Sunday, September 12, 2010

Stone Towers

 When we saw Stone Hill Farm for the first time nearly three years ago we noticed this odd "sculpture" of sorts in the yard. It reminded me of a round tower in Ireland.

Round Tower, Glendalough, Ireland

Gate on Holy Island

East Window, Holy Island, Lindesfarne, England 

And now for the quickest way I know possible to tell you the story of the brick tower at Stone Hill.

In the late 90s I was a youth leader at Christ Church, Georgetown. After volunteering for eight years I felt called to the priesthood and went through the discernment process to become an Episcopal priest. I withdrew from the process realizing that I could do God's work just as easily as a lay person. After September 11th I was laid off and was immediately offered a job at CCGT as the Youth and Mission Program Manager. It was the best job and I learned so much about myself working there.  As horrible as September 11th was, it gave me an opportunity to follow my passion for youth ministry for nearly three years. This is a photo on my first pilgrimage to Holy Island in 1999 with my co-leaders. We had to bring everything for our trip on our backs so we could cross the sands by foot. I extended my trip to visit my French exchange student, hence the ginormous LLBean pack. 

In 2003, while working for CCGT, I led a pilgrimage to Ireland with a group a fabulous teenagers. I had been once before to Ireland in 1997 with my mother's husband's family for a big vacation the summer before my stepdad died. We were tourists. We went somewhere new every day. There were 25 of us and my Mom did the best job planning the trip. We had matchy tee-shirts that said The Collins Clan Tour. We passed by places. Took pictures. Went shopping. Sang songs in pubs. Traced family roots. Went to touristy places with Irish Dancers and loved every minute of it.

Having a free pint after the tour at the Guiness factory.

My stepfather at the grave of his family's tomb in Tipperary. Two wives were buried on top of each other.

When I returned to Ireland in 2003 it felt like I was coming home. There was a stange pull on my heartstrings ever since I had left in '97 to go back. However, the 2003 trip was different. I was leading a pilgrimage and I worked for the church. When you are a pilgrim, the experience is completely different. The places pass through you. You are no longer a tourist, but have a focus in prayer for the journey. There is an incredible book that I highly recommend to anyone wanting to go on pilgrimage called The Art of Pilgrimage.

The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker's Guide to Making Travel Sacred

I could write my own book on Celtic Spirituality and pilgrimage. After leading the 2003 group, I ended up getting invited to go back to work in Ireland in 2004 leading groups from the states all over Ireland, England and Scotland. I visited the Book of Kells weekly in Dublin. Heard countless stories about how lambs were kept free of thorns so their skin would be perfect for the velum that made such gems as the Lindesfarne gospels.  I imagined the young hands that helped illuminate these gospels. I walked the paths of 7th century monks. Went to church three times a day. Journaled. Painted. Wrote more poetry in three months than I had in my entire life. I was quieted. I was home.

The Celts worshiped the sun. During the solstice they believed when the sun passed through the tombs, at Newgrange for instance, that the spirits of the dead would go up to heaven. The Celtic Cross symbolizes the sun intersecting the crucifix. And the crosses on church grounds were used to teach the Bible when a town didn't have a Bible of it's own. Because gold leaf and Lapis lazuli are pretty pricey and it took years to finish such books. The monks all learned the psalms by heart and chanted them. 

Most churches or villages had a cross with the scripture stories carved into them.

This is hard to see but there is an angel sparing Isaac at the alter when Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his only son. Genesis 22:1-24

On pilgrimage we would stand around for thirty minutes looking at the same cross and the stories would jump out at us.

I cherished my time as a pilgrim.

J2A 1999, Sanctuary Retreat before going to Holy Island

I love all of my youth groupies, as they fondly named themselves.

2003 Irish Pilgrimage on the Aran Islands.

 If you are still with me, let's circle back to Stone Hill and that weird tower before I get too mushy about my youth groupies.

When we walked closer we noticed an odd colored brick.

We could see it was glazed.

And by God, it looked like a figure of Christ with a halo. We stood around it and discussed what Bible story it could be. Was it the Old Testament story of the binding of Isaac? Look at the figure's feet laying down. Could they be bound? Is God approving of Abraham and Abraham is reaching out thankful that God spared his only son? This Old Testament story is a foreshadowing of God sacrificing his only Son for our sins in the Gospels.  Could it be the creation story and that is Adam and Eve and God is creating Eve from Adam's rib? What story do you think it looks like?

I'm over the moon thankful that my family had so much time to be with my stepdad during his last year and we were able to share his 80th birthday in Ireland together. Cancer is a bitch. But I'm even thankful to cancer for allowing us to have the time to say goodbye.

To my youth groupies, I love you all and think of you so often. I can't believe one of you was already taken away from us. Damn cancer, I'm not thankful to you in this instance.

To Stone Hill, you thrilled us with this hidden gem in our yard. Thank you for reminding me of Ireland and my love of pilgrimage.

Holy Island, England 2004


Georganne said...

Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

susan said...

You are amazing!

Nelle Somerville said...

Thanks for the sweet comments ladies. Hi Georganne! Susan, you are too kind.