The night before walking the Wicklow Way with Vox Peregrini, we gathered at the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Bonclody. There we met each other for the first time. There they had their first rehearsal. The first time they had sang together as a group. I have never been privileged to be present at that genesis moment of art. But to my amateur ear, they sounded as if they had been companions for years. No piano. No reading through the music. They just opened their mouths and this most holy sound reverberated through the room and my soul. We had not taken one step and these thirteen people had already implanted their spirits in my heart.
That night I had a very unusual dream. I cannot remember having a dream about flying. I have dreamt of falling, but never flying through the air. Unaided, untethered, self-directed flying. But that night I had a dream I was flying twenty feet above the ground. I was enjoy the freedom of traveling where I wanted and seeing far below in all directions. It was a joyous dream and I felt good when I woke up that the first morning of our walk.
I have walked with groups before. In many ways, this group was no different. The dream did not foretell a problem free pilgrimage, where everything went flyingly well. It did not. One person had to drop out from walking after the first day. They came unprepared and the walk was more difficult than they had expected. Several packs were too heavy and weight was off-loaded into bags that were transferred each morning to the next hostel. Many of the thirteen suffered blisters. An unusual number experienced multiple blisters on both feet. By the third morning I was spending an hour tending to their battered feet. Three had knee problems. One a bad ankle. Fortunately, we had enough braces to go around. I thought I had brought plenty of bandages, but we had to restock three times. I had brought naturopathic remedies along that I distributed freely for sore muscles and aching joints, as well as one sore throat. Cathy also packed essential oils and we used them quite extensively. Including the purification oil every morning on my own hands. While I tended their feet, I prayed for their healing. I also used Charles Williams' ideas on the exchange of love. I counted on the purification oil to keep me from transferring blisters and joint issues to my own body. In retrospect, I think most of their problems were due to poor boots and not enough hill climbing before we started. But, I wasn't surprised. Hill climbing is a difficult task in Ireland. Not to be taken lightly. Experience is most helpful. I wondered along the way if they had read my posts to assist in their preparations. Most admitted they had. Still, it's kind of one of those things you have to see to believe, like the Irish landscape.
In Ireland, seeing can have more to do with the third eye. I think that's where the flying dream came to bear. Vox Peregrini's music and their spirit opened my soul a bit further than even I could imagine. As I pulled back the layers of each of my souls, the sauve of their musical spirits plied the widening of the sacred circle ensouling my nature. I walked. The concentric mandalas of souls breathed out ahead, behind, above, below me. Looking, seeking, searching, discovering. Finding new elements to pour into my alchemical cauldron, that which I pray over to bring forth soul gold. The psychic imagination of a new possibility.
The light faeries appeared. The dragon-raven revealed herself. The Divine opened a new place deep within the regions of my inner world where light had not flickered before. What does it all mean? The answer will take days, months, years to unpack.
What seems most meaningful at this moment in time? My most profound memories? Morgan K's incredible positive attitude when his bag didn't arrive the first night and he had to borrow boots, pants, a shirt, a pack, and a stick from fellow pilgrims. The group, I believe, breathed in his spirit and shone with it the remainder of the trip. In the face of countless opportunities to complain, I never heard one second of grumbling. Morgan H's courage to stop walking after the first day, reminded me that we are all on our own pilgrimage. Pastor Amy's blessing midway through a most difficult day poured sauve on my soul. Jonathan's bass ohm shook my imagination free on Glendalough's mountain side. John whispering to the choir, "Listen to the wind. Match your voice to the rhythm of the trees," opened my ears. Ian's ability to be everywhere to take the best "money-shot" pictures widened my eyes. Samantha's innocent curiosity about faeries and her deep desire to see one, caused me to giggle with glee and I prayed she would see one too. Allie's steady pace, as she quipped, "We're a heard of turtles," made me slow down to her wisdom. Richard's Eagle Scout confidence steadied my own insecurities in map reading. Michael's open heart of spiritual theology buoyed my hope for Christianity's future. Briar's fierce questions reminded me daily the value of the question far outweighs the necessity of any answer. Arlie's servanthood presence kept me focused on the One I follow. Melissa's bold face courage to confront her fears and overcome them filled my eyes with the fresh tears of the Spirit of God when she crossed the finish line - encouraging me to take up yet another pilgrimage, another day, for another fellow pilgrim. And Cathy, you were always present. Both Mary and Martha, words of wisdom and ministry of presence. You have kept me alive for forty-three years and counting. With Vox Peregrini you shared that grace as well. I am thankful for each of these marvelous pilgrims—the communal soul of Vox Peregrini.
When life challenges your being, presses against your soul, beats down your spirit, takes away your breath—remember the Iron Bridge and S-F hill. Remember you made it. All the way to the top. On your own. Such is the power gained by walking your own pilgrimage. But, there is also a great paradox, the pair of opposites found within pilgrimage. As John said that first night, "Just because they show up to the concert, doesn't mean they get to understand everything." Such is the hidden wisdom of pilgrimage.The wisdom is found in the reflection. Without it, you simply walked 100 miles.
I have learned much from you. I pray much more is to come. I am much better for walking by your side. Blessed Be dearest friends. Till we meet again.
-- 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?"