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Friday, May 31, 2019


It is cold and rainy this last full day on Iona.
Not too much different than three
out of the last
five days
but somehow more – what?



Ah, no. Insulting. 

That's what it is.

I mean, wouldn’t you think that the Isle would be
a wee better host
by offering up a beautiful day
on our last full day here?

Not just for me, of course, but for us all.
The whole group.
We are Americans, after all,
used to getting
what we paid for.

It’s just rude, is all.

That's what it is.

Do you suppose
thinking like a
and not like a

Ah, guilty as charged.

Perhaps I have
inadvertently stumbled
onto a Great Truth
which all Pilgrims
eventually come to know:

The Thinnest of Thin Places
is not always to be found
on a day filled
with beautiful sunshine
sparkling on turquoise water
and white sand.

Sometimes, it is a wet,
kinda day,
alone with only your
own thoughts and prayers
sitting by the window
watching the sheep graze.

Iona, Scotland 5/31/19


Pilgrimage as Prayer

The past two days, our group of pilgrims has been focused on pilgrimage and prayer. We’ve been looking at what it is that makes us pilgrims and what shapes and forms our prayers – and how are prayers are shaped and formed by being on pilgrimage.

It seems that lots of people are leading lots of pilgrimages to lots of places which are considered “ancient” and “holy”: Rome, Jerusalem, Iona, Ireland, Canterbury, etc. Folks who are associated with religion – usually Christian – lead these trips: A priest, often the rector of a church, a member of a religious order, a member of the laity who is associated with a church or a diocese.

So, if a ‘holy’ person is leading you to a ‘holy’ place, it must be a ‘pilgrimage’, right?

The folks on Iona have a very different view of that. Mind you, they’ll never turn anyone away and they would never deny the title “pilgrim” to anyone who claims it. As one member of the Iona religious community said to me, “Who are we to know what sacrifice it took for them to be here?” No one is judging anyone.

She did say, “You know, pilgrimage is one of those words we use and use and then it loses its meaning. It’s like the word, ‘love’. A person will say, ‘Oh, I LOVE” my spouse,” or “I LOVE Jesus,’ or ‘Oh, I LOVE it here on Iona,’ and that’s good. But, that same person with that same inflection will say, ‘Oh, I had Scottish scrambled eggs and fried halloumi for breakfast and I LOVE it.’ Now, what that tells me about that poor soul is that she probably doesn’t know what love is. The poor dear has used the word ‘love’ so much, it has become meaningless. How can you love your spouse or Jesus or this island as much as you love fried halloumi? The same is true, I think, with the word ‘pilgrimage’. People have used it so much, they don’t really know what it means.”

She then gave me some excerpts from various ancient texts to read. I rather like these:
“And three Scots came to King Alfred in a boat without any oars from Ireland; whence they stole away, because they would live in a state of pilgrimage, for the love of God, they recked not where.” (The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle)
“God counseled Abraham to leave his own country and go in pilgrimage to the land which God had shown him, to wit the ‘Land of Promise.” Now the good counsel which God enjoined here the father of the faithful is incumbent on all the faithful; that is to leave their country and their land, their wealth and their worldly delight for the sake of the Lord of the Elements, and go in perfect pilgrimage in imitation of Him.” (Columba). 
The traditional religious understating of a pilgrimage is that it is a vocation, in that a person is called by God or moved by the Spirit to a spiritual quest. A pilgrim is one who is on a spiritual quest but doesn’t always know the full nature of that quest – or even the exact route – of the pilgrimage.

What is known to the pilgrim is that it will involve travel – sometimes rigorous travel – and that it will come at some sacrifice of time, money, pride, status, and, most importantly, security – emotional, spiritual and/or financial.

The Celtic image for the Holy Spirit is a Wild Goose. A pilgrimage is often referred to as a “Wild Goose Chase” because the pilgrim is off, chasing the Holy Spirit, finding something that perhaps was never lost, discovering something that was hidden in plain sight, and reconnecting to the Holy in oneself in order to deepen one’s relationship with The Holy One.

It’s a ‘thin place’ experience of God that does not necessarily happen IN a thin place but BECAUSE OF a thin place.

That’s because prayer is an essential ingredient of pilgrimage.

‘Prayer’ is another word, like ‘love’ and ‘pilgrimage’, that has become so over used and misused that it has lost the fullness of its meaning.

Here’s a sample of what I mean from the writings of Columba
“The path I walk, Christ walks it.
May the land in which I am be without sorrow.
May the Trinity protect me whenever I say, ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’.
Bright angels walk with me – dear presence – in every dealing.
In every dealing I pray them that no one’s poison may reach me.
The ninefold people of heave of holy cloud, the tenth force of the stout earth.
Favourable company, they come with me, so that the Lord may not be angry with me.
May I arrive at every place, may I return home; may the way in which I spend be a way without loss.
May every path before me be smooth, man, woman and child welcome me.
A truly good journey! Well does the fair Lord how us a course, a path.
There’s a sense in this prayer of a request for an awareness of God’s presence in every moment – traveling, interacting with people, knowing that Christ is presence in every step on the path we walk.

That’s very different from reading something someone else wrote, isn’t it? It’s acknowledging, every time you open your mind to think, or your mouth to speak, that God is already there, in every thought and every word.

In Celtic Spirituality these prayers are known as a Lorica or Breastplate. Episcopalians know parts of St. Patrick’s Breastplate, but here are parts of St. Patrick’s Lorica of the Deer’s Cry:
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of doom.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.
As I’ve walked all over this island while I’ve been here on pilgrimage (I’ve walked between 2-10 miles daily), I have come to understand that ‘loricas’ are what my grandmother prayed every morning after reading scripture and before walking to daily mass.

They are active prayers for protection, for strength, for remembrance, so that one’s whole entire being is centered in God and Christ Jesus in everything one does.

Someone asked our pilgrimage leader what was the most common form of prayer in Celtic spirituality. Without a moment’s hesitation, she responded, “pilgrimage”.

Pilgrimage, she said, is in fact, the essence of Celtic prayer. It's about using your body and all your senses and your mind in an act of sacrificial dedication to following the Holy Spirit into a deeper understanding of your self and all of creation so that you might be in deeper relationship with God, the Creator of All of Creation.

One of the folks here on Iona told me that it is not an overstatement to claim that you can not really know Celtic prayer or plumb the depths of the Art of Contemplative Pray without going on Pilgrimage.

A pilgrimage is a form of prayer. A pilgrim is a person of prayer on a wild goose chase, following the spirit to “steal away because they would live in a state of pilgrimage, for the love of God, they recked not where.”

I love being a pilgrim. It is one way which has become my favorite way to pray. It is an important way to connect (or, re-connect) with myself, my story, and creation and its story.

It makes me feel more connected to my grandmother who “stole away” from Portugal, not certain of where she was going or what would happen after she arrived.

It makes me feel more connected to Jesus who walked all over Israel, far from his home, following the Spirit, preaching a gospel of Good News wherever he went.

It makes me feel more connected to the apostles who travelled far in the name of Christ, to bring the Good News of Jesus the Christ near and far.

It makes me feel more connected to the millions and millions of pilgrims over the centuries of time who left home to put their feet in the same place where others had walked, to find the longing and the desire of their heart – especially in the “thin places” of God’s creation.

Something happens when you put your body in motion and allow it to become the incarnation of prayer in order to become instruments of the justice and joy of God.

As the Iona Community prays:
We will not offer to God,
offerings that cost us nothing.

O Christ, the Master Carpenter,
you, at the last, through wood and nails,
crafted our whole salvation.

Wield well your tools,
in the workshop of your world,
so that we who come rough-hewn to your bench
may here be fashioned
to a truer beauty of your hand.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Thin Place Experience

Today, our pilgrimage meditation was “thin places”.

I took with me this poem, “Iona,” by Kenneth Steven and considered it as I walked around this island with breathtaking vistas of ancient beauty.
And God said:
Let there be a place made of stone
Out off the west of the world,
Roughed nine months by gale,
Rattled in Atlantic swell.
A place that rouses each Easter
With soft blessings of flowers
And shocks of white shell sand;
A place found only sometimes
By those who have lost their way.
So, I’ll start with a confession. When I first became an Episcopalian, I never felt like I belonged. I never felt like I belonged because I really never felt fully included. Honestly? Back then? In 1977? When I was “received”? 

It felt pretty much like an insider’s game with rules that were known only by those women who wore natural fiber suits and a single strand of pearls, and men who wore herringbone tweet jackets with patches at the elbow and everyone drank either gin and tonic or bourbon and wore the same broad grin and laughed the same cadenced laugh (Ah-ha, ha, HA!).

I mean, if my baptism means that I am a member of the household of God, aren’t I already ‘included’? Why do you have to ‘include’ me, after I’ve been baptized AND ‘received’?

I think it took at least 15 years before I really found my footing. By that point, I had been ordained 10 years.

I stopped caring whether or not someone remarked about my “particular style” of dress, as it was frequently called. What that meant was that I wasn’t wearing a black suit – dress or slacks – with a black clerical shirt. 

Oh, I often wore black clerical shirts but never – ever – a black suit. I refused to look like a female-male priest. Through observation of many of my peers, I knew if I took myself that seriously I would kill the very spirit that called me to a life of ordained service of God’s people.

Even so, I’ve frequently felt lost in the institutional church with its double messages of “warm welcome” and “inclusion” but no full time, proper paying work if you were a woman. God help you if you had what one of my colleagues called a “double condition”. That would be woman AND – fill in the blank of anything that wasn’t Caucasian, Ivy League, proper Episcopal Church pedigree, and, God knows, heterosexual.

I say all of that to say this: In an act of “institutional rebellion,” I have actively resisted all the things that mark a proper Episcopal priest: A properly dressed person who drives either a Volvo or a Subaru, who owns a golden retriever and has been to Iona. 

Tell the truth: Doesn’t that describe many of the Episcopal Clergy you know who have at least two of those things? And lots of Episcopal priests, it seems, have been to Iona.

Except me. Until now. And, that was very intentional.

What changed me was experiencing Celtic Spirituality during my time on Camino in Galicia. There was something deep to that particular expression of Celtic Spirituality which I had not experienced in any of the expressions I had witnessed in America.

Something organic. Something authentic. Something that had deep roots in an expression of spirituality which grew from the fertile soil of ethnicity and culture.

It happened my last night in Spain. Our pilgrimage leader organized a wonderful dinner to celebrate the completion of The Camino. At the end of the dinner, two Spanish bag pipers came into the room with a Celtic witch who brewed an amazing, fiery alcoholic beverage while she spoke and sang ancient Galician chants.

At the end of the evening, she came over to me and looked deeply into my eyes. As she did, I felt there was something about her that was very familiar. Did I know her? How could that even be possible?

And then, she smiled and said, “Hello, my sister.” And suddenly, I realized we resembled each other. She looked familiar because she could have been a relative of mine.

She saw me. My essence. My blood. My ethnic connection. And, when she saw me, I was able to see myself. Or, more of myself. A part of myself I didn’t know existed but all of a sudden knew had been there all the time.

I felt as if a part of me had been lost but now was found. I felt more whole. I felt holy.

I realized, later, that I had been in the midst of an experience of a “thin place”.

I experienced a “thin place” the first time I held my first-born child in my arms. And, the first time I held my second-born, and youngest child in my arms. And, the first time I held my first grandchild in my arms. And, each time I have held a grandchild in my arms.

It is a “thin place” experience to see yourself in another and to have another see a bit of themselves in you. In that moment, you are both caught up in wonder and awe.

It is a “thin place” experience to see yourself in part of creation and to know that this bit of creation – this rock, that tree, the blue sky, the white-capped water, this quiet spot, that hill where people were killed for their faith, that path where millions of pilgrims have walked before you to be found only after they lost their way – is also part of you in some mystical way that is beyond your knowing.

And yet, you know. You just know.

Beautiful places like Galicia and Iona are “thin places” because their natural beauty allows those experiences to happen more readily.

But, you can be in a "thin place" and never have a "thin place" experience.

They are “thin places” because residents there have created a spirituality which honors the holiness of creation. They are holy places because pilgrims come to them, year after year, to bless them with more “thin place” experiences.

I am reminded of a passage from Little Gidding by T.S. Eliot from Four Quartets
If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. 
You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.
I am kneeling on the beautiful soil of Iona, adding my valid prayers to the prayers which  millions of pilgrims have prayed over the centuries that have been valid.

I am walking in the beauty of creation all around me that I might find the beauty of that which God has created in me.

I am here to find parts of myself that I never knew existed but recognize immediately when they are discovered. Or uncovered. Or recovered.

I am here to be more connected with the whole of creation in the world and the world of the creation of my self that is within me, and be made more whole.

I am here to become more authentic so that my integrity can be made strong.

In that thin space between what was and is and is yet to come, I am more of who I am meant to be.

I am here because I belong.

Because of the thin place experiences I've had, I know that, no matter where I am, I am home. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Saoghal Nam Ban

A day spent among the ruins of an ancient Nunnery is a day well spent.

This place is known as Saoghal nam ban – translated to mean “World of Women”.

This ancient place was once the realm of Iona’s religious women, where a community of anywhere between 20-30 religious women worshipped in a strict round of services and private prayer.

They would gather in the Chapter Room first thing in the morning, where they would confess their sins, say their prayers, read scripture and then read aloud portions of the writings of St. Augustine before they would conduct the business of the community.

The part about reading portions of St. Augustine’s writing made me giggle. I mean, given what St. Augustine thought about women, it sort of makes me wonder if they didn’t just skip over those parts.

These were not ordinary nuns and this was no ordinary convent.

Many nuns came from noble families. The convent provided refuge for unmarried daughters, widows, girls born out of wedlock and estranged wives.

Far from leading lives of poverty and seclusion, these women lived well by the day’s standards and had daily contact with the outside world.

They supported themselves financially, living off income from nunnery lands on Iona and beyond – no doubt originally purchased for them by the fathers of young women as a dowry of sorts, or from the inheritance of rich widows, or possibly as alimony from their philandering husbands.

Being educated, literate women, they also no doubt bought and sold land as investment and were able to support themselves quite nicely.

Founded around 1200, the convent flourished for more than 350 years. Until the 1600s, the south shore of Mull’s Loch na Keal was known as “Leirnacalloch” meaning ‘hillside of the nuns’.

One of the fascinating aspects of the structure is evidence of the fact that these were Christian women of independent thought who treasured their Celtic history and lore.

If you go ‘round to the street between the convent and the community sheep-sheering center and look up at the outside of what was once the refectory, you will see the now very faint but unmistakable form of ‘Sheena-na-gig’ (naked woman with her legs apart) carved above one of the windows.

Common in Ireland, these symbols were meant to ward off evil. The name comes from the Gaelic, ‘Sile nan Cioch’ meaning, ‘Sheila of the Breasts’.

Imagine a convent today having a Sheena-na-gig carved anywhere where anyone could see it! I think that tells us a little something about these women that one might not find written up in any religious history book.

I like to think that one of the noble women who had become a nun commissioned that carving one morning after having heard just about enough of St. Augustine’s writings read in the Chapter Room.

Lots of people get very romantic about this place. It is enormously important to many women who describe it as the thinnest of thin places of this thin place island.

It is clearly a place where one is given just enough information as to tantalize the imagination and consider something about the women who once lived here, walking the grounds, tending the gardens, preparing the food, visiting with neighbors, welcoming the stranger, praying and living together.

Here’s what I’m coming to understand about Celtic Spirituality – and today’s time spent at the convent and contemplating the lives of the nuns who once lived here provided more insight and revelation about that for me.

Much of what passes for Celtic Spirituality in America is a very Westernized version which has been co-opted and modified from the original.

People read a few books or wear a Triqetra or Celtic knot or have them tattooed on their bodies and think, somehow, they’ve got it.

It makes me feel as uncomfortable as seeing folks co-opt Native American symbols like Dream Catchers or Smudge Sticks or Buddhist singing bowls and think they’ve got it.

Well, that’s fine, I suppose. If it makes you feel closer, somehow to God, it can’t be all bad. I just always wonder about the Buddhist or the Native American or the person who actually practices Celtic Spirituality and how they must feel when they see someone using their symbols of spirituality. 

If you ask an American about Celtic Spirituality they will probably respond that it’s “all about nature” and “sea and stars and sky and season” and “the Trinity”.

And, that wouldn’t be wrong. But, as I’m learning, it’s so much more than that. Indeed, it’s so very much more that the deeper you go the more humble you feel.

I am learning that a the very core of Celtic Spirituality is justice, which is all about making into reality the Jesus prayer which the disciples taught: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

That is justice – that is right-eouness - in Celtic Spirituality. It’s bringing about God’s realm here on earth as it is in heaven. The justice of Celtic Spirituality means that the hungry are fed, the thirsty are given drink, the naked are clothed, and the homeless are given shelter. 

Everyone works for the common weal – the common wealth (Commonwealth) – for peace on earth, good will towards all humankind.

It’s not that creation is not important to Celtic Spirituality. It’s that when we live in harmony with God’s creation, we live in harmony with each other.

Or, as one teacher of Celtic Spirituality says, “Creation is the first book of Revelation”.

Columbanus, an evangelist of Columba, taught, 
“Understand, if you want to know the Creator, created things.” 
Pelagius wrote: 
“Look at the animals roaming the forest: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the birds flying across the sky: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the tiny insects crawling in the grass: God’s spirit dwells in them. Look at the fish in the river and sea: God’s spirit dwells within them. There is no creature on earth in whom God is absent . . . .When God pronounced that his creation was good, it was not only that her hand had fashioned every creature; it was that his breath had brought every creature to life. Look too at the great trees of the forest; look at the wild flowers and the grass in the fields; look even at your crops. God’s spirit is present within all plants as well. The presence of God’s spirit in all living things is what makes them beautiful; and if we look with God’s eyes, nothing on the earth is ugly.”
You see, it’s not just the creation. It’s that if you can see God all around you, you can see through God’s eyes. And, if you see through God’s eyes, nothing on earth – not even other people – are ugly.

You see beauty everywhere.

And seeing beauty everywhere in every thing is the beginning of the work of justice.

I love this quote I found from Rev George MacLeod, the man who established the Iona Community. Reportedly, he said this to Esther de Waal:
“Everyone today keeps asking, ‘What is the matter?’ and the answer is MATTER is the matter. It is our view of matter, the extent to which the church has spiritualized faith and set it apart from the material world – that has brought us to where we are today.”
So, Celtic Spirituality is not a means unto itself. It does not exist for itself, for the satisfaction of the self; rather it is quite dead if it does not lead to a life of service which lifts the lives of others from their lowly status.

Celtic Spirituality is not about devotion to a life of prayer that leads only to the steps of a church or the private chapel in one’s home or garden. It is, rather, a life of prayer that leads to a devotion to achieving the justice of God here on earth.

It is not about the Triquetra as the symbol of the mystery of the Trinity; rather it is the welcome sign on the door post of a faith that is radically relational, that calls us into a community which loves the world that God has made so much that it works so that all of God’s creatures to live in peace and harmony.

I am deeply moved by this sense of justice at the heart of Celtic Spirituality. And, I must say, the closer I moved to that heart of justice, the more deeply I felt the joy which the mystics taught is at the center of Creation.

The spirit of the women of the ancient nunnery, Saoghal Nam Ban, came to visit me today as I came to visit them. They revealed much to me as I prayed among their ruins and graves.

The spirit of the sisters here helped me more deeply understand the spirituality which shaped and formed their lives. The spirit of ‘Sheena-na-gig’ opened herself to me to help me open myself to new life.

My prayer is that, with this understanding, I might better shape and form my life in the justice of God, beginning by being in better harmony with creation.

I understand this sort of thing happens in ‘thin places’.

I don’t know about that.

I only know that a day spent among the ruins of an ancient Nunnery is a day well spent.

I discovered things that have been hiding in plain sight.


Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Iona Community: Justice and Joy

I was not expecting the church service I experienced today.

I had prepared myself for it. I was thoroughly gobsmacked by what I experienced.

I think I saw and felt what 'church' can be when it concerns itself more with the Gospel of Jesus Christ than it does with the Institution of the Church.

I'll try to give you a sense of what I experienced.

Here are the Opening Prayers:

With nature in its power and beauty,
With rain and wind and sunshine,
with the ancient rocks and the budding flower
All:    we gather in praise of God 

With believers and seekers the whole world wide,
with people in every land,
and speaker of every tongue
we gather in praise of God.
With the angels and saints in heaven,
with Columba who built community here
and with all who have worshipped in this place,
         we gather in praise of God.
With Jesus who promised his presence
and the Spirit who showers her blessings,
we gather in praise of God.
        we gather in praise of God. 

Here let heaven and earth embrace.
here may God's people find home. 
Source: Iona Abbey Worship Book
And then, if that wasn't clear enough that we are the church catholic - universal, one with each other and all of creation - the communion of saints past, present and to come, we then sang, "For Everyone Born A Place at the Table".

If you've been around LGBTQ worship services, you may have heard it or even sung it. In case you haven't, here are the words:

For everyone born, a place at the table,
for everyone born, clean water and bread,
a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
for everyone born, a star overhead,
                and God will delight when we are creators
                of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
                yes, God will delight when we are creators
                of justice, justice and joy!

For woman and man, a place at the table,
revising the roles, deciding the share,
with wisdom and grace, dividing the power,
for woman and man, a system that's fair,
                and God will delight when we are creators
                of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
                yes, God will delight when we are creators
                of justice, justice and joy!
For young and for old, a place at the table,
a voice to be heard, a part in the song,
the hands of a child in hands that are wrinkled,
for young and for old, the right to belong,
                and God will delight when we are creators
                of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
                yes, God will delight when we are creators
                of justice, justice and joy!

For just and unjust, a place at the table,
abuser, abused, with need to forgive,
in anger, in hurt, a mindset of mercy,
for just and unjust, a new way to live,
                and God will delight when we are creators
                of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
                yes, God will delight when we are creators
                of justice, justice and joy!

For everyone born, a place at the table,
to live without fear, and simply to be,
to work, to speak out, to witness and worship,
for everyone born, the right to be free,
                and God will delight when we are creators
                of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
                yes, God will delight when we are creators
                of justice, justice and joy!

Words © 1998 Hope Publishing Company, 380 S Main Pl, Carol Stream, IL 60188  

Yeah, so if you can believe it, it actually went UP from there. Especially since, sitting right next to me was a young man with Trisomy 21 (AKA "Down's Syndrome"). He was singing this hymn at the very top of his voice and from the very middle of the middle of his heart and soul. 

I was absolutely reduced to a puddle.  

And then, came the sermon. Oh, my. Oh, my, my, my, my, my.

The preacher - the only male worship leader - preached on "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." 

He pointed out that "Mr. Trump" used words that were violent, words that were brutal, words that were vulgar, words that were disrespectful of the human condition . . . 

And, he said, since Mr. Trump has been "POTUS," (that's the word he used) our world has become more violent, more brutal, more vulgar, more disrespectful of the human condition.

He urged us to consider what he called "the resanctification of language". Because, he said, The Word was made flesh and we have a choice to embody The Word or enflesh the words. 

You could have knocked me over with a feather. 

His sermon has stayed with me this whole day as I've walked around this island in the rain and the wind and the cold, troubling the baptismal waters of my life in Christ in the best possible way that sermons are supposed to do.

I've been thinking about the words I use and how I embody them. 

I've been wondering about the words I use and how they reveal my relationship with God and how they may shape and form my relationship with others

I've been meditating on some of the words I've used and how they have shaped and formed my understanding - my perspective - of the world. 

And, because I am a leader in communities of faith, I've been wondering how others might see the world through the words I speak. 

Words matter. They do. We know this. I've been saying this, mostly in terms of "inclusive" or "expansive" language used in our liturgies. I've even spoken about it as a matter of justice.

Today, however, I heard the words I've spoken in a new way.  I felt convicted by the Gospel not only because it was preached so powerfully, but because I heard it prayed and sung in the words of the liturgy. 

Even more importantly, I saw it lived out in the way the liturgy was performed. 

No one wore a liturgical garment, except the priest who wore a stole over her coat (it was cold today).

The huge, ancient, thousands-year-old altar, was presided over by five women - one priest and four Eucharistic ministers, each of whom took a portion of the bread and a chalice of wine. Then, they passed the bread and the wine to the rows of the congregation, and we fed each other. 

The priest didn't feed us. 

The ministers didn't feed us. 

The priest and the ministers distributed the bread and wine which were, as we say, "the gifts of God for the people of God," so we could share it among ourselves and feed each other.

It was the Gospel story of the feeding of the 5,000 lived out in miniature in the midst of the church.

I left that wonderful ancient Abbey Church feeling refreshed and renewed and with this insight:

When the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us, we become creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace. And, God is, indeed, delighted.

I'm going to leave you with that and the prayer which ended the service and began the work of the mission of the community: 
Generous and faithful God
you have fed us at your table.
May the nourishment we have received
enable us to enrich the lives of others
wherever we may go from here.

Whether the future be dark or bright,
the road be smooth or rough,
whether our cares be light or heavy
our song be strong or weak,
keep our hearts warm
and our hands open,
our lives ever embracing
and ever embraced by your love. 

Saturday, May 25, 2019


Iona is the island to the extreme left.
Well, as they used to say when I lived in Maine: You can't get there from here. Not without a lot of patience and more than pinch of courage.

It's quite a trip from Oban to Iona.

You've got to take a 90 minute ferry to the the Isle of Mull, drive an hour or so across the Mull on a one lane road with two-way traffic - and most folk driving on that road don't know the meaning of S.L.O.W.

Our coach also didn't have any heat and it never really got above 9 degrees Celsius all day. And, it was raining. Well, it varied from annoying drizzle to pouring down rain. And the driver's defrosters didn't work.

Did I mention the wind? No? Well, that made for a ferry ride that was rather . . . . interesting.

After we drove through Mull we had to catch another ferry over to Iona - only about a 10 minute ride, but by then it was pouring down rain and windy.

Once we got off the boat, we had to wait for someone from St. Columba's Hotel to come fetch our luggage.

Well, two of us did. Outside. In the rain. And the wind.

One of the glacial island leaving Oban to the Isle of Mull
And then, it was a fifteen minute walk uphill. In the rain. And, the wind.

I'm not sure what this all means, actually. And, because we're on pilgrimage, everything is supposed to take on some significant, symbolic, magical meaning.

Because, after all, we're in a "thin place".

Someone suggested that our will to be here is being tested.

I don't know about that but I checked the weather record in this part of the world at this time of year and it seems like this is pretty much what happens.

So, between the rain and the fog, the wind and the bone-chilling cold, I didn't get that "magical, thin-place" feeling  everyone talks about when they first land on the shores of Iona.

The feeling I got was more like the urgent need to get my wet clothes off my body and get my body into a hot shower and then into some warm clothing and then in front of the fireplace with a hot cup of tea.

Which, I admit, did have a magic all its own.

We had a bit of a gathering before supper - just a few bits of information we'll need while we're here - and then it was off to a lovely supper. The food here is excellent and the portions are perfect.

I confess, I couldn't bear the thought of walking out in the rain to the Abbey for prayer. Or, for that matter, Bishop's House for Compline.

I really just started feeling warm and human about 30 minutes ago.

My prayers have been answered and I have sent prayers of deep gratitude for warmth and heat, food and liquid, a comfortable bed and a lovely shower in a warm room with a great view.

I mean, seriously, what more can I say to God and the Cosmos that isn't already known?

Tomorrow's day begins at 8 AM. Mass over at the Abbey is at 10:30. I'm looking forward to an Ecumenical Eucharist.  I've read the Iona liturgies but I've never experienced one. I'm glad I have read them so that I can just go and immerse myself in the experience.

It's supposed to rain off and on again tomorrow but then the forecast for the rest of the week looks pretty clear.

The view from my bedroom. That's Bishop's House. And, beyond, Iona Sound
Or, as the woman I met at Inveraray advised, ""Doonya pay na attention to ta weather man. You just pull ta shades ta tha sidee and loook oout ya winda and bring a sweatah anyway."

I am sooOOOoo glad I brought a thick sweater. 

I'm going to go check out a wool shawl this week. I saw some in one of the shops in town for 12.00 pounds. That might be for a children's size - if I can get one for double that amount it will still be worth it - but it's worth my going in to check it out anyway.

I'm really excited to know from one of the locals that, despite the wretched weather, we're here at just the right time. 

"Nevah minde tha rrrrain," he said. "Tha Puffins is here. Saw 'em meself this mornin'. Come see me Monday mornin' and I'll take ye there." 

I understand that when you see one up close, it's like watching a stuffed animal come to life.

It's an answer to a prayer. Well, one of them, anyway.

I canna wait!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Glasgow to Invarary to Oban

 What is it about travel that is so exhausting?

I mean, when you think about it, you're not doing anything physically exerting.

Mostly, I spent the day sitting in a bus from the hotel to the airport where I met my group. Then, I sat around for an hour or so waiting for the group to gather.

Then, we got into the coach and drove for 90 minutes to Invarary where we could stretch our legs and empty our bladders and put some grub into our gullets.

From Invarary we sat while the coach drove us another hour or so to Oban. We had about 40 minutes to get settled before we gathered for introductions and then dinner and then I went for a stroll around Oban Bay and I'm back in my room and I'm done in. Pooped. Exhausted.

Why is that?

Why is waiting and traveling so exhausting?

I'd rather have walked here from Glasgow. Seriously. I don't think I'd be this exhausted.

Tired? Absolutely. Weary? No doubt.

Exhausted? Like this? My experience proves otherwise.

Well, one thing I can say for certain: The beauty of this place is breathtaking.

Intoxicating and exhilarating, all at once.

Our coach driver says that God created Scotland on the last day of Creation because God wanted to save the best for last.

I suspect there is a Central Casting place for coach drivers who transport people to places like this and they all learn the same lines.

The fellow pilgrims I have briefly met tonight seem to share my exhaustion. I think we're tired of waiting. I think we're ready for this pilgrimage.

Maybe it's not exhaustion I feel. Perhaps this is like that moment a woman in labor experiences as her time of transition ends and she is ready to give birth.

There is that moment when she knows the hard work is about to begin.

I think that's what this moment is about.

Let it begin.

I am heading to bed with this prayer on my heart:
Saint Patrick's Creed (excerpt)

God of Heaven and earth, sea and rivers,
God of sun and moon, of all the stars,
God of high mountains and of lowly valleys,
God over heaven, and in heaven, and under heaven/
God has a dwelling in heaven and earth and sea
and in all things that are in them.
God inspires all things, God quickens all things,
God is over all things, God supports all things.
God makes the light of the sun to shine,
God surrounds the moon and stars, and God has made wells in the arid earth,
placed dry islands in the sea and stars for the service of the greater luminaries.

Oh, PS: I wanted to make sure this wonderful moment today doesn't get lost in the dust bin that is sometimes my memory.

When we stopped at Inverary for lunch, we were told by Stephen, our coach driver, that Mr. P's Fish 'n Chips was the "best in all of Scotland". So, when you're served up a steaming hot plate of Scottish hyperbole, you have to take at least a bite.

He was right. So light. So utterly delicious. Best fish 'n chips in all of Scotland. 

Of course, it's the only fish 'n chips I've had in Scotland, but the bar is now set. High.

It was also lovely to get out of the coach and stretch and eat and poke around. I wish I could have walked from Glasgow but maybe next time.

Mostly, I gasped at the water and the vibrant colors of th
e flowers and played with a few old pups who begged some of my chips while their mommy kept sayin', "Say thank you, darlins. There's mommy's good pup."

She also blessed me with this wisdom: "Doonya pay na attention to ta weather man. You just pull the shades ta tha sidee and loook oout ya winda and bring a sweatah anyway."

Best advice in all of Scotland. Perhaps, the whole world. 

Now, it's off to bed with me.

Thursday, May 23, 2019


I was supposed to take the train to Edinburgh today.

Apparently Spirit had other ideas.

Through the 'magic' known only to social media, a friend in New York saw that I am in Glasgow. She contacted a colleague who had moved to Glasgow about 5 years ago who contacted me.

So, she's not just a colleague. I am delighted to call her a friend. She's a hero to me and to many.

Her name is now Sr. Helena Barrett. When I first knew her, her name was Ellen Barrett.

Yes, that Ellen Barrett. The first woman ordained in the Diocese of New York after General Convention approved the ordination of women in 1977.

Oh, and the morning of her ordination, she was also on the front page of the New York Times - and, later that day, the San Fransisco Chronicle (I think that's right).

She attained that notoriety because she dared to speak the love that dared not speak its name.

It was bad enough that she was a woman being ordained in The Episcopal Church. She was also the embodiment of the worst fears of the misogynists who were opposed to the ordination of women who believed that the only possible reason a woman would want to be ordained is that she really wanted to be a man.

Yup: Any woman who wants to be ordained must really want to be a man.

Because, I mean, doesn't everybody?  Isn't that what a lesbian is, anyway?

In his book, "Take a Bishop Like Me," her ordaining bishop, Paul Moore, stated that of 42 letters he received from other bishops, ten were supportive and thirty-two were critical.

Bishop William Frey of Colorado stated that there were better ways to minister to homosexuals than to "bless that which God offers to redeem".

Moore related his belief that it was not so much Barrett's sexual orientation that his fellow bishops found disturbing, but rather her candor as a lesbian.

Oh, but it didn't end there. Like so many of the women who were first to be ordained, a high price was to be paid for women who chose to live into their vocations with authenticity and integrity.

I mean, who in the church wants to hire a controversial figure as their rector? So, while white men - straight and gay (but deeply closeted or practitioners of "don't ask, don't tell") - were being hired and earning their pensions and are now living well in retirement, many of those women are living on pensions that place them well below the poverty level.

Sr. Helena has been more than faithful to her vocation and vows of ordination. She has worked as a supply priest and an interim rector. She has her doctorate in Medieval History and has taught at universities and colleges. She has also worked as an Office Manager and a Libraian. Whatever helped to pay the bills.

She is now living out her vocation faithfully as a Sister of the Companions of our Lady and St Mungo, Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway. She was married six years ago to Sr. Alison Joy, also of the same religious order. Together, they offer retreats to parishes in the diocese and beyond. And, of course, they do not charge for their services.

Sr. Helena helps out at St. Mary's Cathedral, where the Provost is Kelvin Holdsworth. Perhaps you've read his blog: "What's Inside Kelvin's Head?". I certainly read it daily during the days of the struggle to allow women to the episcopacy and Lambeth 2008. He was also a great source of information during the fight for marriage equality in U.K. 

So, today, I hit the "Spirit Trifecta". 

I not only got to celebrate the mysteries with 16 other souls at the 11 AM Eucharist at St. Mary's Cathedral as Sr. Helena presided, I also got to meet her spouse, Sr. Alison Joy and Provost Kelvin. 

Yes, I got to see what's inside Kelvin's head. 

Well, and didn't we just have us a regular chin wag in the Synod Room of the Cathedral! We had tea and some biscuits and shared a giggle or two with the faithful souls who gather there. Believe it or not, I met a woman who has and adult child and grandchildren living in Mississippi.  

It's a small world, after all. And, an even smaller church.

I had absolutely no intention of attending church today or any day, actually, while here in Scotland. This is all about spirituality for me, not religion. 

Seems like Spirit had other ideas about that. 

I did get me some religion but more importantly, my spirit was richly nourished by visiting with old friends, two of whom I had never met in person. 

We told stories and re-told old stories and laughed and giggled and gasped and snorted. You know, the way friends do when it seems as if the conversataion never really ended. You just pick up almost exactly where you left off the last time you were together.

And then, it suddenly dawns on you:  The richest, deepest luxuries are often delivered on the wings of serendipity.  

This is why Mindfulness has become so important to me - much more important than planning and organizing a spiritual pilgrimage. It's all about intention and focus, balanced with openness and wonder. It's about "living from the Center".

As I begin my second intentional pilgrimage, I am reminded of practicing the important "mindful leadership" skills I learned from Valerie Brown, the spiritual guide and anamchara on my Camino Pilgrimage: 
to turn to wonder,
to inhabit the moment,
to slow down,
to practice opening,
to practice listening,
to find the beauty in moments of quiet transformation,
even when those moments are not apparent.
This was one of those moments.


It's not just a greeting. It's a way of life.

A Conversation in an Uber

A bit of my conversation with my Uber Driver, Mr. Patel from South India.

M.P.: I am Hindi. Our 'big thing' is karma, you know.

Me: I understand. I am Christian. I guess our 'big thing' is sin.

M.P. Which is not the same as karma.

Me: Yes, I'm sorry. I made a bad joke.

M.P.: Yes, but it is true. Christians talk a lot about sin, but usually, it is about someone else's sin. Not their sin.

Me: Yes, I'm afraid that's true.

M.P.: If Christians were more concerned about their own sin rather than worry if someone else is sinning, the world would be a better place, you know?

Me: Indeed.

M.P.: And, Ma'am, if you don't mind me saying, I think if Christians stuck with the basics of their religion, and taught the basics of their religion, they would be better Christians.

Me: How do you mean?

M.P.: Stay with the basics: God is Love. Jesus is love incarnate. The Holy Spirit will guide you in Love. Judge not lest ye be judged. Love your neighbor as yourself. When you sin, when you fall short, repent and God will forgive you because God loves you. Forgive as you have been forgiven. And, be thankful. Always. Always. Be thankful. If you have thanks in your heart, you can not help but love others as God loves you. To forgive others as God forgives you. To worry more about your own sin than if someone else is sinning.

Me: You speak such truth it warms my heart and brings tears to my eyes. I think you are a better Christian than I am.

M.P.: Well, I went to Christian school in South India. I know about the teachings of Jesus. But the brothers and sisters who taught me cared more about nourishing my mind and feeding my body and my tending soul than whether or not they could convert me to their beliefs. So, my way of life is Hindu and I try to practice the basic teachings of Jesus. He was a good man. A very, very good man. He knew the Ten Commandments and the Sanatana Dharma. You can hear it in the prayer he taught his disciples and the New Commandment he gave them. If some of the people who say they are Christians would actually follow his teachings, well, it would be good. It would be very good.

Me: Hmmmm . . . . Less sin, more Dharma.

M.P.: Ha! I think that would make a good bumper sticker.

Me: Indeed. I'm so glad I came here to Glasgow. I was supposed to go to Edinburgh today. I think part of why I'm here instead is to meet you.

M.P.: I am so grateful that God has put you in my path. I am so grateful to the Christians who gave me an education. You make me think that maybe Christianity has a future.

Me: Well, there are some days when I worry about that.

M.P. Worry less. Be more of who you are, more of the time. Let your light shine. Others will follow. That's how it worked for Jesus, right?