Once more my trusty green rucksack was packed, new walking boots at the bottom. Once more I am a not so lightly packed pilgrim as I aspire to be. Once more the nerves and excitement rise at the beginning of a new adventure.


A couple of months ago now, in October 2016 I set off on another exploration of pilgrimage. The travel was with the Abbey of the Arts (http://abbeyofthearts.com/) – an organised retreat to the Sacred Edge of Ireland, setting out to be Monks in the World.

Once more, I determined to travel on public transport, which meant train from Banbury, changing at Birmingham New Street, and Crewe, to Holyhead where the ferry took me across to Dublin.


I spent the night in Dublin before catching a train across Ireland to the west coast, to Galway.

“Aren’t you brave – travelling on your own?” said two women I chatted with on Banbury station as we listened to a notice about a delayed train. I didn’t feel especially brave. I was quite excited and looking forward to some time away. I was also nervous and hoping that travel connections would work and that I could pick up the tickets I needed for the remainder of my trip. Plus so many other unknowns – what would this retreat be like? What would the other people be like?

In Galway, at the Adare Guesthouse the pilgrims gathered, already experiencing the  generous welcome and care from the owners Grainne and Patrick. Next we met the hosts of the retreat, Christine and John, who would be our guides. In their gorgeous living room, overlooking Galway Bay and adorned with picture of dancing Celtic saints, we began the pilgrimage. What had brought us here, at this time in our lives? For many of us there was some sort of threshold that we were about to cross, or had crossed – loss, healing, retirement. I hoped to be inspired by the adventurous Celtic saints into being my own form of adventurer. I hoped to do some more remembering of who I was. This was a good season to do that remembering, the Celtic season of Samhain, including the feast of All Saints and All Souls, was beckoning. This was the time to remember our ancestors and witnesses around us, in community with us. We learnt a song that would be one of the refrains we would return to:‘The peace of the rolling waves to you, the peace of the shining stars. The peace of the blowing air to you, the peace of the quiet earth …’ Song, movement, poetry, ritual, story would continue to accompany us along the way.

Over the next week or so, we explored monastic themes, as we visited sacred sites in and around Galway: hospitality, community, kinship with nature, silence and solitude, sabbath, work and service, conversion. What riches we received! I’m just going to give a little flavour in this blog account.


Making a Brigit’s cross.

Welcome and Hospitality – This theme infused all our time together. Our hosts, our guides, the Irish people we met – we often heard, ‘You’re welcome’. It was a genuine expression – no empty words. We were so well fed! In soul and body we were so well fed. Our meals were all amazing. From the many breakfast options in the guesthouse, to meals out in one of the hundreds of eateries in Galway, to the amazing goats cheese salad lunch on the isle of Inis Mor – nothing disappointed. It was all delicious.

Belonging and Companions – I found myself the only ‘Brit’ among a group of Americans and one Canadian. How would this work out, I wondered?! Well, there were some separations of language and we explored different meanings of words that we shared and yet had very different interpretations! And then living, eating, walking, talking, being playful pilgrims together did its work of creating us into people with common hopes, longings, hurts and dreams. One lunch time I bought a book from one of our guides. ‘Ah’ he said, ‘you’re the Brit!’ Yes, I said, a little embarrassed. Around me there was laughter – the warm laughter of friends, of acceptance. I had feared that I, or the others, would be too different, and my fears had proved unfounded. I was part of the group. We were a group of fellow pilgrims, of ‘monklings’.


On Inis Mor.

Passion – All around us were people with passion. John and Christine had followed their hearts to find a home and whole-hearted work in Galway, the wild west edge of Ireland. They had moved from Seattle, to Vienna and then to Galway. They were passionate about the importance of contemplative practice, creativity and imagination, to human flourishing. They were skilled in sharing, teaching, encouraging, communicating their passion and inviting us to (re-)discover our own passions. Playful practices helped us to go deeper. Orla and Niceol led us in storytelling games, and reminded us we all have a story to tell and we can tell it. We think we have no connection, that we are alone or too different to others, and we do have connection to others. They dared us to say yes to play, to failure, to being human! Our guides on our days out and about, at Brigit’s garden, in the wild Burren, on the Arran Islands, were all people of passion. Jenny at Brigit’s garden had a vision of creating a natural environment that reflected the themes of Celtic seasons and the gifts of the Celtic saint Brigit. Tony, our walking guide on the Burren, had left his work as a ‘petty bureaucrat in Dublin’ to follow his passion for the land, for connecting history, politics, faith, story, geology, flora and fauna. Dara on the Arran Islands, told us of his journey to minister in a different way, leaving behind the dogmatism and universalism of the Catholic priesthood, to become a priest in the Celtic tradition, more intimately connected and rooted in one place, in these islands, and offering ritual to mark key moments in the lives of islanders. The musicians we heard in Galway, and at our final gathering. Our kind and friendly driver Cormac, who was also very much part of the group. They all reminded us that there can be another faithful way to live whole-heartedly in this world.

My work is loving the world .. Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished…

Mary Oliver, The Messenger


Joyful, live music in a packed pub in Galway.

Gift – There was so much gift, so much to receive and be thankful for. Each day brought beauty, generosity, heart-opening times. Each day I thought had been the best, and the next day there was more. And the more did not diminish what had gone before. Truly all was gift. At the end of the retreat, we gathered in the ruins of Corcomroe Abbey. We gave each other a piece of apple, dipped in honey, saying to one another: ‘May you savour the sweetness of your life.’ Later, we were invited to write a poem of instruction – some words to take away and come back to as we continued to seek the way of the pilgrim, the way of being a monkling in the world.

There is always more

to receive as gift.

Walk. Sing. Savour. Take my hand.




It happened on a Sunday night, even though I had been a good girl and gone to church that morning …” Ruined by Ruth Everhart, Tyndale House Publishers, 2 August 2016 https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ruined-Ruth-Everhart/dp/149641392X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=14697

Why do you read a book? To be entertained? To be informed? To have your own beliefs confirmed.. or maybe even challenged? To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have read this book if it hadn’t have been written by someone I have met, know a little and have travelled with a little. So I read this book with curiosity. It is a memoir about a traumatic event, about a rape, about the rape of Ruth. I’ve read memoirs and biographies before, but never of someone I know. I read this book often with my heart pounding, sometimes feeling guilty that I was being voyeuristic, intruding on such a horrific and intimate event and its aftermath.

This book is a compelling read. Ruth knows the power of language – of words that create and construct beliefs and worlds, and of words that are often unspeakable – like ‘rape’. In her writing she evokes all the senses. We see, we hear, we smell, we feel. There is such beautiful and challenging clarity in the details she records – the way that in seeing mug shots of black criminals the height markers behind their faces are ‘forever taking their measure’. In another scene where she and friends are sat in sodden woollen jumpers drying out after being out in a storm, there is ‘.. the brown sugar smell of burning wool.’ We remember the senses experienced in our dreams, which also create and construct worlds and offer new possibilities.

I think this is a visceral book. It is about matter. It is about what matters. Body and spirit matter. Words matter. Theology matters. Beliefs matter. Questions matter. Women and men matter. Ruth matters. Love matters.

And I am glad to have read this book. It matters.

Another season, another opportunity for photos and haiku. This time I used the United Methodist Church daily prompts for Lent 2016 #rethinkchurch http://www.rethinkchurch.org/articles/spirituality/2016-lenten-photo-a-day-practice

It’s been good today, as I take a break after Holy Week and Easter, to review all the pictures and words.

Here’s the gallery of pictures and words (which you can also see on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/revhillers/):



Stop for a moment, and hear the voice that calls you to pay attention. #voice #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


Look. I am growing. Down here, among the stones, here is my flowering. #look #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #lent2016 #haiku


The gaze is soft and strong. Believe, she says, kneel down, sing! Justice will come. #injustice #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #lent2016 #haiku #quietday #ettyhillesum


As around the sun the earth knows it’s revolving I’ll be loving you. #always #celebrate #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #lent2016 #haiku


Frost settles on the grass. Just enough beauty for now. Today’s soul food. #settle #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #lent2016 #haiku


Setting out again. Getting ready for the journey home. Time to go. #go #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #lent2016 #photoaday #haiku


Here on the doorstep, the mighty tree stretches up, as walkers pass by. #mighty #rethinkchurch #photoaday #rethinkphoto #lent2016 #haiku


Candles and colours take refuge on window ledge, each with their story. #refuge #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


Taking all the cracks to heart makes love a different and a precious thing. #love #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


A gust of wind blows and the flower head bows, dances, coming alive. #live #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


Words making music. Four quartets celebrate time present. All is well. #celebrate #rethinkchurch#rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku #tseliot #storytelling


Sometimes the vision is clear. Often it is not. Take time. Keep looking. #vision #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


Choose words – spoken, written, lived, that make a promise to love and live by. #covenant #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


Shelter under a living roof, growing, shaping a strong sense of home. #shelter #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


Walking on boldly into a tomorrow full of blessings and joy. #joy #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku This photo is of a striding sculpture in Salisbury cathedral grounds a few years ago. It reminds me of the striding Madonna which always lifts my heart. I felt the same seeing the photos yesterday of the consecration of Karen Gorham as Bishop of Sherborne in the diocese of Salisbury.


Living God, living and strong, loving and gentle have mercy on us. #heal #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


Country skills preserved and displayed to create a living, well-laid hedge. #see #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


Gather in the tiredness, hold on to some hope, know it is enough. #celebrate #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku Preparing for school assembly in the midst of tiredness. Didn’t feel a lot like celebrating but enjoyed making the frogs (for a leap day message!)


Longing for justice, as a girl takes the long walk in search of water. #thirst #wateraid #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


Looking in, looking out – witness this moment before it flies away. #witness #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


Who knows what may be found before the seasons turn and the blossom comes? #found #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


Look up, marvel, and see the power of flight written across the sky. #power #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


Look out at the view. Take a breath to help accept the gift of this day. #help #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


Piece by piece. Keep putting the pieces together. The picture will come. #endure #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku #jigsaw #heartpuzzle Held a marriage preparation day yesterday and couples got very involved in this puzzle, which is a heart shape and fiendishly hard.


What flowers when we allow the time and space and let ourselves be loved? #celebrate #mothering #flowers #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku Paper flowers made at Claydon church Mothering Sunday celebrations.


What strange beauty the wild spirit of life creates if we can but see. #spirit #wild #branches #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


In the silence may more be heard : songs of hope, voices often ignored. #silence #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku This is one of my favourite songs, arranged here by John Bell of Iona Community. We sang it at some of our Mothering Sunday services and it feels appropriate too as we remember International Women’s Day. #IWD2016


You may find yourself in a new place, seeing the world through eyes of faith. #faithful #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


Surrounded by sights, where will you look, what will you see? Picture it now. #surround #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


Three figures stand, reflecting on wonder, work, birth. A new world appears. #world #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku #stmartinsinthefields #dicksheppardchapel


Listen. See the words appear. The shape of conversation and question. #listen #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku #signlanguage #diocesansynod Signers listening carefully to debate at Oxford Diocesan Synod.


Feel the warmth, allow the herbal scent to soothe weary feet. Time to rest. #celebrate #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku #feet Today’s gospel is of Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus’ feet. Later in Holy Week we will remember Christ washing feet. This photo from a few years’ ago is after I’d done a sponsored walk in Kidlington. Ahh!


One more step along the way. Follow the sign or take road less travelled? #path #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


Find a way to remember the stories that come just at the right time. #remember #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku Holy Week box to remember and re-tell the stories coming up to Easter.


A place where people come to discover another way to see life. #people #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku #art #nationalgallery


Move, dance, sing out. Who needs to hear this? Today it will restore their soul. #restore #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


Heard the joyful song of the skylark, somewhere up in the cloud-filled sky. #beloved #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


To have and not to hold onto. Shock of yellow flowering by road. #have #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #haiku


Lay down your cries, call out your hopes, shout for true peace. Do not be silent. #celebrate #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #lent2016 #palmsunday #haiku


Give thanks for the word crafters, making room, allowing more to happen. #thanks #rethinkchurch#rethinkphoto #photoaday #holyweek #poetryday #rsthomas #jimcotter


Stone by stone this pillar stands for all that lasts and what we need to know. #steadfast #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #holyweek #haiku


Once part of a home, now discarded chaos, as something new begins. #rejected #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #holyweek #haiku


Something stark, simple, imperfect, chaotic. Stop. No words are needed. #need #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #holyweek #haiku


Walking in sunshine and shade. Wondering what will be found on this path. #path #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #goodfriday #haiku


Enter this day, which is for breathing, in and out. Feel the earth breathing. #enter #rethinkchurch#rethinkphoto #photoaday #holyweek #haiku Photo taken 4 years ago at the beautiful Lumen URC looking up to the Ray of Light in the ceiling


This is the day when a line is drawn, when anything is possible. #celebrate #rethinkchurch #rethinkphoto #photoaday #easter #haiku

This Advent I’ve been following the #adventword practice from the Anglican Communion http://adventword.org/ with daily photos and words shared on instagram https://www.instagram.com/revhillers/

It developed into a daily haiku. Here are the pictures and words.




Musical angels make the most of their gifts. #bathabbey #proclaim


First Christingles of this year ready to give away. #adventword #give


Forgive. Sit down side by side in winter sunshine. Then turn face to face. #adventword #haiku #forgive


See. There is a crack. See. There is a crack. See. There is a crack. The door will open. You’ll be surprised by welcome. #repent #adventword #haiku


Pay attention to that which feeds the soul. It may not all be sparkly. #worship #adventword #haiku


Longing to find more time the season offers the gift of this moment. #believe #adventword #haiku


Take care, I always say, needing still to learn how to risk being loved. #care #adventword #haiku


Be ready to be surprised by life, open to gift of company. #be #adventword #haiku


The light in this place always surprises. Patterns appear from nowhere. #surprise #adventword #haiku


Why is the world so beautiful? Why not, asks the blushing evening sky. #ask #adventword #haiku


Go, go, go! Leap over the barriers and take on life in its fullness.#dare #adventword #haiku


Into the embrace of darkness a window of light holds out a hand. #shine #adventword #haiku


Wait. Into this dark season colour will come. There will be blossoming. #wait #adventword #haiku


Never fail to find joy in the ordinary. Oh star of wonder! #wonder #adventword #haiku


Make room to accept tiredness as today’s gift. Time to take time out. #accept #adventword #haiku


Listen. The children know how to tell the story so that we can hear. #listen #adventword #schoolnativity #haiku


Come. Sit. The story will begin again soon. This time is just for you. #invite #adventword #haiku


Lean into the light. Let longing flower, opening up this moment. #desire #adventword #haiku


Prepare to go in a different direction. Take a road less travelled? #prepare #adventword #haiku


The journey is long. Will it come to an end? May rest and refuge come. #hope #adventword #haiku


Find another view. What can be seen from this place? Take a good long look. #look #adventword #haiku


Experience the full picture of Advent – room for colour and space. #experience #adventword #haiku


Light, symbol, colour. Each prayerful step has its own way of revealing. #pray #adventword #haiku


Light comes in and out of this place, built of wood, stone, breath, prayers, tears and joy. #reflect #adventword #haiku


Receive the gift of this precious night, lit by the full moon, and rejoice. #receive #adventword #haiku


Hush! The child sleeps, dreaming of dazz’ling starlit skies, enfolded in love. #dazzle #adventword #haiku

For my All Saints’ sermon this Sunday, I was captivated by some reflections on the word ‘haunted’. Then I got to wondering how the characters in the gospel reading (the story of the raising of Lazarus) might have experienced being ‘haunted’.

Let there be dark! The days grow shorter and the darkness grows. This is the time, the season when we might dare to face that which haunts us.

First a reflection on the word ‘haunted’, then an imagination of how the characters in the gospel story might experience haunting – and how we might also experience haunting – for this is also our story.

Haunted is a word that describes something alongside that is unresolved, shadowy – a presence that is not quite a presence. It is something about longing, wanting, of not yet .. of not finding a home in this world or in the next. Haunted is someone or something that walks the halls of our house or our mind looking for what will help to lay its own self to rest.

Like the spirits and half-beings we imitate at Halloween, we roam the streets as if looking for a place on this earth we are unable to locate, .. wondering if there really will ever be a new heaven and a new earth.

We cease to be haunted and hurt when we stop being afraid of making what has been untouchable, real: especially our understandings of the past; and especially those we wronged, those we were wronged by, or those we did not help. We become real by forgiving ourselves and we forgive ourselves by changing the pattern, and especially by changing our present behaviour to those we have hurt. And we can be saved.

We stop being afraid when we give away what was never ours in the first place and begin to be present to our own lives just as we find them. Even as we look into the darkness, facing what we have banished from our thoughts and made homeless, we can be saved. Even when we do not know how to respond to the call ‘ Come out!’ we can be saved. When we make a friend of what we previously could not face, what once hurt and haunted us now becomes an invisible, parallel ally, a beckoning hand to our future. We are in good company. Then, maybe we can wake into our lives again, as if for the first time.

Now, stepping into the gospel story …

I am Mary. My brother is dead. I am haunted by my grief. My eyes are sore, I have cried so much. Why does everything bad seem to happen to us? Lazarus was only a child when our parents died. Martha and I brought him up ourselves. Becoming orphans was hard enough, but the loss of a brother feels harder. Who will wipe away my tears?

I am Martha, the practical one. I am haunted by what I could not do. I am the one who, with Mary, brought up my brother. I nursed him in his last illness. I made all the arrangements for his burial. I didn’t cry like my sister, though my grief is still real. I did not do enough to save him.

I am Lazarus. They tell me I was dead. I am haunted by the memory, like a bad dream, of the shadowy cave and the piercing light beyond the cool stone. I was scared. Hands came and untied the strips around me. They say I should rejoice that life has begun again for me.  But I want to go back into the comforting darkness. I am afraid of living.

I am Jesus. Mary, Martha, Lazarus are my friends. Their home became a place where I felt safe, where I could truly be myself. I am haunted by the voice that calls me beloved and that I heard even in the darkness of the water when John pulled me up into the light of day, that day of my baptism. What I did today, for Lazarus, shocked, amazed, angered, revealed. Life will never be the same again for Lazarus, for Martha, for Mary and for me. Am I truly beloved? I took the risk to keep on giving, to keep on loving.

Let there be dark! All Saints Day is a precious time to remember who the saints are – that they are those who show us how to face the darkness and not to be overcome by it. All Saints’ Day is a precious time which beckons us to face the darkness, to attend to our haunting and our restlessness, – our fear, our grief, our powerlessness, our capacity to let go and love, and find even in the shadows of awareness, in the crevices of memory, in the landscape of our dreams, find even there a blessing and a way to take the next step of faith. (Jan Richardson).

based on reflection by David Whyte From CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. © David Whyte:

and Fire and Bread reflections © Ruth Burgess 2006, p 54-58

Cobweb in Claydon churchyard

Cobweb in Claydon churchyard

Play time

Anything with the word ‘play’ in it immediately draws my attention. Why? Well, I need to play, basically! I notice that since I’ve been ordained I have found ways to give myself permission to play. I’ve been drawn to play with words in storytelling. I’ve been drawn to play with singing. I’ve been drawn to the Godly Play approach to discipleship and exploring the language of faith. I’ve been drawn to drawing and doodling prayers.

I’m about to start an online course, called ‘Exploring Play’. So far the participants are introducing themselves. Some (like myself) a little shyly and others with paragraphs packed with descriptions of experience and expectations. There are common themes: curiosity, learning, fun, stretch, pondering, passion, work, time, creativity, risk …

Why think about play, when all around us is so much that might cause us to despair? Because play can dare us to face dark, dangerous places and times, tapping into our sometimes underused imagination and finding ways to respond. Play can invite us into doing serious work, it can beckon us to find the delight of true rejoicing, play can put us back into good relationship with the world around us, with other people, with ourselves … with God.

As the seasons change once more, as autumn playfully colours the land and Advent peeps out of the darkening skies, maybe play will be a good ministerial companion. The playgroup that is the community of God continues to draw me, and keeps drawing us into becoming radical, playful and compassionate communities.

It is time. Let us play.

Let us colour over the

faithful lines of life.

May it be so.

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A kind-of summary of what I did as part of the #30dayswild challenge. I wrote some haikus which can be seen on my twitter page. https://twitter.com/revhillers/with_replies

30 days wild calendar

30 days wild calendar

Now I’m going to have a bit of a break from a daily doodle. Though I’m sure that I’ll return to it in good time.