We gather. Forty-one of us from around the world, pilgrims to Iona, Scotland. We share stories of our lives, in one-to-one conversations across the table, in our dorm rooms as we prepare for the day, in dyads during morning sessions. How interesting what has brought each person to this place– all unique yet with the common thread of seeking.
We share our life together in our work through our chore assignments. I’m in the Seal group and we ‘lay up’ the dinner meal. I tell the others that where I’m from a lay up is one way to make a basketball shot. At the Abbey it means setting the table– a long wood rectangular table with wood benches on either side and chairs at each end. A seal sits in each chair and serves all the guests and then cleans off the plates. The refectory hall where we eat is quite noisy with all the chatter of people making new friends. Afterwards, we share in handwashing all the dishes. I know my family and friends will laugh at me doing this job, which I’m known for hating.
Actually, the task isn’t so bad. We all work until the job is done and the young volunteer from Uganda often sings. She has a quick and beautiful smile and will be leaving soon to return to her country to get married. She told me my turquoise scarf is the color of her wedding dress that the women back home are making for her.
The food has been excellent– except for the porridge. If I were home, my oatmeal would be much tastier with lots of cinnamon, walnuts, and dried cranberries. Each day we have soup at lunch with homemade bread, jams, peanut butter, fruits and vegetables with hummus. We have meat every-other-day. It’s so different eating meals in a community compared to eating alone or with just my husband. Sometimes I prefer the chatter, and other times I’d like to have the quiet.
I feel an affinity for this group– all with an appreciation for being open to how God is showing us our path. Our speaker, Alistair McIntosh is originally from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. He brings the history of Celtic Spirituality to life with his dramatic voice and his long laugh. I’d read his book, Poacher’s Pilgrimage, before I left on my trip and now I can hear his voice reading it.
Yesterday, many of us took a six-hour hike to the significant historic sites from the days of St. Columba. The wind is a constant force here– some days more fierce than others, and on our hike it was at about 30 miles an hour when we climbed to the highest point. The view was stunning looking out over the rocky outcroppings, to the machair or common grazing land that goes down to the edge of the water, the Atlantic stretching out below. I touched the water and imagined all the times I’ve experienced that same water on the Carolina shore.
I’ve tried to stay with my intention to be present, to absorb what’s around me, and to be open to this experience. As I stood on top of that high point yesterday, I was struck by the vastness of the world before me, both the physical space of the wide Atlantic and the relationships I’m building with my fellow residents– from Holland, Austrailia, New Zealand, Latvia, Idaho, Minnesota, England, Scotland, Canada, Mexico, and Wales.
How beautiful it is, to hear all their voices, their accents as we sing the simple songs of faith in our worship in the ancient stone chapel. I feel deeply blessed to be one of the gathered in this special place.
(Please excuse this rushed post. Pictures aren’t loading but you can see them on my Author Facebook page at Saved by Sedona–thanks so much! Connie p.s. must rush back to the Abbey to ‘lay out’ dinner!)