I experienced many firsts on this mini-Sabbatical. Maybe the most surprising was attending a heavy metal concert at Harpa, the extraordinary Reykjavik concert hall.
The last full day in Iceland was spent walking around Reykjavik. It was a glorious sunshiny day.
A knitting basket on the street in front of the local yarn shop inviting passers by to knit a row.
Enjoying the beauty of the city.
Stops for bites at local places. Our Icelandair flight attendant had shared with us her favorite places off the tourist trail.
The culminating experience of the day was a concert at Harpa. The music was a collaboration of the Iceland Symphony, two Icelandic choirs, a children’s choir, and the heavy metal band Skálmöld.
The audience was a mixture of heavy metal lovers, Icelandic locals in their sophisticated dress, and then a few folks like us.Years ago I read a book called Morning Sun on a White Piano. It was about finding the sacramental in everyday moments.
One of the chapters, as I recall, was about listening to music in community. The author talked about all the pieces that had to come together to produce the music, and then the audience’s response in hearing it–this mixture of receiving and giving created a concert.
I’ve never liked heavy metal. The closest I ever came to enjoying it was when my son was a part of a group called Animosity. I went to all sorts of unlikely places to hear him and his friends play.
This concert in Reykjavik was the perfect ending to this trip. Skálmöld’s music is written in the traditional Icelandic lyrical form and the contrast of their harsh style juxtaposed with the symphonic beauty was reflective of the Icelandic landscape. It was a trip to Iceland in a concert.
It was also a witness to what happens when greatly diverse people join and work together–the new and beautiful thing that can happen
There I was. A 66 year old priest from Texas, a grandma, rocking along barely able to contain myself with joy.
It was holy.
I’m back in Iceland on this trip not to Iceland.
The extraordinary beauty of the Faroe Islands and the warmth of the people has left my friend and me with a yearning to return.
Planning to return is the way we’ve traveled for these twenty five years. Circling back to places we’ve loved, we return with our list of things we missed the first time, places we want to experience again, and being open to the surprises we know will happen.
I am thoughtful on this day back in Iceland. This may be a good way to live each day.
Doing again those things that fill our spirit.
Keeping a spiritual list of those things that are essential.
Always being ready and prepared for the surprises.
On Tuesday, in the rain, my friend and I explored the island of Eysturoy. The surprise was a second flock of puffins, hundreds of puffins, in a cove called Mary’s bænk. Mary’s bench.
On this Sabbatical journey, I haven’t been as still and quiet as is my normal practice. I’m not sure why, but I woke up this morning in Iceland with my heart seeking that still place.
So I sat on a spiritual Mary’s bænk. And waited for the surprise of this day. Not likely to be puffins. But who knows?
Yesterday I was surprised by chocolate cake at breakfast. In a place where I ate each morning watching the sheep graze out the window.
What will be the surprises this day in Iceland?
O Tree of Calvary, send your roots deep into my soul. Gather together my frailties —my soiled heart, my sandy instability and my muddy desires —and entwine them with the strong roots of your arboreal love. Amen.
My friend and I stopped to pray mid afternoon at the church in Børn on Vagar from Prayers for All Seasons. As we prayed this prayer, both of us burst into laughter. You see, only a short while earlier I had slipped while hiking and my backside, from my head to my shoes, had been caked in mud.
I’d like to blame it on the puffins, but the reality is that I’m clumsy even when I am carefully using my walking stick.
Today we spent the day exploring Vagar, the island where the airport lives. To get to it, you have to drive through a long tunnel that goes under the ocean to connect Vagar to Streymoy.
It was a day to paint and hike and picnic.
We stopped in Miðvagur to buy cheese and bread for lunch. The store’s wares included yarn and a Tex Mex section.
The views along the drive were amazing.
The highlight of the day was hiking out to see Mullafsossur, a waterfall that drops off a cliff into the ocean.
The bonus was to discover a puffin nesting right beside the path on the way to see the falls.
I had been told how difficult and how rare it was to see puffins. I was told that my best hope was to take a long boat ride and then, at best, puffins would be sighted from afar. Here was one, right next to where I was walking!
As I looked around, I realized the cove was teeming with puffins. They can be recognized even from afar by their orange beaks and helicopter wings.
I was on my way to get closer to a flock of puffins when I slipped on a path. The slip turned into a slide as I slid down the path on my back. I couldn’t stop laughing. I knew how ridiculous it looked. My friend said it was a most impressive slide.
Folks raced to help me up, and it was at that point that I realized that I was caked in mud from top to bottom. Thankfully, there was a water closet within walking distance, and I had long johns and a sweater in the car that I could change into. Walking in the grass cleaned my hiking boots.
Finding a church with a door unlocked for prayers on the way home was yet another unexpected gift of the best kind of maybe day.
One of my favorite parts of being away is having an intentional Sunday Sabbath. It began by lolling in bed reading a mystery before getting up, rather than my usual Sunday practice of starting the day at 5.
After a week of long travel everyday, this was a day to catch up with myself.After a slow breakfast, my friend and I walked to church. This included some steep climbs to Hangar Kirkja. It was a gift finally to find a church door open.
It turned out is was a baptism Sunday. The babies processed in after the sermon with an entourage of what I assume were sponsors as the congregation sang a hymn. The congregation watched from afar as the three babies were christened in an extraordinarily orderly manner. Only the sound of crying babies and the huge smile of Ann, the priest, broke through what was very solemn and serious worship. Different from home, there were no congregational responses other than singing the baptismal party in and out.Of course the service was in Faroese. My true moment of worship was when we sang Take my life and let it be. I sang softly in English surrounded by Faroese voices.The one surprise was the lack of warmth and hospitality. After meeting so many generous, welcoming Faroese, it was jarring for Church to be so cold. Members greeted one another, but not guests.
Ann, the priest, did greet us warmly as we left for the day.
After worship, we walked for lunch and coffee at our favorite local roasters, Brell,
Then it was time to handle our dirty laundry issue. Our hotel did not offer this service, and we had been researching where to wash our clothes. We were on our way to the local camp ground (a strategy that worked in Iceland). Through several twists and turns, we were directed to where the seafarers wash their clothes. With our token card filled at a coffee shop downstairs, we were ready to get clean.
We had a lovely place to wait by the harbor, enjoying an early dinner, knitting, and then rewarding ourselves with Faroese treats and more coffee.
The only glitch was when we discovered that the dryer didn’t work, so we lugged wet laundry home to drape on every bare surface in our tiny room.
If Sabbath is supposed to be about feasting and rest and delight, I was fulfilled. Even doing laundry brought joy and laughter.
This is my fourth full day on the Faroe Islands.
So far we have traveled to six of the islands. Several others had to be viewed from afar because access took way more planning than my Sabbatical brain would hold.
The travel has included driving, walking, and ferries.
We’ve driven through tunnels that went through mountains and under the ocean. Some tunnels were brightly lit and two lanes, and others were dark and one lane wide with lay bys every few meters for passing. Those narrow ones felt like driving through a cave, and I was not fond of them.
We’ve seen more waterfalls than I can count. Maybe more per mile than anywhere on the earth–nature’s own drainage system. Only God would make something so necessary so stunning.
Every town has a church, more often than not with a thatched roof. All but one of the churches were locked, but nearly all had a clean WC outside that was open to all. I could probably think of a sermon about this with images of baptism and hospitality but I’m on sabbatical.
The people we’ve met have been generous and kind. I always apologize for not knowing Faroese. They have been gracious about the opportunity to speak English, and one man even said, “There’s only 50000 of us speaking Faroese. I am glad to practice my English.” It is humbling.
We have experienced the weather of maybe. Rain. Wind. Sun. More gray than sun, so a blue sky feels like an invitation to celebrate. Although the car keeps registering in the 50s, it feels much colder.
Today is Sunday. I’m off to worship soon. I checked in online before breakfast and saw the cloud of witnesses that have been officiating St. Mary’s Facebook Live twice daily worship so I can rest. My heart is full. Thank you. John. Sarah. Lissette. Jennifer. Sherry. Deborah. John.
Thanks to you, I’ll be looking for more rest in the land of maybe.
I love getting on a plane that clearly says where I am going. The Faroese airline is the Atlantic Airways three plane fleet. I rode one of the planes to the Faroe Islands on Wednesday night.
The Faroe Islands are a self-governing nation that is part of the kingdom of Denmark. They lie between Iceland and Great Britain and look like a hybrid of each. Faroe means sheep, and there are more sheep than the 50,000 people who call this eighteen island nation home.
A friend in Texas gave me two Faroese contacts. Katrina, the first one I met, said that the Faroe Islands are the land of maybe. Maybe it will rain. Maybe it will be windy. Maybe the sun will shine.
I love thinking about being in the land of maybe. I am living whatever maybe, and it will be wonderful.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in you, O God, my Savior,
for you have looked with favor on your servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
you, the Almighty, have done great things for me,
and holy is your Name.
You have mercy on those who fear you from generation to generation.
You have shown strength with your arm and scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
You have filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
You have come to the help of your servant Israel,
for you have remembered your promise of mercy,
The promise made to our forebears,
to Abraham and Sarah and Hagar and their children for ever.
Today is the actual feast day of Mary.
I celebrated with prayers and worship at Hallgrímskirkja which included a gift of extraordinary music by the Schola Cantorum.
Their concert was because it was a summer Wednesday, but I listened for Mary. She showed up in The Song of Simeon, the hymn of praise launched into by a man who had been waiting his whole life to meet the Saviour of the world; he was introduced to the infant Jesus when he was brought to the temple in the arms of his mother, Mary.
To honor Mary, I’ve been looking for blue, the color of hope, and the color she seems to be always wearing in art. Since we have no idea what Mary looked like, her color coding makes her recognizable.
The wall of the hotel is covered in a mural of crosses. Seeing them this morning, the blue ones seemed to praise Mary.
Marian Feast Day Blessings.
A candle was lit and prayers prayed for all of you.
I never knew a seven hour flight could be so delightful. However, when your traveling friend’s husband gifts you both with Saga Class tickets on Icelandair AND you are the only two people sitting in the twenty four seat first class, it’s like having your own private plane.
Our wonderful flight attendant, Halldora Lisa, graciously served us and still had plenty of time to talk knitting and give us great suggestions for a day in Reykjavik.
We landed at Keflavik at 4.30 AM and were at our hotel before seven. The desk clerk really wanted to go ahead and give us our room way before the 2 pm check in and was apologetic that the cleaners wouldn’t arrive until 8.
My friend and I took the time to begin to explore that places Halldora Lisa had carefully suggested.
Cinnamon croissants from Braud and Co.
Coffees at our familiar favorite, Reykjavik Roasters.
Walking the nearly empty streets with our hoods up to protect us from the rain.
After a nap in our now prepared room, we continued to walk the path suggested for us.
The afternoon included a lunch of char and vegetables cooked in a cast iron skillet at Messinn.
By the time our afternoon walk was merging into evening, it was sweet to see the gray of the day have the first peek of sunshine.
It will be an early night tonight after two days of travel. Tomorrow is St. Mary’s Feast day, so worship will be part of tomorrow’s adventure before boarding our plane in the evening for the Faroe Islands and Denmark.
I have officially begun my mini-Sabbatical funded generously by the Diocese of Texas as a gift of healing for Harvey-healing clergy.
The first leg of my travels was via Dallas to visit my family in Chambersville. I was upgraded; the flight was delayed; I landed in pouring rain for my drive to my mom’s farm.
Surprise. Joy. Waiting. Traveling mercies. Water. Words to begin a time of post-Harvey healing and rest.
Part of my visit home was in order to have a family meeting to talk about my brother’s desire to begin to build a home for his family on the land that my brothers and I would eventually inherit. This was a challenging conversation as the three of us all caught up to the same place.
It was not lost on me that the pastor during my Sunday morning worship at the tiny Methodist church at the end of the road was preaching on Ephesians. Words about how we live in love with one another.
As I walked my mother’s land, I was deeply aware of so many places still to be transformed in my heart and actions. Things I can do with relative ease with others get forgotten when I return to big sister land.
I am so thankful to have a mother and brothers who love me with my flaws. I am thankful for the opportunity to practice listening and speaking the truth with family who continue to love even when I can be a precious mess.
Now. Soon. Boarding a plane to take me first to Reykjavík so I can travel for a week on the Faroe Islands
Surprise. Joy. Waiting. Traveling mercies. Water.
The last two times I’ve planned a trip to Iceland, my home has flooded.
Which is why, when I begin my Harvey mini-Sabbatical this weekend, I am not traveling to Iceland. I will fly through Iceland and visit islands off the coast of Iceland. However, the Faroe Islands belong to Denmark. Not Iceland. My mini-sabbatical is to Denmark. Let me make that perfectly clear.
Right after I became a priest, I learned that vacations needed to be really away or they weren’t vacations. My first big trip as a priest was to a place that I had always wanted to visit since I’d read One Morning in Maine as a little girl. I was so excited to finally visit Maine. I went to Laura Ashley in the Galleria and bought a new wardrobe. I packed a huge suitcase, nicknamed the monster bag, full of an array of coordinated outfits including scarves, hats and shoes.
That was twenty five years ago. As I’ve traveled from places as close as Camp Allen to as faraway as Turkey, my bags have gotten smaller and smaller. It’s easier to travel with less stuff.
The suitcase I will be taking on my trip Not to Iceland is a carry on bag. In fact, the only time I check my bag now is when I’m traveling with my grandsons. I definitely need two free hands to make sure I get us all to where we are supposed to be going. And, oh yes, I have had a checked bag my last two trips home from Iceland because I had so much yarn to bring back (after all, I’d lost most of my yarn in the Tax Day Flood and the Harvey Flood).
It’s not lost on me that I will return home near the anniversary of the Harvey Flood. Truth is that the Tax Day Flood and Harvey Flood washed away so much of my stuff that my life is lighter than it’s ever been.
More space for God to fill those empty drawers, shelves, and smaller suitcases.