This post is by Christine Valters Paintner, online abbess at AbbeyoftheArts.com and a longtime friend of A Sacred Journey. I’ll be joining Christine and her husband, John, in Ireland next spring to co-lead a pilgrimage/retreat along the themes of this post for young adults in their 20s and 30s. I’d love for you to join us! Learn more about the pilgrimage here. (Note: Deadline to sign up is September 17, 2014) -Lacy
Two years ago my husband John and I set out on what we called a life pilgrimage.
After several years of traveling back and forth across the Atlantic from Seattle to places like Austria, Latvia, Germany, Belgium, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, all in search of ancestral connections, we encountered a call to sell our home, car, furniture, and books, leaving behind everything that was familiar and actually move to Europe.
It has been, like most grand adventures, full of exhilaration and beauty, as well as much fear and trembling. We spent the first six months in Vienna, Austria, we let go of those plans when we felt a pull to the wild west coast of Ireland where we now live in Galway, with no plans to move back to the States for the foreseeable future.
It can be hard to explain sometimes how we ended up in this place. It is certainly beautiful, perched on the edge of the ocean, with a feeling of being on the wild edges of Europe. The Irish people are genuinely warm and welcoming to us. We have ancestral connections to this land, and so something in our blood draws us to this place.
After years of claiming the path of monastic spirituality as the one most life-giving for us, it makes perfect “sense” that we would land in Ireland, a place where monasticism flourished for so many centuries in a unique form from more Roman-centered monasticism.
Here on this Irish soil we discover the sheer plenitude of monastic ruins within an hour of where we live, because it was so much a vibrant part of the culture. We immerse ourselves in the stories of saints like Brigid, Brendan, Patrick, and Columcille, hearing them whisper across the landscape.
We discover an even greater depth to the wisdom of this monastic path by encountering the ways thresholds are very much alive in the Irish imagination, everything has the potential to become a thin place where heaven and earth draw near. There are times that are thin too at the turning of the seasons.
We find a path that is more about following one’s own ripening and unfolding rather than looking for the straight path and plan. There is a wonderful story about St. Kevin, who founded the holy city of Glendalough where we will be staying for our pilgrimage. In his prayer, kneeling with arms outstretched and palms open, a blackbird lands in his hand and nests. He feels her laying eggs and realizes he has to stay in this position until the birds are hatched. It is a marvelous description of holy yielding of our own agendas, to the birthing happening already around and within us.
Similarly, the ancient practice of peregrinatio was one where Celtic monks set sail in a small boat called a coracle, without rudder or oar, letting the wind and current carry them to the place of their resurrection. So many stories here of radical yielding. This is what we can discover on our own pilgrimages: the places where we hold on too tightly, the places calling our hearts when we truly step into the mystery.
We find in the monastic practice of praying the psalms new companions for the joyful and dark moments of our lives, joining in these ancient prayers which help us navigate the way ahead. The Celtic love of the elements of water, wind, earth, and fire become companions on the journey, offering us guidance as well.
The Celtic monastic path calls us to let go of our own plans. As the poet David Whyte writes, “what you can plan is too small for you to live.” This is the beauty of this ancient way. It teaches us through stories and practice and very concrete way to let go of plans and surrender to the Divine current carrying us to our own places of resurrection.
Where in your own life are your plans getting in the way of your own unfolding? How might you be called to make a journey of surrender and follow the divine current? Leave your response to the questions or the post in the comments.