As the window for Early Bird registration for our 2017 pilgrimage to Iona comes to a close (just one week left to save $200!), I thought it would be fun to whet your appetite by inviting you into a “day in the life” of our upcoming journey.
So throw some necessities into your proverbial pilgrim pack, say your goodbyes to those you hold dear, and come with me to the isle of Iona—a thin place well-suited for our imaginary day trip.
Since Maria Von Trapp always insisted that the beginning is “a very good place to start,” let’s dive into our first full day on the isle of Iona, when we will draw from the wisdom of the earth, the season of winter, and the dark hours of the day as we explore where every transformation begins: the moment of inspiration.
After waking on our first morning at Bishop’s House—a retreat center located on the sound of Iona just a stone’s throw from the Abbey—we’ll gather in the intimate Columba’s Chapel at the heart of the Center for a daily Eucharist led by our group chaplain, Rev. Hilary Golden. This ritual of gathering together to partake of the bread and wine and re-establishing our intention will begin each of our days on Iona.
A hot breakfast at Bishop’s House follows, and after we have had our Scottish fill we’ll gather together in the wood-paneled library for our first morning session. In a circle right next to the library fire we’ll begin by exploring the day’s theme, including the associated season, element, direction, and hour of the day. Today’s theme of inspiration aligns us with the hour of darkness, where a spark of light turns into a flame; the direction of the north, where we look for guidance; the season of winter, during which we pause; and the element of earth, where new life quietly begins.
Each day also comes with its own spiritual practice and creative practice, and on this day we’ll be engaging the practice of Centering Prayer—quieting the mind as we do in the hour of darkness and aligning ourselves with the Divine presence so that we might begin to sense the Sacred inspiration that stirs within. After our first session of Centering Prayer and final cup of tea, we’ll bundle up and take to the earth as we head out to our destinations of the day in the northern part of the isle.
Our first destination is a ruined site known as “Hermit’s Cell.” Just a circle of stones remains of what once was a solitary retreat for one of over 600 monks who lived on the island during Columba’s day, but that’s all that we need to draw us in. After circling the site three times clockwise upon our arrival—a Celtic tradition and a practice that allows us to become fully present—we will gather together inside the cell as we listen to Scripture and follow its invitation:
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
After being invited to ponder, too, what each of us is doing here, we’ll settle in and return to our practice of Centering Prayer, initiated by the words of poet Pat Bennett, who writes,
Lord of the silences—
Speak to me:
In the blowing of the wind;
In the rustling of the grass;
In the sound of the sea;
In the beating of my heart;
In the stirring of my spirit—
I am listening.
Not far from Hermit’s Cell is Dun I, the highest point on Iona and our final destination for the day. From this point you can see in all directions on the isle, and as we look in all directions to the week before us we’ll gather together to sing a chant from John Philip Newell, former warden of Iona Abbey:
Wait, wait, wait for God.
Be strong and let your heart take courage.
Wait, wait, wait for God.
With these insightful words to guide us, we will continue our Centering Prayer practice facing north. As our time on Dun I draws to a close we will ponder the words of Pope John Paul II, who says of such high points, “The mountain opens its secrets only to those who have the courage to challenge it. It demands sacrifice and training. It requires you to leave the security of the valleys but offers spectacular views from the summit to those who have the courage to climb it. Therefore it is a reality which strongly suggests the journey of the spirit, called to lift itself up from the earth to heaven, to meet God.”
Pilgrimage, too, is like climbing a mountain as we leave the earthiness of our everyday and seek to connect with God in high places. As we return to Bishop’s House for lunch we’ll walk in silence, contemplating the beauty of the earth—the holy ground on which we stand—as well as the Sacred path on which we walk during this time set apart.
The afternoon will be yours to spend—take a nap in your private room, explore the island, visit the Iona Community Bookshop, read in the retreat center’s library, relax or play games in the lounge, and be sure to enjoy afternoon tea and fresh baked goods served by our hosts at Bishop’s House.
After you’ve had your fill of rest and play we’ll gather together in the library for our evening session, where we’ll reflect on our experience of the day, practice Centering Prayer for a final time, and allow the theme of the day to guide our creative practice for the evening.
Because our day’s theme is inspiration and corresponds with the darkest hour of the day when we’re often asleep, our creative practice will focus on images and intuition—the makeup of our dreams that’s said to offer insight into or unconscious and true self. These are the places where our pilgrimage was born and our question is sourced, and so it is valuable to tap into them as our journey begins, allowing this inner truth to serve as our guide. Using images that both draw us in and spur resistance, we’ll make a collage to add to our Vade Mecums, spending time reflecting on the collage and then tucking it away to carry with us, both externally and internally, in the days ahead.
After our evening meal, we’ll end our day where we began in St. Columba’s Chapel with a compline service led by our group chaplain. Derived from the Latin word completorium, meaning “completion,” this compline service will be a daily practice during our time on Iona, ending our day with prayer and ritual and focusing us once again on our theme for the day as we prepare to rest and cross the threshold to the day to come. On Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday during our journey you’ll also have the option of worshipping at the Abbey before Compline, where service themes reflect the values of the Iona Community and vary from service to service.
After compline the night is yours to gather with new friends by the fire, settle in with a good book, or head to bed early, full from a day filled with inspiration.
If you’ve made it this far I know you’re with me in spirit. Why not join me in person, too? Our pilgrim group continues to take shape, and there’s only one week left to SAVE $200 off the regular price! Learn more and register »