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Friends are discovered in the most unusual ways. One morning after breakfast I headed up the road in Iona to see what was at the end of the road that ran in front of our bed and breakfast. I’d loved hearing the cows, chickens and sheep outside the window of our second story room. Of course, sheep always attract my attention! And, I had learned that the bummer lamb that was a family pet was in fact herding the other sheep to another pasture area. I stepped out onto the road and just ahead of me I saw Barbara. Because I walk very fast, I caught up with her and we decided to find the golf course that signs were directing passers by toward. We figured out how to get into the field without letting sheep out and then saw two golfers teeing off at the first tee box. Off in the distance was a rocky beach with lots of bird activity. As we drew closer, we thought we saw a puffin. That led us to look for more of these little birds with the colorful beak. We hiked down into another beach area that was sandy, but didn’t find the bird activity so decided to go on to another beach.
And then, realizing that we’d been away for quite a while, we started back up into the fields of sheep and ran into another part of the golf course and a deep ravine that we had to work our way around. Cows were in this field, but way up by the house and barn. We crossed back by way of a stile into the sheep field and discovered the golfers were heading to hole 17. We respected the rules of the course and stopped while they hit and then moved on to end up as their gallery for that hole and for hole 18! The next treat was to find a beautiful little shop full of yarns and sheep hair fashioned into angel ornaments and jewelry. Of course, we had to purchase some as gifts. We’d already found some Iona stones that had been shaped into hearts and polished as worry stones! We weren’t even in the shopping area! Barbara and I have many shared memories of this wonderful morning walk and the walk we took across the sand when the tide was out at Lindisfarne.
—Geri Ashworth (photos by Don Veitch and Greg Foraker)
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I have never been a person who took a lot of pictures, and still am not, but I can’t begin to tell you the joy I receive whenever others share their photos of our amazing trip. Remembering where we were, who we were with, what was happening at that moment are all priceless memories.
We could see from our hotel bedroom window in Lindesfarne the Lindesfarne Castle, which we were able to tour. If we stuck our heads out the window and looked to the right, we were very close and could see the remnants of the Priory that had been built in the late 500s or early 600s, and had been partly dismantled to build the castle in the 1500s. St. Mary’s Church was also nearby and we attended a couple of services there. The sense of history was everywhere, as was the sense of spirit. Being able to share this with our fellow travelers made these experiences even more meaningful.
Iona, where the Celtic spirituality began, was even more miraculous in the sense that it came first while history surrounded us. Everything surrounding us was very old, even parts added on or remodeled, but we touched it and it touched us. The Bishop’s House and The Abbey are old relics, still used and much loved. Being apart from our everyday lives and being in the thin spaces was evident in the sense of peace and calm and love.
For me, this was a Pilgrimage of a lifetime and shall be fondly remembered always.
—Geri Smith (photos by Don Veitch)
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“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels.” This verse from Hebrews 13:2 comes to mind as I reflect on our pilgrimage. There is a major change, however, because we were the strangers. The angels appeared in the guise of a British woman and her daughter, as a soft-spoken inn keeper, as a woman at the airport, and as my fellow pilgrims.
What happened on the way to the Durham Cathedral could be referred to as “an incident that could have been catastrophic.” That is when the British angel appeared to me. On the trip, as could be expected, some other incidents happened which were looked after by one or more angels. I found, in our group of 19, angels who were willing to help with many things, and who became a loving and caring community.
Perhaps it was the holy atmosphere on both Lindisfarne and Iona that inspired this. It certainly was the gathering together for Eucharist in both places. It was in the brief Shabbat service given for us by Rabbi Helen. It was in the sharing of our daily discoveries. All in all, I would not trade these for anything. I came away on a “spiritual high.” There is something in both places that makes one think, meditate, pray, and share.
—Elizabeth Weber (photo by Don Veitch)
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I’ve just returned from a 10-day pilgrimage. It was not a trip or a vacation, and I went not as a tourist, but as a spiritual seeker. I traveled with a group from St. Philips In The Hills to Lindisfarne and Iona, two small, scarcely populated rock and grass islands, one off the coast of England, the other off the coast of Scotland.
Being on pilgrimage involves a long journey, often arduous and usually to a holy site. It means being open to an inner journey as well. That inner journey is facilitated by being in one place for extended time, by silence, by being in the natural world, and by prayer and reflection.
My traveling companions were Christian, and because these sites are the first places Christianity took root in the British Isles, I spent the entire trip in somewhat unfamiliar religious settings. Of course I expected this, was prepared for it, and in the end learned that for me being in a prayerful environment transcended the specific words and even the theology. Our different religions are like different languages, each in its own unique way attempting to communicate with the Divine.
Still, I was especially happy to be singing Shalom Aleichem with our congregation Friday night after I returned home. We are always more comfortable speaking in our mother tongue. But I learned on this trip that the spirit’s yearnings transcend the outward forms of worship. The inner journey depends more on stillness, silence, openness, and quiet watchfulness.
—Rabbi Helen Cohn (photo by Don Veitch)
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Encouraged and Empowered!!! And yes, Enlightened, and most GRATEFUL to have been Enabled to make the journey!!! I would recommend the spirit-stretching experience for anyone seeking a closer walk with our Lord.
—Ann S. Plimpton (photo by Greg Foraker)
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During our last day on Iona, I spent time alone in the abbey. It was in the South Aisle Chapel that I found a book opened to the day’s date — July 23rd. Written on that page were two quotations. I copied the second, which was from Cardinal Newman, into my notebook:
God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this world, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in the chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught.
Later, I sat in the cloisters of the abbey thinking about that paragraph focussing on the sentence “I am a link in the chain …”. From my research in preparation for the pilgrimage, I knew that St. Columba established a Christian community on Iona in 563. It was there, while in exile as a youth, that Oswald of Northumbria became a Christian. When he became a king, he sent to Iona for a bishop to facilitate the conversion of his people. The first monk sent was austere and unsuccessful. The second, Aidan, had a gentler approach and was beloved by the people. Oswald gave Lindisfarne, now known as Holy Island, to Aidan as his episcopal see, and they rode throughout the countryside together evangelizing with Aidan preaching and Oswald translating. And so the links in that chain as I sat musing went from St. Columba to a line of anonymous monks on Iona to King St. Oswald to St. Aidan to a long line of faithful Christians who spread the good news of the Christian faith through the land and through the centuries down to simple, hard-working people like William Paxson, Thomas Canby, Abigail Pownall, Mary Oliver, Andrew Moore, and Mary Ann Blackbourn who who were born in England and Scotland and Ireland and Wales but died in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio and Grant County, Wisconsin. They were my immigrant ancestors, and they faithfully transmitted the Gospel story of Jesus and His love down to Elma Moore Tyler, my grandmother, to Alice Tyler Gursky, my mother, directly to me. May my words and my actions help me truly to be a link in this chain to pass this faith on to others for the Glory of God and the continued remembrance of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
—Deanna Gursky (photo by Greg Foraker)
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Shortly after my return from England and Scotland I was catching up on daily readings from my Celtic Daily Prayer book from the Northumbrian Community (http://www.northumbriacommunity.org) and found these readings that are so much more meaningful since my visit, especially the one about sowing seeds.
The mountaineer and the fisherman and the shepherd of the Isles live their lives in lonely places, and the winds wave bear to them messages from the unknown beyond. (—Wilkie)
There is the bay where the little, sea-tossed coracle drove ashore. There is the hill — the Hill of Angels — where heavenly visitants shown before him. There is the Sound across which the men of Mull heard vespers sung by hooded monks — heard the Lord’s song sung in a strange land. There is the narrow strip of water across which holy men came to take counsel, sinners to do penance, Kings to be crowned. The little island speaks with a quiet insistence of its past — for was it not at once the fountain and the fortress of faith, at once the centre of Celtic learning and of Christian charity? (—Troup)
In Iona of my heart, Iona of my love,
instead of monk’s voice
shall be the lowing of cows;
but ere the world shall come to an end
Iona shall be as it was. (—Attributed to Columba)
SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
Jennifer Lasj, in her book On Pilgrimage, tells a story about Gustva’s son Cornelius, who had said to her as she left to go on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, “I hope you find what you are looking for.”
At the end of her journey I asked her what she had found. “I have sown seeds,” she said. “Now I must go home, live and work and wait for the harvest. I’ll tell you in two years.”
Down the wide open road
the pilgrim travels on
his face towards the sun,
beyond the open road he travels on.
And the waves steal the footprints
of the summer from the sand;
beneath the silver moon
the North wind blows the
fading leaves again. (—Chris Simpson, ‘Seasons’)
Here was a sequence both of access
and inaccessibility. There were hours with the tide
closed in prayer. (—Ronald Blythe)
—Jeri Chaitin (The Third Jeri) (photos by Don Veitch and Greg Foraker)
Thank you for these sharings. My time on pilgrimage with these beautiful folks was meaningful and life-changing. Their words have captured the essence of our journey.
This kind of sharing opens your eyes and mind to re-explore the experience that was so very rich in history, relationship and spirituality. Thanks to each who have opened their experience for
others to grow through. God bless each of the pilgrims and our
spiritual guides, Greg and Helen.