Long, long ago, Christians (and other religious mystics) would leave their homeland in a self-imposed exile to seek God. The forebears of modern monks and other contemplative traditions, the Desert Fathers and Mothers, were Christians that went into the desert of Egypt to live quietly and practice their faith in simple ways. Eventually the hermits were surrounded by young men and women that wanted to learn, to find God in nature and in silence, and eventually monastic communities were born.
Celtic Christianity, historically, is somewhat separate from Catholicism and Orthodox traditions. With the separation in geography comes a difference in rituals, beliefs, and ways of expressing faith. One of the more important differences was the belief in the importance of a physical journey.
Voyage stories are popular, as they have been for hundreds of years, especially in Celtic tradition and contemplative life. The best metaphor for an internal journey or change of heart is an external journey. C.S. Lewis, who grew up around Celtic Christianity, included this concept in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader from The Chronicles of Narnia. As the crew on the Dawn Treader travel from island to island, they face not only external threats but internal demons, parts of themselves they must fight. This journey is a metaphor for the Christian life.
Because of the importance of a spiritual journey with God, Celtic Christians and Desert monastics left the busyness of everyday life and went to find God in new places, far from the comfort of home, in hopes to grow nearer to Him. That is why Columba went to Scotland and the Desert fathers from Alexandria and into the desert. These chosen exiles, away from the comfort of familiarity was a kind of pilgrimage called a peregrinatio. Unlike the pilgrimages to the Holy Land undertaken by Christians in the Middle Ages, a peregrinatio proposes no specific relic to see, shrine to visit, or icon to venerate. Nothing allows the pilgrim to return home with a sense of “I’ve been there and done that.” Instead, a peregrinatio is a wandering into the unknown, inaugurated by the pilgrim’s inner conviction of God’s guidance.
Imagine being in a small boat, looking for land. Out on the open sea is dangerous, but the only way to get to land is to swim there. You’re gripping the boat, staring at the line of trees just out of reach, knowing somehow you have to get there to be safe. The only option is to swim. Will you do it? Will you get into the dark sea, the choppy waves, and swim to shore?
In life there is no safety, no guarantee, as much as we like to pretend there is. We have our boat, our semblance of control, when really God is the only safeguard we have. So will you get out of the boat? Will I? Will I stay in the boat, gripping it until my knuckles turn white and my fear fills my lungs? Or will I trust God and swim?
Jordan and I are experiencing turbulence that is common in most people’s 20s. But we are trying to get out of the boat. Uncurling fingers and putting the first toe in the water is hard. We had a major shift in our 5-year plan earlier this year, and I was mad. I’ll admit it. I thought God was telling us to do something, and then suddenly the plans disappeared. But after reading a blog post about giving control to Jesus (using the same analogy of the boat and white knuckles), I realized what I had to do. Because I really don’t have control anyway.
This international experience is many things for us–an adventure, a chance to make new friends, a way to educate ourselves, a bucket-list-check-off–but it is also a bit of a peregrinatio.
We are taking a journey, we’re leaving our homeland, and we’re seeking the unknown. And we hope God will meet us on our voyage. Take a deep breath.
Here we go.