Traveling Light

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My hiking boots and constant companions

For days, I moped about my supposed vacation.  Who travels 3,300 miles for summer fun with fleeces and rain pants?  But I and my husband had joined my church’s pilgrimage to the Scottish island of Iona, and we crammed our luggage with precautions against rain and cold. One of us was even good natured about it.

Freckled with remnants of Celtic Christianity, Iona is said to be a holy place.  Pilgrims are drawn by its beauty, remoteness and a tiny community that practices hospitality and justice. Many say it is a “liminal space,” where visitors can feel close to God.  I wanted to feel that way too.  So I bought rain pants.

My rain pants never made it to Iona.  Thanks to broken windshield wipers on two different planes, we missed our flight to Scotland. But eventually we reached Iona. (Our rain pants, we think, went to Arizona.)

My carry-on bag contained lots of books, an unsuitable top and one pair of undies.  To make room for the rain pants and fleece, I wore my hiking boots on the plane.  And so for five days on Iona — on hikes, at church, in the hotel dining room — I wore nothing but gray jeans, salmon jean jacket, shirt, hiking boots, rotating undies and heroic unrotating wool socks.

And a funny thing happened: I was fine.  Better than fine: I was happy. With no bags of our own, my husband and I helped tote others’ luggage. One Iona resident lent me a shirt and, yes, a fleece.  I unlaced my boots each day at church and wiggled my toes.  I sought out grass paths to cushion my walk and noticed buttercups, irises and wool caught on thistle.  As my clothes got stickier, I found shade and rest among the ruins.  And the weather pitched in too with a streak of sunshine and warmth.

In short, I moved slowly and freely.  I welcomed kindness. I was like Jesus’ disciples who, on his instructions, began their missions with nothing but a staff and the sandals on their feet (Mark 6:8-9).  Like they, I walked on unfamiliar paths, grateful for comforts found outside myself.  I discovered in my empty-handedness that I had exactly the equipment I needed.  My hands were open, not clenched around something I carried.  And I felt like God was simply everywhere: in the beauty, the kindness, the stillness, the sunshine and the windsong.  And my hiking boots.

Think about a time when, away from home, you lost or forgot something you thought you needed.  How did your reaction change over time?  What new opportunities or connections emerged as a result? Tell the story to a friend, or your family, or to me!

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