Sacred Places Journal
24 September 2001: Contrasts: London to Stornoway
The adventure begins. My lifelong friend Evelyn has joined me. We cross London on the tube in rush hour. I share a handhold with a lady wearing a lapel pin of crossed flags-Stars & Stripes and Union Jack. They look good together. Everyone is reading newspapers screaming, "Britons will, die, warns minister."
A six-hour train journey from London to Glasgow. Having had a short night, I doze on the train and waken in the gentle green Lake District still dotted with sheep even after the foot-and-mouth devastation. A couple en route home to Glasgow join us. He is Robert with luxuriant wheat-gold hair and mustache, wearing a sweater just to match-his wife chose it. He keeps urging me to sips of cider from the cans his wife produces from her carry-all bag and we discover a mutual affinity as Rangers supporters (Glasgow football team). The pleasant landscape rolls by as the conversation turns, inevitably, to the recent horrors. Is this what it was like in Britain in 1939? "Your son could die," a newspaper warns.
Delay in a rail station-a line is down further along-was I ridiculously optimistic, hoping to travel essentially the length of the island in one day? I think of my predecessors:
Helena, the mother of Constantine, perhaps the first woman pilgrim and credited with finding the true cross in Jerusalem;
Egeria, who made pilgrimage from Spain to the Holy Land in the 4th century and whose journal teaches us so much about early Christian worship;
Margery Kempe, 14th-century Englishwoman who pilgrimaged to Rome, to the Holy Land, and to St. James Compostela, then, in her 60s, wrote the first autobiography in English-in spite of being illiterate.
A short taxi ride to the Glasgow airport, then, through the whirling propeller outside my window and the spotty clouds below, as we sip tea we look down on the steep, brown highland hills interspersed with their long, thin lochs. We begin our descent as soon a we reach the coastline of the North Atlantic. In spite of the short ride, the British Air service is impeccable, including hot towels and sweets.
I am overwhelmed by Stornoway. Here on the edge of the world I had expected it to be spare and desolate. Instead it is charming. Beautiful.Storybook. There is a sense of feeling safe, apart from all other troubles. And yet, a young man from Stornoway was killed in the World Trade Center. Nowhere is immune. Still, peace and beauty reign supreme here. I've come to study the great revival-the Lewis Awakening it's sometimes called-that swept this tiny dot on the map in 1948-49. It was, by all accounts, a most amazing outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and yet one can't help wondering how the Holy Spirit knew of this place.