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 Forthcoming Courses and Talks Info

This page is used only for events that do not have their own web information - for others, see links in my home page itinerary


Iona Abbey, Sat 23 – Fri 29 September 2017

A week long exploration on the theme: The Pilgrimage of Life

Submit a Bookings Enquiry Form, available at this link

Sorry Folks - that one's now FULL - but see Glenthorne below

also, watch this space for possibly another Iona week with me 4-10 Nov 2017


(Weekend version at Glenthorne, Lake District, 24-26 Nov here)

St Columba - Icon in Mexican Style - Mary Jane Miller

This week will explore some meanings of pilgrimage, both in our personal lives and more generally. It is intended for you to take time to reflect on where your life journey has reached. It does this in a way that is integrated in with the work and worship life of the Abbey and its resident staff and volunteers. The week is open to all, but is aimed especially towards those who are committed to the work of social, environmental and spiritual transformation in our times. Amongst the guests we hope to have two iconographers from Mexico (who made the above image of Saint Columba). They have offered some optional workshop experience during one or two afternoons.

Life has been described as a journey of ‘departure’ on the way, ‘initiation’ through the trials and troubles, and then the ‘return’ which brings a deeper flow of life back into the community. To understand this process as a pilgrimage is to bring its experience more fully into consciousness. To live more deeply - not just any old life, but 'life abundantly'. During the week, we'll explore how the sacred places, stories and traditions of Iona can be stepping stones along the way. We'll explore the flows between the inner and the outer life. And we'll do all these things as a journey that we undertake, not just alone, but also, as fellow travellers in community along the way.

The pattern of the week will follow 3 main themes, all of which can interweave and recirculate as we pass through life:

  • Departure - Where we have come from in setting out on the journey of our lives. What was given to us, or not given to us, by our parents, schooling, communities, etc.. How these things affect the template with which the boat of our lives are pushed out into the carrying stream.

  • Initiation - The stage when we hit the trials and tribulations of life, battered and beaten on the rocks that we hit along the way, maybe half drowned. Literally or metaphorically, this can be a walking through "the Valley of Death". It is the stage where what matters is not success or failure, but the building of courage. Not all may be subjected to such trials, but all might need, perhaps, to be ready because we don't know what's round the next corner. Activists in particular must build this courage to face the risks of the work that they take on. We will look at how this can be made sense of and resourced, drawing on spiritual traditions of the world including from Hinduism the insights of "karma yoga", and from Christianity, "the way of the Cross".

  • Return - One has been through the trials and tribulations. Intimations of a deeper ground of being may have been glimpsed. These can bring to us a special strength, a spiritual grounding, something that can show in our comportment and affect those around us even without having to do anything (the Taoist philosophy of Wu Wei, action through non-action). Both Joseph Campbell (the Scots-Irish-American mythologist) and Mircea Eliade (the Romanian ethnographer of shamanism) speak of how this stage is concerned with calling back, or opening up, the flow of life into the community. As such, the pilgrimage of life is not just a personal journey. It connects us to each other, and to the deeper signs and callings of our times.

Participants are encouraged to prepare inwardly and outwardly. Consider reading and bringing with you Adomnan’s wonderful 7th century book, ‘Life of St Columba’ (Penguin Classics). If you wish to familiarise yourself with my work in advance, I recommend you read either Soil and Soul, or even more pertinently, my recent book, Poacher's Pilgrimage: an Island Journey. Poacher's is not yet available in the USA (forthcoming from Cascade Books, Wilf & Stock), but a variety of re-sellers offer it on Amazon in the US. For those with a more technical interest in the theology of the Hebridean islands to which Iona belongs, I suggest also my short book, Island Spirituality. As this is now virtually out of print, the local history society that published it has allowed me to link to a free PDF download at the link just given.

This week follows from a similar events in 2012, 2014 and 2016. Last year it completely sold out, so do book early. You will not find the week listed in older programme listings for the year as it was a late addition. To book, please send in the booking enquiry form available at this link. The accommodation is shared in small but comfortable twin rooms, all meals are included, prices range from £188 (low income UK) to £389.

Glenthorne Quaker Centre short course: If you would like to explore these themes, but cannot come to Iona for a week or prefer something shorter, then consider the weekend course that I'll be offering with the same basic structure in the Lake District of England. This is at the Glenthorne Quaker Centre, Fri 24th to Sun 26th November 2017.


Alastair McIntosh is an Associate of the Iona Community who has many time run week long programmes at the Abbey and MacLeod Centre. His books, which include Soil and Soul: People versus Corporate Power, and Hell and High Water: Climate Change, Hope and the Human Condition, have been described by George Monbiot as ‘world-changing,’ by an Archbishop of Canterbury (Rowan Williams) as a source of ‘inspiration’, and by Thom Yorke of Radiohead as ‘truly mental.’ He has contributed to the programme of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature on sacred natural sites and to programmes of the World Council of Churches and various European military staff colleges on overcoming violence. He lives with his wife, Verene Nicolas, in the Govan area of Glasgow, where he is a founding director of the GalGael Trust - an organisation that combats poverty, partly inspired by the witness of the Rev Dr George MacLeod, who founded the Iona Community.




Last Updated: 14 November 2018


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