On the pilgrim way: Solace in Orkney
As I write, my husband Kees and I are in Orkney on holiday. Our cottage in the little fishing town of Stromness has a huge bay window, so, from first thing in the morning, I look over the grey roofs and chimney pots as they tumble down the hill to the Sound – and, every time, my eye is then drawn to the lighthouse which guards it. I am finding it not only a beautiful, constantly changing view, but also somehow restorative.
We first came to Orkney on our honeymoon 53 years ago. This is, however, no sentimental journey – we just love the northern isles and we visit a daughter and family in Perthshire on the way. Nevertheless, we are enjoying some memories, trying to recognise places, and being rather smug about the fact that we visited Skara Brae, the world famous Neolithic village, when there were few visitors and one could actually scramble through the corridors and stand in the rooms.
As I remember the way we hired bikes, cycling uphill and down dale to seek out the ancient monuments on both Mainland and some of the islands, I am amazed at the youthful energy we had. We visited again 15 years ago and, again, cycled and walked most days – although I do remember the headwinds were quite daunting. This time, we have hired a car and are careful not to plan too much into any one day.
I am re-reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison, which I also first read over 50 years ago. To my surprise, I have found it speaking to me very personally. Of course, I am not in prison, but I suppose ageing is a kind of prison – it certainly brings limitations. In the texts I am reading, Bonhoeffer has not been sentenced and so has no idea how long he will be in prison; that rings bells for our stage of life. Kees’ walking has deteriorated rather quickly recently; there is no diagnosis as yet, which leaves too much scope for the imagination!
Bonhoeffer writes that facts can always be mastered by the Christian, no matter how unpleasant, but that fears and anxieties are the problem. I remember an old, rather fierce, missionary saying to me: “Worry is a sin!”
I came to Stromness anxious, even distressed, but from the start, the view has calmed and restored me. My eye keeps returning to the lighthouse – and to the Light of the World.
Sheila Maxey is book reviews editor for Reform
This article was published in the July/August 2015 edition of Reform.