August 29/30-at Heathrow Marriott.
*Took Picadilly Underground to Portabello Road
and st. Mary's Church Bourne St. Emerging from the subway I got completely disoriented, which was annoying at the time, but a necessary phase in any pilgrimage.
August 31- Sept. 1-
· Flew to Edinburgh and stayed at Marriott there. Spent evening w Katie Lester.
· Rented car. Took bus to city centre and Old St. Paul's for High Mass. Drove to Duns.
Sept. 1-4 in Duns w Michael's parents and sister Amy. Visited historic Scottish churches, towers, manors, monastic ruins and authentic eating places and pubs. Crossed the River Tweed numerous times, and experienced traditional "Fish Tea" in the charming sea side village of Eyemouth.
*drove to Holy Island of Lindisfarne, about an hour south of Duns, located about a mile off the Northumbrian coast, and connected to the mainland by a causeway that is submerged twice a day at high tide. We stayed at The Ship Inn, a quintessential English pub.
The island fills up with visitors at low tide, and empties rapidly as the tide comes in. One quickly becomes acclimatized to a different rhythm, a tidal consciousness, a Celtic way of seeing.
*we visited St. Mary's Anglican Church often, and inspected the ruins of the medieval priory next door to it; walked the beach and collected shells; watched the antics of the numerous seals, and were enchanted by their nocturnal group singing...a mass mammalian choir, crying out in the dark.
* made the walk out to Lindisfarne Castle, a former fortress turned into an imaginative dwelling place in the early part of the last century. Grand views of the mighty surf and the Farne Islands.
* had a setback when Nancy found herself alone and stuck in knee deep tidal mud, from which she extracted herself by removing her shoes and crawling to drier ground. These exertions resulted in numerous cuts and bruises to her feet and legs, caused by the sharp edges of shells and the sandpaper-like character of the mud. A scary experience, a reminder of the raw power of this austere place, and the vulnerability we share with the rugged old monks who first chose to live here.
* made a long stop at Aynwick Castle, notorious as the site where some of the "Harry Potter" films were shot. It turns out it is the ancient seat of the Percy family, mentioned often by Shakespeare. We ate a leisurely and elegant meal at the world's largest Treehouse restaurant.
* drove to the City of York, intending to visit the famous cathedral and walk the streets of this (originally Roman) city, but were deterred (and delayed one day) by Nancy's painful feet, an unsuccessful effort to find a self-service launderette, and a flat tire on our rental car. It was very liberating to finally surrender to the reality that God didn't need me at Evensong at York Minster that day. Maybe next time.
* drove about 4 hours south to the village of Walsingham in Norfolk. Along the way through Lincolnshire we were astounded to see the tall spires of medieval churches sprouting from every tiny village. St. Helen's, in a tiny settlement just off the highway, is a massive stone structure containing one of the most colorful and awe-inspiring interiors I have ever entered. On first glance the exterior seemed so weathered that I concluded the church had been abandoned, but Nancy, to her everlasting credit, insisted upon investigating further. Amazing.
* The Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham is not like any other place. It is located in a village so small it does not appear on highway maps, and consists of a complex of connected buildings surrounding a quadrangle about the size of an American city block. There is a constant influx of pilgrims and visitors, many of whom stay in rooms at the shrine and take meals in its cafeteria (i.e. “refectory”). To call the shrine “high church" would be an understatement, yet it definitely claims a place for itself within The Church of England. We stayed two nights in a newly remodeled room overlooking a walled garden. We were also given the use of the Shrine's washer and drier, and a grander gesture of Christian hospitality would be hard to envision! Each day there is a somewhat hectic cycle of Masses, processions, and other devotions at the shrine and its many tiny chapels, and we were glad for the opportunity to light candles for our children, friends, and those whose generosity made this pilgrimage possible. We also availed ourselves of the opportunity to buy gifts from the many purveyors of religious paraphernalia found in the village.The focal point of the shrine is the “Holy House”, a recreation of the house where Joseph and Mary lived with Jesus in Nazareth. While this represents a very “domestic” window into the mystery of the Incarnation, the shrine carries out what could be described as an industrial strength ministry of prayer. It is a strangely alluring and sacred place, but not for those whose Protestant sensibilities are easily aroused.
* as we left the village we quite accidentally found ourselves at the Walsingham village church, another Church of England edifice of considerable proportions and medieval origins. This church burned almost to the ground in 1961, and was refurnished inside in a fashion reminiscent of Roman Catholic Churches built in the USA in the 1950's.
* after leaving Walsingham we drove north a few miles to the Village of Wells-by-the-Sea, where we strolled among the throngs of English vacationers and bought an inexpensive duffle bag in which to transport our purchases from Walsingham (and elsewhere).
* drove south about an hour to the cathedral city of Ely, and stayed at a pub in the village of Little Downham. Most comfortable and hospitable, and also newly refurbished.
* visited the vast cathedral in Ely, where Evensong was sung in an open, austere stone room, resulting in amazing acoustics. The reverberant chant of six male voices in the choir provided a marked contrast to
the hyper-devotional environment of Walsingham. God can speak from many different directions, it seems.
* Ely cathedral is vast and humbling, but also houses many intimate nooks and crannies and down-home touches, especially with regard to thenumerous monuments and tombs scattered about the interior. One chapel is dedicated in memory of "all the tortured", and another houses remains from different monasteries suppressed by Henry the 8th and neglected since. The variety and quantity of dazzling stained glass is astonishing.
* as much as we liked Ely cathedral, there have been attempts to introduce contemporary religious art that struck us as less than successful. We are not purists when it comes to high culture, but some of this new stuff just seemed lame.
* whilst in Ely Nancy surprised me with the gift of a magnificent Harris Tweed jacket and cap, which I will wear every day September to May until I die, and probably thereafter as well. A splendid garment from a grand place.
*We turned in our little rental car at Stansted Airport, and made our way to the terminal thereof, where a high speed train carried us to Liverpool Station in east London. To ride on such a train was an eye opener for this American, for it seems to glide over the rails, and at an astonishing speed. They run every 15 minutes between that minor airport and London, and are heavily patronized. What’s wrong with us in the USA that we can’t do this?
*At Liverpool Station we were graced with the services of Eddie, a loquacious and knowledgeable London cabdriver, who provided historical context to everything we saw from his cab, as well as insight into the daily life and challenges faced by working people in England. Having discovered that I was a priest, he asked for a blessing before we parted, which was gladly bestowed, along with a generous tip.
· Our hotel was in the posh Mayfair district of London, across from Hyde Park and just down the street from the Marble Arch. This part of London is full of visiting foreigners with lots of money to spend, and I supposed we contributed our bit, shopping for gifts along Oxford Street, the most intensely commercial street I have ever beheld in all my travels, such as they are. Across the street from our hotel we discovered a monument to "Animals in War," and found it quite moving.
· Behind our hotel I discovered the Grosvenor Chapel, an oddly-named Anglican Church that looks like it could be located in Massachusetts. A small group there recites the Daily Office much as we do at Christ Church Cranbrook, a small gesture toward the sacred in the midst of unrestrained adoration of status and wealth.
· Another London expedition took us to Covent Garden, where street performers are active rain or shine, including this footless Yoda, to whom pilgrims flocked for advice in greater numbers than Abba Jonathan could ever hope for.
· On our last Sunday we attended All Saints’ Margaret Street, a church famous for its unique architecture as well as its liturgical excellence. Its colorful interior makes extensive use of geometric designs and patterns, which, it occurs to me now, make it seem somewhat mosque-like.
· The sermon on this occasion was an intelligent, theologically astute exposition of Luke’s Parable of the Lost Coin. “Who would want to come looking for me?” inquired the preacher. Our pilgrimage has been engaged in a search for an answer to this very thing.
· * On our last day I made my way to “The City”, where, in the shadow of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Moot Community carries out its version of what at Christ Church Cranbrook is called “Lex Orandi”. It is an intensely prayerful effort to make the gospel accessible to a generation that seems immune to it, at least in its overly-familiar packaging. As at Holy Island and Grosvenor Chapel, there is a group committed to maintaining a distinctly Christian spiritual practice under the very noses, so to speak, of a disenchanted and seemingly preoccupied public. Does it make any difference? It has made a difference to me…
· The Moot runs a coffee shop in their church. I was there before the rush.
· Our last evening was spent going to Westminster Abbey for Evensong, sung by the choir of men and boys. At least 500 people attended this event, perhaps because it is an occasion for which one does not have to pay an admission fee. In any event, we were gifted with a transcendent liturgical performance, and taken by surprise when the First lesson ended with this quotation from the Book of Ruth: “The women of the neighborhood gave [Ruth’s son] a name…They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.”
· As we have pursued our pilgrimage, we ourselves have been searched for, and accompanied by a relentless searcher and pilgrim, whose name is love.