Vox Peregrini Day Four - Glenmalure to Glendalough

The Glenmalure lodge was built in 1801 as a hunting lodge. Though, the legend goes it was a hideout for those who needed refuge from the English law. If you can be still enough within your soul, the faeries and ghosts of those rebellious folk might appear. The lodge and the woods themselves hold the stories of lives long forgotten by the world of the seen—but always to be told in the realm of the unseen.

Before leaving the lodge to hike into the Wicklow Natural Forest, Vox Peregrini sang just outside the front door. Their rich voices attracted several guests and hosts as well. I'm always fascinated to watch the faces of those who listen; their faces relax into the presence of being blessed by the holy, gentle smiles, their bodies often sway in rhythm with the a capella flow. Immediately after Vox Peregrini finished the first piece, "Another please," quickly arose. And the musical pilgrims responded in kind with another few minutes of blissful sounds.

Packs on, day four, on to the ancient monastic ruins in the Valley of the Two Lakes, Glendalough. After singing, I've noticed our pilgrims have high spirits and energy in their weary legs. This morning even more so. The promise of only walking 10 miles and then a day off seemed to add to their good feeling.

Slowly we climbed the mountains of Wicklow. Through the dark dense forests. Higher past the tree line where we were to cross the bald bog. To get to that point we had to climb several natural stone stairways. Only Mother Earth could create such perfect placed souls of stones to aid our path so safely. Yet one slip and injury was for sure. Finally to the summit and the scenic payoff was spectacular. Looking back over the mountains and valleys where we had climbed were the rolling mountains of emerald green, spotted with outcrops of glistening quartz. The mountains were so green they were black. The haunting purple clouds rolled across the peaks of the mountains and darted down into the low places. Mother Earth provided us with a full display of her best work. No picture can capture what the eye and soul will witness at the moment of having struggled to reach that point, in time and life.

We carefully negotiated the railroad ties graciously placed by Mountain Rescue and Hill Walkers, so that we might safely cross the deep black bog covered with slick tufts of lime green grass. The wind pushed against us, hoping for a laugh if we fell. I would imagine the wind was more than 30 mph. Strong enough I paid careful attention to my own footing. No falls from the pilgrims of Vox Peregrini.

By the fourth day of a pilgrimage, while exhausted like never before, a strength emerges. Pilgrims seem to tap into a new found wellspring. They drink, not from a reserve, but from a dark place they never knew existed. In that place of shadows, where only the pilgrimage can shine a light of discovery—there in moments of the fear of failure, there in the darkness is found the water that renews like none other. I have witnessed the pilgrims of Vox Peregrini begin to drop their cups into that well.

In a simpler world and time, we might say from here it's downhill. Pastor Amy, however, pointed out that she had a new understanding of that American phrase. The difference being she said, is that she would now rather walk uphill. The downhill slopes are painfully troubling. I wonder now. How will we take our new insights into a world that may never be able to fully understand our journey? Where language is lost on those who have not walked our way. Or care to hear our stories. I do wonder about those who seem to be casual tourists in life.

As we approached Glendalough on this pleasant Saturday, we met those looking for a scenic view of the valley and her upper lake. We passed families as well as locals out for their daily exercise. We heard the sound of children laughing as they played in the luscious green park below. The closer we got to our destination the more people we encountered. Finally, as we dropped down onto the two mile stretch of Glendalough Valley, we were almost run over by large groups of well meaning tourists who had arrived via bus. Many languages, nationalities, and races. Joy, wonder, and laughter. Yet, in their pleasantness, there was an assault on our 50 miles of silent struggle through the Wicklow Mountains. For the first time our group huddled to protect ourselves from the noise slamming against our souls. Seeking solace from this onslaught of what others consider "normal." But now as pilgrims, our normal has shifted, if ever so slightly. Looking at the world through the lens of a pilgrim, the world appears slightly askew. Now we must re-negotiate with our mind, body, and soul how we will walk through this life of strangers slightly leaning to one side or the other.

-- 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