Note: Video update and pictures at the end of this page.
Day 1 – Journal
This week I’m walking a pilgrimage – the St Conan’s Way from Dalmally in Argyll to Iona Abbey, a distance of around 70 miles over four days. It is a route that pilgrims have walked for over a millennium, in honour of St Columba. Landing on Iona in 563AD from Ireland, Columba and the monks who joined him began a monastery of great academic renown, and founded much of what we would call Celtic Christianity, but more importantly set off around the mainland and the great waterways of the west coast of Scotland to express the Gospel in word and deed to the people of the kingdom of Dalriada. Nearly 1500 years later, we are their spiritual descendants.
In the course of these four days, I will encounter many places associated with them. I began this morning (Monday) in Dalmally at St Conan’s Well, where Conan, follower of Iona is said to have drunk regularly from the spring. I then travelled along the valley to Stronmilchan, past the famous white Glenorchy Parish Church. I then began to climb upwards at the north side of Ben Cruachan, over the pass at Glen Noe. The farm at the foot of the climb is most likely the place where Columba founded a monastery at Loch Awe, and the mountain above is named after his fellow monk and biographer, Adomnan. Over the pass and descending into Glen Noe, I walked passed the ruined settlement of the McIntyre clan, who lived in this Glen from the 13th to the 19th Centuries. Then down to the shores of Loch Etive, and walking from there past Inverawe House to Taynuilt. Total distance fourteen miles, with about 2000 feet of climb – a beautiful day of walking in the sunshine. I hope you enjoy the video and photos, as well as the meditation and prayer to follow.
Day 1 – Meditation
The journey of pilgrimage enables a three-way encounter: with ourselves, with nature around us, and with other people that we come across along the way. The first one can be the most challenging. In the busyness of everyday life, we mask our fears, our wounds, our questions about our existence and the presence of God, our yearning for deliverance from suffering, or to see again those we have loved. Walking in the open countryside, with time to pause and think, no sound but the rhythm of walking, feelings of joy and thankfulness for all the blessings of family, friends and my new ministry begin to emerge, and a re-assurance of God’s continual, guiding presence:
‘You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’ (Psalm 23:5-6)
But so too do the doubts and fears that are often held at bay, and I wonder how to restrain or resolve them – to ‘deal with them’ now, so that I can fully enjoy the beauty of these moments in front of me. Then again, maybe to live fully we should not repress the questions, or expect simple and immediate solutions, but instead ‘live them.’ The Austrian poet and novelist Ranier Maria Rilke wrote movingly about the tangled strands in our minds that frustrate and perplex us, that cause us to doubt ourselves or God, or question our future:
‘Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to live the questions themselves. Do not seek answers which cannot be given to you, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything, live the questions now. Perhaps you will gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.’
Prayer - Christ our Companion, by Jane Leach
Christ our companion,
You walk with us on the journey of our life;
You accompany us even as we are walking away;
You stand with us in our confusion and refuse to let us go.
Open our eyes to your presence
And our hearts to your good news
Guide our feet in the ways that lead to life. Amen.
Further updates will follow each day this week.