Vox Peregrini Day Three Moyne to Glenmalure

Day Four Vox Peregrini - Moyne to Glenmalure

The Irish often refer to what we are doing as hill walking. They have organized clubs and major events built around walking the hills of Ireland. Hill walking is a big deal. Walking the hills from Moyne to Glenmalure is so strenuous our host at Kyle Farm House reminded me that when we reach the halfway point at Iron Bridge it is would be the last point at which I could call if anyone in our group couldn't finish today's 16 miles. Such a reminder in an ominous beginning to a long days hike.

The seven miles to the Iron Bridge is a long slow climb that starts with three miles of feet pounding pavement. Several members of Vox Peregrini are suffering from blisters, sore knees, and hip related issues to carrying a pack. This morning it took almost an hour to bandage all the blisters and tend to their needs. But this is the most positive group I can imagine. They support one another. Tell the funniest stories. Sing to lift one another's spirits. And I have yet to hear one word of grumbling.

When we reached the Iron Bridge I pointed up the hill that lie ahead. Like a taunting demon, the stretch we were about to embark in the Wicklows seemed foreboding. No one flinched. They all said they were ready for the challenge. Their optimism made me nervous. I knew what the next eight grueling miles were going to be like. I had walked them in reverse three times, having met others strugglling from the direction we were now walking. The singing rehearsal sounded good, but weary. I couldn't tell if it was my projections onto them, fearing the climb, or truly their exhaustion.

The first hill to climb after lunch is unforgiving. The trees along the path had been harvested leaving the steep incline unprotected. The Irish sun, beautiful as it can be, is no friend to the hill climbers. A sharp hill carrying a pack under an altitude sun makes the climb challenging for the experienced hill walker. The group stretched out. We had a good leader who set a reasonable pace. Even the strongest were stopping regularly to catch their breath. I could hear their prayers as we climbed. I was near the middle of the group. One by one I saw them disappear at the top, out of sight, where I knew they had made the climb. Looking back I could I see the struggles of those with the most physical issues. The group behind me walked two by two. Supporting one another. Their strength brought tears to my eyes. Those would not be the only tears I would shed today.

As the last pair made it to the top there were cheers and high fives. I wanted to warn them we had a few more hills that were equal to the challenge, but I thought better of it and we kept moving. We continued to move slow and steady. They have taken to calling themselves a herd of turtles.

Along the Wicklow Way at random and rare locations there are three sided sheds built by the Mountain Rescue that can be used for those who need a break from the weather or want to camp the night. Camping is not something people typically do on the Wicklow Way. At about our three quarter mark we came to one of the wooden huts just before another daunting climb. There we met Frank, a young man from Germany. We stood and sat in small clusters, resting, catching our wind.

Pastor Amy Wiles reached in her back pack and pulled out one of the Pilgrim's Prayers for strength and offered the prayer we all needed. Her husband then asked her to bless us as she does pour out such grace over her congregation every Sunday.

"May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord's face shine upon you and give you grace. Grace not to sell yourself short. But grace to risk something big for something good. Grace enough to see that the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth. And too small for anything but love. So may God take your minds and think through them. May God take your words and speak through them. May God take your hands and work through them. And may God your hearts and set them on fire."

I wept. I have never been so blessed. All of the divine's creation rose from the Irish landscape and bowed their heads to receive Pastor Amy's blessing. All said Amen. I felt inspired to live out her spirit graced words.

Then John Wiles, the director, asked the group to sing for Frank. The young man from German seemed so genuinely pleased and excited. He pulled out his camera to record and sat in expectation. As the sound rolled over him like a gentle Irish mist, I could see his soul settle. In the midst of a harsh day, gentleness and power visited us within the span of three minutes.

We moved on to finish the challenge of the longest day so far. Vox Peregrini took a picture at the halfway marker of the Wicklow Way. It was the perfect end to a blessed day. One more day lie ahead on our way into Glendalough for a Sabbath day of rest.

-- The Rev. Dr. Gil Stafford Canon Theologian Episcopal Diocese of Arizona Assistant to the Rector, St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Litchfield Park, AZ 2wisdomsway.com 4peregriniblogspot.com

"It is I who ask, was the pilgrimage I made to come to my own self, to learn that, in times like these, and for one like me, God will never be plain and not there, but dark rather, and inexplicable, as though God were in here?"

People need wild places.  Whether or not we think we do, we do.  We need to be able to taste grace and know again that we desire it.  We need to experience a landscape that is timeless, whose agenda moves at the pace of speciation and glaciers.  To be surrounded by a singing, mating, howling commotion of other species, all of which love their lives as much as we do ours, and none of which could possibly care less about us in our place.  It reminds us that our plans are small and somewhat absurd.        BARBARA KINGSOLVER, Small Wonder