Three days, 40 miles, we were ready for a day of rest. So, what did we do? Walk ten miles journeying around the Glendalough area. Ah well, a stretch of the leg to shake out the soreness and good for the soul as well. Well, maybe.
We gathered in the ruins of St. Mary's chapel just outside the walls of the Glendalough monastery. The walls of the chapel were built a 1,000 years ago as a refuge for mother's whose babies had died, unbaptized. The church probably existed centuries before under a less permanent structure. Here, the story goes, women served as priests until the Celtic Christians finally yielded to the Roman Church authority. Today, we celebrated our service under the guidance of the women in our group. I could feel the joy of the spirits in the place as they celebrated with us. The communion of saints gathered around the ancient holy altar as we called upon the divine to be present.
Indeed, today was a day of rest for the body, the soul, and the group. Making a pilgrimage with 13 is obviously much different than making a pilgrimage alone. We must be mindful of each other's needs, those physical, emotional, and spiritual. I could make a sports analogy here and say that we are much like a team. While sports teams have the common goal of winning, conquering their opponent, we, however, are not trying to conquer the path, nor the mountains we walk over, nor to achieve some result. Our goal is to be present to the path, one with nature, and open to the spirit.
Group dynamics are at play when 13 people walk together, eat together, spend almost every waking, and in some cases every hour together. But, being on pilgrimage together is like standing around an altar in the ruins of 1,000 year old church that existed to serve the grief of the broken hearted. We share one bread of life because we nurture one another. We share one cup of transformation because we open hearts, our souls, to the experience of one another. We walk with the pain of one another. We listen to the woundedness of another. We pray for the hurts of one another. All the while, confident our own troubles are gently cared for by the love of our fellow pilgrims.
Don't get me wrong—we are not holding hands and singing kum-ba-yah—the rawness physical stress of the pilgrimage is a mirror of the struggles of daily life. But, I pray, that the pilgrimage is a learning laboratory for how we can better live together in community. Not just for the 13 in our group, but as we return into the world we can share what we have learned in how to live, work, and play with our families, friends, work colleagues, and church. But those are days ahead. Now we have to get to the Wicklow Way. Four more days. 50 more miles.