The latest pilgrimage organised by the Mormon Society of St. James was to St. Davids* in Wales. Joining the pilgrimage were BCC bloggers Ronan and Jason, Bloggernacle regular Christian, and two micro-Ronans. Herewith a report:
I’ve been wanting to go on an MSSJ pilgrimage for a while. Long walks suit my disposition very well, and I’ve often found that walking can have a spiritual component. So, when Ronan proposed a walk along the Welsh coast to St. Davids, I happily signed on, since research and a conference meant a summer trip to the UK anyway.
Walking can be contemplative when the path is easy and familiar, enabling the rhythmic motion to become constant and effectively subconscious. Less-familiar paths, for example ones that frequently have cliffs just to one side, make it so that the whole mind focuses on what is often a basic task. Extended over time, this kind of walking becomes meditative, emptying the mind of exterior concerns.
Our walk in Wales combined both of these. At some moments Ronan and I were able to have the sorts of theological conversations that regular readers of the blog might have expected. Other times permitted jovial chats with Will or Mary, and Christian, Ronan, and I had time to debate the merits of David Foster Wallace. The rest of the time, though, it was one foot in front of the other, pausing occasionally to contemplate the stunning coastline or wade into a secluded bay.
I was disappointed that we couldn’t attend the ordination service at St. Davids. Usually, my trips to the UK are chockablock with Anglicanism, but this time the demands of research precluded participation in formal worship. (I tried to attend Morning Prayer at St. Pancras in Bloomsbury, but arrived to find the chapel empty.) Still, we found worshipful moments at St. Non’s and later at the cathedral, and at both places I lit a candle and offered a prayer.
I left Wales grateful for the good fellowship and the extraordinary natural beauty of the Pembrokeshire coast.
I’d been looking forward to a MSSJ pilgrimage for a couple years, but had been thwarted for the ramble in Norway and the trek to Canterbury. So when Ronan posted about a wee trek along the Welsh coast to the Shrine of St David, I jumped at the chance. I walk a good deal, living in downtown Salt Lake City, but I hadn’t been on a proper hike since highschool. And, well, apparently there’s a difference. 16 miles in one day… and six more the next. From Abercastle to the hostel on Saturday, and then from the hostel to St Davids City, to the Chapel of St Non (St David’s mother) on the coast, and back again on Sunday.
The trail hugged the top of the cliffs, a limnal path that looked both to the beautiful sea and the verdant fields. Death to the right of us, life to the left. At regular intervals, the trail dropped down to the sea at inlets, only to climb right back up again. It was, by every definition, a strait and narrow path. And had I not been so focused on not rolling my ankle or on the beguiling vistas, I’m sure I would have come up with some profound bridge between the literary and lived experience. But revelations of that sort are slow in coming. Ronan kept telling me that pain prepares the pilgrim, and he was right; I can’t wait for my next one.
So, this was weird.
I have been to St. Davids many times, as well as the small chapel of St. Non, his mother, a few miles away. My Catholic-Mormon mother always lays a flower at the shrine of the Virgin at St. Non’s. For our family, this is a special place and it was a pleasure to take friends there on a beautiful couple of days in Pembrokeshire.
Anyway, in the grand scheme of such things, David and Non are minor saints and their pilgrimages nothing compared with Rome, Canterbury, Santiago, or Jerusalem. This is what makes a weird experience of convergence particularly startling.
We left St. Davids on the Sunday. On Monday I was back at work, the glories of the previous day still ringing. As I got in the car to come home, the radio came on. The first words I heard were, “St. David’s mother Non.” The radio was tuned to BBC Radio 4 which was broadcasting — for the first and only time — a radio play about a pilgrimage to St. Davids.
Probably a coincidence or a glitch in the Matrix but I choose to believe that there is some weird cosmic power to sacred places and our connection with them. I will be at St. Davids again this summer and hope to continue to learn what is there to be learned about these holy people and places. The daemon is strong in these places.
* Sticklers may be irritated by the lack of an apostrophe, but many such place-names in the UK lack them as a matter of convention nowadays.