Tag Archives: pilgrimage

Sand dunes

I have no idea, Hildegard how the Desert Mothers and Fathers survived out in the heat and the dust! But I did get a glimpse this week of the instruction they might have received by the desert. The sand dunes shift with the winds, ever changing, yet always there. They can’t be tamed or told to sit still, they are restless to be on the breath of God in the ancient land around the Gulf.

Being in Dubai is about as far away from Patrick McCormack in County Clare as humanly possible. It is a place bustling with commerce and aching to be the Hong Kong of the region and it will achieve its ambition very soon. It probably already has in terms of wealth per person! A true melting pot which also has remnants of the baron Star Wars that Jabba the Hut liked to business in- it that is unfair because in this season of Ramadan generosity and courtesy abound in the over 43 degree Celsius temperatures. I think Dubai is what Venice was like five hundred years ago.

Making this my last stop on this pilgrimage provided a hidden meaning not revealed until I got on the plane. I was sat next to a sixteen year old woman who was beautifully adorned in her best clothes, with hands painted and a silver chain holding her veil in place. She was flying for the first time – her only other flight being completed several hours before to get her to Dubai. She had begun her journey though years before fleeing war in the horn of Africa. This night she was going to meet her father and be reunited with other members of her family, her mother placing her on the plane – what a heart wrenching experience that would have been for her mother. She wasn’t sure if she would remember what her father looked like. She told me her name and it means harmony. I thought this was a beautiful present for me to receive – to have harmony sitting next to me!

She asked for my help to fill in the necessary arrival forms and to help her make a phone call to her father if he wasn’t there. I was sure he would be waiting for her at the other end. She completed her form without my help and I just checked it – for her occupation she wrote the word refugee. As it was Ramadan she was fasting and I explained the time zones so she could decide when it would be time to break her fast. The airline was very supportive.When we touched down I said: “Welcome to Australia”. I felt honoured to be the one to be able to say that, knowing full well that she will not experience this welcome everywhere she goes.

When we arrived into Adelaide, we walked together but had to part ways at immigration. After what seemed to me an eternity she came through and I helped her collect her bags as she had requested my assistance in this. All her worldy goods in two bags. The customs officer ushered us through and separated us again. And again I ached hoping there would be no more barriers to her making this journey. Again I had to go on ahead without her.

I emerged from the womb of the customs hall to the usual signs of families with Welcome Home signs, chauffeurs waiting to collect their charges and the promise of tears and hugs. My love was waiting for me and into his arms I was very well received.

I waited to see her emerge too, so that I could be sure that one of the pods of family group belonged to her and her to them. I didn’t have to wait long – she was greeted with great joy – the last of her siblings to come to Australia – having been waiting for more than seven years. I could see an older man and a young man holding her tightly. They were not going to let her go. I watched at distance in tears – witness to a moment that had taken years to be born.

She had told me, on the plane, that she had prayed to her God that she would have help to make this last part of her journey and that God had answered her prayer because I had helped her with her forms. I was the one who had been transformed though, her refugee status serving to support my pilgrimage home. I decided to say goodbye and walked over to her family and shook her fathers hand and looked into his eyes and wished him well. I did the same to her. I was weeping for their joy.

As our car left the carpark, we drove past them walking to their vehicle and there were smiles all round and a final wave between us all. My first thoughts were to her mother back in Nairobi who would be glad of the safe delivery of her child and also no doubt desperately sad for the separation as well.

The sand dunes of their lives and of mine, constantly shifting and moving, taking us further on in new paths, the wind blowing away the tracks of what has gone before. The roller coaster of traversing the ups and downs; the hidden depths and spaces that the dunes offer as you ride them on safari. A safari I have learnt is from Swahili meaning overland journey and is also from Arabic safarīya, meaning from safara to travel. A safari of this outer kind – and overland journey truly came together with the inward journey of pilgrimage in the last moments of my travels.

My 30 days are now at an end with last few days being at home. I unpack, wash my clothes, distribute some gifts, reconnect with those I love, send messages of thanks and support along the way, recast my net and give gratitude for both safari  and pilgrimage – the overland and inward journey of this time.

Sand dune Safari

Inheritance and Invitation

Setting off in the dark seemed the right thing to do.  I have decided to frame this 30 day pilgrimage as “inheritance and invitation”.

I am expecting that as I travel I will connect with both my inheritance and be invited into new places and spaces as well – by design and by accident.
Vigilance will be my companion and I will keep my ears, eyes and heart open. I will follow Br David’s advice to look up. (I just did that and saw a beautiful ceiling in the Dubai airport, the traditional geometric shapes of the Islamic tradition with the blue morning sky streaming in – and if I could get all the technology to work together then I could share it with you dear reader!)
My litany for today’s inheritance begins:
The imagination of the Wright brothers
The arrogance of Steve Jobs
The confidence of a King
The wonder of a young traveller
The fear of a lost soul
The compassion of a lover
The patience of a parent
So much more to come!
And the invitations are being written with such speed that receiving them all would create an impossible tsunami of emotions. Truly overwhelming. I am currently resisting an invitation of a dozen juicy oysters flirting with me from a  seafood bar. I don’t want to make the Coffin Bay oysters jealous.
My contemplation at 35,000 feet, I offer as I found myself between heaven and earth. Dear Hildegard I wonder what you would have made of flight? I suspect you too would be in awe as the journey also offered moments of stillness while still moving.
Moving Parts
Moving parts
Like a Rubik’s cube
A secret combination
Would allow the path to be clear
The pass to be made
Moving parts
Like a Swiss clock
A hidden combination
Would allow the cogs to be free
The time to be made
Moving parts
Like a gloved hand
A shrouded story
Would allow the care to be shown
The love to be made
Moving parts
Like a conveyer belt
A certain path
Would allow to trip to be mapped
The steps to be made
The missing parts found
No longer secret
No longer hidden
No longer shrouded
No longer certain
Deep time having set the course
Preordained by the constellations moving across the skies
Waiting for only me
To stop.
Sunset Willunga

Are Stadiums the new Cathedrals?

This week I made a pilgrimage to Melbourne to see one of my all time favourite American musicians- Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I wasn’t alone in my pilgrimage … thousands of fans around the world have made similar pilgrimages. I wonder if stadiums (or is it stadia?) are the new Cathedrals in our fiercely secular country? There was certainly the call and response, the altar call, the faithful and the high priest. There was ritual and liturgy. We all knew what to expect and what part we had to play – supporting the star to crowd surf, reverently remembering the fallen, acclaiming the alchemy, respecting the hallowed ground and finding our own spirit nourished by the sound, the energy and the message. The standing up, sitting down, dancing, waving, hand clapping, air punching, sign holding, gentle swaying; all liturgical movements of their own like fingers in a glove, in place and in time.

Songlines that bind generations and cultures together sharing the same vision for a world where the worker is at the heart of society. No job too small or too big and certainly this was a band that has earnt its reputation as the ‘hardest working band in rock and roll”. They are like the union choirs and bands of old, blending their voices, instruments and message into one harmonious and triumphant wall of sound (yes there were a few moments that Phil Spector would have been very happy). Watching them work together was a master class in team work and collaboration. There was room for everyone. I kept noticing the guitar technicians, the lighting crew, the backstage staff, all worker bees buzzing around to be in the exact right place and the exact right time and never failing or faulting. When the final applause came the conductor, team captain, high priest and guru all rolled into one, patted everyone on the back before he left the stage, a job well done that they all did together. Yes a masterclass in leadership as well was thrown in.

Hildegard, my hunch is that your Abbey and the cathedrals you frequented were like this stadium too – full of pilgrims, talent and glorious sounds. Your music still brings me to my feet, fills my soul with joy and a message that sustains me. I can imagine you and Bruce sitting down together with your communities maybe on an E Street somewhere and discovering what your communities both have in common.

Arm the Homeless

Seeing Tom’s guitar shouting out messages that Woody Guthrie would have been proud, has plenty in common with your sisters leaving their homes and supporting your land reforms. The legacy of Clarence and his saxophone lives on and the homage paid by the faithful would be understood and shared as gift given and still being received by the next generation. You might have a conversation about recent elections – Obama and Francis – and discuss your own parts in those historical events. I know as an Aussie a long way from the US, how grateful I am to Bruce for helping out on Obama’s campaign and have given thanks more than once!

I love the continuous tradition that music enables of speaking truth to power, providing a vehicle for the masses to sing their songs of hope and fear, celebration and commemoration, grief and joy. I love the threads that come together when I can hear a celtic reel in an working class anthem or a drone echoing in a chorus or an organ chord progression that is ancient and commanding as ever.

Maybe the stadium is the new cathedral or maybe it isn’t – but I know that across the aeons we are all connected and kairos happens. That special and unique moment that connects me, in real time, to both Bruce and Hildegard; E Street and Bingen.

Check out the Notes from the Road #2 Melbourne

Rod Laver Arena, March 26, 2013