The Feast of the Ascension

While reading about the Wool Trail (local yarn! handspun! natural dyes!), a church, for some reason, was listed on the trail. Researching the church further, turns out the church had an excellent website (with English translation). In fact, this church, miles from any town, was actually a cathedral and had worship Monday through Friday at 9 and 6. I emailed the cathedral to make sure they would indeed be offering worship and received a quick and welcoming reply. There would an 11 AM service in lieu of the 6 PM service for Ascension Day. They hoped I would be able to come.

So today, the Feast of the Ascension, our plans centered on being in Skalholt for worship. With yet another mass murder by gun in a school back home on Tuesday, my soul needed to gather for prayer with others.

The drive to the church was as all Icelandic travel, extraordinary. The clouds seemed to be celebrating Jesus’ ascension into heaven.

The building in which we worshipped today is the tenth in this location; the first was built in the 11th century (earthquakes, volcanos, fire, ice, and wind take their toll on Icelandic buildings). There is quite a tumultuous and bloody past in the cathedral’s history due to religious disagreements.

Thankfully, worship today was peaceful and beautiful. The building itself is a piece of art and the music (choir, organ, and piano) was the kind that invites prayer. Although I couldn’t mentally understand the words spoken (all in Icelandic, of course), the rhythm of the Eucharist and the sound of hymns (some with familiar tunes) along with exquisite places to rest my eyes within a community of praying people made for rich, rich worship.

After worship, we were invited for coffee and bread in the parish hall.

It’s difficult for me to have hope that we can make America safer again with sensible gun laws. But worshipping in a place where the foundation had been bathed in blood due to religious disagreements gave me a pause to hope that perhaps things can change in my own country. I know God can make it possible and desires to do so. God is only waiting for us to say yes and to partner with God.

Leaving Husafell

After four nights at the Hotel Husafell, we will be packing up to travel south.

When my best friend and I began our traveling together nearly thirty years ago, we called shorter, more spur of the moment trips larks. Certainly, there is no true lark to Iceland, but in the simplicity (for us) of this trip, it is a lark.

This ten day stay in Iceland, we chose to explore deeply in two smaller areas anchored from two hotels we’d loved on prior trips. Today ends our sitting a spell in the Husafell area. Well, and driving a spell and walking a spell, too.

Drives back and forth and around and about the same ten or so miles. Each time seeing something new that made us wonder if we’d actually been that way before.

A variety of waters all being fed from the same glaciers and melting snow.

The sheep and lambs always bringing delight.

The first wildflowers of the Icelandic spring.

Scenery like no where else on earth.

Roadside churches with open doors to stop and pray and be extra still.

And, oh yes, the bread.

Each morning we pray, Good morning God, this is your day. We are your children. Please show us your way. And be our tour guide today.

Looking for where God takes us on the two hour drive (ha!) to Hveragerði.

Sunday Church

It’s Sunday in Iceland. I hadn’t heard back from the local pastor about worship time so it looked like my friend and I would have to create our own church today.

Friday we had stopped at the church in Reykholt on the way to the hotel. There was no worship information posted at the church or (later) when I checked the website. The pastor’s email address was listed so I wrote her. Alas. No response. There had been a sign on the door letting me know I was in the wrong place if I was looking for the museum.

Our Sunday morning worship began in view of the Langjokull glacier. We used my favorite traveling prayer book (downloaded on my phone’s kindle app ever in ready-mode), Prayers for All Seasons.

After prayers, we decided to take a drive on a beautiful road that we’d traveled the day before, this time going the other direction. I’ve found scenery looks completely different looking backwards frontwards. It was too cold and too windy to do the walks we’d planned for the day so a Sunday drive was a grand idea.

We’d prayed that God would get us where we needed to be that day, and eyes were open for what God provided for worship.

There were the ewes with their lambs. Most had twins, and while the lambs frolicked, the mother watched us closely. If the lambs got too curious about us or if the mom thought we were getting a little too interested in her children, the ewe would scamper away. The lambs would race after her, and when catching up to her, immediately began to nurse.

There was a lunch of homemade soup with bread fresh from the oven.

There were the four church structures we visited.

ONE was beautiful on the outside with an unlocked door. It was warm inside, but the walls and floors were dappled with mold and it was on the midst of being restored.

SECOND, THIRD, and FOURTH were three churches all on the same site where churches had served as places of worship for over a thousand years.

There was the remaining floor of a church from 1000 years ago which had recently been uncovered during excavations. There was a church built in the 19th century that had been deconsecrated when the new church had been completed in the early 21st century.

The new church was the one we had wanted to enter to join in worship today; it was the one where we could find no information about worship times and had signs pointing the way to a museum posted on its locked doors.

It was the deconsecrated church, beautifully restored as a piece of history, that my friend and I were able to enter and find a place to pray.

It had been a day of conversation with God.

A church. Morning prayers by a glacier that is predicted to be completely melted in less than a hundred years because of our lack of care of the world God gifted to us.

A church. Mother sheep carefully protecting their lambs while they played, slept, and ate.

A church. Beautiful on the outside. Door open to welcome me into a space that was full of air too dangerous to breathe safely.

A church. Bread broken during communion lunch. Thermal energy that could be seen from the restaurant window powering the oven which baked the bread.

A church. Where people’s prayers from a thousand years ago, still share God’s love.

A church. For those of us today. Artistically exquisite with doors locked tight, only available to those in it’s closed circle.

A church. No longer considered part of the Church. Doors unlocked. Welcome anytime for whomever stops in to pray.

Church with a daylong sermon. Never boring. Sometimes not exactly sure where it was leading. Full of laughter, fellowship, scripture, beauty, and joy. Delicious food and conversation with unexpected strangers. Flowers on God’s altar? Icelandic poppies.

Trip Number Five

This time tomorrow, the plan is for me to be in Iceland. (Since I am flying, I have to say it’s my plan rather than a certainty. I won’t bore you with the twists and turns it took to get out of Houston to arrive in Raleigh to catch my Icelandair flight).

This is my fifth trip to Iceland.

Trip number one was right after the Tax Day flood. I had already booked my tickets when rising waters forced me from my home. Iceland was the perfect place to go and heal.

I booked my second trip a year and a half later, right after I’d moved back into my newly restored home. As God would have it (or not), I evacuated once again to Iceland when my home flooded a second time.

I was asked by my parish to never book a trip to Iceland again. My next two trips were short stays in Iceland on the way to and from the Faroe Islands. They were named “Not Iceland” to reduce parish anxiety of floods being tied to my trips abroad.

So far, as I wait to board my plane, although there have been a world of catastrophes, a flood has not been one of them.

My best friend and I are returning to revisit our two favorite places in Iceland. The generosity of her and her husband make this trip possible for me.

Another friend asked me why I keep returning to Iceland. What pulls me to return?.

The clean air. The thermal heat and fresh water. The variety of ecosystems. The quiet. The beauty. The wide open spaces. A place so different from home that I get a soul reset. And a week with God’s air conditioning—coat, gloves and sweaters packed.