What is your bread for the pilgrim journey? What nourishes and sustains you as you weave your way through life?

Having grown up on, or around Iona all of my life, having led and taken part in countless pilgrimages to and around that iconic pilgrim island, I have a confession: one of the most profound pilgrimages I have made was not on Iona, and was unintentional.

in the 1990s I met Barbara Glasson in Liverpool. I was researching church-based community work. Barbara had been given permission by the Methodist Church to explore a city-centre ministry the story of which she later told in her book I am Somewhere Else. Barbara led me on what I now know was a pilgrimage through the city streets. We walked in silence. We prayed. We listened to stories. We challenged one another. We noticed our surroundings. We met with strangers whom we wouldn’t ordinarily meet. Barbara introduced me to those with whom she broke bread, her companions (from the Latin com-panis meaning ‘together’ ‘with bread’). And then she led me up steep steps to the sanctuary of their city centre mission kitchen. There, she had begun to gather together the lonely and the homeless, the weary and the wary – and together, daily, they prepared, baked and broke bread in the name of Christ. As the bread rested to rise, so too the group stepped back to rest, pray and reflect. As the bread baked and blossomed, so too the group found strength and courage in their new-found bread-making gifts. And as the bread was broken and shared, so too the group took their loaves out into the streets to share with others.

Barbara describes this ministry as the Bread Church where worship is about engaging with the heart-wrenching issues of our day: homelessness, poverty, injustice. Making bread was here a symbol of contemplation and action woven together to nourish the soul and to stem hunger. That unintentional pilgrimage nourished me deeply in surprising ways, and brings me back to this question: what nourishes you on your life’s pilgrimage?

George MacLeod, founder of the Iona Community, famously said that Iona is ‘a thin place, where the space between things spiritual and things material is as thin as gossamer.’ If you have been to the island, rested your head on a warm granite rock at the north end on a still summer’s day, swum in the cool Atlantic Ocean, experienced the stillness of St. Oran’s Chapel, or marvelled at the vastness of St. Columba’s Bay, you will have had a glimpse of this thinness. Thousands of pilgrims journey to Iona annually. Many join the weekly pilgrimage around the island where we pause, reflect, sing, read, rage – and above all – listen to the voice of our Creator – through our own heartbeat, in conversation, and within all nature around us.

And we know that while Iona may be beautifully particular, it is not unique. The world is full of ‘thin places’ where we catch a glimpse of the divine in the everyday, ‘if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear’ (Matthew 13:16). I found such a thin place on an unlikely pilgrimage in Liverpool, a place where I was held, moulded, found rest and left with new energy. May you find such thin places too.

Ruth Harvey is Leader of the Iona Community www.iona.org.uk