ColumbaFest: Exploring our theme for 2019’s festival

two feet standing on tree stump, looking down

ColumbaFest 2019 ‘Wandering + Wondering‘, our weekend urban arts festival of faith, politics and culture returns to Glasgow on 7-9th June.

Tickets are available to book with early bird individual and group options for only a limited time.

Several contributors are now long confirmed, including John L. Bell, Kathy Galloway, Pádraig Ó Tuama and Mary Ann Kennedy.

To these we have recently added Pat Bennett, Stuart Barrie, Debbie Lewer, Gareth Higgins, Alison Phipps, Kenneth Steven, Lina Toth, Graham Whitehead and Martin Wroe.

We have chosen to focus on a different aspect of the life and ministry of St Columba each year — the mercurial medieval abbot instrumental in bringing Christianity to Scotland. This acts as a framework for our contemporary engagement with faith, culture and politics, establishing our theme and helping us to shape the programme. This year ‘Wandering + Wondering’ links to Columba as pilgrim and traveller.

Columba’s eventful life featured journey, exile and pilgrimage, and as well as traveling physically he was a dynamic political and civic operator known as both the ‘fox’ and the ‘dove’ in his lifetime. Like Columba, our lives today are full of journeys both literal and conceptual, we must continually grow and adapt. As Columba may have asked himself: ‘When does a fox need to grow wings? And when must a dove bare its teeth?’

The homophones wandering and wondering of our theme invite a pleasing relationship between the movement of people and the movement of ideas. For many of us it helps to get the thoughts flowing if we ‘think on our feet’. As we wander we start to wonder and as we wonder we in turn let our thoughts wander, opening our senses and minds.

To wander or to wonder, is to explore, to posit, to suggest, to drift. There’s an open ended quality to both words. They are not closed or authoritative sounding. They feel somewhat decentralised, experimental and contingent. A wander/wonder is a deliberate but un-rushed activity. Wander leads naturally to ‘along’ and wonder neatly to ‘if’, giving a sense of possibility.

Over the festival we want to consider the implications of wandering and wondering in our world today and we have invited a range of contributors to unpack this theme. Pilgrimage is an ancient idea with fascinating contemporary implications. In ancient times, travel was usually a slog, but people still deliberately go on slogs today when other options are available. Why do we do it? What do we get out of it?

Why have humans always roamed so far and wide? Why do we create complicated networks of significance rather than grouping and clustering everything in one place? Perhaps because we know that while the next big idea may not itself be over the next hill — the person to have that idea will be the person who has gone over the next hill.

Deliberate movement with a flexible sense of direction — has been crucially important for the development of human civilisation. The Bible is famously full of wandering, of restless characters, of people learning on the move what it is and who it is they are being called to be.

So this year at ColumbaFest 2019 we are putting the finishing touches to a programme that explores the physical and conceptual journeys we make today, taking inspiration from the life of St Columba. In a society keen on shortcuts and solutions — can we learn to have more of a sense of wandering and wondering? Our journeys are times of testing and shaping. Sometimes we are not ready for the destination until we have made the journey.

We invite you to wander along to ColumbaFest 2019 and wonder about all this along with us …

Find out more info about this year’s festival here.

James Cathcart