7th October 2011

Apparently George MacLeod, founder of the Iona Community and wonderfully quotable, once said, “If you believe in coincidences, you must lead a very dull life!”

It just so happened (!) when I went to Iona in September, that there were also staying there that week, two people from Sweden, and from the same part of Sweden that I was planning to visit as part of my sabbatical. So one of those wonderful, un-consciously planned re-connections happened, and on the second day of my time in Sweden, I took the train from Alvesta to Jönköping and was met at the station by Iona friend Agne.

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Agne works in the neighbouring diocese of Skora, and part of his work is involved in promoting and encouraging pilgrimage and spiirtual journeying of different sorts, http://www.pilgrimskaraborg.se/ He wanted to show me some places that provide spiritual nourishment complimenting and supporting parish life.

First we went to Wessershus, on the shore of Lake Vattern, in the midst of the forest there. Founded by the artist Sven Gunnar Zilo who recognised the spiritual importance of this place, and maintained now by an ecumenical board of trustees. Amongst the trees were wooden chalets providing simple and comfortable accomodation. You can even stay in a library – how wonderful is that? The grass-covered chapel was just one place to sit and draw breath, to take stock of life and feel renewed. I absolutely loved the place, the light and space in the rooms in the meeting hall, the artwork, the life giving trees, the views, the walks.

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After lunch in Gränna, known for its red and white peppermint candy sticks, and home to ill fated Arctic balloonist Salomon August Andrée, we journeyed on to the Abbey Church at Vadstena. This is a destination for pilgrims, a place for prayer and reflection, to explore the concept of coming home, home to God and home to one’s self. The Abbey Church is dedicated to St Birgitta, and would you believe it – the day we were there was St Birgitta’s day, and we were able to join in evensong around cross and candles. Next to the Abbey is a house where convicted criminals can come and stay for a while, and join in the rhythm of prayer and reflection.I looked around the congregation and couldn’t help wondering which ones were criminals? Although I couldn’t properly join in the psalm singing, it was beautiful to listen and allow the silence between verses to let the words and prayers echo in the building. It was also good to remember the very different needs each one of us brought with us to this time, and this place. At Vadstena there is a Pilgrimscentrum http://www.pilgrimscentrum.com/se/ with a guesthouse that can be used as meeting place and resting place for pilgrims.

St Birgitta’s prayer: Lord, show me your way and make me ready to follow it

We returned to Agne’s house, via a fantastic view over Jönköping.

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In the evening it was great to have a mini Iona reunion, to talk more, look at photos and remember our time there.

The following morning, having enjoyed such generous and kind hospitality, Lars took me to the station for my return journey to Ljungby, saw me safely on the train and hoped that my trip would give me much that was good both for body and soul. I felt full of thanks for coincidences that become connections and relationships. 

Vadstena Pilgrimscentrum: Never stop exploring


 

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