How to Travel
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.—2 Corinthians 13: 14
One of my earliest overseas travels was inspired by the fourteen hundredth anniversary of the death of Saint Columba on the island of Iona off the western coast of Scotland.
Born into a noble Irish family, Columba was a book-loving monk indicted for plagiarism after making an unauthorised copy of his master’s book of the Psalms.
Sent into exile, Columba became the quintessential Celtic pilgrim. He set sail from Ireland’s north coast in a coracle, a small basket-like boat woven from branches and covered with tightly stretched cowhides. The noteworthy thing about sailing in a coracle is that you have no rudder to guide you. You are at the mercy of the winds and tides. Columba set sail in the year 563 and drifted slowly northward, eventually making landfall on Iona, his island home for the next thirty years. There he founded a monastic community for the evangelisation of Scotland and northern England.
Columba’s voyage to Iona represents a type of pilgrimage peculiar to the Celts. It is a pilgrimage in which one has no set agenda or itinerary. It is a rigorous form of spiritual discipline, a kind of wandering asceticism in which the pilgrim literally casts his or her fate to the wind. The goal of any pilgrimage is to have a closer, more intimate relationship with God; but since God is everywhere, it really does not matter where one travels. Going on a pilgrimage of this sort is to launch oneself upon the mystery of God.
The brave souls who set out on these types of pilgrimage are unfettered by any prepackaged religious doctrines or creeds. They are ready to launch out on the vast mystery of God unaided by prior experience. A gutsy enterprise, to be sure.
The Bible employs graphic images to convey the august domain of the eternal God of heaven and earth. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah pictures the Lord “sitting on a throne, high and lofty,” surrounded by six-winged seraphs who sing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.” The author of the New Testament book of Revelation portrays the Lord powerfully enthroned. “Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder.” Around the throne are wondrous mystical creatures who proclaim that God alone has created all things and by his will they continue to exist.
To seek the boundless God of the universe without a guide is a bold undertaking. To set forth on a spiritual quest unaided by the legacy of former seekers, like pilgrims setting sail in a rudderless coracle, is a daunting enterprise few attempt. Most spiritual seekers travel within a defined religious tradition, like pilgrims embarking with a specific itinerary in mind.
The clearest itinerary for the pilgrim journey to God is the doctrine of the Trinity. It is like a map providing seekers a handy schemata to the vast reality that is God. The doctrine’s origins lie in the teachings of Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of God, who refers to God the Father as “him who sent me” and who speaks of God the Holy Spirit as the Advocate and the Spirit of Truth. The Trinity is a summary of Christian faith. Many of us affirm this itinerary every Sunday in the words of the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed, repeated immediately after the sermon as if to ask ourselves, Did the preacher follow the itinerary or veer off course?
We speak of the Trinity as three persons and yet one substance. The word person comes from the Greek prosopon, meaning “mask or stage identity.” The Trinity is one God manifested to humankind through three masks or identities. We perceive God the Father in the natural world, the created order, in “all that is, seen and unseen”; God the Son is revealed in the unique incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who “for us and for our salvation … came down from heaven”; and God the Holy Spirit, the ever-flowing love of God, has “spoken through the Prophets” and abides with us still.
The Trinity reveals both the pervasiveness and the permeability of God. It reminds us of the all-encompassing reality of God. We are surrounded on all sides by the Lord’s loving presence, as if in the middle of a divine triangle. The Trinity also discloses the possibility of having a closer, more intimate relationship with the Lord. To begin that relationship, we have but to open our hearts and accept the love of God offered through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. God bids us come, to begin our journey of faith. Whenever we make the sign of the cross and say “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” we are reminding ourselves of the identity of God and how to travel to God.
Rawls, James J.. On the Way: 100 Reflections on the Journey of Faith. WestBow Press. Kindle Edition.