Friday, January 18, 2019

The gift of gain in loss...

“Losing is the price we pay for living. It is also the source of much of our growth and gain.” - Judith Viorst

A couple of years ago now, a dear friend and her daughter gave us the gift of a newfound activity. I don’t think they could ever have imagined how timely that gift was, and how it filled a small and empty space, created by loss. The activity promised to open new doors of exploration and discovery for which we are deeply grateful.

In her classic book, “Necessary Losses”, Judith Viorst writes about how we must try to understand, and accept, life’s inevitabilities. We begin the process of loss, after all, the moment we are born. Leaving behind the warmth and safety of the womb, we enter a radically different, dangerous, and unforgiving environment. But it is in this very same environment that we experience “growth and gain”, and ever-increasing wisdom. It is where we spend the rest of our lives…and where we will come to know, intimately, the nature of loss. As I enter my 70th year, there have been many losses, both large and small. I know what it is to lose parents, relatives, countless beloved parishioners, my oldest friend…and some heartfelt dreams, dreams that may have never been mine to realize. I am not alone, of course, we can all identify with loss.

It is, admittedly, a very small thing, but I have a troublesome left knee. The consequence is that some lifelong passions such as downhill and backcountry skiing are no longer advisable. This has meant a disconnection from “winter”, a season that brought so much enjoyment, so much meaning, often in remote and magical places, over many years. The introduction to snowshoeing by our friends, however, has brought light and life to a little place of longing and nostalgia. It is possible, again, to explore the winter woods and the Island mountains, breathing deeply and contemplatively.

Our friends’ gift, however, was most importantly, a gentle reminder that in loss, there are “spaces” for gain…and growth. May you too, discover and cherish, these opportunities.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Patient and graceful grains of sand...

I love how the wind touches, and reshapes the sand. Sometimes, gale forces create deep and rolling dunes. At other times, a breeze just “whispers” and gently forms a new and infinitely intricate texture…one tiny grain of sand at a time. 

The beach is patient and graceful, accepting of the changes that can occur, moment by moment. The process of aging touches us all, deepening the “wisdom” lines…proof positive of acquired life experience. 

Grace, it’s the very best response, and the one that nurtures the life-enriching attitude of thankfulness. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Back in the trees, and by the Pacific waters at Base Camp 1...

“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.” 

Since memorizing the three full stanzas as a young student, I’ve loved John Masefield’s poem, “Sea Fever”. The transition from Base Camp 2, on the Isle of Skye, back to Base Camp 1 on Vancouver Island is now complete. It was wonderful to have had another opportunity to live in the "Islands and Highlands" for a second "tour of duty". That was our fourth locum in just over four years. We've spent more time in the UK than in Canada since "retirement" in 2012, so now it's time to get to know our Canadian home again, and spend a winter here...after we've spent a summer, of course!

I've been remiss this past year with the blog, having succumbed to posting pics and reflections on the "another" social social networking site. I'm going to try to do better.

It's time to launch again into the Pacific waters. We've fondly left behind the view of the Scottish mountains, the Atlantic waters, and the ancient castle ruins. But we're back amidst the Douglas fir, the arbutus, the cedar, and the maple trees. It’s a fair trade. Here, the sea is just down the hill, and the mountains are all around. The piece of art in the Rain Room (my "writing room") that Joan bought many years ago, "Tomorrow's Challenge", reflects the call to new adventures...

In the meantime, the small fleet - the Cetus, the Spartan VI, and the Solstice - is in the “stable, and they're ready to go.

They’ve been very patient. We’ve all got…sea fever. 😊

Monday, February 26, 2018

Calming places...

“Calming places” are wonderful for body, mind, and spirit. They are, perhaps, what the ancient Celts called “thin places”, a special setting that enchants and inspires, calms and stirs, grounds and strengthens…all at the same time. 

They are places where one breathes deeply, and exhales fully - without any effort at all. They feel like repositories of a past wisdom, a wisdom that can be somehow absorbed by the willing soul, in the present moment. In such places, there a reconnection to self, and to the universe.

The gentle forest walk, amidst the hazel, rowan, ash, and birch trees, to the abandoned village of Leitir Fura, on Skye’s Sleat peninsula, is a calming place. Three hundred years ago, about forty of the “keepers of the forest” lived here. 
By 1790 the community was abandoned, only crumbling walls remain. 

Ancient memories, however, still dance amongst the stones, the trees, and the grasses, in tune with the ever-present birdsong.

Having missed taking Joan out for lunch on Valentine’s Day, I made up for it with the requisite can of beans (much enjoyed (and a bargain at only 79p!), a sandwich, and a steaming hot cup of salted caramel coffee. 

The views across the Sound of Sleat over to the Scottish mainland, and towering Beinn Sgritheall made for the perfect dining venue. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Lightning strike on Castle Maol, a wall tumbles down...

It happened in an explosive instant of time. Just two hours after yesterday’s post of the exquisite rainbow, the remaining ruins of 15th century Castle Maol were changed forever. The remnants of the castle sit on a small headland, just a few hundred metres from our flat. Around 1930 hours last night, we were looking out the window at the storm…a rare and unnerving combination of lightning, thunder, violent wind, and wet snow.

Suddenly, a sharp, almost deafening crack of thunder coincided with what seemed like a massive fireball. Electricity filled the air. The familiar floodlights, which illuminated the walls of the once-fortified tower were extinguished. Only at sunrise this morning, did we discover that the iconic peak of the left wall was also gone…blown apart by the bolt of lightning, just twelve hours earlier. 

The castle, first established by the Vikings in the 9th century, was dealt yet another blow by nature's capricious hand - right before our eyes.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Rainbows, and the wisdom of the Stoics...

Another Hebridean storm has been raging, all day, here on the Isle of Skye. Seems like forever. We went out for a walk after lunch, just to work off some energy…but the horizontal rain, sleet, and gusts in excess of 50 mph, made it a very short one. I resigned to catching up on some reading: Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, the wisdom of ancient Stoics, it is simply marvellous. Lost in the pages, I suddenly realized that something extraordinary was happening outside. The wind abated, and skies were rapidly clearing, revealing a burning bright late-afternoon sun. A magnificent rainbow began to form, one end illuminating Kyle of Lochalsh, across the water, and the other, the ruins of 15th century Castle Maol, right outside the window.

As we watched, completely spellbound, the words that came to mind were, “this too shall pass”. The worst of the storm had passed. And it always does. I know so many people who are struggling, some with very difficult issues. The fact is, life is rarely easy. We all have struggles, and they can be overwhelming at times.

The Stoics wisely remind us that much of what happens to us is beyond our control. We can control only how we respond. Understanding that profoundly important fact makes ALL the difference. Epictetus said, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” The more contemporary Serenity Prayer gently underlines that same strategy, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

The height of the Highland storm passed, replaced by an exquisite rainbow. I must keep that image close to heart and mind. It is an image that calms…and strengthens.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Into the Glenfinnan sunshine, and a magical world...

With a day of forecast sunshine, we left the Isle of Skye on board the CalMac ferry from Armadale to Mallaig, and drove the short distance to Glenfinnan. It was here, in 1745 that Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) raised his standard on the shores of Loch Shiel.

Only eight months later, the prince’s hope of achieving the thrones of Scotland and England were dashed at the Battle of Culloden.

The 18m high monument, with the solitary, kilted highlander on top, was built in 1815 to remember those who died in the Jacobite cause. 

Harry Potter fans will recognise the Glenfinnan viaduct, constructed between 1897 and 1898. The Hogwarts Express crosses it in several films, beginning with “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”. 

“Highlander” fans will be interested to know that Glenfinnan is also the birthplace of “immortals”, Connor and Duncan MacLeod. It’s a rather magical place, indeed. Lunch at the Glenuig Inn, was the "icing" on the cake. 😊

Monday, February 05, 2018

Morning commute in the February Highlands...

It was a lovely drive to the "office" for pastoral duties this morning. 

On this day, the Mam Ratagan single track mountain road to Glenelg presented no problems whatsoever to our sturdy KIA SKTV (Specialty Kayak Transport Vehicle). 

There was neither rain, nor sleet, nor hail, nor wind, nor ice, nor snow, nor any high elevation hazard whatsoever. 

A sure sign that spring is coming to the Scottish Highlands. AND, no temporary slowdowns from sheep, goats, or cows! 😊

Monday, January 01, 2018

A proper start to the New Year...

The first day of the year couldn't have been a better day to be in a sea kayak, here on the waters off the Isle of Skye...ceiling and visibility unlimited, 2 degrees C, and a low winter sun shining brightly. 

The ebbing tide revealed "secret" beaches on tiny islets...the perfect venue for lunch and a cup of hot chocolate. 😊

Joan and I wish each and everyone health, happiness, and the bluest of skies for this New Year. Thank you all for being who you are, and for the way you enrich each and every moment.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Wishing all a very special Christmas...

At this very special time of the year, Joan and I send warm wishes from Scotland’s “Islands and Highlands” to family, friends and acquaintances, far and near. The connections that this medium have made possible, are deeply appreciated, and never taken for granted by either of us. Some of you, we have known for a very long time, paths having crossed in varied and wonderful ways. Others were once strangers, but are now friends, and it is easy to feel a tangible sense of thanksgiving for that growing sense of community. In a world where all yearn to feel value and find meaning, and purpose, everything that brings us together to share our lives, our reflections, our hopes and our dreams, is profoundly enriching.

In our spiritual tradition, Christmas is a reminder that everything is possible. Yes! Even that illusive “peace on earth”. We must never give up on that. Peace, joy and love are gifts that all people everywhere need to give, and hunger to receive. Regardless of our varied traditions and beliefs, all of this can be much more than a vague hope. When all in the human family, and all of God’s creatures, and this fragile, island-planet are treated with compassion, kindness, and respect, it will be a world worthy of our highest aspirations, and deepest Christmas dreams.

May this holy season bring peace to you and yours, and may the New Year to come be filled with love and peace, good health, and dreams fulfilled. And, of course, many epic adventures! 😊

Warmly, and with gratitude,

Duncan and Joan.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Arrival, lunch, and preparation for the gabbro and bog...

After paddling, on a calm sea, just 9 kilometres from the little fishing and crofting village of Elgol, we entered a land that time appears to have forgotten...after working on it for a very long time. 

It's a place of legend, mystery, magic, and (to quote a friend) pure, "mind-blowing" exquisite beauty.

It's said that "Skye is conclusive proof that, sometimes, God was just showing off." As a working parish minister, I concur. 

After first (and only!) lunch, we prepared for a short hike in boot-sucking bog, and gritty gabbro - to the loch, secreted away.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Journey to a land of fire and ice...

On a mid-December day, we journeyed deep into the fabled Black Cuillin of the Isle of Skye…by sea kayak. The Cuillin is an alpine range with saw-toothed arêtes and peaks that rise dramatically out the sea to pierce the sky. 

It is a land created by fire, and carved by glacial ice. The spirits of Highland, Irish, and Viking warriors, fairies, and modern day mountaineers ooze from this remote and unforgiving land of 60 million year-old basalt and gabbro.

And so Kate, Kevin, Joan, and I began our self-propelled journey across the sea, from Elgol, to these magical mountains, and to Loch Coruisk, a hidden fresh-water loch secreted away in a deep and vast amphitheater. The place was described by Sir Walter Scott, in 1814, with these words…

“Rarely human eye has known
A scene so stern as that dread lake,
With its dark ledge of barren stone...”

It was, indeed, all of that. More to come. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Joy, and the rose-coloured Advent candle...

There’s a special “joy” in winter paddling. The ocean is crystal clear, the shoreline feels unexplored, the air is bracing, and there’s that delicious sense of “aloneness” in nature. The seals and otters and marine birds sometimes seem surprised that we are there! They show very little anxiety.

This coming Sunday is the Third in the Season of Advent, a month-long season of spiritual preparation for Christmas. In some traditions, it’s called “Gaudete” Sunday. Gaudete is a Latin word that means “rejoice” and we look forward to lighting the cheerful rose-coloured candle on the Advent wreathe. It is the symbol of “joy”. Despite the worries of our personal lives, and the often heartbreaking headlines, we need so very much to maintain a sense of joy in life. It is that abiding sense of contentment, delight, and enthusiasm for life. It feels so good…and it strengthens us, sustains us, and carries us through challenging times.

It could be said that sadness is the opposite of joy. I believe, however, that the opposite of joy is fear or anxiousness. If we think about it, these are the things that overwhelm our joy. The older I get, the more I am convinced that there is a four-part “recipe” for maintaining a sense of joy in our living.

First, we need to be playful, for that is what connects us to the “child“ within, a child we must always honour. Second, we need to be “pliable”, open to new ideas, change, and new growth. That’s what gives us the resilience of a giant tree in a windstorm. Third, we need to take time throughout the day to be contemplative. Some will understand this as prayerful, but it is also meditation. It is living mindfully, and paying attention to the fullness of each present moment. Lastly, we need to be thankful, for then we see life, one another, and the universe in terms of abundance, not scarcity. This can be exhilarating, and life-giving in itself.

All of this may be simple, but, it is admittedly not always easy. As with any discipline, we get stronger every day as we work to nurture the joy that naturally resides within. It’s like winter paddling, it’s not the easiest time of the year to paddle, but it well may be the most satisfying.

Wishing you peace...and, of course, joy. 😊

Friday, December 01, 2017

December, on a misty sea loch...

Loch Long, at Dornie, was eerily still the entire fifteen kilometre return paddle, with Joan and Kate. 

It was a fine way to mark the first day of December, in the Scottish Highlands. The water in the sea loch was like glass, a thick and mysterious mist persisting the entire time. 

Thirteenth century Eilean Donan castle, named after the Celtic saint, Donnán of Eigg, bid our tiny vessels safe passage…and welcomed them home again.