by Ben Lindwall
Ben is a longtime friend, who leads people on pilgrimages which help them cross thresholds into new beginnings in their life. Enjoy his post below, and consider attending this extraordinary experience, Pilgrimage for Change.
How did I find myself on a remote island in Scotland, with a rock in my hand, and tears pouring down my face? The rain and wind were driving as I stood where St. Columba landed centuries before, bringing the light of Jesus to a new world. It is a place now known as the Bay of New Beginnings and it was a culminating moment for me as I came to terms with my past, more deeply accepted myself, and caught a glimpse of a fresh way of living.
Before arriving to the tiny Isle of Iona, I was exhausted, scared, and feeling very alone. My wife and I were five years into owning a home in one of the most violent zip codes in the country. As young and committed evangelicals, we originally had a grandiose vision of bringing healing and justice, possibly even winning a Nobel Peace Prize for our efforts. Instead we were blindsided by systematic racism, vicious cycles of poverty, marginalization, and horrific violence. Our home was broken into, a pit bull tried to attack me, a child two-doors down was brutally beaten by his mother’s boyfriend with an extension chord, and a neighbor was gunned down in the street a block away. We also found ourselves new parents to two beautiful young children and we were forced to confront our fears in a deeper way as we looked at the world we had brought them into.
On top of all of this, I was realizing that my fundamentalist faith upbringing was not working for my actual life. As I found a firm “NO” to an exclusive, empirical, and fragmented theology, I struggled to find anywhere to place a “yes”. I felt spiritually isolated and lost. It seemed that my inner transformation changed my politics, changed the way I understand church structures, and directly impacted my relationships as a result. Nevertheless, I continued to pay attention to a continued connection and fascination with Jesus Christ—this man who the early Celts knew as “the truly natural one.”
When I gathered with others from around the world on Iona for the first Pilgrimage for Change with the Celtic scholar and author John Philip Newell and his wife Ali, it really was a time of New Beginning for me. There were activists, educators, clergy, therapists, and folks in that in-between place trying to discern next steps. We were passionate, exhausted, full of life, and at crossroads. All of us needed this: to pray, to walk, to be together, and to find a fresh way forward.
As I listened to John Philip and Ali Newell teach and speak of a faith that is deeply connected to the earth, seeks relationship with other wisdom traditions, and compassionately and actively engages injustice, suffering, and oppression, I knew I had found a new home. We chanted words from sacred Abrahamic texts, sat in silence, practiced tai chi, and walked the island. It was liminal space that I continue to draw from today.
There is a tradition in The Bay of New Beginnings where you pick up a rock, symbolizing something you are letting go of and you toss it into the sea. I found one the size of a baseball, perfect for maximum distance and I put all my force into it. Then you pick up another one for keeping, which symbolizes something to which you are saying “yes”. I still have my tiny rock– a little picture of that turning point where I came home ready to reclaim my past, re-engage my neighborhood, and know Jesus in a new and deeper way.
This summer John Philip and Ali will be hosting a weekend-version of what I experienced on Iona, this time right here in Minneapolis on August 1-3. I hope that many others can get a taste of what happened for me back in 2011. Whether you’re exhausted, at a crossroads, or simply looking for something more… please join us as we pray, walk, learn, and find a fresh way forward together.
Executive Director | Heartbeat