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.
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.
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 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.