When I was a girl, my only grandparent was Ola Gilchrist Smith who was my mother’s mother. She lived on a farm about twenty miles from my house and was a pillar of her small church– Cedar Rock Presbyterian in Harnett County, North Carolina. There are lots of Presbyterian churches in that area where Highland Scots settled after they entered the state via the Cape Fear River in the mid-seventeen-hundreds.
We spent many Sunday afternoons with Grandma. Her home was simple with a combination family room-dining room that was furnished with rockers and hardback chairs. The room was decorated with family pictures, bric-a-brac, and a map of The Holy Land pinned to the wall She often read her Bible and taught Sunday School Classes and Bible studies. Grandma was a natural teacher.
When we visited, she sat in her rocker and looked like an old Granny, not like the grandmothers of today. She was always glad to see you and conversations with her never felt superficial. Grandma liked to pose a question and let you sit with it. She’d say, “Now, Connie, what do you think . . . and then ask about a situation, a portion of scripture, or whatever she deemed important at that moment.
There was one question I remember asking her.
“Grandma, if you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?”
She didn’t take long to respond.
“I’d go to The Holy Land,” she said, “so I could walk in the steps of Jesus.”
I don’t know if Grandma thought of that as going on pilgrimage. She never took that trip to The Holy Land, but years later, my mother did. I wonder if Mama thought about Grandma’s desire to go and if Mama felt she was going there for her mother, too?
On my ninth birthday, Grandma gave me my first diary. How I treasured that little book with a lock. I began my practice of journaling, going between printing and my first awkward attempts at cursive. I felt like Grandma validated my thoughts and my writing in choosing that gift.
In thinking about what I need to pack for my upcoming pilgrimage to Iona, I look again to Christine Valters Paintner’s words in The Soul of a Pilgrim. She speaks of Jesus going into the desert on a pilgrimage where wild beasts and angels are with him. Paintner calls on her ancestors to assist her on pilgrimages, as saints who travel beside her offering wisdom. When I think of Grandma accompanying me on the journey, I think of how she planted the seed of interest to go to Scotland by telling me of our Scotch ancestry. I’ve discovered that her maiden name, Gilchrist, means “servant of Christ” in Gaelic– which she truly was.
My Info sheet for the Abbey states I should bring a Torch as there are no street lights on Iona and I’ll need it for leaving the dormitory at night. At first, I had the image of fire from a tiki torch and then it came to me, “Oh, they mean a flashlight.” I put one on my stack of things to pack and decided that a lighted candle will be the third item for my altar.
Grandma lived by Psalm 119:105 (KJV), “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” The candle will be a reminder of the light Grandma provided and how that path is leading me to Iona.
What about you?
Is there an ancestor you carry with you on your pilgrimage? What wisdom do they provide along the way?
How has their life helped prepare you for the journey?
How will you pay tribute to them when you reach your destination?