You Are Enough

That Saturday morning a year ago, I stood waiting for the ferry that would take me across the sound to the island of Iona for my week’s stay at the Abbey. I’d dreamed of going to Scotland to that historic pilgrimage site and it was becoming a reality. When the ferry workers were preparing for our group of passengers, a wave of anxiety hit me, and the critical voice of doubt said, “Who are you to be going to Iona?”

Won’t the other participants be more worldly, more theologically trained, veterans of international pilgrimages? Won’t you sound less educated, less cultured, less sophisticated with yout Southern, small-town roots?

The ferry workers motioned for us to cross over the ramp and I took a deep breath and stepped forward. As I did, the still small voice of God came to me and said, “You are my child. That is enough.” I felt a bit of relief and assured that I was following where God had led me.

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Iona Abbey Cloisters

That afternoon, we gathered in the Refectory– the group dining hall and met for the first time over tea and oat cakes. We learned about our housekeeping responsibilities, meal duties, and our dorm assignment. I shared a room with women from England, Canada, and Minnesota. We ranged in age from late twenties to late sixties and enjoyed conversations about what we were seeking that week.

When we met for our first session in the large group, there were a number who were pastors and seminary trained. But more of the group were folks like me; seekers wanting to be in fellowship with an international community of faith, all of us focusing on the Pilgrimage of Life, our theme for the week.

It was interesting to hear the forty-one participants share with cultural perspecitives and accents from Latvia, Germay, Holland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United Kingdom, and the U.S. I’d wondered what it would be like to be part of that community. It felt like going on a church retreat with people whom you didn’t know before gathering, but yet you knew because you all shared a spiritual connection.

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The Sanctuary of the Abbey where we had worship on Sunday and each evening

I never felt the need for an escape route that week. We were allowed time on our own in the afternoons to explore the island. I chose to be by myself because the demands of the group interaction, while stimulating, were also draining. Some of the more extroverted folks would go out in groups, but there was no pressure to do anything other than what felt right for you.

One of my concerns had been how I would fit in. I had set an intention, like I’ve done on other pilgrimages, to be present, to absorb all that was going on around me. I knew Iona was a rich place and I wanted every benefit. One of the things we did as a group was to take a day walking the island and visiting the historic spots. At each place we stopped, our leader did a reading and then there was time for meditation. The most meaningful one for me was stopping at the shoreline of the bay and throwing in a rock that represented something we wanted to leave behind.

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St. Columba’s Bay

I tossed in a big rock that represented my pride, my fear of trying new things because I could make errors and look foolish. Flinging that rock out into the water, I vowed to just follow God’s lead and let go of my self-consciousness. Releasing that burden allowed me to relax and be myself during the week at Iona.

I did fit in, because I, like the other participants, was enough, and felt at home in that body of believers.

Toward the end of that walk across the island, we hiked to the highest point where we could see the sound and the Atlantic sides. In the sweeping view of that remote island, I felt my breath catch as I realized God had opened up my life, the wider space that had been provided through my pilgrimage to Iona.

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That Friday morning when our week together ended, a group of us walked to the ferry dock in the dark, with rain blowing sideways. We held our arms out to the sides to keep our balance while we made our way across the slippery landing. I remembered my fear when I’d boarded the ferry the previous Saturday, the doubt that attacked me.

Yes, I am enough, I thought, and made my way onto the ferry. And I am grateful for all the  richness of this past week with my new friends of faith from around the world.

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How about you?

Do you have times when you feel that you’re not enough?

How do you handle those feelings?

How do you move beyond that voice of doubt?

 

 

Free to Be Me

During the week in which we celebrated our country’s independence, our freedom, I think about what it means to be free as an individual– not to say and do things that hurt others, but to be my unique self. It seems that much of my ability to just be me has been limited by my self-consciousness, my over concern with how I appear to others. I’ve lived with too much fear of ‘doing things wrong,’ as if there is some standard of doing things right that I’m being judged by.

Now, at 63 years old, I’m learning to let go of those things that have bound me. In my part-time position as a research nurse, I’m working with a group of staff who are mostly forty-and-under, employment counselors, none of them nurses. They have a much more relaxed view of work than what I’ve been accustomed to as a professional nurse for the last forty years. There  are some things they can learn from me, but overall, I think now we live in a different time and I need to change to adapt to my new working environment. I can learn from these ‘young people’ who would probably tell me to, “lighten up.”

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Even in the writing community, through speakers at conferences and on podcasts, their sage advice is to remember, “It’s not about you. It’s about your readers.” At first I thought, “What? I’m doing all the work of getting things onto the page. It’s not about me, my story?” But later, as I considered myself as a reader, when I’m engrossed in a good book, I’m applying my perception to that story, my interpretation of everything I read is through the lens of my life, not the author’s. I also consider that if I keep this in mind, I can let go of some of my worry with writing the perfect post or chapter. Instead, with each time I sit at my computer, I can think of you and before I start writing I pray that through the muse that God’s given me, I’ll construct something that will speak to you. It helps me to be free of the burden of outcomes.

This morning when I walked, it was cool and raining and reminded me of my solo journey last September to Iona, Scotland. There I lived in a faith community at the Abbey for a week. The night before I was to check in, I stayed at a B & B across the sound from Iona. That Saturday morning, watching the ferry approach, I was suddenly gripped by fear, by not feeling ‘good enough.’  I said to myself, “Who am I to go to this international pilgrimage site?” Surely those I’d join would be more theologically educated, more international, more of something. I thought of my small-town-roots, my Southern accent, my tendency to hang back, my fear of the spotlight being thrust on me.

As the ferry workers motioned for us to approach the boat, the answer came, what felt like God’s still small voice speaking to me.

You are my child and that is enough.”

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I walked forward, feeling awkward but assured that I was at the place I should be.  Throughout that week, with seekers from all over the world, I continued to feel assured, through my interactions with individuals and in our group discussions, that I was where I should be.

On Tuesday during our group pilgrimage across the island, we stopped at the bay and threw a rock into the water to symbolize what we were leaving behind. Now that I reread that post from Dec. 31, I see that it was a step in letting go to be free, that I’m revisiting at the half-way point of this year. It is a process. After that rock was flung into the bay, I was interviewed on camera that was a first step of letting go of what others’ thought of me.

 

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Pilgrimage across Iona to the most noted sites

When I go back to my pictures of that journey, I see a video that I made while riding on the ferry from Oban to the Inner Hebrides. I’d planned to do videoblogs through the trip, but partly due to time and being in a new place, and perhaps due to my discomfort, I never posted them.

Now, as an act of being free, able to let go of my hesitation and concerns, I’ll share a video on my Author Facebook Page– Saved by Sedona since I haven’t learned to embed videos on WordPress. The video reminds me of that excitement of anticipation, wondering what lay ahead during my week at the Abbey.

It reminds me that I am Free to Be Me.

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The Tall Cross of Iona, See post “Packing Grandma for Pilgrimage” Aug. 27, 2017

Post for Dec. 31, 2017  “The Things We Leave Behind” located at

https://wordpress.com/post/connierosserriddle.wordpress.com/4444

How About You?

What do you need to let go of in order to be Free to be You?

What step can you take to move forward in that process?

Then Sings My Soul

I lost myself in our conversation, feeling it was more important to be present in that moment than to be on time for the service.  When I finally pushed open the Iona chapel door, I heard the piano playing, the congregants singing a song that was familiar from another place.  Tears splashed my eyes as I settled into the row and reached for a hymnal.  The last time I heard, How Great Thou Art, was in Asbury Methodist Church in rural Chatham county at the funeral of my mother-in-law.

That song had a strong history in my husband, David’s family.  I knew when he was young he’d play their piano for his father, “D.B.” to sing his favorite, How Great Thou Art, in his bass voice.  We knew he’d want that song at his funeral and so it was sung by a woman from their congregation.  Years later, when my mother-in-law, Mary Dell’s health was failing, she interrupted a lunch conversation and announced, “When I have mine, I want a man to sing.”   We realized she’d been planning her funeral.  Had she disliked the woman’s voice that sung at D.B.’s?  Maybe she just associated that song with the memory of his deep voice.  We honored her request, as a young man sang on that chilly March day in the intimacy of the small brick church in central North Carolina.

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Now, hearing that song played by a young Iona volunteer from Germany, sung by an international congregation, in the amazing acoustics of the stone chapel, I listen to the words as if they are a new discovery.  I have felt God’s greatness in the way my pilgrimage to Iona has unfolded; the desire to see the Hebrides, planted seven-years-ago by a Scottish man in Martha’s Vineyard; learning about Iona through my Duke Chapel presentation on making travel sacred; gifts of time and money for my trip when I retired from school nursing.  There had been ‘signs’ along the way that I should go to that last week for the year at the Abbey, the one with the theme that spoke to my heart, “The Pilgrimage of Life.”

I had seen more of the “worlds Thy hands have made” in my journey to Iona by way of Paris and London and Edinburgh, up into the Scottish Highlands, and on to that windswept island of Iona.  We talked about Cosmic God in our sessions and the expanse of God that is beyond words and our human understanding.  I’d experienced the worlds of my new friends at Iona, their lives and the way God was moving in them.  Singing that song in such a historic and sacred place, made me feel both tiny in the midst of such grandeur and deeply loved by the Creator.

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I’d felt led by the ‘still small voice of God’ to be myself, to be present so I could absorb everything, and to be patient with my week of living in a community.  By letting go of my fears, my self-consciousness, I was available to receive the blessings of Iona.  When we sang the chorus, “Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee,” I felt my soul was free.

Looking up to the light beaming through the windows of the chapel, thinking of the island vistas of sheep grazing and the white caps of Iona sound, feeling the ever-present wind on my face, my soul did sing.  It was a song of gratitude and praise that God had brought me to this place.  It’s the same song that echoes over the years at Asbury Church in the voices of our ancestors.

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What about You?

Have you found ways to let go so your soul can sing?

What are the words of your song?

What message have you received from the ‘still small voice of God’ that helps in letting go?

Some of Our People

The last time I took Mama to see her brother, we passed a car pulled over by a state trooper, blue lights flashing.  Mama focused on the loaded down Honda with the officer talking to the driver.   “I hope that’s none of our people in that kind of trouble,” she said.  Our people could have been any of a gazillion cousins in Harnett County.

Mama is like her mother, my Grandma Smith, and has always been very close to her large family and their extended family.  When I was planning my pilgrimage to Iona, I researched my grandmother’s maiden name, Gilchrist.  Not only had I found that it meant servant of Christ (see post, Packing Grandma for Pilgrimage), I learned that name was special to Iona.

Iona possesses the remains of five ancient High Crosses.  Only one, St Martin’s Cross that’s stood for over a thousand years, is complete and in its original site.  According to an internet reference on the Gilchrist surname, there was an inscription on that cross that read, “A prayer for Gilchrist who made this cross.”

Last January when I read that, I was amazed and saw it as another sign that I should journey to Iona.  When I was there, I had my picture taken holding Grandma to the cross that could have been made by our ancestor.

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She would have been pleased by the craftsmanship of the carving; in the center, the Virgin and Child; on the shaft, several Old Testament scenes; the east face, ornamental with prominent jewel-like bosses.  I assume that if there was an inscription about Gilchrist, it had worn off over the years.  I was disappointed.  In my mind’s eye, I’d seen it clearly carved across the base of the cross, but on close examination, there was no such inscription.

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I think about my question of how I would pay tribute to Grandma while I was at Iona.  I remember how she listened and her thoughtful responses.  I hope I did that with my community that week at the Abbey.  One woman that I had some deep conversations with was from Scotland.  She looked like some of Mama’s people—with red hair and fair skin.  She was very friendly and talkative.  I felt like I was at one of Mama’s family reunions, talking with one of her Gilchrist cousins.

During our worship services in the drafty stone chapel, I looked at the windows and thought about all the people who’d journeyed to Iona over the centuries.  Would one of my ancestors have traveled to Iona, set out on a pilgrimage like Grandma wanted to take to the Holy Land?  Probably not, I thought.  They would have likely been crofters or artisans and like Grandma’s farm-girl roots, could’t take time away from the daily chores of life.

Setting out, I didn’t know how I would experience the ‘thin veil’ of Iona, where heaven and earth are close together, a mystical place of pre-Christian fairies and Christian angels.  I didn’t have any mystical experience but rather a strong sense of belonging, of being on the right spiritual path for me in a place that felt like home.

I hope I paid tribute to Grandma by listening to others as she listened to me, that I posed questions in our deep conversations that helped to get at truth.  I believe I took Grandma with me to Iona.  We returned to our homeland and reconnected with ‘some of our people’ on that Scottish isle in a place deeply rooted in faith.

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What about you?

Have you been in a place that felt like you’d arrived home, a place that’s unfamiliar yet very familiar?

In what ways have you seen your ancestors in yourself?

At this point in your life, how would you like to honor your ancestors?