It’s not difficult to wake up early when I go to sleep at 8 (unlagging from the three jet rides of the past day), and the sun rises at 4.30 AM. This is a good thing because the first activity of the morning after breakfast was to walk a mile or so, bundled up in the 34 degree chill, to Hallgrímskirkja, the Lutheran parish church, though I’d say that we’d call it a cathedral in the U. S.
We gathered with thirty or so other folks in the magnificent space, intimately sitting in the apse around the altar, every word spoken and sung and prayed in Icelandic. The other worshippers were quietly welcoming, handing us books and pointing to pages in the hymnal (Sálmur).
The rhythm of the liturgy was familiar, and worship was deep and meaningful despite not knowing or understanding the language. I was struck by how much easier it was to sing difficult Icelandic words, especially when they were paired with familiar hymn tunes.
Especially meaningful was The Peace. Although each person intentionally went and connected with every other worshipper, it was deeply reverent. Taking both of my hands in his or hers, each person looked me in the eye and quietly said whatever the Icelandic version of “the peace of the Lord be with you.” I was truly greeted and welcomed in the name of God. It is something I want to share with my own parish community. Rather than an interruption in the worship, it was a moment of mutual blessing.
After worship, my friend and I were invited for coffee and tea. In a lovely room simply set, we had coffee, homemade bread, butter, jam, and cheese. We sat at long tables and chatted with our neighbors. Most Icelanders speak English, a humbling experience for me who stumbles over the simplest words.
As I left for the day, the church was now crowded with people with cameras photographing the beautiful space. Groups were waiting in line, after paying a fee, to go to the tower. I could scarcely leave the church because of the queue of tourists waiting to get in.
The contrast between the joyful, quiet prayer I had experienced, and the bustling, chatting crowds made me ever so thankful that I had arrived an hour earlier to say good morning to God.