Submitted by Carol Kretschman, Oblate
This is the question we raised after our arrival at the Saint Columba Hotel on the Isle of Iona on September 16, 2023. We concurred that it wasn’t exactly like a retreat. And yet it was very similar. I remained perplexed. Then someone suggested that I read “The Art of Pilgrimage” by Phil Cousineau. He reminds the reader that the complete circle is the universal symbol for the soul – an image of wholeness – and the goal of the sacred journey is to become as whole again as possible. Our longing is the sign that there is a gap in the circle. Our life burns with the desire to complete the circuit with our journey.
I signed up for the pilgrimage to honor one of those milestone birthdays ending in zero. The journey to and from Iona was both stunningly picturesque and a bit arduous. Three hours by train from Glasgow to Oban, ferry to the Isle of Mull, bus ride across Mull and then another ferry to Iona. The hotel is about ¼ mile from the ferry and the Abbey is about ¼ mile from the hotel. The island itself is both stark and beautiful, prone to dramatic shifts in weather. One moment it is rainy, cold and windy, and the next minute the sun is out with rainbows. Wednesday is the day when a hike is scheduled around the island, about 9 miles. (Partial distance is a possibility) That day it was rainy with winds gusts up to 50 mph. The rhythm of the day began with meditation at 7:15 am in Michael Chapel at the Abbey, followed by breakfast at the hotel, a presentation at 10:00 am in the newly built community center. Supper was served at the hotel at 6:00 pm. Afternoons were free and lunch was on our own. “Travels become sacred by the depths of their contemplation.” Our daily schedule left room for contemplative practices and becoming familiar with the Abbey. That week, the community at the Abbey was studying the Israel/ Palestine situation.
An excerpt from my journal upon my return: I miss gathering with all of you in silence at the Michael Chapel. I miss being by the sea: looking at it, walking by it, and being in it. I miss getting to know all of you at meals and when we broke into small groups. I miss the rain on my face, walking across to the Larder for coffee and seeing the stars in the night sky. I miss sneaking over to the Abbey for the 9:00 pm prayer service. Most of all, I miss the adventure that we were all on.
John Philip Newell will be at Holy Wisdom Monastery this year from May 9-11, 2024, for the second part of the Great Search series, drawing on the wisdom of Carl Jung, Julian of Norwich, and Jellaludin Rumi. He leads pilgrimages on Iona four times per year. Cami Twilling, his assistant, accompanies a small group from Glasgow to Iona in September of each year.