Midweek Musing: the two-thirds mark. Looking back.

Two years. This week marks two years since I left Australia for Scotland. And so I muse on what those two years have held - places I've been, experiences I've had, stories and visitors from home.

Places I have been. 

Stirling Castle
A little way into the highlands, several times, to Comrie, Dunkeld, Burnim and Collace; and to the self-professed 'gateway' to the highlands, Stirling. Stirling Castle is one of my favourite places I've seen, for the way the story is told through art-installation like reconstructions of busy kitchens, lavish royal rooms, and the tapestry project.

I have also been to the highest villages in Scotland, in South Lanarkshire. Those villages are Lead Hills and Wanlock Head (and they continue to disagree about which of them is the highest Scottish village ...). I have been into a lead mine there, and another creatively reconstructed building telling the stories of evolving conditions for those who lived and worked in that harsh landscape. We were almost blown off the hill with the wind on a day that began a delightful friendship with two of the loveliest people I've met here - and their whole congregation. I've been back many times, to other places in South Lanarkshire, Crawford, Crawfordjohn, Abbington, Wiston, Biggar ...

I've returned to the magical St Andrews several times, also gritty Glasgow and its close neighbour, Paisley, and to Falkirk - though I've yet to see the wheel and stand inside those Kelpies. Another return journey, this time to Banton, for dinner with friends made in Australia a number of years ago now, with whom I stayed in 2013.

The most recent trip was just on the edge of Edinburgh, to Roslin, to see Rosslyn Chapel with its unfinished transept walls and the hundreds of Green Men that mum thought sounded a little grotesque, but which I found to be intriguing symbols of the story of life and death.

And that's just Scotland.

On various forays into England, I've returned to London and Stratford, and seen Lindisfarne, Bath, Stonehenge, Durham and Chester for the first time. And loved them all, partly for the company I had in each place, and partly for the richness of the stories those places tell, and the beauty of the landscape and architecture.

I've left this small island a few times, too, for 24 hours on a smaller island to experience the rugged splendour of Iceland; to gather with my tribe in Washington D.C. for storytelling; and my big island home. I have appreciated more than I can express, those two journeys home.

Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford. 

Things I've experienced in my current 'home town' 

The volcano. And snow. 
Of course, in between all that travelling, I live in Edinburgh - walking around a volcano and over ancient cobbled streets between ancient grey stone buildings.
I hear the cannon fire from the castle at 1:00 when I'm studying at my desk at old, old, New College and borrow books from its former-church-now-library, replete with stained glass windows.
I've been to the Georgian House, eat regularly in the cafe where many Harry Potter books were written (not the Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling went once, but which claims to be the site of the birth of the phenomenon - that one, I walk past every day).
I worship in ancient churches steeped in the history of my tradition, protestant, reformed, presbyterian. I am immersed in the biggest and best Festival and Fringe Festival in the world each August, and am delighted by festivals all year round.
I've watched fireworks from the side of that volcano, and from the foot of the castle.
And I've been battered by wind and rain and cold and grey like never before.
Oh, and I've finally experienced snow, touched it, felt it fall on my face, watched in awe at its silent, magical floating to earth.

Welcoming visitors

Also, some friends bring me Tim Tams.
Chocolate, biscuit, nougat. Gold. 
To Edinburgh, I have welcomed at least 30 friends from Australia, some because they were coming to Edinburgh anyway, and others including Edinburgh in their plans so as to spend some time with me. Each and every time I have been in the company of someone from home, I have breathed easier, leant into their embrace and relaxed. Although I have made many friends in Scotland and beyond during the past two years, there is something I cannot quite describe in words about being in the company of people from home, with the shared language and culture of home; something quite profound about being in the company of people with whom you have shared stories and experiences, been vulnerable, celebrated and mourned.
In years to come, when I reconnect with the people I've met during this season, wherever we meet again, we will have that, too - the bond of shared experiences in Edinburgh as friends, fellow PhD students, members of communities of faith who have worshipped together. There are too many of these new friends to number, and I am overwhelmed at the welcome I have received, the trust I have been given with many people's stories and friendship, the best of humanity I have experienced.

Such joy is found in, for example, other visitors I have welcomed to Edinburgh; from England & Wales, two people with whom I experienced that instant recognition of having found a kindred spirit, by the end of our first conversation. And a fellow storyteller from the USA, fast becoming a dear, treasured friend.

The achievements 

We are not what we do, but this season has seen me grow in significant ways as a storyteller-poet-minister, as a scholar, as a human being. Much of that growth has manifestations in the things I have done. So, to recall some of those achievements with gratitude for the stretching, the affirmation, they represent.

I've published another collection of poetry, and have a third almost ready to send to a publisher. I am pleased to see some polish come into my work, and a breadth of subjects and moods in my words.
I recorded a spoken word album - and although it has fallen a little flat and almost unnoticed, with very little engagement, for which I am dreadfully disappointed, I was pleased to tick that off as a long-held goal.
Two collections of poetry, prayer and liturgy are due for release in late 2016 and early 2017, with proost, and I have two more books with publishers, under consideration, both of which have also been long in the developing, writing, and searching for a home.

I've published a book review and a reflection piece for The Expository Times, which is managed in part through New College; written a guest blog post for the Institute of Academic Development at the University; and I've collaborated with a friend and mentor on an article on trauma in the book of Jonah.

sarah tells stories has established a pattern of output with weekly blog posts like this one, the Throwback Thursday celebration of poetry, the new blog Pray the Story, and YouTube, SoundCloud and Twitter presences.

Through Patreon and other donations, gifts and loans, the sarah tells stories community has become both enabler of the work, and inspiration for improvement in quality and quantity of the work of this storyteller-poet-minister.

And although it's only ever been just enough, and the compiling applications for scholarships has been energy-sapping and demoralising at times, I have received grants, bursaries or scholarships from  New College, the Scottish Poetry Library, the Network of Biblical Storytellers, With Love to the World, Ken Leaver Fund, Uniting College for Leadership & Theology and Uniting Foundation, towards conferences and PhD studies.

I have written around 40,000 words towards the PhD thesis, and learned most of the letter to the Romans for appreciative audiences in three countries.

I have composed dozens of new poems and perhaps half a dozen new stories, and developed and polished others that were begun while in Australia.

I have told stories, recited poetry or led worship in four countries (five if Scotland was independent); in 12 churches, 2 pubs, 4 universities, 2 guilds, a recording studio, a park and a conference centre; beside Iceland's Golden Waterfall and on Edinburgh's ancient site of executions, on BBC Radio Scotland and in my flat in a sublime evening of story sharing with a fellow storyteller.

I have taught Biblical studies, English and Maths, across three institutions and 2 countries.

And on a personal note, I have completed six major cross stitch pieces and knitted two scarves.

The first major piece I completed
Gaelic: Welcome, friend.


It's been a full, rich two years, alright. So much for which to be thankful, my heart bursts.

I have found it encouraging and heartening to take stock of the good stuff of what have in many ways been two of the most difficult and challenging years of my life.

I wonder what you might find, looking back for a moment for the gifts you have received in experiences, places, people, and, yes, achievements?

I suspect the full benefit in looking backwards to see where we've been and how we have got to where we are comes in turning our attention to the future, where we hope to go. So next week I think I will muse on what I am looking forward to for the third and (probably) final year of this Scottish Sojourn.


Heather said…
This really is incredibly rich in positives! I am full of admiration for what you have achieved so far. How can two years have held all that?
Glenys said…
Amazing. Just incredibly amazing. So glad to share some of the journey with you.

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