Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

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Lady Wisdom & Questions God Is Never Going to Ask – Sermon for Pentecost 12, Proper 15B – August 19, 2012


This sermon was preached on Sunday, August 19, 2012, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(Revised Common Lectionary, Proper 15B: Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:9-14; Ephesians 5:15-20; and John 6:51-58)


Proverbs 9 by David WierzbickiAs I may have mentioned here before, I spent many of my childhood summers in the southeastern Kansas town of Winfield with my paternal grandparents, C.E. and Edna Funston. Winfield was my parents’ hometown, both of them were raised there and my mother had been born there. Her maternal grandparents, Hinrich and Harmke Buss, were immigrants from that area of Germany right next to Holland called “Ostfriesland”. My father was born in Dodge City, and he and his folks moved to Winfield when he was just a few months old; they were relative newcomers but my grandfather soon became a prominent citizen.

Anyway, one of the things I remember about Winfield is the way newcomers, or anyone someone was meeting for the first time, were almost invariably asked two questions. I once discussed this with a friend who was born and raised in South Carolina and she said it was the same in her hometown, that these are what she called “very Southern questions.” That makes sense because in an odd way, southeastern Kansas is much more Southern than it is midwestern. My mother used to all that part of Kansas “lap land” – meaning that it is were Oklahoma and Arkansas lap over into Kansas.

So there were these two questions that people asked when first meeting another person. The first was, “Who are your people?” Winfield was an agricultural center and not much else. There was no industry or manufacturing that would bring people to town. There was farming and the businesses that support farming, all of which were family owned. So if somebody new came to town to work in on a farm or in a farm-supporting business, it was assumed you must be part of the family. So, who are your people? The answer placed you in a particular social context. So I would say, “Well, my mother is Betty Sargent, one of the Buss cousins.” Anyone local would then know I was a descendant of Henry Buss. My greatgrandfather had had two families. One set of children were born to first wife Mary – she had 14 kids who lived; another set of 13 living children were born to Harmke, my greatgrandmother. According to his obituary, all of those children were alive when Henry died and he left approximately 200 acres of land to each of them. Doing the math, you get the idea that he had acquired a lot of farmland (something over 5,000 acres) and that he (and his children after him) were influential in the local economy. As I mentioned before, on the paternal side my grandparents were comparatively new to the town, but they had become very active members of the Methodist Church and my grandfather, an active Mason, had risen in those ranks as well. So if I continued to my inquirer, “And my father is C.E. and Edna Funston’s youngest son,” he or she would immediately know I was related to a Past Master of the Lodge and an elder in the Methodist Church.

Because of that, I wasn’t often asked the second question, “Where do you go to church?” But I could have been because it really wasn’t a given that I would have been a Methodist. The Busses were members of the Dutch Reformed Church and the Sargents belonged to the Disciples of Christ; I could have been either of those – but the truth was, except for those summer months with the Funstons at the Methodist Church, I really didn’t go to church as a kid.

In any event, those questions served to place someone in a social context, to define in the questioner’s mind who they were and where the fit. And the truth is they aren’t just “Kansas questions” or “Southern questions”. They are everywhere questions. In the fall of 2005, Evie and I took our first trip to Ireland and, as part of that trip, visited County Donegal as I was in search of Funstons in the area where I believe my Funston great-greatgrandfather originated. In Donegal Town itself, we happened to stop into a woolen sweater store run by a man named Sean McGinty. Mr. McGinty asked about our trip and I was explaining to him my family connection to the area. He turned to his wife Mary and said, “You’re from Pettigo; weren’t there some Funstons in Pettego.” She thought for a moment and replied, “Yes . . . . but they weren’t our people.” — They weren’t our people, meaning they weren’t Roman Catholic. The Irish Funstons were and still are Church of Ireland – Anglicans . . . Protestants. “Who are your people?” “Where do you go to church?” They or something like them are human questions; the help us to put people in their place, to categorize one another, to define each other. They are human questions.

But they are not God’s questions! Long before St. Paul would write to the Galatians that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female,” (Gal. 3:28) the compiler of the Book of Proverbs would make the same point in the 8th and 9th Chapters of that book, part of which we read today. In these chapters we read of Lady Wisdom, one of the most intriguing characters in all of the Old Testament. In the 8th Chapter, before the part we heard this morning, she tells us herself:

When [God] established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race. (Prov. 8:27-31)

She was, she tells us, a “master worker” helping God to create all that is. And in our reading this morning from Chapter 9, we see her as “the hostess with the mostest” who is ready to throw a party, to do the honors at a great feast. She has “slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has . . . set her table,” and she sent her servants out to invite her guests. In fact, she herself stands in her doorway, in the highest places of the town calling,

“You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” (Prov. 9:4-6)

Note that she doesn’t ask, “Who are your people? Where do you go to church?” She doesn’t ask if any are Jew or Greek, slave or free, black or white, straight or gay, Republican or Democrat, Catholic or Protestant, none of that matters . . . all she asks is that we be “simple” and “without sense.”

Now that’s a bit disconcerting and, frankly, I think the translation belies the true meaning of the invitation. The Hebrew here is, “Mi-phethi yasur henah chasar-leb ‘am’rah lo.” The word translated as “simple” (and sometimes as “naive”) is phethi. It’s root is the word pawthaw, which means “wide open”. An alternative and more positive understanding of this word is “open-minded”. The term “without sense” (sometimes rendered “lacking understanding”) is chasar-leb. Chasar means “without” or “lacking”. Leb (rendered here as “sense” or “understanding”) is most often translated as “heart” because in the ancient Hebrew understanding the heart was believed to be the seat of comprehension and emotion. This is not simple understanding or sense, this is passionate belief, enthusiastic commitment; in a negative sense we might say “bias” or “prejudice”.

Lady Wisdom is not inviting simpletons or the foolishly naive into her parlor; she is inviting the open-minded, those who have no preconceptions, no intolerant prepossessions. Lady Wisdom, God’s master worker, does not care if you are Jew or Greek, Irish or German, black or white or Asian or Native American, straight or gay or lesbian or transgendered, Democrat or Republican or Socialist or Libertarian. Lady Wisdom, God’s master worker, doesn’t care who your people are; she cares about whose you are! She doesn’t care where you go to church; she cares that you are the church, the People of God! She wants you to be open-minded, to come without prejudice or preconception. Her invitation is reminiscent of the Prophet Isaiah’s, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.” (Isaiah 1:18 – KJV) She invites us to come and learn.

She has set her table; she is ready to host her party. “Come, [she says] eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” Lady Wisdom’s celebration is the marriage feast of the Lamb; her invitation is to that very supper Jesus would share with his disciples and shares with us throughout all the ages. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians the words we recite each time we gather at this Table:

. . . that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor. 11:23-2)

And here in John’s Gospel today he promises that “those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (John 6:54-56)

To this Feast we are all invited without regard to who our people may be, without regard to where we go to church. To this Feast today we welcome Nathan Joseph Daley who is to be baptized. No one here will ask, “Who are your people?” but if anyone ever does, Nathan can answer “The People of God” . . . and if he wants to be more specific, he can say “The Episcopalians!” No one here will ask, “Where do you go to church?” but if anyone ever does, Nathan can answer, “St. Paul’s!”

Someone else may ask those questions of Nathan or of you or me, but God is never going to ask them! God will ask, “Are you open-minded? Are you free of bias and prejudice?” God will ask, “Are you filled with the Spirit? Do you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs? Do you sing and make melody to the Lord in your heart? Do you give thanks at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ?” (Questions drawn from Ephesians 5:18-20) God will ask, “Do you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Do you strive for justice and peace among all people? Do you respect the dignity of every human being?” (Questions drawn from the Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer, pg. 305)

With God’s help, Nathan and we will grow and learn to do these; through God’s grace, he and we will feast on Bread and Wine, and “lay aside immaturity, and live and walk in the way of insight.”

Let us pray:

Grant, Lord God, to Nathan who is about to be baptized into the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ, and to those who already have been baptized, that, as we have put away the old life of sin, so we may be renewed in the spirit of our minds, lay aside immaturity, and live and walk in the way of insight, righteousness, and true holiness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Scotland: Fort William, Kyle of Lochalsh, and the Isle of Skye (21 September 2011)

After our all too brief time in Oban and on Mull and Iona, we traveled north to the Isle of Skye. A lunch stop along the way was at Fort William where we visited the local Scottish Episcopal Church (St. Andrew’s).

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Fort William, Scotland

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Fort William, Scotland

We were fascinated by the church’s baptistry and the tiles around the altar, which depicted various biblical tales. Our photos of the church are here.

Along the A87 roadway from Fort William to the Isle of Skye, we encountered this lay-by where many people have built small stone cairns. We have tried to find out what this is all about … but alas, no luck.

Small Cairns along side A87 Highway in Scotland

Small Cairns along side A87 Highway in Scotland

In any event, these small piles of stacked stones are fascinating. Here are the pictures.

Just before crossing over to the Isle of Skye (on a bridge, which some argue renders Skye no longer an island but now a headland), one passes through Kyle of Lochalsh where Eilean Donan Castle is located. We stopped and toured the castle – unfortunately, one cannot take photographs inside the castle. (This is true of many Scottish castles.)

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

Our photos of the outside (and some parts of the interior were photos are allowed) are here.

Arriving at our B&B, we checked in and then wandered down into the village of Portree to have an excellent dinner at a local pub called “The Isles”. The next morning our B&B host (Bob) asked what our plans were, and we asked his advice. He recommended that we go north to Uig and, on the way, visit what he called “the Faerie Glen” – an area of miniature trees, miniature hills, and a small loch. It is unsigned, so he gave us directions – one takes a single-track road through someone’s farm yard, around a bend with “crash barricades” and then (said Bob) “You’ll know when you’re there.” And, indeed, we did.

The Faerie Glen, Isle of Skye

The Faerie Glen, Isle of Skye

It is a very lovely, very strange little place … and apparently it is unique; so far as Bob knows, there is no other place like it on the whole of Skye. Here are our photographs of the Glen.

After visiting the Glen we drove into the village and visited the Uig Brewery and the Uig Pottery. Unfortunately, the brewery offers neither tours nor samples… but the pottery is wide open to public view and makes exquisite hand-thrown, hand-painted porcelains. We bought a fruit bowl!

Castle Dunvegan, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Castle Dunvegan, Isle of Skye, Scotland

And then we drove back south turning west before reaching Portree and visited Dunvegan Castle and Gardens. Again, interior photos were not allowed. Here are our photos of the exterior and the grounds. I’m sure these gardens are exquisite in the spring!

Next on our route around the Isle of Skye was our first visit to a whisky distillery – Talisker. This was a real take-you-through-the-plant tour – not an “experience” such as Jemison’s in Midleton, Co. Cork, Ireland. Our guide, Pat, was really good and explained the process of whisky making very well. And, of course, we got a taste and Evie discovered she likes smokey Scotch whisky (she’d already discovered – back in Glasgow – that she likes Drambuie, a sweet liquor made from Scotch). Here are the photos of Talisker. Unfortunately, none of them are of the interior of the distillery. Pat explained that digital photography and cell phones are not allowed in the distillery because such devices can set off explosions in the alcohol-drenched atmosphere of the plant! So no photos and cell phones have to be turned off. (The same thing was required at another distillery we later toured.)

Talisker Distillery, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Talisker Distillery, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Once we were done at Talisker, it was time to go on back to Portree. The landscape of Skye is dramatic and it was a very picturesque drive. Unfortunately, my camera just doesn’t do landscapes very well (or maybe its the photographer), so we have no photos of the Skye countryside. We wandered around Portree for a while, visiting souvenir shops (but not buying anything) and eventually having dinner at the Bistro in the Bosville Hotel. Then it was back to the B&B and to bed.

The next day we left for Inverness – and that will be in another blog entry.

Running Behind!

I am running behind with blogging about this trip – one of the things we’ve discovered about the west of Scotland (out in the Islands and the Highlands) is “iffy” internet … either the B&B doesn’t even provide it (or some do at an unreasonable cost) or the connection is sporadic. So it has meant not much opportunity to upload photos and blog postings.

Here’s what we’ve done:

We stayed in Oban and visited the Isle of Mull and the Holy Island of Iona. We went from there through Fort William to Portree on the Isle of Skye, with a stop at Eilean Donan Castle. On Skye we visited the Faerie Glen, the village of Uig and a pottery there, then Dunvegan Castle, and finally the Talisker Whisky Distillery.

From Skye we drove to Inverness along the shore of Loch Ness with a stop at Urquhart Castle. We have really enjoyed Inverness. We took a quite bus tour of this small city, then visited Inverness Castle (only the outside because it is a functioning government building closed on Saturdays), St. Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral (where we will go to church this morning), and the House of Fraser Kilt Makers (Evie won’t let me buy a kilt), where we learned how kilts are made. We also walked along the River Ness and crossed it on “the bouncy bridge”. In the afternoon, we drove to Culloden Moor where the Jacobite Rebellion ended in the last battle fought on British soil and to Cawdor Castle where some sort of food festival was in progress so we didn’t stop and go in.

Today, after church, we will drive through the Cairngorms, visit a couple of castles along the way as well as the Glenfiddich distillery making our way to Aberdeen where we will be for two nights.

There is a lot to write about … but just as when I was driving around Ireland with Caitlin & Jeff and Patrick & Michael, I’m finding very little opportunity to sit down and do the work of writing (to say nothing of the tasks of reviewing, editing and up-loading photographs). So bear with me … the travelog may get written after we return to Ohio, but it will get written.

The Irish Cottage

"Address" marker in the stone perimeter wall of McDonalds Farm

"Address" marker in the stone perimeter wall of McDonalds Farm

For the past month (and the next few days), 15 August through 15 September, I’ve been living in an Irish cottage.

Front of Chestnut Cottage Showing Enclosed Porch

Front of Chestnut Cottage Showing Enclosed Porch

A distinctive feature of the Irish rural countryside is the Irish cottage. One might believe that these homes have been here forever, but in fact they are a relatively recent occurrence dating back to around the 1700s. The cottage in which I have been living for the past month is one of the earliest: the original central part of the cottage is believed to be about 300 years old! My landlord’s ancestor migrated to this part of Ireland from the north, acquired land and settled here on the south side of the Shannon River. The central part of this cottage is the original farmhouse. My landlord was born here, as where his eight younger siblings. At one time there were twelve people (all nine children, his mother and father, and his grandmother) living in this space. (The landlord married in 1978 at the age of 28, at which time he moved out of the cottage and built a new farmhouse immediately next to it. In 2005, he and his wife began renting out this cottage to vacationers; they added to it in 2007. In 2010 they built a second, modern rental cottage a short way down the lane from this property.)

The modern farmhouse (built 1978) at McDonalds Farm

The modern farmhouse (built 1978) at McDonalds Farm

The original cottage floor plan can be described as follows: One enters through a doorway which is basically central to the gable wall (an enclosed porch was added to this doorway in 1940). This brings you into the main room which was the original kitchen, dining area, and family room. To one’s right are two rooms, a very small bedroom and a bathroom which was originally the pantry (it was converted with the introduction of in-door plumbing in 1940). To one’s left, behind the fireplace wall, is a bedroom. (At the end of the cottage, behind the bedroom wall, is a storage room which was originally a stable for the family cow.) That’s it; the original cottage consisted of nothing more.

The entry porch (mudroom)

The entry porch (mudroom)

Two major alterations have been made to the original cottage: first, the additions of 1940 mentioned above which also included the addition of a small kitchen opposite the entry door and, beyond the kitchen; second, at the back of the cottage, in the “L” of the kitchen/bedroom wing and the original cottage, another bedroom and a bathroom were added in 2007. At some time, I’m not sure when, all floors in the cottage were either tiled with ceramic or floored with wood-look vinyl.

The bedroom added in 1940

The bedroom added in 1940

A very small bathroom, a converted pantry; indoor plumbing came in 1940

A very small bathroom, a converted pantry; indoor plumbing came in 1940

The modern bedroom added in 2007

The modern bedroom added in 2007

Cottages began to appear in the first half of the 18th Century which saw the rise of the “Protestant Ascendancy” in Ireland, local de facto rule by Irish Anglicans, many of whom built large manor houses in both the towns and the rural areas. Some historians believe that cottages are the result of local application of the building techniques employed for the larger estate houses. Before the building of cottages, the typical Irish farm dwelling was a round hut-style dwelling built of wattle and daub. Typically, these were grouped together in or around a round stone enclosure, a caher or “ring fort” (see my earlier entry about Caherconnell, Circles of Protection, 24 August 2011).

While cottages tended to have a common floor plan throughout the country, building materials varied from region to region. The only transportation available was a donkey or ox and cart, so materials had to come from nearby. Stone was used in coastal and rocky areas like the Connemara (such as where I spent my first month here in Ireland). Because of stone’s enduring nature, Connacht cottages abandoned during the Great Famine of the 1840s stand today as memorials to that tragedy (see my earlier entry about Famine Houses, My Daily Walk, 27 July 2011). In the midlands, such as where I have spent my second month here, clay bricks and smaller rocks would have been used, and in boggy areas, turf or sod could have been used; both of these building materials would have been (as this cottage has been) plastered and the exterior plaster lime washed. It has been said that these cottages literally grew out of the landscape that surrounded them.

Early cottages were built directly on the ground without foundations; however as building methods improved, foundations made of trenches stones, clay and mud became more common. Floors were usually of simple compacted dirt, although flag stones were used where available.

The front room (sitting room, kitchen, family room) of the original cottage

The front room (sitting room, kitchen, family room) of the original cottage

Usually, the center of the home was the fireplace or hearth in the main room which served as kitchen, parlor, and family room. It might also have been the room in which children slept; sometimes, a low sleeping loft was built over part of this room. The hearth was usually formed of stone and located at the center of the house. The most typical fuel was turf (see my earlier entry A Drive through the Bog, 31 July 2011), a fuel still in use today. Some fireplaces were built of wattle and daub, however the introduction of the hotter burning fuel (coal) necessitated stone flues to prevent chimney fires. (Although a central hearth was most common, there are cottages where the hearth is located on the entry wall and others where it was put at either end of the cottage.)

A “master bedroom” was frequently build behind the fireplace, and this is the layout of the cottage I have rented.

The original "master" bedroom of the cottage

The original "master" bedroom of the cottage

The fireplace was the heart and soul of the cottage, about which daily life revolved – cooking, drying, heating, and a focal point for social gatherings. The fire was never allowed to extinguish with ashes strewn over it at night to keep the embers alive for morning. The importance of the hearth in cottage life is illustrated by the Irish version of “there’s no place like home”: Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin (“There’s no fireplace like your own fireplace”).

Turf burning stove which replaced the original hearth in the mid-20th Century

Turf burning stove which replaced the original hearth in the mid-20th Century

During my stay, I’ve gotten to know the McDonald’s dog, Buddy. He’s considered a “collie” although I think he’s got a lot of other genes in him, as well. He’s natural cattle dog; we have taken walks down the lane together and he always wants to herd the cows in the fields we pass. He loves to be petted and sits in the doorway of the cottage when I have the door open. However, he’s not comfortable inside a closed house. If he comes in and I close the door, he begins to moan and becomes agitated. In any event, he’s a good dog and, in the absence of my own Fionna, good to have around.

Buddy, the McDonalds' farm dog

Buddy, the McDonalds' farm dog

I’ve enjoyed my retreat here. I’ve gotten work done on my music project (though not as much as I might have hoped), and I’ve very much enjoyed spending time with my adult children and their partners. But I’ve got to be honest and admit that I’m looking forward to seeing my wife again and, in a couple of weeks (after touring Scotland with her), returning home. The Irish are very right: Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin!

Chestnut Cottage (behind modern farmhouse)

Chestnut Cottage (behind modern farmhouse)

The cottage, by the way, takes its name from this very large tree just outside its front door.

The Chestnut Tree for which the Cottage is named

The Chestnut Tree for which the Cottage is named

All of the above photos of the cottage and more can be seen in a Facebook album here.

Dé Domhnach sa Teach Lóistín

The title of this post means “Sunday in the Boarding House” which is how I have spent this day. I did not go to church today – my choices for worship on An Cheathrú Rua are either Roman Catholic Mass as Gaeilge (“in Irish”) or Roman Catholic Mass as Gaeilge le ceol as Gaeilge (“in Irish with music in Irish”). Since I don’t follow Irish well enough to comprehend the sermon or the music, and I’m not permitted by the Catholic Church’s rules to receive Communion, neither of those options is terribly inviting. There are no non-Roman churches of any sort in this area.

The closest Anglican (Church of Ireland) parishes are St. Nicholas in Galway or the parish in Roundstone. Each is a minimum of 45 minutes driving time away (and could be longer with bad weather or traffic). Traffic was a guarantee in regard to Galway today because this is the last day of the Galway Races, an annual major horse racing event; I drove to Galway yesterday (having forgotten about the races) and experienced huge pedestrian crowds and bumper-to-bumper traffic. In the other direction (which I had driven on Friday) there was weather; today was a rainy, windy day in the Connemara! So I decided to chill and to study all day, which I basically did. Not sure how much of my flashcard review will stick and then become accessible in conversation, but it seemed a good use of the day.

During the afternoon a couple of magpies showed up in the garden outside my window and spent a long time in what appeared to be play. Eurasian magpies are striking birds with contrasting black and white feathers. The black feathers occasionally flash an iridescent green. I didn’t take a picture of them, but here is a picture from Wikicommons showing off the striking contrasting coloring of a magpie in flight.

Eurasian Magpie in Flight (from Wikicommons)

Eurasian Magpie in Flight (from Wikicommons)

Back now to the studies … flashcard, flashcard, flashcard….

Travel Frustrations

Finally, I am in one place for more than a day or two … but getting here was a 24-hour exercise in frustration!

I drove from Wilmslow near Manchester in England to Edinburgh, Scotland, after a very pleasant visit with my friend Sally M. and her husband Tim. Sally and I had gone to the weekday Eucharist at St. Bartholomew’s Church, then toured the Quarry Bank cotton mill historical site maintained by the National Trust. Then I hit the road.

I arrived at the Quality Hotel at the Edinburgh Airport, unloaded my things, cleaned up the interior of the car and made sure I had everything out of it, then drove from the hotel to the rental car return lot … somehow making a wrong turn and ending up in a lane and an area of the airport reserved for “authorized vehicles” only (i.e., buses and taxis). Zipping quickly into an escape lane labeled FastTrack, thinking it was a quick way out of the airport, I found myself headed instead for a £26 short-term parking lot!!! Another quick lane change into a lane labeled Drop Off Only and I was in a covered drive with hundreds of people getting out of cars with their baggage; I finally made it to the exit of this area, only to find I had to pay £1 to open a gate … in any event, I made it to the car park, turned in the car, and went to find the shuttle bus to back to the hotel. On the way, I had the good idea to enter the terminal and locate the Aer Lingus ticket counter which I found at the far left end of the counters. Good, I know where to head in the early morning.

Back out to the shuttle bus and back to the hotel. I’d checked the Aer Lingus web site about baggage limitations and learned that there is 20 kilo limit on luggage, so with two bags that were packed to a 50 lb limit in the states (one about 30 lbs or 16 kilos, one about 48 lbs or 22 kilos) I knew I needed to do some shifting of items and get them more evenly distributed. That took a lot of doing … I spent nearly two hours moving things back and forth and finally getting the one down to 20 kilos (books and my CPAP machine being the heavier and harder to distribute items). Then I hied myself to the bar for a beer and a fish-and-chips dinner.

I went to bed about 11:30 p.m. setting my clock for 5 a.m. so I could get up and get the 6 a.m. shuttle in order to check in the recommended two hours before the 8:20 a.m. flight time. Tossed, turned, last looked at the clock at nearly 1 a.m. and then woke up at 4:00 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. Thirty minutes later I faced the inevitable and got up, showered, finalized the packing, checked out and got to the airport at 6:00 a.m.

Loading my two bags to be checked, my carry-on backpack computer bag, and my jacket on a rolling cart, I headed to the previously scouted Aer Lingus counter … and found that it was now the City-Jet Airlines counter! And, further, that there was no Aer Lingus counter at all! I asked the young woman a the City-Jet counter what was going on. She said their counters are not permanently assigned and changed “all the time.” A young man behind her overheard our conversation and told me that Aer Lingus would open at Counter 14 in a few minutes, so I stood back and waited about 20 minutes and, sure enough, it did open up … with said young man manning the counter. I went up to check in … and he told me my luggage was 17 kilos overweight! All that work to balance the distribution between the bags and now I am told that the 20 kilo limit is “per person” not “per bag”! I would have sworn the website read as if this were a “per bag” limit, but I was reading the “Checked Bags Fees” section and not the “Checked Bags Allowances” section which I have now seen on re-reading the site. So … at £12.00 per kilo overage fee, I pay $330 to send my bags one-way to Ireland – this is $100 dollars more than the round-trip ticket to send me there and back.

Deep sigh of resignation … pay fee, get boarding pass, go off to security and the gates.

Security – guess who gets singled out for special pat-down and carry-on baggage examination.

At this point, I’m about as frustrated with everything as I can be. The Edinburgh Airport has rapidly become a non-favored place in my experience and I am ready to leave. In fact, I’m about ready to say, “This has been a great two-weeks, let’s cancel the rest of this exercise and go home!” But I don’t … I finally get to the gate … and find it’s been changed. So I go to the other gate, fortunately not far away.

Chill for 90 minutes. Go through the check-in procedure, walk out on the tarmac, enter small propeller-driven aircraft, collapse into seat.

Conversation with the woman next to me … she’s from Wichita, Kansas! An emergency physician traveling with her college-age son for a vacation in Scotland and Ireland. Very pleasant 70 minutes on the flight and we arrive at Dublin. Passport, baggage claim, customs, all no problem.

Car rental – pre-arranged months ago for a two-month long-term rental with insurance provided by my VISA card which advertises “world-wide” insurance coverage on rental cars. Except … it turns out … in Ireland, Syria, Iran, and other “terrorist countries” – Ireland? A terrorist country? Really? Long-distance call to the US to the VISA issuer confirms this. Damn! Basic insurance on the car is €15 per day, or €75 per week for a long-term rental. And, oh by the way, we don’t have your reservation … you shouldn’t have been able to do that on the website! Don’t worry, we’ll get it worked out (which they do) but it will have to be another car because we don’t have any in your reserved class with the proper registrations and permits for long-term rental. (I get a bigger car, but at some point, through the Galway office, I’ll have to trad it for the size I reserved.)

Finally, this all gets worked out and I get the car … some sort of Opel sport sedan with a diesel engine. Very posh. Feels HUGE after the little Vauxhall Meriva I’d been driving through the UK. I get my luggage loaded, get my Garmin GPS out of the suitcase, set it up on the dash, turn it on, set my destination, and move out … and get incomprehensible instructions from the GPS! The maps for Ireland are out-of-date. They have built new, high-speed motorways since these maps were produced, and in Dublin they have replaced roundabouts with American-style light-controlled intersections. Garmin’s instructions are worse than useless – they are dangerous! I turn it off and navigate by blind luck, finding my way to the Vodafone store where I am supposed to be able to convert my Nokia cellphone to local service so I don’t have to pay British international roaming charges. Guess what – Vodafone UK misinformed me – Vodafone IE can’t convert the phone. No big deal, I’ll just pay the roaming charges. I can top-up the prepayment arrangement here, so we’ll just go with that.

Back on the road … “Jack” (my Garmin) still is useless – when I’m on the motorway, he thinks I’m driving through farm fields and keeps telling me “Drive to highlighted route.” So he gets turned off again – just follow the signs to Galway. Once I get outside Galway City, Jack is fine – the road in the Gaeltacht don’t change! He guides me properly from Galway City to An Cheathrú Rua.

I arrive at my host family’s home, greet my old friends Feithín and his sister Múirin, children of my hosts, unload the car and collapse for a nap!

These 24 hours have been an exercise in frustration and patience. Thank God, they’re over. Before I take my nap … I open up Dánta Dé and I read this prayer:

Paidir mhilis thrócaire
Atá lán de ghrása
Cuirimid-ne chugad-sa
Dár gcaomhaint ar ár námhaid,
Ag luighe dúinn anocht
Is ag éirghe dúinn amárach,
In onóir na Trionóide
‘S i síthcháin na Páise.

A Íosa mhilis thrócairigh,
A Mhic na h-Óighe cúmhra,
Sábháil sinn ar na piantaibh
‘Tá íochtarach dorcha dúnta.
Leat a ghnímíd á ngearán
Óir is agad ‘tá an tseachrán
Is cuir inn ar an eolas.

In English:

A sweet prayer of mercy,
That is full of graces,
We send to Three,
To protect us from our enemies,
On our lying down tonight,
And on our rising tomorrow:
In honour of the Trinity
And in the peace of the Passion.

O Jesu, sweet, merciful,
O Son of the fragrant Virgin,
Save us from the pains
That are nethermost, dark, emprisoned.
To Thee we make our plaint,
For with Thee is our succor;
Keep us from wandering,
And guide us to [true] wisdom.

Keep us from wandering and guide us to wisdom, indeed! Amen!

My Day in Wales (Postcript)

I should probably make mention of the fact that on my return to Hay-on-Wye I spent a couple of hours wandering through a few of the several book stores in this town, which is famous for the used book trade. I saw lots and lots of books, so many that even I, bibliophile that I am, was overwhelmed. I’m quite proud of the fact that I didn’t buy a single one! That’s saying a lot for a man who, I’m quite sure, has never before entered a bookstore without leaving with at least one purchase! It’s a fun town, though, if you’re into books. And it has some good restaurants – I recommend The Blue Boar for local fare and Red Indigo for really fine Indian cuisine.

Connections: Friendship, Stones, and Walls

I inhabit a world of instant connections, or so I believe. Back home in the States almost anywhere I go I can pull out my laptop, turn it on, find an available WiFi network, link to it with little or no problem, and be instantly connected with the internet. I can check my e-mail, access informational websites, Skype with family and friends – in a word, be connected.

Not so Great Britain. Except for the fact that the housekeeper Clovenfords Country Hotel had to keep unplugging the router to plug in her vacuum cleaner, there was no problem my first lodgings. The next evening, however, I discovered that there is no connection at all on Lindisfarne. Holy Island simply seems unwired. There times my phone couldn’t even send a text message. Now in Whitby, I’m finding that although the B&B where I’m staying advertises “free WiFi”, its router keeps cutting in and out (without the excuse of an interfering house keeper) – good thing its free! I’d be really angry if I was paying for this. (Note: The next day things improved immensely – I actually think the problem was with the ISP because my computer kept showing that I was connected to the router, but the router wasn’t connecting to the internet.)

This matter of “being connected” brings me to the sorts of places I’ve visited the past few days – the Duddo Stone Circle (2200-1400 BCE), Hadrian’s Wall (c. 120 CE), Bede’s Monastery of St. Paul at Jarrow (681 and c. 12th Cent. CE), Lindisfarne Priory (687 and 1150 CE). These are ancient places of varying purposes but all, in a sense, are monuments to human connectedness, our connections to one another and our connections to the divine.

Duddo Stone Circle

Duddo Stone Circle

No one is quite sure what the Duddo Stone Circle is all about. It may have marked a burial site, but that cannot be proven because Victorian and early 20th Century excavations disturbed any cremation chamber that may have been there. It may have been a religious site of some sort, but who can tell. It is dated to the Bronze Age principally because of its size. Archeologists tell us that the final phase of stone circle building occurred during the early to middle Bronze Age (c.2200–1500 BCE) which saw the construction of small circles like Duddo, probably by family groups or clans rather than the larger population groups need to build the larger circles and henges.

The purpose of stone circles and henges is forever lost to us. They may have been religious; they have been astrological or astronomical observatories of a sort; they have been talismanic. Still, whatever the Duddo Stone Circle’s purpose and whoever its builders, it remains today as a monument to community and cooperation, to the human need to connect that which is greater than the individual. Though they have fallen been stood again over time, there they remain perhaps 4,000 years after their initial placement on that hillside in Northumbria.

Housesteads Fort and Hadrians Wall

Housesteads Fort and Hadrians Wall

Hadrian’s Wall was built between 122 and 128 CE right across the island of Great Britain; it is 73 modern miles long! About 70 percent of this fortification (more than 50 miles) is made of squared stone outer walls with a fill of rubble and clay between them; these walls were 10 feet thick and 20 feet high! The remainder (mainly west of the River Irthing) was made of turf stacked 20 feet thick and 10 feet high. Forts were built every five to ten miles and turrets or guard posts every mile. It was built by the Roman Legions and they did it, including the forts and turrets, in six years! I visited Housesteads Roman Fort near Hexham and was fascinated by the orderliness of its layout and massiveness of the section of the wall to which it is connected. The wall and its forts are monuments to organization and communication, it nothing else, and sections of it are still standing nearly 1900 years later!

Carrawburgh Mithraeum Brocolitia

Carrawburgh Mithraeum Brocolitia

However, the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall are not simply the remains of a secular, military fortification of massive proportions. There is evidence that Hadrian believed it was his duty by “divine instruction” to build the wall to protect the Roman Empire. Furthermore, along the wall there are worship sites. A goodly number of Rome’s Legionaries were Mithraists, followers of a mystery religion which competed with Christianity in the early centuries and with the Christian Church (after made official by Constantine) eventually wiped out. Along the wall are evidences of Mithraic worship sites called Mithraea. One such Mithraeum is found at Carrawburgh near Housesteads Roman Fort. (For some reason it has been given the Celtic-based name Brocolitia, which probably means “badger hole”.

Lindisfarne Priory

Lindisfarne Priory

The monastery and the priory were founded by the Celtic missionaries from Ireland at about the same time and renewed five hundred years later. Lindisfarne and Jarrow were re-established as monastic communities by Benedictines from Durham Cathedral in the 12th Century and, if not for the savagery of Henry the Eighth’s disestablishment of the monasteries in the 15th Century, they might still be standing and might still be functional communities today. Like Duddo and Hadrian’s Wall before them, the still-standing ruins of these monasteries are testament to power of human connection and of human desire to connect to that which is greater.

While the Celtic ethos is certainly community-based, as the nature of the Celtic monastic communities of Ireland and those in Britain and Scotland in places like Lindisfarne, Jarrow, and Iona show, the hymns in Dantá Dé do not reflect that. The hymns Ní Ógáin selected are all, for the most part, hymns of individual prayer. However, there is one hymn which refers to God as “King of the friends,” or as Douglas Hyde translated it, “King of friendship.” The notes describe is as a morning hymn and as folk music (ceol na ndaoine, literally “music of the people”) “through L Grattan-Flood, Mus. Doc.” This is the Gaeilge original:

A Rí na gcarad, a Athair an tSlánuightheor’,
Fág in mo sheasamh mé ar maidin drádhachóir;
Déan-sa mo theagasg gan mearbhal, a Shlánuightheoir,
Agus sábháil m’anam ar cheangal an Aidhbheirseor’.

A Rí cruinne, do bheir loinnir ‘sa ngréin go moch,
Dílte troma agus toradh ‘na ndhiaidh go grod,
Innsim Duit-se mo chulpa agus féachaim is glaodhaim Ort,
Agus ná leig tuitim níos fuide bham féin san olc.

And this is a versified translation which Ní Ógáin attributes to Dr. Hyde:

O King of friendship, our Saviour’s Father art Thou;
O keep me erect, until evening shall cool my brow.
O teach and control, lest I unto sin should bow,
And save Thou my soul from the foe who follows me now.

O King of the world, Who lightest the sun’s bright ray,
Who movest the rains that ripen the fruit on the spray;
I look unto Thee, my transgressions before Thee I lay,
O keep me from falling deeper and deeper away.

Friendship, community, connectedness … these are the things that last and those human works which result from them last, as well. God is the King of the Friends, the King of Friendship. If we trust in God and in one another, the things we accomplish will be kept erect like the Standing Stones at Duddo. They will not be inconsistent, like internet connections. They will not fall “deeper and deeper away” but stand like Hadrian’s Wall and the walls of the ancient monasteries, testaments to the power of friendship and of faith.

Blogging on the Road

There are three problems (probably more, but I’ve identified these) with trying to blog on the road….

(a) Finding an internet connection. This is a major problem. For the first few days of my journey I was at a retreat house on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Internet connectivity was simply non-existent. Now at a B&B in Whitby, it is inconsistent. I tried setting up to enter a couple of posts when I arrived last evening, but the router kept cutting in and out. It seems more steady this morning, but who knows.

(b) This B&B underscores the second problem. Space in which to work. I have a room about the size of a reasonable walk-in closet in an American suburban home, maybe 7 feet by 11 feet. Into this tiny room are crammed a double bed, two night stands, a straight-back chair, and a shower stall! What was obviously the closet has been converted into a loo and there simply is no closet for luggage or clothing. I’m currently sitting on the chair hunched over the bed on which my laptop rests and bounces about a bit as I type.

(c) And the most telling problem – Time. There is so much I want to see and do that doing it and seeing it all leaves little time to write about it in the same day. I’ve started notes on Hadrian’s Wall, Bede’s abbey at Jarrow, the Angel of the North, getting lost in Newcastle (£2.40 in unnecessary tunnel tolls as a result), and so forth – but finding the time to get them into shape for blog publication is, well, turning out to be almost impossible.

And then there’s the matter of Flickr’s restriction on uploads of photographs – I seem to be taking too many.

So, dear reader (as Miss Manners was wont to address her audience), bear with me. I’ll get back to the blog with descriptions and pictures soon. Today, however, I’m going to tramp around Whitby Abbey and then head back to the north to visit Durham Cathedral, which I decided had to wait after the emotional exhaustion of driving in Newcastle road construction and driving in both directions, paying that toll each way, through a tunnel under the Tyne River).

Considering God’s Works in the Scottish Hills

My first full, relatively well rested day in Scotland and England begins. Yesterday, my first day here, was spent handling necessary tasks of arrival pretty much in a mental fog. Does anyone really sleep on those overnight flights across the Atlantic?

We arrived slightly ahead of schedule and eventually got off the Boeing 757. The walk from plane to immigration is typical of British, Irish and European airports – a long walk down a plain corridor with many turns, down a flight of stairs, and finally into a big room with Disneyland style crowd control fences. UK/EU citizens were directed to one set of officers; all others to another. There were six agents checking through the UK/EU group … one handling everyone else. There might have been more but apparently some public employee union in the UK was having an “industrial action” (i.e., a strike) so several stations were unstaffed. Then after about 80% of the UK/EU group and about 10% of the rest of us were through, the computers went down – so we all stood around for 30-40 minutes while this was repaired. Eventually things got worked out and (once the UK/EU citizens were through) all opened stations started handling everyone.

I got through that with no other hassle and claimed my bags – Edinburgh has free luggage carts so that simplified things. The car rental agencies are housed in a separate pavilion a long walk from the main terminal on the other side of the car park – and it’s not made obvious that that’s where you go. But after asking a couple of people, I figured it out and claimed my car. It’s some sort of four seater Peugeot, about the same size as the cars Evelyn and I drove in Ireland.

My rental PeugeotDriving on the left side of the road is something that pretty much comes back to you quickly after having done it before. Scottish roads are nearly identical to the Irish, though their country lanes are wider. I made a fool of myself getting into a place in the rental yard where I had to back up and couldn’t figure out for several minutes how to get the darned thing into reverse, but eventually figured that out.

Without using the GPS (which I brought with me from the States equipped with European maps and pre-programmed for all the places I hope to visit and all the hotels or B&Bs at which I’ve made reservations), I found my way to the Gyle Shops mall (looks exactly like an American mall with the addition of a supermarket) and the Vodafone store. I bought a small, inexpensive Nokia mobile phone on a pay-as-you-go plan (you buy a voucher and top it off, or do it on the internet, or at a special phone number using credit card); in Ireland I can purchase just an inexpensive SIM chip for the phone and be on a local system there.

I figured out how to call the US – the Vodafone guy gave me the wrong country code, but the T-Mobile down the mall girl had the right one – and called my wife. Then I went to the supermarket (a Morrison’s Store), bought a diet Coke, went out to my car, set up the GPS, and hit the road for Galashiels.

The Scottish countryside here is lovely! High rolling hills, pine and oak forests, fields set off by hedges or stone walls just as in Ireland, but the fields are much, much larger. Lots of black-faced sheep. As I said, roads similar to Ireland, though somewhat wider in the country.

Today (Saturday, 2 July 2011) I am driving a short distance to Melrose to visit the abbey. I’m told there’s some sort of county fair or “ride out” going on there and that I shouldn’t expect to get through the town quickly. That’s fine; I’m in no hurry.

After Melrose, my plan is to cross the border into England (not really a border since this is all the UK – more a cultural, historical artifact than an actual border) and visit Jedburgh, then make my way to Lindisfarne for the next two nights.

Today’s psalm for the Daily Office was one of my favorites and though it really has nothing to do with my plans for the day, I thought I would share it with you:

Blessed be the LORD my rock! *
who trains my hands to fight and my fingers to battle;
My help and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, *
my shield in whom I trust,
who subdues the peoples under me.
O LORD, what are we that you should care for us? *
mere mortals that you should think of us? (Psalm 144:1-3)

I’m certain that those images of rock and fortress and stronghold resonated with the Gaelic folk of Ireland and Scotland (especially rocky Scotland with its granite mountains). A few days ago I shared Donnchad Mór Ó Dálaigh’s 13th Century poem An Aluinn Dún (“The Beautiful Fortress” or “The Heavenly Habitation”) – see Translating Hymns (Part 3), a hymn that builds on those metaphors.

My favorite answer to the question in verse three, however, comes not from Gaels, but from another of the Psalms in which the question is asked in different form:

O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!
who hast set thy glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies,
that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels,
and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands;
thou hast put all things under his feet:
All sheep and oxen, yea,
and the beasts of the field;
The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea,
and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
O LORD our Lord,
how excellent is thy name in all the earth! (Psalm 8 – KJV)

Today I go off to drive through the Scottish and English countrysides to consider the works of God’s fingers and those of humankind under whose feet God has put all things.

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