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I'm pretty much a typist for the Holy Spirit. I try to put those things into words in a blog called Jane's Journey. I have another blog for recipes called My Life in Food. Also Really Cool Stuff features Labyrinths and other things like how to fry an egg on the sidewalk.(first step: don't do it on the sidewalk, use a skillet) Come along with me as I careen through life.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Community

One night near the end of our stay on Iona I met three angels.  

I had already met one of them a couple of nights before.  He was a tall very dark black man who reminded me of someone who might be a soccer player.  He had closely cut hair around his neckline and ears until the crown of his head where it was short dreadlocks that stood up.  He had an athletic build.  When I found out he was from Nigeria I asked if he was married.  And when he said he was I asked if it was true what I had heard that Nigerian women are very strong-willed women.  His response was immediate and animated that Yes! indeed they are strong women!  We had a pleasant conversation but I really don't remember much more about it.  He was here to study for a while. 

Then the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas happened.  And then the shooting at the hospital in Oklahoma happened.  And our group was far from home. So we just did what you do.  We went to church that night.

And after worship I saw my Nigerian angel.  He was standing with a very elegant dark- skinned woman so I asked him if this was his wife.  They both looked a little embarrassed and quickly told me no, that she is another student there like he is.  She is from London.  Then they were joined by another woman, a freckled faced redhead who is from Scotland.  And the three of us talked. They all appeared to be in their thirties. There was an earnestness and a humility about them that made them fun to talk to. But I love talking to young people, anyway. 

And I poured out all of my frustrations over the shootings in the United States and our inability to stop them.  I told them that my granddaughter teaches second grade.  I told them my daughter works in a hospital at the registration desk and she is the first person anyone entering the building sees.  I was feeling so vulnerable. 

They just listened to me.  

In the bible angels do all the talking but here on earth they listen a lot more.

I don't remember what they said to me. I just remember being able to get a lot of my concerns expressed. I know we talked for a while. And I think I finally think I said something to the effect that I guessed it would be alright in the end.  

But now I wonder if the stones might speak for us all. Because I do remember leaving with the understanding that everything would eventually be alright.  I might not live to see a solution.  It's highly likely that I won't live to see solutions to these problems.  But I left the Abbey that night with the assurance in my heart that it will come.

They sit and wait, these stones.  I remembered the liturgy performed every evening before worship when the children brought in the world globe, a tea towel, a candle and some stones.  The stones are to remind us of the story of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem in the last week of his life when everyone was shouting Hosannah and the authorities admonished him to make them stop.  His answer was "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."

I realized the stones in the Iona Abbey building had heard every single hymn sung in that place, every prayer uttered, every word of scripture read aloud.  It had soaked in every laugh burst out, every cry stiffled, every whisper muffled and the floor had soaked up tears that no one else saw.  For years they have sat in place and waited.  

They can be patient.  They have no place to go.  The stones will speak for us if we fail.

Martin Luther King, Jr  put these sentiments into memorable words in a speech in a cathedral similar to the Abbey, instead it was the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. on March 31, 1968.         

"...the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."

St. Columba arrived in 563 to bring Christ to a place who had never heard of him. And the changes in the world since that time are countless. If we can't grasp the spiritual growth we can look at the practical growth.  The Abbey started with candles.  Now they have not only electric lighting but a sound system that has a control board that runs off an iPad, none of which would have occurred to Columba.  Indeed, I couldn't have imagined the wireless technology of the iPad myself 20 years ago.   

The world is constantly changing and most of the changes are for the better.  Maybe we pay more attention to the bad things that happen because it is not supposed to be that way. The good things are supposed to happen so we nod our head in approval and move on.  When bad things happen we wring our hands, murmur disapproval and wonder what we can do to fix it.  Sometimes we actually take action.  

All I had to do was consider the people I was spending my time with.  Twenty-seven people who intentionally had come to slow their lives down for a week to listen to God in the sounds and sights of Scotland, to listen for what God had to say to them personally that they could incorporate into their own lives and share with others, to "take the good news of Christ to the world."  Colomba's work was still going on. 

We weren't on a coracle, the rudderless boat that Colomba sailed from Ireland to Iona on through rough seas that had drowned countless men before him but it wasn't exactly luxurious accomodations, either.  We were a jolly group that was willing to cram themselves elbow to elbow on a bus to get where we needed to go.  It was an energetic group who loved hiking for the most part but who loved God even more.  Who were considerate of each other and prayed for each other. Most were church professionals for whom prayer comes easily, who can default to including God in any conversation.


My own travel was a hodge-podge of time spent with a group in Scotland and the week before spent alone in London. I had worried about the time alone for a couple of reasons: as I've mentioned, I get lost easily and I'm such an extrovert I worried that I would get lonely.  Both worries were needless.  I was fine on both counts.  

While I was in London I spent a lot of time walking around and saw a lot of people.  London is one of the most racially mixed cities I've ever seen.  I saw Muslim women in traditional hijabs.  I saw Asians, Africans, Dutch and Eastern Indians.  

And they had a couple of posters up in the Underground promoting Anti-hate and Diversity.  


There was one poster on the tube that I still haven't figured out why it was up there.  A long poem. In case you can't read the last stanza, I'll type it out here for you:

There is power in our difference,
We are ready and we are strong,
The future is ours to shape, but....
Which side of history will you be on?


Here's a sign they had set up as you walked to the next train in the station.


Then.....I ran across this poster outside on a fence.

In addition to being diverse, London seems to be comfortable in its diversity.


The church Beaven and I belonged to for over thirty years recently installed a new pastor on Pentecost Sunday and I watched a recording of the service.  This congregation is one of the most racially diverse in America.  The rough breakdown would be a third Anglo, a third African (Cameroon and Nigerian mix) and a third Pakistani. There are really more Anglo and a lot less Pakistani but I'm not sure of the actual statistics.  The service used about five languages because they are trying to draw in a Spanish crowd from the free breakfast they serve on Saturdays and they are building some friendships there.  

And here's the deal:  it works.  Everybody is having fun.  There may be some tension--One of my friends complained that she can't understand the Pakistani pastor when he prays. And I say she doesn't need to.  "It's a prayer.  He's not talking to you.  He's talking to God and God speaks Urdu."   But the good outweighs the bad and people want it to succeed so it works.  

The Presbyterian Church started meeting for their bi-annual General Assembly this week.  I watched the opening worship service and noticed that all of the leaders were black.  ALL of them.  The co-moderator.  The preacher. The Stated Clerk.  I'm not sure anybody planned it.  It just worked out that way. Other leaders are white.  The majority of the Presbyterian church as a whole is white.  But, yeah, today we were led by a minority that historically has not been allowed to have a leadership role in America. 

Once you understand that our Creator God created the entire world and all the people who live on it and loves each one of us equally you will get it. Everyone on the planet, equally.   Take a minute to dwell on this part.  It's important.  No rush.  Take your time.

Here I'll even put up a picture of the earth for you to look at while you think. 


All of us.  The large and tall.  Small and quiet.  Pale and dark skinned.  Brilliant and dull.  Even the people we disagree with. And that is the hard one so take a little extra time on that one.  The people we can't understand because they speak a different language than we do. God understands what they are saying. And God loves us all. 

A lot of people get into the habit of thinking that the whole world is only what they experience because that's all they see.  Sometimes that's all they ever see because they can't get outside their neighborhood.  Maybe they live in a remote location and it takes a long time to physically leave town.  Or sometimes because they choose not to because they have everything they need within reach.   I feel sorry for people who don't have the resources to travel but I'm mystified by people who could get out and explore the world but for some reason chose not to. The only reasons I can come up with is that they aren't curious or they are afraid or  they have a physical reason they can't travel well.  And for any of those reasons I feel bad for them.  They are missing something so enriching. 

There are ways to work around the inability to escape your neighborhood:  reading is a really good one for enlarging your world. And, now with the internet, it is actually easier to embrace the larger world than it is to escape it.  You just have to be deliberate about what you are choosing. I would encourage you to avoid fearmongers.

The world is constantly changing and most of the changes are for the better.  Maybe we pay more attention to the bad things that happen because it is not supposed to be that way. And we notice anomalies.  The good things are supposed to happen so we nod our head in approval and move on.  When bad things happen we wring our hands, murmur disapproval and wonder what we can do to fix it.  

The bottom line is that you get to pick your community.  I was recently in a worship service at a conservative church.  It was packed.  I'll bet there were 600 people there.  But I looked around and saw that there wasn't a person of color in the room.  And all the men wore white shirts and ties.  Not even a blue shirt.  All were dressed exactly the same.  It occurred to me that this church would probably die within a generation without some sort of radical change. 

Governor Ann Richards is famous for saying that she wanted a government that looked like the people she governed.  So she appointed a diverse group of well-qualified people to important positions.  I went to Ann Richard's funeral and what I saw was people of every skin tone and manner of dress you could imagine. 

My advice to anyone who wants to live a well-rounded life is to look around you and pick a community who does not look like you.  Get an assortment pack.  This is the future.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Abbey


This picture was taken on our first day there when it was windy and cloudy but that was our only cloudy day.  The rest of our time on Iona was absolutely glorious.  We couldn't have asked for better weather.  Scotland is far enough north that when the year turned to summer the days had almost no night.  I never saw a dark sky nor stars.  I reallly missed stars because we were so remote I can only imagine how many we would have been able to see.  But we did have glorious wind!  In the evening it got quite cold from the wind.  I usually had to wear my coat and a couple of time resorted to a wool hat and gloves.  Yes, gloves.

We stayed in the Columba Hotel which had the perfect location.  If we turned right out of the front it was only a short walk up the hill to the Abbey and by turning left and going downhill we passed the Nunnery, a lot of gift shops, the Community Center where we met every evening and eventually the sea where the ferries docked.  

The view out of the hotel was magnificent. Every view on the island was almost the same:  blue sky, green grass, tranquil livestock: either sheep or Highland cows ("Hairy Coos")



This Highland Cow hung around outside the hotel window enough we ended up giving him a name although I'm afraid I've already forgotten it.  Lauren went out to pet it at one point and it ran away, scaring up a flock of geese in the process.

The Abbey was the dominant building on the island of Iona.  We worshipped in it twice a day and I have to say it was one of the highlights of my life to have this opportunity. 

It was built over a period of time.  St Columba landed on the island in 563 so that's how old the Christian presence is here.  The first Abbey was built in wood, then a stone building from the 1200-1400's, then abandoned, then enlarged, abandoned for a while then rebuilt, and restored and upgraded as needed even as recently as a couple of years ago when it got a new sound system. Anytime I tried to pin down exact dates my head started to spin.  Suffice to say that it is old. It is older than St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City.  It is more simple in design but still a very sturdy building made of huge stones.  

The Iona experience begins well before entering the building.  Most days are windy and the Holy Spirit of God whips up the hill to greet you as you walk.  The Abbey stands alone and you have time to prepare yourself if you are walking alone in thought with the wind as your companion.  We were a group of 27 people who had all come to experience God in this place.  We attended both morning and evening services the Iona community provided. Our schedule was busy enough and the attendees were used to a busy schedule so that when we transitioned it was a fast transition.   

Now, with two weeks at home and time to reflect I realize what a great opportunity we missed by not taking at least one of these walks to insist each person walk to the Abbey in silence and alone.  Preparation for worship in this Abbey should really begin with the glorious walk up the hill, bathing in the wind, washing your eyes with the green of the grass and the blue of the sky.

I walk slow naturally.  But my nature is to walk slowly.  Even if I had longer legs and were a younger person I think I would be a slow walker.  Henry Thoreau adapted this walk as he went through his woods and called it "sauntering."  It's not a new word and I think comes from French meaning "sans terre" ..........something about the earth.  I really don't know.  I could have just made the whole thing up.  

But you certainly notice more when you take it slow and look around.  I noticed the birds who had built nests in the brick walls we passed on the way to our community talks in the evening.  The stones were arranged with wide gaps and the birds had built their nests and the babies had hatched so mothers were flying in and out the wide gaps.  I spotted one mother flying up to the wall and stopping to look me over and see if I was a safe human before she entered her access hole with a fat worm in her mouth.  Once she took too long and I saw a hungry mouth emerge from the hole too impatient to wait any longer for its worm.


There were flowers everywhere. and the grass was green. And the sky was always so blue.  We may have been the only visitors to get a full week of perfect weather because I've heard stories of the exact opposite:  a week of solid rain.

When you get to the grounds there are three massive Celtic crosses.  These are the original crosses that all the Celtic crosses are based on.  I never noticed the different designs but St Martin's is from the 8th century.  Only the base of St. Matthew's cross survives. And my favorite, St John's, is a concrete replica of the original which is only fragments pieced together and kept in a museum.  I learned that the circle of a Celtic cross, usually thought to represent the Roman sun god or Christ's halo, also has a practical use:  it reinforces the cross arms and keeps them from breaking off.  Those Celts were the practical sort.  My kind of people. I'm guess they had a lot of experience with crosses.  

The building is mostly stone.  The first thing you encounter inside is a huge baptismal font about three or four feet square made of stove.  I always used it to steady myself as I dealt with the few steps down into the Sanctuary.  there was a narrow center aisle leading to a choir section with wooden seats like the ones I've seen in Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral.  This must have been a standard feature of churches built in that time.  I've only seen this section as a tourist but now I had the chance to actually sit in them.  I never counted how many times we worshipped in the Abbey but there were rows of wooden chairs in rows all over the room and the choir was my favorite place to sit.  The Chancel had a massive stone table.  

Stone, stone, stone...........this made for awesome sound.  Deep sound bouncing all around me. The liturgy of the Iona community was on another level and most in our group bought a copy of their worship book.  I wish I had brought home a copy of their hymnal, as well.  It's possible it wasn't sold in the book store because I think I would have bought a copy.  Their music was a mixture of classic as well as simple children's tunes ("Who put the colors in the rainbow?") but made majestic sung in this place. Their hymnal had a collection of classic and new hymns and a lot of John Bell's songs.  When I looked up www.iona.org.uk  I noticed that he is one of the primary leaders.  Suffice to say the music was great.  

Here is my treat for you:  I took a video before worship.  Each service started out the same:  with an announcement that we could take pictures before and after but not during worship (when all the great music was sung) but I get did this one clip of a flute.  The sounds bouncing off the stone was just awesome.  This video was taken when I was positioned in the choir about half-way.  You can see the front door as the camera moves to the left.  The Chancel is to the right.  






If you look closely you will see the ferns growing in the stones of the wall.  Built in floral arrangements.  In this picture they are preparing for communion that evening.  It was the only time they used the table.  We took communion twice.  This first time they had so many people they ran out of wine.  Well, yeah, they ran out of wine and folks had to drink the non-alcoholic clear juice.  So, technically they didn't run out. 




The worship was so much more than words and music.  What you can't see is the community.  There were children in worship who I assume were the children of people who have come to live and work for a year or so to study.  Each service started by lighting all the candles in the Sanctuary (the Abbey was, after all, built before electric lighting even though it has it now) but also the children have their own part in the liturgy by bringing in:

a globe to signify the earth
a tea towel to signify the community that works together
a bible to signify where love and justice come together
some stones to remind us that if we keep silent they will shout aloud
a lit candle to show that we are glad to be in God's house

Now, of course, I didn't remember all of this.  But it's in the worship book that everybody in our group bought copies of to take home.  

The important part for you to remember here is how vital the children are to this community.  They had speaking roles in worship.  This is a vibrant community.  

I went behind one of the panels forming a wall of sorts to find a display of some of their work.  

Here is one of about six or seven bowls--they had them for AIDS, Breast Cancer, Peace, LGBT, Trans and I think there was another one that I can't remember.  Each bowl had a jar collecting coins (remembering the pound comes in a coin) for each cause.


Community.  Iona was more than an old collection of stone.  It was alive and loving.  And that's what I will talk about next.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Facing Down the Devil

I've been back from my trip to Iona a little over a week now and I haven't posted anything.  I keep telling myself that I'm still processing the trip.  There is a lot bouncing around in my soul, nothing serious, part being tired from the drudge of travel and part trying to organize my thoughts.  And I suspect part may be a little bit of the devil in there trying to keep me from doing what I need to do to send out the good news of the Kingdom of God. 

Because I got a great picture of the Kingdom of God in Iona. 


I still can't get over my great fortune to see this magnificent abbey and Celtic cross in person.  Our group of 27 worshipped God inside the 12th century abbey twice a day.  There were not just this one but four of the classic Celtic crosses in front of the abbey, each one different.  I was able to see them and compare and now have a preference:  the St John's cross seen here. In my next post I'll show you the inside of the abbey because I know that's what you've come to see.

At the risk of sounding ungrateful from the start, let me just confess that I did not have the dramatic thunderbolt God experience I was hoping for.  I guess after all the buildup I shouldn't be surprised to have a bit of a let-down at a merely ordinary fantastic trip.  And I wonder if the devil was behind it.  

I know she was all up in my face from the beginning of the trip. Now I know we usually refer to the devil in the male gender but in one instance it was female. This is the age of gender equality, after all.  

I left my house with my one overhead suitcase and small backpack for under the seat, satisfied that I had packed perfectly. There would be no lost luggage. It was just me in the car and I was going to leave the car at the airport.  Traveling solo, I felt free as a bird immediately.  I knew just exactly what this trip was for: I was headed out to go have a personal experience with the Holy Spirit, and I was focused as all get out and feeling my Jesus.

I got about two hundred yards from the house and had reached full driving speed, which is around 60 miles an hour on these roads when the German Shepherd from the neighbor's house ran directly in front of the car.  She came so fast there was no way I could have avoided her except that at the last possible instant she pivoted and veered off maybe one inch from my bumper. I never even had time to react or slam on my brakes.

In that instant a thousand thoughts flew through my mind:  If I had hit her, it would have been a hard impact because I had already picked up enough speed to do a lot of damage, if not kill the dog.  I would have to stop and go to the neighbor's door to talk to them.  I knew this was the family dog and they had three little girls and they would have been heart broken. I knew these neighbors just enough to know they aren't friendly and in the two years since they had moved in have rebuffed every effort I have made to welcome them to the neighborhood.  They barely answer when I greet them on the road. So, killing their dog would have been a whole new classification of  awkward, not to mention leaving a dented and bloody mess all over the car I intended to leave in the Texas sun for two weeks at the airport parking lot. I'm pretty sure the cops would have tagged my bumper, "We want to talk to this lady as soon as she lands."  And, just as bad, the whole thing would make me late for my flight.  I could only imagine the complications.   

It's amazing how many individual thoughts can fly through your mind so quickly. 

And here's the thing that has stayed with me for the past two week's since it happened:  I swear that dog grinned at me.  I could see her muscles move along her front legs as she changed direction to pivot away from my car but she looked straight into my eyes and laughed.  It was a game to her.  I felt a connection with her and she was telling me that the game was on: I should prepare myself.  This would be only the first of many obstacles on my trip and I should get used to them.  

Yeah.  Thanks for the warning, dog. I could see the devil in her laugh. A challenge.

She was right.  The trip threw obstacles my way.  The obstacles were mostly physical, although some were mental. One flight was cancelled and the airline graciously put me in a car to drive me clear across London to a different airport to catch the only other flight available with only 15 minutes to spare.  On foot, I enjoyed the intellectual exercises of traveling alone without the tiniest sense of direction.  I used the Google map feature on my phone a lot then once when my phone died I realized the bus stops usually had a rudimentary map on them that would suffice. But I think this was also stressful enough that added to my chronic foot pain.  My feet don't generally hurt unless I'm under stress. 

 I'm home in one piece, which is more than I can say for Joanna whose foot came home broken and for the two guys who came home late due to an unfortunate case of Covid. 

Travel ain't for sissies.

But I did have a few insights.  Come with me as I explore what God had to say.


 

Saturday, May 28, 2022

28


Today, May 28, is a big honking day for me. I haven't celebrated it lately.  But on the 28th of May in 1994 I quit drinking. This will be year 28 and it seems poetic to make it a special year.  Twenty-eight on the 28th.  

I used to give a big party for the girls at the local drug and alcohol rehab in town.  We had a wonderful time together.  Since I love to give parties those parties were sometimes integral in keeping me sober.  A reward.  I had to stay sober one more year just to give the party.  It never was particularly fancy but the rehab always had at least 16 girls in residence and over the years all the graduates knew they were invited so I could have over 20 girls show up for the party.  My yard would be full of cars and the yard full of chairs.  We'd grill hot dogs and hamburgers.  I'd have a big bonfire and gobs of conversations.  Somebody would fire up some music. The rehab girls brought their kids and they could ride the golf cart and jump on the trampoline and play in the playhouse.  It had a real family atmosphere.  

My sobriety has always been a quiet endeavor.  There wasn't any movie-worthy drama like "Days of Wine and Roses."  I've had enough drama to last a lifetime after growing up with a mother, father and sister who were all alcoholics and drug addicts. I won't go into the details here because nobody wants to hear them and I don't want to relive them.  Let's just say no alcoholic gives up drinking easily. And I've seen enough to know that I can't afford to ever have another drink. It's simply not worth it.  

I have a pretty great life now.  I'm not going to do anything to mess it up.

Right now I'm on a pilgrimage to the island of Iona in Scotland to let my soul talk to God for a while.  I will do a little tourism and some resting.  My body is really tired right now from hiking up a hill to see nature up close and personal.  Some days I feel old and tired but I have now lived longer than either of my parents or my sister did and I feel actually healthier today than I did thirty years ago.

Twenty-eight years ago I was a very different person.  I was pretty angry at God.  If you had asked me I would have denied it because I don't think I could have identified it at the time.  It took a lot of time, some good therapy and an extremely patient husband to smooth out all the kinks in my attitude.  

At my lowest point, when it finally dawned on me that I was going to have to give up drinking the anger grew and festered and it almost destroyed my marriage.  But I kept going to church because that was the only thing I knew to do.  And I would feel such anger inside that it really confused me.  Sometimes I felt like leaving before the service even started--like, "Why am I even here?" I had to make myself stay.  And I discovered that if I could make myself stay until the first hymn I would feel better.  

There was something about that first hymn that always made things better.  People always talk about how therapeutic music is and it's true.  No matter what the song was, that first hymn would quiet my nerves.  It was the sound of the congregation all around me singing that had a calming effect on me. It was like a soft blanket of love, a warm washcloth washing my soul and renewing it.  And I would be OK. 

I think this went on for about three months until my soul calmed down.

And then I got enough better that I forgot how much better I was.  And the new sober me felt like the normal me.

Sometimes when I'm talking about that first miracle Jesus performed when he turned the water into wine I get it turned around and say that He turned the wine into water.  I've said it wrong enough times now that I've come to realize it's not a mistake at all.  It's been my own private miracle.  Jesus turned wine into water for me.  And I've come to enjoy a really good glass of water.  Especially in a social setting when everyone else is enjoying wine I can stand back and appreciate my glass of water and give thanks for my miracle. 

And here we are 28 years later. On the 28th of May. 

There is not a day that I don't think about it. There's not a day that I don't miss it. But I wouldn't go back for anything. 

There are a lot of things that are special about the congregation of the Garland church and one of them is that they were friends to me when I needed them.  They probably had no idea what they were doing. God is sneaky that way sometimes.

Coincidentally, there is somebody from that Garland congregation here on the pilgrimage with me and I think I will buy them a drink to say "Thank You." They weren't members of the church back them to be my back-up choir for that first hymn but they can stand in for the rest of the congregation.  Just because I can't have a drink doesn't mean they can't.

Thank you, God.  I owe you big time.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

My Journey to the British Museum That Wasn't About the Museum At All

 This post was supposed to be about all the stuff I saw at the British Museum but the fact is it took me so long to get there (walking, tube, walking, yada, yada--and I didn't actually get lost this time even.......it's just that I'm old and my feet hurt) and the stairs to this place sometimes go nowhere.  I am not kidding.  Just try finding Room 41.  I dare you. I didn't even make my usual homage to the Rosetta Stone.  

But I did have the MOST interesting lunch and that's what I want to tell you about but I knew if I titled this "Lunch" you wouldn't read it.

I think I had lunch with somebody famous but I don't know who he was.  I never asked his name.

I got in line at the restaurant and it was kind of busy.  There was the usual quiet grumbling about waiting.  I noticed everyone was a couple except there seemed to be one guy right behind me in line who looked kind of disheveled....hair needed a shampoo and cut.  Elderly. Which is to say, my age.  I thought to myself at the time, "If this place gets crowded and they put us at communal tables, I hope they don't stick me with that guy."  Which is exactly what happened.  Because we all know that God hears everything we're thinking and has a sense of humor. 

So here we are at this big table with about ten other people and the old guy is right across from me. Like two feet from my nose. Eventually, we can't ignore each other and start talking.  It turns out he has a membership to the museum and just pops in whenever he is in the mood to see the special exhibits. He's here today to see the Stonehenge exhibit.  So we talk about Stonehenge for a while. I know enough about Stonehenge to know it's not the best example of neolithic stone circles. I'm not an expert but I did read In Search of Stones a couple of times.

He turns out to be an interesting sort of fellow.  One subject leads to another.  And he ends up to be fascinating.  We get to politics and Trump and Brexit.  The girls on my right chime in because they're from California and they start foaming at the mouth at U.S. politics and all four of us agree that the world, including Britain seems to have gone mad.  

Eventually, the California girls have to leave.  I wave them goodbye, reminding them to be sure to vote.

The old guy continues talking about Brexit and gets to border issues with Scotland and Ireland and the possibility of Scotland declaring independence.  I realize that I am getting an education far beyond my abilities to understand or appreciate what he is talking about.  Like, I don't know enough to even start understanding what I don't know about what he's telling me.  I figure him to be some sort of university professor.

So I ask him what he did for a living before he stopped doing it. Trying to find a nice way to ask about retirement.  He got this funny little twist to his mouth, like a smile that told me there was something I didn't know.  He said something vague like he was a foreign information officer for the British Broadcasting System.

It didn't really register. And we continued talking.  

They messed up his order and we ended up sitting there for over an hour waiting for his food to even arrive.  This wasn't my first time to observe the incredible patience the Brits can muster when waiting for food in a restaurant.  I've seen it twice before.  Either they are used to horrible service or they really are that polite. 

My education continued while I asked him about what might happen in the inconceivable event the queen dies. That conversation was far shorter, however, than the ones that touched on Russia or Ukraine where he was clearly more well-versed. He kept getting deeper into history of that part of the world and I regretted not knowing enough to keep up with his understanding of the political background. I was getting an education far beyond my limited ability to absorb his extensive knowledge. 

He was starting to look vaguely familiar but one of the reasons I get lost so easily when I explain my testing and diagnosis is that I have "poor design memory."  This includes maps but also faces.  It could also be that I had been sitting at a table 2 feet across from him for an hour. By this time he was a familiar face. 

Eventually I was stuffed with tea, scones, clotted cream and all the information I could handle on foreign affairs. I had just spent one of the most fascinating hours of my life yet I felt it was a waste because I didn't know enough to appreciate the nuggets of knowledge I had right in front of me.  

I bid him goodbye and told him to tell the Queen "Hi" for me.  He got that funny little look on his face again and said, "Oh, I'm afraid the Queen doesn't think too highly of me." 

And that's all I will ever know of my mysterious friend. I haven't a clue what he meant and probably never will. 

I did eventually find Room 41, which is the Sutton Hoo exhibit (if you don't know about it, go look it up.......an Anglo Saxon Ship they dug up in the English countryside) They really don't know that much about it, either.  They THINK they do.  They THINK they know about a LOT of the stuff in the British Museum but, golly, that stuff is OLD.  How do we really know? 


And, yes, the dude totally looks like he's wearing sunglasses.  

But, actually, that's just an empty spot in the armor.


But it's there.  It's physical  things we can see and hold and touch and carbon date to prove it's as old as we think it is.  But if we think we know the real story behind the artifacts, we're really just making educated guesses.  

Some things are OK left as mysteries. I had a great lunch with a really cool man.  I have no idea who he was.  And that's OK. It has to be, doesn't it?

Monday, May 23, 2022

Pilgrimage

Now that I've explained what I'm doing as a Wild Goose Chase by introducing the Goose as the Holy Spirit I know you are expecting a hither and yon, break neck speed race around Scotland, maybe squawking once on a while.  Let me introduce another kind of Jane's Journey (because there are many and have different names for each.)

Our leader has also described our trip as a pilgrimage.  And I'm sure he will elaborate in the coming days in ways that I'll be able to share with you.  For now, I have words of my own. 

For my own pilgrimage you need to know that I get lost easily.  

I was tested for this once and scored solidly that I literally have no sense of direction.  I can compensate for it with maps and electronic devices.  But I'm so handicapped I sometimes have trouble even reading the maps.  Sometimes the best method is actually to think of what my gut tells me to do and then do the opposite.  That part has been known to work as well as anything else.  

So, when I set out in one of the largest cities in the world  alone, it was a true faith journey.  

I had an Oyster card which is an all-purpose transportation pass, good for the tube and the bus and even some trains.  I had a credit card and my phone.  And that's really all I needed.

I have never been one to carry a purse.  A purse is only something to get stolen.  It hangs around loosely stuffed full of useless things like old Kleenex and gum wrappers. My mother-in-law had her purse stolen in the grocery store.  She had such a headache replacing all the things inside her wallet I haven't carried a purse since. They're going to have to stick their hands inside my pocket and get close to my body parts to get my stuff. That's enough to scare off most robbers. 

I once went out in Rome in search of the church of San Pietro in Vincoli with only a subway card and a map.  I forgot my wallet so I had no money and no ID.  I found my way to my destination after getting lost about five times.  The subway card got me there and back.  I never needed money.  I never needed to speak to anyone which was dandy because I can't speak Italian.  I popped in to see the statue I was looking for, took its picture, said a quick prayer and went back to the hotel. These things are complicated only if you make them so.

Today, I figured out what to call these events:  they are "Confidence Building Events."  And, because I survived that day in Rome I knew I could wander around London by myself.  

It's all a Pilgrimage.  

I checked the dictionary to make sure I wasn't too far off base here.  The consensus being pretty generic right now, is that a pilgrimage is a special journey to a special place.

Today I had a special place in mind the minute I woke up.  I've had a spot in London I've wanted to visit for a long time but couldn't get anyone interested to accompany me. It goes back to my first trip here when I noticed a guy on our Rick Steves tour bus looking at a map.  Then I over heard him telling the story that has now become so familiar to me that I could almost explain it better myself:

As an ancient major city, London has had many outbreaks of contagious diseases that wiped out significant parts of their population.  The most popular culprit has always been the bubonic plague, spread by rats.  Specifically, the fleas on the rats.  The Great Fire of London in 1666 stopped a major plague when it coincidentally killed all the rats. This must have scared all the fleas to death because they never had another major bubonic plague after that.

But they did have cholera. And in 1854 it was killing everyone.  And that's where the map comes in and my own pilgrimage.  In those days the best scientific minds thought that disease was spread by the air.  They hadn't come up with a "six feet of distance" rule but it wasn't for lack of trying.  The Italians had elaborate leather masks made to narrow the intake of air into your face.  It looked like a combination of bird's beak and funnel.

Enter Dr. John Snow, an anesthetist in London who thought the culprit was in the water.  He did a bit of medical sleuthing and came up with a map of every death from cholera.  Then he did some research on where people who died had gotten the water they drank.  Not everyone drank the water from the well nearest their own house--some preferred specific wells because they "tasted better." Once he assembled all this exhaustive research, he overlaid the two maps and BINGO there was one specific well that the majority of deaths had in common.  

John Snow went to the city fathers and, after a battle to get them to believe him, they agreed to remove the handle from that well's pump, disabling the citizens' ability to drink from that well.  

Jane.  Jane.  Jane, what in the world does any of this have to do with anything?  What kind of a Wild Goose Chase have you led us all on?

It's not what you're thinking.  This is a Pilgrimage.  It's a special journey to a special place.

I've been fascinated with plagues for years now and I can't get it out of my system.  Don't know why but I just had to go see the famous spot where this all happened.  

Because they have preserved it, you know.  It's famous.  Known as The Broad Street Pump, it's not actually on Broad Street now.  For some reason, the street has been re-named Broadwick.  No big deal.  I found it easily enough on my phone app.  It only required a short walk, a ride on the tube, another short walk, and another bus ride, then a third walk.  Turn right, left right, left.  Hold the phone upside down to orient what direction I'm supposed to walk, that kind of thing. Did you know sometimes you don't get a cell signal in the tube system? Sometimes you do but you can't depend on it. And without the cell phone I was flying blind.  I might as well have been in Alaska.

But I eventually found it.


And, lo and behold, there is a handy public house right in front of the pump.  Called..... wait for it:.... the John Snow Pub.  I got an order of Fish and Chips and was ready to go.


I got lost going back to the hotel, too.  

But while I was eating I figured something out. The reason it was a true pilgrimage.  A special place for a special reason.

My father was a doctor.  His specialty listed on his business cards and on the sign outside his office and everywhere else said "Internal Medicine and Diagnosis." It wasn't until about five years ago that I realized I've never heard one single doctor on earth describe themselves  as having a speciality of "diagnosis." I think I may have asked him one time about what that meant and he told me that if another doctor couldn't figure out what was wrong with someone they could send them to him and he could figure it out. Mind you, this was back in the days when about the most advanced testing equipment was the electrocardiogram and some blood work.  

My father would have been fascinated by the forensic medicine of today. As I sat there in the John Snow Pub I realized that the apple hadn't fallen too far from the tree and my DNA had drawn me to pay homage to the spot in London where somebody had figured out how to stop a plague.  

As I headed back to the hotel I wondered what new adventure I can now put on my bucket list. Because a true Stuart knows that anytime you cross something off your bucket list you need to add something else.  I think Uncle Henry made the mistake of completing his list and had to start a whole new one. I intend to just keep a running tab. 

Here's what I think: I don't think a pilgrimage really ends.  If life with our Creator is the goal then it won't. 



Sunday, May 22, 2022

My Wild Goose Chase


Hello friends.  I'm on another adventure and thinking I will post to my blog to keep you updated with photos and philosophies.  Not everybody I know is on Facebook so I'll put it all here and I can send the link out on email so everybody can get all the juicy bits.  

The first thing I need to do is explain the Wild Goose Chase part.  This trip was organized by Grace Presbytery and composed of mostly presbytery staff but they let in a few civilians like me.  There are about 28 of us in all.  We might end up a rowdy bunch.

Because this rowdy bunch is also religious they are doing study and what better subject for a place like the island of Iona, Scotland than the Holy Spirit?

I've heard Iona described as a Thin Place:  one of the places on earth where the distance between God and humanity is so thin you can almost reach out and touch the Divine.  I have always wanted to go to Iona.  I want to touch God.  I want to go to this wild place and feel God's Holy Spirit blow against my cheek as the wind blew into the disciples in that upper room at Pentecost.

The most common symbol of the Holy Spirit is the dove.  But I recently found out some people think of the Holy Spirit as a Wild Goose.  Instead of a mild mannered and gentle thing like a dove the Holy Spirit can be wild and blow hither and yon changing direction daring us to chase after it in a way that requires all our senses and determination.  Of course, we need alert bodies and quick bodies.  I get exhausted just thinking about it.  To be honest, I'm not sure I'm up for this project right now.  I may be getting too old to go chasing around after something like that.  Send me in when you've got the dove back. Right now I've got a bad case of jetlag.

Other sources tell me that the wild goose, in addition to the dove, is a Celtic Christian symbol for the Holy Spirit. Sometimes God's Spirit hovers comfortingly like a dove. But the Spirit also surprises us and disturbs our plans. Like a wild and unpredictable goose, the Holy Spirit sweeps in unexpected, astonishing directions.

Whereas the dove has a reputation for gentleness and calmness, a wild goose will attack if it feels threatened. It’s wild and untamed. In the same way, the Celtic believers in the British Isles believed that the Holy Spirit is unpredictable, upsetting the status quo and leading people toward a new adventure with God. They found evidence for this interpretation in John 3:8:

“The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Another blog that I read, Kathy Schiffer, posed the question,  "So what best represents the Holy Spirit? On the one hand, the Holy Spirit is gentle as a dove — he can come silently, planting the seeds of wisdom in our hearts. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit is sometimes rambunctious as a goose — wresting us from our sedentary ways, disturbing the status quo, injecting the fire of God’s love."

Interestingly, the ancient Celtic people saw the Holy Spirit not as a hovering white dove but as a “wild goose.” The meaning behind this peculiar choice is because they saw how the Holy Spirit has a tendency to disrupt and surprise. The Holy Spirit moves in our lives in an unexpected fashion, similar to the actions of a wild goose.

It sounds like "The chase is on."

I've been taking notes and started having spiritual experiences five minutes after I left my driveway headed for the airport.  And, ever the one to place my total trust in God, I have already managed to get lost in London more times than I can count. Then, in one trip alone, I ended up on the other side of London, ran my phone battery down to nothing, had my credit card fail the cab driver with no actual cash to pay him.  Yet, here I am back at the hotel room alive and well and in a good mood;  ready to re-charge my phone and head out for round two.  (The credit card eventually kicked in after re-booting his terminal three times. We all know I'm too old to survive on my looks alone.)

I'm going to post this now and go get some more material. Stay tuned.