I am sitting in a café in a little seaside town named Troon just southwest of Glasgow. I took the train here early this morning and have been enjoying the day by the ocean. I was quite surprised at how relieved I felt to be back to the water. Can you tell I am an ocean girl at heart? So here I am at a coffee bar named Barista in this small conservative town listening to Michael Buble croon away while drinking a cup of tea by the window where sunlight is streaming through and warming my body. It would be really nice to swim in the Atlantic right about now. Unfortunately, I left my bathing suit in Glasgow and somehow I don’t think the locals would appreciate my skinny dip- although I wouldn’t mind! It has been unusually warm since I got here (around 22 degrees C). Overcast and windy some days with flashes of sun and rain pretty much sum up a UK summer. It is extremely changeable so I make sure to wear layers that I can strip off as well as put back on when the wind kicks up. My rain jacket is in my bag as a permanent feature. The schools are out here now and there are kids and parents all over the beaches just off the main road enjoying themselves. When I got off the train, I went straight to North Beach. I guess I was meant to be there because as soon as I descended onto the sand from the road, I spotted a rock in the distance with “J.E.” spelled out in shells on a rock. The beach was waiting for me, it seemed. The wind was welcome on my warm skin as I gathered shells and flowers. I found vetch, thistle, and wild rose among other plants. It seems that a lot of plants that grow in our zone in Vancouver also grow here well. I guess it makes sense as the latitude is not that far off from ours and the weather is similar in some ways. A friend of mine is from this town and I have looked everywhere for a lion statue that I saw in one of his childhood pictures but it is nowhere to be found. The hunt for it has been interesting. I have asked very old people, I have asked the town librarian who called the archivist for the town, I asked younger people, and official-looking people but no dice. Perhaps it was taken down.
On my search for this elusive sculpture, I was led to the Catholic Church in the town not knowing exactly why I was there but feeling like it was important for me to go inside. It is not terribly impressive from the outside but inside it is beautiful. I loved the vaulted wooden ceilings with the wooden sculptures of angels on that looked like they were hovering above me sending me blessings from heaven. As I sat there and prayed, I found myself giving thanks for my Catholic foundation. I thought about everything I learned from growing up in that tradition and I remembered my love of ritual from the time I was really young. My parents never encouraged me to go to church. In fact, I think they were a bit mystified as to why I wanted to do my communion and confirmation so badly. However, my Avo Maria (grandma on my dad’s side) was/is a devoted Catholic and she was more than happy to have me sleep over on Saturday nights so that I could go to church with her in the morning. So everyone was happy. There was/is a lot that does not resonate with me about Catholicism but I was able to find peace with those things as I sat there. Although the standard prayers we were meant to say never made much sense to me (the Hail Mary and the Lord’s Prayer), they got me into a routine of prayer. From the time I was little, I remember my Avo Maria saying to me that I could talk to Jesus and Mary about anything directly and they would help me solve my problem. That was the beginning of my heartfelt prayers that seemed to have a magical effect. I asked for miracles, which were always answered- albeit not in the ways I expected. I continue to pray to my ancestors who love me and to Great Spirit. And today as I sat there, I no longer had a conflict inside of me between shamanism and Catholicism. A decade ago, I was invited to stay at a longhouse over the weekend in Chilliwack with other student teachers as part of a Native Education program. A Native elder (Gwen Point) I know from the Sto:lo Nation once responded to a lady who was distraught about the fact that Gwen had kept up her Catholic practice alongside her traditional spirituality. The lady said, “How can you pray to and with the people who tortured you in that residential school?” Gwen gracefully and thoughtfully responded, “In the end, we are all praying to the same source: The Great Spirit. Catholics just call that presence God. I take the wisdom from their faith and blend it into mine. There is no conflict. If the colonialists had realized that, they might have saved all of us a lot of pain and struggle. We could have worked together more. There is no need to conquer. All spiritual systems bring gifts to bear.” I get that now. I mean, I understood it intellectually at the time. But I really feel it in my bones as the truth now.
When I got back to Glasgow, I was walking back to my hostel and heard someone playing bagpipes on Sauchiehall Street. I finally saw a man in a kilt! I had been waiting for that. Now I feel like my Scottish experience is complete. I am off to pack up all my stuff. Tomorrow will be a travel day as I leave Glasgow on the train to Oban just Northwest of here where I will take a ferry to the Isle of Mull. I probably won’t post anything again until July 4 when I get to Iona.