I shook the water off my rain jacket as I prepared to shove it back into my day pack. After one day in Ireland this has already become the routine, one I anticipate for the duration of our entire 11 day intensive class. The weather changes from sunny, to cloudy, to rainy in the blink of an eye. It’s a small wonder the countryside is so beautiful.
The rain isn’t a problem though. We’re on a pilgrimage after all and part of pilgrimage is intentionally taking things as they come. The focus is on God, not on my own comfort. We spent the day at Glendalough (which means valley between two lakes), a former monastery that now serves as a cemetery. The monastery buildings were built in the 11th century entirely of stone. There’s a complete church, a tall tower, and several semi-ruined structures. These buildings stand as a testament to a monastic community that existed here for over 1000 years. You can catch a glimpse of our view in the video below.
St Kevin was the first to bring the Christian message to this part of Ireland about 1400 years ago. Having been rebuffed in an earlier attempt he persevered and returned to spread the light of Christ to these people. His journey and faithfulness eventually led to the formation of the monastery here.
Back to our pilgrimage. We started by walking part of the Pilgrim Way, over relatively rough terrain to the monastery grounds. This path has been traveled by thousands if not millions of pilgrims over the course of history. We contemplated the beauty of God’s creation as we passed waterfalls, prayed at the few remaining stones that had been St Kevin’s home, and were challenged to embrace forgiveness on the shore of the lower lake.
After a quick lunch break we enter the monastery grounds through the archways of the main gate.
As we walked through the gate, our guide Father Mike, points out a stone to the right of the gate with a cross carved in the middle. This is the sanctuary stone. Check it out in the video below. Glendalough is a sanctuary, a place of safety and rest. Anyone who enters these gates, will be welcomed and protected, no matter what their past holds. No matter what they are running to or running from.
This struck me as incredibly profound. The community of the people of God is intended to be a sanctuary for all people. A place that provides welcome and safety to all people. I’m reminded of the lyrics to an old worship song.
“Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”
My prayer is that as I continue this pilgrimage, God would create in me a sanctuary in the midst of this turbulent world. I pray that through my faithfulness, God will shape a people into a community formed by the grace and love of Christ. A people whose words and actions become a sanctuary stone that assure people that they are safe and loved no matter where they have come from or what they have done.
Oh Lord, please prepare me!