Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What do you do when a Volcano changes your plans?

It is Tuesday April 21 and I'm sitting on a train from Glasgow to Stanraer, currently passing a golf course, both of which are running parallel to the sea. Sun is streaming down, even with clouds forming overhead. Spring is in abundance beyond the windows. Daffodils, flowering cherries, and the flaming gold of forsythia and gorse flash by.

Travelling through Troon, we pass by the back yards of houses, with laundry out to dry. Primary children in blue school jackets are playing in the school yard on their lunch break. Then we are out of town and it is another golf course, cut out of the sand dunes and blazing gorse. Whitecapped waves are in the foreground and in the distance I recognize the small domed shaped island - Ailsa Craig -where rock is quarried to make curling stones.

Prestwick Town and the train slows, but doesn't stop for pasengers. A bowling green and rows of brick cottages lined up, leading to the shore. The water is slate grey to green, and whitecaps roll under the shore wind.

I see a plane in the sky! Skies are open in the north U.K. today, at least for a few flights. (I hear later that after a few flights they closed again). Heathrow is still closed. Some fear a new ash cloud is on its way, and transatlantic flights remain cancelled.

Seagulls float on the wind and three women, inspecting the rhubarb in a back graden smile and wave, giddly, as we pass by.

A Volcano change of plans!

You cannot imagine how surprised I am to still be in the UK.

Early in March I'd been stewing about what to do for my last week of con-ed before the end of June. My friend and colleague Rev. Shannon Mang, who was to begin a sabbatical after Easter, strongly suggested I travel with her to Iona, for a week on building community in congregations, with John Bell. I didn't think it would be possible, but began to explore with M&P. I'd need extra time to travel, and I asked for a few days from my 'in lieu time' to look around Scotland. M&P said 'Yes! Go!'

The time between the decison and departure flew by so fast my brian really hadn't caught up. Every day at Iona I pinched myself and said 'Thank you!!' to Shannon, for her part in getting me to this remote Scottish Island. I'll try to to write more about what I've learned there in future posts.

Thursday, last week, an ancient Volcano was awoken in the land of my ancestors. On Friday, all the airports in the UK closed, and many in our group at Iona - from Canada, the U.S., Sweden, the Netherlands, and the UK, found ourselves facing uncertainty for a homeward journey. What has happened since then has been surprising, frustrating, wonderful, and full of grace.

Our Iona group travelled from the island, across Mull, and boarded a second ferry to the mainland. Shannon and I were refreshed, inspired, invigorated. We spend an afternoon in Oban, on the coast, and then spent the night in Glasgow, with a new friend, Maggie, who graciously opened her home to us. We then continued with our plans, which was to spend two nights in Edinburgh. At church there, Sunday morning, we met some of our friends from Sweden, and, as we were welcomed by the welcome team of the church, we also were invited by one member to stay in her home, if we found ourselves stranded in Scotland. She gave us her address and phone number and a warm welcome of friendship and support.

On Monday came the news: our flights for Tuesday from Glasgow to Heathrow, and then my flight home to Calgary were cancelled. Shannon's son's Grade 12 graduation trip was also cancelled. We, along with so many others, were facing a change of plans. Travel agents were as perplexed as we about what to do. I've been able to re-book with the airlines in the first seats available to me, which leave at the crack of dawn Sunday morning. Only God, and the volcano - know if the flights will take off.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Gardener in Heaven.....

Being a gardener at an abbey is a lovely occupataion. At least, for folks like me, who like to get dirt under my nails, there is something divine about being allowed the gift of time tending plants where so many others have gone before.
We've been having amazing sunny weather here, so it was a perfect Sunday afternoon. The garden in question was the herb garden, and there were too many herbs doing just what herbs do - and that is - running amok. So, I got to wade in and sort them out, putting lemon balm back in its place, cutting the sweet woodruff down to size and getting the mint to back off! away from the artemesia. Sweet Cecily looks so pretty where ever it comes out that you truly have to be heartless to weed it out of oregano, and woodruff and lemon balm....etc.
The question of the week is how to build community. John Bell has just arrived to start our formal sessions, and I'm looking forward to the conversation. Last night a few of us talked about the simplicity of time spent together, sharing food, work, worship, and the joys of creation. Iona itself holds a special draw for those of us in the church, as a place of worship for centuries - which has gone through death - for hundreds of years - and then - resurrection. There is a message here for the world wide church, of promise, of challenge, of hope!
Following our opening session this morning, we will head out to Staffa Island. There we will experiences the wonders of creation, including the geology of the island, and the wildlife. We are told the puffins are back, and hope to be able to see them up close. I'm also hoping to get into Fingals Cave! With the sun, we will all be wearing sunblock. Who knew we'd need that in Scotland? I'm going to have to borrow some.
Blessings on you all....

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday Morning at Iona

I woke up at 6:15 am! Now I'm in a room with 7 women, and I have the only top bunk. So, I'm awake, and I can see that there is sun starting to shine out the window. It is a bit trickey getting out of that particular spot quietly... but eventually I managed to get up, grab a shower and head outside, with cup of instant coffee in hand (only kind they have here - so - what the hey.) Gorgeous sun rise over the island of Mull, which we face to the east - and the sun is right over it.
Walking away from the abbey and town, down to the tip of the island, I pass other walkers - a few - and lots of sheep. Many lambs are about, all 'baggy skinned' looking, the younger they are. Daffodils are everywhere, and the stone walls and scattered cottages picturesque.
Through a pasture gate and down to the tip of the island. I can see Staffa - way out - and next to it a flatter island - I forget the name, but will visit out there tomorrow, so will get to see it up close. We're told the puffins are back, so will get to enjoy those birds!
The beach is amazing. Lots of white sand, polished stones, dynamic surf. Tides here are challenging, and there really isn't any spot they recommend swimming. No one mentions the water is it is April....but the gulf stream does go right by so hypothermia probably sets in more slowly.
Spectacular day. Crystal clear sky, air that sparkles.
After 95 minutes out, I'm back at 'the Mac' for breakfast - toast, fruit, yogurt, and oatmeal with sprinkles....a nice way to set us up for the rest of the morning.
I volunteered to take up the offering and serve communion at the Abbey Service. Standing behind the altar (not the celebrant - just serving) was fun. Amazing to think about all the others who have stood in that spot - since this church was first built in 1200 - then the other churches back to the 500's when Columba started the first community here. The sound in the space is wonderful. We had a clarinet, grand piano and oboe - along with many voices singing.
It was pretty cold! Our preacher wore a ski - jacket and she had a scarf around her neck. Hard to imagine being a monk sitting in that coldness that just soaks into your bones. The choir stalls do have a wood floor, which would help keep the cold from radiating off the floor.
Following commuion, one of the traditions is to hand out oatcakes at the doors of the church. You are invited to give an oatcake to someone you do not know, as a sign of communion in the ordinary things of life. Lovely tradition.
Now, I'm on my way back for lunch. This afternoon I get to work in the gardens!!
Grace and peace to all!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I'm in Heaven!

Okay, maybe not heaven, but Iona is pretty close. At least, today it is.
I started the day in Glasgow, woken by an alarm early in the am, and, shaking ourselves awake, Shannon and I got the day started. Showers, last minute packing, a quick call to the taxi company. Putting my head into the kitchen of the dorm we were staying in, I wondered if there was any hope for a bit of food for the road? YES! came the response, then 'Where are you from?' 'Canada' 'I told you so' said the lovely lady in the top hat (a kitchen uniform, I assume). Her colleague stepped out and said she had a sister in Toronto.....
Our taxi driver became an impromtu tour guide on the road back into town down Maryhill road. Fun.
We caught the 8:20 am train from Queen street station, and headed across country to the West of Glasgow, and headed north to Oban. Lovely ride, with incredible views of Loch Lomond. I was so excited I stood for a long way, in the compartment between cars, using a window as my personal view of the passing world.
Oh - did I mention that the weather was SPECTACULAR! Gorgeous blue skies, and lots of sun. Apparently there was snow here, during Holy Week, so everythign is a bit late. However, the green grass and new growth is so BRIGHT it hurts my eyes.
The Lochs (there is only one lake in Scotland we were told....) were mirror like. I spotted a white - snow white - deer in the woods - and hair on the back of my neck stood up. Isn't that something out of C.S. Lewis? Then three deer and a buck with a full rack on his head. A pheasants head shone from a field, and the long haired Scottish Cattle were adorable. As adorable as a beast with huge pointed horns can be. These critters could all use someone to tie their 'bangs' up in a big bow. I dare you! (ha!)
Shannon and I agree that the landscape is similar to the foot hills - and no wonder Calgary and Stratmore are names from this area of the world. There is some snow in the high hills, very fresh and white.
Oban is a lovely town on the coast. We had all of 5 minutes from the train to the ferry, so most of what we saw was as the ship pulled away from shore. We sat on the top deck in the sun, and I may just have a sun burn. Short sleeves, and a fleece vest were warm enough, even with a bit of a cool breeze on deck.
Sailing time from Oban to Craig..uh...craigleigh? - was 45 minutes. Shannon got some lunch, I had a snack on deck and enjoyed the view. Gorgeous, calm waters. Passed by a castle (or two or three....over the day) and saw buzzards and sea gulls as well. A guy in Oban built a replica of the colliseum from Rome on the top of a hill, which is an intersting view from the ship.
We landed, hauled our suitcases to the bus and then drove on the singletrack roads across Mull to our next ferry. Again, gorgeous scenery - through mountains. Not many trees, lots of hummockly ground, waterfalls, water inlets, herons, old stone buildings, and daffodils growing everywhere. I've taken more than 100 photos in two days.....
Our bus was full of folk heading for Iona. Our first view of the abbey drew a sigh from the bus - and then - 5 minutes later we were standing on the wharf. 10 minutes on the Iona ferry and we were ashore.
Our accomodation is in a newer building above the abbey. After check in - there are 7 women in our room - about 50 in all in this program - another at the abbey itself - we have had 3 hours free time. I headed down to the Abbey - and - well - I'll try to describe that at another time. Photos do not do it justice. It is built with a rose-red rock (quartz?) and a really lovely building. The cloister is fabulous. I'm ready to move into the monks quarters, above. The view is breathtaking - and the air is so fresh. Wild iris are growing everywhere - I wish I'd be able to see them bloom. The fields of daffodils will have to do.
We have lambs out front of our place - from 2 weeks to a month old, I'd guess. I've just started to walk around....and cannot wait until the next foray and view.
Tonight, we gather as a community for dinner at 6:30, and worship at 9pm. I'll fall into bed at the end of the day, exhausted.
So - is this sacred space? It sure is a blessedly gorgeous one. I hear that the forecast if for more great weather - at least until Monday. But they say the weather can change, anytime. I'll take whatever comes, here. After all, it is a bit of a miracle that I'm here, in the first place. Or at least, a blessed gift.