Lost In Wonder

This will be my last post from Scotland. From beginning to end I do not know when I have been immersed in so much beauty - of all sorts.

First, there was the fabulous eight days in Edinburgh where at least once a day I got to soak up the beauty of the St. Paul's Choir's singing and the beauty of the cathedral in which they sang. I cannot praise them highly enough. By the way, one of the members of St. Paul's got audio and video recordings of many of the choral offerings. There may be a way those can be shared.

Then for almost the rest of this month we have been the recipients of Peter Sills' meticulous planning as he has guided us from Edinburgh into and all around the Highlands.

All during this time I have been reading ( I finished it yesterday) Arthur Herman's "How The Scots Invented the Modern World." Sir Walter Scott, the writer and poet wrote:

"Breathes there a
Man with soul so
Who never to
Himself has said,
This is my own,
My native land."

Drive around the Highlands for two weeks and you'll see why the Scots have such fierce love for and loyalty to this country. There is, at least in the Highlands, unexpected and breath-taking beauty around every turn in the narrow roads - and there are lots of turns and the roads are very narrow. Mountains, mists, lots of sheep and an abundance of all shades of green abound.

 A Castle View of the Highlands

A Castle View of the Highlands

And water. I read somewhere that no one is ever more than fifteen minutes away from water at any time in Scotland. I would judge it is less than that. Scotland is a small country - both geographically and in terms of population. Yet it seems enormous because of its constantly changing landscape and the expansiveness of the people. Fewer people live in Scotland than in all of NYC yet it seems like more because the population centers are densely populated.

The people Scotland has produced who have shared the world are more than impressive. You would have to read Herman's book to get the full flavor. There is not an area where the rest of the world has not benefited - Watt of steam engine fame, Edison and Morse in communication, Lister in medicine (to name just one) Andrew Carnegie who made much money in the steel industry and who thought it his solemn obligation to give it away to support libraries, schools, museums and entertainment venues - Carnegie Hall, for example.

And, in the arena of religion. David Livingston of "Dr. Livingston, I presume," was Scottish. His love for and work among the people of Africa caused him to be loved and respected by both groups. When he died, his African friends had his heart buried in Africa, in the land he loved and among the people who loved him. Then they lovingly and carefully transported his body back to be buried in Westminster Abbey among the people whose respect his had earned.

 Glasgow Cathedral Narthex

Glasgow Cathedral Narthex

Just as is true in many places in the world, the religious story of Scotland is one of violence and bloodshed all wrapped up with notions of what it means to be free and independent, both politically and religiously. One form of Presbyterianism here is still called "The Free Church of Scotland." In their zeal for purity they destroyed or outlawed other forms of religion - including the people who practiced it. The intellectual side of this struggle produced some of the finest thinkers and institutions in the Protestant story - Princeton, to name just one example in the States. (Charles Paisley, who created the notion of "The British Empire," translated the New Testament from the Greek when he was eight years old!) Of course, people are still being killed by and because of religion today. On this trip, I've also been re-reading Thomas Merton's "New Seeds of Contemplation." I commend it to you.

In it, he says that religion will always continue to hold to the false belief that others must die for its "correct" understanding of its religion. What will stop that is the realization that what has to die is our false understanding of who we are. As I would put it, what will transform us and our world is the correct self-understanding that who we are is who we are in God. No more. No less. And, so is everyone else.

We ended our Scotland journey, before catching a train back to Edinburgh and waiting a day for our plane, in Glasgow. There, among other amazing places, we visited the Cathedral. It has its origins in the fifth century. I never stand in a place like this without being over-taken by the involuntary wordless thought, "Where did this come from? Out of whose "collective unconsciousness" did this proceed? This is nothing more than an expression of Sacred Mystery made manifest."

Two more thoughts:



On another train trip a few days ago, we crossed a long viaduct. Most picturesque. I found out later it was the bridge used in the Harry Potter movies to transport students via the Hogwarts Express to the place where they learned their magical secrets. There is no such magic, of course. There is something better. I am coming to refer to them as spending longer and deeper periods of time in peace, love and joy. That we can work toward. The most hopeful thing about this, for me, is that it never ends.

 The Rev. Tommy Williams and Dr. Bill

The Rev. Tommy Williams and Dr. Bill

The second, and last, thing I want to end these posts with is a profound expression of gratitude. I'm so grateful to and for St. Paul's. Had it not been for the choir's coming to Scotland, this trip would never have occurred. I'm so grateful to our senior minister, Tommy Williams, and his commitment to inclusion and diversity. Or, what he called in his own summer blog, "an outward facing cathedral." We are so fortunate. Than you, Tommy.

And, I want to thank Wayne Herbert for so faithfully making these posts available. This is not an effortless task for him. He has to take the hodgepodge pieces I send him and assemble them in a way that works and, then, make them available for anyone who wants to read them. Thank you, Wayne.

For those of you who are able to attend St. Paul's and/or Ordinary Life in person, I look forward to seeing you the first Sunday in August.

A Journey of Contrasts

I am writing this on Sunday evening, July 24, from the Isle of Skye. I don't know when you will read it.

  Inverewe Garden

 Inverewe Garden

We arrived in Skye around dinner time on Saturday after a day spent largely at the amazing Inverewe Garden and Estate. Inverewe, on the Northwest Corner of the Scottish mainland, is at a latitude that is further north than St. Petersburg and is one of the most windswept coastlines in the world. At the age of twenty, a man named Osgood MacKenzie inherited a 12,000 acre Highland estate. He decided to turn most of it into a garden. In order to do this, he had to plant a wind-break of, mostly, pine trees. He planted them and waited almost twenty years before planting most of the other parts of this huge garden.

Because of the wind currents he was able to plant almost every conceivable type of plant from all over the world - even tropical plants and trees. One could spend an entire day walking the trails of this garden - some of them through densely wooded areas, some along the shoreline and others in nicely choreographed gardens.

 In the Gardens

In the Gardens

The "Sacred Spaces" lessons I could garner from this place were: patience, persistence, inclusiveness and generosity - among others. MacKenzie arranged to gift the gardens to the National Trust. Over a hundred thousand people come here a year.

We came on to the Isle of Skye arriving, as I said, around dinner time. The Isle of Skye is steep in all sorts of Romantic myths and legends, some dating back to Celtic times and some as recent as when Prince Charles, after the defeat at Culloden, was smuggled here by the woman who loved him.

I began this trip with my own romantic, and misinformed, notions about the  Celts. I thought that there had been a unique Celtic people and religion - especially a Celtic form of Christianity. Recent archeological research, which we learned about in Edinburgh, proves that not to be so.

This morning we did drive into a neighboring village to attend a Scottish Episcopal Church named after St. Columba. He was the one who went to the Island of Iona to establish a community to preserve his understanding of Christianity. This church building dates from the 1700s. There were, including the priest and organist, twenty-one of us in attendance. The music/singing was atrocious. Mostly because the organist was so inept and we didn't know the hymns and no music was printed in the hymnal. Just text.

 Around Skye

Around Skye

Another stark contrast in what we are used to.

After a lunch where we sat outdoors at the cafe where we ate, we decided to forgo the usual tourist "castle and distillery" tour (yes, the distilleries are open on Sunday) and instead, drive a long loop around the northern part of the island.

More contrasts from what we are used to. I will mention a few:

 Around Skye

Around Skye

Beauty. I can tell why people are attracted to this place. Mountains, waterfalls, ocean scenes and green fields populated with sheep are everywhere one turns.

Politeness. Most of the roadway we drove today was single lane. Consequently, drivers - coming and going - figure out in very non-aggressive ways who should use the "passing space" along the side of the road.

Weather. Though we have had beautiful clouds in the partly blue sky, we have avoided rain. Some sprinkles but nothing to ruin the day. And, it has been cool - 50s and 60s. I'm not looking forward to returning to Houston's heat and humidity.

Peace and quite. I've mentioned this before, but there is no blaring TV everywhere one turns.

The priest who officiated at the service we attended today was just recently ordained. We visited after the service and in the "this is a small world" category, discovered that Peter and Helen had several connections with her. Being a priest is a second career for her. She had been a teacher.

Her homily was about the qualities we can develop to "converse" with the Sacred. They are the same qualities needed to converse in a respective and loving way with ourselves and with each other.

One of those qualities would also include openness for and to the unexpected. I confess to having put an overlay onto my anticipations about what this trip might have in store insofar as "sacred spaces" are concerned. What I am experiencing is so much richer. It is being made up of the unexpected and the beautiful. I remember, many years ago now, one of my first spiritual teachers cautioning me not to use the word "vacation" about a trip like this. Western culture, he said, especially the United Stater's, values being "vacant." A trip like this, he said, is a "holiday." The word "holiday" is made up of "holy" and "day." That, however, one experiences it, is Sacred Space.

More to come further along the journey.


For The Beauty of The Earth

There is a hymn used by many in the Christian tradition that begins:

"For the beauty of the earth,
 For the glory of the skies . . ."

For the past two days we have been graced, thanks to the planing of Peter Sills, with sights that I'm sure not even a camera can capture.

After leaving Inverness, our first stop after Edinburgh, we made our way to Ullapool. Ullapool is a fishing village and has been here pretty much as it is seen today since its founding in 1788. It affords an excellent point of departure to see and experience the surrounding area.

 Around the Islands

Around the Islands

On our first day we took a driving trip out of Ullapool. Before long we found ourselves, as Peter had planned, on a single lane "highway" that makes a loop around the Assynt region. The views have an almost cinematic quality. The guidebook says that this is one of the least populated areas in Europe. The mountains are not ranges as one might be used to but extraordinary peaks that rise individually from the moorland. This area boasts some of the world's oldest rock formations. It may not be densely populated by humans, as was Edinburgh, but sheep abound. Indeed, a traffic jam here is one car on a narrow roadway encountering a flock or herd of sheep mindlessly wandering across the road in order to find a, perhaps, more desirable place to eat. Sheep seem to eat ALL the time.

This has to be one of the most beautiful places in all the world.  Also, the people are extraordinarily friendly.

We stopped at numerous places along the way to take in the view. At one of these places a motorcycle "gang" pulled in. Turns out they were here from Ireland. They were interested in who we were and we shared photos and suggestions of places to see. One of them said, "Every time we stop, I think this is the most beautiful place. Then, another turns up." He asked me where we were from and, then, gave me a shamrock pin to wear. Just like that: "Here, please take this."

 No Wifi???

No Wifi???

Later we found a tiny roadside place, we had to park on one side of the road and then walk down a path to it. There we had coffee and a scone and saw this sign - among others. I also got to buy a magic wand to add to my collection that I was promised "worked." We'll see.

I'm thinking it must have worked, because we travelled this loop around this part of the Highlands on a single lane, mountainous, hairpin turn road that one could experience as either terrifying or exciting. I'm glad someone else was driving.

A few minutes later we found a place to enjoy the picnic lunch we had brought overlooking what the guidebook said was one of the most spectacular views in Scotland - mountains, ocean and many of the thirty five islands off this coastline.
For those who experience the Sacred through nature, there is likely no finer place.

 View From the Boat

View From the Boat

We have now had another day in this beautiful part of the world. Peter had arranged it so that we would spend the first part of the day on the ocean - taking a small touring craft out from Ullapool and stopping at one of the Summer Islands. Incredibly beautiful scenery. And, creatures. We saw, among other things, an eagle, some seals and a species of rare sea birds that were nearly extinct. Now naturalists have counted up to two hundred of them - all in Scotland.

I've spent the afternoon continuing to read the book, "How The Scots Invented the Modern World," where pioneering thinkers, like Adam Smith, were developing pathways for both justice and freedom that have influences on us to this day. The high respect for others as well as personal responsibility and communal accountability are matters he stressed as important before the founding of the colonies. Here is a passage from Adam Smith:

"The wisdom of every state or commonwealth endeavors, as well as it can, to employ the force of the society to restrain those who are subject to its authority, from hurting or disturbing the happiness of one another. The rules which it establishes for this purpose, constitute the civil and criminal law of each state . . . and a sacred and religious regard not to hurt or disturb in any respect the happiness of our neighbor."

For these thinkers, our moral life as well as our cultural life is a matter of imagination. I can't help but believe that this imagination was affected by the beauty of the place(s) where they lived.

 Sheep (Singular)

Sheep (Singular)

A dilemma I am having is what photographs to post with these verbal musings. A thing to keep in mind is that this is the part of the world where, at one time, just as in the time of the Desert Fathers and Mothers and in the time of people like St. Benedict, people came to "withdraw" so as more easily to maintain their identity and their practice. Someone here told me that I was romanticizing this place. Were I here in January or February, my take on it would be completely different. Perhaps. The mountains, the ocean, the sky, the creatures stay constant regardless of the season. Perhaps that is one of the lessons a space like this can teach us.
So, I'll go back to and close with the hymn with which this posting began:

For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies.

Next: We journey to a "garden of Eden."

It Makes a Difference To That One

The majority of you who get the Ordinary Life e-mails do not have the personal connections with the St. Paul's choir, choir members and Peter and Helen Sills that many of the St. Paul's community in Houston do.

The choir did a residency at Ely Cathedral in 2003. Peter was Vice-Canon of the cathedral at that time. Peter, an authority on the Rule of St. Benedict, visited St. Paul's after that. Then, the choir returned to Ely in 2007. Peter returned to St. Paul's to be the first Kerley Endowment speaker the year after that. So Peter and Helen Sills have had a connection with St. Paul's that goes back more than a dozen years.

 Peter Sills, Sherry Beeman, Helen Sills

Peter Sills, Sherry Beeman, Helen Sills

They have developed personal relationships with many St. Paul's members. Several of us have been on various pilgrimage tours that Peter has led. Sherry and I have been on two: One from Mont Saint-Michel to Bordeaux, France and the other from Lyon, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Consequently, when Peter proposed putting together a 10-day-tour after the choir residency in Edinburgh, we jumped at the opportunity. I had no idea what to expect - except in general. I knew that I have loved my previous visits to Scotland.

The book I have been reading in preparation for this trip begins in the early 1600's. Of course, there is a history here that goes much, much further back than that. (We will get into that in a later post.) What I have been reading covers a period of time when Scotland was transformed from being a very poor, in every sense of the word, country to becoming united with England to create the United Kingdom. In that process many events occurred. They reflect, as many struggles of this type do, matters of both religious and political freedom and power - at least as far as those involved in the struggles as concerned.

Peter and Helen picked us up from our place in Edinburgh and we headed out for Inverness. From there, after a good night's sleep, we took a day trip to Culloden Moor. This was the site of the last battle fought on British soil. To this day it is considered one of the most tragic and infamous battles in all of warfare. Hence, I mention it as a "sacred space."

Here, on a very cold day in 1746, the outnumbered Jacobites were destroyed by the superior power of the British army. The battle lasted for less than two hours but it determined the fate and future of the Commonwealth for centuries.

Generally speaking, all history is written from the standpoint of the victor. That was certainly true regarding the history of the Christian movement. After Constantine made a version of Christianity the non-persecuted religion, or "official religion," of the Roman Empire, those in power sought to eradicate documents and, sadly, people who held differing opinions. In the Battle of Culloden, that was not the case.

 Notes from the War Museum

Notes from the War Museum

As we toured the large and impressive museum dedicated to the history of that war, both sides were told in what seemed to me a fair and just way. The Jacobites, ("Jacob" is the Latin form of James) along with various clans and supporters from the Highlands sought to defeat British forces from the South. Both sides were motivated by religious and political hopes.

The Jacobites wanted to reinstate whom they viewed to be their rightful ruler and to gain religious freedom and independence. The British sought to preserve their sense of royal authority, which was for them a religious issue since they believed in "the divine right of kings," and  they sought to hold the Empire together.

Historians say that James was arrogant and headstrong. Nonetheless, as the story unfolds, the battle could have been won by the Highlanders, or Jacobites. A better night's sleep, waiting a few hours for reinforcements before attacking the British or any number of other rather small and "just a matter of minutes" changes could have made all the Tdifference.

I am told that there are still people, just as there were in my youth who argued about how the South could have "won" the Civil War, who are regretting the outcome of this battle.
What I thought was how significant even the smallest decisions and details can be in the trajectory and destiny of our lives. Very big doors swing on very small hinges.

Sadly, most religions - especially those involved in the "religious wars" of Britain - have focused more on being right than being related. Moralism and commitments to "reform" always, history shows us, lead to division. Only by participating in Sacred Mystery can we hope to be carried into a different kind of future.

Some people, in the face of the terror and tragedy, of our time give in to a kind of hopelessness. 

I remember attending a lecture by the anthropologist Loren Eiseley a few years before he died in 1977. He told the story of a boy who was walking on the beach where a tide had carried a huge number of starfish to the shore. Unless they made it back to the water they would die. The boy was picking up starfish after starfish and hurling it back into the sea. An adult came along and said to the boy, "What you are doing won't make any difference." The boy picked up yet another starfish and threw it out into the ocean saying, "Makes a difference to that one."

 The Ocean from Ullapool

The Ocean from Ullapool

Our little decisions, thoughtful planing, considering long term outcomes, patience, persistence, being willing to get our egos out of the way and all the other "gifts of the Spirit" we work to be open to, can make all the difference in the world.

It seems so small, this business of being related rather than being right, but I'm convinced if we paid attention to it, we would stop destroying our planet and each other. Even if things seems hopeless and that our actions don't matter, "It makes a difference to that one."

Thanks and much love,


Withdrawing In Order To Be Present

 The Choir After Last Service

The Choir After Last Service

I am writing this entry during the day on Sunday afternoon. I am alone and all is quiet as the others have returned to practice for this afternoon's Evensong. The choir has already sung one Eucharist service today. Again, they are doing an excellent job. It is with both a sense of sadness and satisfaction to realize that the service this afternoon is their last one during this choir residency.  Many of the choir will be returning to Houston tomorrow. We will not.

 Half the Choir at Practice

Half the Choir at Practice

One of the great benefits of being on a trip like this is that the "news" is not pushed into our faces every waking moment. There is, of course, no way to escape all of it. News did reach us of the horrible attack in Nice, France and of the attempted military coup is Turkey. One person commented, "The world has gone crazy." With the mayhem, violence and hatred it can easily be seen so.

We have friends we made on another trip, going from Prague to Paris. They live here in Edinburgh and we had lunch with them on Friday. Their daughter was with them and she works for the Foreign Service in London. I asked her if she had any neat James Bond gear. She said, "No." I asked what they were going to do in the face of "Brexit." She said, "We have no idea. We weren't prepared for it. We were sure it wouldn't happen."

Just so with so many of the tumultuous events going on in the world today. Would it really come to this? We hoped not. We feared it would.  Now we fear things becoming worse and we hope to make them better. How?

We are polarized between hope and fear. Each side's hope becomes the other side's fear. One side demonizing the other only makes matters worse.

So, what are we to do? 

All of these thoughts, and more, have been in my head and heart as we have been immersed in the beauty of music, ritual, Gothic architecture and history this week.

I have thought how both in the Christian and Buddhist traditions, individuals committed to live enlightened lives so that others might become enlightened would withdraw from the world so that they might return to it as a light for others.

This is precisely what St. Benedict did and what countless Buddhist monks across the ages have done. I have been re-reading Thomas Merton's "New Seeds of Contemplation." I commend it to you. Merton was a monk at a monastery in Kentucky. Yet, the impact he has had on thousands of people has been profound.

I have mentioned to you that the Rev. John MacLuckie, the one who has chanted and preached the services here, is also a Zen Buddhist and an authority on Merton.  He mentioned in his sermon today the need for a balance between the contemplative life and action designed to "make a difference."

I would say that that "action" consists of at least, and contains more than these, two primary things. And we begin addressing these in ourselves.  First, greed. When 1% of the world's population owns as much as 90%, what we find in that 90% is resentment, frustration and anger. For many, a college degree no longer means the promise of a job and a future full life, but it does means a humongous debt in student loans.

 Last Day in Edinburgh

Last Day in Edinburgh

Second, ignorance. The horrible acts of violence being done today are being done by people who were once children who had no desire to hate and kill. That is to say, the acts of violence are done by people, human beings, like you and me. Somewhere along the way they came to chose to believe that the way toward the happiness they desired was through violence.
Poverty and homelessness - as well as a host of other problems - are not just problems for the impoverished or for refugees but for us all.

We can contribute to the end of our own ignorance by withdrawing into some sort of practice where we can open our minds in ways that will allow us to create and communicate more loving kindness and compassion into this world in which we live.

I am profoundly grateful for this week of daily worship - silence, ritual, music and more. 
May all beings everywhere be peaceful and at ease.
May all beings everywhere be well.
May all beings everywhere be happy.
It cannot but help our world if each of us commits to spending longer and deeper periods of time in peace, love and joy.


Choir Notes - (Or, Notes About the Choir's Notes)

 The Choir Preparing for Worship

The Choir Preparing for Worship

I have been privileged to hear the St. Paul's choir sing for almost thirty years. They get better as time passes. Not only that but also on this trip they are, in my opinion singing the best I have ever heard them sing. I mentioned this to one of the members of the choir after the service on Thursday and he said, "Yes, when we get to practice every day we are able to sing better as a choir." Think of that! Daily practice helps them sing better. Why didn't I think of that! All along I should have been, could have been stressing the importance of "having a daily practice."

 The Rev. John MacLuckie

The Rev. John MacLuckie

I have been very impressed with the clergyman who is leading the services of worship and Evensong. He is the Rev. John MacLuckie. It turns out that he and I have a tremendous amount in common. We are, as he put it, "on the same page" theologically. He is an authority on Thomas Merton, reads Rohr, is familiar with James Finley and has read Ilia Delio - among others. He is also a practicing Zen Buddhist. He has read the book "Without Buddha I could not be Christian."

On an even more personal note he has asked me to participate in three of the services. I was the reader on Wednesday, wrote and offered the intercessions on Friday and am to assist at the Eucharist on Sunday. I wasn't expecting this.

 Three of Our Singers

Three of Our Singers

Those of you who have a personal connection with the choir in one way or another would be so pleased at the work they are doing. They do what they for the love of doing it, to express a gift, to honor sometime deep within them and to be part of a team. As well as for many other reasons, I am sure. Except for designated solos no individual voice stands out above another. They are not seeking recognition just finding expression.

There is also something to be said for daily ritual as found in being a part of the daily evensong service. The service in its current form has been sung for centuries. And, is based on a ritual that goes even further back. Whatever one's primary mode of worship or religious ritual, it is present in this service: silence, music, the reading of Scripture and prayer.

I want to close this entry by offering a few of the intercessions I wrote for Friday's service:

"Holy God, your world is populated by us - fragmented human beings who are not one but many. Many conflicting desires, impulses, acts and talents. We are capable of the lowest and the highest. Caught in the multiplicity we are, we become absent to you, to each other, to ourselves. May we awaken to your Sacred Presence - right here, right now."

"We week, especially in the face of events like the recent violence in Nice, France that takes the lives of innocent people. Yet, we breed a violent culture as we fail to cherish and respect all lives.

"Move powerfully in our body politic, move us toward peacefulness that does not want to hurt or kill, move us toward justice so that the troubled and the forgotten may know mercy, move us toward forgiveness so that we may escape the trap of revenge."

"We pray that all people everywhere spend longer and deeper periods in peace, love and joy."

I am sending this post off on Saturday morning here. There are no services at St. Mary's today. Our plan is to go to the National Museum of Scotland and immerse ourselves in a special exhibition about the Celts. Later, as we move up the West coast and, then, go over to the islands, we'll see first-hand the influence these people had on what became known as Celtic Christianity.

Everything and Everyone Is Sacred

(NOTE: It had been my intention to write contributions to this blog much more frequently than I have been able to. The place where we have been staying in Edinburgh has had an interruption to their internet service so I've been restricted to using a Starbucks in order to get internet access. Sorry.   Consequently, you may get several postings close together.)

When I first announced that I was going to be posting about our experiences in Scotland with both the St. Paul's Choir and their singing daily services at St. Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh, as well as an extended tour by experienced pilgrimage leader The Rev. Peter Sills, I gave the series the title, "Sacred Spaces in Scotland." A friend of mine read that and asked me which "sacred spaces" I had in mind. He has been to Scotland more times than anyone I personally know and has a deep affection for the country.

Those who have followed my teachings, which I base on my evolving and growing understanding of the teachings of Jesus, know how I have emphasized non-duality and inclusivity. It is unfortunate that we label some things - and people! - as sacred and some as not. The poet Wendell Berry has said, "All the earth is sacred. We have just desecrated some of it." I fear we have done this to a growing portion of not only the earth but also the earth's inhabitants.

 Rosslyn Chapel

Rosslyn Chapel

One such example would be the journey our small group made to Rosslyn Chapel just outside of Edinburgh. Many people are likely familiar with this historical place because it figured prominently in the ending of a very popular book, "The Da Vinci Code."

Construction on this place of worship was begun in 1446. William St. Clair founded the Chapel to "spread intellectual and spiritual knowledge." And, it needs to be added, that according to the records, "to ensure his place in heaven." The original scheme for the "chapel" was much larger than is seen today. In our world of "haste and waste" it is hard for us to conceive of something like this undertaking. The chapel was conceived and work was commenced. Likely what is now the village of Roslin grew up to house the large number of craftsmen who helped build the Chapel over a 40 year period. At the end of that time St. Clair died and construction stopped.

 Rosslyn Door

Rosslyn Door

This may have been just as well because in this part of the world wars and "reformations" caused places of worship to be subject to misuse, abuse, desecration and destruction.
In my reading about the history of Scotland it seems that Oliver Cromwell, who won an effort to "reform" the church, is disliked equally by those who considered themselves loyal to the Roman Church, the Church of England, the Reformed Church and what became The Presbyterian. The only ones who remained fans of Cromwell were run out of Scotland and fled to the colonies. They weren't very welcome there either.

They were forced into the area of Appalachia where many became farmers. One way they showed their loyalty to King George was by wearing red kerchiefs around their necks. This is were we get the term "red neck." At any rate, Cromwell's armies sacked the Rosslyn Castle in 1650.

It is safe to say that in Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales the cathedrals did not fare as well as in the clearly Roman Catholic countries of France,Italy and Spain. Nonetheless, when I walk into one of these spaces one of the things that leaps into my mind is the wonderment, "Where did this come from? This is pure spiritual unconsciousness made manifest." And, further, what must it be like to begin work of such artistic creativity knowing that very likely the artist would not live long enough to see the completed edifice.

The chapel is filled with carved iconography in stone. All along the walls, ceiling, columns and archways are carvings designed to instruct. Some of them are serious, some poignant, and, some, downright funny. Workmen strove for perfection down to the most minute detail even on small carvings that are virtually hidden from easy viewing.

Even though there is no true distinction, except our labeling, between "sacred" and "secular," there is something moving about standing in a place of prayer and worship that is over 550 years old. Perhaps we could learn to take from such a place a growing willingness and ability to see the sacred nature of every place and every person.

Rock of Ages

Castle Rock

Edinburgh, the city in Scotland where St. Mary's Cathedral is located and where the St. Paul's Choir is singing this week, is the Capitol of Scotland. No matter from which direction one approaches this city, the thing that dominates it is Castle Rock. The "rock," shaped by fire and ice perhaps 350 million years ago, became a natural place of safety and defense for the first people's who lived here. Traces of human occupation go back millennia. There is some evidence that the Romans used it for such. 

What we know as Southern Scotland was occupied by the Northumbrians until the 10th century. The first fortification was built for Scottish use on the rock in 1058. Because of the multitude of wars that ravaged the land for control of the territory and rule, the rock has passed back and forth from British to Scottish hands. Robert the Bruce brought that to an end in 1314 securing Scotland's independence. In 1707 Scotland and England entered a union that created the British Empire.

 Margaret Chapel

Margaret Chapel

The oldest still-standing building on the rock is the 12th century St. Margaret Chapel. Margaret was married to the Malcolm who is mentioned in Shakespeare's "Macbeth." Margaret was responsible for bringing the Scottish church closer to Rome. This brief history lesson is important because across the centuries, perhaps the biggest battles waged on Scottish soil have been "wars of religion." Quite a oxymoron isn't it?

The book I have been reading in preparation for this trip, "How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything In It" by Arthur Herman, begins with an event that happened in 1696. Four young men were hurrying past Tron Church, which is also very old and very near the Castle. It was eight o'clock on a cold August night. One of the students, Thomas Aikenhead, was just eighteen and a theology student. He made a small joke about wishing he were in hell so that he might that way be warm. It is not known whether his friends laughed at his little joke. What is known is that one of them, fearing that news of this indiscretion might get out and he would be guilty by association, reported what Aikenhead had said to the Kirk authorities. To make a long story short, as they say, the church had Aikenhead hung for blasphemy.

(If you think this story reflects the darker side of the church, remember that once one of John Calvin's theological enemies came to hear him preach. Calvin, who was also mayor of the city, had the man arrested and burned at the stake. It was just the Christian thing to do.) While Aikenhead was waiting for his execution, many letters were written in his defense. One of these found its way to John Locke in England. Locke, out of this event, helped lead the movement that would bring into being separation of church and states.

All of the battles that have been waged in, around and about religion in this part of the world have made Edinburgh densely populated with churches. Had there not been an Edict of Toleration that came out of these struggles, there likely would be no St. Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh today. (On our visit to Castle Rock this morning, not only could we see many of these churches but also a huge Mosque.) Walking the streets of Edinburgh, multi-cultural diversity is evident in looking at people, their dress and the wide variety of ethnic cuisines available at restaurants.) Thus was our morning spent on a rock that has been in existence for thousands and thousands of years.

 Ken, Paolo, and Presenter

Ken, Paolo, and Presenter

I was left alone after lunch as those who are singing went for rehearsal and to sing  a service that has been for centuries another kind of rock for people of a Christian liturgical tradition - Evensong. If you want to know the entire program of music that the St. Paul's choir will be presenting this week, click here. The Evensong Service for this Monday is now over and all of you would be so appreciative of the St. Paul's choir. They all work so hard to present at these services. They sing everyday this week, except Saturday, and twice on Sunday.

Evensong is a service that has been sung for centuries in its present form. Most everything the choir sings changes every service. Also, our organist, Ken Coleman, has prepared a different voluntary for each processional and recessional. (That is lots of preparation for lots of music.) Carl Jung wrote that what led to transformed people were rituals and symbols. I can't help but believe that the prayers and rituals of faithful people, whatever their tradition, can but lead to a transformed world. Being wrapped up in this centuries old tradition, surrounded by the symbols of the ages, offers the opportunity to spend more and deeper time in peace, hope, joy and strength. Another kind of rock altogether.

St. Paul's Choir Music Program here

Singing In the Rain (More or Less)

Dr. Bordignon wanted each of the members of the choir who chose to participate in this week of singing to do two things, in addition to being well prepared: he wanted them to arrive at least a day before their the first daily service at St. Mary's Cathedral would begin. And, he wanted them to bring their robes and music with them as "carry on items" in case luggage were lost.

 St. Mary's Cathedral

St. Mary's Cathedral

Good thinking!

For perhaps only two or three members of the choir group, no matter when their flights were scheduled, did not end up experiencing the most frustrating and exhausting of events on this choir trip - delayed flights, cancelled flights, lost luggage and missed connections.

I travelled with the largest group that left Houston at 2:30 on Friday afternoon. Or, was supposed to have left then. Though check-in was a painless and relatively quick experience, when we got to the gate to board our flight, we were told that because of bad weather in the Northeast, our flight into Newark was delayed. After an hour's delay, we were able to board the plane. Then after a period of twenty minutes or so, we were asked to get off the plane. Another hour passed. We were asked to board the plane. Then, get off again. Another hour and a half passed.

By this time it was clear we would miss our connecting flight to Edinburgh in Newark. That flight left, or was supposed to, at 8. We didn't leave Houston until 6:30. There was another later flight to Edinburgh and while we were in the air the reservation people were scrambling to find us seats on that flight and to ensure that flight could be held until we arrived. They were able to do that.

When we landed and headed to get our luggage we got a text from our friends Dick and Dianne Schenke. You may remember that we did the Santiago Pilgrimage with them a few years ago. (That blog is still posted here.) Though they had come in the day before, their luggage didn't arrive until a day later. Fortunately, they had a car rented and were able to take us to the house we were sharing with Jane Thiel and Sari Frey during our nine day stay here.

Since I was unable to get any sleep on either of the flights, that Friday - Saturday span of time was the "longest day" I have ever spent.

After arriving at our house we did the things exhausted travelers do to recover, including sharing an excellent meal at an Italian restaurant.

 Empty Choir Stall

Empty Choir Stall

Then, a good night's sleep.

On Sunday, after that good night's sleep, we broke fast and had our walk to St. Mary's for the 10:30 Cathedral Eucharist Service. Most of the choir members who came to sing this week attended the service. During the "passing of the peace" one of the regular congregants said to one of the choir members, "Are you part of the American choir?" On hearing an affirmative response the woman said, "You helped the congregational singing so much and we are looking forward to hearing you next week."

 High Altar

High Altar

The service was the one found in the 1982 Scottish Liturgy and contained as part of one of the unison prayers words that I found very appropriate for these troubling and troubled times: "May we live by faith, walk with hope, be renewed in love."

Key Players

There are many people who work very hard not only to provide the excellent musical offerings St. Paul's experiences in our worship services but also to have labored so hard to make this Edinburgh venture happen. Two of these I want to highlight are our Organist/Choir Director Dr. Paolo Bordingnon and our Organist Ken Coleman.

Dr. Bordignon came to St. Paul's in March of 2014. He has received critical acclaim for performances ranging from "outstanding . . . lively and distinctive" interpretations of early music to "compelling" performances of avant-grade repertoire throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. His diverse engagements have included recitals at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and St. Eustache in Paris, a performance for New York Fashion Week, and conducting appearances on NBC's Today Show. To read more about him click here.


Ken Coleman has served as organist for St. Paul's for well over a generation. Kenny, as he is know by choir and church members alike, brings an intense spiritual dimension to the worship of the church. This is evident every time he plays for worship services and accompanies the choir. Kenny has accompanied the choir on a series of international venues. The picture shown here is Kenny at the organ at the Ely Cathedral in Ely England.

The choir has sung at Westminster Abbey, York Minster, St. Paul's in London, Washington Cathedral, St. Thomas in New York, Ely Cathedral, Cambridge and a morning worship service at City Road Chapel, considered the mother church of Methodism.
These invitations certainly testify to the quality of the choir's singing. They also are rooted in the leadership provided by Paolo Bordignon and Ken Coleman.


Sacred Spaces in Scotland - an Introduction

The St. Paul's choir, with orchestra, performed an Evensong Service on Sunday, June 26. To see the program and the impressive size of the organ click here. This Evensong was the last one to be performed before the choir spends a week in residence at St. Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland. I will be accompanying the choir and then going on an additional ten day tour of what I am calling "Sacred Spaces in Scotland." The tour is a small one, just four of us, and will be led by the Rev. Peter Sills.

Please be aware that our Senior Minister, The Rev. Tommy Williams, is going to have his own musings about the Edinburgh trip on his "Summar Together" postings. You can check that out and take a virtural tour of St. Mary's Cathedral by clicking here. Tommy's Summer Offerings are worth following.

 St. Paul's, Houston

St. Paul's, Houston

Peter Sills over the years has been to St. Paul's to speak twice and during these times has become a much beloved figure. He is an authority on the Rule of Benedict and has led over 25 pilgrimages to Sacred Spaces all over the world.

After Edinburgh, our itinerary includes Stirling and Blair Atholl, Inverness to Ullapool, to Summer Isles, north to Assynt, Inverewe Gardens, Broadford, Isle of Skye, Fort William, a visit to Glen Nevis and Hill House ending at Glasgow Cathedral before returning to Houston.

It is my intention to write about our experiences and to post photos of the places we visit similar to the pilgrimage trip we made a few years ago traveling from Le Puy-en-Velay, France - the start of the original pilgrimage - and ending in Santiago, Spain.

Because of the familiarity people at St. Paul's have with Peter, many followed us along on that trip. I hope the same occurs this time.

 St. Paul's Choir At Evensong

St. Paul's Choir At Evensong

One of the ways I am preparing for this trip is by reading "How the Scots Invented The Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It" by Arthur Herman.

It is technically complicated to do these postings from Europe. So, as before, I will gratefully rely on my friend Wayne Herbert who will take my texts and photos and post them to this site.

I'm looking forward to this experience and invite you to join me on this journey.

Be well and much love,

Bill Kerley