‘Great are the works of the Lord,
to be pondered by all who love them’ (Psalm 111.2)
The typical faith tourist or pilgrim is not interested only in churches and chapels, early saints and Celtic carving. We are also interested in local communities and their living presence today. We are interested in history of all sorts. We are delighted by the mountains and the lochs, thrilled by the wildlife, mesmerised by the quality of light in the constantly changing sky.
And then, of course, there is food and drink. There is beer and friendship in the local pub. These things are not distractions from faith tourism. Because faith is not just one area of interest among others. It is rather a way of living your whole life in the presence of God, in every moment, in all circumstances.
Coming to Cowal as a pilgrim you may explore your own faith through the early Celtic Christian history of the area. But you may also do it through the church of the present and the people you meet on the way, and through the wild rural landscape where you are walking, cycling or driving. For many of us it is this natural world which is one of the most renewing and invigorating encounters of our pilgrimage.
Christians have long seen God’s creation as his ‘first book’ – a place where God reveals himself to humankind. He spoke, and it came into being, and his creation speaks to us still. Its goodness and beauty remind us that ‘Goodness’ and ‘Beauty’ are among the names of God. So we are moved by our encounter with the natural world – moved by joy, wonder, a sense of mystery, a sense of our own smallness and vulnerability, a sense of mortality. All these are movements of the heart towards the Creator.
We are coming to realise, however, that the integrity of God’s creation has been undermined in many ways by what we have done to it. We have exploited resources without measure and hunted animals to extinction, we have destroyed entire ecosystems, and polluted the earth, air and water which give us life. But we are the species – the only species in Creation – with the power of language, the ability to reflect and act on this situation, to plan and take measures to heal the wounds we have inflicted.
The Eco-Pilgrim pages on this website will highlight some of the beauties of Cowal’s wild places, some of the wounds we have made, and some of the measures that we may take to heal them. As a pilgrim in Cowal, you will no doubt delight in its rich natural heritage. You may also notice with sadness some of the harm we have done. But perhaps you will find a sense of hope in learning about what we can do to restore something of the integrity of God’s creation.
For further reflections on the Christian life as an eco-pilgrimage, you might like to look at Pope Francis’s letter Laudato Si’, which you will find here. Scottish responses to these questions may be found with some useful links on the Scottish Eco-Congregations’ website.