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