In one month, I’ll take off on my yearly solo journey. This time Scotland is calling me to the ancient and sacred island of Iona located in the Inner Hebrides. Ten years ago, the seed was planted when I was in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Riding the island shuttle bus, I met a man from Glasgow and we had an interesting conversation about country music and Scotch Presbyterians. He described the stunning beauty of the remote islands of the Hebrides, and the deep-rooted faith of his sister and others who lived there. Later, I said to myself, “Maybe I’ll go there on a journey some day.”
Yearly solo journeys have become intentional pilgrimages for me. They started with that serendipitous trip to Sedona that interrupted my struggle with the toxic job and breast cancer. During that time, I experienced the freedom and transformation of moving to God’s spirit in an unfamiliar place that led me to a deeper knowledge of myself.
Later, I landed on the right book at the right time when I discovered Phil Cousineau’s work, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred. I learned that my journey had the elements of a pilgrimage. Cousineau taught me, that even travel through your day if experienced with an intentional focus, can be a pilgrimage or “a transformative journey to a sacred center.” We don’t need a passport for that.
Recently, I found Christine Valters Paintner’s book, The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within. In preparing for Iona, I’m using these steps and will build them into my upcoming posts. While my journey is intentional, Paintner points out that there are also unintentional pilgrimages. We all have experience with journeys we would not choose, like cancer or other illnesses, divorce, care of an ailing parent– just to name a few. While we don’t intentionally choose those paths, we do make the choice of how we walk them, whether they’re meaningful and soulful journeys or times of bitterness and unmet longing.
Our family has had the unintentional pilgrimage of journeying through our mother’s dementia. We’ve experienced seasons of grief in our slow loss of her former self, and have been surprised by joy in new ways of knowing her. I’ve seen aspects of myself in responding to Mama’s changes, that have been both pleasing and disappointing. It has truly been a journey into the unknown, a foreign land where you walk by faith and not by sight, never knowing what is just around the bend. The only thing I’m certain of is that God has been faithful each step of the way. We’ve had people in our path that have helped us and we’ve seen Mama bring light to others through her sweet smile and loving presence.
If she could understand that I’m preparing for Scotland, she’d be excited– except for the part about me going solo.
Years ago when I shared my plans to travel to Sedona, she asked, “Who’s going with you?” When I said that I was traveling by myself, she responded, “It’s not safe for a woman to travel alone.”
I saw that determined, I’m-your-Mama look on her face and knew there was only one way to settle this.
“I won’t be alone,” I said. “God will be with me.”
She was quiet for a moment, then responded, “Well, you’ll be in the best of hands. But be careful.”
I’ll continue to prepare for the pilgrimage to Iona, knowing I’ll have to leave Mama behind. She’ll be in the best of hands. And so will I.
How about you?
Are you feeling the call to take a journey? How can your trip become a pilgrimage?
Is there an unintentional journey that you’re on that’s making you feel trapped and bitter? Is there a way to reframe this experience and make it more meaningful and soulful?