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The Journey within a Journey, Part I – Oban, Scotland

It’s mid-October and I am in Scotland with my Arizona buddies Dee and Colleen, on our way to Joan Anderson’s Celtic retreat, Time out of Time, on the Isle of Iona. Prior to our trek to Iona, we are in Oban (which means “little bay”) to spend a day kayaking on the beautiful waters that surround this area.

From the moment we met Colin from Oban Sea Kayakers for breakfast prior to paddling, we knew he was “our guy” as he talked about the spirituality of kayaking. When he said, “Out on the sea in a kayak, it is like the pace of your life. It doesn’t take long for you to get grounded again,” our hearts came alive with the quiet wonder and anticipation of the day’s new frontier. We are ready to enter the open water and the coves and inlets of this stunning water, where silently and gently, the harmony between our souls and lives would converge.

From Oban we travel to Seil Island and drive across the old stone Clachan Bridge, an elegant structure with an arch high enough to permit sailing boats to pass underneath. At one time this edifice was known as the “only bridge over the Atlantic.” A magnificent setting to begin our Scottish voyage.

Three Women and Paddle

As we serenely paddle out to the open water with the sunlight glistening like diamonds on the water, I turn to my friend, Colleen and ask, “How are you enjoying your time on the water?” She replies, “I can’t talk to you now, I’m in worship.” Her words stop me mid-stroke. Worship.

In the traditional sense, worship is the formal expression of religious devotion with rites, passages, and music usually in a church or other house of prayer. But here, out on the water, embraced by majestic beauty, an atmosphere of worship surrounds us, where our dulled senses are awakened and our hearts are open, filled with a reverence and respect for creation.

Ocean Shot

The tranquil scenery is so soft, welcoming and comforting. The deep warmth of the gentle touch of the sun wraps itself around me and my paddling strokes and breathing fall in rhythm to something eternal. It is as though we are paddling in a panoramic movie, with grace and beauty evident in every slice of nature. The soft light brings subtle healing to unknown wounds in my soul and the gentle rippling of the water matches the beat of my heart somehow. Yes, Col, we are in worship.

Ocean Shot 2

Paddling here, I instantly feel present, my mind quickly freed of the clutter of thoughts that settle there. I absorb the natural beauty into myself, feeling every ripple on the water, every gentle breeze on my face and celebrate the quiet miracles that are emerging with every stroke of my paddle. An inner stream of unlived dreams is flowing, and I trust in the buoyancy of the water allowing my deepest thoughts to awaken. If genuine worship is a direct meeting with the Holy, it was certainly with us here.

Women Pause

We pause during our paddle for Jill’s homemade snacks and hot coffee on a sweet little island that feels like a sanctuary within a sanctuary. Small yellow flowers and purple heather holding on to their last color of the season, shimmering tide pools and scraggly rocks – another place to worship in the splendor of nature. Wrapping my hands around the hot coffee mug, surrounded by the warmth of friendship, how could it get any better?

In his beautiful book of blessings, Benedictus, John O’Donohue writes, “As water takes whatever shape it is in, so free may you be about who you become.” Through worship of any kind, we become more than what we were before, with a deeper sense of knowing. We come away with a keener understanding of what really matters. As we paddle in this heavenly place, we are stripped of the material entrapments and are once again reminded of the beauty of simplicity. And as my friend Dee says, “Everything comes right on the water.” Indeed it does.

Colin McWilliams

If not for my friend and fellow paddler, Bonnie, at home, we would have never been graced with this experience. Bonnie has frequently kayaked here, and connected us with her friends Rowland and Carol who brought us to Colin and Jill. Life is a series of serendipitous connections. Bonnie is the pastor of an Episcopalian Church and I’d like to close this reflection with a quote and questions from her recent sermon. “It is at the limits of our personal orbits that we encounter the sacredness of our lives,” she preached, “where we push ourselves beyond that which makes us comfortable.” In that space, I believe, is where we worship deeply, worship fully and truly come home to ourselves.

Next, we travel across the Isle of Mull and ferry to the mystical Isle of Iona in the Inner Hebrides. Stay tuned for part 2 of the Journey within a Journey…

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What matters? What is exceptional in our lives upon which we must focus?

How then, are we daring to connect? How are we vulnerable?

How do we worship, taking our souls beyond themselves?

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