Sometimes I simply don’t have the words to capture what is going on for me. I have been staring at my blog for a few weeks now and have felt the frustration of having so much I want to express but simply not knowing where to start.
The last month has been quite significant for me on lots of different levels. It felt like a real gift to be able to travel with my son to the U.K. for the launch of my new book and the outreach around the Olympic Games. A benefit of the trip was the level of engagement I was able to have with the remarkable history of the Christian church over the past 1600 years or so.
I was able to visit Clapham, the home base of William Wilberforce. I walked through John Wesley’s house and stood with my son next to his grave. I visited the Blind Beggar pub where William Booth launched the Salvation Army and I had a coffee in the Eagle and Child where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis had weekly chats over a beer. All of those experiences were significant, and I know I will be reflecting and writing about them for years to come, but they were not quite as profound as a part of the Christian story that I was less familiar with.
We travelled to the Island of Iona and then visited Lindisfarne, also known as the Holy Island, where we engaged with the story of the Celtic Church. I think those visits are where I lost my words. If words are designed to “capture” reality and make it transmissible to others, at Iona and Lindisfarne I encountered a reality that I simply couldn’t quite capture. That doesn’t mean I won’t try, its just that I know that I will probably fail because what I encountered at both places was beyond my intellect’s capacity to comprehend.
People talk about Iona being a “thin place” where the walls between heaven and earth somehow are more ethereal. When I first got off the boat I was a little disappointed, I wasn’t greeted by angels or some deep mystical sense of the presence of God, but as I hung around the place for a couple of days, it certainly got to me.
I’ve been reading a lot since then about the Celts and it has been helpful to have more historical context, but one photo captures a bit of the meaning of the time for me, and its not a photo that can be quickly compartmentalized. The way I’m wired means that I need three things before I am semi functional: a shower, a coffee and a quiet time. On the two mornings in Iona I got up early, joined the queue for the shower (two showers between 60 people!) grabbed my coffee and trudged up a nearby hill. It is the view from that hill that stays with me.
Somehow more than the details and the history, that view speaks to me about God in ways that words can never do justice. It was interesting seeing the old buildings on Iona, but it was the landscape that really got to me. There was something about knowing that Columba looked at the same hills 1600 years ago, that generations have come and gone, and yet God still uses that place to affect people in a profound way.
This is the Photo (you can check out the full version here: http://faithreflections.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/20120901-113536.jpg):
For you it is probably a pretty picture of a rural scene. For me it is laden with memories and meaning that I cannot quite express. I wish I could. You might notice that I have used a cropped version of it for the header of the blog, and for the moment as the header of my facebook timeline. I like that, for now, I can enjoy the picture, know where I was sitting when I took it, and know that God is much bigger than any words I can conjure.