Saturday, May 31, 2014

Gateway to Glendalough...

I spent a pleasant couple of hours walking through the ancient monastic city founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century.  Glendalough is to Ireland what Iona is to Scotland, a place of deep spiritual richness and pilgrimage.

   This is the gateway to the monastic enclosure.  It is a totally unique example of a double threshold.  It would have had a second story that probably housed the gatekeeper.  Just inside the second arch is large cross incised in the stone wall.  Those seeking sanctuary would lay their hand on it and would be given refuge.

   This was an ancient law that, until fairly recently I believe, was inviolate.  No one, no matter how horrific their crime, could be touched by the authorities if they claimed sanctuary in a church or holy place; at least for 40 days at any rate. 

This idea added a new twist to my thoughts on thresholds.  That one could seek and secure sanctuary by simply crossing over and through a threshold.  It gives one a feeling of security to imagine such a state.  Sanctuary is a very powerful word.

This is the paved walk way leading from the gateway into the inner enclave of the monastery.   The stones were nearly polished smooth from the thousands upon thousands of feet that have walked over them these last 1,400 years.  

   But unlike our modern notion of monastic life, this was a bustling community of families.  The Roman rule had not been imposed and many of the monks would have been married.  Secular and sacred lives were blended in this monastic city.  One can’t help but wonder what the modern church would look like today if it had followed a Celtic rather than a Roman path.

   Tomorrow I will give you some more images of this breathtaking landscape.  I can see why St. Kevin chose it to establish his monastery and why it continues to draw thousands of pilgrims each  year.

    This is an idea of what the medieval monastic city might have looked like.  The gatehouse is on the right side linking the pilgrim's road with the inner enclosure.


Friday, May 30, 2014

My Third Threshold...

For Solitude

May you recognize in your life the presence, power and light of your soul.
May you realize that you are never alone, that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe.
May you have respect for your individuality and difference.
May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique, that you have a special destiny here, that behind the facade of your life there is something beautiful and eternal happening.
May you learn to see yourself with the same delight, pride and expectation with which God sees you in every moment.

"Blessing" - John O'Donohue

  I have brought along some of my SoulCollage® cards to inspire each stage of my pilgrimage.  This is the one I am using here in Glendalough where I am approaching a more personal and introspective threshold.  Here I will look into myself and try to imagine what I now have to offer those around me and also how I will shape this next phase of my life.

   The poem by John O'Donohue was waiting for me in the little guide book for the hermitage center when I first arrived and it was a wonderful synchronicity I thought.  It seemed the perfect text to accompany my meditation card, which I have set up by my bed along with the wild goose feather from Iona and my prayer beads.

   I think it is a real gift to have this blessing from John presented to me on my arrival.  It will shape my time here as I approach this most personal of thresholds.  As John inspired my pilgrimage in the first place, it seemed fitting to end with a bit of his wisdom as well.  I must say that it is so important for the pilgrim to focus their time on bits of writing. My vade mecum is with me everyday but stumbling upon these special gifts of inspiration are a welcome addition to the journey.



Thursday, May 29, 2014

"Come away to a quiet place and rest awhile."

   This is my "hermitage" for the next two weeks in the beautiful Glendalough valley.  After the hectic scene at the airport and the stressful drive out of Dublin, I arrived to a place of incredible beauty and peace.

   I am settling into the solitude and quiet and will take my time exploring the monastic settlement nearby.  I plan quiet walks and reading and evenings by the little fireplace in the cottage.

   I feel like I've taken a big breath and the calm serenity I experienced on Iona has returned.  I think everyone should have place they can retreat to, their own hermitage, when the world is too much with them.

In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion. - Albert Camus

   I feel myself slowing down here.  Perhaps it is fatigue from battling the illness that I have carried with me on this journey, a most unwanted traveling companion!  I am feeling better but still not 100%.  I will allow myself to enjoy the tranquility of this place and not worry about rushing to see everything I can.  I will see what I need to see, of that I am certain.  I have a lot to think about over the days ahead as I meditate on my final threshold.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Trek to St. Columba's Bay on Iona...

   It was an arduous trek, out to St. Columba's Bay on Iona, but I was bound and determined to make it. I was still not feeling 100% but I wasn't going to let that stop me.  I had to do the ritual I had read so much about.  After all, part of this pilgrimage was to let go of past hurt and anger and this ritual does just that. It was a threshold I was eager to cross.

   Legend has it that this is the spot where Columba first set foot on Iona with his twelve monks on the day of Pentecost,563.  Port a'Churaich (the harbor of the curragh) is steeped in legend.   The colorful stones reminded me of the stone beach on Campobello I visited last September...another beach of metaphors.

 I gathered two stones, the grey on with the two white rings was my wishing stone.  The small green one is called St. Columba's "tears" and is much sought after.  It is the green Iona marble that sailors on the island carry in their pockets for good luck.

   After focusing all my thoughts on things I wanted to be released from, I threw the grey stone as far out into the sea as I could.  The green one will travel home with me.  I could use a little good luck right now!

Labyrinth at St. Columba's Bay
   I found a wild goose feather on the island the day before my trek to St. Columba's Bay.  The wild goose is a symbol of the holy spirit here on Iona and I couldn't help but think about St. Hildegard's admonition to travel like a feather on the breath of God.  I found a feather at Campobello too...a lovely connection.  Weary as I was from the trek to the bay, I felt a lightening of the heart as well.  It seemed I passed into a new way of being if only temporarily.  That is what these rituals are meant to do.  They give us a physical acknowledgement, an acting out of an intention.

   One thing I decided to do here on Iona was to write a note to myself and mail it off so it will be there when I arrive home.  I wanted to remind myself of the serenity I found on this island.  I plan to do this a couple of more times before I head back to the states on June 8.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Contemplative Souvenirs from Iona...

   I have no desire for Abbey refrigerator magnets or tea cozies shaped like sheep but I did want a souvenir of both my time on Iona and for this pilgrimage in general.  I found them in a lovely silversmith shop across from my hotel.

   There is a long tradition of silver smithing here on Iona. A young woman as taken up the craft.  She makes lovely contemporary pieces and showcases other artist's work, like the ring I got.

   It is in two parts and depicts the elevation of the island as you sail around it.  I loved how it symbolically denotes the "thin place" between heaven and earth...sometimes pulling apart, sometimes coming together. I couldn't have designed a better souvenir!

   The second souvenir I chose is called "The Wee Moon".  She is making it for me and will send it to my home in Maine in June but this is an example from the shop. It will depict the exact phase of the moon on my 65th birthday. It will actually be opposite this example.  The day of my birthday, the moon was just off full with just a sliver of dark along one edge.  She will inscribe the event on the back. 

   You can see her work online here.  Aosdana means people of the art, craft or gift.  I'm giving her shop a little plug because I was so taken by her work.

   Finding handmade pieces that reflect the meaning of your journey is what makes for a contemplative souvenir.  Next time you travel, look for something that is a memento you will look at and remember.  An object that will forge a connection to your experience. Photographs are, of course, lovely souvenirs but an object, hand-made by a local artist, is also something to cherish.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Fingal's Cave on Staffa...

   An Uamh Binn (Musical Cave) or, as it is more commonly known, Fingal's Cave, has enthralled and inspired travelers for hundreds of years.  Staffa is an hour's boat trip from Iona and well worth the time.

   Compared to this what are the cathedrals and palaces built by men! Mere models or playthings, imitations as his works will always be compared to those of nature.
 - Joseph Banks, 1772

   As I wrote in yesterday's post, life is a series of choices. When I arrived I had to choose between seeing the puffins and the cave. I chose the cave. I can see puffins off the coast of Maine.

   I was enchanted by the seals I saw on the way to the caves so I was quite content with my choice.  I was lucky to have the cave to myself and the acoustics were amazing. The sound of the sea was truly magical. You could almost feel the pull of the energy within the cave as the sea breathed in and out.

  It so inspired Felix Mendelssohn that he wrote the Hebrides overture (Fingal's Cave) after his visit to the island in 1829.  You can listen to the overture here.   After being in the cave, I can see the influence of it when I listened again to the music.

   I felt a real connection between the abbey and this sculpted by the hand of man, one by the hand of God.  Both are awe inspiring to say the least...both sacred spaces.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Thought for Today - Choices

The Cloisters at Iona Abbey
   I love this quotation from Eleanor Roosevelt.  This idea also got me thinking about multiple thresholds.  We usually think of them in singular terms.  But could we sometimes have to choose?  Can thresholds present themselves in pairs? 

   I love cloisters because of their circularity. No matter which direction you set out in you always return to the same place in the end. One time you go left, the next time you go right.  Each walk presents a different view.  Yes, life is just a series of choices, big ones and little ones, and we must live with those choices.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Details from Iona Abbey Cloister: Meditations in Stone...

Agony of the Soul

Receiving the Cup
Breaking the Bread
Descent of the Dove

   These carvings are 20th century interpretations of Medieval iconography.  Most of the capitals in the cloisters are also new interpretations.  I like the way the restorers didn't try to duplicate ancient work opting instead for a fresh contemporary approach.  What one takes away from viewing these meditations in stone is up to the individual.

   I've walked around and around the cloisters.  It is,in a way, a form of walking meditation as are labyrinths. You can glimpse the sky and the grass but you are on the a boundary place between the sacred and natural world.  Walking on the edge, you glimpse two ways of being, in light and in shadow, and you move seamlessly between the two.
Descent of the Spirit

   This is why I love islands.  You are surrounded by a border.  You are contained while being able to look at the "other world".  There is a sense of detachment and, yes, isolation on an island but the isolation is really an illusion.  With the internet you are not really unconnected...both a good thing and a bad thing.  There is a small primary school on the island and the island population has increased in recent years...always a good sign.

   Iona is a very special place and the residents have tried very hard to not let commercialism tarnish your experience. You feel the heartbeat of faith here that welcomes all and that is wonderful feeling.

Am fear a theid a dh'l,
theid e tri uairean ann.

A Gaelic saying meaning those who come to
Iona will come, not once, but three times.

   The cloister sculpture was created by Jacques Lipchitz. The inscription on reads:
Jacques Lipchitz, Jew, faithful to the religion of his ancestors, has made this Virgin for the better understanding of human beings on this earth so that the Spirit may prevail.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Abbey of Iona and the Second Threshold...

View Across to Mull
   Iona has a very long tradition of pilgrimage.  As a sacred site it holds a place of honor.  People have been making the trip here for over 1,400 years.  And it is not an easy place to get to either!

   First a two hour train ride from Glasgow to the coast.  Then there's a 45 minute ferry ride to Mull.  You then have to get a bus for the cross island trip which takes about an hour and which takes you through breathtaking landscapes.  Finally, you take another ferry for the short 15 minute journey to Iona.  Getting to Iona is as important as being on Iona.  You have to really want to be here.

Evening light at the Abbey
   You will be rewarded in so many ways when you do arrive, this view across to Mull is just one.  There is a shimmering light here that is especially wonderful and in the late afternoon the Abbey is illuminated...the high crosses casting shadows on the church facade.

   This is not just another museum but an active center for ecumenical Christian practice.  It's not just a relic of the past but a place of the future.  You can find out a bit about the Iona Community here.

   St. Columba, whose name in Gaelic means "dove of the church", founded the monastic settlement here on Iona in the 6th century.  Here the Book of Kells was illuminated and it was a center of learning for centuries.  It seemed the perfect place to look at the second threshold of my pilgrimage, spirituality for the second half of life.
White Doves at the Abbey

   My friend in Glasgow gave me a fitting quotation for this leg of my journey...

That man is little to be envied whose piety would not grow
 warmer amongst
the ruins of Iona.

Dr. Samuel Johnson
19 October 1773

   How please Dr. Johnson would be to see the Abbey resurrected to a new longer a ruin!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Place of Passage and Threshold...

   The priory here on Inchmahome is very impressive.  One can wonder in and out of the stone walls, crossing into spaces of light and air or spaces of dark enclosure. 

   About where I was standing to make this photograph, there would have been a rood screen of carved wood.  It separated the secular outer nave from the choir area by the high altar.  By passing through this rood screen, you were taking an important step - from the temporal world into the private world of the sacred.

   The ancient church felt it was necessary to created this point of demarcation so that one could fully enter into the proper mindset.  I thought this was an important idea to apply to thresholds in general.  It gives the moment of crossing over more significance and import.

   Like Corcomroe Abbey, the first sacred site I visited, Inishmahome is a place of passage and threshold.  Each place within the priory is clearly defined and as I wandered in and out...from the dark to the light and back again...I felt the spirit of the place wrap around me.

   The Celtic knot design took on more meaning for me in this place.  This intertwining weave, going first over and then under, gave me another way to consider thresholds.  There was a distinctive Alice in Wonderland quality to the place and you could find yourself a bit disoriented.

   Perhaps that is what happens to us when we get really old.  Our memories become twists and turns.  We drift in and out of the past.  In the end, however, just as it is at Corcomroe and Inchmahome, our spirit, our soul's essence remains no matter what ruin our body becomes.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Visit to the Holy Island of Inchmahome...

   I had been a bit disappointed that I wasn't able to get to the holy island in Ireland during my stay on the Burren.  But as I am always going on about, you will get what you need when you need it.

   When I stayed with friends in Glasgow for the weekend, they took be on a days outing to celebrate my birthday.  We went to Stirling Castle and to Inchmahome...a holy island in the scenic Lake of Menteith northwest of Glasgow.  It was a spectacular place and the walk around the island took us along paths edged in a profusion of bluebells.  It was absolutely enchanting.  The lime green moss was a wonderful contrast to the bluebells.

   This is one of several 500 year old sweet chestnut trees on the island.  Their twisted and enormous trunks had huge hollow places.  It was amazing to realize that when these trees were planted America hadn't even been colonized and here they still stand, surrounded by bluebells.

   This was the very best of birthday presents.  I honestly could have wandered around that little island for hours.  In my next post I will show you a bit of the Augustinian Priory on the island and talk, no surprise, of thresholds.

 Leaving the old, both worlds at 
once in view, that stand upon
the threshold of the new.
- Edmund Waller

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Visit to St. Colman's Well...

   The highlight of my stay in the Burren was our journey to St. Colman's well and cave.  To say it was a magical location is not to do it justice.  The mystical presence of the place took one's breath away.  If fairies do exist, they would live here for sure. 

   After a 3/4 of a mile walk through the magnificent stonescape of the Burren, you enter a wooded glen of moss covered ancient trees and ferns. The woods were full of wildflowers and the air dripping with mystery.  You almost found yourself whispering so as not to disturb the atmosphere.

   The tree by the well is covered with "clooties", little cloths tied on by pilgrims.  Each represented a wish or hope of the person.  We all whispered our prayers and tied on the cloths I'd brought with me for just this purpose.  Then I splashed water from the sacred spring all over me, praying for recovery and strength and a meaningful pilgrimage.  All the while the only sound we heard was the bubbling of the stream and the plaintive call of the cuckoo.

    I read the legend of St. Colman to my friends as we picnicked in the  ruins of the tiny chapel build hundreds of years ago on the site.  Weaving the stories into the landscape is an important part of this pilgrimage for me and I was so happy to share it with my friends.

   This is one of the "secret" places of the few people bother to visit.  It is such a wonderful experience I hope, should you make your own journey to the Burren, you take the time to visit this enchanted glen.