You reminded me I don’t like being a tourist. I’d rather sit in a funky cafe with the locals, blending in until I am forced to speak, than whip out my selfie stick, gathering proof I’ve trekked from one must-see-sight to the next. I don’t want the maps, the professional guides, the top ten things to do. I want the experiences I didn’t plan for, the faces I didn’t know I’d meet. I want the spirit of the place to speak. My lips closed, my ears open.
A spent a dozen days with you. Seven on InterVarsity’s Journey Ireland pilgrimage seeking to discover the ways nature falls into faith, rooted in Celtic Christianity. Five with my friend Rebekah just outside of Belfast where her family resides. Thinking back on the last 12 days with you, I begin to see firsts I didn’t set out to undertake.
1. Last a dozen days with only what could be rolled and shoved into my backpack.
I’m not one to travel light. I’ve been on weekend trips where I’ve brought three times the amount I did for the past two weeks. I caught myself triple checking the smell of my jeans, my flannels, my scarf. I got in the habit of apologizing every time the smell of cow poo flooded are noises. I found myself daydreaming of doing my laundry once again, singing Clean at Last, Clean at Last, Thank God Almighty, I am Clean at Last!
2. Swallow my fear & just do it.
I became a flyer in a graveyard. I don’t like heights. I especially don’t like placing my life in the hands of others that may drop me from those heights. But, being the smallest, I swallowed my spit and put my feet into their cuffed hands. I clapped as they hoisted me above their heads. Maybe that’s inappropriate for a graveyard. But perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps the dead laughed with us, knowing, too well, life’s too quick to be taken so seriously.
I climbed a tree. Afraid as a child to break a knee, I never had before. It was the last day of our journey and we were sent off for several hours to reflect in silence. I decided to play in the woods. I decided to cling to a sense of wonder, a child-like hunger, and climb. I even lived to tell the tale.
3. Sip tea with a monk.
I had this idea that monks are silent. And they are, mostly. But they do talk, they break the silence and even laugh.
Father Christopher wears a black robe. He goes through the specified times of prayer, tends the garden, keeps his vows. But, as the keeper of the guest house, he speaks to us, too.
I think I had this idea that a monk would always be serious. Always speaking of God’s love and wonder and amazingness.
Father Christopher’s face was soft. He spoke quietly, in a matter of fact way, but with playfulness.
‘Don’t worry’ he told me, after addressing my gluten-free concern of the food set out, ‘if it kills you, we will give you a proper burial.’
He doesn’t laugh. I don’t either. ‘Great. I trust you,’ I say back with the same directness, cut with playful lightheartedness.
I figured monks would be peaceful, even hospitable. I just didn’t know they’d have such lively personalities as well. Perhaps I had been naive.
4. Learn to say ‘Jesus’ in Farsi.
On Easter, Rebekah took me to an Iranian service. Her dad works with refugees, and suggested we tag along. An hour and a half passed as they sang songs in their language, mostly forgetting to offer translations. I stood and listened, not knowing what I was hearing. But I tasted what was meant, sweet like honey. There in the tears of the worship leader. There among the rhythm of their clapping and the length of their praise.
I don’t know any Iranians, or what I would do if I ever found myself in their country. But if I did, at least I would be able to say عیسی (pronounced as I heard it as: “ay-sauce”) to them.
5. Book a road trip across three countries with one of the staff on Journey Ireland.
She’s a sweetheart from Hawaii. She’s gluten free, like me. A writer, too. And she adores the Sound of Music. I think those are the necessary basics to hop in a car for a week and go to Berlin, Prague, and Salzburg.
I couldn’t be more excited. I’m here in Ireland, yet my mind is already in the hills with Maria in Austria. I scold my floating heart and beg my feet to touch the ground.
And so, I count my blessings. There’s something innocent about wandering. Something spectacular about playing as a child in this world of ours.
They say your 20’s are the time to travel. I’m not so convinced. It doesn’t take a plane to climb a tree. You don’t have to go to Iran to be among Iranians. This big world of ours is smaller than we think.
Ireland, you’ve been a great teacher. I’m leaving with the junky-seeking hunger to keep finding places of wonder.