Vox Peregrini Day Five Glendalough's Sorrows

I called this a day of rest, but it seemed anything but. After breakfast, I wandered into the ancient ruins to journal. There I saw many of my fellow pilgrims doing the same. They sought solace to reflect before the work that lie ahead. By noon the choir was in rehearsal at St. Kevin's Catholic Parish a mile up the road from Glendalough. They sang through their most difficult piece. John pushed them. Challenged them. Sought their input. Gently guiding them into places some would have rather avoided. "You have lovely voices. Feel affirmed. But what we're missing is an expansiveness." He used metaphors from life to evoke the emotions intended by the song writer. He seemed to instinctively know how to gently nudge them from one place to another. John's body language, silence, pristine use of the professional musician's secret vernacular guided his choir to another level. While I am not a musician, with every new start, my ears tell me something beautiful is being born. Two and half hours felt like ten minutes to me. The choir continues to have boundless energy, but as they walked out the door I could sense their weariness.

An hour later we were making our pilgrimage to St. Mary's Chapel. A thousand year-old ruin. The hollowed ground where grieving mothers brought their dead children for burial. The tiny chapel sits outside the walls of the monastery as a reminder the church has built more barriers than paths to the divine. To get to the hideaway we had to pass through three sheep gates and knee high grass. Our trail through the grass followed the footprints of centuries of pain in a journey to the house of tears. And the final entrances to the confines of St. Mary's we had to climb over a four foot stone wall. Only those willing to confront death would dare crawl over those stones. Once inside the grounds, we were confronted with dozens of ancient tiny crosses. Graves of unbaptized children. The Mother of Sorrows, a universal archetype from which we often cower to avoid our own grief. But there we stood around a humble piece of bread and sour wine, reciting our meager prayers.

Somber, reflective, tentative. Who could dare know what to expect of our souls? We could simply hold the space for one another's experiences. Withhold judgment. Honor one another. Cherish one another. Present to one another. Maybe we were pushing at the edge of the expansiveness we were so shy to consider?

-- 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