Archives for posts with tag: pilgrimage

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.





It is crucial that we be rooted in someone, if not somewhere. Pilgrim people on the move root in relationships. I am the vine, said Jesus… (Miriam Therese Winter)

A sermon for the fifth Sunday of Easter, year B: A couple of weeks’ ago I spent some time with a group of clergy women. The topic we explored together was pilgrimage. Our leader, Rev Ruth Everhart , shared her experience of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and we drew out the themes of pilgrimage, of being a pilgrim. What does this mean? Today one of the themes from our Bible readings is about being rooted, about being branches, about abiding. Maybe these themes aren’t as different as they might appear at first hearing.

In the group I was part of, we wondered what made a pilgrim and found that it involved an attitude, a way of looking at life.

Being a pilgrim involves being open – to a nudge, to an adventure (maybe even to a vocation). Being a pilgrim means a remembering that we are body, mind and spirit and seeing life and love in this holy, whole way – using all our senses hearing, seeing, touching life in all its fullness.

Being a pilgrim means a particular way of paying attention. Ruth told us of visiting a variety of sacred, holy places – plenty of which were disputed in terms of – is this really the place where Jesus was born, died, rose,  miraculously shared bread…? She encountered many places where people came to touch the rock where maybe something sacred, holy happened. And a question came to her to ponder: – Is that a sacred rock, or are all rocks sacred? Being a pilgrim is another way to see the world – as a place shot through with God – a place where God abides.

Due to certain travel problems, I arrived late to the group. I was the last person to arrive. I had not met any of these women before, except through the internet and Facebook. And as I entered they gave me a round of applause – a warm welcome for a stranger. In a few short hours, in a few short days, spending time with these women, brought us into a different kind of relationship – a kind of a pilgrim bond or band. So that when it came for us to part, there was a real sadness.

We came from a range of countries and a range of different Christian traditions. Being a pilgrim means honestly facing difference, wrestling with difference and wondering what blessing that might mean for us as individuals and as members of communities.

Being a pilgrim is about stepping into the unknown – as life wherever we are is full of unknown twists and turns – and boldly going out.

We played with a number of words about the pace of being a pilgrim – the Scottish word to ‘daunder’, to meander, my own offering – to pootle, and to saunter (a word whose root may come from Sainte Terre – holy land, or may come from Sans Terre – to be homeless).

Being a pilgrim is about saying yes, as God says yes in love to us. It is a verb – to abide, to dwell, to remain, to continue

Ruth wrote this prayer to accompany her through her experience of pilgrimage and to continue to pray in her return home, to the place where she abides and is still a pilgrim:

I seek with all my heart

to be open to the leading of the Spirit on this pilgrimage.

May my heart and soul bear fruit.

May I be good soil for the work of the Spirit.

May my life change direction if need be.

May I be willing to bend like a willow in the wind of the Spirit.

Change me.

Bend me.

Break me, if need be.

Uproot me.

I am yours.


It is crucial that we be rooted in someone, if not somewhere. Pilgrim people on the move root in relationships. I am the vine, said Jesus… (Miriam Therese Winter)

Abide in my Love.

Huge thanks also to Rev Rachel Poolman, warden of St Cuthbert’s Centre on Lindisfarne for continuing to offer us generous hospitality and helping us continue to wander and wonder about being a pilgrim and the practice of abiding.

Lindisfarne views:

I haven’t been to the Holy Land, and I still don’t know if I will go, but I am glad that I decided to say ‘yes’ to attending the recent ‘Big Event Edinburgh’ (BEE) organised by the wonderful group RevGalBlogPals. The theme was pilgrimage and we enjoyed the thoughtful and gracious leadership of Rev Ruth Everhart, author of ‘Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land.’


Ruth gave us her own experience of this pilgrimage in the Holy Land in words and feelings, and gave us room to reflect on our own ways of being pilgrim, whether to a famous ‘sacred’ site or in the sacred moments of daily life.

After staying for a few days in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, some of the group were able to continue the reflection on the pilgrim way as we visited Lindisfarne. Here we walked in the steps of the fierce and fabulous northern saints of Aidan and Cuthbert. It was a wonderful and special time in good company.

Some Edinburgh views:

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.


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, 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.


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 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.


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



9th to 16th September 2011

Well, I finally got there. Last week I travelled to the Isle of Iona (Scottish Gaelic: Ì Chaluim Chille), off the western coast of Scotland, in the Inner Hebrides, and stayed at the abbey, for a week. For about 20 years I’ve felt the attractive pull of Iona. It began, I think, when I went to a workshop in Reading, Berkshire where John Bell strode into the room and in a few minutes had the assembled song-shy people rather astonished to discover themselves singing in wonderful harmony. Since then, the music, the theology embedded in incarnation, the radical call to love the world, to be on the side of the powerless, to hunger for justice has attracted and challenged me. Iona is known as a place of pilgrimage, a ‘thin place’, and has a certain spiritual mystique about it. I wondered if reality would pop the bubble of high expectations I had about the place and the ecumenical community making their temporary home there?

Iona didn’t disappoint, to my relief, and it didn’t overwhelm, or feel unreal, or too separate from the ‘real world’. Yes, it’s a long way to travel there, for most people. It was quite an adventure to plan the journey, book the train tickets, travel by bus, train and ferry. The island didn’t disappoint. We had the wonderful variety of island weather: wild winds and rain as a legacy of passing hurricanes, then clear blue skies and sunshine. The skies were amazing, the landscape stunning: white beaches, rocks and stones marking arrivals and departures, heather-speckled moorland.


It’s true what they say of Iona light which makes you look, look again.

The experience of community – that nebulous word – didn’t disappoint. Living in the Abbey, alongside staff members, visitors and volunteers we shared stories, fabulous food, worked alongside one another in cleaning, serving food, washing-up, chopping vegetables. We worshipped in the abbey – but not only in the abbey: “We continue to worship God”  Work and worship are not separated.  The community has a dispersed membership, finding its centre in some ways in this place and its wisdom, even if not actually physically there. There was an intimacy, in the moments we shared of our own lives, in the hospitality shared: “Do you have everything you need?”, in the encouragement to take the gift of the moment: “Go for it!”


Challenge as well of living closely together, and of remembering our accountability for our time, our money, our use of the earth’s resources. What will our rule of life be?

So what was the moment I will savour from this pigrimage? I hate being asked that question, and almost discarding so many moments to pick out one favoured one… but I think it could well be deciding I had to go up Dune-I, the highest point on Iona,


before I left, so (with some nudging) I chose to arrive late at our final gathering/reflecting time in order to hastily climb the hill and see the sun set. (If you know me, you’ll maybe realise that to do that little ‘rebellion’ was quite a big step for me to take!)

So off we went again, sent off with waves of goodbye from the folk on the shores of Iona, carrying Iona blessings with us.

For such a time as this we are called to commitment.

For such a time as this, we are called to God’s service;

Sometimes to listen, sometimes to weep, sometimes to wait or to speak.

Called to be caring, called to act,

for such a time as this.

(text and tune: Latin American, source unknown, arr by John Bell)