Amidst Life’s Dark Streaks

For the first showings of the morning light
and the emerging outline of the day
thanks be to you, O God.
For earth’s colours drawn forth by the sun
its brilliance piercing clouds of darkness
and shimmering through leaves and flowing waters
thanks be to you.
Show to me this day
amidst life’s dark streaks of wrong and suffering
the light that endures in every person.
Dispel the confusions that cling close to my soul
that I may see with eyes washed by your grace
that I may see myself and all people
with eyes cleansed by the freshness of the new day’s light.”
~J. Philip Newell, Celtic Benediction:Morning and Night Prayer

Yesterday, I began my day with this prayer. I sat at a neighborhood coffee shop having my warm cup of coffee, staring into the middle distance at the cars and people rushing by. Now it may seem odd to some that I would have my morning prayer in a coffee shop, but as an extrovert, I am often the most present to myself and to the Holy when I am surrounded by the energy of others. It is just a fact. I have tried to make it otherwise, spending my time distracted in quiet places, forcing myself to pay attention to the silence. While I do need these moments of solitude to remain grounded, I receive a very needed connection in the presence of others…..much like a cord plugged into an electrical outlet.

Reading this prayer slowly to myself as I watched the beginning of a new day, I was aware of how each person I saw, including myself, were in the same boat. We were all starting out our Wednesday, October 27, 2010. The sun had recently come up in the eastern sky, the autumn leaves were blowing in the terrific wind outside in the street. Possibility was all around.

And yet as I looked out at the young man waiting for the bus at the stop across the street, I wondered what the possibility of his day really held. He looked tired, disheveled. And the two women sitting at the table nearby who were in intense conversation about, what appeared, something deeply important to them. What bound them together in such rich conversation? And the young coffee barista, the one that always remembers my ‘regular’, flirting coyly with her beloved across the counter. What did their day hold?

As the prayer indicates, each of us carries a certain darkness and suffering that is visible and invisible to others. The world also carries such a heaviness. But, if we allow ourselves, we can choose to glimpse ‘the light that endures in every person’. I believe that as we glimpse that light, if we take a moment to fan that flame through our interactions or our removed prayers for that person, the light grows and illuminates not only the individual, but also the world. Too often we only allow ourselves to give energy to that darkness, that suffering. By averting our eyes, by ignoring the other, by simply not being present, we can miss the opportunity to bring out the light in another person’s life. When we do, we miss the moment for ‘our eyes to be washed by grace.’ In missing the opportunity of recognizing the depth of suffering and the immensity of joy in those with whom we travel life’s path, we lose out on the chance to have grace rain down on us.

As a new day dawns, may we all find our eyes wide open with the chance……with the choice…of connecting to that enduring light that glows at the center of all Creation. Amidst life’s dark streaks, to do anything else, would really be a shame.


On this rainy day, I am thinking about ideas. Something about these darker, rainy and windy days appeals to my creative side. Don’t know what that is about. It just is. And so it seemed quite appropriate to me that I was privy to an MPR interview with author Stephen Johnson who has written a book entitled Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. His topic was intriguing and he was also a very engaged and engaging interview. His general premise is that all good ideas are the result of our connections with others and the environment in which we travel, work, play, and make our lives.

Now this may seem like a no-brainer to some. But think of the number of times we look with envy and admiration toward those who seem to be the innovators, the big idea people, the problem solvers. Johnson’s premise is that no one creates anything completely alone. While some may claim credit for having done so, all good ideas, all new ideas are a synthesis of thoughts, and experiences that come together to form something greater than any one innovation or innovator. Any new idea was birthed through the relationships, the conversations, the shared dreams, of many people. It may first be spoken aloud or manufactured by one person but much led up to any initial entrance of an idea into the universe.

Of course, we are always drawn, I believe, to people who speak words we have thought but perhaps not spoken before. When someone else is able to articulate a deep belief you have, it becomes a mighty ‘ah’ha’ moment and a great affirmation. This was my experience listening to this interview. And it probably was so rich to me today because I have so recently had just such an experience of an idea that has now been carried to its conclusion through the creative work of so many.

This fall our faith community has held the theme “A Story to Stand On”. I have written about this theme in this space before. It started with recognizing that the scriptures to be used in worship this fall would contain some of the most familiar Christian stories. Through several conversations, we talked about how we are all held together with the stories of our faith, our families, our nation, the circles in which we travel….so many stories that go into shaping who we are, how we express ourselves in the world. We began asking people to share the scripture stories that ground them. We then asked people to tell stories of how being a part of our church community has shaped them. Finally, we asked them to allow us to record their stories in the spirit of the Story Corps project often featured on public radio and compiled in the book Listening Is An Act of Love.

After these stories were recorded, other people got involved, creating art to introduce the story, music to embellish and hold the people’s words. Still other people listened to all the recordings, choosing significant parts that could be shared with the wider community. And then another person took all these pieces and created yet another iteration of this idea into a short Story to Stand On video. As I now watch them, I am moved every time by the stories people hold within them, about the stories people have to share.

Along the way no one single person could have continued this project. It needed all the players to create the final result. This is the same with every new idea, every new project, composition, book, invention, solution that is being birthed this very minute. The Spirit(I believe) moves through the center of it all whipping up the winds of creativity and connecting those involved into some greater good, something larger than any individual idea. It happens in large and small ways every day. And so it has been since the beginning of Creation.

What new idea is being birthed in you today? Who do you need to invite into your circle of creativity? The Spirit is waiting to dance through it all. Ready. Set. Go.

If you are interested in seeing some of these amazing stories go to:

Every Day

“Imagine once again the goal of your journey. What is your way? How do you see yourself wending your way there? In what way are you walking? As a tourist in search of entertainment? A nomad adrift? An explorer? In ancient Sanskrit, the word for chess player was the same as that for pilgrim. Try to see yourself on a chess board. What is your next move?” ~Phil Cousineau

The mornings have been very dark. And the darkness of night comes earlier than ever. We are in those days when it is not yet winter but not completely fall and certainly not summer. Autumn has decided to extend its colorful stay. As I look out of our living room window, the last tree in our yard to lose its leaves every season is showing a brilliant red. I returned from fall in Scotland to the waning days of fall in Minnesota and feel blessed to have been surrounded every day by orange, yellow, red and brown….the passionate hues of a dying summer.

The rhythm of my days is now filled with meetings, laundry,traffic, the stuff of a work-filled life. Gone is the free form sense of what it means to be on pilgrimage, on holiday. And yet, even as I write those words, I know it is not true. One clear memory I hold is of a circle of fellow travelers. We sat and reflected on what we had experienced during a day of pilgrimage…..prayer….singing….scripture…the joy of eating lovely food with equally lovely people….some time for writing…..other time for walking…..savoring the gifts of fresh air, beautiful landscape, the sacredness of Creation. At this point, someone said:”Why do we think we have to board ferries and go to far off lands to have this experience of pilgrimage?” We all fell silent. Why, indeed?

Isn’t every day a pilgrimage? That is, if we are intentional about this path we travel with the Holy, isn’t every day an opportunity to pray, sing, revel in each blessed bite of food, each precious face we meet? If we are open to the ways of our living, isn’t there always time for sacred texts in whatever way we name and claim them? Isn’t there always the time for walking and breathing in the gift of the trees to us….the oxygen that keeps us alive? And if we really admit it to ourselves….isn’t there always at least one moment(or more) when we can take the time to watch the changing of the color, the falling of a leaf, the entrance of yet another season in our life?

Tomorrow will come with all the possibilities of every day. We can choose to see it as another box to cross off on the calendar, as a list of chores to be accomplished. Or tomorrow can be the beginning of a pilgrimage. The pilgrimage we call our life.

In the Company of Sheep

During our travels in Scotland, the one constant besides the enormous breakfasts was the presence of sheep. At first glance there is the ‘cute’ factor that these wooly beings conjure up. But as I spent more and more time observing them, walking quite near them and being present to them, I realized these four-leggeds have much to teach us. Here are just some of the gleanings of being in the company of sheep.

First, sheep are fully present to the moment. Whether in a flat, lushly green pasture or at the top of a craggy moor, sheep are present to their environment. Humans may rush by.Jets may roar overhead. Other animals may encroach on their space. They continue to be calm and at home wherever their journey of the day has taken them.

Sheep are flexible. They seem to be as happy grazing in a pasture or at the top of a mountain. Winds may whip up around them, they are not fazed. Rain may pour down, creating mud and muck, they never vary their pace. The sun may come out, a rainbow may shine over their heads, they remain grounded, standing in beauty. They take the ebb and flow of life’s challenges in stride.

Several times I had the opportunity to be quite up close and personal with sheep. Here is what I noticed: Sheep, like dogs, seem to be an animal that actually will look you in the eye. In approaching one or two sheep, I was unsure of what my move should be, what theirs might be. And so I simply looked into their oddly pupil-ed eyes. We seemed to come to some understanding that ‘all shall be well’ and that co-existing, four-legged and two-legged was an okay thing.

And speaking of co-existing, perhaps the most amazing thing I observed was how sheep don’t need to be surrounded by their own kind to be happy, to be content. One afternoon on Iona, I was hiking out to the North Beach. I watched as a sheep was sitting meditatively in the pasture. As he sat there, a crow landed on his head. The sheep did not budge. I could not believe my eyes. But then, it got even better. That crow lifted into the air and a different crow landed on the sheep’s head while the first crow made a perch on the sheep’s back. And then, if only to confound me more, the second crow flew up, joined the first crow on the sheep’s back and a third crow landed on the head of the sheep. Still, the sheep sat calmly co-existing with his feathered companions. A trinity of birds on the body of the sheep. This may sound unbelievable but I have witnesses.

And so, after all these encounters in the company of sheep, it became even clearer to me the depth of the lessons of Jesus that centered around these humble animals. As a person who was also often surrounded by sheep, he, too, must have seen the wisdom of their daily walk. As he wove stories to teach us of the kin-dom of God, why wouldn’t the sheep show up in the telling? After all, they know how to be present to the movement of the Spirit. They are flexible and find ways to graze wherever they can. They are calm, grounded witnesses to the world around them. They look you in the eye, acknowledging your presence. And they live and play well with others. Certainly all these traits are ones humans could emulate.

In Luke, Jesus tells the story of the shepherd who has a hundred sheep. At the end of the day in his accounting of his flock, he only finds ninety-nine and proceeds to go on a search to find the lost sheep. “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?’ asks Jesus.

I wonder if the lost one was the sheep who would let three crows rest on it?


After two and a half weeks I am back on U.S. soil and trying desperately to make a re-entry into ‘normal’ life……whatever that is. I have to admit that my mind wanders and I find myself reliving the sweetness and kindness of the people of Scotland. From beginning to end my experience was one of gentleness, hospitality, welcome, and awe. It seemed each person I met went out of their way to be helpful, to assist me in finding my way. And my experience of the landscape from the Lowlands to the Highlands to the Islands was one of beauty and spectacle that was often too immense to take in. So, while my body is here, for the moment I am living in two worlds.

So it was with laughter that I found myself driving into the office yesterday flanked by two cars; one with a bumper sticker that read:Tree-Hugging Dirt Worshiper; the other: My boss is a Jewish Carpenter. Of course, the tree-hugger was driving a Prius and the employee of the Carpenter, a Chevrolet truck. I laughed out loud. I laughed because, in some ways, my experience in Scotland, particularly at Iona Abbey, was that the community there embodied both these statements. As a community of people who have worshiped in this place for centuries, they have done so under the banner that they are people of Creation, gifted by the beauty and rhythm of the seasons, grounded in the earth beneath their feet.  In fact, they say there are two sacred texts: the Book of scripture and the Book of Creation. They are also deeply grounded in what it means to be people who fashion a life after the example of Jesus, the Carpenter. The liturgy we experienced was rich with images of sun, rain, soil, wind, sea. It was also full of challenges to be people of love, justice and service, prayer and grace.

So many times, at least for me, I have had the sense that somehow the church has told us we had to choose one or the other, soil or Shepherd. And that has always felt false to me, something I could not fully do. On Iona, it was with a sense of ‘arriving’ that I was swept up in the winds and force of the meeting of Prius and Chevrolet. While this theological perspective is one I believe is found in the worship in which I am most often present,somehow knowing that this is the way of naming the movement of the Holy over the centuries in this place, filled me with such joy, such a sense of coming home to myself, such an affirmation of faith.

Over the next few days and weeks, I will slowly arrive back here in the place that is truly home. But for now I am in-between. The thread that I hold in my hand, however, connects me to that place where I was reminded that I don’t have to choose. It was, indeed, an affirmation that I could have it all: tree, soil, wind, sea……Creator, Teacher,Healer,Light of the World. And that the Holy’s presence cannot be confined.

“Now may God who gives seed to the sower and corn to the reaper, give to us all that is needed to produce a good harvest. May God make us fertile in faith, love and goodness, and take us out with joy, and lead us on in peace, as signs of the fruitfulness of heaven. Amen” ~ The Iona Community

On Iona

*****Well, I am back from my 2 1/2 weeks in Scotland. My body is here but I find my inner clock has not quite caught up. The post below never made it through all the many difficulties I had accessing the Internet. So I offer it now knowing that the Spirit works in mysterious ways. Perhaps I was meant to be present to the moments with which I was gifted and not searching for internet hotspots.

On Iona

We arrived late afternoon by ferry to the beautiful island of Iona. As we came across the short distance, the waters were rough and rocky but we could see Iona Abbey looming on the shore. We had finally arrived! We made our way to the St. Columba Hotel where we would be staying. From the moment we stepped on the island, we began to experience the hospitality and welcome which is one of the signature qualities of the Iona Community. After an amazing dinner, we quickly made our way to the Abbey for evening worship. The community, an ecumenical gathering of all ages, lives and works in the centuries old abbey. They also worship twice a day, short services of music,prayer and scripture. It is an amazing experience to sing in this very old space. I have to say we did sound beautiful! Most of us were taken with the number of young adults in attendance, particularly in worship leadership. It was a joy.

This morning we awoke to a sunny, dry morning, something that I think was a total surprise to us. We had all prepared ourselves for the idea that it would be raining all the time.The wind was quite strong, however, when our Iona guide, Janna arrived to take us on a tour of the ruins,the abbey and to give a general overview of history plus a peek into what it is like to live on this island year round. Since she is the mother of two young children, it was fascinating to hear about the two ferry, three hour one way trip to go grocery shopping! While most people do have gardens (in fact our hotel has its own garden), there is still the need to get other staples. Janna will also lead us tomorrow on the three hour pilgrim’s walk that follows the footsteps of St. Columba.

The abbey at Iona had it’s birth in 563 when Columba and his monks established a monastery on this tiny island. From that time on pilgrims have come to this place for retreat, to serve, to worship and to be in community. Over the years the Abbey had deteriorated from wear, weather and neglect. But the sacred nature of the place continued to be the burial place of kings and those who had visited and found a spiritual home here. In 1938 the Reverend George MacLeod helped refurbish and re-establish life at Abbey church into an ecumenical community that continues to welcome pilgrims and seekers from around the world. We found the hospitality to be nothing short of remarkable.

In the afternoon, we explored on our own the small village that rests along the shore and walked the beaches that are a stone collectors dream. Up and down the shore are the gorgeous green stones for which Iona is famous. There is much to be found in the artist colony shops created by local craftspeople and artists. The Iona Community also has a shop that sells the many worship resources and books written by the leaders past and present. George McCleod. John Bell. J. Philip Newell.

Last night’s worship in the Abbey was an Agape meal. We arrived to find the sanctuary bathed in candlelight and a several long tables running down the center covered in white tablecloths. Plates lined the tables with what looked like loaves of flatbread. As we sang and prayed the leader then instructed us to pass the plates, offering it to one another along with the peace of Christ. As I took the bread, I realized it was Scottish shortbread. There was a powerful sense of unity in the room. People from all over the world, worshipping around a common table, sharing a simple common bread. The candlelight washed over the faces of those present,still bundled in their coats to ward off the chill of the stone building. There was an angelic glow that settled on their faces.

We prayed together this prayer: May the grace of the love of the stars be ours. May the grace of the love of the wind be ours. May the grace of the love of the waters be ours. In the name of the Word of all life.

And so it was…….

Pilgrim’s Walk

Our second day on Iona began with worship at the Abbey with all those who have traveled to the island on pilgrimage of their own. Worship was led by the staff who rare in residence at the community. As worship happens every day at 9:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. there is a rhythm that begins to form your day, even after only a short while. That rhythm is one that is not hurried but has intention. After breakfast,there is worship which grounds you for the work or play of the day. After dinner, there is worship for giving thanks for the day and setting the pace of your heart and mind for rest. It was amazing how quickly most of us fell into this pattern, this practice.

The main event of our day was the pilgrimage around the island, stopping at points of interest, places where important act happened. Where St. Columba first landed with his band of refugee monks. The Hill of Angels where a man was said to be visited by angels. St. Columba beach where the particular green stones known to Iona can be found.Martyrs Bay, where 68 monks were slaughtered by Norse invaders. The pilgrimage walk took us over paved roads, farm fields, a golf course. Up rocky hills that still had blooming purple heather on them, through muddy, boggy fields and finally onto the beach covered by stones of an enormous variety of colors. It was a stone seeker’s heaven. This terrain was not for the faint of heart but our guide, Jana McCellan, had reminded us that on pilgrimage you travel at the pace of your slowest companion. This was a good reminder for all of us as a wise way to walk in the world. I believe we all found great gifts and challenges on this trek.

One of the true gifts of this experience was that our guide, Jana, had created  meditative stops along the way for us to reflect, not only on the history of the places our feet trod, but on what standing in these places might mean for our life, here, now.As we stood at the only crossroads that exists on the island, she asked us to consider the crossroads we might be experiencing or see others experiencing. It was a powerful moment, a powerful thing to consider.

Those who had chosen to do other things during the nearly six hours we hiked, created their own pilgrimage around the island, moving at their own pace, creating then solitude and alone time in this place of peace and quiet. When we came together in the evening, we told of our travels, of what we had encountered, not only in the landscape, but in the soil of our own souls.

Worship at the Abbey last night was a contemplative service. Long periods of silence were held together by the sung response: Be still and know that I am God…….As we sat in the candlelight, the stones and warmth of the hospitality that has been present here for centuries, created a nest of safety for all we had experienced. Outside,the winds which seem to be ever present, whistled and whirled seeming to make a circle around the building. We could not feel its chill but we knew its presence. Many of us wore the windburned look of the day on our faces. It seemed a fitting metaphor for the walk with the Spirit. As I looked around there was an amazing look of peace and contentment on all the faces we have come to know as fellow pilgrims.

A short aside, the weather has been absolutely fantastic. Our guide, Bill, said yesterdays that his wife is not going to believe that he got sunburned on Iona! Many are crediting us with bringing the weather.

Given that most Minnesotans are often said to bring weather no one wants, we’ll take it!

Mist Filled Path

We had an early morning as we set out for the journey from the Lowlands to the Highlands of Scotland on our way to the city of Oban. From there we cross by ferry to the Isle of Mull. This we will do by motor coach but then we will take a person only ferry to Iona as the island is so small it limits the number of vehicles allowed on the island. For the last several days, our guide Bill and driver Robert have encouraged us to pray for good weather today so our crossings will be easy. We awoke to rain but as we left the Lowlands, we could see that the moors were still ringed in mist but beyond there was the promise of blue sky. Not being one who takes much to the idea that prayers for weather carry much power, I will simply hold the thought that we are very blessed for the day we’ve been given while remembering that everywhere we go people tell us that ‘the weather in Scotland can change in an instant’. As people of Minnesota, we understand.

In a book several of us have read in preparation for this journey, The Mist-Filled Path: Celtic Wisdom for Exiles, Wanderers & Seekers, author Frank MacEowen writes: ‘Mist is beautiful natural power. This old spirit is an ambassador of the in-between. Not entirely water, not entirely air. The mist is a unique dancing marriage of the two elements. In effect, it is a shape-shifting element.’ The experience of moving from Lowlands to  Highlands, shrouded in the mist was a wonderful reminder that, as pilgrims, we are in an in-between place. We have left the vibrancy of the city and are going to a place of solitude, simplicity and prayer.

On our crossing from Oban to the isle of Mull, the seas were a bit choppy and the rain picked up. But what a sight we received as our reward. First one rainbow appeared from the shore reaching heavenward toward the heather covered hills. Then as we left the ferry, an enormous, brilliant rainbow arced as if it was born from the water and returned to the water. And then before our very eyes, it doubled itself. To be blessed by a double rainbow. What a gift!

Leaving Mull, we marveled at our coach driver’s ability to maneuver the single lane roads, pulling over to share the road with other cars and coaches. There a few seat gripping experiences as we zoomed through rain and wind, fogging the windows of the coach with our breath. But by the time we completed our hour’s drive, the rain had stopped, the sun had come out and the skies had turned a brilliant blue. The crossing by ferry was short and a ‘wee bit’ rocky to quote those we have met in our days here.

As we stood on the shores of this tiny island, where history claims the beginning of Christianity in Scotland began, was amazing. We gathered at the end of the jetty where our boat had delivered us safe and sound. Like so many pilgrims throughout the centuries, we felt blessed to be on dry, safe ground after days on the road. Unlike the majority of those first pilgrims, we had ridden in privilege and relative safety. I pray this truth was not lost on any of us. But nonetheless we felt relief and anticipation of what our journey will be here. We sang and honored our arrival with these words of John O’Donohue: ” In the out-of-the way places of the heart, Where your thoughts never think to wander, This beginning has been quietly forming, Waiting until you were ready to emerge.”

Indeed, the emerging of what this ancient holy place has to offer each of us is yet to emerge. May the Holy One keep us open,listening and present to the path as it unfolds.

*****Many of you have mentioned that you would like to see pictures of your friends and loved ones who have made this pilgrimage. I’ve included some today. Enjoy!

Solved by Walking

There is a Latin saying….solvitur ambulando….which translated means ‘solved by walking’. Our pilgrim band might have had this tattooed on our feet today. It was a free day of sorts. We started our morning with prayer accompanied by the Native American flute. Funny how it sounded almost Scottish! The sound grounded us in the music of those who have always lived near and honored Creation much as the Celts did. It was a good way to start our day of walking.

Some of us boarded our motor coach for a short ride to Rosslyn Chapel, the 600 year old chapel made famous to us in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code. This tiny, unusual feat of architecture is nestled in the green hills outside Edinburgh. This was somewhat of a surprise to those of us who read the book because it seems as if the characters twist and turn through steep terrain to arrive at this holy place. Once at the chapel,we learned many ways in which fiction and reality did not quite come together. But there was no doubting that we were in a very sacred place that had held, and still holds, great power. We have already been confronted over and over with how short our American view of history really is. Rosslyn Chapel reinforced this experience. How do you even get your head around the events that have taken place in a building, and not even a large building, over such a long time? The over turning of Roman Catholicism, the Reformation, Cromwell using the building as a stable, years of water dripping on sandstone walls & columns, misplaced wisdom of trying to preserve the intricately carved stone by painting it with cement. Only to have its life renewed by the fanciful tale told by an author who had never really been there. Fascinating.

While some were traipsing out of the city, others took a walking tour with our now beloved guide, Bill Rennie. Not only is Bill an excellent herder of cats, he is kind, incredibly knowledgable and a true gentleman. Here in Edinburgh, his hometown, we have also seen the passion with which he loves his home. What a joy it has been to see his eyes light up and his face become animated as he shows us about all the places he must have known since he was a boy. The group that spent time on a walking tour with Bill saw the many gardens still in full bloom here in the city. They also walked from one end of the Royal Mile to the other taking in the Writer’s Museum, honoring Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns, down Prince’s Street to the Scottish Parliament , being able to watch the action complete with those amazing wigs. They walked through the many Closes(little alleyways that connect streets and residences), Holyrood Palace, its Abbey, and the many and varied places the country honors its war dead. Walking……

Some climbed, at least in part, the large nonactive volcano toward the place known as Arthur’s Seat. A trek not for the faint of heart.And one pilgrim even made her way to the beginning of Scotland’s favorite sport by traveling to St. Andrews, the home of golf.

Our question this morning as we began prayer together came from a Mary Oliver poem: ‘Tell me, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ Our steps may have led us on varied paths but we carried the same question no matter the route. It is a question we awake with every day, whether in Scotland, Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, Wisconsin or wherever. It is the question humans grapple with daily and have chosen to grapple with as pilgrims. It is the question that will ground us as we board the ferry early tomorrow morning, headed for Iona.

Stone of Destiny

We awoke to a beautiful, sunny, crisp day in Kelso and boarded our motor coach to Edinburgh which will be our base for two days before heading off to the Island of Iona. Driving through the rolling countryside we saw, once again, the stone fences that create boundaries between farms, helping the sheep and cattle to know where home is. We learned that these fences have no mortar that holds them together. The fence builders simply search for the stones that ‘fit’ well together. They rely on the grooves and curves, the sharp edges and points to create a perfect foundation for one another. It is the same with community, isn’t it? We take the soft and rounded edges of our very selves, the humility of our gifts and build them together with our harder, sharper edges and before you know it, everything fits together in ways that work.

Riding along in our motor coach( we have been told this is not a bus!) we had morning prayer: “At the beginning of this day we seek your blessing. At the rising of the sun we seek your glory. Open our eyes to your presence, O God, that we may glimpse you at the heart of each moment.” Our voices joined as the motor coach rose up and down the road which was sandwiched between lush green fields. Off in the distance we witnessed a gleaming wind farm, white turbines spinning the invisible into energy. Spirit work.

We arrived at Edinburgh Castle and began to make the steps millions have traveled before. Over the cobblestones, our feet made their way past the cannons that once protected the city against invaders toward the exhibits of the Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny and into St. Margaret’s Chapel. We took in the prisoner of war museum making our way through dungeon-like tunnels that smelled musty, squinting our eyes against the dim light to see beds and hammocks piled on top of one another, their only
padding the straw that lay beneath feather tick, thin mattresses. It was a dismal sight as we thought of how people have the ability to treat one another. But all these experiences painted a picture of the history of the humans who have called this place home.

From the Castle we made our way to St. Gile’s Church, a lovely little cathedral that sits just down the road on what is known as the Royal Mile. St. Gile’s is filled with amazing stained glass windows, one that is dedicated to Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert Burns. This church has seen many iterations of worshiping life and seems to be undergoing yet another. The entrance created hundreds of years ago now opens into a blue, glass automatic sliding door that gives the feeling of walking through clouds. Once inside, the stained glass dominates the traditional space. A large statue of John Knox, possibly the most important Scottish theologian and founder of the Presbyterian Church, stands in prominence. But looking around amidst the sanctuary I became aware that the choir stalls had been moved to ring the altar table which now sits prominently in the center of the space. Lovely oak chairs with woven cane seats, a carved Scottish flag on the chair back, have replaced the majority of the pews. The pews that are left have been stained a light green and a brand new organ has been installed on one of the side walls. The organ is stained a deep red. All the seating creates a circular formation focused on the altar table. This configuration brings the community and the clergy into a visually equal footing round the table.

Of course, I do not know if the openness and creativity I observed in the architecture and furnishings translates to the way the community lives out its faith, but I hope so. On a poster near the entrance, there is an explanation of the changes that have been and are being made: “These stones could be clean again, and draw tomorrow’s people to seek and find a faith for celebrating good things, and find comfort in times of difficulty.” As I read these words it was clear to me that most churches are struggling to do much of the same work. Most in our group could certainly relate to their quest.

And so at the end of this day, my prayer is for all those who continue to clean the stones,move the furniture so all will feel welcome, and put food on the table at the center of who we are. For those who have continued to do these courageous and humble acts, I offer my gratitude.