I approached my week at the Abbey wondering how I would fit in. Now I look back at all our activities together and see glimpses of myself. One of the things I’d looked forward to was our pilgrimage across the island to places of historical and religious significance. We all dressed in waterproofs and hiking boots– knowing that sections would be steep and sometimes boggy. We were blessed with a beautiful sunny day.
At times I walked by myself, enjoying quiet moments to gather my thoughts and have my morning prayer walk like I’d have at home– remembering my family and friends who’d be sleeping– five hours behind in the States. I enjoyed being out in nature, always renewing no matter the landscape or the types of animals that I encountered. As far as I could see was grass-covered rolling land with rocky outcroppings dotted with sheep and some Highland cows, or “coos” as they’re called in Scotland.
These cows were comical looking to me with their triple coats and long hair growing down between their horns, almost covering their eyes. We’d been told that they were gentle– for the most part, and I wanted to rub one. I’ve loved cows since my childhood on a farm.
We climbed steep and rocky paths. I was especially careful, thinking of David and his knee, imagining how difficult an injury would be so far from the Abbey. At different points along our journey, I talked to whoever was close by, seeing them as the people in my path, not seeking out a specific person with an agenda for conversation. For me, it felt like that was my call to being present, to letting go of trying to control the journey.
Getting close to mid-hike, we arrived at the southern tip of the island at St Columba’s Bay. The beach was covered in pebbles and small stones. This was the place where Columba is said to have arrived from Ireland on the Day of Pentecost in 563. The staff member who led our walk, Ursula from Latvia, encouraged us to find a rock to cast into the water that represented what we’d carried that we wanted to be free of. I thought of how my pride had made me hesitant to try new things for fear of making mistakes, for fear of looking foolish. I chunked a large rock into the surf, hoping to leave that behind, at least more than I’d been able to do in the past.
I found a sheltered spot in the cleft of the rock, sitting in the sand to eat my packed sandwiches and orange. A woman, whom I hadn’t talked with, sat beside me and shared about the rock she’d thrown into the sea, the pain she’d experienced that was being reworked at Iona. We would have other conversations that week and walk in the group to the ferry landing on that dark Friday morning.
Continuing on, we traveled down through the common grazing land, the machair, and to the sea, the Atlantic dazzling before us, with tropical-appearing waters that were green and blue. I felt my breath catch as I realized how God had opened up my life, this wider space that had been provided in this pilgrimage to Iona.
I was ‘fitting in’ by being myself, letting go of defensive pride that said I should be more than I am.
What about you?
Have you ever hesitated to try something new because you wondered how you’d fit in?
How did you manage that situation?
What did you bring away from that experience? In retrospect, would you like to have handled it differently?