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?

 

 

Better than a Pen Pal

One of my favorite classes in elementary school was geography, especially in Miss Harrington’s fourth grade.  I loved how we learned about the lives of people in faraway places.  Back in that day, we would say they lived ‘overseas’ and that seemed like an insurmountable distance.  The only people in my family that had traveled that far were the men in the military.  For me, the closest thing to going there would be having a pen pal—something I read about in My Weekly Reader, our individual newspapers that we received on Fridays.

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Back then, our class didn’t pursue a pen pal relationship with a classroom in another country—like the French students did at McDougle Middle School where I was the nurse.  While the idea fascinated me when I was a girl, my interest wasn’t keen enough to pursue that on my own.  The closest I came was making Christmas cookies with my Girl Scout Troop and sending them to soldiers serving in Vietnam.  Months later, I was so excited when we received thank you letters.  How special to see that envelope with the unusual stamp and my name in the soldier’s handwriting.

Today the world’s very different with how we’re surrounded by people of so many nationalities.  While they bring the world to us, there’s still something about having a friendship by correspondence with someone living far away.  Perhaps it’s that feeling from childhood, the sense of mystery in wondering what their community is like, how their daily routine is in that foreign place.

Last September, I spent a week at the Abbey in Iona, Scotland with forty-one people from around the world.  We all went there to learn from our leader, Alistair McIntosh, about The Pilgrimage of Life.  Because we came as fellow sojourners with the common need to explore our life journey, we quickly formed a bond.  Recently the email list was sent to all the participants.  There were folks that I’d enjoyed time with but had failed to get their address.  I sent them a message and now think of it as sending a letter to a pen pal that I never had as a girl.  With my electronic letters, I didn’t have to wait for weeks for a response.  Instead, I had notes back within forty-eight hours.

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Meeting room at the Abbey

One of my messages went to Jenny and John, a lovely couple from Australia.  How nice that Jenny responded with a newsy email about recent visits with family and friends and her work as a minister in the Presbytery.  It was as if we were sitting at one of the tables sipping tea and eating oatcakes, as our group did each night in the Refectory.  I could feel her warm presence and hear her lovely Aussie accent.

And then there was the message to Aldo in Holland.  He was the one who’d called my Southern accent “weird”  (See post, Southern Drawl, Oct. 11, ’17).  He had such a thirst for understanding and was so open to discovery through the process of that week.  It was refreshing to see an adult who had that kind of energy for faith– given how worn down we can be by the time we reach mid-life.  What a gracious response he had to my email and blog post.  How exciting to hear of his plans for a future journey.

The urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com) defines a Pen Pal as, “A species of human made nearly extinct by the advent of electronic mail, penpals communicate via the ancient art of Penmanship.” Ouch! Makes me feel ancient!

Maybe I’ll create a hybrid form of pen pals by emailing Jenny and Aldo and asking them to write me back.  Then I can enjoy that ancient art of penmanship, excited by their unique handwriting on those envelopes with the foreign stamps waiting for me in my mailbox.

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Our group taking a pilgrimage across Iona to important landmarks

How About You?

Have you ever had a Pen Pal?

What was that experience like for you?

Are there people you connect with through email or social media from other countries?  How does that impact your life?  How do you think it impacts theirs?