Note: This is the fourth in a series of eight reflections over the season of Easter on the practice of resurrection.
In the gospel reading for this fourth Sunday of Easter, Jesus offers us the image of the good shepherd and the invitation to follow. Living in Ireland, flocks of sheep are very much a part of the landscape and integral to the farming economy. The “good shepherd” is described as the one who cares deeply for the flock, who is personally invested in the thriving of each and every one. The shepherd is the one who guides to safe pastures.
In the tradition of Celtic monasticism, a very unique practice of pilgrimage arose called peregrinatio. The Irish monks would set sail in a small boat called a coracle, without oar or rudder, and let the winds and current of divine love carry them to the “place of their resurrection.” The river or sea would bring them to a place of rest that they had not chosen themselves. The impulse for the journey was always love. It was a practice of profound trust in the One who guides and shepherds us to the place of new life.
This metaphor for journeying was a powerful one that shaped much of their vision of the way of the Christian spiritual life. Peregrinatio was the call to wander for the love of God. It is a word without precise definition in English and is a very particular kind of pilgrimage rooted in a willingness to yield to holy direction. This wandering was an invitation into letting go of our own agendas and discovering where God was leading.
In this profound practice, God becomes both destination and way, companion and guiding force. God is in the call to the journey, unfolding of the journey, and greets us at the end of the journey.
In 2012, my husband John and I felt a call to a life pilgrimage and sold everything we owned to follow the currents of the Spirit’s guiding. We first spent six months in Vienna, Austria, a place of personal ancestral significance, then close to a month in the little village of Kinvara on the west coast of Ireland. Ultimately our coracle carried us to the city of Galway where we have lived for more than three years now and are finding resurrection in our midst. When people ask why we moved to Ireland, and Galway in particular, all we can say is that we had a sense that Ireland was inviting us to dwell in her landscape without fully knowing why. At the time it felt like a surprise shift in our direction, but I can look back and see clearly the movement of the Spirit at work calling us to a place where our souls and our work could be nourished in ways I couldn’t have imagined. This is why the first impulse is always love. At the time it felt like another great journey of trust and yielding to the currents carrying us forward. Now that we have rooted ourselves in Galway, we feel something very powerful at work that we continue to discover unfolding.
One of my favorite lines of poetry comes from Antonia Machado: “wanderer, there is no road / the way is made by walking.” The scriptures speak of a “way,” but it is not the path of our expectations. It is not the ten-step plan for inner peace. Instead this way calls us to a deeper and more radical trust and to realize that the way is made by walking. Each step is shaped by listening to how the divine presence calls us forward, the direction we take, the choices we make, by how much control we are willing to yield.
Barbara Brown Taylor has a wonderful chapter in her book An Altar in the World about “getting lost.” What would it mean to wander and allow yourself to feel the vulnerability of being a bit lost or disoriented? What new awareness might break in from this softened place? What might happen if we began each day of our pilgrimage with a meditation: while lying in bed in the morning before rising, imagine each part of your body softening, releasing into the currents of the seas or floating on the wind. Then soften your will and see what images rise up from this place. What is the holy direction you feel rise up in you?
The Celts also had a profound practice of blessing each moment. Journeys had their own prayers and blessings. Bless the earth beneath my foot, bless the path I travel, and bless the holy desire that carries me forward. Bless that which I have my heart set on in love and hope, bless the Source of these sacred longings.
Allow your practice of resurrection to continue to unfold. Let creativity be the practice that carries you on the currents of divine love. Let the one who shepherds us guide you.
Photo © Christine Valters Paintner