I’m back from leading a young adult pilgrimage to Ireland with Christine and John Valters Paintner of Abbey of the Arts!
I originally intended to write about Holy Week today, but I decided to share some snapshots of my recent journey instead. (There will be more on Holy Week this Friday, along with a great list of resources—I promise!)
The theme of our pilgrimage was “the soul’s slow ripening,” and it was an inspiring week filled with Celtic wisdom, camaraderie, and soul stirring. I hope this recap takes you straight to the Emerald Isle on this first day of April as the world surrounding many of us continues to turn green.
ARRIVAL + PREPARATIONS
I flew into London instead of Dublin this time around, opting to make my way to Ireland by train and boat (or, as they advertise it, “rail and sail”). Ever since visiting Iona and experiencing the many steps required to get there (plane, train, boat, bus, boat), I’ve been a bit smitten with the idea of taking varying modes of transportation, allowing the journey to slowly unfold. It reminds me of peeling back the many layers of an onion until you reach its center, and is a great model for any pilgrimage because there are always many layers to pull back as we journey toward our own centers.
I was on my way to Glendalough—the destination of our journey and the site of many Celtic ruins, including St. Kevin’s monastic city. Being nestled in a valley in the Wicklow Mountains just south of Dublin, it’s also a popular place for hikes with its many trails and picturesque views. Once I arrived in Glendalough (after two more layers to my unfolding journey—a night in Dublin and a bus ride), I met with John and Christine and we made final preparations for our pilgrims who would arrive the next day.
DAY 1: HOSPITALITY + COMMUNITY
The pilgrims arrived the following day at lunchtime, and after a shared meal they took some time to settle into the hermitages where they’d be staying for the next week. In the evening we gathered for the first time and explored our themes for the day: “hospitality and community.” Hospitality and community are fitting themes for the beginning of any journey because they encourage us not only to practice hospitality with one another but also with the strangers we encounter both outside of us and within us—a common theme in pilgrimage. (Remember this poem from Rumi?)
DAY 2: THRESHOLDS + LIMINAL SPACE
We began the first day of our journey with an orientation to Glendalough and the monastic city, all the while keeping in mind the day’s theme: “thresholds and liminal space.” As we crossed the threshold into our journey together, entering that liminal or in-between space in which each pilgrimage unfolds, we reflected on what other thresholds were ahead of us and explored the thin places in our own lives.
DAY 3: NATURE AS MENTOR + SOUL FRIEND
What better day to explore “nature as mentor and soul friend” than on the first day of spring with a solar eclipse? We began the day doing our best to spot the eclipse through the Irish clouds and then continued to the monastic city to learn more about the four elements—wind, fire, water, and earth—and what moves us, burns within us, flows from us, and grounds us. At the end of the day we added items from nature that called to us to our shared altar—evidence of the many unique ways in which nature can point us to God.
DAY 4: PEREGRINATIO + FOLLOWING THE THREAD
Day four brought an exploration of the four directions—north, south, east, and west—as we explored the themes of “peregrinatio and following the thread.” The ancient Celtic monks practiced a form of pilgrimage called peregrinatio, in which they set out into the wild sea trusting that God would lead them to their next destination, wherever that might be. Though practicing this type of pilgrimage may be ill-advised today, we are each invited to set out into the wild sea of our own spiritual journeys, following closely the Divine thread to wherever God leads us next.
DAY 5: SABBATH
As we reached the halfway mark in our journey together, we took a sabbath day to allow what was already stirring within us to settle and refresh our souls for the journey that remained.
DAY 6: BRIGID AS BRIDGE BETWEEN ANCIENT + NEW
On our only outing away from Glendalough we visited Kildare which was the home of St. Brigid, a patron saint of Ireland alongside St. Patrick and St. Columba (founder of the original abbey on Iona). Being a dominant figure within Ireland in both the Christian and pre-Christian tradition, Brigid serves as a bridge between the old and new, inviting integration rather than abandonment and encouraging us to bridge those things which seem separate in our own lives.
DAY 7: RIPENING + SEASONAL WISDOM
During the final full day of our pilgrimage we went on a six-mile hike through the Wicklow Mountains at Glendalough, pausing along the way to reflect on the seasons of the earth as well as the Celtic and Christian seasons and contemplating their invitations for our life (a topic that you know I like to explore here). At the end of the journey, we were invited to discern which season we were currently in and encouraged to not rush to the next one but instead lean into the gifts of that season, allowing it to ripen in its own time.
DAY 8: WEAVING THE THREADS TOGETHER
On the last morning of our journey we visited the ruins of three churches, offering us an opportunity to “weave the threads together.” As we reached each church, we circled the building three times, reminding us of the Sacredness of the place and allowing us to fully arrive. Once we entered the churches, we were invited to reflect on both the journey that had passed and what was to come, ritualizing each visit with blessings of wisdom, healing, and abundance to carry us home.
What about our journey resonates with you? Even though you’ve only participated in the armchair version of this pilgrimage, I’d love to hear any reflections or insight you have to offer!
PS: If you were following along you know there were two parts to my pilgrimage—Ireland and London. I’ll be sharing about my solo time in London in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!