My favorite comic, Billy Connolly, comes from Edinburgh. He comments, “People tell me all the time, ‘I’ve been all over the world, but I’ve never been to Scotland,’ like it’s a special accomplishment. Or they’ll say, ‘I went to Scotland and it rained.’ OF COURSE it bloody rained! What do you think it is, Majorca?!”
I’m on the vaguely remote isle of Iona (you take a train and a ferry and a bus and a ferry to get there from Glasgow). And it’s, yup, raining. Apparently the founder of the monastery kept sailing until he found an island where you couldn’t see Ireland from the highest peak. You find yourself wondering, “If St. Columba was experiencing such fierce persecution by the Irish in the 500s, why didn’t he sail SOUTH?” How did they manage to worship when it feels cold and wet in August with far better heat retention in 2009?
Perhaps the same way the cold and wet doesn’t stop people from meeting God here now (even in winter, when the staff stay as the tourists/pilgrims thin out). It’s what I’ve heard described as a “thin place,” because the divine and the profane dwell so close together. We do not sit at the end of morning worship because moving directly from the sanctuary to our assigned morning tasks is one motion of continuing to worship God.
Every dinner conversation has been rich and meaningful. Yesterday I heard a phenomenal story from a Swedish pastor. It reminded me that transformation is as difficult a task abroad as it is in the states. He said that in 1975, someone had managed to take down the fence and icons at the communion table so communion was closer to the people. He came to the parish in 1977. He was walking up from the cemetary in clerical robes when an old woman exited the sanctuary, saw him, and made a beeline. “Ah, a pastor; I have something to tell you. I haven’t been here in 30 years. I’m here now and they’ve CHANGED something. Make them put it back the way it was!”
Usually this type of confrontation would make the pastor freeze. But he got up his gumption and said, “You haven’t been here in 30 years and you expect me to change things back from the way it was made by people who HAVE been here?”
“They can BE here,” she huffed; “they just can’t CHANGE anything!”
(Imagine telling that story in your second language, by the way.)