Saints and sinners alike greeted me as I entered Santiago and made my way to the Cathedral. I finished the ancient pilgrimage of over 600 km in about 25 days! I looked around to see tears running swiftly down cheeks of those who are not even the slightest religious, huge arms outstretched in thanksgiving and hospitality by some of the quietest people who spent most of their time walking alone, and the chanting, cheering and singingof hundreds of youth groups. Santiago was the place to be. Santiago was like heaven on earth.
It was here that people celebrated life. Exhausted, exhilarated, inspired, and proud, we all knew that our accomplishment was achieved and shared by many others. We made it. We did it. Wow.
We reflected on moments of difficulty with a lightness some people justifying just how worth it the entire journey had been.
We planned for our future reunions, collected Facebook requests, and attended mass together…wanting to bask in the glory of a shared transformational experience.
I snuck in to greet St. James early the next day so that I could have private moment to thank him. For his example, for his courage, for his inspiration, for his service and for his faith. Traditionally, pilgrims arriving to Santiago would come up to the saint behind the altar and hug him before visiting where he lay. Such a simple gesture, this hug. This was big for me. I do not consider myself a huggy type of a person. Yet, this action helped me to simplify my attitude and my posture in serving God and God’s people. I need to open myself up just a little more in order to welcome the holy spirit in my life and offer the peace and grace of God in the form of hospitality to others.
This invitation to embody this embrace continued to resonate with me as I journeyed through Cologne, Canterbury, London, Rhyl, Harrogate, Glasgow, Oban, Mull, and finally to Iona Island off the western coast of Scotland where St.Columba first arrived in the year 563.
It is in this sacred space that I witnessed God’s continued efforts to pronounce the Good News in sunsets and thin horizons that drizzled red in a clear blue sky, single boats adrift in the quiet sea, century-old stone that nourished new plants and flowers, a reconstructed abbey and ruined nunnery, puffins, otters, and seals, communal prayers where inclusive language is a way of being, and seekers from all over the world who believe that the trek is worth it in order to obtain peace and glimpses of the kin-dom.
Originally, I thought the space of prayer and dedication of generations of innovative Christian community and confident acts of justice is was why I was led this progressive abbey. But as the days unfolded, God’s abundant grace came to me in the form of living in community with families from all over the world. It was amongst my peers that God was inviting me to embrace life, open myself to their experiences and our experiences together. From hikes along the island to group reflection exercises to artistic attempts to uncovering God to quotidian tasks of chopping vegetables, setting tables, cleaning toilets, eating with one another, and praying loudly through song, spoken word, and action, God was making my life new again.
Now I know this hug is not just between me and God or between me and a statue of a Saint or me and just one person. This hug is about opening my arms out wider so that the dynamic of relationships takes centerstage.
Thank you, God, for opening my eyes, heart, and arms to a real and deep experience of the Trinity–God in relationship, God made whole through our very lives together.