Day 13 – Preparation

We’ve arrived in Dublin, and for me meetings are now in full swing. We’re at Encounter Culture, an international gathering for 24-7 Prayer. I’ve started meetings a day early with the senior leaders from 24-7 all over the world. To be honest, I’m not sure how much time I am going to have in the next few days to post, but will do what I can.

I had a interesting thing happen when we arrived in the Dublin Airport. During the pilgrimage of the two previous weeks, I had lots of time spent with God, much solitude, silence, and prayer. However, I seldom sensed the presence of The Lord in a clear, tangible way. I did once in the prayer room in Stanford, once in a garden in Iona. But for the most part, the pilgrimage time felt like more of an emptying out than a filling up.

However, as soon as my feet hit the ground in Dublin, I sensed His presence immediately. It felt like I was a bathtub being filled up inside, and by the time I hit customs, I was almost vibrating with holy electricity.

I was happy (of course) but surprised, frankly. Why here? Why now?

Preparation. The thought settled in my heart immediately.

So here I am, a-buzz in Dublin, and waiting to see what The Lord will do.

20131017-061507.jpg

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.

20131013-153056.jpg

20131013-153103.jpg

20131014-064107.jpg

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.

20131013-150007.jpg

20131013-150326.jpg

20131013-150335.jpg

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.

20131010-082744.jpg

20131010-082601.jpg

20131010-082656.jpg

20131010-082541.jpg

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..

20131012-091337.jpg

20131012-091357.jpg

20131012-091404.jpg

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.

20131011-063254.jpg

20131011-063310.jpg

20131011-063242.jpg

Day 3 – Pilgrims of the Round Table

Dinner time found us yet again in a pub. (Well, we did come to experience British culture!)

“Oooo, let’s sit around that round table, like Arthur and his knights!”

We had just completed our visit with the Guildford Boiler Room, and we’re having our first debrief.

A little earlier in the afternoon, we had spent a chunk of time together in their prayer room, praying for the community, and the individuals we had come to know. We are using the Northumbria Community’s Celtic Book of Daily Prayer, which seemed appropriate, considering our journey. The fun thing about using a prayer book, is that bits of it will just leap out at you and feel very pertinent for the day. This afternoons prayer read as follows:

Lord, You have always marked the road for the coming day; even though it may be hidden, Lord I believe.

One of the interesting and sometimes unsettling things about pilgrimage is you don’t really know what is going to happen next, but knowing how you have set your intention before Him, each moment that comes to you is His gift to you for that moment, and is an integral part of the journey.

Also, it means that I finally succumbed and bought a British road map book because we kept getting lost. But today was also only an 8 curb bump day, so things are improving!

Back to our dinner in the pub, which included world class pizza, and a local brew called “Funky Monkey”. We spent the evening around the table, reflecting on our journey thus far. “What were the highlights? What were the hinderances? What are our hopes as we continue?” Peter, (our reigning king of alliteration and the team pun master) helped us to think through what had been life giving, where were the God moments. Then he helped us navigate the potentially treacherous waters of what wasn’t working for the group. We decided we didn’t want early mornings booked, so we could have time for individual prayer. We wanted more times of praying together as well, and praying with our hosts and those we met with. We gave each other permission to share the need of the moment, so we could be aware of one another and responsive to each other’s needs. “This isn’t a group that I would have normally ever chosen to travel with,” said Hannah, “but I absolutely believe we are right group of people for this trip!” It is very interesting travelling with a group that is not homogeneous, with differing interests and perspectives. It makes dinner time sharing extremely rich and delicious!

Here was tonight’s closing prayer from the Celtic prayer book. One of my faves:

Prayer of Abandonment to God
Father, I abandon myself into your hands.
Do with me what You will.
Whatever You do, I will thank You.
I am ready for all,
I accept all.
Let only Your will be done in me,
As in all your creatures,
And I’ll ask nothing else, my Lord.

Into Your hands I commend My spirit.
I give it to You
With all the love of my heart,
For I love You Lord,
And so need to give myself,
To surrender myself into Your hands
With a trust beyond all measure,
Because You are my Father

Charles de Foucauld

20131006-144741.jpg

20131006-144755.jpg