J2A Greece Pilgrimage 2008

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The road home

Written entry by Rob Burlington follows images

Time for peace and reflection inside St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

Outside St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

View from Edinburgh Castle

Keeping guard

A walk down the Royal Mile

“How do we keep sacred memories alive? How do we make the journey part of our lives once we are back in the daily grind? This is so important because you've changed. We must remember this: The journey is a miniature of the bigger one which is life.” -Joan Marler

“I can see now that a true pilgrimage is a way to bring you closer to God.” -Phil Cousineau

I will miss this group after we're back in Atlanta. I am grateful to Laurie, Tim, Beth, Kathy, and Michele for leading us so gracefully with their guidance, flexibility, patience, wisdom, and humor. Jack, Cadell, Tracy, Ellen, Carly, Virginia, and Taylor are a special group: unique, smart, funny, kind and fun to be around. They have taken a leap of faith making this journey and have challenged themselves with thoughtful questions, often searching for the answers together.

We began the journey asking ourselves about our spiritual lives, and we “used” Celtic spirituality and the Iona Community to help us explore that. What evolved from that question was a more profound exploration of self-knowledge: Who am I? What have I learned about myself on this pilgrimage? What will I leave behind? What can I celebrate about myself and share with others? We discovered that as we learn about ourselves and become more whole, more fully human, it might draw us closer to God.

These pilgrims love food, restaurants, cooking, and enjoying a great meal together, and we have just returned from our last dinner together, a celebratory closing ritual. Virginia Parker, while tasting a dessert, as a shout-out to Celtic spirituality said “that right there, that's my 'thin place'.” May we continue to seek and find the “thin places” every day, recognizing the presence of God in each other and in ourselves.

Bless to us, O God, the earth beneath our feet,
Bless to us, O God, the path whereon we go,
Bless to us, O God, the people whom we meet.

-based on an old prayer from the Outer Hebrides

Rob Burlington

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Leaving Iona

Written entry by Jack Anderson follows the images

The Croft on Iona that took care of our hostel

Images from the journey to Edinburgh

A walk through the meadows of Edinburgh

“The story that we bring back from our journeys is the boon. It is the gift of grace that was passed to us in the heart of our journey. Perhaps it was in the form of an insight into our spiritual life, a glimpse of the wisdom traditions of a radically different culture, a shiver of compassion, an increment of knowledge. The ancient wisdom teachers taught that the ultimate answer to the sorrows of the world is the boon of increased self-knowledge.” -Phil Cousineau

It is Friday, the last time we will get to see Iona. The last time we spent on Iona was spent in the church, the abbey as it is referred to. We were unable to enjoy the last minutes of Iona because we had a ferry to catch to take us to Oban. We sadly waved goodbye to everyone on the island, as we will soon return to our normal lives. We sat on the ferry, looking at Iona as the island fades away as we move further and further away from it. Then we arrive at the island of Mull, right next to Iona, but not within view of Iona. We get on the bus to take us to the boat that will then take us back to the urban city of Oban. Then we sail on the ferry and reach Oban where we have fish and chips for lunch. We eat it right next to the train station. After we finish we get on the train that will take us to Edinburgh, an urban metropolis. Right as we get on the train, Dick, a friend we met in Iona, waves goodbye to us. As we look at him, we are happy to see him for the last time but are sad to know that we will be leaving him behind. It is never easy to say goodbye. We have finally made it to Edinburgh after an exhausting day of traveling from place to place. We are glad to reach it, but are sad to know that this means we are away from Iona. That night, after dinner, we sat in the central park of Edinburgh wondering what we will do now that we are away from Iona and heading towards home. After discussing it, we realized that we do not have to leave Iona behind, but we can take what we have learned from Iona and share it, pass it on to others once we get back home to Atlanta. Even though we have left Iona, we will still remember it as time passes by. This goes back to Tuesday, when we threw the rocks into the ocean and took one back with us. On Iona, we have left behind something old in us to bring back with us something new. We have taken our rock to remember what we learned and endured on Iona, and will pass it on as we return home, with something new that we hold and is in ourselves.

Jack Anderson

Friday, July 27, 2007

A mountain top experience

Written entry by Virginia Parker follows images

The indigenous flock that shares the land around our hostel

St. Martin's Cross in front of Iona Abbey

Views from the top of Dun I

“Come on all you people, come on all you people, come on all to praise the Lord”

The day began with an excellent breakfast from Team Thursday. This amazing team consisted of Cadell, Kathy, Rob, and me. We made French toast, cheese eggs, bread, and pork and leek sausage. After that amazing breakfast we headed to the Abbey for a small service run by Rob. It was in the same small peaceful chapel that it was in yesterday. Then afterward we headed to our own place somewhere between the Abbey and the ruins of the nunnery. We had an hour to contemplate, draw, or read. It is easy to think on a place as glorious as Iona. Even if a gray cloud covers up the powder blue sky it is still gorgeous, enough to stop you from breathing. I felt myself at times just pausing in my reading, thinking, or drawing to think about how lucky and fortunate I am to be in a place like Iona. There is no other place on the world like it. All you have to do is look at the water an you know that you are in some place special.
After our hour was up team Thursday had to go make lunch. We got very creative with what was left in the refrigerator. We had a smorgasborg. Rob made some amazing couscous. I made tuna salad. Cadell arranged the sandwich meats. We also had left over “Cock-a-Leekie” from Wonderful Wednesday and salad that one of the hostel workers, Jenny, had made the night before. We then had an hour to ourselves. All of the youth went down to the beach to collect pebbles. It was not any random pebble collection, but we were only looking for just six. The six that we felt shaped the personality of our astonishing teachers and Laurie and Rob. It did not take us long to find them, about seven minutes. We then headed to the Iona Community Gift Shop where we bought them all wooden Celtic cross key chains.
We then took a tour of the Abbey. It was very intersting because we have been worshiping in that space every night but there we learned what we would have never found out had we not taken the tour. All week I had wondered what these stones hung up all over the wall were. we learned that they were grave stones. We also learned that where ever you see a cross carved into the floor, that was where a grave there at one time. We had a look in the Abbey Museum as well where there is thought to be Saint Columba's pillow. After we headed back to the gift shop to do a little shopping of our own. Then we turned to face Dun I, the tallest point on Iona. It was a steep climb but we did it a little bit of “umph” and a lot of will power. At the top you were able to see all the majority of the island. The view was electrifying. If I had more time I would explain it in full detail. But I am afraid that if I tried to describe it I would do it such an injustice because there are no words that exist that can do it justice. On top some people went off by themselves while others stayed together. There was a cairn on top that some of us added a stone to. The majority of us then made our way down what we thought was the hard path. It turned out that it was not a path at all so we made our own. We were pioneers on a wild land, well sort of. We got to a spot where we had to make a decision as to which way to go, on the beach or around the fences. A crossroads if you will, and there was a little quarrel as to which way we should take. We got back to the hostel, Cadell and I went to cooking while the others read or showered.
After dinner we headed to the Abbey. The service that night was the Eucharist. The youth sat around this large table and the adults sat else where. It was almost metaphorical how the adults had left the kids for us to explore or spirituality with their watching us. It was really wonderful to be at the head of the table with everyone else around us. After the service we gave out some final gifts to people that we had met while we were on the island. We made some tea, something that we have done a lot of, and sat down to play a game of hot seat. It was almost surprising how fast and truthfully people answered their questions. These were deep questions like why do you go to church? We would have not been able to answer the questions that easily and honestly as we did earlier in the week; I guess Rob knew that and that is why we did it then. Afterwards we gave out the pebbles that we had found and went to bed.
-Virginia Parker

Thursday, July 26, 2007

All the Earth's energy

Written entry by Tracy Ruska follows images

Carly Wright finishes a blog entry while sitting beneath the Iona Abbey

A comforting lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches

On our way to the Isle of Staffa

Fiengal's Cave where all the energy of the Earth flows

The stormy return trip from the Isle of Staffa

“This is a great moment, when you see, however distant, the goal of your wandering. The thing which has been living in your imagination suddenly becomes a part of the tangible world.”-Freya Stark

Today began with the feeling that today would be different from all others; maybe it would be in what we did or what we discussed. That feeling did prove to be right. We began the day with our own worship in Oran's Chapel instead of the morning service in the abbey. This proved to allow us to make more of a personal connection with God. Not only was the form of worship we practiced different, but the discussions that followed were as well. The question of is there a God and if so how do we find it came to be one of the main focus points of the day. As young children we were taught that God is a man sitting up in heaven and Jesus is his son. However as we get older we are finding that this image is not what we consider God to be. This uncertainty of the idea of God leaves us to doubt whether or not there is a God. For some of us we have found that God is real, but he has a new form in our lives as we grow older. This has come after we have found God in places we did not expect to find him. This new finding of God has allowed us to reaffirm our faith in Christ again. For the others that are not as lucky to have found God; the feeling is that if they remove themselves from the center of life then they too shall find God where they do not expect too. As we open ourselves to finding and accepting God in our lives we must also open ourselves to leave this place and head into the world we live in where God is not omnipresent, but must be search out.

Christ be with you all,
Tracy Ruska

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Our island home

Written entry by Carly Wright follows images

The line of pilgrims stretches up a steep incline

We break bread on a large boulder in Columba's Bay

These are the stones we used to represent our turning from things old and taking on things new

Near the end of our pilgrimage on the island we rest on a high hill

A paradise off the west coast of Scotland

"Imagine that your task in the labyrinth is to find the center. When in doubt, remember your original intention for the journey; recall your purpose; reinstate your vow; rekindle your fire by doing something passionate; rediscover the thread that led you to your pilgrimage in the first place."-Phil Cousineau

Today was a day for the body and the soul. Although we only made it to the closing prayers of the 9 o' clock Abbey service, I feel that in no way was our day lacking in spiritual encounters. No way could any of us have foreseen or expected any of the beauty we came across today. Seven miles may seem like an eternity on a sidewalk, but as our group joined so many other pilgrims on their way for a pilgrimage hike around the island, shin splits and back aches eased and time slipped away. It's hard to describe how this hike affected us as a whole, but I know that the beauty of the terrain had all of us in awe. There was more green than I had ever seen in my life, and rocks that had formed way before any life on this planet. Even with the bog in our boots it was “brilliant” as Mandy, one of the workers of the hostel, would say. But the land wasn't all that impressed me on today's journey. Relationships were built along the way between the different pilgrims. Some were short lived such as a conversation between fellow Americans just until you have to step over the sty and change your pace. Others may last much longer, including the groups new bond with a familiar older man, although we don't even know his name (a new trend I've been experiencing). It was easy to connect with someone whose journey has seemed so similar to ours, as we've spotted him in front of us at the church in Oban, again at the Ceilidh, and finally connecting with him on our hike. Ellen gave him a bookmark which she had made and as he read the lyrics to “On the Loose” his face lit up and told her “You are certainly at the Iona pace, on the loose.” And later on the beach of St. Columba's bay I bumped into him as he was finding green Iona marble in the water to give to his new friend, Michelle. As we left the bay all the pilgrims found two stones, very beautiful stones. In one we invested all of our negative energy, all that we would like to turn away from or leave behind as we headed back and tossed it into the water. In the other we invested all that we would like to take with us on our journey. It was goodbye to opening my mouth instead of my eyes and hello to living in a moment where I would experience all I can... as well as the beginning of me asking new people the very simple question, “What is your name?”

As we settled back into the hostel we gathered round for a reflection that turned into a wonderful discussion of everyone's labyrinths, Taylor's most despised part of pilgrimage. Everyone seemed to be having some kind of labyrinth whether it was just from a lack of sleep or a lack of patience and it was great to realize that none of us were alone. But the big moment came after finally admitting that we've tried to take everything in and change our minds and lives with this short experience, and discovering that it might not work that way. I will never forget when Taylor and I both said what we've been holding in “I'm just not getting it.” Then we all realized that this really isn't about being hit over the head with the great “IT” but rather living the moment while you can and maybe once we look back on all we've done, we can say “AHAH! That's It.”

Carly Wright

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Iona Beach Party

Communication Note: Rob is unable to pick up a signal in Iona on his cell phone. Please use the number for the Iona Hostel on the information sheets if there are any emergencies.

Written entry by Ellen Begley follows images

View of Iona Abbey from ferry

Walking to the Iona Hostel

Taking a swim in the North Sea

Make way for sheep

Dancing at the Ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee)

The practice of soulful travel is to discover the overlapping point between history and everyday life, the way to find the essence of every place, every day: in the markets, small chapels, out-of-the-way parks, craft shops. Curiousity about the extraordinary in the ordinary moves the heart of the traveler intent on seeing behind the veil of tourism.

IONA! finally! Our entire group was antsy with anticipation on each ferry and bus ride from Oban to Iona. This didn't, however, make us any less appreciative of the scenery on our journey. For acres and acres on our bus ride we only saw a sea of lush, green vegetation with sheep and a few highland cows. When we finally arrived and settled in, we met the friendly owners and decided to go for a swim (brrr). We decided first, to walk on the beach but shortly, this activity was turned into a dare between Kathy and myself to swim in the less than fifty degree water. Luckily, others wanted to swim with our persuasion. At the beach, we eased into the breathtaking water slowly but once in, Virginia, Carly, and I swam to the nearest rock and climbed. “Conquering” the rock we were investigating, Taylor joined in by skillfully climbing from the large rocks on shore to wading, pants hiked up, to the rock we were standing on. She even managed to not get wet! The remainder of our group was snapping pictures on shore and walking the cold, rocky beach. The ocean was nothing short of crystal-clear and breathtakingly beautiful. Shivering and with a few cuts on our legs from the barnacles on the rocks, we hiked up the large sand dune back to the hostel. We then showered and ate a delicious dinner of “Burlington Salad”, spaghetti and rolls and headed to the abbey for worship service. After hearing thought-provoking stories and singing a few new hymns, we attended an Iona Ceilidh. What is a Ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee) you might ask? A social gathering within a community of dancing, music, singing, and story telling. There, we learned many traditional European dances, a few line dances and a couple of partner dances. There was some interesting partnering, but I quickly learned that with a little instruction and practice the All Saints' group could dance! We picked up the dances fairly quickly and among the best dancers were Caddell, Jack, Tracy, and Virginia. We even made some new friends with our partners, some from Scotland and others from Michigan. With danced-out sore feet and fun stories about the Ceilidh, we left for our mile and a half walk back to the hostel. On our trek back, we traded stories and learned more about a man who spends his summers on Iona but is from Hamburg, Germany. With heavy eyelids we now enter our bedrooms, resting up for our seven-mile hike that is in store for us tomorrow. As I reflect, we are thankful that our day was filled with anticipation, excitement, heavy luggage and grocery bags, swimming, worship, and dancing and I would have had it no other way!
-Ellen Begley

Monday, July 23, 2007

"We'll get ice cream after a short walk"

Text entry by Cadell Martin follows photos.

After Holy Eucharist at St. John's Cathedral in Oban.

Fish and chips in Oban

We ask some Scotland natives the correct way to pronounce Edinburgh

A view from our hike to Kerrara

A sunset over Oban

The Five Excellent Practices of Pilgrimages:
Practice the arts of attention and listening.
Practice renewing yourself every day.
Practice meandering toward the center of every place.
Practice the ritual of reading sacred texts.
Practice gratitude and praise-singing.

We began our day with a wonderful breakfast made by the innkeeper and afterwards we headed to St. John's Episcopal Church. It was a very nice service. The Liturgy is very similar to All Saints' yet the sermon was very different. The priest definitely seemed more conversational and the baptismal was different yet interesting. The priest walked the baby, which is his granddaughter, and the family down to the narthex and she was baptized there. We also learned how in the olden days the baby would have to turn from the ecclesiastical west to the ecclesiastical east because that is where the sun is during the morning. After the service, the congregation was invited for tea and coffee in the lobby and there we talked to some of the members of the church. We were asked where we were from and where are we going. We also earned that one of the members of the church built the crucifix that is in the chapel on Iona. After the delicious tea we headed back to the inn to prepare for a full day out. For lunch, we walked to a fish and chips restaurant and we all enjoyed fish and chips. After lunch we were promised ice cream but we wanted to walk off lunch first. So, we began walking by following Tim. Tim then lead us up a steep hill with many steps. It was very tiring but our destination was a hill that over looked the city and the pier and we could see over to another island. After spending some time looking over the city and at some pretty flowers, we began our descent down. After going down the many steps we began to walk towards the ferry that would take us to Kerrera which was one of the islands that we saw from the lookout point. To get to this ferry we had to travel this treacherous road that was fairly narrow and cars also traveled on it. We were pretty nervous about traveling on it at first because it started out with a curve and we couldn't see around it so we had no idea when a car was coming. After we made it passed that part, we continued on our was to the ferry. The walk itself is a little over a mile, one way, but on the way we could see the ocean and purple and blue hydrangeas. We arrived at the ferry and road over to Kerrera where we began to take a path that finally ends at a castle but that was over an hour walk. We just walked on the path until we found a place where we could sit and talk. On the way we passed a huge sheep farm and the sheep were very interesting to see and talk about. The spot where we stopped seemed to be a docking place for this family that had a house on this island and there house was right in front of the ocean. While we were having alone time in this area. The family came back to her house. When she got their she released her four parrots and her two dogs. When we were beginning to head back to the ferry, we stopped to talk to her and we learned that she rescued the parrots. One of them had been torn away from its family when it was young, another had a disease, and one just had dirty language. She also sold glasses that had a designed on them for 3₤. She told us that the money went towards food for the birds.

The End of Part 1

Cadell Martin

Sunday, July 22, 2007

We've Made It!

Written entry by Taylor Page follows images

Our arrival at Edinburgh Airport

Our dinner entertainment in Oban

Pilgrims in Oban

“Whether by walking or by traveling via plane, ship, train, bicycle, or bus, the pilgrim progresses across time as well as space. The ambitiousness of the goal, the intensity of devotion ensure that the sight of new landscapes, the smell of novel foods, the encounter with unusual customs-- all converge to create a new way of experiencing the world. The legendary hospitality and deference afforded pilgrims also contributes to the sense of delight and gratitude for the unfolding adventure.”
-Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage

At 4:30 PM on Friday, our pilgrimage officially began. We all gathered in Ellis Hall with various amounts of luggage. “What did you bring?” “I have this big suitcase” “I managed to pack it all into my backpack”, etc. Some of us were proud of our ability to condense, while others decided not to give anything up. Either way, around 5 PM our ragtag crew headed off to the MARTA station. We boarded to train with minimal trouble, although with many surprised looks from our fellow passengers. We reached the airport and, despite some trouble with checking in, we made it past security with time to spare. When the gang reached our gate at T5, a message blared over the loud speaker. “Attention to flight 96 to Edinburgh, your gate has been changed to E2”. We looked at each other with wide eyes, but begrudgingly headed over to the E terminal. We got a little snack and then boarded our airplane. It took a bit of time to actually take off, owing to a sick pilot and other small delays. We did, though, eventually take to the skies. The flight was, fortunately, fairly uneventful. Everyone got various amounts of sleep and the food was pretty good. We landed in the Edinburgh airport at 9 AM, Scotland time. After zipping through customs, we nabbed a shuttle to the Edinburgh train station. The drive to the train station was a wonderful glimpse at the city. I had no idea that there were so many beautiful old buildings in Edinburgh. The Old Town was particularly lovely. We grabbed some lunch, took up all the room in the little shop, and boarded the train to Glasgow. Scotland is such a beautiful country. We passed rocky mountains, fields home to sheep, and large lakes. In Glasgow, we changed to a train to Oban. That ride took us through more amazing landscape. We finally reached Oban, tired and bedraggled, but happy to have arrived. We walked through town to our home in town, the Balmoral Inn. We met the innkeeper, a man named Constantine, and hauled our luggage up 2 flights of steep spiral stairs to our rooms. Some of us took showers and napped, while others went out to explore the town. At 7ish, we gathered again and went to McTavish's for dinner and a Scottish show. At McTavish's, some of our group got to try that infamous Scottish dish, haggis, and generally found it to be quite delicious. Others had a soup called cock-a-leekie (chicken, leeks, and rice). The Scottish show consisted of music, singing, and dancing. The music was played by a fiddle, an accordion, and, of course, bagpipes. The little Scottish dancer was great and a man sang traditional Scottish tunes. While we were all tired (with a few falling asleep at the table!), we had a great time getting a little bit of Scottish culture. After dinner, we walked down to a pier in the Oban harbor and had a meeting and Compline while the sun set- at about 10:30 PM. We took a little stroll, then headed back to the inn for some much needed beauty sleep. A good start to our journey!

Taylor Page

Sunday, July 15, 2007

"O God, we entrust these pilgrims to your loving and merciful care. Support and guide them as they walk the pilgrim's way in your light and your Presence. Let your loving care enfold them, those who love them and those they leave behind.

In the name of God and of this congregation, I send you forth as pilgrims."

The pilgrimage to Iona had an official start today with a blessing in All Saints given by Fr. Geoffrey Hoare and a cookout at the the home of Nick and Kathy Roberts. After a year of planning the pilgrims will begin their journey to Iona, Scotland on Friday afternoon.