Prayer for the Pilgrims

I leave today for a retreat in Alabama, the first of eight weeks over the next two years. (This is the first session of a 2-Year Academy for Spiritual Formation, a program of The Upper Room.)

I will be leading daily prayer, one of my favorite things. Prayers upon waking and before sleeping. And a service of Eucharist before dinner.

We will be on this journey of faith, of hope, of drinking deeply of the gifts of the spirit, of the gifts of community, prayer, learning, and liturgy.

For all of us who travel, for those who labor to care for us on retreat, for all who tend the tasks at home so that we can be away. For all who long for retreat but do not have the resources to set apart time in their lives for such a journey. Bless all who are setting out on journeys of any kind throughout the world. Travel with each one. Amen.

Feast Day of Colmcille

Today we celebrate the feast day of St. Colmcille, the Irish monk who lived and walked in Ireland and then went across the sea and founded Iona.

Last year in July, we walked the Turas Cholmcille in County Donegal that people will walk today.

Let me bless almighty God, whose power extends over sea and land, whose angels watch over all. Let me study sacred books to calm my soul; I pray for peace, kneeling at heaven’s gates. Let me do my daily work, gathering seaweed, catching fish, giving food to the poor. Let me say my daily prayers, sometimes chanting, sometimes quiet, always thanking God. Delightful it is to live on a peaceful isle, in a quiet cell, serving the King of kings.
Columba Celtic Fire: The Passionate Religious Vision of Ancient Britain and Ireland edited by Robert Van de Weyer

Columcille’s Stations

We walked in the steps of Columcille during our pilgrimage to ancient, sacred places in Glencolumcille.

Born in this County Donegal in the 500’s he was a “descendant” of Patrick’s Christianity.

Columcille blessed the ancient places, the neolithic markers and holy wells.

And now, thousands of years later, Margaret and Marian take us on this sacred pilgrimage.

If we had been here in June 9th, the feast day of Columcille, we could have joined the old ones walking, barefoot, the night before.

The Place of the Knees, the Height of the Cross, St. Columcille’s Chapel, St. Columcille’s Chair, St. Columcille’s Well. We walked between them in community, in silence.

I felt honored to be shown this ancient ritual. I worried about intruding on another culture’s sacred places.

And then I realized that this pilgrimage is part of my Christian culture. For I am descended, our church is descended from these Celtic saints who brought Christianity to Ireland and to Scotland. 

I am, we are, recipients of the faith of Patrick and Brigid and Columcille and Kevin. Thanks be to God for this gift.

Glencolumbkille to Dublin

Today we travel back across Ireland from County Donegal to Dublin. On the way, we will stop at the Knowth passage tomb in the Boyne Valley.

We so grateful for the beauty and openness and hospitality of Donegal. We have two more nights before we start the journey home. 

Turas Cholmcille

Yesterday we took a very special pilgrimage to ancient stones in the Glencolumkille village in County Donegal. 

The traditional name of the pilgrimage, Turas Cholmcille, means Columcille’s Stations (in Gaelic). We were led by two women from the local community, Margaret and Maura, who are trying to revive the pilgrimage. What an honor to have this walk shared with us. 

It is thought that Columcille lived in this community and, finding standing stones from ancient times, had Christian symbols carved on them. Then developed the tradition of a pilgrimage to these sites in reverence and penitence. 

The whole pilgrimage would take six hours to complete (barefoot) as the pilgrims visited the fifteen stations. We visited eight stations in the three hours we journeyed. (I kept my hiking boots on.) 

I am still reflecting on the experience. But wanted to share this. 

Pick up three stones,
The leader said,
And we will carry them up
To the cairn at Columcille’s Well.

I picked up three small stones And began to walk up and up and up
Along the trail, beside the sheep.

We stopped to rest
And looked out
At the valley below us.

I imagined the cairn we were traveling to …
A small, rounded pile of stones by the holy well.

When we walked around the curve in the mountain,
We found not a small rounded cairn,
But a mountain of stones.

How many pilgrims,
Each with three rocks,
Have made this climb?

Thousands and thousands of
Pilgrims have carried their stones
And left them there.

Thousands and thousands of
Pilgrims have walked three times
Around this cairn,
Setting down a stone each circuit.

Thousands and thousands of
Pilgrims have prayed here,
Have touched the holy water.

God of healing,
We lay before you these burdens,
These hopes, these sorrows.

St. Columcille,
You walked these paths and
Carried these stones.
Pray for us
That we might follow
The one who heals,
Who loves,
Who walks with us.

In the West

We are in the west in Donegal, the birthplace of St. Columcille (Columba is what he is called in Scotland).

Land of sea and sky and ocean. Land of sheep and bogs. We greet you.

Today we take a pilgrimage to standing stones which were here before the saint and used in Christian ministry.

The pilgrimage is traditionally taken at midnight on the night before Columcille’s feast day. And walked barefoot.

Let me bless almighty God,
Whose power extends over
Sea and land,
Whose angels watch over all.

Let me study sacred books
To calm my soul;
I pray for peace,
Kneeling at heaven’s gates.

Let me do my daily work,
Gathering seaweed,
Catching fish,
Giving food to the poor.

Let me say my daily prayers,
Sometimes chanting,
Sometimes quiet,
Always thanking God.

Delightful it is
To live on a peaceful isle,
In a quiet cell,
Serving the King of kings.
– Columcille