I spent much of my July 4th touring Clonmacnoise, the site of a Celtic Christian monastic community founded by St. Ciaran sometime around 548 AD. Admittedly, I’m not sure that my spirit—at first, at least—was in the best place to make the most of my visit. I awoke to a somewhat grey and windy morning; not exactly the weather I had hoped for. And to make matters worse, I was feeling a bit more sore than expected after suffering a minor tumble off my bicycle yesterday. (Happily, both the bicycle and its rider are fine.)
The bigger challenge, however, had to do with my expectations. I was hoping that I was going to see some impressive remnants from this ancient Christian community. (And in that regard, Clonmacnoise didn’t disappoint!) But I think that what I also wanted was for “the holiness of the place” to rub off on me in an almost mystical fashion. I wanted the sacred setting and the legendary devotion of its former residents to instill magically within me a sense of God’s presence.
Of course, I don’t think I’m the only one who has wanted to be what we could describe as “a tourist to holiness.” Much like we go to Disney World anticipating a boost of joy from “the happiest place on earth,” I think we’re sometimes tempted to seek out sacred sites and experiences—a retreat center or a church service, a mountaintop or a Bible study—assuming that we’re almost automatically going to be closer to God coming out than we were going in.
Happily, God is good. And because He graciously wishes to give His children good gifts, we often do receive a “spiritual pick-me-up” from these “visits to the sacred.” But as I sat there thinking about the men and women who sought Christ at Clonmacnoise over the centuries, it occurred to me that probably very few of them received a “jolt of Divine energy” just because they showed up. No, it was in the daily process of being still, studying scripture, and praying (not to mention, of course, sharing in all the mundane tasks that were part of doing life together) that they learned—not how to be “bowled over” by God in the extra-ordinary—but how to be drawn closer to God in the ordinary. To borrow the words of Brother Lawrence, they discovered “The Practice of the Presence of God,” which can happen in every place, and not just those places that have been hallowed by centuries of Christian worship and prayer.
As I sat pondering this, the Lord brought to mind a passage of scripture that I used in a sermon not too long ago: “Blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage” (Psalm 84:5, emphasis added). Perhaps it’s not in visiting some “outpost” of God’s kingdom that we should most expect to find God’s presence, but in learning to find Him on the way. And with that thought in mind, I was able to be still, to pray, and to sense God’s presence in a fresh way. And that has made my visit to Clonmacnoise holy indeed.
Because I don’t have very good Wi-Fi in the place I’m staying, I’ll have to wait for another time to post some photos.. I’ll be leaving Clonmacnoise tomorrow morning and cycling to a town called Athboy. Please pray for safe travels, and for the ability to slow down and perceive God in the journey.