People, Places, and Presence

Dear Friends,

Our journey continues…and we can’t believe that we are almost 2/3 of the way along!  Since our last posting, we have traveled from St. Andrews to Edinburgh to Lindisfarne (The Holy Island), and then to the Cotswolds where we settled into Stow-on-the-Wold for our final 12 days in the UK.  We landed back in the US on June 30 and on July 2, we flew to Kalispell, Montana to visit Jan and Eugene Peterson.  We returned here to West Hartford, Connecticut (to stay with Jen’s folks) on July 5.  We leave here tomorrow, July 7, up to the coast of Maine to settle in for the final 5 weeks of our sabbatical journey.

It has been a remarkable experience every step of the way.  As you will see from the pics below, in these recent weeks the landscape has become more pastoral.  The rolling hills, lush meadows and gardens, roadside hedgerows, postcard villages, welcoming pubs, soaring cathedrals, the hallowed halls and streets of Oxford, and enchanting walks through the woods…all have combined to draw us into a quality of being—dwelling in the moment and with each other. 

So all is well with us.  Exceedingly well.  From what I hear—all is well there.  Our gratitude overflows.

Friends have been an important part of the last few weeks.  I spent a morning with Calum McLeod—until a few years ago he was one of the pastors at 4th Presbyterian in Chicago.  He now serves at the Minister of St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.  In Ely, England (just outside Cambridge), we visited Francis Spufford and his wife, Jessica Martin.  Jessica serves on the pastoral staff of Ely Cathedral.  Some of you may recall that Francis visited GUC a few years back.  At that time, he had just published his evocative book, “Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense.”  His first novel, “Golden Hill,” has just been released in the USA--accompanied by a very favorable review in the New York Times on June 27.  

During our stay in Montana, I visited with Albert Borgmann, a philosopher who teaches at the University of Montana in Missoula.  Those of you who read my Lenten Blog this past Spring have a sense for how influential he has been to my thinking about what it means to live well in a technological age.  For the entirety of our stay in Montana, our good friends, Jan & Eugene Peterson, hosted us at their Montana home overlooking the magnificent Flathead Lake and Continental Divide.  Time with them is always sabbath time.  

All these encounters were sacred reminders of how much friendship matters to our lives...through friendship we realize what in life matters. Which is what keeps you strongly in our hearts and minds as we continue to make our way homeward.

Today we say farewell to Jennifer's parents--Neal (88)and Warene (93) Testerman.  They are remarkable people and bear witness to a love that dignifies as it endures.  Our love for each other was kindled in their household.  So much began for us here...and endures.

Let me leave you with a phrase from a book I just finished reading by the theologian Michael J. Buckley, “Denying and Disclosing God.”  Here is the phrase that has been turning over my heart:  “God is a presence, not a conclusion.”  

Peace,

David…and Jennifer

Highlights from the Highlands

Greetings from Edinburgh! 

We arrived here yesterday (after two nights in St. Andrews) and will depart tomorrow for two nights in Lindisfarne.   For the two weeks prior we were in residence in Craobh Haven on the west coast of Scotland.  For one of those weeks, we had all of our kids with us (Julia, Jordan, and James), along with Jordan’s boyfriend, Jake Lipsett.  We had a grand time together exploring the Western Highlands, trekking across The Isle of Islay, riding the “Harry Potter Train” across the Glenfinnan Viaduct, hiking the spectacular Highlands around Glencoe, and scaling Ben Nevis—the highest mountain in the UK!  Well, actually, only Julia and James made it to the summit—Jen and I made it almost half way,  :). We also took in some Highland Games.  

To be sure, the highlight in the Highlands was our celebration of the Engagement of Jordan and Jake to be married!  They have been together for almost two years. It was a real joy for us to share this moment with them in this beautiful setting as they set the course for their life together.  They are planning for a wedding in Washington, D.C. (where they live) next summer.  There are a few pics below that we took that night to mark the grand occasion.

As you well know, times have been interesting here in the UK.  Between terrorist attacks in Manchester and London (Jordan and Jake were in London staying two blocks from London Bridge that night), a stunning national election and, just today, a tragic fire in London.  You all have had your own share of breaking news--including the tragic shootings in D.C. earlier today.   What does it mean to be a community of faith and faithfulness in such times?  That question is one I am living with intensely as we continue our sabbatical journey.

We are amazed at how quickly the time is moving.  At the same time, we feel the cumulative benefit of the freedom to simply be in the moment.  We continue to hold you in our hearts…which overflows with gratitude and joy.

After our two night stay in Lindisfarne, we will travel south to our rental home in the Cotswolds for our final 12 days in the UK.  We are looking forward to settling into one place for more than two nights!  It has been fun to make these brief visits to different places over this week...but we much prefer the longer stays and the daily rhythms that take hold.

A few pics below...to give you a visual glimpse of the journey we are on.

Grace and Peace to you..and all.

David & Jennifer

An Enchanted Skye

Dear Friends.

Well, we are in our final full day on the Isle of Skye--as enchanted a place as we have ever experienced.  Tomorrow we make our way back to the mainland, to the West Highlands of Scotland, where our kids will join us...along with Jordan's boyfriend, Jake.  We are eager to see them and share this time and place with them.  There is something about sharing moments of great grace that amplifies and intensifies their significance.

I guess that's what motivates me to share this journal with you along the way.

Besides the time we have spent enjoying the peaceful residence we have rented for these three weeks--with a view of rolling green hills, of sheep wandering in and around our yard, tides coming and going, clouds sailing by; the place where Jennifer paints and I read and we listen to recordings of Gaelic music...we have (as my previous post highlighted) hiked far and wide in the afternoons.  I have included a few more images from our hikes below in my attempt to give you a glimpse of just how enchanting this place is.

We did one hike twice.  The first time much of the hike was in the thick of the clouds.  We hiked in mist most of the way.  We knew a massive range of mountains (The Cuillins) was nearby.  But the range was entirely invisible to us.  We did the same hike two days later.  Each day was an enchanted encounter in its own right.  The difference was dramatic. (See two contrasting pics below).  

Two of my favorite verses from I Corinthians 13, as translated in The Message by my friend Eugene Peterson, came to mind:

12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

So often we walk in fog and do not know it.  It is a part of our human condition that we comprehend only a fraction of what is actually there...of what we are in the midst of.  There was a certain beauty and mystery in the mist...as there was on the day when everything cleared.  As I said in my final sermon at GUC before embarking on this journey, I long to see God shining in all things.  Perhaps I'm learning.  djw

Skye Views

Greetings from the Isle of Skye!  

We have just completed our first week on this enchanted Isle.  It has been an incredibly relaxing week…resting, reading, hiking…oh, and eating here and there along the way.  We have been mostly exploring the northern and central regions of the Isle.  (A few pics below)

At Jennifer’s insistence :) we did manage to swing by the Talisker Distillery a few days ago for a tour and a tasting.  

We feel ourselves settling into the landscape which feels so inviting and hospitable.  It is a new place for both of us but it feels oddly familiar and conveys a sense of belonging.  

Today is the first day we decided to stay in…the clouds are low, rain comes and goes, and a mighty wind is sweeping across the landscape.  It displays a rugged and vigorous beauty.

We have been using a Celtic Prayer book for our daily prayers.  One of the prayers we read a fews days ago expressed the overwhelming sense of God we have both felt during our days on Skye:

In the making of creatures, O God,
you called the senses into being
and named them as good.
In our tasting and touching,
in our smelling, hearing and seeing
may we be alive to the mystery of life
and alert to finding you in all things. 

Touching the Rock....

After departing Glencoe last Sunday afternoon, April 30, we took a series of planes, ferries and automobiles to our first destination, the Isle of Iona, Scotland, arriving on Thursday, May 4. The weather was (and remains) spectacular!  Sunshine every day.  

Being on the island of Iona for two nights felt like our sabbatical had truly begun.  Iona has long been identified as a "thin place."  As George McLeod, founder of the Iona Community, put it: "...a thin place where only tissue paper separates the material from the spiritual."  In many ways, it was Jen's desire to visit Iona that set the stage for our entire sabbatical.  Years ago I gave her an autobiography by John Hull, "Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness."  It is his incredibly moving and inspiring story about going blind in adulthood and how he learned to see and know the world without sight.  The narrative culminates in an account of his pilgrimage to Iona where, late one night, he makes his way to the Abbey Church and feels his way to the stone altar...there he touches the rock.  No better place for us to begin our sabbatical pilgrimage.

On Saturday, we drove and ferried from Iona to our next destination--the Isle of Skye.  We arrived here on Saturday afternoon to settle into our rental home where we will be for the next three weeks.  Since arriving we have been unpacking and settling in and exploring the area a bit.  Skye is an incredible place.  We took our first hike yesterday afternoon...about the time you all would have been gathering for worship.  We remembered you amidst the beauty and majesty of this landscape.

I have included several pictures below to give you a sense of our experience thus far.  I plan to post here once a week...but don't hold me to that!  I will send a congregation-wide email every time I post a new journal entry.  

In great gratitude,

David

Beginning Soon....

On Sunday afternoon, April 30, Jennifer and I begin our Sabbatical Sojourn.  We load up the car and head for West Hartford, CT., where Jennifer's parents live.  We arrive there on Monday, May 1 and on Tuesday, May 2, we fly out of JFK for London's Heathrow airport.  There, we rent a car and begin our drive north to Scotland.

Our first stop will be the Island of Iona for two nights and then on to the Isle of Skye where we will stay for three weeks.  Then down to a house in the Highlands near the city of Oban.  All our kids will visit during our two week stay in a house there.  We then make our way further south to the Cottswolds in northern England for two weeks before boarding a plane back to the US.  We make a brief trip to Montana to visit friends and then situate ourselves on the coast of Maine from early July to the middle of August.  

We are due to drive back into Glencoe on August 15.

My plan is to post a brief journal entry each week to mark our progress.  Those entries will comprise my Sabbatical Journal.  My first post should appear in a week or so.  Please join us!