A semester has begun, a daughter has come home to roost, and I feel I’ve been a world away. Time to buckle down, get back to reality–certainly back to serious training, since I’m less than TWO WEEKS AWAY FROM HKC certification!!
But where have I been, you ask? So glad you asked.
I’d mentioned, here and elsewhere, that August would be the time of the 4th Annual Pilgrimage of Peace, an occasional gathering of friends new and returning, seeking the monastic rhythms of silence, fellowship, shared work, and sung prayer in the beautiful Blue Ridge of West Virginia. Held at Stillpoint Retreat Center, the annual event is led and shepherded by Br. Stefan Waligur, Benedictine oblate, composer, singer of chants and teller of stories. Asker of stubborn and troubling questions.
This, in good measure, has been his life’s work–leading these retreats, gradually building this vagabond and scattered community across America and now in Ireland, where he currently lives and studies in a community of scholars known as All Hallow’s College in Dublin. In recent years, his vocation–a word I love for its connection to the word “vocal” or “voice”–literally “a calling forth”–has come a bit clearer, during his time in Ireland: ministering to a wounded Church.
The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has been badly damaged by the horror of priestly abuse of children. People are broken and angry, and when they have chosen to leave the church, in good measure they have also chosen to leave God. Br. Stefan–or Macushla, “the heartbeat of the Beloved”, a Celtic name given to him spontaneously by an elderly Irish woman–has been working to help them find a path back to God, through their own ancient songs and stories.
For centuries these grand heroic stories had been ignored or even forbidden by the church, blocking the people from a great source of their identity and strength. In their place, the church offered the Roman Catholic identity–which, in the face of heartbreaking, unspeakable betrayal, has crumbled to dust.
Now, unable and unwilling to turn for identity and strength to a broken church, they are relearning their own story through the songs and ministry of an American expatriate, a vagabond monk: he is telling their old tales to them, creating and teaching them new songs crafted from the old melodies, connecting both to an essential and life-giving Gospel in a gentle teaching of simple, poetic questions and deep, holy listening.
It is a beautiful work, and for seventeen days in August, we had the opportunity to be part of it. Through silence, Scripture, story; through chant, drumming, poetry; through shared work, meals, play–a community came together in reunion, welcomed new friends, grew together, learned and lived together. We built a labyrinth together, blessed it, were the first to walk its rock-strewn, root-woven paths. We laughed and swam and kayaked together; together sat in silence in the early light of dawn, the fading light of sunset, under starlight and moonlight.
And we said goodbye. Each year is harder to leave, to return to the “reality” waiting outside and down the crazybeautiful mountain roads that lead to Stillpoint. Each year we leave not knowing, truly, where or whether we will be able to gather again. Stillpoint? Dayspring (an earlier and equally beloved site, in Maryland)? Ireland itself, where this important work is happening?
We don’t know–but as in the labyrinth, we trust the path, and those who walk it, to God.
Now–back to work.