Wednesday, June 29, 2011
I recently returned from a 9-day pilgrimage to England with a group of 16 teenagers from our church. Before I left, I wondered if I’d need a vacation after I got back – keeping 16 teenagers in line can be a daunting task, but these particular teenagers were wonderful traveling companions and exceeded all of my expectations. I had known most of these young people for at least two years, and lead their Sunday School class for that time, but I got the opportunity to learn much more about who each one of them is – and they’re all pretty amazing.
We were blessed to have a guide, Molly Wren, from a company called Wonder Voyage, who took care of all of the logistics of the trip, as well as much of the spiritual leadership. Having someone there who had taken care of where we’d stay, what and when we’d eat and where we’d go every day freed the leaders to not only focus on the kids, but also to have our own spiritual journeys. One of the many things I really like about Molly is that she speaks to God and about God in ways that the kids aren’t necessarily used to. We’re Episcopalians, after all, and sometimes I think we get bogged down in the “corporate” prayers and don’t focus on praying in our own way. She set a great example for them as well as me about how one might maintain a very personal relationship with God. She’s also a massive prayer warrior, and if I ever needed someone to be on my side for a particular prayer need, she’s the first one I’d call on.
One evening, at our usual meeting with the kids about our day, Molly brought up the Celtic tradition of “thin places”, which are places “that give us an opening into the magnificence and wonder of [God’s] presence” (copied from an article on explorefaith.com by Sylvia Maddox). While the entirety of the trip was magnificent, there are a few specific instances of “thin places” that keep coming back to mind.
We flew in overnight on Saturday night and spent a good portion of the day Sunday traveling to Canterbury and getting settled into the hostel. Monday morning, we walked to Canterbury Cathedral – the seat of the Anglican Church from which our church evolved – and attended a Eucharist service in the Crypt, which dates back to the 11th century and is the oldest existing part of the Cathedral. There were about 20 or so other people there, and many of them were seminary students from mostly Africa who had attended a conference at the Cathedral the previous weekend. The real goosebumps came when we were invited to recite the Lord’s Prayer, each in our own language. It’s so easy to forget that there is a vast world out there, but hearing the different tongues opened my mind to the wonderful fact that God is bigger than each of us would make Him. And hearing that familiar service spoken with a British accent was a delight that we experienced several times throughout the trip!
The next day we traveled to the White Cliffs of Dover and hiked to the lighthouse – about four miles round-trip. God blessed us with wonderful weather that day, and the exertion of the hike, the beauty of the surroundings and the individual and small-group conversations I got to have with many of the kids made the day for me. We sat in a field and ate our lunches and wrote in our journals, and took in the loveliness of creation. It was stunning and peaceful.
The last day was a Sunday, and we were in London by then. We attended mass at St. Martin in the Fields, London, which is a beautiful church with an awesome choir. On this particular day, many of the choir members were absent, but the remaining ones sounded amazing without them. As the choir was walking out and singing the final hymn at the end of the service, a bird fluttered in front of the massive glass window above the altar. I know it was probably a pigeon, but the shadow could just have easily been a dove sent from God, and the combination of the beautiful music and the bird gave me chills. I know a few of my travel companions saw it too, and they had the same reaction.
In the interest of time, I’ve only mentioned a few places that were “thin” for me. We visited Westminster Abbey and the British Museum, climbed about a billion steps to the very top of St. Paul's Cathedral, we saw a show, a 90 year-old friar and the Crown Jewels - it was a trip packed with once-in-a-lifetime experiences. These experiences, combimed with my time with the other leaders, Bill, Carrie, David and Molly, and with the kids on an individual and group basis made it the most fulfilling spiritual experience of my life.
Once home, I was filled with the notion that what I’m called to do is to continue working with young people, teens especially, and help find a way to open their eyes to God’s wonder and promise. To be a mentor , friend and teacher in whatever capacity I can be. As I explore this calling, I’d appreciate your prayers and encouragement. I don’t know where it will lead me, but I know that God does, and that’s enough for now.