this statue of a pilgrim is at clonmacnoise in ireland. the site was at the crossroads of the east/west road and the shannon river i.e. bang in the middle of the trade routes. it was founded by st ciaron who only lived there for a year or so but a community was there for hundreds of years (and was ransacked over 40 times by various groups but somehow kept starting over again). this statue reminded me of the one i had seen on lindisfarne a couple of years ago - so powerful and evocative.
i have not done much pilgrimage. i have done plenty of retreats. but they are very different things. a retreat is space and silence and reflection and prayer. a pilgrimage (at least in a group) is conversation, journey, stories, exploration, laughter, prayer, community, place (and guiness!).
at the heart of this pilgrimage was a quest to try and connect with the wild spirit of irish christianity, and to be inspired by the stories and lives of some of the saints. we'd travel to the place, touch, taste, see, experience, imagine it, and hear the stories of the place. we'd have some of our own space at each place, and in several of the places would pray together and reflect on how the stories connected with our own stories. depending on how people like to process things conversations, journalling, group times, reading and some spiritual direction were all part of the mix.
i first came up with the idea for this trip when i read about michael mitton and russ parker's trip to wales a couple of years back. michael's poems caught my imagination and i felt there was something in the stories of the saints that resonated with me, and perhaps with pioneers today. michael and russ agreed to lead a trip for a group of us and so we benfitted so much from their experience and wisdom.
michael wrote a couple of new poems on this trip which he has added to his pages - i can't seem to link directly - so go to his site and click on books and select poems from the drop down menu. here's one of his new ones about sennach whose island we sailed round in a surging sea where we were graced with the site of the fins of a school of dolphins which was amazing
Sennach founded a monastery on the island of Illauntannig, just north of Castlegregory on the Dingle Peninsula, Ireland. Visitors to the island can still see the remains of the monastic community, including some beehive cells, a cross, church and burial ground. Access to the island is not easy!
Your hand that clutches the rim of your coracle
is the same that gently lifts its blessing
on your isle.
Such swells and currents don’t disturb you
for you dream them in your salty sleep.
You feel the surges of God in these waters
divine heaves and sighs
signs of the yearnings of God;
glimpses of the grace of God
in the fin of a passing dophin.
Is that why you set sail to this island
and built your tent from its rough earth?
I see you there, your blistered hand lifting dark stones
one upon the other
transforming these cold rocks into a vibrant home.
This your dysart, beckoning the surf of God
to break over the dry, dry land.
Oh Lord, when I settle too much on my mainland
take me back to these waters.
Let me feel again the movements of the great sea
the surgings of your restless heart.
Let me see the glittering surf
your life breaking through the waters my soul at last in tune with yours.
the feeling captured in the last verse is what i experienced on the pilgrimage - a longing and stirring for the same kind of wild spirit to be at work in me and indeed in cms pioneers and the church. we're tentatively planning another trip for pioneers next year. give me a shout if you are interested.