Today is the second day of our pilgrimage in Ireland. We woke up around 7:30 and had breakfast and did a morning prayer. We are staying at some form of a boarding house. The name is Sli an Chroi, which means the way of the heart or journey of the heart.
After morning prayer, we hit the bus and traveled to Glendalough. This is where St. Kevin built his monastery and lived. The drive is a little over an hour. At first we went into a museum to learn about the site a little more. There were other tourists from other parts of the world. There was also a German and Spanish group. This caused me to really reflect on how wide spread St. Kevin's outreach must have been.
After a short film and a museum visit we headed out to find our tour guide. He was running a tad bit late with the previous group so we had someone named Bridget guide us around beforehand. Bridget took us to a labyrinth. She told us a story of how when some people would take pilgrimages back in the past, just like St. Kevin, it would be dangerous to do so. So she said they would find ways to walk and try to find yourself spiritually through a pilgrimage. Then they could settle and sometimes build up their beliefs just like St. Kevin.
She told us to bend down and touch the ground, to feel the wind with our hands, and to feel the earth. She did this because she wanted us to know where we came from and to respect it. This was really resonating with us as a group.
Living as teenagers every day we never really take the time to stop and look at what is given to us. Every day we wait for miracles when we are given small ones all the time. We overlook them all the time when they are staring at us constantly. This exercise somewhat re-gifted these previous gifts God had given us since day one. We all had the opportunity to walk through the labyrinth. This was supposed to give us time to clear our heads and thoughts of any ideas besides our own journey that lies ahead.
Then Bridget took us to the entrance of Kevin's Monastic City. There we stopped where she pointed out a cross carved into the stone just inside the entrance. She told us how the city was a sanctuary for all people. She told us to lay our hands on the cross and ask for sanctuary from whatever it was that troubled us. This gave us time to bring up the ideas in our hearts that usually we keep hidden. This was one of the first steps to healing and accepting God fully.
I believe this is the first step for most of us pilgrims in accepting that we are not always alone that He is with us and He lives through us. That by driving away sadness and anger from our hearts is the only way we can open them to God. He is the only way we can drive this out. We look to Him to show us how and by praying He will answer us.
After the cross Father Michael came and joined us, and soon we were off to see other ruins of more stone churches around the monastery. This part of our tour was what we all expected, a little bit of history along with some spirituality for good measure, but the next part came out of left field.
Just to set the tone we had arrived at the base of a hill and were standing in a circle around Father Michael who, might I add, is 72 years of age. He is a Catholic priest, but explained that he felt more like a christian than simply a Catholic. He told us that, if we wanted, we could go on a little hike up the hill. He even joked around that we were young, so maybe we could carry him up the hills and we would walk. We all agreed that this sounded like a good idea, what's a little exercise right? He started our hike with a poem, of which he knows many, that repeated the refrain “take off your shoes.”
Now I'm sure they meant this metaphorically in the poem, since it referred to taking off your shoes of racism and such, but it got a new literal meaning once we started the hike. I guess the barefoot hiking started with me, simply because I could not climb that hill in my birkenstocks, I was practically sliding out of my shoes. Soon about half of the group, (Addie, William, Susanna, Quill, Janine, and myself, Ellie, included) had taken off their shoes and was continuing on the hike barefoot (and no mom, there aren't any snakes in Ireland, so my feet were fine).
It was a rough climb, the hill was more of a mountain, the ground was slippery and muddy from rain, and through it all Father Michael was leading the pack forcing a group of huffing and puffing 16 year olds to try as hard as they could to keep up. The weather was less than ideal, with on-and-off rain showers all afternoon.
Father Michael soon realized that we had left the path out of sheer enthusiasm and we soon had to pioneer our way through the ferns to find the road again. Finally, after a thorough soaking, and plenty of muddy feet, we reached the road and the top of our path. As soon as we reached the top, the sun came out and warmed all of our wind blown faces as we started the trek down the “hill”.
We soon reached flat ground and took our time to play a little in a passing creek as we walked. Soon we had reached civilization again, and famished as we were, we took a break for lunch. It was a rather momentous occasion for many of us, as it was the first time most of us had spent our newly changed Euros. We rested, feasted, and dried out until Michael came back in order to show us more of the old city.
We went to view Kevin's cell ( actually his cave, not as harsh as it sounds) across from the upper lake of Glendlough valley. There we stopped and took time to discuss with him his idea of spirituality and inner self. Many of his beliefs resonated with the group, and simply made a lot of sense. We all have a gift, and it is our job and responsibility to share those gifts with the world in order to make it a little better.
We also have to focus some time on our inner self, the part of us that often gets neglected in this modern age with so many other distractions to hold our attention. This inner meditation is what allows us to enjoy life to its fullest, and hear the voice of God within each and every one of us. He was a very powerful speaker, and many of his ideas shared at not only Kevin's cell, but all the other ruins we visited before and after, will stick with me and all of us as we continue along this journey. I know he made an impression on us, and Addie and I were happy to hear that we also managed to make an impression on him.
When we got home we had time to rest for about 25 minutes. I took the chance to take a shower. The warm water runs out fast so if you choose to take a shower during the prime time you have to be quick and it has to be cold. I chose the time when no one else wanted to shower so it could be HOT!
After this shower we had reflection time. There we went as a group and reflected on the day's experiences. We wrote in our journal for about 30 minutes each. In our own words we described what had happened to us spiritually, mentally, and physically that day.
After this Owen, our bus driver, made us dinner. He made a beef stew for us and also a meatless Curry because Eason is vegetarian. Both were delicious. Thank you Eason for being a vegetarian!
After dinner we had a guided tour by our host. His name is Seamus and he is a Catholic priest. He lead us through his gardens in front of the house. He really went into depth talking about exactly what Michael had talked about earlier. This resonated with Ellie and myself and we started hugging the trees. Eason joined and Janine, William, And Quill started climbing them!
We walked through the garden while he explained what every carved stone and placed rocked represented. Everything had a purpose and everything had God in it we must remember. We came to a fork in the road and he told us we had two options. The left took us to an “adventurous” Labyrinth and the right took us home. We got to make the decision. Now really? Come on how did we climb the mountain earlier? Barefoot? Exactly. Ellie and I were smiling while the other kids tried to talk John into it.
Of course we won. Quill, Max, William, and Janine ran ahead. Eason, Ellie, Jeffery, Susana, the chaperones and myself stayed behind and walked. We got lost. We took the wrong turn but ended up finding our way back. We got back just in time for the predetermined night prayer. The other group had not. They came running in around 15 minutes late. They told us enthusiastically how some cows ran after them and would not leave them alone. With pink cheeks and huge smiles you could see how content they were.
We watched two slide shows of all our pictures and did nights prayer and talked about our day once again. Then we headed up to sleep. So goodnight Atlanta we love you, but we are not ready to come home quite yet. See you kinda soon.
Ellie and Addie.