A group of ten students, along with a small number of spouses and alumni from The Seattle School community, recently returned from a pilgrimage to the isle of Iona on the west coast of Scotland. Known for its religious community established by St. Columba in the sixth century, the isle of Iona has long been a place of Christian pilgrimage and is considered to be a “thin place”—a description used in Celtic spirituality for a location where the presence of God is distinctly palpable and heaven and earth seem to meet.

This is the second year that Dr. Roy Barsness, Professor of Counseling Psychology, has taken a group of students and members of The Seattle School community on pilgrimage to Iona. The group joined a larger group of pilgrims again this year, led by celtic spirituality scholar Rev. Dr. John Philip Newell.

With the intention of “Listening to the Heartbeat of God” (the title of the course led by Dr. Barsness and also one of Dr. Newell’s books), participants spent eight days in community exploring the quiet island in reverence, deepening their experience with spiritual practices, and pondering their role in the transformation of the world.

On the value of combining an academic course with a spiritual journey, Dr. Pat Loughery, Adjunct Professor of Spiritual Formation who also participated in the trip, explained, “There’s a beautiful awakening that unfolds when we experience what we’re studying. For this pilgrimage course, we read some early and recent writings of the leader of our journey, John Philip Newell, before spending time with him on Iona.… But it was really in spending time together, asking questions, hiking around the island, sharing stories over dinner…that those words came to life for us.”

The group from The Seattle School returned impacted by the other pilgrims who journeyed with them while on Iona with Dr. Newell, another gift of learning beyond the classroom. “They came from other life stories and countries,” Dr. Loughery explained, “and as we grew to know each other, their perspectives were lovely compliments to our own.”

View pictures from their journey, taken by Dr. Loughery »

Image of the Iona pilgrimage group, including students and members of The Seattle School community and guides Rev. Dr. John Philip Newell and Ali Newell, by Dr. Pat Loughery (not pictured)