Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pilgrimage Continues - Theme, SABBATH

On Sunday, May 25, we pilgrims were encouraged by our Abbess to really seek Sabbath, to not set the alarm clock, and to let go of planned agendas and just "be", to spend time by ourselves letting go of everything we had planned and just see what happens. Well, that wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear. I had planned for months to go to church at St. Nicholas Collegiate Church (the Anglican community in Galway), but no one else I knew of was going there. Several of the pilgrim monks had plans to go to Mass at the Poor Clare's Convent, and invited me to go, so I went with them. The Poor Clare's have been in Galway, on Nun Island since 1642. They are an enclosed contemplative community of sisters in the tradition of St. Clare, the friend of St. Francis of Assisi.

The Clare's live "enclosed" in community, so that meant they were separate from us during Mass, on the other side of the altar. Most of the Mass was done with the priest facing them. They had beautiful singing voices, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but truth be told, I missed participating in worship. When Mass was over, and lunch was finished, I went back to my room to "rest". Instead, I found myself tossing and turning about going a second time to church. After all, this was supposed to be a day of Sabbath rest, but no matter what I did, my soul wasn't resting. Finally I got up, dressed again, and sat off for St. Nicholas.  I was in for a treat! Along the way to the church, I met up with this family of swans - they may be 'common' to the Irish, but they were pure gift to me.

Greeted by those beautiful red doors!

And when I got to St. Nicholas, I found a congregation that was warm and inviting. And colorful! And another pilgrim monk came in, and we sat together! The church was almost full with children, young couples, old folks - every age was there. The choir was incredible, and the procession was pure gift. The choir stood behind us and chanted the most beautiful chant, then processed toward the altar. And the homily (sermon) was lively an inviting.

The priest greeted me after, as did several of the community, all introducing themselves and even inviting me to BBQ after.  Then when I stepped outside, I had another surprise, Galway's Farmer's Market was right there, on Church Lane. The booth right outside the doorway was run by a lovely couple from India, and I bought this outfit - funny going to Ireland and buying an outfit from India. What a world we live in!

After browsing through market, I walked back to the bed and breakfast, fully content inside my soul.  My Sabbath Day lesson was another reminder to "listen to my heart", "to move with my hear", and "to follow my heart" - in spite of what my MIND may tell me is the "rule" of the day.

I spent the rest of the afternoon blissfully playing in my journal, drawing and coloring symbols of my trip and playing with the idea of painting a mandala of pilgrimage when I returned home.

This is a picture of what I started that Sunday afternoon in Galway.

And I finished my pilgrimage mandala yesterday. I told Jim that I cannot imagine a more beautiful way to integrate the beauty of the trip into the cells of my skin than listening to music we sang along the way (Richard Bruxvoort Colligan's Our Roots Are In You) and painting my memories.

If you click on Richard's website link above, I invite you to listen to "Holy Is This One", and just imagine singing that almost every time we met, and looking in each other's eyes as we sang it. Just of taste of considering yourself and everyone/everything you meet along the way as "holy". It is.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

So What Makes It A Holy Well?

Once again this morning I am pondering the thought that if I don’t reflect on the beauty and grace of life, I simply won’t see it – I will see its shabbiness and pain instead.

A couple of nights ago, I had dinner with a few friends, and I took each of them a little bottle of water from a "holy well" in Ireland.  One of the ladies asked,

“What makes this a holy well?”

Because it IS (it exists), and because thousands of people for hundreds of years have traveled far to experience its holiness, its healing waters, its beauty and grace, and the peace of that ancient space. There are “thin places” in the world, and this place is that kind of space.

I don’t think that’s what I said exactly, but that’s what makes something holy: the witness of others who have recognized and experienced its miraculous healing and its sense of ‘sacredness’.  And sacredness is all around us; it can be everywhere if we but have eyes to see. We, you and I, have the privilege of labeling life “holy and sacred”. Or we can label life hard, sad and complicated. It’s our choice.

All of life is holy. But it is, for me, imperative that I ponder the holiness and sacredness of life – otherwise all I see is the mundane. I must listen to that mockingbird’s song as if I never heard it before, or it will lose its glory each new morning. I long for beauty in my life – to see it, hold it, and kiss its face. To draw near my furry kitty’s face, smell her breath, feel her softness and look into those deep golden wells you and I have labeled eyes and see the face of God. To look up from my journal and see the raindrops dancing on the creek.

To seek out the low raspy “hoorah” of Mother Frog crouched almost hidden underneath flora dripping from long-awaited rain – that is holy.

For some reason most of us tend to complaint. Perhaps it’s not “life” that is profane, but simply our sight, our hearts and minds. Maybe like the hot dry dusty earth, we need to be refreshed, baptized and washed anew with “holy water”, summer rain, in order to see the beauty of life shimmering around us. Maybe it’s our “hurry up and get it done” ordering of the priorities of the day that causes life to become mundane, profane. Our sense of having to control everything around us – even the places we sit in order to experience morning’s grace. I do it too. I want my coffee nearby, and a cushioned chair underneath my bottom. And no mosquitoes, thank you very much.
But there are moments that shimmer through, thresholds of time and space that awaken me to wonder, when I can pause and sit on the damp ground to receive a photo of a frog also wet with refreshing rain. And in those moments, I know that life is holy, and I can add my voice and my experience to all those other pilgrims along the way who say, “This is a ‘holy well’”.

There was a delicious poem posted on Facebook a few mornings back, that I failed to save, but I’ve remembered well the “just” of it. The poet mused on getting together with a friend and talking only about the beautiful – no complaints, no discussion of the hardness of life or the sadness of our children or the brutal nature of business today, but only talk of beauty – could we do that for just one hour? And remind ourselves that life is holy. I think that’s another gift from pilgrimage – for eight days, we talked of beauty, we explored beauty, we breathed in grace and holiness every day. In eight days, there was perhaps eight minutes of complaint? If even that. And that’s holy.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Pilgrimage, Day 5 - Cong Abbey and Inchgoaill Island

Yesterday had been full and this day's theme was SILENCE & SOLITUDE. I dare say that most, if not all of us were introverts, so this day of silence (for the most part) was eagerly anticipated.

Our van driver John and his wonderful ride picked us up at the Adare Guesthouse bright and early and we sat out for Cong Ireland, and a visit to the Abbey. 

Meet John our driver for the week. He thought he was just a driver,
but he is a monk, a contemplative. He enters into all the prayers and rituals,
and his presence is hospitality and peace. Thank you John, with heartfelt gratitude.
Cong is a beautiful little town, the filming location for John Wayne's The Quiet Man. Jim (my husband) is impressed that I came home from Ireland wanting to watch a John Wayne movie. This photo, one of the first I took in Cong, I took for here! Here you go Sweetie, I did think of you while I was there!
Big John always draws a crowd!

John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, The Quiet Man

Christine and John ushered us into the big green space of the Abbey, and we had our morning prayer, praying in the four directions:

To the East, awaiting dawn and awakening, the bringer of light, early morning, and the rising sun. It's element is the wind. What is awakening in me today, here in this place of pilgrimage?

To the South, welcoming the noonday sun, illumination. It's element is fire. What is being illuminated in my life? What am I seeing clearly? What brings warmth to my soul?

To the West, the setting sun, dusk, letting go, limitations. It's element is water. Where am I noticing my limitations? What am I being called to let go of? How comfortably do I find myself being drawn to just enter the flow, letting o and allowing the River to take me?

For added emphases, our view to the North opened onto  a wall under construction
and a vie of the cemetery glimpsed through the scaffolding.
And to the North, the deepest night, the longest sleep It's element is earth. I came from the earth, and I will return to the earth. How does the earth call to me?

And we listened for our own personal prayer, mine: open, listen, flow, home. For me, these four words went with these four directions: as I awake, my invitation is to OPEN my heart, my soul, my mind and my spirit. As I continue through the day, I LISTEN and watch and hear and see what Spirit is saying and doing in my own life. As the Great River flows through my day, I enter into the FLOW, partnering and cooperating with the River. At the end of the day, I find myself HOME, in my own skin, truly, quietly, splendidly home where I belong, rooted and ground in Love's Center, in my own center, here, now.

After we finished morning prayer, we followed Christine across the bridge, through the archway, and across the threshold into the most beautiful forest I've been in since the Redwood Forest of our own country's northwest. Here we were invited to an hour of blessed quiet, and time to wander and explore the forest on our own.  Typically, I'm an open-sky kind of girl. I love being able to see far, and to breathe in the openness of a treeless environment (or short trees), but once in a while it's a great thing to be invited to the heart of a deep wood, to be encircled, to be still and quiet, to hear only the silence of the earth as She breathes. I sat for a while and journalled, and just listened to the stillness of the earth, the water flowing, and the song of the birds. And I listened to the ancient voices of the trees towering above me, "May you be as deeply grounded in the Love of God as we are in this moist, rich earth. Let your roots sink deep into Love's Ground. Be fastened there, held in the heart of Love."

How often on our pilgrim journey are we invited to "cross over"?
My sitting spot

I was always conscious that my feet had brought me here.
I remembered when my feet were so "lame", and my prayer from
Hind's Feet on High Places. I'm so grateful for feet that can travel.

Here I am...I am HERE in this lovely place, and I BELONG here.
Finally, I pulled myself up and began to walk the path of the deep woods, listening to the quiet sounds of the morning, once more reveling in the fact that I was HERE, in this beautiful space, and I belonged here. I was called here. This is part of my destiny, to be here, now.

The trail ended at this large castle, but I wasn't ready to
enter the bustle, so I turned around and headed back into the woods.
After I finished my walk, I had tea and a scone in the Happy Monk Cafe (of course). As we once more began to gather, I snapped a few photos of this magical little town, then we headed for lunch on the boat and our cruise to the island of Inchgoaill. 

How appropriate!

Tea Time

Prior John and John the drive wait for us to gather.
Christine's there, too, sitting behind Prior John.

Our ride to Inchgoaill Island and our captain


Rebecca and Barbara (who loves hats and has an awesome collection)

Polly and Zohra


Marie, Maura and John

Appropriate title for our afternoon

Polly and Alix 

Sheila, Martha Louise and Lisa

The landing
Lough Corrib is the largest lake in Ireland, and there are 365 small islands on the lake. Inchgoaill is the most famous and also the 4th largest. The word Inchgoaill means "home of the stranger". I'm supposing it got its name from the story that St. Patrick was banished there when he first came to Ireland. The monastic ruins on the islands date back to the 5th Century.

This archway dates these ruins. The saint on the far right is St. Brigit,
the only woman who's face is carved in the stone.

Arches and thresholds - how many are we invited to pass through
along our own inner journey?

I am every mindful that what we see around us lies within us.
Lush greenry, ancient ruins, altars, stone and earth -
it's all INSIDE of us. There is no inside.
There is no outside.

Little windows letting in slivers of light.

The first site we visited on Inchgoaill was "Teampall Na Naoimh" translated as the "Church of the Saints". It is believed that this church was built by the Agustian Monks of Cong circa 1180 A.D. At that time between monks and lay scholars there were about 3,000 people in the monestary of Cong. For this reason the monks needed a place of peace and quiet to pray and meditate and so the Church of the Saints was built.

The stone of Lugnad and St.Patrick's church are situated quiet close to each other, about 100 meters west of Teampall Na Naoimh. More that any other monument on the Island the stone of Lugnad has captured the attention of the most renowned archaeologists. The 5th century inscription on the stone which is still legible to-day reads "Lia Lugnaedon Macc Lmenueh". It is believed that St Patrick and his nephew (who was also his navigator) came to Cong in the middle of the 5th Century to spread the Christian faith. The Pagan druids who were very powerful people at the time had St. Patrick and his nephew banished to Inchagoill Island. This is how the Island got its name - Inis an Ghaill(the Island of the Stranger). While building their church Lugnad died and was buried on the Island. It is interesting to note that the stone has the shape of a boats rudder tying in with the theory that Lugnad was St. Patrick's navigator. We believe that Limanin was St. Patrick's sister.Many archologists claim that this inscription is the oldest Christian inscription in Europe apart from one found in the Catacombs of Rome.

Our captain and guide has always been a part of this lake and island,
carrying on his father's legacy. Maura to the left, and Polly to his right.

Following the path to St. Patrick's little church

Stone walls and doorways - so symbolic of the openings in our stony hearts.

The stone of Lugnad

After the boat ride back to Cong and the ride back to the Adare Guesthouse in Galway, we had a lovely (noisy) dinner at the Ard Bia in Galway. The Valters-Paintners certainly know how to eat. I've never had such good food as I ate while I was in Ireland, from the breakfasts that Grainne served each morning at our BnB to the lovely dinners we had in the evenings.

And I cannot close this blog post without remembering Trinity Sunday last week at St. Timothy's, the rousing processional hymn we sang, I Bind Myself Today
As we sang this lovely hymn, I was transported back to Inchgoaill Island and St. Patrick's story. I am so grateful for his testimony of love and trust in the the Trinity. At the end of church, I took this photo to post for my pilgrim monk community. I do believe St. Patrick was there!

Christ beside me,
Christ before me,
Christ be behind me
King of my heart;
Christ be within me.