Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Feast of Saint Columba Inspires Thoughts of Pilgrimage

Today we celebrate the life of Saint Columba, one of the great early Irish Christians, whom some would give credit for spreading Christianity to Scotland. He also helped spread literacy and founded a school for missionaries. He's one of the great monastics.

He's associated with Iona, that thin place in Scotland, a place that remains an important force in Christianity to this day. I could make a good argument that some of the most exciting music and liturgy of our current time period comes to us because Iona exists. Some day, I'll make a pilgrimage there. I should start planning this soon. It would be neat to go with my church musician mom.

As I think about it, I can think of a whole slew of friends who might also like to go. What I love about monasticism is that it isn't as offputting to non-believers and the less devout. For some reason, people just get monasticism, in a way that they can't comprehend other expressions of spirituality. Perhaps it's because monasticism is such an ancient tradition. Perhaps it's because monastics have a sort of discipline, a steel-like strength at the core, that other forms of spirituality lack. Maybe it's a holdover from the Thomas Merton days--and of course, Kathleen Norris made monasticism cool to a whole new generation (including me!). All I know is that when I tell people I'm intrigued by monasticism and that I go to monasteries, people accept that (and often want to go with me). It's a different matter when I tell people that I go to church most Sundays. People want to argue about what a waste of time that is.

Yes, I must get to Iona. I have no idea how or when. But this idea encourages me to start a list of all the spiritual places I'd like to visit before I get too old to travel. I turn 45 next month, so I figure I've got at least twenty travelling years left. Let's see, there's Iona and the areas of Germany which formed Martin Luther. There are any number of retreat centers, like Holden Village. There's the Taize community in France.

I should also create my literary pilgrimage list and see how much of my travel would be near each other. And then I could ponder the symmetries of the list, and wonder at the many paths in my life that are bringing me to the same end point.

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