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Archive for September, 2009

Harvey outside of Jouarre Abbey

Harvey outside of Jouarre Abbey

City Hall (Hotel de Ville) in LaChelle, near Faremoutiers Abbey

City Hall (Hotel de Ville) in LaChelle, near Faremoutiers Abbey

Bridge at LaChelle, France near Faremoutiers

Bridge at LaChelle, France near Faremoutiers

Harvey in Cloister at Cluny

Harvey in Cloister at Cluny

Ruins of Cluny

Ruins of Cluny

St. Non's Well

St. Non's Well

Remains of St. Non's Church and Abbey

Remains of St. Non's Church and Abbey

Nevern Cross, (early round celtic cross), Nevern Church, Pembrokeshire, Wales

Nevern Cross, (early round head celtic cross), Nevern Church, Pembrokeshire, Wales

St. Bueno's Church, Wales

St. Bueno's Church, Wales

St. Winefride's Well, Holywell, Wales

St. Winefride's Well, Holywell, Wales (yellow tents are for changing into bathing suits to enter the well)Taize Bell Tower at entrance (Taize, France)

St. Winefride's Well (original star shaped water area), Holywell, Wales

St. Winefride's Well (original star shaped water area), Holywell, Wales

It has been a long time since I last posted as we have been on a whirlwind trip to France and Wales with very little internet connection.  So, please pardon the very long post and read as much as you desire or come back and read in installments.

Harvey and I flew from Houston to Manchester,England with a layover in Miami on September 19. It was an incredibly packed flight from Miami to Manchester and I got stuck in the middle of a three person row in the middle of the plane. Being claustrophobic, this was not a pleasant experience. I ended up in this seat because a few hours before we left for the flight, I sensed that I needed to check on my reservation. I found out that my reservation had been cancelled when the first part of my flight had been cancelled from Dallas to Houston when I returned home the week before in the terrible weather and spent the night on the floor of the airport. So, the only seat left was the middle….oh well, enough complaining!

Harvey and I saw some incredibly beautiful places in France, east of Paris. It was as if each charming village tried to outdo the other one with the abundance of gorgeous flowers in hanging baskets on homes, businesses, and city halls.

We had come to France to see several things: the abbeys of Chelles, Jouarre, Faremoutiers, and Cluny and to see the town of Mâcon and to go to the Taize Community.  We drove around Chelles for two hours and never found the museum and abbey ruins we were looking for, but we did see the abbeys of Jouarre and Faremoutiers which were founded in the 600’s as double monasteries(monks and nuns lived in separate houses in the same area) headed up by Abbesses. I left my i-phone at Jouarre (it does not work as a phone here, but it is my contact list and camera!). Of course, I panicked, thinking that it was gone for good….but, we returned to where I thought I laid it down and they had it waiting for me. Praise God for honest people!!! At Faremoutiers, Harvey and I had a lovely picnic lunch under an ancient chestnut tree and enjoyed the quiet and cool breezes eating French cheese, homemade bread, lemon tarts, and pain du chocolate.

Harvey was delighted to go to Mâcon, where his grandmother Macon’s family came from in the early 1600’s to America. We ate a breakfast of fresh croissants sitting along the lovely Saone River  looking over his ancestral city. Mâcon was a huge Huguenot area and his family probably left when the Protestant Huguenots were being harassed. The Macon family ended up in Williamsburg, Virginia and my struggling de la Richbourg Huguenot ancestors were physically saved by Gideon Macon, one of Harvey’s great grandfathers when my family immigrated a few years later to Virginia. So Harvey’s family saved my family from starvation!

Harvey said that being at the Taize Community was the most meaningful part to him. Seeing young people from all over the world at this small village in the area of Mâcon was both touching and encouraging. Each year thousands of teenagers and young adults flock to this place to sleep in tents, chat, worship and pray together and to ask questions about God and life. Taize is a lighthouse for Christ in the world.

On the way back to Paris, we made a quick stop at Clairvaux, the famous abbey established by St. Bernard (Bernard of Clairvaux). There is not much left of this holy place as most of it was destroyed at the French Revolution and then what was left of it was used as a prison in the 1800’s.

On Wednesday morning, we flew from Paris to Manchester on FlyBe Airlines, a very pleasant flight with lots of leg room and hardly anyone on the plane. We arrived about 11 am and  picked up our little black Vauxhall car and drove like mad men down the M highway towards south Wales. We did not have any hotel reservations as we really did not have a plan as to what we wanted to see. As we drove out of the Manchester car rental parking lot, we made our decision to head towards Pembrokeshire in south Wales.

Down a little Pembrokeshire lane, about 7 pm we found a farmhouse bed and breakfast where we were lulled to sleep and awoken the next morning by the mooing of beautiful big black and white very friendly dairy cows.We drove along the gorgeous coastline of Pembrokeshire  to get to  St. Davids Cathedral, which  was magnificent. David is the patron saint of Wales. We also went to St. Non’s Abbey ruins and to her well. St. Non was St. David’s mother who is much loved in Wales. There is a lovely little Non’s Chapel overlooking the coastline which was built in the 1930’s. Next to it is the St. Non’s Retreat Centre that is such a popular place with Christian pilgrims that it is booked up through 2010!!

Travelling in Wales is a unique experience. It boasts some of the most gorgeous landscapes I have seen in my life, if…(and that is a big if)…if  you can take a moment to see them when you are not trying to dodge huge trucks (lorries as they call them) and buses on one- and- a- half lane “major highways.”  Driving on the wrong side (left) of the road  on the wrong side of the car (right) with the standard stick shift using your left hand is quite a feat, but also dodging speeding cars, trucks, and buses on tiny, narrow “highways” is one of being in constant prayer!!!  Harvey did a magnificent job of driving in those harrowing conditions. Angels surely must have been with us!!!

We found our way towards the center of the country, to the University of  Wales, Lampeter to as I wanted to see what the place looked like and was blessed to find Dr. Jonathan Wooding in his office for a quick chat. He led the Iona course that I took at the beginning of my sabbatical.

That afternoon we drove up the western coast of Wales and could not find a place to stay for the evening. There are very few hotel chains. We came across a beautiful little village named Borth right on the coast and Harvey stopped at the local market and asked if there were any hotels or bed and breakfasts. We were sent down the one road in town to the York House-what a treat and a gift from God. It was a most lovely room with a luxurious bath overlooking the ocean. We ate fish and chips in the lounge watching the sunset over the blue sea. The breakfast was sumptuous and abundant. The place was formerly an 1800’s townhouse that a very endearing middle aged couple has lovingly restored.

We headed out north and drove through Snowdonia, a place of curving coastline, magnificent mountains, tall trees, fantastic flowers and many motorhomes and mobile homes that are in “caravan parks.” The English have fallen in love with Wales and purchase inexpensive caravan homes to visit on the weekends. Lots of former farms are turning into caravan parks.

We drove into the Lleyn Peninsula where my Griffin family originally came from.  The Lleyn peninsula is a very sacred place to the Celtic people. It has been a place of pilgrimage for over one thousand years. The pilgrims would begin their journey in Bangor and stop at pilgrimage churches along the way to Bardsey Island, where it is said that 20,000 saints are buried. Harvey and I were touched to enter these ancient small churches where the prayers of people for hundreds of years have permeated the walls and sanctuaries. We had many divine sort of encounters throughout this trip, one being that when we arrived at 5:00 pm at the pilgrimage church of St. Beuno, it was locked up. We were terribly disappointed. Then all of a sudden, a cheerful young woman comes up to us and says, “do you want to see the church? I am going in to set up for a wedding, I will let you in.”

After a short visit to St. Beuno’s Church which had its foundations in the 600’s, we began looking for a hotel in nearby Caernarfon, a town famous for its fortified castle.  We stopped at every hotel and bed and breakfast to find that they were totally booked for the weekend. We travelled on to Bangor and it was the same also. So, as part of that constant pilgrimage prayer, I reminded our living God that we needed a place to stay, this was not a want, but a need!! We drove onto Conwy and found the most beautiful hotel we have ever stayed at in Great Britain for a reasonable price and they actually had a room. The price included an abundant breakfast buffet and a spectacular view over the estuary, trees changing into their Fall colors, and a beautiful castle and walled city. Thank  you God for abundant blessings!

Saturday morning, we headed towards my final destination in this pilgrimage, a 3 week stay at St. Deiniol’s Library for research, writing, and rest. We stopped along the way at St. Winefrede’s Church and Abbey in Holywell. St. Winefrede lived in the early 600’s and was the abbess of a double monastery. Her relics are at this church, but what people have come here for over the past 1300 years is her well of healing waters. Pilgrims come here like they do to Lourdes in France to enter these healing waters. We had quite a unique experience there!

Harvey and I completed our journey at St. Deiniol’s Library, a residential library founded by Prime Minister Gladstone in the late 1800’s. I feel blessed to have received the Canon Symond’s Scholarship to study here. Harvey helped lug my luggage up to the third floor…he said he felt like he was leaving his child at college in her dorm room. We tearfully said “goodbye” for 3 1/2 weeks and he headed off to the Manchester Airport to spend the night and catch the morning flight to Houston via a long layover in Chicago. He has to be in court early Monday morning!

Thanks for reading about our journey and hope you enjoy the photos that are in funny places on this blog, but I could not figure out how to move them!.

More on St. Deiniol’s Library soon!

Blessings from Wales!

Pastor Brenda

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Well, part of pilgrimage, is being willing to accept changes and go where the path leads you. The path led to home for a week…not where I expected I would be this week, but the Spirit leads and guides in ways that sometimes surprise us. While I was on Iona, my Dad had two emergency surgeries and I just knew I needed to come home and check on him. After an arduous trip home, which is another story in itself including a 6 1/2 hour flight from Boston to DFW that should have been 3 1/2, a cancelled flight, and sleeping on the floor at DFW, Harvey and I went to Dallas and had a good visit with my parents. We attended East Dallas Christian Church on Sunday morning and had a wonderful time of worship and spiritual refreshment. That congregation is blessed to have Rev. Deborah Morgan as their pastor.

On Tuesday morning of this time at home, my phone rang and one of my precious congregants had passed away and the family requested that I do the funeral. It makes me smile to think that Evelyn who always had a sixth sense, must have known I was home!!  I was honored to officiate at her funeral and graveside service on Thursday.

So, the path returned me to home to my precious family and pets and now I continue on this pilgrimage route to see where the next part of the journey  leads.I am heading to east of Paris tomorrow and then onto Wales. Harvey is going with me to France and Wales and then he will drop me off at St. Deiniol’s Library in Hawarden, Wales where I will study and rest for 3 weeks. We hope to go to the famous abbeys of Jouarre, Faremoutiers, Chelles, Cluny, and then onto Macon, France where his grandmother’s family is from. We also hope to go by Taize and see that very special place that is a lighthouse for  Christ that beacons youth from all over the world. Then a few days of exploring Wales before St. Deiniol’s.

My cats were really happy to see me!

My cats were really happy to see me! Luther (brown Maine Coon) and his very good friend, Pumpkin (our Hurricane Rita gift).

Blessings!

Pastor Brenda

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A Baby Smiled at Me…

A baby smiled at me. On Iona, a young couple was walking towards me, with Dad looking rather like a totem. He was carrying a heavy load of a backpack with a metal baby carrier on top, so beautiful raven haired
baby girl’s head was on top of Dad’s. As they walked towards me, I had just been admiring the beauty of the Columba Hotel organic garden, not expecting any human contact and out of the clear blue, I turned my head towards the road, and a baby girl smiled down at me. My heart was warmed that this precious little child just decided to smile at me, I did not invite her smile, she initiated it. A baby smiled at me and seven days later I still remember it and it warms my soul.

An angel protected me. On Wednesday morning, I decided to go to Barking, a suburb of London before meeting with my friend and medieval illuminated manuscript scholar, Dr. Michelle Brown at the British Library in the late afternoon. After a two hour London tube excursion, I exited the station into a village filled with many different cultures.

This Barking Abbey was founded in 666 A.D. and its first Abbess was Ethelburga, sister of Eorcenwald, Bishop of London. It was later destroyed by the Vikings, rebuilt again and was dissolved by Henry VIIIth. On the grounds is the late medieval St. Margaret’s Church in which Captain James Cook, the explorer was married in the 1760’s.

I entered the lovely church grounds and discovered that the church served lunch everyday. A steaming huge bowl of homemade soup and bread were served very professionally by a tall, muscular man of African descent. He was very friendly and told me some of the history of the church and where to find the ruins. When I finished my lunch and was heading towards the door to go to the Abbey ruins, he was very insistent to go with me. As we walked through a graveyard overflowing with ancient stone monuments, there were two young men seeming to be looking for trouble. This tall black angel walked with me right past them and when we arrived to the ruins, there were two “bobbies” that he motioned to about the young men.

A baby smiled and an angel protected. God is good!

.

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Iona of  my love, Iona of my heart…those words were spoken by Rev. George McLeod who was the twentieth century Presbyterian pastor whose passion for restoring the Abbey church at Iona became his dream that came true.  He described it as a “thin place,” a place where the present and the past are quite close.

Iona is an island off the coast of Mull  in western Scotland in the Inner Hebrides and it is gorgeous. It is surrounded by blue green waters that crash over rocks and attract seals and all kinds of birds. Sheep and hairy cows dot the green covered rocky hills. On Thursday and Friday, the waters in front of the Bishop’s House where I stayed were filled with a huge pod of dolphins. Marri McArthur, the resident Iona historian, said that she had never heard of dolphins coming into these waters. It was a gift and blessing to have these beautiful creatures jumping and cavorting to all of our delight.

On Thursday afternoon, I took an hour long boat ride to the island of Staffa that is known for its unusual formation. It is made up of huge tall stone basalt pilasters that look very much like the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. I climbed up a very steep and sort of scary path of steps cut into these natural stone columns to get to Fingal’s cave, a huge cavern within this basaltic column masterpiece. Mendelssohn wrote his famous Hebrides Overture, Opus 26 (Fingal’s Cave) upon visiting this wondrous place.

The course I joined in on from the University of Wales, Lampeter while at the Bishop’s House was on St. Columba, the founder of the Iona Monastery in the mid-500’s. He came over from Ireland and set up this community of monks that still influences our lives today. Many pilgrims come everyday to this island to remember St. Columba and to experience this “thin place.” 

Even though there are many pilgrims here during the day, I still found many places to be alone including the most beautiful white sand beach I have ever seen and I was the only person there.  It was a glimpse of heaven.

Last Sunday and today, Sunday, September 6, I attended the worship service at the ancient stone Iona Abbey. What an incredible blessing to sing praises, savor  the Word, pray, and share communion on the same sacred ground where St. Columba established his church over 1500 years ago. Even though the church has been rebuilt and later restored, it still is holy ground. Worshipping with pilgrims who have journeyed  from all over the world has been an amazing experience, one filled with the holy echoes of a thin place.

Tomorrow, Monday, September 7, I leave this place of gigantic celtic carved stone crosses, this isle that probably produced the magnificent late 8th century Book of Kells to travel to London. When I told Marri McArthur goodbye, she said, “we never say goodbye to new Iona friends because those who fall in love with Iona, will come three times.” So, guess I better be planning my next journey there!

I miss you all and hope you are all well. Off to Glasgow tomorrow by two ferries, a bus, and a train and then fly to London on Tuesday. The train ride from Oban to Glasgow is sweet, it is pure eye candy!!!

 

Iona Abbey from the east side

Iona Abbey from the east side

“The blessings of heaven, the blessings of earth, the blessings of sea and of sky. On those we love this day and on every human family the gifts of heaven, the gifts of earth, the gifts of sea and sky.” From Celtic Treasures by Philip Newell, formerly warden of Iona Abbey.

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