Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to visit this land of Merlin and Arthur, of castles and coracles, of monasteries and pilgrimages, of paganism and Christianity. My last name is Thomas (rather Welsh, wouldn’t you say?) and, if the family stories are true, I have roots around the Caernarvon area. At the moment, it would appear we travelled and worked by way of Shropshire, England.
When was young, I became fascinated with country and history of Wales after reading such books as “The Grey King” (Susan Cooper; her entire “The Dark is Rising” series hooked me), “A String in the Harp” (Nancy Bond), “The Pendragon Cycle”(Stephen R. Lawhead), and of course Lloyd Alexander’s “The Chronicles of Prydain“. Tales of warriors and sorcerers, spells and enchantments, otherworlds and heroes captured my imagination completely. And I found it tantalizing that I descended from this place.
By the time I was fourteen, I had landed myself a copy of “The Mabinogion” — ancient British literature captured by Lady Charlotte Guest. At the time, the long strings of consonants and difficult names prevented me from truly diving into the entire collection, but my fascination only grew.
Most of love of Wales remained hidden. Woven into many of my beloved stories was witchcraft, paganism, and Druidism — all things deeply forbidden in the religious institutions of my youth. I was taught that I needed to fear, shun, and condemn anything that would open the door to demons or the devil. As scared as I was of ecclesiastical authority, I refused to give up my pursuit of Celtic lore. I found life in these spaces — life Sunday School couldn’t really offer me at the time.
I’ve since matured in my lenses of Wales. Romanticizing any people group or culture tends to keep our lenses superficial and myopic. It’s a country rich with history, wildlife, rugged landscape, true; but it is also filled with politics, economies, those with power and those without power — people. Ordinary, everyday people.
Having worked in small nonprofit sectors for most of my adult life, I have never had the means to travel for pleasure. Most of my overseas trips have been missions trips or humanitarian trips. Wales was on my bucket list to visit before I turned 40.
I turn 40 on September 08.
I’ll be moving away from my home of 15 years to begin a pastoral internship on October 01. Between the end of school this past spring and the start of the fall term, I knew I would have a bit of a gap. I scrounged what little savings I had, took a deep breath, and planned a week-long adventure in Wales.
Because of my health issues this past winter, I was prepared to cancel my small vacation. Times were so dark and difficult that I had no ability to believe I’d be well enough to take the chance. I was so sick that I had to miss my cultural immersion trip to Haida Gwaii with my classmates during the winter break.
The Power of Advocates
It was then my parents and my professor stepped in on my behalf.My parents encouraged me to hold off cancelling anything. I hadn’t booked a flight yet and my deposits would remain in good standing right up until the last minute. “Just hold off,” my mom said. “Wait and see.”
My seminary professor in charge of our cultural immersion experiences was deeply empathetic to what I was going through. Not only did she advocate for me by having the faculty approve my summer trip to be my cultural immersion requirement, but she was able to secure some funds to help me extend the trip. Since the cultural immersion component required me spending time in local communities and not just on spiritual pilgrimage, I was given the opportunity to take my plans from amazing to once-in-a-lifetime.
The Adventure of a Lifetime
With that kind of support behind me, and after a good deal of hard work and healing, I have planned a THREE WEEK epic adventure of a lifetime in Wales! Castles, cliff-jumping- zip-lining, a stay on Bardsey Island, trains up mountains, food festivals, music — this will be a time not to be missed! I’ll walk on ancient British soil, some of the oldest in the entire region, and dream of uncovering the fabled Holy Grail, make my own pilgrimage along the coast, and seek out God in places I would not have thought God could exist.
I’ll be blogging my adventures here. Subscribe to Reluctant Mysticism and stay up-to-date on all adventures, magics, holy moments, and more!
In the meantime, I’ll you with the haunting words of Susan Cooper that first capture my own child’s heart…
“On the day of the dead, when the year too dies,
Must the youngest open the oldest hills
Through the door of the birds, where the breeze breaks.
There fire shall fly from the raven boy,
And the silver eyes that see the wind,
And the light shall have the harp of gold.By the pleasant lake the Sleepers lie,
On Cadfan’s Way where the kestrels call;
Though grim from the Grey King shadows fall,
Yet singing the golden harp shall guide
To break their sleep and bid them ride.When light from the lost land shall return,
Six Sleepers shall ride, six Signs shall burn,
And where the midsummer tree grows tall
By Pendragon’s sword the Dark shall fall.
Y maent yr mynyddoedd yn canu,
ac y mae’r arglwyddes yn dod.”
(Susan Cooper, The Grey King)