Sunday, June 27, 2010

A reflection of hope

Eternal God, comfort of the afflicted and healer of the broken,
you have fed us at the table of life and hope;
teach us the ways of gentleness and peace,
that all the world may acknowledge
the kingdom of your son Jesus Christ our Lord.
(prayer after communion at Coventry Cathedral)

Coventry, England
June 26 and 27, 2010

In World War II, Coventry, England was a center for weapons manufacturing. On November 14, 1940, the city was a target for one of the worst air raids of the war. Hundreds died and the historic St. Michael's Cathedral, where St. Mary's Benedictine monastery was built in 1043, was destroyed.

The striking Coventry Cathedral was rebuilt beside the ruins of the blitzed St. Michael's in 1962. In the photo above, a remnant of the old wall is reflected through the glass of one of the new walls. The new cathedral a powerful symbol of rebirth and reconciliation.

We talked to Canon David Porter, minister of reconciliation for the cathedral. David has a long history of working with Mennonites in northern Ireland. He says part of the theology of reconciliation is a commitment to justice. David noted John Paul Lederach's help in the peace process in northern Ireland in supporting the efforts of local leaders in building peace.

David said the world has come to Coventry and it has one of the most diverse populations in England. Immigrant groups seem to find their way here. It has given Coventry Cathedral many opportunities to pick up the mantle of reconciliation.

Having just come from a celebration of armed forces day at the cathedral before he talked to us, David shared his struggle to be both pastorally present in the community and prophetically challenging to the people. He observed that Jesus was silently embedded in his community for 30 years before being actively prophetic for three years and wondered whether this might be about the right proportion.

As Christians, we are set apart from the world around us but we also belong to the community, nation and world in which we serve. The Coventry Cathedral community offers us a reflection of hope for how that can be possible.

On Sunday afternoon, I embedded byself in the community by watching the Germans demolish England in the World Cup. Later in the day, most of the group participated in an inspiring 400th anniversary performance of Monteverdi's Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary composed in 1610.

We gathered in the parish hall after the performance to reflect on our pilgrimage and to say our good byes to each other. This has truly been a remarkable journey together, not the least of which has been forging new friendships.

Calm me, Lord, as you calmed the storm, we sang, enfold me, Lord, in your peace.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A place of welcome

May those without shelter be under your guarding this day, O Christ,
May the wandering find places of welcome.
O son of the tears, of the wounds, of the piercings,
May your cross this day be shielding them. (excerpt from Celtic prayer)

June 25
Aberdaron, Wales

St. Hywyn's Church in Aberdaron, on the northwest coast of Wales, is a place for pilgrims. Vicar Jim Cotter said this has been a Christian place of worship on the edge of the sea since the fifth century.

Pilgrims have been coming to this church for centuries, many on their way to Bardsey Island. The winds, tides and currents make the three mile crossing risky, but people came to this place, between one world and another, seeking and searching, on a journey but not knowing what they would find.

Unlike the Romans who built straight roads across this region, having predetermined the direction and the destination, it is better for pilgrims, says Cotter, to hoist their sails and go where the wind blows. "You may not get to where you thought you were going," he says, "But you will most certainly get to where you are supposed to go."

R.S. Thomas, a well-known Welsh poet, was vicar at St. Hywyn's in the 60s and 70s. Thomas is said to have burnt all his robes on the beach in a great bonfire on the day he retired. Some say he would have like to burn most of his poems as well!

Cotter gave our band of pilgrims a book of Thomas' poems and sent us out to read them in the church's graveyard or along the beach. Later that evening as I walked the beach in the moonlight and again the next morning as I walked through the fog that covered the beach I kept thinking about one of R.S. Thomas' poems that I had read:

Prompt me God,
But not yet. When I speak,
though it be you who speaks
through me, something is lost.
The meaning is in the waiting.

This church is a place of welcome. May I be a person of welcome here and in the days ahead.

Friday, June 25, 2010

One more hill to climb

It started out as a morning stroll. We were at the Ffald-y-Brenin retreat centre near Fishguard, Wales. The centre was perched high above the valley below. And it seemed like we were far from everywhere. In fact, our 40 foot bus had inched along the back roads to get here. Sometimes we had to stop for someone to get out to help guide the bus through some particularly narrow parts of the road.

Today was a retreat day and as I strolled across the retreat property, I happened to notice that we weren't quite at the top of the mountain as I thought. So, I took off over the sheep paths only to find that when I got to the top of hill, there was yet another hill to climb, and then another after that and then another.

It wasn't long until I found myself a number of miles from where I had started and many turns in the trail. I wondered whether I could find my way home by myself. But I had a suspicion what I would see when I finally got to the top so I kept on going.

And then there it was - a breathtaking panorama of the sea.

Now I had another decision. Would I press on to the sea or would I turn back? I had no money and no identity information with me and I couldn't have even said what the name of the retreat center was where I was staying, but I kept on going, now, down through a winding road to the sea, making turn after turn, wondering whether I could ever retrace my steps.

Many bends later, I was sitting on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Several hours later, I reluctantly started to retrace my steps back up the country roads and then down the other side through the sheep pastures, stopping several times to talk to others enjoying the same sun and scenary that I was. One couple happened along just as I needed assurance I was headed back in the right direction.

Earlier that morning, I had read a chapter in Margaret Silf's book, Sacred Spaces, on "hilltops." She says our spiritual journeys are much like those hilltop climbs: "There are moments of vision making all the climbing worthwhile, but wherever we stand still to take stock, there is always something more beyond our range, drawing us onward, attracting us in spite of the rocky journey that seems to separate us from our heart's desire."

The world looks different from the top of the hill. I learned that twice in one morning. You gain more perspective. Silf says our lives tend to have cycles in them and if we pay attention to the connecting points of these cycles we have a better vantage of where we've come from and where we are going. This is something to think about as I make the transition into a new work role in the next couple of weeks.

In the words of a Celtic prayer:

Glory be to you, O God,
for the grace of new beginnings
placed before me in every moment and encounter of life.
Glory, glory, glory
for the grace of new beginnings in every moment of life.

A day at sea

If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me and your right hand shall hold me fast.
- Psalm 139:9-10

We took the wings of the morning by bus to Tenby in the southwest corner of Wales, a coastal town. From the bus park, we walked single file down the long embankment into town and to the docks and boarded a small boat for Caldey Island. The tide was out and many boats lay on the muddy bottom of the sea. Later, I learned that the tide rises by eight meters daily.

Caldey Island was first settled by monks in the sixth century. In 1925, Anglican Benedictines sold the island and the abbey to Catholic Cistercians, a group of monks from Belgium.

We walked up the hill to the abbey, an imposing set of white, red-tiled roof buildings that look more like the southern Mediteranean. After prayers in the chapel and lunch on the lawn we all enjoyed an afternoon in the sun.

I headed past the chocolate factory to the rocky cliffs out beyond the lighthouse and then kept walking some more, finally stopping halfway down the craggy cliffs with no one else in sight. I had the ocean to myself as far as I could see, enjoying the sun and the sounds of the waves crashing against the rocks.

This is as good as it gets. I'm never happier than when I'm close to the ocean. Later, I shared afternoon tea with others from the group before heading back to Tenby by boat, but it will be the hour along the sea by myself that I'll remember most about the day.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Of light and darkness on a midsummer's day

What is this place where we are meeting? Only a house, the earth its floor...
Yet it becomes a body that lives when we are gathered here, and know our God is near.

Glendalough, the valley of the two lakes, is known for its early Medieval monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century. A simply gorgeous location, Glendalough became our home for a day of retreat with Father Michael Rodgers.

On midsummer's day, the meeting of light and darkness, we gathered to celebrate the light and shadows in our own lives. We began by walking a labyrinth and recognizing that our lives are not straight journeys but filled with many unexpected turns. But all of the steps of our lives, said Father Michael, lead us toward home.

At the lower lake, we learned that St. Kevin met a monster, but instead of running away, Kevin befriended it. We all have monsters to tame, said Father Michael, and we need to name and bless our shadows.

He told us that the contemplative heart is a compassionate heart. It is important for us to sit and be silent and listen for the God who is within us. "Compassion is the only way to God and Christ is buried there," Father Michael told us.

St. Kevin came to the valley of the lakes to find solitude and lived here in a cave in the hills that surround the two lakes. Later, he came back with a small group of monks to found a monastery. A number of the buildings from this monastery city still remain today.

Like St. Kevin, we are each called to this cycle of solitude and community. We need individual space to be close to God, but we are always called back to community, to love this world more fully.

We are people of God and we care for each other. As a small part of the two billion Christians in this world, we have a great potential to be a powerful force for good. The spirit of Jesus lives within us.

We sang, up on the hill on our pilgrimage around the lakes and then again later in the afternoon inside the roofless walls of a monastery church. These roofless walls may only be a house, then and now, but we are definitely a body and God is definitely near.

Fill our hearts with your peace

Come and fill our hearts with your peace, you alone are holy.
Come and fill our hearts with your peace, alleluia.
- Celtic pilgrimage songbook

On Sunday morning, along with several others, I worshiped with the Quakers in downtown Dublin. Most of the others on the pilgrimage worshiped in the Church of Ireland cathedrals but, after a lot of talk about Protestants and Catholics the last several weeks, I needed a mooring with the Historic Peace Churches.

There was once a fledging Mennonite congregation in this city, too, but it did not survive the formation years. One of the persons involved in that church plant, Michael Gaarde, has been spending a few days with us.

Michael said the influence of John Howard Yoder's theology has been great in this region of the world even though a Mennonite congregation did not flourish. He says Mennonite workers and their focus on conflict resolution and mediation, played an important role in bringing peace in Ireland and northern Ireland.

In hindsight, Michael says, maybe it is even a blessing that a Mennonite congregation did not emerge here. "We don't need more churches in Ireland, but simply more faithful ones," he says. Our role here and elsewhere is not to perpetuate ourselves but simply be an agent of transformation, a modern day version of dying in order to bring life.

Come and fill our hearts with your peace.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A place of welcome for those who are wandering

May those without shelter be under your guarding this day, O Christ,
May the wandering find places of welcome.
(excerpted from Celtic Prayers by Philip Newell)

In Luke 19, Zacchaeus found an unexpected place of welcome with Jesus. "Today, salvation has come to this house," says Jesus, "because Zacchaeus too is a son of Abraham." Jesus says he has come to seek out and save the lost.

That Jesus is meant for the lost is a lesson we have needed to learn over and over through the ages. Brother Eoin (Owen) illustrates this on the High Cross at Castledermot southwest of Dublin.

On this cross from about 1000 A.D. are a myriad of symbols illustrating the life of Christ and the way of Jesus. Brother Eion says the main purpose of the cross was to celebrate the evening liturgy, much as the early church has done since 400 A.D. We gathered around the cross in the neighboring community of Moone to worship in a similar manner.

"For my eyes have seen your salvation prepared in the sight of all people. A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel," we prayed.

In her book, Sacred Space, Stations on a Celtic Way, Margaret Silf says these standing Celtic crosses were the village's library, its pulpit and its art gallery, just as they were the sentinels of the high places, watching over the community, focusing the peoples' gaze always to something beyond themselves.

I imagine the crosses also helped the wandering find welcome. They were "eternal bookmarks on the hilltops," says Silf, reminding "all travelers that their own small journeys were a part of the eternal journey of the whole human family."

Later that evening, in downtown Dublin, I wandered into an old church as its community was celebrating mass. "For you, my soul is thirsting," we sang. "May this be a house of prayer, a church for all people," the priest prayed.

A house of prayer for all people is becoming a recurring theme for me on this pilgrimage. I pray that can be true not only in Scotland, Ireland and Wales, but also in my home congregation in Goshen and among the community I am joining as a new staff person for Mennonite Central Committee.

Jesus comes to seek out the lost like me. May we provide a place of welcome for all who are wandering.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mary of the Irish, pray for us

Pilgrim, in your journey you may travel far,
For pilgrim, its a long way to find out who you are.
- Enya, "Pilgrim" on her album, A Day Without Rain

In her book, Rekindling the Flame, Rita Minehaw says that "At the heart of all pilgrims lies the hope and dream that, by traveling to a special place associated with the divine, they might somehow be changed and renewed." She says that to be a pilgrim is to invite change, conversion, new perspectives and a deeper life. And then the key - she concludes that the journey to a sacred place is just as important as the arrival.

Today the journey included visits to sites related to St. Brigid of Kildare. We visited St. Brigid's Cathedral where it is said she established her abbey and church in 480 A.D. She was the leader for a double monastery for men and women and it was the center for education, culture, worhsip and and hospitality in Ireland.

Brigid's fire, a perpetual flame, burned in Kildare for more than a thousand years and was relit by Sister Mary, whom we visited, in 1993. We also visited Brigid's well where a sign hangs, "St. Brigid, Mary of the Irish, pray for us."

Somehow St. Brigid has sparked a flame throughout the generations - her faith, healing powers, love for the natural order and her hospitality, generosity and concern for the poor stand as a testament for Christians in all ages.

I'm honored to be a part of the merry band of pilgrims pictured above. Today, I am thankful for St. Brigid and for her dedication to the God of the poor who welcomes all people into fellowship.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Christ when I arise

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise, Christ to shield me.

These words are often attributed to St. Patrick who grew up in Britain but who was sent to Ireland and sold into slavery. He escapd to France, but in a dream, he heard the voice of the Irish calling him back to Ireland. He answered that call and is attributed to bringing Christianity to Ireland.

The stained glass above is from a church built on the site where St. Patrick is said to have built the first church in Ireland in 432 A.D.

As we visited this site, we indeed felt Christ above us and beneath us.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A house of prayer for all people

About halfway between Belfast and Dublin in Rostrevor, Northern Ireland is a Benedictine community called Holy Cross Monastery. Begun by the Abbey of Le Bec in France just over 10 years ago, its hope is to follow the vision of Isaiah 56:7, "My house shall be a house of prayer for all people."

These brothers want to contribute to reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants "in a land marked by reciprocal violence and stained by the blood of Christian brothers and sisters."

Our group spent a day at the monastery attending prayers, working in the gardens and visiting with the brothers. Brother Thierry said the monastery was established here when the abbot in Le Bec said it was time to try something painful.

So, in 2004, the new monastery was dedicated on the ecumenical day of prayer with a prayer of forgiveness. But forgiveness, whether in Northern Ireland or elsewhere in the world, is not easy.

Brother Thierry observed that both Protestants and Catholics in this community are too narrow in their perspectives. He said they need to be challenged, but with humbleness, because "we did not suffer as they did." There are many ways to shoot at people, he told us, "and the people here are deeply wounded."

The words of Paul's epistle, "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism," greeted us each time we walked through the doors of the chapel. And as the priest prayed, he prayed for all people who call on Christ's name, and he specifically prayed for Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical and Catholic churches.

Brother Thierry said the community wants to serve both the Protestants and Catholics in the community. A majority of the people who come through the monastery doors are Protestant.

"It's important to provide a space to listen to people who can come without hiding or wearing their masks. That is enough," he said.

"My house shall be a house of prayer for all people," we hear in Isaiah. As I walked through the grounds of the monastery and reflected on what I had heard, I wondered what would happen if churches in my country began to pray and live that vision.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The path of peace

Bless to us, O God, the earth beneath our feet.
Bless to us, O God, the path whereon we go.
Bless to us, O God, the people whom we meet.

Outside the abbey on Iona, St. Martin's cross has stood for more than one thousand years. St. Martin was a fourth century Roman soldier who had a vision of Christ after sharing his cloak with a poor man. After his baptism, he became a conscientious objector to serving in the Roman army. Later, he became bishop of Tours and played an important role in sharing the church's mission with the Celts.

Our pilgrimage day began at the cross and took us across the island to many places important in the story of Iona, including Columba's bay (the photo I used in an ealier post) and Duni, the highest point of the island where you can see for many miles in all directions.

It is beautiful here today, sunny and warm, which apparently is not often the case. Today, I'm thankful for my fellow pilgrims. This evening, at the service in the abbey, we sang, "Your will be done on earth, O Lord." May it be so.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Creation is God's first book

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God's handiwork.
- Psalm 19:1

This is my view this morning from the other side of the island. No one else in sight. God's handiwork for me alone.

The Celts believed creation was God's first book and scripture was God's second book. I heard from both this morning, the first as I walked the island in the early light and the second when I participated in worship at the Abbey this Sunday morning.

The pastor shared the story from Luke 7 of the woman forgiven. And Jesus responds to the Pharisee that those who are forgiven much love much. The pastor asked us what we are ready to offer Jesus and what offerings from others, like the Pharisee, are we overlooking? And just as important, how do we respond when gifts are given to us?

And then this verse from a closing song:

Lord of all beauty, I give you my all,
If I should disown you, I'd stumble and fall,
But sworn in your service, your word I'll obey,
And walk in your freedom to the end of the way.

This morning I hear God's first book quite clearly, and it helps me hear the second more clearly.

Travelers on the way

What is it we hope for from this trip we ask each other as we begin the journey. I'm not sure I can ask that question except to say I'm glad I'm on the journey, seeking to know God, myself and others more fully.

There are many on this Celtic pilgrimage I already know, old comrades like Mary, Willard and Marlene, but many more I am just learning to know, some with backgrounds that intersect my own.

We are all looking forward to this first leg of the journey to Iona, traveling first by bus along the lochs to Oban and then by ferry to the island of Mull where we take another bus to the other side of the island and, finally, board another ferry for Iona.

We have come on journeys of our own,
To a place where journeys meet.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Are you with us?

Like many major cities, the downtown of Glasgow features the old and the new side by side. This old manufacturing and shipping city is reinventing itself. I admired the new and old facades alike as I walked through the city in the morning light.

Later, I toured the Glasgow Art School, a wonderful, quirky building designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, clearly a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, though I'm told they never had any connection with each other. How could the same spirit be so evident in both of them? (Ah, maybe that's more of a spiritual question.)

My mid-day the Celtic Pilgrimmage folks were beginning to gather. A number of us visited the administrative offices of the Iona community in the early afternoon. We were introduced to their rule for life which includes a commitment to regular Bible study and prayer, stewardship of time and money, a commitment to work for peace and justice and the willingness to meet with each other regularly and be accountable to each other.

More than 250 members make this commitment to each other each year in a process called "Are you with us?"

Though I'm not a member, this is a pledge I could easily say yes to.

Tomorrow we head for the island of Iona via mutiple buses and boats. I'm looking forward to experiencing this "thin place" for myself.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

It's a mystery

There's Nessie! Do you see her? Somewhere in the deep of Loch Ness, some say there's a creature. Today I took a look for myself, along with a lot of other tourists. Nothing there as far as I could see.

Earlier this morning another mystery was clearer as I read I Timothy (1:12-13). The Apostle Paul says that the "the grace of our Lord overflowed for me" even though Paul didn't think he deserved it. If Paul didn't deserve Christ's love, who of us does? Not me, I guarantee you. But Jesus, Paul says, strengthens us and judges us faithful. I'm needing that today.

Last evening the MCC U.S. board announced my appointment as the transitional executive director of MCC U.S. for the next three years. Another mystery! How could this happen?

It has been interesting watching this process play out a continent away. I'm grateful for Christ's love and the words of encouragement and promises of prayer from so many friends.

Lord help me. It's a mystery, but I know that help is available to me.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

More safe am I within thy hand

The Tron Kirk Steeple of the Church of St. Mary in downtown Glasgow features my patron angel. Or at least I'm calling it that. Lots happening back home that affects my future but here I am on the eve of a three week Celtic pilgrimage in Glasgow.
I claim St. Colomba's prayer as I start this journey . . .
Alone, with none but thee, my God,
I journey on my way;
What need I fear when thou are near,
O king of night and day,
More safe am I within thy hand,
Than if a host did round me stand.
Keep me safe, Lord, and all of the merry pilgrims who are arriving in Glasgow from various points in North America. Bless us with a clearer knowledge of who you are and your purpose for us.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

God's blessing for all people in all countries in all parts of the world

It was definitely a festive atmosphere this week in the lobby of the Harrisburg (Pa.) International Airport. Brian was returning home from Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq and more than 100 military personnel and family members were there to greet him. Flags and red, white and blue balloons were everywhere.

There were signs, too. Along with the "Welcome Home" signs was one that said "God bless the USA" and another that simply said "Thank God."

Thank God? For Brian's save return, surely, but I had a sense the crowd was saying more than that, invoking God's blessing on America's war in Iraq and the success of our military.

Emotion filled the room as Brian strode through the gate. I was moved by this homecoming, too, but I found myself also thinking about the Iraqis Brian had left behind, equally loved by their families and friends but unable to "go home" and leave behind the violence and killing.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation says our country has invested billions of dollars to fight and win wars but has invested little to prevent conflict.

Standing in the airport, I had to wonder how this scene would be different if my country had invested differently for its encounter in Iraq. And how the situation in Iraq would be equally different.

The July 4 holiday is fast approaching. And I want to find ways to embrace the freedoms our country enjoys and celebrates and I want to help ensure these same freedoms are available to all in my community and across the nation.

But I also want to remember that, as a Christian, my first allegiance is to Jesus Christ, not to my nation. And I want to remember that God's blessing is for all people in all countries in all parts of the world.

God's blessing is available to all people - in America and Iraq, in Palestine and Israel, in Iran, North Vietnam, Colombia and Congo. Thank God!