Part three of a three part blog series entitled Listening to the Light – in this blog post I reflect on the role that creation played in the Society of St. Columba’s pilgrimage around England and Wales in September 2015.
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, the 18th century landscape architect did more damage to the English understanding of creation, than perhaps any other Englishman. His obsessive compulsion to remove the human person from the landscape was deeply unsettling. It represented an indulgent form of voyeuristic fantasizing that only his wealthy clients of the day were permitted to get away with. Landscape and people go together, and to remove people from the landscape is to remove a vital element of the rhythm of any countryside. Creation, landscape, countryside, eco-system, whatever words we use to describe the land on which we walk, it is an active participant in the wholesome spirituality of any place. To deliberately isolate land and people from one another is an act of injustice that distorts and hinders our fulfillment and happiness. The resources of the land and the people of the land belong together, and only together with a unified voice and song do we discover the true joy of living with our Creator.
Discovering this on our pilgrimage was like finding the key that unlocks the door to the treasure room. Eriugena, the 9 century mystical theologian talked of creation as a primary Theophany of God. Theophany is a manifestation of that which is invisible into that which is visible, and nothing shouts louder to the Church than creations continual witness to it’s Creator. Visiting some of our most ancient of sacred places such as, Bury Holmes, St. Govans, St. Davids & St. Nons reminded us that our early fore-bearers in the faith loved a location were they could give undivided and un-distracted attention to their walk with God. It is no accident that the call to the wild, remote and liminal places of our islands became a well trodden path for the British Monastic Church. The Celtic Church was conceived in the womb of tribal pastoral communities, who depended on a harmonious relationship with the natural world and the life giving Holy Spirit.
This deeply personalised connection to the natural world was brought to life on the songs and prayers of Larry and Deborah Littlebird, who modeled beautifully the unique communion between nature, humanity and the Holy Spirit. The wild remote places became the theatre upon which the drama of the Spirit was played out for us all to see. It reconfirmed to us that, where we position ourselves upon the land is as important a prayer as the words that may come from our mouths. The Grey Seal who joined us at St Govans for our time of prayer and reflection was a living illustration of this harmonious union when we all stand (or swim) in the presence of the Creator’s Holy Spirit.
Pilgrimage is two fold – the inner journey towards God and the external journey embodied by the road of life. St. Columbanus speaking of the Father as the homeland of our hearts desire said the following, ‘Let us not love the roadway rather than the homeland, lest we lose our eternal home; for we have such a home that we ought to love it. Therefore let this principle abide with us, that on the road we so live as travellers, as pilgrims, as guests of the world’. Encountering God in the people we met, in the sacred sites we visited and in the creation we participate in brought home a simple truth to us that we are born in love, our call is to love God more than anyone and that love has no end, no beginning and is perpetually unfolding before us. Listening to the Light changed us.
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