felt words, so I’ve added some words to my little sheep I made before I came. Psalm 84:5 “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” Hannah and Nicola collected wool from the barbed wire on their walk, for me to use on my sheep.

I’ve decided to pick a symbol to represent each stop on the pilgrimage. Ignatius speaks of moments of consolation and desolation. Consolation is when the presence of the Spirit leaps within us, when we feel fully alive, fully ourselves, or something in us resonates to the revealed (or hidden) glory of God. So I have decided to needle felt symbols that represent moments of consolation on my journey.

So for Guildford? I chose the garden labyrinth that lay beside the 24-7 office. It was beautiful to begin with, but it also spoke to me about the beginning of our journey, which could potentially hold many unexpected twists and turns, and exhortation to be mindful to the presence of Christ on the path.

Stanford? It was the grapes. The community gathering together to bring in the harvest (and smoosh it with our feet). For me it spoke of community, inclusion, shared labour and the promise of new wine.

Northumbria? When I saw wooly bull that Hannah and I encountered on our first days walk, said right away, “I have to felt that!”. And that night I did. I loved the rolly hilled farms that surround Northumbria. It feels earthy, grounded, as do the members of the Northumbria community I have had the pleasure of meeting.

Tomorrow we are going on a day trip to the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne, and I’m looking forward to see the presence of Christ revealed in that place.

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Day 7 – the Epic Journey North

We were on the road by seven, and were pleasantly surprised to find that the highways north were spacious and swift. Even so, it was six hours before we stopped for lunch, about 45 minutes away from our destination. We had a picnic, as had become our custom.

“When in Viking country, do as the Vikings do!” We gleefully stripped a barbecued chicken, eating it with greasy fingers, and munched on parsnip and sweet potato crisps while reading the whimsical crisp packaging. Strawberries and grapes, and then we all piled back in the van for the last leg of the journey.

Northumbria is a revelation. Tucked in behind a farm, at the end of a single lane country road, it is an oasis of calm and beauty. It is blanketed with a deep quiet, as I’ve experienced in other monasteries. Each room is named after a Celtic Saint. I’m in Hild, along with Hannah, Phyllis and Nicola. We have prayer, from the Celtic Book of Common Prayer, at 9 am, noon, 5:30 pm and 9:30 pm.

As soon as we settled in, Hannah and I set off to explore. Britain is full of public footpaths, even across private property, so we had a great time tromping through woods and fields, climbing stiles over fences, and trying to make friends with the local horses. We took a photo of a massive wooly bull, which later on provided inspiration for my needle felting (tune in tomorrow). Later on, Hannah tried another of the footpaths on her own, and got quite lost. When she didn’t arrive home in time for dinner, a rescue team set out with warm coats and flashlights, only to discover her trudging tiredly up the path to the house. The rooms are a bit chilly, but hot water bottles are provided to snuggle up with at night. We are kicking ourselves for not planning more days here..

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Day 9 – Windisfarne

The Holy Isle of Lindisfarne is a small island off the coast of Northumbria (Northern England). Over the centuries it has been the home of Monastics (most notably Aiden and Columba in the 600’s), the Vikings (who slaughtered the monks), soldiers and mariners. Now mainly it’s pilgrims again, many of whom cross the mud flats to the island while the tide is out. We were driving the causeway to the Island, thinking it was too windy, the tide was still to high, but Nicola very adventurously popped out of the car halfway and walked the remainder of the pilgrims journey.

“I only had to take off my boots a couple times to wade across some little rivers,” she said, on her arrival.

The Isle hosts a castle, a ruined abbey, an ancient church, a quaint village, and lots of grasslands and of course, the obligatory sheep.

On our car ride back to where we were staying, we debriefed as a team. What part of the island resonated with you?

“The wind,” I responded.

Ignoring the museums and information centres, I had spent the day wandering semi aimlessly around the Isle. I’m learning on this pilgrimage, not to be demanding of a place, to require some great epiphany from it, but rather to try and just be present to the place and to attend to the presence of God revealed there.

So as soon as I saw the castle on the eastern tip of the Isle, I knew I wanted to hike there, but as soon as we left the village and stepped out of the lee of the buildings, we stepped into the great blustering gale that was whooshing off the North Sea. I’ve never been in winds like it before, and at points we gleefully held out our arms, and leaned into it, daring it to hold up our body weight. When we stood by the castle on the crest of the hill and looked over the massive crashing waves the wind had formed, it was not hard to imagine the wind tumbling us down the hill into the rolling seas below. It literally took my breath away.

And it blew like that the whole day. I found moments of respite, picking my way among rocks and seaweed and sitting on a bench in the sun on the lee side of the Isle, but by the time we made our way back to the van (against the wind), my body was quite tired out from the effort. Tired but strangely happy.

Sorry the pictures are blurry. I’m using my iPad as a camera, and there was no way to hold it still in the wind, to get a clear picture.

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Day 6 – Prayer Spaces in Schools

After years of sacrificial service to the local schools, the Stanford Boiler Room now finds they have an open door to be the loving presence of a people of prayer in a couple schools in their town. One school itself built and commissioned a “Contemplative space”, right amongst the classrooms. The team from Stanford designed the prayer installation, and mans the prayer space three lunch hours a week. Today we had the privilege of joining them.

It started at 9 am with an hour of prayer for the school, back at one of the Community Houses. Then an hour and a half time for preparation. This time we prepared prayer drawing activities (how do you draw your prayers to God?), and links of paper, representing friendships, on which they could write the names of their friends, things they like about their friends, and attach, with a bit of cellophane tape, their own fingerprint to. After the prep, them it was off to the school. We brought photo ID, were buzzed in, and after we signed in wore visitor badges.

Then at the contemplative space, after tidying it up a bit, we spent another hour in prayer for the school before lunch hour began and the kids arrived. Over the lunch hour we chatted with kids, gave out Canada pins, and encouraged them to engage the prayer space.

In the afternoon, Hannah, Nicola and I found the local market, and then cooked soup and homemade bread and pavlovas for a Community Dinner which was followed by, you guessed it, another hour of prayer. On top of the three hours of prayer, guests are encouraged to pray for an hour in the Community House on site prayer room. I was really stuck by and pleased with the ratio of prayer to service, which demonstrates how this community believes that prayer IS mission….

Oh, and I’ve gone two whole days without bumping any curbs!

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