I’m back in the red chair looking out at fog-covered mountains, feeling grateful.
The dire hurricane forecasts at end of our trip to Ireland gave us pause,
but all of us eighteen pilgrims on Tour I of Eklectic Pilgrimages to Ireland have returned safely.
Thanks be to God.
Our itinerary kept us stepping.
In fact, one day I clocked over 15,000 steps and 58 floors!
Climbing over rocks, gazing at new vistas, singing, praying, imagining,
these are the joys of the journey.
But the journey never ends. Each one leaves its mark on the spirit.
What are the the lessons I take with me from this trip, my third British Isle pilgrimage since 2012?
1. Dúchas. Spirit of the place in Old Irish.
Grace Clunie, an expert on Celtic Spirituality, introduced us to this term.
But before we had the name, we already had the experience,
walking among the huge trees,
listening for the history, the old stories, feeling the healing spirit of Genesis I:31
“And God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
Ireland is as famous for its history of sectarian fighting as it is for its green beauty.
The fragile peace that settled on the island in 1998 brought an end to The Troubles,
but the tensions between Protestant and Catholic,
England and Ireland, have not disappeared.
The Brexit vote threatens the free border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
What a thrill it was, therefore, to spend two days at Corrymeela,
a place devoted to peace,
a place of conversation, play, art, song, and faith.
A storied place, a restorative culture.
The short video below explains how the mission began 50 years ago and what the place is today.
For me the highlight of the entire trip was listening to Pádraig Ó Tuama
describe the history of the Irish languages,
the Celtic Calendar,
the history of conflict, and the methods of the Corrymeela community.
I also gained a new appreciation for St. Brigid, one of the three patron saints of Ireland.
The icon in the church devoted to her in Kildare shows her standing on a jeweled sword,
indicating her dedication to nonviolence.
3. Don’t romanticize Celtic Spirituality.
It’s easy to make of the Celts a Christian answer to all that is wrong with church and society today.
The Druids, pre-Christian Celts,
may have worshipped trees, developed the art of storytelling, and walked gently on the earth,
but they also lived “nasty, brutish, and short” lives,
at the mercy of both the elements and their enemies.
They were “absolutely rooted in the pragmatism of survival,” said Ó Tuama.
When they responded warmly to the Christian message brought by St. Patrick, St. Columba, and St. Brigid,
the Celts developed a vital, muscular faith that still inspires
both Catholics and Protestants in Ireland
and around the world.
Pádraig Ó Tuama, who spoke to us at Corrymeela, scoffed at some of the ethereal
language of spirituality, words like “liminality,” and “thin places.”
He prefers less abstract, more concrete, terms.
In fact, he ended our session with this admonition from the poet Mary Oliver,
“Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.”
I’m about to “arise and go now,” not to the Lake Isle of Innisfree,
or to Connemara,
the place that will live forever in my memory as the place I recited Yeats’ poem by memory,
but to the pilgrimage path outside my own door here at home.
I bring with me the dúchas, the spirit of the place, that spoke to me in Ireland.
I was astonished by it. And now I am telling you!
I’d love to hear what has astonished you in recent weeks. It’s been too long since we’ve talked!