Almost twenty years ago, I felt goosebumps many times while reading ‘Crossing to Avalon’ by Jean Shinoda Bolen. Discovered in those pages was the island of Iona. The author’s pilgrimage to sacred sites across Europe and The UK took her there, and my pilgrimage followed some of those steps in April of this year.
It is a ‘pinch me’ kind of experience to find oneself where one has imagined and dismissed the idea as impossible. Asked by one of the volunteers why I was visiting The Abbey on retreat, a little flustered, I answered ‘I don’t know.’ He confided kind-heartedly ‘Oh good! People who know scare me!’
Once across the border into Scotland, the journey altered. Everything ran smoothly. People were friendly and helped with my suitcase. The multiple connections – train from Glasgow to Oban, ferry to the Isle of Mull, bus to the south and ferry across the strait to The Isle of Iona – all happened with good timing and gentle breeze on a sunny day.
Iona has been a place of pilgrimage for many centuries, off and on. I wonder if places of pilgrimages choose and call the pilgrim; the place wants you, even needs you for a time for its’ complete existence.
I wrote this about the calling to pilgrimage:
Packing your bag – what to take?
Sturdy shoes. A coat. Warm clothes.
The pilgrimage, like a container of jewels and stones
in a large one – life – open and wild like The Hebridean sky.
Sky and water and grasses dance around the anchored locus of Iona.
The passing and eternal meld here.
Such words and heart-chakra-green marble might speak of stillness
And deep in time rumbled and trembled in mystery
melting mud to Serpentine
The stone in your hand… we’re made of the same stuff.
Touch warm palm to cool cheek. Listen.
What wants to be heard above the shush of the water at the side of the boat?
What wants to be seen below the birds’ great sky-V?
What will draw you there?
Or what sparks surprise, lightens mind, eases heaviness of heart?
What pulls at you, like the tender hand of a persistent child?
What has not gone cold, because your blood is
Once there, what must be thrown way out into the bay?
And what will you bring home?
Or rather, what will bring you home?
One is changed by a pilgrimage, and can’t quite work out what has shifted, when exactly, how or why. It’s not for the mind to figure these things out though, and it can’t anyway. Enough to notice there’s more noticing.
On Iona, I noticed people listened more. Time and space seemed to open up even though there were things to do and places to go. One embodies that peace, and can be as one is. Without conscious effort, guards come down and joy bubbles up.
There is more noticing of the forces of nature – from the borealis swirling above The Abbey on our first night to the tiny flowers growing between the rocks of ruins. One’s eyes rest in the expanses of space. The quiet is laced with bird and wind-song. And when in community, there is the soothing warmth of being welcomed, presented with lovingly prepared food and random acts of kindness.
Blessed with new, dear friends, we will aways connect in the spirit of Iona.
And now I extend that to you, through my news today and the inspiration for a new contemplative art course. Since 2012, my art programs have intended to be creative pilgrimages – calming, clarifying, gentle and soothing so you can be creative just as you are. I look forward to sharing more and welcome questions/suggestions.
With love and blessings,