Chapter 2: The Pilgrim Cross

13th January 2020

I am carrying a Cross

“Stand at the crossroads and look. Ask for the ancient paths and where the best road is. Then walk in it and you will live in Peace.” (Jeremiah 6:16)

The pilgrim path from the Wicklow Gap descends through the Glendasan valley to Glendalough. It is known as St. Kevin’s Way. Along the way the walker is accompanied by the sights and sounds of nature especially the sound of the river tumbling through this ancient landscape with great granite rocks and boulders scattered in every direction since the end of the Ice Age.  There are also large slag heaps and ruined buildings to be seen which are reminders of the lead mining which took place here at different periods between 1807 and 1957. The miners had to go underground and work in extremely testing conditions in order to support themselves and their families with the bare necessities of life.  The pilgrim is a different sort of miner, digging deep in the spirit world searching for the treasure that gives meaning to life within and beyond the material world.

Watch out for a diversion from the main path to a rock pool in the river.  This is an excellent place to rest and refresh tired feet in the cool waters while pondering the personal story in the light of the bigger story.  Listen to the mesmerising music of the mountain river as it flows unceasingly downwards and onwards. It offers the blessing of harmony and a sense of deep connection to the searching pilgrim soul.

Most people who arrive in Glendalough nowadays come by car and not by the pilgrim paths.  Once arrived, whether by car or on foot, the pilgrimage within the historic valley can begin.  A good place to start is at the junction where the Wicklow Gap road meets the Laragh-Glendalough road.  There where the two roads meet there is a large block of mica schist rock with a rough shape of the cross standing out in relief upon it.  The stone is unique in that it has another small cross incised into its surface in the bottom left hand corner. We call it the pilgrim cross. It reminds us of the great and small crosses of life.

The Cross in the Christian tradition is a symbol of redemption, salvation and liberation from sin and suffering.  Many people go on pilgrimage to find a solution to a problem that they are experiencing.  Creation is first and foremost a blessing but that is difficult to see when relationships break down and happiness is replaced by suffering.   People often experience life as a burden and a pain to be endured.  Uncertainty, doubt and fear creep in and infect the body, mind and spirit.  Negative thoughts and feelings take over and create a bleak outlook on life.  When this negativity is recognized and addressed, the energy that is lost in fighting against it can be transformed into a powerful force for positive thinking and action.

There is a principle of universal living which says that the universe has a destructive as well as a progressive aspect but it is consistently moving forward in its growth and development.  Life is a journey of two steps forward, one step back. We begin each day with good intentions and hope to be the best that we can be.  Obstacles soon appear obstructing our way.  These appear in the form of negative upsetting experiences that come from our own thoughts, feelings and actions and from people and circumstances outside our control.  We react and respond in different ways in those situations.  One way is to suffer in silence and hope that the problem will go away; another is denying that the problem exists by blaming somebody else for causing it.  Neither of these approaches works well.  The best approach is to meet the problem face to face and seek a solution that will bring about reconciliation.  The experience of pain and suffering can lead to a new and deeper experience of the meaning of life.

Jesus, in His human experience identified completely with suffering humanity with the purpose of bringing about change and transformation.  He came that we may have life and have it to the full. (John 10:10)  He went all the way through the ultimate sacrifice of giving his life to show us that this is the best way to reach fullness of life.

It is important for the pilgrim to stay for a while with hands reaching out touching the pilgrim stone  while more journey questions come to the surface. How am I now?  What troubles me?  What makes me sad?  What crosses do I carry?  How does my cross compare with the crosses that other people carry?  Why does God allow such suffering in the world? Do I find hope in the fact that I believe that Jesus carried the cross on behalf of suffering humanity.  What is the cross that I most want to carry during my pilgrimage experience in Glendalough?


Spiritual Practice

  • Contemplate the sorrowful mysteries of the Christian faith. These highlight the pain and suffering of the human experience. The narrative of the Passion and death of Jesus is found in similar accounts in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and in the Gospel of John which differs a little in detail.
  • Pray Psalm 130 – A pilgrim psalm that comes from the heart
  • Listen to the recitation of Robert Frost’s poem, ‘The Road not Taken’ on the CD.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.  

Robert Frost.