A Spirit-led pilgrimage to celebrate St Columba
Pilgrimage is something that has been part of the journey for some Christians and not others, for some people of other faiths and some of no faith. To go on a pilgrimage is to commit time to God, to step aside from the normal routine to do something special, to be open to drawing closer to God and to growing spiritually. This pilgrimage takes pointers from Columba's life and uses them as lenses through which we can take fresh looks at our faith journey.
This pilgrimage can be done individually or in a small group.
If meeting as a small group
Please ensure you check the latest government guidelines relating to outdoor gatherings before you start.
Give out an information sheet the week before with advice about:
- what to wear – strong walking shoes, layers of clothing to allow for hot weather or cold, dry or wet, headgear;
- what to bring – a backpack, water, snacks, suntan lotion, a small notebook, pen and/or felt-tips or coloured pencils;
- where the pilgrimage will start and finish; start time and how long it will be.
Appoint a fit, competent person to stay at the front of the group and another at the back.
Ask a couple of people to do the readings and prayers at the pausing places.
Copy the pilgrimage sheet for the two or three who will need it.
If you want everyone to join in the prayer of St Columba at the gathering place, prepare copies.
The pilgrimage has been written around six pausing places, with journeying time between one pausing place and the next. You have the interesting task of applying it to your situation.
Is there a site of interest near you – somewhere that has had significance in the story of Christianity in your area? Perhaps there was a Celtic Christian settlement, a Christian community in more recent times, a cross marking the spot where the gospel was preached or a centre for practical outreach. This may be the place from which to start or finish – or to be a main focus half way through. You may want to start and/or finish in your own church or meeting place. Is it feasible to do the pilgrimage mainly in the countryside? Many of us live and work in towns and cities and having time out of them is refreshing. If going into the country is not feasible how about including a park or large garden as part of the route?
When you have mapped out your route, go round it and time the walking (allowing for slow walkers) and the pausing. It will be important to know how long the event will take. It can be anything from 1 hour to 6 hours – depending on fitness, range of ability, people's other commitments and so on.
At each pausing place there is a Scripture sentence, a snippet of information about Columba, and questions for people to reflect on, share and write about. You may want to share your experiences and reflections with other people who have also undertaken the pilgrimage.
As you begin
A practical point: at pausing place 6, there is an invitation to take a bite of something to eat. If you can, set aside part of a snack for that purpose.
God of Abraham, Ruth, Columba, in the past you called people to move on in life and faith. We give thanks that we can learn from their lives. Help us to make the most of this special time today – a time for refreshment and invigoration; a time for joy and companionship; a time for quiet reflection and illumination. As we set out we pray with St Columba:
My dearest Lord,
be a bright flame before me;
be a guiding star above me;
be a smooth path beneath me;
be a kindly shepherd behind me,
today and for evermore. Amen.
Move out to start the pilgrimage.
Pausing place 1
- 'Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine' (Isaiah 43.1b).
- In the year AD 521, a child was born who was baptised Crimthann, Gaelic for a fox. He became known as Columba – dove, in Latin – or Columcille, a name combining Gaelic and Latin and meaning the dove of the Church.
- Think about your name. Do you know what it means? Is it important to you? Would you choose another name? Take a few minutes to think and talk about names with another person. Write or draw a reminder.
God, 'I Am', whatever our names mean to us – something good or something difficult – you name us your children and we bring our thanks. You call us by name and know us individually. Help us to be open to that call today, ready to hear a particular word. Amen.
Pausing place 2
- 'Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it' (2 Timothy 3.14).
- As a youth, Columba was educated in a monastic school. He acquired a love of poetry, music and God's word from those who taught him. Under their influence he also learned to love God.
- Who are the people who were important in your youth – encouraging you, setting you on the road of faith, helping you to widen your vision? Think, share and write or draw.
Father-Mother God, thank you for all those people we have been remembering – who spent time with us, who accepted us as we were, who were channels of your love, who introduced us to much that has enriched our lives. Bless those of them who are still alive and enable us to express our thanks to them. Amen.
Pausing place 3
- '… trained to work in gold, silver, bronze, iron, stone, and wood and in purple, blue and crimson fabrics… and to do… engraving' (2 Chronicles 2.14).
- Columba developed artistic and creative gifts. He was a strong singer, a great writer and was accomplished in several languages. He made beautiful illuminated copies of the Psalms. He wrote many hymns and we still sing some of them today.
- What are your creative gifts? What opportunities are there for you to use them? Are there other creative gifts for you to develop – or new ways in which you can use them? If you are in a group, talking with another pilgrim will stimulate ideas. Think, share and write or draw.
God our Creator, you implanted a share of creativity in each of us. Thank you for those gifts we recognise in ourselves and for the many ways, small and large, in which we can use them – to bring glory to you and to enrich the lives of other people. Help us to recognise the gifts that others have and to encourage them to use them. Amen.
Pausing place 4
- 'I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do' (Romans 7.19).
- We're told that Columba borrowed a special Psalter and made a copy of it without permission – in today's terms he broke copyright. Judgement was given against him, a battle arose and many were killed. Columba repented of his actions and the violence that ensued.
- Just between yourself and God: is there something you regret? Some action or inaction you're sorry for? Words you wish you hadn't said? What can you do to make amends? Think and write or draw.
God of mercy, you reach out to us through Jesus – his life, death and resurrection. Thank you for the space, quiet and time to reflect on our shortcomings. Where we have caused hurt or suffering by our action or inaction, we ask your forgiveness. Show us what we can do to make amends and give us courage to do it. As we accept the forgiveness you offer, help us to forgive those who have wronged us. Amen.
Pausing place 5
- 'Where can I go from your Spirit?… If I settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me' (from Psalm 139.7-10).
- Columba left Ireland, not knowing exactly where he would go or what he would do. He travelled in faith and ended up leading a monastic settlement on Iona.
- Are you at a leaving point? Is it time to step out into the unknown, in terms of place, way of life, vocation, way of thinking? Think and write or draw. Only share if you wish to.
Christ the Way, Columba looked to you for guidance and for assurance as he left his homeland. When we feel alone, remind us that you are everywhere about us. Give us courage to end what needs to be ended. Open our minds to recognise the new things you have in store for us. Amen.
Pausing place 6
- You established the mountains… you silence the roaring of the seas… you visit the earth and water it… you crown the year with your bounty' (from Psalm 65.6-11).
- Columba and his companions on Iona lived close to nature – respecting the power of wind and water, enjoying the beauty and the variety, learning what would sustain or harm or heal. They thanked God for the gifts of creation.
- Do this activity on your own. Close your eyes. What can you hear? What can you smell? Can you feel anything on your face? Open your eyes. What else is there to touch and feel? What do you see? If you have something to eat, take a bite and taste it. Write or draw.
Maker of the world, thank you for the senses you have given us and for all that we can appreciate through them. Thank you for the beauty and rawness of creation. We are a part of this intricate whole – enable us to live in ways that are helping and healing. Amen.
As you finish
Jesus, centre of our community, we thank you for the time out that we've had today; for the insights that you have given us individually; for the enjoyment of journeying. As we come to the end of our pilgrimage help us to hold onto those insights, that we may grow closer to you. Help us to balance our individual walk with our place in this faith community. Bless us as we journey onwards.