Archives for posts with tag: gift

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 ( – 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.





The tree, the decorations, the Christmas cards are about to come down. Christmas is pretty much done and dusted, we’ve done with the visiting and the hospitality, we’ve put away the twiglets and the pickles. There are hot cross buns and crème eggs in the supermarkets. And here come the three kings – what’s left to celebrate? They’re too late.. aren’t they?

Again, the faith calendar calls us to take another look at time as we enter the season of Epiphany, a sub-set of the Christmas season. Not just a day of celebration, but a season of wondering and journeying.

An inheritance from the Eastern Christian tradition, Epiphany is a multi-layered season, of showing, manifestation, revealing the child of Nazareth who becomes the Jesus of faith. With the stories of birth and strange foreign visitors, baptism by the wild prophet John, a wedding feast rescued from disaster, the calling of a mixed band of followers, the season takes time to light up the whole of Jesus’ life and calling.

The star shines and the call of the light is to all.

There is a legend that says that the three wise men were of three different ages. Caspar was a very young man, Balthazar was in his middle age and Melchior was an old man. They arrived at Bethlehem, at the place of the child’s birth, and they enter one at a time. Melchior, the old man, enters and is surprised to see no one there but a very old man his own age, with whom he is quickly at home. They speak together of remembrance and of gratitude. The middle-aged Balthazar enters and meets a middle-aged teacher, and they talk passionately of leadership and responsibility. And when young Caspar enters, he finds a young prophet and they share words of reform and promise. Then the three take their gifts and enter the place of birth together. And when they go in together to their surprise there is nobody there except a 12 day-old infant. The saviour speaks to every stage of life. The old hear the call to integrity and wisdom. The middle-aged hear the call to transition and responsibility. And the young hear the call to identity and intimacy.

This is the time to look, to look and to see again.

And this is the time for the panto (oh yes it is!) which is a tradition to help us see things again in a very different light. Behind the stage make-up, behind the rags and the glitter, behind the apron and the ball gown – who is that – male or female, a beggar or a prince, a servant or a genie. Is this comedy, drama or tragedy? Years ago we worshipped in a church whose ecumenical community (Anglicans and Roman Catholics) came together to present and perform an annual pantomime. To do this the whole building had to be turned around, to create a stage and audience area. This meant that every year the Feast of Epiphany was celebrated on the stage, with the church seating turned around. It seemed a very fitting way to celebrate the beginning of this season of transformation.

Chance again to look again at gifts – given and received, and notice the real gifts of every day, every moment, gifts sometimes discounted, gifts closer than we imagined, gifts for every stage of life around us.

Here is a poem by Alan Horner, who was a Methodist minister and once chaplain to the ecumenical Living Spirituality Network:

Twelfth Night

Now is the ebbing, now:

the cards collapse;

the bald tree lies shorn of baubles;

the lights laid low in their unbright box;

candles are cold; figures

no longer in focus return to rest.

Only the gifts remain.

The angels are ‘gone away’;

the shepherds ‘returned’;

the Magi ‘departed another way’;

and Joseph with Mary fled.

She must not mind, but mind

her son, pondering these things.

Only this gift remains.

Last year I offered the gift of a star word to accompany you through 2014. I wonder what became of the word – that chose you. I wonder what gift you received? I offer this to you again, today. The idea is to take an Epiphany star word and put it somewhere you can see it every day. Ponder it, pray with it and allow it to unfold, to reveal itself to you as guide and teacher. Perhaps over the year we can talk to one another about our journey with our companion word. This year I also invite you to write on a star a gift to transform the world around you and a gift you would like to recognise anew in yourself. We will place these star prayers near the crib.

May the Epiphany star of love show us the gift we have to offer, making our lives new again.

Based on words by Ian Fraser in ‘Going Home Another Way’ edited by Neil Paynter

Epiphany star words.

Epiphany star words.