Monday, September 15, 2008


Our time away from Milton-Freewater is drawing to a close. We have only three more nights before we fly away from Scotland, and only two are here at Clachan Seil at Ardara Cottage. Sensing how quickly time flies, our hosts, the Rae's, offered us one last adventure: a trip on their sailboat, the "Weaver" to the Garvellachs and the Corryvreckan Whirlpool. On Sunday, after worshiping together, we donned wet-weather, sailing gear, and boarded the "Weaver".

(Interestingly after services, a newly retired couple who had moved to Seil got to talking to us. As a child the man had an aunt who took him and his brother to the Adventist church near their home. His brother became an Adventist pastor. He was fascinated to meet an Adventist pastor in a Presbyterian church. "Such a small world!", he kept saying.)

Fortunately, this was as calm a day as one could ever ask for, so absolutely no motion "queasiness". It fact, it was so calm, that we motored there and back rather than unfurling the sails, and they could even turn over the helm to an absolute neophyte. :-).
But the goal was to visit an ancient monastery on one of the "Isles of the Sea" (the meaning of Garvellachs) where an early-Christian community of Irish monks formed their base for outreach in the 500's AD. It is also the legendary burial site of St. Columba's mother, Eithne. Although not totally intact, one of their famous rock "beehive" huts still stands. These rock huts were impervious to rain (and to say that on a western Scottish island means something!) and some even say to wind. No mortar was used, just flat stones, and they've held together for 1500 years!

It was amazing walking around their ancient village, and then up to a gap in the crest of the island, from which we could look down at the rock shelf just higher than the waves on this calm day. Such dramatic views.
Together, we prayed up at Eithne's grave for God to continue finding people who would carry the good news of Jesus to their own corners of the world, and beyond. How wonderful it will be when God's work is done and Eithne, with her son Columba, can stand together before their Creator on that great Resurrection day.
When we scrambled over the shore rocks to get back onto our inflatable dingy, (I'll let Vonnie describe her bravery), we headed south of Scarba to the sound between it and Jura. There lies the world's biggest whirlpool, Corryvreckan. Robert told us, as we motored quietly along, how the British Navy once sent a frigate through the sound at the wrong time and nearly lost it! He reassured us that "today" all conditions were ideal. And he was right. And still it was impressive. Seeing the huge "boils" of water, many times bigger than our sailing boat, and seeing the white caps that would appear in patches, on a perfectly calm day, reminded us of what might be when the tide is even faster and the winds are at gale force. Apparently the underwater topography includes a pinnacle that helps cause the eddies and currents that can take a vessel totally out of control.

Another memory from the past is that a local sailer used his knowledge of Corryvreckan to survive a Viking raid. While he successfully made his way past the whirlpool, the persuing Viking raiders were all lost in its swirls! And the name of the whirlpool remembers another young Norwegian, "Vreckan", who lost his life to the whirlpool trying to win the hand of a local chieftain's daughter.

If all this makes it sound like we have been enjoying our sabbatical to the fullest, then you are getting the right idea. This has been an experience worth a lifetime of memories.

As we think (and even dream) about returning, it is with the awareness that the stream of life has continued while we have been away. And we will want to hear your stories from Summer 2008.

We learned from Debra's weekly "Church Life" email that dear Don Portenier has passed away. Our hearts go out to Etta as she faces life without him. I will be anxious to find out what happened to this dear veteran.

For those who live in or near the Walla Walla Valley, I can say, "See you soon!" We are scheduled to fly in on Sunday morning the 21st.

(And once again, I want to thank Autostitch demo for allowing me to weave photos together into a panorama. And I will encourage viewers to click on any photo you want to see more closely. Most will enlarge to allow looking at details.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sabbath Worship, Nature Style

At The Edge Of The Woods

Since there is no Adventist Church on our island, Ole and I have been attending the Church of Scotland on Sundays and having our own worship services on Sabbath. This morning, however, we decided to join a nature group from the island on their monthly nature walk. This month, the topic was "Lichens", and I have never had anything to do with lichens. I really didn't think I would be very interested, but the walk was to be in the Ballachuan Woods, and I thought I would enjoy seeing the ancient, perhaps nine-thousand-year-old, stand of hazelwoods. At the edge of this wood is believed to be the location of a very early Christian church in Scotland, built by one of the early Irish missionaries to Scotland, Brendon, who lived in the 400's and 500's. We walked to the woods past the ancient stones.
Raindrops Hanging From The Moss Stems

We met in the Church of Scotland churchyard, brought by our Ardara Cottage hosts and fellow "naturalists" and believers, Robert and Maura Rae. About seventeen people were gathered in the misty morning, all wearing Wellington boots and rain gear, ready to walk and learn from two biologists who have specialized in lichens of the area. They told us there were at least two hundred and eighty varieties of lichen in this particular woods. I was amazed that there could be so many, and then they told me that there are two thousand varieties of lichen in the United Kingdom and many more throughout the world. What a creative mind our God has to think up all the variation in nature.
Vonnie Inspects The Lichens

We walked along a country road, downhill past a herd of Highland cattle grazing in the wet grass, until we came to a stile and climbed over a fence into the Scottish Wildlife Trust land. We followed their path through pasture lands, across a stream, over more fences and stiles, and finally we entered the filtered light of the Hazel woods. It was a fairyland of shapes and textures and colors. Mosses and lichens of all shapes and descriptions clung to the twisty, tangled branches of the ancient trees. Andy and Anna, the biologists, so lovingly, so reverently, so gently taught us about each wonder -- their eyes wide with an innocent, childlike delight as they showed us each new species. We were worshiping together.
Hazel Glove Lichen

I learned so much! I learned about the lacy "lobe" family of lichens that look like a fancy miniature lettuce growing midst the mosses on the branches and about the "graphidian" lichens that decorate the branches with a dainty foreign-looking script, like the most delicate graffiti imaginable. I saw the rare "hazel gloves", a fungus with tiny fingers, like hundreds of miniature, orange rubber gloves reaching around slender limbs. Then there was the jelly-blob lichen that looked like slime dripping from a branch and the glue lichen that re-attached fallen twigs or glued two neighboring shoots together. I loved the oak moss that trailed like pale green hair throughout the woods and the dog lichen that looked like a collection of black-spotted puppy's ears. (If you lifted them up, you would find tiny dog's teeth on the bottom of each one.) My very, very favorite, though, was the plum lichen that looked like tiny ruffled leaves of grayish-lavender cabbage, intricately textured and decorated at their hearts with tiny, gorgeously-ruby-red beads.
"St. Olaf" Visiting the Woods

There was so much more -- like "shingle" lichens and "Norwegian spotted belly". (The older lady I was walking with made me laugh by saying she wasn't sure she wanted to see that one.) After three hours, we were all soaked, our hair hanging in dripping strands over foreheads and cheeks, but we could hardly bear to leave our woodland chapel. God was so tangible in the sheer beauty of the miniature world of artistic masterpieces I have usually taken for granted or completely ignored. We walked back through grasses hanging with droplet jewels, our hearts joining in with bird songs, children of a heavenly Father -- feeling so loved.
PS If you would like to see some REAL photos, some professional photos, of lichens, here's a link we learned of this morning. (I especially recommend the "picture index" on the site.) Mike Sutcliffe, the photographer who created and updates the site, took Friday off from his work in Newcastle on Tyne and drove the six hours so he, too, could join the nature walk. Vonnie and I both enjoyed talking to him.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Basking in Beauty Again - We Apologize

It's hard not to want to share delightful moments. Please ignore if you're bored :-)

This week ended an hour ago when Vonnie and I walked to a shore-line north of our cottage to see the afterglow of the Sabbath sunset. We stopped there to sing some songs and take a few snapshots. Of course they can't capture the sounds of the herons winging by, or the waves way out on the sound, or other subtle delights for the ear. But it's special to post these photos anyway.

The anchorage is named Puilladobhrain, and my attempts to pronounce it, to imitate the Gaelic sounds, are undoubtedly humorous.

The far hills, across the big sound, are the hills of the Isle of Mull, at the far west of which is the Isle of Iona, "holy isle", of fame because Columba used it as his missionary base in Scotland.

I'm also including some other sunset photos from this week - of the rainbow and of Vonnie with the glow above the gorse patch.

Hope you have a wonderful Sabbath - and watch for that low moon.

Pastor Olesen

Friday, September 5, 2008

Jerusalem Stories, #2

Hello everyone,
Since Ole and I are just basking day after day in the glorious beauty surrounding us here in Scotland, we don't want you to get bored with the tediously repetitive ecstasy of our blog, so I thought I would try to write a little story every day from the adventures we had in our travels that I didn't have time to report. I thought I would start with the weekends we spent in Jerusalem, so here is:

Jerusalem Story #2:

During the weeks Ole and I were at the dig in Israel, we had to leave the Kibbutz every weekend because our cottages were rented out to vacationers. We kept going back to Jerusalem because we found it endlessly fascinating. I had written to my children about the personal anguish I experienced the first weekend. (That was Jerusalem story #1.) My heartbreak was the result of two factors. First, I had very high expectations that I would experience an unparalleled closeness to God when I visited the very places that Jesus had walked. I was very disappointed in the commercialization of the Holy City and in the tension between the various religious groups. Secondly, we were treated very rudely again and again in our encounters that first weekend. We finally realized that the Arabic people we were trying to relate to thought that we were Jewish. (Ole's new beard and his nose made him look the part of a Jewish resident. We began to notice that all the Jewish bus drivers, security guards, restaurant owners, etc., spoke to him in Hebrew, whereas they spoke to other tourists in English.) We learned that there had been an incident that weekend: two Israeli policemen had been shot and killed very close to where we were staying, and so tensions were heightened, and we were feeling the nasty emotions directed at us. I finally ended up in tears, and God sent a lovely Hebrew woman to comfort me – an unforgettable experience. After God's intervention through her, I was fine, and the next weekend we had an entirely different and wonderful experience.

We checked into our hotel on Suq Khan-el-Zeit in the Old City on Friday afternoon, showered off the 5000-year-old dust from our dig at Gath, ate hummus and pita bread at a little Arabic restaurant, and walked through the ancient streets to the Wailing Wall to be present for the beginning of Sabbath. We had to walk through a security checkpoint, but there was a sign that assured us that the chief rabbis of Jerusalem had ruled that operating the turnstiles did not constitute a violation of the Sabbath. No photographs are allowed to be taken near the Wailing Wall on Sabbath, but we watched in fascination as hundreds of Orthodox families, dressed in their Sabbath costumes, came to pray, sing and dance. We were sitting on a low wall at the edge of the Plaza that adjoins the Wall when I became aware of a man sitting next to me on a section of wall that was a bit higher. I looked up into his kind face, and we began to visit. Eventually, he moved down beside Ole on our low wall, and we talked for more than an hour as the Plaza gradually emptied and we were left alone in the soft Jerusalem night.

He told us that he was Jewish but had been born and grew up in Lebanon. His dear elderly parents and some siblings still live in Beirut, but he had managed to escape about twelve years before and had been living in Jerusalem ever since. He described his childhood and youth as an agonizing struggle to belong in a society that rejected him, his family, and everything about his culture. As a little boy he was consistently the victim of bullies, and there was no authority to protect him – they looked the other way. His dear parents struggled with poverty as their shop was boycotted. Every interaction with the community was filled with threats and disdain. During the civil war, they were detested by all sides. People often spat at them and said, "Why don't you go back where you came from." His sensitive heart was tortured by an inability to find a sense of identity, to feel good about his heritage. Eventually, he was able to fly to Cyprus and from there back to Israel where he claimed "Alia" or the Right of Return for anyone whose mother is Jewish. He gave up his right to ever return to see his parents in Lebanon, but he keeps hoping to be able to bring them to Israel as well.

He told us "For several years after I came back to Israel, I had dreams within dreams." We weren't sure what he meant, but he explained that he would have a nightmare that he was back in Lebanon, suffering as he had before. He would wake up terrified. He would get up and walk about his bedroom touching the walls, the furniture and telling himself, "No, this is Israel. I am free. I am safe. I belong here. I am in Israel." But even as he tried to convince himself, he would not be certain that this was reality. He suspected that he was only dreaming that he was in Israel – because he had dreamed of that for so long. He would go back to sleep, and the nightmare of being back in Lebanon would return, and he wouldn't know which was reality and which was the dream. Eventually, those nighttime horrors subsided and now he praises God every day that He brought him back to the promised land.

As our new friend struggled to help us understand what Israel meant to him, Ole and I thought we could grasp for the first time how desperately important this homeland was to Jewish people all over the world. This conversation helped us to be more sympathetic with their determination to hang on to this land even though it meant soldiers with machine guns on every corner and rabbis and scholars who carry pistols in their belts at all times.

As we walked back to our Arabic hotel through the ancient streets, now quiet and dark, we tried to imagine our escape from this sad world to our true home. Will it take us some time to really believe we are in the New Jerusalem? During the first years of the millennium, will we have dreams that we are back in the land of death and sorrow?

Sabbath morning dawned sunny and still. We walked out of the Old City through the Damascus Gate, to the Garden Tomb. A British Christian organization cares for the lovely gardens that surround the possible site of Jesus' crucifixion and burial. We walked to the cliff with the rock formations that looked like a skull. Was this Golgotha? We walked back down into the garden and found the huge winepress that indicated this might have been the vineyard of the very wealthy Joseph of Arimathea who buried Jesus in his own new tomb. A group of young Christians had gathered in a small gazebo and were singing hymns with a guitar. We spent more than an hour in prayer and reading the story again of our Savior who endured so much to ensure that we do have a true Home to go to and can claim the Right of Return.

In the afternoon, we walked to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. This photo is of the ancient olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane that may have been the very ones that heard Jesus' prayer the night he was arrested.