Sunday, June 16, 2013

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Back to the Future. . .

Tonight will be my last night at the Northumbria Community.  I will miss my time here.  I have experienced much and have learned much.  I return home with a full heart and a re-energized prayer life.  Yet, I am so looking forward to my return home.  God has much more to teach me in the coming days.

Last night the Community celebrated Communion together.  After dinner, we learned about St. Hild and Caedmon.  One of the unique features of Celtic Christianity was a more equal role for men and women in the early church.  When the Roman Church later re-asserted its authority over the church in England, those roles were reduced considerably.

Hild, or St. Hilda, was a noblewoman who became a Christian at an early age.  She was especially fond of and cared for the poor, dressed simply, and refused to wear jewelry.  At the age of thirty-three, she chose to enter the monastic life, joining her sister, who had already entered a monastery, in France.

Bishop Aidan asked Hilda to take charge of a monastery and Hilda became a very able administrator of a monastery on the river Wear.  Later, she was given charge of what became Whitby Monastery, a double monastery (men and women, living separately, but worshiping together).

Of her, the Venerable Bede writes, "Her prudence was so great that no only meaner men in their need, but sometimes even kings and princes, sought and received her counsel; she obliged those who were under direction to give so much time to the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and to exercise themselves so much in works of justice, that many might readily be found there fit for the priesthood and the service of the altar."

As a Presbyterian, I was not raised with an understanding of, appreciation for, or knowledge of those who would be called saints.  Study of the saints or veneration of the saints was seen and perceived as something foreign, Roman Catholic, and to be avoided at all costs.

What I am finding is a rich source of stories and role models. . . people who have sought to follow Christ wholeheartedly and with devotion.  They serve as excellent examples of what is possible in the spiritual life, making holiness and a life of prayer very practical and accessible.

I am also finding that there are other seekers from a variety of denominational backgrounds who share the same frustrations as I.  There are pastors, church workers, and Christians from Baptist, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Presbyterian backgrounds who are here seeking the same things that I am seeking. . . a fresh experience and understanding of the living God for ourselves and for the Church today.

We are finding it by walking ancient paths together.  Back to the future!

Perhaps the greatest gift of this journey is the broader and deeper perspective I have gained.  I will return knowing that there is a breadth and depth to the Christian faith available through Celtic Christianity that can inform what I do in ministry and my personal faith each.

I have only begun to scratch the surface!
Back to Lindisfarne. . . 

Our retreat began on Monday with an introduction to St. Aidan by Norman and Ingrid, our retreat leaders.  The retreat's name is "Celtic Saints and Sites."  Norman and Ingrid are from Gloucester, England.  He is a singer/songwriter, so we hit it off well from the very beginning.

We were engaged by good story-telling aided by artwork related to Aidan via PowerPoint, and original songs written and performed by our retreat leaders.  Since we are close by and others who are here for the retreat had not been there, as I had, the plan was to go to Lindisfarne on Wednesday.

I struggled with the decision whether to go or stay at the retreat center.  In the end, I went.  The primary reason was the opportunity to walk "The Pilgrim Way," across the inlet at low tide.  I had walked the causeway in the first day of my retreat on Lindisfarne.  It was warm, much longer, and I had to contend with cars from both directions while dragging a suitcase and carrying a backpack.

At least this trip offered the opportunity to go unencumbered and walk the likely path that pilgrims coming to the island would have traveled. It also offered an entirely different perspective on the island.

IT WAS COLD!  It was also highly windy, with strong, steady winds of forty-fifty miles per hour blowing.  My eardrums froze.  We also had to walk on an uncertain surface...sometimes mud, sometimes, sand, sometimes really mucky mud, sometimes ankle-deep water, and sometimes over seagrass.

Although much of the actual travel to and from the Abbey and Priory on the island eventually took place under sail, I wondered about early trips to the island.  How did they get there in winter when it was colder than the day we went?  How did they manage on rainy days?  How did they tell the tides to know when it would be safe to cross?  How would they have gotten supplies back and forth to the island?  How many monks on pilgrimage drowned because they did not judge the timing of the tides properly?

The thing that so impresses is what these men (and women) were willing to give up for the Kingdom of God and the spread of the Gospel.  They were actually looking for ways to practice asceticism (self-denial).  If we were to go back and live in their time and attempt to live at the height of their bounty in terms of food they had raised, wool they had shorn, spun, and woven to make their own clothes, bread they had baked, five to six chapel services per day, planting, cultivating, and harvesting regularly, fetching water from a well, fishing out to sea, and maintaining an active communal and personal prayer life, we would feel we had given up quite a lot.

They would have felt they gained far more than they sacrificed.

Aidan's story is one of great courage in stepping out to take over a project at which someone else had failed.  It also demonstrated great leadership to enter unknown territory, even under the protection and validation of the King, to preach a message the people had scarcely heard before, encourage them to be baptized, and then teach them how to follow Jesus in the Way.

Tonight after dinner, we tackle St. Cuthbert.

The Celtic saints didn't believe that Jesus' words, "If any person would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me," were a mere suggestion.  Part of the attraction of the Celtic Saints is that they "walk the talk, just as much as they talk the walk."

This is my hope, coming out of this retreat, that more and more each day, that the power of Christ may be found in me and that each person I meet will see Christ in me.

I have the rest of my life to work on it, but the work has already begun,

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


On Tuesday night, we were given more information on St. Cuthbert, who eventually followed Aidan as leader of the Lindisfarne Monastery.  Cuthbert was a young boy, out shepherding sheep, when he had a vision of a soul being carried to heaven by angels.  It was the night that Aidan had died.  He resolved to leave the flock behind and  traveled to the monastery at Melrose, where he began his education and life as a monk.

Cuthbert was drawn to solitude.  Even while on Lindisfarne he had a small island off the main island that could be reached at low tide.  This is where he built a hermitage, where he could be alone with God.  Finding this island not secluded enough, he asked permission of his Bishop to move his hermitage to Inner Farne Island, a desolate island with little vegetation in the North Sea.

He spent a number of years there, but his reputation as a wise man of deep spirituality and holiness caused numerous people to voyage out to the island to seek his company and advice.  When the Bishop died, Cuthbert was sought to be the next Bishop. . . if he would consent.

Yesterday (Wednesday), we walked to a hill on the dunes overlooking Alnmouth, the site of Cross Hill.  This was the place where, reportedly, Cuthbert was urged in counsel with the king and his monastic brothers, to accept the new role as bishop.

As we walked to Cross Hill, we were asked to consider and discuss the issues that Cuthbert faced as we have faced them and do face them in our own ministry.  How do we deal with being confronted with two equally good roads to travel?  How do we decided which to take?  Does God always give us our heart's desire the way we wish it (for Cuthbert, that would be a life of solitude and prayer) or does God sometimes call us, for the sake of the community, to sacrifice our heart's desire for the greater good?  How do we decide?

This was a particularly poignant time, since one of my fellow pilgrims is facing a change in ministry within a year.  His church sees his gifting in a certain area and wants him to continue doing what he is doing, but that area of ministry is not life-giving to him and causing him much pain.

Oh, as to the Cuddie Ducks. . .   The Eider Ducks in and around this area are known as Cuddie Ducks.  They are beautiful birds, the females brown and the males white with a jet black head.  From them we get eider down for insulating sleeping bags and clothing.  They were a particular favorite with St. Cuthbert, and have since been known as Cuthbert Ducks or, for short, Cuddie Ducks.

What I learned from Cuthbert today is that sometimes the call to serve and do and be doesn't always fit our pre-conceived understanding of what God would have us do.  Cuthbert wanted to be a monk given totally to prayer and contemplation, living a simple life.  The King and his brothers needed his guidance as bishop.

The good news is that when the call came, Cuddie didn't duck!
Monday, June 9, 2013

An Interruption. . . 

I forgot to mention several important sites in Edinburgh that I saw yesterday.  I walked the Royal Mile clear to the bottom and chanced upon two places of which I had heard. The first was The Elephant Cafe, where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book while  seated in the back room.  I did go in briefly, but the place was packed!

The second location is also a literary and historical reference.

I stopped by Greyfriar's Church and Cemetery.  This was the place where the National Covenant was signed on February 28, 1638, declaring Scotland's religious independence from the Anglican Church.  By this declaration, the people chose to take up arms against King Charles 1.  The Martyr's Prison where many of the Covenanters were incarcerated is close by.

Greyfriar's Church, a former Roman Catholic monastery, converted to Presbyterian Church, is also the site of one of my favorite childhood stories, "Greyfriar's Bobby," a novel describing the faithfulness of a Skye Terrier that attended the grave of his master each day for 14 years before his own death.

The train from Edinburgh to Alnwick was uneventful.  Nearby, although I did not go see it, is Alnwick Castle, which provided the backdrop for much of the Harry Potter movie scenes, particularly the outdoor scenes involving Quidditch practice and some of the scenes within Hogwarts Academy.

I arrived at Alnwick Station and suddenly discovered that the station has no town attached.  It is out in the middle of farm and dairy fields!  My ride arrived in a few hours, though, and I began my time at the Northumbria Community.

The community is a modern monastic community, scattered throughout Britain and now, the world, begun in the 1980s.  The Community House at Nether Springs is a restored stable on a huge estate farm.  The building is cut stone with a slate  and/or roof.  Everything is modern, well-appointed and comfortably attractive. 

People have come on retreat or sabbatical from all over England and all over the world.  My roommate, Tam, is from Hong Kong.  He is studying spiritual direction at Talbot Theological Seminary in Los Angeles.  The only other Americans are the wife of the Administrator, who lives here full-time, and a Lutheran pastor, her husband, and their little boy.  Everyone else is from the U.K.  Several are Baptist pastors on sabbatical or retreat, one is a member of Church Army, one is an Anglican woman taking her ordination retreat, land several are here just to seek a deeper relationship with God.

The practice of the Northumbria Community is "alone together."  The rhythm of the day involves four set times when we gather for prayer;  Morning Prayer, Mid-Day Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline.  The rest of the time, for those not part of the organized retreat (as I am), is given to study in the library, quiet prayer, walks in the neighboring countryside, or creative activities such as painting, sketching, writing, or craft work.

Many have asked me how I discovered the Northumbria Community.  In all honesty, I have answered that I was guided.  I did not begin here when I first began to explore Celtic Spirituality.  I found it along the way.  That has been the serendipity of my pilgrimage and journey.  I do feel guided.  I do feel directed. 

Every place I have been has been a blessing.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Lord's Supper at St. Giles...

The bus came in plenty of time for me to make it to St. Giles Cathedral, the Mother Church of Scots Presbyterianism.  St. Giles was formerly a Roman Catholic Church prior to the Scottish Reformation.  It became the church from which John Knox brought the Reformation to Scotland.

The church was beautiful inside with high, vaulted ceilings, gorgeous stained class windows, a world-class pipe organ, a phenomenal choir, and some of the most unsingable hymns I have ever encountered.  That being said, the service was excellent.  The sermon was on Galatians 1:11-24 and the communion service immediately followed.  It was a truly International congregation, although you could tell some of the regulars because the men were in kilts and corduroy, the ladies in woolen jackets and skirts.

Communion was entirely different than American Presbyterian communion.  The elders did not serve in any way.  They only carried the elements from the table when the service was concluded.  The congregation came forward in sections and encircled the table.  The bread was passed.  Then the cup was passed around the circle.  Because everyone shared and drank from the common cup, wine was served instead of our typical grape juice.

I have always intellectually understood the global reach and breadth of the Church of Jesus Christ.  Today I truly sensed it.  The girl I sat near was from China.  The couple in front of me was from Japan.  The man who stood next to me at communion was from Texas.  

We prayed for the Church throughout the world.  I particularly prayed for my congregation and friends in Gloucester and then for all the other congregations I have served.  We prayed for the church in persecution.  We celebrated the Church throughout the ages and the common ground we share as disciples of Jesus Christ.

 I walked the Royal Mile, visited the Sir Walter Scott Memorial, Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood House (where the Queen stays when she visits Scotland, and the National Museum of Scotland.  There is so much history here.  Too much to see in just a day and a half!

Tomorrow, it's back to the train station for my trip south to the Northumbria Community, where I will be in retreat again until Friday.  I will continue to post as I am able.

God is good and I see God's hand everywhere.  

Friday, June 7, 2013

It's a Small World after All. . . 

Today (Thursday, June 6th, 2013) offered up a unique surprise.  After breakfast, I was sitting in the lobby of the Open Gate when a man and woman entered.  They said hello and I immediately noticed the absence of a British accent. The wife introduced herself and then introduced her husband.  I introduced myself and shook hands with them both.

I asked where they were from.  The husband said they were from Snellville, Georgia.  They asked where my home is.  To save time, I said, "Richmond, Virginia."  The wife looked at me in surprise.  

"My husband grew up in Richmond!"

"What brings you to Lindisfarne?" I asked.

"We're here on sabbatical through the Lilly Endowment, studying Celtic spirituality.  We just came from Ireland and the Isle of Iona.  Last night we stayed at a bed and breakfast on Lindisfarne because we couldn't get a room at the Open Gate.  What about you?"

You know the story from here.  We chatted for almost a half an hour.  

He is a Presbyterian minister serving a church outside of Atlanta and is a graduate of Union Seminary.  We have mutual friends.  Who would have thought that you could cross an ocean and meet someone who knows people that you also know?

It was truly a God moment!

Our group left for Scotland this morning at 11:30 AM.  In twenty minutes we had crossed the border and drove to St. Abb's Head Nature Preserve.  These are rugged cliffs just north of Eyemouth and south of Edinburgh.

The scenery was amazing!  The gorse and rock rose on the hillsides are in full bloom.  The fields are green and dotted with sheep and cattle.  We at lunch on a high hillside overlooking the North Sea.  The fog had lifted, the mist had stopped, the sun was out in full force and the day was bright and shiny as a new penny.

I looked out to sea, scanning from end to end of the horizon, considering how wide, how deep, and how broad is the sea.  How beautiful to behold all that God has created, to feel the warmth of the sun, the strong, steady current of the breeze, to smell the salt air, to hear the cry of the Gannets and watch as they dive head first into the water to feed, and to ponder the richness of all God has made.

How blessed we are!  I really need to get out more!

No, I mean it.  Desk jockeying is fine for what it is, but I think I am going to make the commitment to work outside at least one day a week, weather permitting.  I know God can and does speak to us anywhere, but I think I am better at paying attention when I am away from the familiar and forced to see things in a new and different way.

Perhaps that is true for us all.

Even so, I have to remember that no matter how wonderful everything I am seeing and hearing and experiencing is, it pales in comparison to what God has yet to do in my life, both now and in eternity.

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him."  (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

I Know What Tippi Hedren Felt Like . . .

It was Alfred Hitchcock who asked the cinematic question, "What if nature ever decided to get back at us?"  As a child, Hitchcock's movie "The Birds" scared the living lining out of me.  Today I got to experience the movie for real!

This afternoon's venue (Wednesday, June 5th, 2013) included both saints and seabirds, the actual theme of the retreat in which I am participating.  We left the island at low tide via motor caravan with rides provided by those who actually drove to the retreat from somewhere in England.  I am the only participant from outside of England and one of two who did not drive a car.

Frankly, I am quite okay with the whole idea of not driving.  The roads are REALLY narrow, everyone drives on the wrong side of the road, almost all of the cars are manual transmission, and the shifting is done with the left hand.  Obviously not a good combination for an American attempting his first driving experience in the United Kingdom.  When it came time to leave, I attempted to enter the car through the driver's door because it is where the passenger door is located on American cars.  Fortunately, the impolite snickering has subsided!

We drove to the small, seaside town of Seahouses where we were to meet the charter boat that would take us the Farne Islands.  The day was cool, overcast, slightly foggy, and with a mild misty drizzle coming down.  Typical English weather, according to my companions, and unlike the beautiful day we enjoyed yesterday.

Tickets in hand, we boarded a medium-sized, double-hulled boat and proceeded over slightly choppy water for twenty minutes until we reached the first island, composed entirely of rock.  The island was low in the water and covered with nesting birds.  Here we saw gorgeous dark emerald green bird with a small cockade on its head.  This is called the Shag.  There were also Fulmars, Gannets, Sandwich Terns, Cormorants, Razorbills, Guillimots, and Eider Ducks.

I think the British have converted me to birdwatching.  Fascinating!

The next island, also rock, consisted of sheer cliffs and standing rocks rising some sixty to seventy feet into the air.  The ledges and tops of rocks were covered with nesting birds and, well...let's just say that from a distance it looks as though the dark rocks are covered with snow.  Let's also say that close up, you get the bracing aroma of salt air and . . . well, let's just say that if there were any soil on those rocks, it would be very fertile!

Several of the larger islands have lighthouses on them.  The lighthouses have been converted to solar power and operate automatically.  On several of the islands, the lighthouses are occupied by young conservationists who are working constantly to tag the birds and track their migratory habits.

Our last stop in the Farne Islands was on Inner Farne, the biggest of the islands.  We had the opportunity to get off the boat and walk the island for an hour.  That may have been a mistake.

We were told to bring waterproof jackets and possibly an umbrella.  I now understand that this was not for the rain we might get.  Inner Farne is a major nesting site for the Arctic Tern, nature's greatest long-distance traveler.  The Arctic Tern migrates from the Antarctic to the Arctic to nest.  They are also beautiful and have a terrible disposition.  

They are very territorial and VERY protective of their nests, which they build right along the pathways people walk.  They are an "in your face" kind of bird, rising to screech and squawk at anyone near the nest. Naturally, they attack the tallest thing they can find (thus the umbrella).  When the American, who did not know to bring an umbrella, discovered that he was bigger than almost all the other people visiting the island today, he gained a new distinction . . .TARGET AND VICTIM.

Those little buggers swoop down and actually peck you on the head, all the while screeching like banshees!  To make matters worse, there was good reason for the waterproof poncho (which I brought . . .and wore!).  The Arctic Tern, finding that screeching and pecking have little affect on tall Americans, resort to their most clever and insidious ploy.

They seek to make an example out of you.  Apparently, I am an exemplary example!  I 
was partially covered in bird effluvia before the end of the trip.
The other highlight of the trip was seeing the huge colonies of Puffins nesting on Inner Farne and neighbouring islands where soil may be found.  Puffins breed in the water, but lay their eggs in burrows (like rabbit warrens) in the ground.  In fact, our guide siad that when the Puffins come back to lay their eggs, they will eject any rabbits they find that have taken over their burrows.  The puffins are fun to look at, sort of like a small penguin with a huge orange beak that cannot fly very well and walks like Groucho Marx.  The locals call them Tammienorries, Sea Parrots, Clowns of the Sea, and Red Jimmies..

Safely back on land, we debarked for St. Aidan's Church.  This was the site where Aidan built his first church in the historic royal capital city of Northumbria, now site of Bamburgh Castle and the town of Bamburgh.  

The original church was built of wood with a thatch roof around 650 AD.  It burned to the ground.  However, according to legend, the beam against which Aidan was leaning when he died was not consumed in the fire. . . nor in a fire that destroyed the replacement church (also of wood).  The forked beam is now in the ceiling of the church, directly above the baptismal font at the back of the church.  

Tonight after dinner, we debriefed about our day.  Although everyone was tired, each person was able to articulate a way in which God spoke to them during our time away from Lindisfarne.  My attention was drawn to the Bamburgh Castle, which is a huge edifice that must have taken several hundred years to build.  

Northumbria borders Scotland.  As most people know, England and Scotland have not always had good relations with one another.  Wars and fierce battles took place along the border that lies just north of where I am now.  The Vikings also regularly raided these areas, causing the monks of Lindisfarne Abbey to abandon the island around the eight century.  In fact, I am currently closer to Norway than I am to London as I write today's blog entry!

The local castle was a means of defense, a place of protection, not only for the king and the king's servants, but also for the villagers of the agricultural lands and farms all about the castle.  When a raiding party invaded, everyone that could make it entered the castle where they could be safe and secure until danger passed.

I never really thought about it until today because I just assumed that I understood the verse.  Seeing Bamburgh Castle brought the concept home to me very powerfully.  Psalm 18: 2 reads, "The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock in whom I find protection.  He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of refuge."

I will never read or hear that verse again without the image of Bamburgh Castle in my mind.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Fossils . . .

This morning, (Tuesday, June 4th, 2013) I attended Morning Prayer and Holy Communion at St. Mary's Anglican Church.  There were only about ten people present, plus the priest.  The church is ancient, sandstone, and unheated.  I can't remember a time when I was that cold in church.  Also, it is a bit of a different perspective you gain when you are not the one in charge of worship and are not pre-occupied with thoughts about the comfort of others.

After breakfast, we began the day in earnest. 

One of our retreat leaders is a retired geologist.  This morning we did about four miles to different parts of the island to understand how it was formed, how long it has been here, where it is located in relation to the mainland and the continent, and the changes that have taken place on the island over time.  We also got to see the local wildlife, including Eider Ducks, Bitterns, Sea Gulls, Wigeons, Jackdaws, Common Swifts, House Swallows, Thrushes, Kestrels, and numerous other birds.  The geologist pointed out the magma that had pushed up through the earth's surface forming the promontory on which Lindisfarne Castle is built.  He told us how the hot magma crystallized the limestone layer underneath, forming marble.  He pointed out how at one time, during the Carboniferous Period, forest floor became sea bed.  Fossils of scallops, snails, and Aaron ancestor of the octopus and squid.

After lunch, we took another hiking trip to look at features of the island that we had not seen in the morning.  This time, we concentrated more on the history of the island, its settlement by St. Aidan his twelve disciples from Iona.  Actually, Aidan's attempt at establishing a monastery was the second effort.  The first effort under Bishop Corman had failed.  

Corman returned to Iona telling of how the natives in the area were wild, unruly, and could not be converted.  Aidan commented that perhaps if Corman had treated the natives better, he would have gotten different results.  As proof positive that if you criticize the efforts of others, someone will say, "If you think you could do it better, have at it!" Aidan was consecrated as Bishop and set out for Lindisfarne.

Aidan and his monks got out into the villages and pathways, getting to know the people.  They showed concern for everyone they met, shared the Gospel when they could, encouraged the faithful when they met a believer, and got entirely different results.  Pilgrims have been coming to Lindisfarne for almost fourteen hundred years!

Tonight we closed with Evening Prayer in the chapel.  The day has been full.  The lessons have been good.

It is good to remember how profligate God is within the Creation God has made.  There is so much variety and splendor.  Why so many species of birds?  Why so many types of flowers?  Fossils are constant reminders that God's creative activity is so great that even those creatures we see semi-immortalized in stone and mineral, that had a place in the created order at one time, are no longer necessary and have passed from existence to be replaced by something else.

In the midst of all the variety and splendor, we are given eyes to see, ears to hears, hands to touch, noses to smell, and tongues to taste, appreciating the bounty God has made.  There is a partnership between Creator and the Created, between Father and child, between heaven and earth...

"The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein..."

"Let everything that has breath, praise The Lord!"

Monday, June 3, 2013

I Am Not Carrying Coals to Newcastle

I find it somewhat ironic that my exploration of Celtic Christianity begins in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  New Castle, Pennsylvania, my hometown, was named after Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  

The phrase "carrying coals to Newcastle" has always fascinated me.  I have heard it used ever since I was a little boy, perhaps because of where I grew up.  It means doing something unnecessary or superfluous.  After all, why would you carry coal to an area known for its coal mining?  That may be why my town of origin got its name.  Anthracite coal (hard coal) was deep-mined in Eastern Pennsylvania.  Bituminous coal (soft coal) was surface and strip mined in Western Pennsylvania.  The coal was used for the making of coke that was then used in the production of iron and steel.

Tomorrow the adventure begins...or rather, continues.

My plane leaves from Richmond International Airport at 12:15.  It flies to New York, then to Amsterdam, then to Newcastle, arriving at 8:00 AM on Saturday, June 1st.  

Monday I will take British Rail to Berwick-upon-Tweed so that I can (hopefully) catch the shuttle bus to Lindisfarne Island before the tide comes in and covers the causeway. 

The next post will come from the other side of the pond.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


I had every intention of making a church service at St. Cuthbert's Anglican Church yesterday morning in Blaydon.  Unfortunately, the bus schedule for the Sunday is different than the rest of the week.  Instead of running every 20 minutes, the buses run once an hour.  

The first grace note of the day has to do with strangers.  I am one.

It is difficult cutting through the Georgie dialect here.  The natives must think I am hard of hearing because I have to ask that everything be repeated!  Anyway, the admonition of Leviticus 19:34 was taken seriously yesterday..."The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you."

I asked one of the workers at the B&B how I might catch the bus to the City Centre.  He explained the process.  As I approached the bus stop, I noticed a white van with its four-way flashers illuminated.  The driver got out and said that he could not help but overhear my question about the bus.  He provided laundry service for the B&B and was going downtown.  He offered me a ride and we had a very pleasant conversation on the journey.

His name was Ken and he had spent a few years working for Nissan Motors in Nashville.  He praised the hospitality he had received from Americans and said he had made it his mission to return the favor whenever possible.

I was his mission assignment for the day!

Ken dropped me behind the Life Sciences Museum in Newcastle, near the Central Metro Station. I took my backpack and camera and headed out to explore.  There were a lot of people out and about.  It seemed like every street cafe was full of people eating and drinking.  Large groups of young men were walking about carrying athletic bags.  I figured that they were either soccer or rugby club teams in Newcastle for a match this weekend.

I walked down to the River Tyne and there is a beautiful walkway all along the Tyne where people walk, bike, and eat.  Vendors had set up food, craft and souvenir stands and there were a couple of thousand people out to enjoy the day.  The area is called Quayside and it was hub of activity for the afternoon.

The architecture is amazing, much of it built during Newcastle's heyday as a coalmining and shipping region.  I passed the an historical marker on an old Elizabethan era building.  It read, "From the above window on November 18th, 1772 Bessy Surteees descended and eloped with John Scott later created 1st Earl of Eldon and Lord Chancellor of England."  Another plaque on building, there was a plaque that read, "In the year 1786, the interest of 100 pounds sterling at five percent forever to be annually distributed on the twenty-third of December among the ten oldest keelmen resident in this hospital: Was left by John Simoson, Esq. of Bradley, Alderman of this town, and forty years Governor of the Hoastmens Company:  The grateful objects of his rememberance have caused this stone to be erected that posterity may know the donor's worth and be stimulated to follow an example so benevolent."

How generous would we be to others if we knew that others might be looking to our example and commending (or not commending) it to others?

Today take the Metro to Berwick-upon-Tweed.  The tide will have gone out at about 2:15 PM.  At that time, I will begin walking the Pilgrim Way to Lindisfarne.  It's about a five mile walk, but the day is expected to be sunny and beautiful, so I look forward to the experience.

It is wonderful to be able to slow down, to not be on the clock, to explore and wander with opportunity to see and experience where God will lead next.

First Post from the Other Side (of the Pond)

 It has been a long time since I pulled an all-nighter. 

I need my beauty sleep!  However, my seat assignment on the Delta 767 assured that I would get not sleep.  I was in the middle seat, middle section, immediately behind the restrooms.  I am still trying to get my ankles out of my ears.  I frankly do not know how Ghandi did all that yoga stuff at his age.  I guess you have to start out young and skinny.

The plane arrived in Amsterdam at 6:10 this morning.  The weather was not at all what I was expecting.  It was rainy, cloudy and cold...see your breath upon exhale kind of cold!  My sweatshirt was conveniently located in my suitcase, which was conveniently located in the belly of the plane.  

Live and learn!

Today was a down day, a recovery day.  After arriving at the Newcastle Airport, I took a taxi to the Hedgefield House Bed and Breakfast.  Fortunately, they were able to accommodate me at 10:00 instead of the agreed-upon 3:00 PM.  I believe the English have something against Americans sleeping in the lobbies of their finer establishments.

This afternoon, I set out on foot to explore the city.  EVERYTHING is in bloom.  They have lilacs!!! I miss lilacs, especially the heavenly scent they exude!  The homes are mostly made of brick and sandstone with the Dickensian tile chimney pipes.  Shades of Bert the Chimneysweep!  I expected to see Mary Poppins, but did not see her.

Every little home seems to have a beautiful, carefully tended postage stamp garden full of flowers and vegetables.  I saw many reminders of home, and numerous little things to make me think of Gloucester, Virginia.

I swear I saw a Pileated Woodpecker, but had I done so I would be the first person ever to see one in England.  They are native to North America.  However, I am almost positive that I saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker.  I heard several Mourning Doves calling to one another, and took some verbal abuse from numerous squirrels who refused to reveal their hiding places.

As I walked the sidewalk along Stella Road, following the railroad and the course of the River Tyne, I saw several crew teams out rowing on the Tyne.  The little town of Blaydon where I am staying (a neighborhood within Greater Newcastle/Gateshead) is famous for its historic horse race, the Blaydon Races, which were immortalised in a song in1862.  The song, Blaydon Races, became the preferred marching tune for British Infantry soldiers of the Fifth of Foot and has become the official anthem oft he Newcastle United Football Club.

 The scenery and historic buildings (Hadrian's Wall runs just north of town) also make me feel very young and naive as an American.We celebrated the United States Bicentennial the year I graduated from college.  In 2007, Virginians celebrated 400 years since the colony's founding.  Lindisfarne Island, where I head on Monday, was founded in the seventh century (635 AD).

Sort of puts things in perspective, doesn't it?

Tomorrow I am going to concentrate on learning to speak the English language so that I can communicate with the natives.  George Bernard Shaw once wrote that England and America are two nations divided by a common language.

I believe it!