Saturday, July 30, 2011

Searching for the Sacred and Experiencing God Here and There

It's been an interesting time here in Great Britain.  Our days have been mostly focused toward pilgrimage, as Barry has written.  We covered the southern pilgrimage route from Winchester to Canterbury, passing through places with holy wells, interesting old churches, and even a yew grove.  The highlight of course was Canterbury Cathedral -- its shrine to Thomas a Becket and its worship.
The chapel where Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury,
was murdered by 4 of the king's knights.The 4 swords used in the murder are portrayed
by the 2 swords at the ends of the cross--and their shadows.

I was excited to sense the presence of God, real and immediate, in the prayer chapels in the crypt of the Cathedral.
Looking up the nave at Canterbury, the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion.
When we attended Eucharist on Sunday we were pleased that
Archbishop Rowan was there, too.

I was moved to feel the awesome courage and presence of Thomas a Becket where he was murdered.  The worship services there in Canterbury Cathedral, however, had the opposite effect on me...they were done with precision and with Book-of-Common-Prayer correctness.  But they were celebrated rather icily, IMHO, and they spoke to me of the transcendent majesty of God instead of the immediate presence of God, what theologians would call God's immanence.  I am sure, though, that others might have very different impressions of the same services:  Holy Eucharist, Compline, Morning Prayer, Evensong.  However the two sermons I heard were just fine and spoke of God with us.  (I loaded up, knowing that we won't always be this close to Cathedral services.  And Barry was patient...)
Cloister at Canterbury Cathedral.  Note the ornate Decorated Gothic style.

Once farther north we turned toward the Inner Hebridean Island of Iona.  Iona is the site where Columba founded his mission to Britain, having been banished from Ireland.
Looking toward the Abbey at Iona from a niche in the Outer Wall of the medieval convent

From Iona Celtic-style Christianity spread across Scotland to Lindisfarne and then throughout Britain, encountering Roman-style Christianity in the successors to St. Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Abbey on Iona was restored throughout the 20th Century and is home to an ecumenical (generally liberal Presbyterian-types) community.
Shrine of St. Columba under the nave at the restored Abbey Church.
It was big enough for a little altar and four small chairs.

The prayer service we attended there was a service of prayer for Justice and Peace in mid afternoon.  In great contrast to Canterbury, this one was led by a fellow with great liturgical presence, but dressed in fleece and khaki.  The prayer book that the Iona Community uses is lovely, poetic, reminiscent of the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer.  Again, God's presence seemed much more easily felt here in this setting--at least to me.
The cloister in the restored Abbey at Iona

After visiting Iona we hopped on the ferry from Mull to Skye in the Inner Hebrides
View on the ride from Mull to Skye on the Hop Scotch ticket.
The water really is that blue when the sun shines.

and then from Skye to Lewis, one of the furthest-out islands in the Outer Hebrides.  (Our combination ferry ticket is called "Hop Scotch", which I love.)

Today after disembarking from the ferry on the Island of Lewis and Harris, we visited the stone circle at Callanish, which dates from around 2200 BC.
Stone circle--neolithic observatory and/or worship site????
This shot was particularly hard to capture as I needed to wait
till all the visitors were hidden behind the stones!

Archaeologists still have no idea just how these stones were used but a worship centered around sun and moon cannot be ruled out.  They are similar to Stonehenge but have no horizontal "lintel" rocks...those came a little later at Stonehenge than when this particular site was constructed.

It's so interesting how traveling in Britain reminds you that people have always sought the Sacred--God--and found God in many ways.  Distant or as close as a heartbeat--each of us is invited to be open to knowing the Divine, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit however we may, and however God wishes to reveal himself at any particular time.  Even the fellow I spoke with the other night at dinner in our B&B was seeking encounters with the Sacred, though he may not have voiced it that way.  Over a meal of Thai-style prawns and hot scallop salad, this middle-aged, unchurched gentleman waxed poetic about the spirituality within the Harry Potter series.  There was a downright fervent quality to his dedication to the books and their characters.

We seek God, consciously or unconsciously...and God is ready to be found.  I can't help but think that F, S, and HS are delighted by our grand or our unconscious attempts at communion.  This summer, as we relax from the usual hectic schedules of our lives, may we be open to God's wooing and respond with ready hearts--on the beach, on the hiking trail, at restaurants, sailing, or even in church!
Sometimes animals speak to us of God's power and sense of humor--
here is a Highland Cow.  They are shaggy and undistractable.
We are staying for next 2 nights in the farthest NW hotel and restaurant in  Britain--
it is remote and gorgeous here; accommodations comfy and basic.  Rooster right outside the window.  Oh joy.

And in a purely practical vein, we travel home next week and then attend 2 family reunions in the States.  Back to church the second weekend in August, and I can't wait.

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