This post is by John Valters Painter of Abbey of the Arts. John is our Pilgrim in Residence throughout the month of December, sharing tales of a life-long pilgrim each week until Christmas. This is the final post in the series. Learn more about John and read the other posts in this series here. -Lacy
After settling in Galway City, my wife and I became acutely aware of the depth of the sacred history which surrounds us.
With the Burren to our south and Connemara to our west and north, we soon realized just how many ancient, holy sites are scattered around the nearby countryside. We are spoiled for sacred choices.
Since a gift shared is a gift doubled, we felt called to share the blessings of these special places with others. And so we tentatively planned to lead a pilgrimage in Ireland. We reconnoitered our favorite holy sites; we researched the many fine restaurants; and we found a very hospitable B&B just down the street from us. We met with local experts. We came up with an overall theme and daily schedules. Finally, we posted the offering online and waited.
We didn’t wait long. The pilgrimage filled up within days. We had a waiting list before the week was out. To accommodate the demand, we arranged three other pilgrimages. Those filled up almost as quickly. We’ve already planned more pilgrimages for next year and have come up with a couple of alternative itinerary for people who wish to return for a second pilgrimage with us!
But with great blessing, comes great responsibility. There is a lot of planning and coordinating with people and places scattered across the West of Ireland. I’m not sure how we could’ve arranged everything before the age of the internet. Not that this wild edge of Europe is the most techno-savvy or friendly. Communication here is still accompanied by a great deal of waiting and testing of patience.
Advance planning and the hospitality of the region makes organizing pilgrimages possible, however this doesn’t mean things don’t go array. Even the smallest traffic accident on the narrow lanes can cause delays. The weather is never predictable, other than one is likely to experience all four seasons on any given day. As with any journey, while on pilgrimage one must expect the unexpected and be ready to roll with the punches. My own lack of patience can be a problem, but I’m learning to deal with it. But as a leader, I have encountered a new layer of unease: impatience on behalf of others. We’ve never had a huge problem and those who join us for pilgrimages are not what one would call “whingers,” but still . . . I tend to worry about worrying.
And yet, despite these concerns and worries it is all worth it. One might suspect (as I was worried) that leading the same pilgrimage over and over again would lead to boredom, that one would grow weary of these sacred sites and their beauty might lose their appeal. Would the magic of these places fade with repeated visits?
Perhaps if I were to visit these sites by myself, this might be true. But leading pilgrimages allows me to experience these sacred sites anew with each new pilgrim. It is through the experiences of a new set of pilgrims that I receive new insights with each repeated visit.
These holy sites are sometimes referred to as “thin places,” because the barrier between this realm and the next is thinner here. Through my repeated journeys to them, with my fellow pilgrims, I have come to understand that these sites are thin because of they have been worn thin through the repeated and continual visits of holy people.
Are there places in your life which have grown more special, more sacred to you with each visit? Share your response to the question or the post in the comments.