In August 2010, just past the waxing quarter moon, a bunch of strangers met for the first time in Rostrevor, a small town in County Down, Northern Ireland, nestled below the Mourne Mountains on the edge of Carlingford Lough that opens out into the sea. From all over the world — from Portland to Hong Kong, from Glasgow to Nashville — they gathered together to learn about peacemaking rooted in the Celtic sense of sacred hospitality and the holiness of the land.
It was my first time traveling alone, and my first journey ever beyond the borders of the United States. For me, the week-long retreat became a kind of pilgrimage, back to the land of my ancestors, and beyond the ninth wave into a place of conversation, connection and new friendships forged.
The hosts of the retreat asked us to respect the safe and sacred space created by the community, and refrain from attributing direct quotes to any of the attendants or speakers. With that in mind, the following are excerpts from the journal I kept.
Day One — The Airport
On the drive out, Jeff and I talked about the distinction between superstition and faith. Decontextualization, it would seem. Faith assumes a certain articulated worldview, a complete or at least coherent theology. Superstition, on the other hand, seems without any larger context — people do things without knowing why or how it works. What does this imply about the anti-theology, anti-intellectualism of the modern Pagan community? Can practice without theology be much more than superstition?
And to what extent do we have the larger mainstream to blame? So many activities require our participation without explanation or contextualization. Moving through airport security, certain objects must be removed or displayed, subject to search. Others can be tucked away safely inside bags. What makes the difference? The explanations offered do not seem to satisfy, to offer enough context. So much of our society asks us to act "on faith," but is this really faith, or something else? Faith in the government and its ability to act on our behalf and serve our best interests as citizens — but is this really a coherent worldview?
I suppose it is — just not one that matches up well with reality.
So many strangers. Yet I feel nervous and somehow embarrassed to be here alone, on my own. It seems everyone has at least one other person with them, to watch their bags when they need to go to the bathroom or get a drink from the shop. Like hiking in the woods — you should not travel alone. And like a spiderweb, casting your fate out into the world, hoping to make that connection. Relying on a tenuous communication that stretches hundreds of miles, across an ocean — I trust G. will be there on the other side. Of course he will be — but I have to trust. All the friendly flight attendants in the world won't help me if I arrive in Belfast with no one on the other end. All these connections — everyone here has made arrangements — for foreign travel, for going home — an airport is always a nexus, a meeting of threads in the web — but everyone is moving on, hoping their connections hold. If you look out at all the strangers, you get a sense of vertigo. As though you could fall, become just another stranger, a stranger to everyone, a stranger to yourself.
We are only able to do the things we do because we are treated like children.
Guided every step of the way, watched over, instructed — and we follow. This is the only thing that makes flying bearable, the very fact that it has been rendered for us humdrum, ordinary, predictable, even boring. Pratchett is right — the human race is amazing, for it has invented boredom. It could not have succeeded in accomplishing much else if it had not first invented the exquisite haughty dullness of being bored. The girl next to me is dozing as we wait to take off. In a small metal contraption that will rocket us hundreds of miles, across an ocean. This is amazing. If we were in our right minds, we would be screaming in horror and awe; instead, we yawn and doze in our uncomfortable seats. I am not nervous. Even after my limited experience I have learned well the lessons of the cute, inane cartoon instructional videos — this is all so very dull. Routine.
How amazing and terrible we are.