Anybody who knows me would probably start laughing when I say, “Finding words is hard to do.” My pilgrimage journey in Ireland has brought me so many extraordinary experiences beyond words. However, I will try to offer a meager reflection.
I came with the intention “to see and be seen,” hoping Mother Earth would offer me a glimpse of Her wisdom enfolding from the depths within me. I gathered stones and rose petals and leaves and an acorn from an ancient tree who wanted to talk with me.
I offered them words of thanksgiving for their gifts of remembrance.
For the stones, remembering how ancient Mother Earth is and what beauty is revealed as we walk her paths. I was reminded that She needs our help to care for her with renewed reverence.
For the rose petals, remembering my Grandmother Chapin’s garden, which always had rose bushes. When I was an elementary school student, I would pick some of her roses to take to my teacher. Grandmother would help me wrap a wet paper towel around them and then some saran wrap to carry them to school. I think it helped me become the “teacher’s pet.” I’m going to ask my beloved daughter-in-law to help me plant some rose bushes in my garden. Maybe I could help Cole and Zane to offer a gift of beauty to their teachers.
For the leaves, remembering that life is fleeting and every moment counts because one day we have to let go and die… yet, every leaf I picked up had changed into some beautiful new color and offered nourishment for the forest floor. I was reminded I have a choice in how I live these final years, changing into beautiful new colors and offering nourishment to souls all around me… offering the abundant love I have so richly been given in my life.
For the acorn and the words of the ancient tree, remembering the wisdom within me like the deep roots of the great tree. As I keep seeing and feeling and imagining and listening, I grow my roots down into the rich depths of the soil’s moisture and expand my branches creating safe space for others and send out new leaves reaching for the sunshine of new life. The ancient tree has been battered by the storms, scarred and wounded, yet this sculpting has created a new face of rugged beauty within the tree, and so may it be for me.
Ah yes, I am seeing and being seen… I am called to love… with deep gratitude for pilgrimage as a way of life…
What is the ancient tree saying to you?
Every evening when the Vox Peregrini walkers gather at dinner, someone… or two… or three… graciously asks me, “How was your day? What did you do?” The “Perfect Judge” in my head screams guilty words, “Nothing… nothing to compare to the grueling, gorgeous hiking you have done. I just drove about 20 minutes and hung out…whoopee!”
So I take a deep breathe and say, “I had a lovely day of writing, and reading, and traveling to our next destination and making sure all is well for you.” Why do I feel guilty about that? I’m wondering if my “Loyal Soldier” (from Bill Plotkin’s book, Soulcraft) who works unconsciously to keep my “Wild Child” in check is working overtime?
What I hear from my Vox Peregrini friends is, “Thank you so much for all you are doing to support us, help us, and arrange all of this for us. Our accommodations are more than we imagined how good they could be.” I need to let my Loyal Soldier and Wild Child hear that… deep in my unconscious.
My lonesome road is not so lonesome any more… because I have a wise young pilgrim traveling with me named Morgan. She had the courage to say, “I can’t walk anymore.” If you could see her feet, you would know why. I admire her strength to take care of herself and ask for what she needs and graciously offer her help to my pilgrim’s way. She has provided ease to my negotiating the map and driving the Irish farm roads.
Today she sat with Gil as he bandaged and offering healing touches to many feet. She made a list of healing supplies he would need for the journey ahead. Other fellow pilgrims asked her if she could find some things that would make their walk easier. Then, we traveled to a couple of towns clearing out the pharmacies of all their 2nd skin!
I’m missing the walking…or truthfully, I’m feeling guilty about not walking. But if I were walking, none of the supplies, dinners waiting for them hot and delicious, rooms “sorted out,” taxis called to pick them up, carrying sandwich and snack supplies, and a very joyous face to greet them when they arrive would be happening!
I wonder if I am learning how to integrate my “Mary and Martha?” and make peace with the “Perfect Judge” in my head? Ah, my “Wild Child” is very excited about this transformational work… so I’ll keep “walking” and only stop to rest myself when the silver moon is shining about the trees.
This morning, the Vox Peregrini singers stood on the curving staircase of the Stoops Guesthouse B&B and sang “That Lonesome Road.” And I was moved to tears again. There is something deeply Divine going on inside of me through their music.
A memory washed over me as they sang. When Gil was President of Grand Canyon University, he provided the opportunity for vocal musicians to be a part of the President’s Singers choral ensemble. Keith Whitlock was the director and he auditioned sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses to be a part of this unique group.
One evening we were holding a dinner at our home for a group of supporters of the University and the President’s Singers were invited to sing for us (yes, they got dinner as well). They stood in the entryway of our home and sang their signature song, “In This Very Room.” They filled our home with their voices of powerful harmony. The sound radiated throughout the house and created a cocoon of serenity… and beautiful artistic expression. I was moved to tears then as I am now.
I always felt our home was uniquely blessed because of the President’s Singers music. When we sold it, I remember thinking that the new owners are walking into a sacred space… where there was quite enough love, and quite enough joy and quite enough hope and quite enough power to chase away any gloom. The beauty was I took that same love and joy and hope and power with me because today I remembered how I felt and how I was moved deep in my soul.
One of the Vox Peregrini soprano singers shared with me how meaningful it is for her to have ears to hear her artistic expressions in song. I wonder if this is a part of the movement I’m feeling in my soul? I wonder if the singers and I are creating sacred art together? I wonder what lessons in holy listening will I continue to learn as I wander down that lonesome road…
Today, I took this photo of 14 pilgrims beginning their hike on the Wicklow Way. They gathered in Clonegal, Ireland to head out over the mountains and valleys of Wicklow County. They will walk almost 100 miles in 8 days ending in Marlay Park near Dublin.
And they will sing… They are Vox Peregrini (check out their website voxperegrini.com).
Last evening at the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church choir practice room, they gathered for the first time to sing together… their first rehearsal… a capella. They heard a pitch and then just sang as if it was like breathing for them.
I had the privilege of sitting amongst them and listening… and it was glorious music swirling over and around and through my heart and soul. I had to work very hard to keep from crying. I knew if I let go, I would be sobbing. It felt like a deep cleansing and healing and opening up space in my soul.
How many times have I missed the opportunity to deeply listen to music? There is usually music playing at our home, in my car, at restaurants, all kinds of public places... at best it is just background noise.
What if I sat down and listened… don’t try to sing along… don't let my “monkey mind” run away with me… hear and feel and let my imagination embrace the music… and dance with it...
Dancing in my imagination is the beautiful ballad, That Lonesome Road, these singers will be memorizing to sing along the way…
“Walk down that lonesome road all by yourself.
Don’t turn your head back over your shoulder.
And only stop to rest yourself when the silver moon is shining high above the trees.
If I had stopped to listen once or twice,
If I had closed my mouth and opened my eyes,
If I had cooled my head and warmed my heart,
I’d not be on this road tonight.
Carry on… carry on…
Never run feeling sorry for yourself.
It doesn’t save you from your troubled mind.
Walk down that lonesome road all by yourself.
Don’t turn your head back over your shoulder.
And only stop to rest yourself when the silver moon is shining high above the trees.”
They are walking… I’m driving to meet them… down my own lonesome road…
2015 and I’m In Ireland again…and it’s like visiting an old friend. You can pick up just where you left off with no judgment, just great joy in being together again. Yet, there are all those new conversations and experiences to be embraced, bringing an added depth to the joy.
Gil and I are on the “holiday” part of our month long stay. And speaking of new experiences, we have set off to explore Northern Ireland, in and around Belfast. We’ve walked through part of the ancient forest of Tollymore, wandered around the ruins of Inch Abbey where the ravens swirled above our heads, found a standing stone out in the fields around Audley’s Castle Ward, and enjoyed a fine supper at The Barking Dog.
In the Tollymore Forest, we walked among the trees along a sparkling, cascading stream. Gil mentioned the “baritone” singing of the stream and I began to listen with more imagination. I could hear the sopranos, altos and tenors where the water was running of the rocks in the shallow places. Then we came to a spot where the water fell into a deep pool… ah, there was the bass voice bringing a new rhythm and sound. Here was a rich place for listening. I wonder how many times I’ve missed the voices in my hurrying and “thinking” listening? May I remember to take time to listen with my imagination.
We spent the next day traveling by train to the Giant’s Causeway… a “geological wonder steeped in legend and folklore.” I dressed for rain and the chilling wind of the sea. The sun was shining almost all day so my rain jacket was tied around my waist and a ball hat was purchased to shade my face! We walked along the top of the cliffs with the sea and the lava formations of Mother Earth on one side and the rolling, 40-shades of green fields and farmhouses on the other. Every step brought a new stunning view of the magnificient Creator’s work of shaping and transforming the molten lava into gorgeous beauty for us to behold. I was vividly reminded how we must actively work to cherish Mother Earth and her gifts to us.
My pilgrimage continues… with the intention “to see and be seen.” One of my spiritual companions has given me some words to carry with me… “You don’t have to be good. You don’t have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves…” from Mary Oliver’s The Wild Geese.
Always we begin again…. loving…
Two years ago I traveled across Ireland via car as Gil's "support team" for his pilgrimage walk. Today, I reread my journal entries from that journey with new eyes having completed my walking pilgrimage. I had intended to read and reflect on those entries before I came but good intentions were not acted upon. Maybe that was a good thing and now is the perfect time? I wonder how I can continue to be more at peace with not completing the "to do list" and just be in the moment.
My reflections from two years ago were filled with anxiety, heartburn, paralyzing fear, and lots of prayers for HELP! My "want to" was strong to be Gil's helpmate so he could freely walk to fulfill his dream. I honestly find deep satisfaction and good feelings from caregiving and making sure others have what they need. I've been told problem solving is one of my strengths. But I was struggling.. big time!
Before this adventure began, I read Sue Monk Kidd's book, When the Heart Waits. She shares her struggle to find herself in the midst of her life. She describes how on a walk as she sat under a tree she saw a cocoon. She considered it a gift for her and carefully took it home to watch. This cocoon became an inspiration to her reflections and story.
And her story became my inspiration to give myself permission to "cocoon" whenever I felt the need on this journey. As a matter of fact, I named our little rental car, Cocoon. She and I had many lengthy conversations. While Gil conversed with the ravens, I was talking with my car. I did have to apologize quite a bit at the beginning for "scuffing" up her left side hubcabs. Good news, I never clipped her side mirrors. She was a faithful Cocoon and we had lots of road adventures together with no car trouble ever.
My plans to sightsee and shop and explore changed to quiet times of gathering myself after Gil set out, send a daily email to family, post Gil's blog, restock for our needs, stay 3 days ahead in bookings for our evening stay, check out local restaurants to get Gil a hearty vegetarian dinner, and always have a bottle of red wine ready. Traveling to the next "rest stop" at times had many challenges for me because we were truly on a journey of the road less traveled, which included many stops at farm houses, petrol stations, grocery stores, one grandmother at a Catholic Church who drew me a map on the back of her Lotto ticket, and even a fire brigade captain at a blocked road I need to travel down.
As my journey continued, I think I made friends with my demon, Fear. Oh, he was always there but somehow I learned how to get him into the back seat rather than in my lap. And a bit of fear is not always a bad thing. I paid attention better, sorted my thoughts and feelings more honestly, let go and began moving, and asked for help, frequently.
When the final day of Gil's walk came, it would be the longest day ever for him and me. I felt a new calm. And it wasn't because it was the last day because there were many perils still ahead on this walk. I did a few tasks that needed to be done and then just waited. I wanted to sit quietly, in silence... holding space to be still, and know the great I am. It was so peaceful.
On the Wicklow Way walk this year, my friend, Fear was very subdued. The anxiety I felt was more about "let's get started!" And everyday I saw butterflies.... lots of butterflies, flitting around me, ahead of me, encouraging me to spread my wings and fly. Everyday, over and over, the Divine was showing me to begin again... open up... let go some more... and all will be well.
Sitting and walking in silence has created open space in my soul... I wonder where these new wings will take me now? Pilgrimage as a way of life.... thanks be to God.
On Maundy Thursday this year, my beloved husband washed my feet. His gentle touch, the cool water spilling over, the comfort of a dry towel softly caressing, and then his prayer of anointment on each foot. He lifted his head to gaze into my eyes with a slow, sweet smile and said, "Just one step at a time.
Tears welled up in my eyes as my soul filled with peaceful hope that my desire to walk the Wicklow Way would be possible even with the many doubts, worries, and physical obstacles arising with the many "steps" to get ready.
Little did I know how immensely more powerful those Maundy Thursday words would be on the walk. Miles and miles and miles of steps...up and down steep rocky mountain trails, along narrow paths across hilltop ridges, on grassy tracks through the dark forests, through open fields with old wooden steps to cross the fences, and even walking asphalt roads to arrive at the next destination.
Little did I know how deeply exhausted my feet and body would be at the end of each day along with the amazing memories of absolutely breathtaking scenery. Every grueling up, up, up, up was met with a view to take your breath away...God's creation in such magnificent glory. Every down, down, down led into lush Irish valleys with gurgling streams. Just one step at a time to drink in every glorious moment and fill my soul while pushing my physical and mental stamina beyond my imagination.
Little did I know somewhere along the way of the next to last day, my right knee would begin screaming at me...with every step. Every step needed focus on where and how to place my foot, how to use my walking sticks, how to adjust my body, and most importantly how to not give up. Little did I know how inspiring and encouraging and helpful my fellow walking pilgrims would be. They were the ones who gave me the strength and courage to keep taking, just one step at a time.
Little did I know that when I awoke on the last day, I could hardly stand yet alone walk. So close to the finish...only one more day of the walk...but, how can I possibly do this for 14 miles? Just one step at a time... there's no hurry... there's no "right way" to do this... there's immense help from Gil and Alicia and Phil... and if I really can't, there's no judgment.
So I began the last day of the Wicklow Way walk from Shillelagh to Clonegal... just one step at a time. And what I saw and thought about and felt will resonate in my soul forever....ah, the work of transformation... just one step at a time.
Still walking... Cathy
Walking the Wicklow Way is my teacher. Here are some lessons She is offering to me. Now I have the choice to learn or not....
• Wherever you go, there you are. How can I be distracted from my pilgrimage when I'm hiking up, up, up, and down, down, down for miles and miles and miles? For 4 days now? I find myself worrying about others on the walk with me... worrying that they are ok... worrying that I'm not doing what is expected... worrying about what others think about me.... and yet, they are very much into their own walk and their own "taking care of themselves." Why do I feel the need to make sure everyone is okay and happy? Ah, my demons of perfectionism and "is everyone happy?" are alive and well even in the extraordinary landscapes and most amazing companions who are walking their pilgrimage without my "help."
• There is such great joy in saying, "I've seen a photo of this view" and now I'm standing there. And yes, there is always a photo taken of me standing there. My beloved has walked the Wicklow Way 2 times before (hence the photos). Even in my imagination there was never a thought that I could do this. Until last year when I asked Gil what he wanted for his 60th birthday and he said, "To go to Ireland." Then the Divine opened my mind to think, "I wonder if I could walk the Wicklow Way with Gil?" Ah, the Divine is always there, ready to open our minds and hearts to our imagination.... I wonder what else I can imagine?
• My beloved daughter and her loving husband are walking the Way with us. There have been such easy, soulful, much time for conversation or just silence as we walk together. This presence together may be the most precious gift of the Wicklow Way. Hey, I've learned a new card game, 31 which is always bring back these memories of being together. I wonder how I will create space for such soulful interactions with others, especially with my family?
• Ah, there is so much more to hear, to experience, to let go of, to open myself to... to just be. Wicklow Way, I embrace your teaching... I want to be a learner open to the Divine and her holy work of transformation. I wonder what will be next?
Wondering during the wandering... Cathy
Today I did something I have never done. I walked 16 miles from Dublin's Marlay Park to Knockree Valley, up and down the Wicklow Mountains. Somewhere during this extraordinary walk, I thought of Annie Lamont's book about prayer, Help, Thanks, Wow! It was a day of prayer beginning with "Help me as I walk today... may I keep remembering it's just one step at time." Then as that first climb out of Marlay Park seemed endless, with heavy breathing, "Help me" was all I could think since I didn't have any breath for anything more.
And then, I came out on the top of this long haul and had a stunning view of Dublin and the Bay. WOW! It was very easy to pray, "Thanks."
As the day continued, it became the rhythm of my walk... Help, Thanks, Wow! not necessarily in that order. Trust me the Wows! were numerous followed by a deep soulful Thanks.
Maybe I need to walk everyday in this way... totally present to when I need help and asking for it, mindful of the wows as help is provided, and deeply grateful the Divine is always moving in me, before me, behind me, and all around me.
On the way... Cathy