The Discerning Storyteller

In each of us dwells a wonderer, a gypsy, a pilgrim. The purpose here is to call forth that spirit. What matters most on your journey is how deeply you see, how attentively you hear,how richly the encounters are felt in your heart and soul.
~Phil Cousineau

Standing on Mynydd Du over Gwynfe, the village of my ancestors. Photo by Phil Howes
Standing on Mynydd Du over Gwynfe,
the village of my ancestors.
Photo by Phil Howes

 By the close of the second week of my second trip to Wales, I encountered an internal resistance to posting the daily details of my travel abroad. Something about the public rumination and celebration of my deepening relationship with the Welsh people and the Unitarians seemed incongruent to the nature of a pilgrimage. About week four, as I tried to write poetry and prose, I kept circling back around to the feeling that I was telling stories out of turn. Three hundred words into a reflection and my internal critique would shut things down. I’d start a new thought and again, a few hundred words later, some internal wisdom resisted the need to write an article for public consumption about my interactions, affections and relationships with the people of Wales.

They had let me into their homes. I had met their families. I had listened to their stories of love and joy, sorrow and regret. I had called for tea and connected the relations across the field. I had come to know whose sheep where whose on the mountain side.

People knew of my activity. They knew of me before I knew them. They attended to my day. I was part of the local chatter. Some call it gossip, but I learned through experience, here in the village, it was more about knowing what was going on within the community. It was a way of expressing care and concern. It was about keeping an eye on the people you love. It was how they welcomed me into the fold. I had become part of a community that cares for each other.

I may have Welsh ancestry but in Wales I was still a visitor. I was a guest in their country. Still, having been received into the community with invites to tour the farm and show up for sheering, I was more than a passing stranger. As such I was having a hard time talking about the Welsh, my friends, my colleagues, my fellow Unitarians as an object in my pilgrimage, as an interaction along the way.

I had found a deeper place for this community in my heart; talking about them as if they were a moment in time or a spot on my map felt impertinent and irreverent. I trusted them. They trusted me. I cared about their stories and their lives. I knew who was dying. I knew who had died. I worried about who would be gone when I returned in a year. I worried with them about the future of their small chapels.

The responsibility of cultural pilgrimage, I have learned, requires the ability to be respectfully part of something beyond words and reflections and stories. I am still discerning how to talk about my time in Wales and the people I’ve met along the way, but one thing is absolutely clear, I hold them in my heart and soul as if I too were Welsh born and Welsh bred.

So there on the ridge of Mynydd Du (Black Mountain), transformed by relationships both past and present, I answered my grandmother’s call to come home and my heart ached. My spirit longed for all that I would leave behind. And that lump in my throat and the tear in my eye were simple expressions of my love for a people so precious and kind; a country so lush and green, a culture rich so textured and alive and a faith so joyful and bold.

Questions to walk with:

  1. Do you tell stories out of turn? What is this about for you?
  2. Is your conversation about others filled with care and concern? If not, how can you attend to that reality? If so, how do you speak in ways that express love and respect?
  3. How do you welcome the stranger into your midst?