As the summer approaches, it will soon be pilgrimage season – a time for letting go, slowing down and getting in tune with the spiritual side of life. A pilgrimage is an opportunity to leave behind the every-day to discover God in everything, to grow closer to God, to discover your faith and to meet the faithful.
In Gary Hastings’ book Going Up The Holy Mountain he describes the act of pilgrimage as follows:
“Pilgrimage is the physical act of travelling with a spiritual, religious intent, usually to a special, sacred place. At the same time, it can also be seen metaphorically as representing our path through life, from birth to death, or our spiritual path towards God. […] But pilgrimage is a mental state, an intention. It requires preparation and thought and prayer. It may be done for one specific reason or intention, or simply as something spiritual that’s good for you.”
There are many beautiful and inspiring pilgrimage destinations across Ireland, such as Lough Derg and Knock Shine. Perhaps one of the most scenic is Croagh Patrick, a mountain near Westport in Co. Mayo. Croagh Patrick (The Reek) has a long Christian pilgrimage tradition going back roughly five thousand years. It is renowned for its Patrician Pilgrimage in honour of St Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint. It was on the summit of the mountain that St Patrick fasted for forty days in 441 AD and the custom has been faithfully handed down from generation to generation. The Reek attracts roughly 1 million pilgrims each year, particularly on the last Sunday of July which is called Reek Sunday. At the top, there is a modern chapel where Mass is celebrated and confessions are heard surrounded by incredible views of Clew Bay. Pilgrims, hill climbers, historians, archaeologists and nature lovers all partake in scaling this beautiful mountain.
Gary Hastings says “this mountain, any mountain, is an in-between place”. “It isn’t the ordinary flat lowland, grassy field or brown bog, nor a dimpled drumlin or a rolling hill. It is neither earth nor sky. It is a hard place and a lonely one, and a place that points to other things beyond. It is a place stripped of grass and tree, down to the bare bones of existence and the hard sharpness of reality. It is a díseart – a desert in the air, implying bare rock, baking sun, blasting wind, driving rain, blinding mist and snow and hard ice; but also it is a díseart – a secluded retreat, a place apart. The word in Irish can mean both things. It is neither hospitable nor habitable, but you can make use of it. It can show you life as it really is.”
Going Up The Holy Mountain is about prayer and meditation as tools to move closer to God. Stations from the Christian tradition are included as guided meditations, in addition to profound meditations on aspects of nature (air, fire, water, stone, soil, light, plants, animals), which walk the user down the many roads towards God. The book is primarily about a real mountain of rock and scree, Croagh Patrick, but it can also be about any other mountain, or hill, or special place we use to do a pilgrimage to, or on; the mountain that stands for our lives, our growing up and maturing, growing old and dying; the mountain that is our spiritual life, growing in spiritual maturity and insight, wisdom and clarity, as we progress towards God. Buy your own copy here.