I started off this Roots Pilgrimage with my husband, Garrett, and daughter, Maria. We flew into Munich where we learned the word “glockenspiel” and battled our way through jet lag. We moved on to Austria to dip into the Sound of Music story and claim the inspiration to my daughter’s name. From there we traveled to Paris where I studied for a month almost 40 years ago. We far surpassed 10,000 steps per day, climbing up to the upper dome of Sacre Coeur and the winding streets of Montmartre. We headed into rural France to visit our French daughter’s parents in Villerville and enjoy their hospitality in provincial France. We smelled Monet’s garden flowers. I loved being able to speak in French again and was just getting back into the flow of this romance language when we jumped on another train.
We journeyed to Amsterdam, which my daughter found to be the most interesting city we visited from the vantage point of a Fashion Designs major. Garrett heard the native tongue of his ancestors spoken. We rented a car and headed into the Dutch countryside. It is idyllic and criss-crossed with serene canals. We worshiped in the church his great grand-father pastored many years ago and had rich connections with some of the parishioners there. We have been extended gracious hospitality in countless ways on this trip. We left Holland by train, traveling underneath the English Channel to arrive in London. After an upper deck Hop On-Hop Off bus tour of the city, Garrett and Maria left me to resume their lives in Michigan.
As those two left, however, three sisters flew in to join me for the leg of the journey that explores our roots. Now there were four of us exclaiming over the discoveries we made that link us to the British Isles. We spent only a day in London before heading into the villages of England. The Seymour branch of our family hails from Sawbridgeworth so we spent time in a church in that sweet town that was home to an ancestor in the 1500’s. We moved on to Rochdale, the birthplace and home to my grandfather, Walter Chapman, for at least the first five years of his life. We never knew him so it was significant to walk in the places where he likely played as a child with his parents, Thomas and Maria. I felt a strong connection to this place that I will carry back with me to my son, Joe, who carries my grandfather’s name as a middle name. We sisters pushed on to Barton Mills where we lived as little girls when my father was stationed in Lakenheath Air Base. I had graciously been given the opportunity to preach in Cloverfield Community Church in Thetford which is just a stone’s throw from the town where we lived. We have found that each worship experience has made us feel “at home”, even when we didn’t speak the language!
We left England by train and headed into Scotland. My grandmother, a MacDougall, carried her Scottish roots proudly. We knew, even as children, that there was a MacDougall plaid and that her father—my great grand-father—played the bagpipes and wore a kilt. We had a grainy photograph to prove it! From the first day we arrived and everyday thereafter in Edinburgh, we heard bagpipes! Men wore kilts commonly and castles dotted the land like chess pieces on a lush green playing board. We toured through the Highlands which are stunningly beautiful to arrive at Oban. Two of the castles we visited there belonged to our MacDougall clan. We felt a kinship to these long lost forebears as we breathed their crisp, clean air and listened to the gulls swooping in from water to the land. Once again we claimed a place we could call home.
I am overwhelmed by the discoveries this trip has provided! I pieced together a Nourishing Roots journey with family members that would deepen our self-understanding. I have been blessed far beyond what I could have imagined. I have been in the constant and wonderful company my family. Today we go our separate ways. Two sisters are on the way to the airport. The other sister is joined by her husband and they are extending their trip to bike around the island of Mull for several days before returning home to their lives in Ohio. The five of us (three sisters and one brother-in-law) savored seafood on the waterfront of Oban last night and toasted an unforgettable trip that will be a blessing to our children and theirs.
Today I am one. Alone. On my way by boat, bus and ferry to the final destination of this pilgrimage: Iona. I have wanted to visit the Protestant worshiping community on this island ever since I started using their rich worship resources at least 15 years ago. I will stay on the island for three days, tapping into their worship life. I won’t have a train to catch, a dinner to share, a castle to explore. I can take the countless pieces of this trip and begin to place them in some sort of holy order. I can spend some time in quiet so that God can speak to me of what significance this trip holds. It is clear, from the beginning of my dream to pursue this Lilly Foundation “National Clergy Renewal Grant”, that God has been with me and given me far more than I dared to hope. Today I travel on alone. I have a 6PM phone date with my husband because it is our 33rd wedding anniversary. We will remember the day in Hyde Park (Chicago) on July 7, 1985, when loved ones traveled in from near and far to celebrate our love. I will be away from him on this significant day for the first time in our marriage. It is an odd day. Even sitting in my hotel room alone feels different. I cannot remember a time in the past 35 years that I have spent three days on my own with no one else that I know to keep me company. It feels strange—but it also feels right.
Pray for me as I intentionally place myself in God’s good keeping. A three day stint in the Bible is always a gestational time. Biblical figures emerged from three day retreats different from when they started the journey. Jesus, for Heaven’s sake, resurrected from the dead in three day’s time! So pray for the Spirit to move over the Scottish waters of my ancestors and to speak to me through the cry of the gulls who fly over the same waters as did their ancestors. Pray that the worship services I will enjoy with my brothers and sisters at the Iona Abbey will go to places deep within where I need to find answers. And pray for Peace. The Peace that passes all human understanding.
Today I am all the more aware that I am not traveling alone. This is and has been a journey of God’s choosing. I am so grateful!