Over the years I have made many pilgrimages to places that are considered Holy and sacred for all sorts of reasons. I have made many pilgrimages over the years to the Island of Iona, a small island in the Inner Hebrides off the Ross of Mull on the western coast of Scotland. Iona was a centre for monasticism for four centuries and was founded by the monk Columba in 563 AD.
Although Iona is a relatively small Island, it became known as a centre of great learning. Many important books and documents celebrating and witnessing to the gospels from a Celtic Christianity perspective were written on the Island of Iona and in particular, it is thought that during the 8th Century the first part of The Book Of Kells also began from this small Island.
The Island of Iona offers the promise of great peace, and tranquillity, and as an island, it is surrounded by immense natural beauty. Each time I have left the Island, I have had a strong sense that I have been spiritually guided, nurtured and I have grown in ways in which I have been open to hearing the still small voice of God, and I am always acutely aware that I will return.
There are all kinds of reasons as to why people embark upon a pilgrimage, for some, it will be the inner spiritual search for peace, and perhaps to find a way forward, while for others in our world it will be in response to a command that has been handed down within their religion.
In our modern world, our lives have become so incredibly busy and deeply complicated. We are encouraged to be successful and we are often measured by our success or lack thereof. We are encouraged to obtain all the trappings that represent our success. We are often judged by the house that we live in, the car that we drive, and the clothes that we wear and it goes on, and on. Often in an unconscious way within society, each of us is guilty about the ways in which we judge those around us, and the pressure that we place on others and ourselves feeds into the melting pot of disillusion and there is a sense of great failure of who and what we have become.
In the last ten years, the numbers of people embarking on a pilgrimage have grown considerably, and many have researched this growing phenomenon. The studies on pilgrimage highlight the human desire to experience albeit for a short time, an understanding of what it means to live a simple life. Instead of just being concerned about our own lives, it would seem that perhaps we have an innate desire to feel responsible for those who are less fortunate than ourselves as a good deal of money is also raised for charitable causes in completing a pilgrimage such as the Camino de Santiago, known as The Way of Saint James.
Within the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke we read about the times when it was important for Jesus to withdraw and to spend time alone in prayer, and so perhaps the growing need to spend time alone with God in the form of a pilgrimage is in response to follow the model of Jesus in how he was able to travel to places in which to rest and to pray.
I believe that God is encouraging each of us to take some time out of our everyday lives in order to gain a clearer perspective with all of the burdens that we navigate and carry in life, whether that may be a local formally led day retreat or carving some time to go off on a short or much longer pilgrimage, there are immense benefits in finding ways to hear God’s still small voice in our world today.
Rev Caroline Andrews
Bible readings to encourage each of us:
Matthew 14: 23
Mark 6: 46