Sounds of Iona – September 2023

Two women walk the pilgrimage for peace along a single track road

In September’s Sounds of Iona, Ruth joins the pilgrimage for peace

It was a drizzly, dreich day when Nick and I set out from Taynuilt with our dog Luna, to meet Carolyn and Pace. Director of Place for Hope, committed to peace and the work of faith-based reconciliation, Carolyn with her beautiful retriever Pace, was walking the route of Aidan backwards, from Lindisfarne to Iona. Many others had joined them at various stages on the way. We joined them for 3 hours on their last day on mainland Scotland before they completed their final few miles across Mull, to Iona. 

Aidan, who died in 651, was a missionary from Ireland first based at the monastery of Columba on Iona. Largely credited with bringing peace to the northeast of England, Aidan was sent to Lindisfarne by Columba to help settle the Christian mission in that part of the country. His core technique, it seems, was gentle conversation with local folks in their homes – coming alongside ordinary people, listening to their cares and concerns, and talking with them about hope, faith and the spiritual journey. 

Carolyn has taken this vision of peace through companionship on her present-day pilgrimage. While we were in a wee shop looking for ice cream (essential pilgrim victuals) Carolyn struck up a conversation about the pilgrimage for peace and discovered a local connection with Lindisfarne. The lightness of touch in these conversations belies the profundity of the issues that Carolyn and others are exploring: How do we work together for peace in a war-torn world? What does it mean to step as a pilgrim onto land and amongst people who hold stories we will only be able to glimpse? What are the gospel imperatives that guide our steps on this journey? 

On one of the many train journeys to meet with Carolyn, I read parts of ‘Walk in a Relaxed Manner’ by Joyce Rupp. She articulates 25 life lessons from her walking of the Camino – the pilgrim route to Santiago across northern Spain. Just two of these lessons strike me as particularly relevant for our pilgrimages, our holy travelling today as members of the Iona Community.  

Rupp’s first life lesson is ‘Allow the Historical Route to Empower You’. She talks of the millions of feet from other lands and cultures that have previously walked on the pilgrim route, inviting us to remember that we do not own the land any more than those people who have gone before us do. In the words of our Common Concern Network for the Environment, we are ‘called to ecological conversion.’ By this they mean ‘kinship as a part of Earth, in a communion of all people, all life and all Creation’. This kinship is more than stewardship – it is a deep, radical, transformative relationship with all of life on this land, ensuring that ‘life in all fullness and abundance’ (John 10:10) continues to flourish. We do this work of ecological conversion best when we walk on the land together in the company of saints and sinners present and past. 

The second life lesson that resonated with me from Rupp’s reflections was her invitation to ‘Live in the Now’. I asked Carolyn when I met her on the Taynuilt road about her most memorable moments so far. She answered as Rupp does here – that there’s a distinct sense of living in the now such that locations and waymarks of yesterday fade from memory fairly swiftly. This of course is a rich life lesson. Ours is a faith of the here and now – where the kairos and chronos times meet in sweet harmony and we glimpse a notion of the hope of what’s ahead in the very present reality in our midst. 

As she nears the end of this pilgrimage, I wish Carolyn and her companions many blessings on the road ahead, much trust in the pilgrims who have travelled the roads before, and all the courage she and we all may need to live in the present for the sake of our shared future. 


Photo credit: N Austin

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