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.
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.
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."
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,