I select my celebrity programs carefully. Some such shows are mind-numbing pits of triviality, but others are serious attempts at good programs. This show is high on the quality list. Seven celebrities are walking [with some necessary boat and bus journeys] from St Columba's native Donegal to Scotland's sacred isle of Iona, journeying on a voyage of growth and self-discovery through both wild and urban spaces. The pilgrimage follows a mediaeval pilgrim trail based on sites sacred to St Columba,also known as Columcille.
The celebrities are: Laurence Llewelyn Bowen, interior designer and atheist pagan; Nick Hewer, a very intelligent agnostic rethinking his position as he enters his twilight years; Scarlett Moffatt,a sensitive Christian, who became tearful when a sacred stone was not given sufficient respect; Monty Panesar, an open minded SIkh cricketer, Louisa Clein,a Jewish actor; and Shiraz Miraz, a Muslim comedienne. A seventh, Will Bayley, a paralympian table tennis star, who struggles with bodily illness, will arrive in episode two. Participants need a basic knowledge of religion, but none are scholars of any expertise in the field, and all seem to be basically tolerant of others' positions.
After first meeting in Donegal town the participants began their walk on the wave-beaten cliffs that tower on Donegal's coastline, and we were treated to sights of its wild landscape. Truly awesome. In a land containing sacred stones dating from the Neolithic age now re-christened into the Celtic Christian cultus, the ever-smart Laurence, who insisted on maintaining his sartorial elegance whatever the landscape and weather, was in his element. It was clear that he had done his homework on the route and its features.
What struck me as a religious writer was the friendly spirit in which conversations were conducted. All participants seemed determined to respect the sensitivities of the others and no-one was pushing their position or attempting to proselytise. The participants are all on a journey of discovery, some attempting to rethink their position and others to deepen it. Monty, the Sikh, is interested in finding out more about Christianity, but is ready to share his faith with others.
Monty was the first to take the pilgrims to a place of worship, a Sikh gurudwara, which proved a pleasant experience where the pilgrims enjoyed the generous hospitality of the Sikh post-worship meal, which is open to all-comers. The pilgrims were later to visit a Catholic church in Derry [Londonderry to people of Unionist persuasion] on the site of a monastery destroyed founded by St Columba and destroyed at the Reformation. Mass proved a significant experience. Scarlett asked the priest for a blessing and felt enriched by it; Monty asked for a blessing, had a brief talk about the divine energy permeating nature, and felt that the blessing had done him good. Strangely, the Jewish Louisa, who did not seek a blessing, felt that attending mass had inspired in her a yearning to attend synagogue. Something spiritual was happening, and it was not confined to any one religion.
I was left with the following thought. Starting in the mountain country of Donegal the metaphor of ascending the mountain of God is apt. There is one summit, but several routes to it. All ways must be true ways, and there are false paths, but within the true ways every path is unique to the individual who takes it.