We’ve been back in the US from Britain a little over a month now and I don’t even know where to begin to wrap up these reflections on our sojourn. Mental-emotional exhaustion for me. Some book research and visits with relatives for Rae. A need to return home to our roots for both of us. And so, I reflect the best way I can: I write.
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The fast-paced ennui of the many gorgeous, young, cell-phone-hooked yuppies of London.
Studying for hours, cumulatively, the labyrinthine London underground laid out like concrete intestines, carved deep in her belly.
The lazy daylight square of Parsons Green, equally home to business professionals, babies in prams, and teens with ‘tude.
Buskers. So. Many. Buskers.
Abbey Road Studios.
Dozens of progressive-meets-traditional pubs and coffee shops in which to write.
Chillin’ with Rae at Wembley Stadium, waiting for Coldplay
As mentioned elsewhere, part of our reason behind this trip was for my wife, Rae, to engage in book research for her novel, “Miss-Adventured.” Why tap the Internet when it’s so much better to simply go, right?!
#AdventureofaLifetime at the #headfullofdreams tour
Without premeditation, Rob and I find ourselves involved in near daily misadventures. Our trip to the Coldplay concert was no exception.
Thanks to over-vigilance at our bank who blocked a car-rental drop-off charge they marked as fraud, we couldn’t access our funds. We had zero money to take the tube home from Wembley to Parsons Green. Panic set in but was overridden with some across-the-pond creative communication on Facebook and email. Our friend, Rosemary, contacted the bank and by 4:30pm London Time, the doors opened to the stadium, and the cash machine pooped out a few hundred pounds.
Previously, I had recounted my experience of hiking the Quirain Ridge on the isle of Skye in Scotland. Here’s the exciting (one can only hope) conclusion…
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What I recognized of the way here only lasted about an hour before I began to experience that hollow feeling in one’s gut that one is not where one should be. I looked ahead to a sheep gate with small steps designed to carry people up and over. I had recalled such a thing on my way here. Just not this one.
The rugged, volcanic landscape that is the Quirain Ridge
Views borrowed from God’s photo album
But there was still a trail and I was happy to be on it, so onward I went. Another hour passed and anything resembling a trail had faded into a maze of boggy grass, rivulets…
He died of lymphoma on September 15th, 1985 at 10:22 pm. I was 21 years old. At that moment, a man I never really knew, passed into the aether, and was crushed tight to God’s bosom. Found by God and lost by me, he is to this day, an enigma and my regret. He was my father.
We spoke precious little while he was alive. A sense of quiet desperation peppered his disposition. A staunchly stoic individual, his upbringing in the wild, velvet foothills of Maple Creek, Saskatchewan burnished a certain leathery sheath to his already withered spirit.
Maple Creek, Saskatchewan
I saw my father cry only three times. Once, during a conflict with my younger brother, whose belligerent cry of “yea, well, you’re not my real Dad, so I don’t have to listen to you,” saw him descend into bitter weeping (all three of us are adopted). On another…
After a dodgy night playing at sleep, I woke up Jonesing for coffee. Something I’d not considered was the amount of light this far north at 3:00 am. Its insistence had done its work keeping me at the edges of REM. Hence, without the final plunge that gifts a person with an actual readiness for anything resembling wakefulness, I make plans for the day. They included much walking.
Ever since first learning to play Skye Boat Song on bagpipes many years ago, I’ve wanted to see what kind of place could inspire such a fetching melody. Sir Harold Boulton’s stirring lyrics:
Friday, June 3. I wave goodbye to my wife as she makes her way by train south to a writer’s retreat near Bath. I make a leisurely retreat back to the Edinburgh car park where awaits my trusty chariot for the journey to come. As I shut the car door it occurs to me, shit, I have to drive through the Highlands without her as my human GPS (SatNav) where Internet is as rare as the Loch Ness monster.Lord, have mercy!
Before executing the daunting task of driving the Highlands alone I spend a few days reacquainting myself with the chic, sleepy provincialism cum arts mecca cum tourist quicksand that is Edinburgh. Long walks down the Portobello promenade watching very white-skinned Scots sunning themselves on windy beaches. It adds credibility to my insistence that Scots change color quickly given ten minutes of sun…
Our trip to bountiful has taken a decided turn the past few days. Rae and I parted company last week so she could meet a fellow writer at a writing retreat near Bath. This meant the rental car is all mine, as were the Highlands and best of all, the Isle of Skye. This brings a couple very real dilemmas. First, I have the monumental task of reproducing in tiny, insufficient words, the vast and haunting beauty that is the Scottish Highlands and Skye. Second, and rather crucially, I will not have my human GPS (SatNav as they call it here) to help guide me on my way.
This portion of my journey began with a visit to Pitlochry where live two of our best friends. They moved there from Edinburgh over ten years ago, believing it to be the most central route for their high travel jobs.
Downtown Edinburgh, from whence I wrote this piece
Block after block of grey, stoic flats flit past to converge with still others in a parade past my train window. An aging reflection gazes back reminding me I need a haircut. The broom-covered, volcanic hills stand guard against a broadening horizon of uncommonly blue Edinburgh sky, and I am pensive.
My wife, as I have described her at least, is a tempest in a teacup. Actually, human hurricane was the term as I recall.
My wife and fellow partner in words, curiously quiet
She is the poster child for extraverts, an off-the-charts go getter with a zest for life and love for adventure. It’s fun but rather exhausting! I accompany her downtown from Brunstane to Waverly Station where she caught the morning train to a writer’s retreat near Bath.
After seeing her off, I indulge in another quick jaunt up Princes Street. I…
Dunbar Harbour. A tiny nook of land nestled tightly against the North Sea. The horizon shoulders in equal measure a ghostly, white mist and the slowness of morning sea. Waves of amber grey taste the red rocks of Scotland’s southeast shoreline. And the timid shores trade their sins for the secrets of the deep, betrothed in waves of forgiveness. Pink-cheeked seamen toss buckets of fish as bate into lobster traps readying for the day’s catch. There’s a sharpness to this low tide air, the sea’s pungent reminder of her abiding presence.
Fishermen in Dunbar Harbour prepare the lobster traps
A lit-geek to the core, I doffed my book-bag complete with eyeglass cleaner, multiple writing implements, not one but two journals, half a dozen books and of course, my laptop. One always hopes the effort of lugging around an extra twenty-five pounds of geekery will pay off on some seaside park…
French writer and poet, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, said: ““If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and assign them tasks…rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
Anna is on her death bed. She has battled Alzheimer’s disease for almost 10 years. She hasn’t recognized her family for quite some time and this reality has left her terrified, confused. She is often angry. She believes a host of people are trying to trick her. Every unknown day arises again the next with all the same complexity and uncertainty. As her caregiver assists her in preparing for sleep, she hears Anna sing just outside her door: “then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee, how great thou art, how great thou art…”
She has forgotten every sermon she ever heard.
Every bible verse she ever memorized.
Every note she ever took in every bible study.
Every family member’s name.
But she remembers all the verses, word for word, of this great hymn. Why?
A young man in his late twenties battles with a choice. In his circle of friends, he has made the acquaintance of several lovely young women. He dates regularly. These women are delightful, intelligent, captivating. He looks forward to a time when home and family give him better reason to traipse to and from a busy downtown office day after day. A better life picture.
Erin is a Princeton post-doc student. Her dirty blond hair, cheerful demeanour, razor-sharp mind, and engaging repartée have been his regular experience of her. He’s reminded regularly by family and friends just how perfect she is for him. All the “pieces” fit together in a game too big to lose.
Brynne is girl-next-door pretty. Slightly chunky, but still shapely, and full of energy with a quick wit and uproarious sense of humour. Although not as book smart, she is equally intelligent. She is loud, often abrasive but never mean-spirited. She is funny, usually in embarrassingly public ways; opinionated, inadvertently pitting people against one another. She is clumsy and goofy and forgetful and messy and dangerous to his professional reputation.
And he can’t stop thinking about her.
What is happening here? All the facts line up in such a way as to present Erin as the obvious choice for a long-term relationship. Everything “fits.” She fills well the checklist on any relationship course he’s ever taken. Against his better judgment and flying in the face of the facts, Brynne rises to his mind continually. Something about her haunts him, chases him, wants him.
In our current church culture, we usually pose as the primary question of Christian discipleship “what do you believe?” And, pursuant to that question is the presupposition that you need all the facts before you can make an informed decision. I’d like to suggest however that an even more fundamental question is “what do you want?”
James K. A. Smith in his book “You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit” suggests that we are what we want. “Our wants and longings and desires are at the core of our identity, the wellspring from which our actions and behavior flow. Our wants reverberate from our heart, the epicenter of the human person…”
What we often generate in our churches is a fill-in-the-blanks doctrinal checklist that amounts to a legal transaction. It is more Descartian: “I think, therefore I am,” than biblical.
Our young man in question will of course do well to know his own heart to navigate whatever his future relationships hold. But in his inexplicable desire for Brynne over Erin, despite appearances to the contrary, we find a key to how God seeks to relate to us.
“Discipleship [then] is more a matter of hungering and thirsting than of knowing and believing.” Even the demons believe and shudder. Knowing facts is easy. Retooling the human heart and its longings is not. But, it is our truest path. That is my call: to work in the Spirit’s process of forming a kingdom people by means of the gathered community in worship.
St. Augustine is quoted as saying, “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.” Our discipleship is less about information than it is transformation.
We don’t instruct people deeper into kingdom life. We inspire them. The heart knows what it loves and that is what forms the foundation of our actions and our habits. Our journey is one of inspiring and shaping our heart’s deepest desires, bending them ever more toward Christ and his kingdom.
Our journey is to discover the beauty and holy peril, oddly comforting, of being adrift with God on the vastness of life’s open sea.
Lord, Saint Augustine once said we’re created by God and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you. Sometimes the way to you can seem cloudy, or grown over with thistles and weeds. We thank you for our longings. We love because you first loved us. You’ve built it into our DNA. Help us not to be afraid of what most deeply moves us, even if that isn’t lofty or what we typically think of as holy. Instead, grab hold of our hearts and shape them, Lord. Form in us a new and undeniable passion for life with God and others. And that, Lord, will be our truest joy. Amen.