For me, the essence of pilgrimage is struggle; it may be internal or external — or some combination thereof — but there is some difficulty undertaken.
Even with modern conveniences of travel, the journey to Iona is a lengthy one. From Glasgow, it is three hours by occasional train up to Oban. Then an hour by large ferry across to the Isle of Mull, an hour by bus across Mull, and ten minutes by small ferry over to Iona. From the ferry landing it is a quarter mile walk up to our hotel (St. Columba). I am chilled to the bone — with temperatures in the mid-40’s and winds above 25 mph — and the warmth of the hotel is immensely comforting.
Our group of pilgrims on retreat assembles: out of 26, there are 3 Canadians, 1 Australian, 1 Brit, and the rest Americans. North Carolina is well represented, as is the Pacific Northwest, but there are others also. Several are making repeat visits.
We gather and commence introductions: who, whence, why. I struggle with formulating a response to why? Others offer responses that have some resonance for me but don’t quite touch the center. Finally I settle on, “Needing to learn how to listen to the Sacred.” Then we conclude the day with Evening Prayer, incorporating this chant, and I am pierced.
Let me hear, let me hear
The words that You speak
When I turn to you in my heart