In June, Cathy and I will be going to Ireland again for another pilgrimage. I will be walking with two groups. The first pilgrimage will be with Vox Peregrini 2017, a group of twelve professional singers who will be walking and singing their way along the 100 miles of the Wicklow Way. The second group includes people from our Wisdom School, St Peter’s, and a few other close friends. This group will walk three days of the Wicklow Way and then spend five days on a retreat led by Cathy and I that we call Sacred Cauldron.
We have walked the Wicklow Way and led these types of pilgrimages before. Our experience has taught us that a community forms rapidly among those who are walking the Wicklow Mountains. Walking fifteen miles a day for eight days through, sometimes rough terrain, leaves the pilgrims exposed and vulnerable. Exhausted and sometimes in pain, the best and the worst of us comes to the surface for everyone else to see.
Like all communities, the spectrum of each member’s involvement in the community is often dependent upon their maturity. Those who are more mature and experienced have a tendency to carry a heavier load of leadership. A few walk in the front, a few at the back, most in the middle. And while each person has to carry their own pack, everyone eventually will carry some spiritual and emotional weight for the entire group.
Walking together is Ireland is like walking in a mist of Celtic Spirituality that naturally fosters a form of community development. Celtic Spirituality is monastic by its very nature. It is built upon the idea that small groups can learn best how to pray, work and live together. These small groups share the central ideals; that God is present in all of creation; that Christ is the model of personal development; and that individuals are collectively responsible for the well-being of the community. Celtic Spirituality is a perfect blend of Franciscan, Benedictine, and Ignatian Spirituality.
Franciscan in its nature-centered theology. Benedictine in its hospitality-centered theology. And Ignatian in its imaginative-centered theology. By combining these three spiritualties, there seems to be a possibility for almost anyone to find their way in the Celtic community.
Of course, this method of community building comes from the teachings of the apostles found in Acts 2:42-47. In this text, we find five components upon which we can weave the web of the spiritual community. Together, the community will 1) study the scriptures, 2) fellowship, 3) worship and pray, 4) serve others, and 5) share their time, talent, and treasure with the group. Without all five of these connecting points holding the community together, it will eventually collapse in on itself.
Let’s take a closer look at these five connecting points of community development.
First, we must study the scriptures and other wisdom texts together. What that means from Anglican tradition is that the God is still speaking and reveling Godself to the community. We can learn to hear the Voice of God and discern what God is saying to the community when we study together. Without studying together, we can get lost.
On one of my pilgrimages across Ireland, we spent a lot of time in the rain. One of the worst rain and windstorms we encountered was crossing White Hill in the Wicklow Mountains. Everything we carried was drenched, including my map.
The following day was another hilly climb from Roundwood to Glendalough. We endured another day of steady Irish downpour. With a trashed map, the inevitable happened. We got lost and I was feeling very anxious.
We came across a couple sitting by the side of the road. They were having a cup of tea.
“Are you walking the Way?” I asked.
“Aye,” the man said.
“We are walking the Way as well, but I think we’re lost,” I told him.
“Where are you coming from?” he asked.
“Indeed, you’re going in the wrong direction,” he said, “Where’s your map laddie?”
I pulled out what was left of my map. It was a useless wad of soaked paper, an indistinguishable mess.
“That’s not a map laddie,” as he reached in his bag. “This is a map.” He produced a detailed topographical map sealed in zip lock bag. As a kind pilgrim, he proceeded to tell us that not only had we walked in the wrong direction, but that we had walked about two miles past the turnoff point to Glendalough. On his map, he showed us where we should have turned and what markers would guide us. We thanked him and started to walk back the way we had just come.
“Laddies, we’ll walk with you a bit,” he said.” just to make sure you don’t get lost again.” The couple walked the next two miles with us explaining, in detail, how to make our way to Glendalough. Studying the together is like walking together with a good map. At St Peter’s we have seven study groups going on right now. We study together to keep us from getting lost on our way.
Second, spending time in fellowship together is critical to the community’s spiritual growth. If we don’t eat together we won’t get to know each other. On our walking pilgrimages, we eat most of our meals together. This gives us time to talk about lives, our pains and our joys. In the same way, spiritual communities must make time to fellowship together. John Wiles, who founded Vox Peregrini, wrote a song about how the potluck dinner can be as powerful a sacrament as the Eucharistic meal. In many ways, I believe he is right.
Third, when we worship together, when we break the Holy Bread together, our souls will be woven together. We have different tastes in music. We all like one preacher better than another. We like a particular style of liturgy better than another. But the one singular thing that holds us together is the very Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving Feast. That is why, here at St Peter’s, we say that the Lord’s Table is open to everyone; no matter where you are on your spiritual pilgrimage, you are welcome to receive the Holy Meal, the Body and Blood of Christ.
Fourth, as a community, we must serve together—serve those in need, both in and outside our community. Not a week goes by when I don’t hear multiple stories about the ministry that is happening at St Peter’s—stories that bring tears of joy to our lives. Ministries abound in this community, for those in the community and those outside our doors. St Peter’s, I believe, is a model parish for other communities on how to serve.
And finally, in the Acts of the Apostles, we hear how everyone in the community contributed their time, talent, and treasure for the sake of others. We are called to faithful stewards of what has been bestowed upon us. There are countless ways in which all us can participate in this community. By volunteering our time, offering our skills, and yes being faithful in giving regularly to the complete ministry of the church. Giving of our time, talent, and treasure is a spiritual practice, a discipline. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, there is “cost” that accompanies “discipleship.” No one can tell us what that cost is, but we will know when God places that call on our heart to share of our time, talent, and treasure.
St Peter’s is a spiritual community that is on its own particular spiritual pilgrimage—one that will continue to develop our strength and resilience. The kind of journey that we are on, however, will require everyone to carry some of the load. It will take all of us working together: in our studies, our fellowship, our worship, our service, and our giving. When we work together to strengthen our community, we will see “wonders and signs” done in our midst.
When the Vox Peregrini 2015 finished its 100-mile walk, they were scheduled to perform two concerts. The first was at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. That concert went fine but the group seemed a bit off. I had listened to them sing for eight days and every time I was moved at the core in my being. Maybe that day they were just too exhausted to sing or I was too tired to listen. The next day they performed at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. That day the music was pristine, rich, and filled with emotion. I asked a few of the singers what made the difference between the two concerts. One person said it was because they had another day of rest.
Another person said they sounded different because John, the director, had told them to sing like they were standing in the forest, to match their voices to the sound of the wind blowing through the trees. One person said it was because he had stopped looking at the audience and instead looked at his fellow pilgrims; seeing them not dressed in their performance clothes but instead as they looked while hiking through the forest, weary and worn but at peace. He said when he saw them this way he was seeing their souls. He could sing to their souls.
Wonders and signs don’t happen in our community by accident. They happen when we are willing to walk together as a community, everyone carrying their own pack and supporting one another along the pilgrimage. And when we look at one another in our weary pain we be able to sing to the soul we see.