Eight days of intensified Welsh. This was not an organized class, or structured language learning. This was the yearly cultural event called The Welsh National Eisteddfod. 100,000+ people come to participate in, and experience this most vibrant of Celtic languages and the culture that undergirds it.
This was a place where I was forced to stick to speaking Welsh most of the time, and I struggled like a fool to understand the presentations, performances, and conversations around me.
In this event, people from all over Cymru (Wales) travel to spend anywhere from one day to the full eight days in competition, music, theater, dance, and language-based experiences. I had an extremely wet beginning, and started the event with a deluge, and the post my hammock tent was tied to began leaning in the softening soil of the dark wet night. If you know anything about hammock tents, you will know that that whatever you are tied to needs to be solid or heavy rains will certainly visit your sleeping space…and well the heavy Welsh rain did visit me as the pole slowly leaned over through the night.
The following day, everything I brought with me spent the afternoon in the drying barn at the dairy farm. This was a good test for ‘Trixie’, the carbon fiber travel guitar. Yes, I can confidently declare that she can withstand Welsh rain!
After this soggy start, I settled into spending my days immersing myself in Welsh. I spoke with other learners. Sometimes was called upon to do a bit of Welsh language teaching in the Learners Tent. Two of those learners (Miguel and Maisy) were students in Bristol. Maisy from Hong Kong drew a picture of me in about fifteen minutes and made my day. I spent the days and evenings in discussion with Christian groups working on the Maes (the festival field). I spoke with bards and musicians. I bumped into friends from across Wales and struggled to keep up with the conversations and presentations at the Eisteddfod.
One morning Pastor Rhys Llwyd, from the church I am helping in Caernarfon, spoke and I followed up with a couple songs I’ve written in Welsh. The picture of the moment, taken by my friend Faith Owen, is in the photos below. Great connections were developed, and I look forward to developing the map and plan for my Walk across Cymru (Wales), which I plan to begin at next year’s Eisteddfod. There would be far too many people to thank for the moments at the Eisteddfod, but Alun the farmer, Twm the Bard, Andrew the pastor from London, and Carwyn and Simeon from the Baptist Union get a special nod for now.
The benefits of this week will show themselves for months to come, and I anticipate that the connections I have made will benefit my plans to walk around Wales speaking nothing but Welsh next year.
There are places, times, events, and even people where are hearts find comfort and feel at rest. These locations, times, events, and people represent hints of heaven. The Apostle Paul spoke of being “strangers and pilgrims” on this earth, and when we experience moments and places that feel more like home than home itself, we are also experiencing the transitory nature of human life. Our hearts seem to reach out toward that the places of possibility that are found with God. The heart that reaches out to God senses that these are the hints of heaven. This trip has been filled with festivals, friends, towns and moments that have been these kinds of hints of heaven.
A Cheltenham Home
I spent some days with Mark and Anthea Searle. Being with them is always like coming home. They always have “room at the inn”, there is a place I can leave extra gear when I need to travel lighter and quicker, and they are always as kind as can be. During this trip, I joined them at a Dyson family day (Mark works for Dyson, which is far larger and more impressive than I imagined.) I also was able to meet with Tony and Dwee Cooke, friends who are former Bridge Church Pastors, who are now doing a television show on Dream Interpretation.
Prepping for Eisteddfod in Cardiff
From Cheltenham I traveled to Cardiff, Wales in order to prepare for the Welsh National Eisteddfod. I stayed with Sera Owen and Robert Zyborski, who are great hosts and wonderful people. I spent an afternoon with Lois Adams (niece to Kevin Adams the Welsh Pastor from the Baptist Church in Lynn, MA) brainstorming outreach ideas, and I spent an evening with Dawn Wood and Andrew Thomas as well. This short jaunt to Cardiff was for dreaming up outreach ideas, specifically for the National Eisteddfod coming up in a little over two weeks.
A few days with Mike and Jules
Friends Mike and Jules have been a regular stop in almost every trip to the UK. This year, they are in a new larger house with a lot more land in Kent – south east of London. As always it was home away from home to be with them, and Mike acted as a tour guide showing me around Faversham, Canterbury, and the beaches nearby.
CMS sessions on Spiritual not Religious in Oxford
I arrived in Oxford minutes before 10am, when the one-day conference at CMS (Christian Missions Society) about “spirituality not religion” was happening. I was one of the plenary speakers for the event. A number of Christian ministry friends who similarly work in New Age and Neo-Pagan settings were there. As such, the gathering felt like coming home. People who understand living in and working in strange and wonderful settings were all together to share their wisdom with those who came to learn. Paul Cudby gave a primer on Neo-Paganism. Emma Moreton shared her beautiful and difficult story, which highlighted the tension of living this kind of life of ministry. Diana Dingles Greenfield shared on ministry in places like Glastonbury and festivals. Matt Arnold gave a well-balanced talk on the principles of reaching out to Neo-Pagan culture. I shared stories and corresponding truths connected the Father Who is waiting for us to join him in the places he has already preceded us – places like Burning Man, and Salem during the Halloween season. Glyn Moreton ended the day by leading us all in a time of worship and passing the horn in a celebratory drink to the Lord.
Homelessness in the Land of Higher Education The great wall between the haves and the have-nots
I spent the evening in Oxford, and was profoundly moved by the incredible distinction between the haves and the have-nots. Oxford is a city of higher education with ancient walled schools everywhere one goes, and at the same time, as the evening falls, the streets are filled with homeless people sleeping in doorways, and begging for change. The contrast is perhaps more extreme than any place I have seen in America, and it caused me to wonder how the world of higher education imagines changing the world for the better without looking outside its own front door.
Prague and Meziprostor
After spending a night on the streets of Oxford, I caught a plane to Prague. This was the second year that I was speaking at a spirituality and punk/metal festival called Meziprostor. “Meziprostor” means something like “the in-between space” in Czech, and the festival is designed to navigate the space between God and the world, Christianity and society, and across the spaces that divide people. Obviously, since this was the thesis for my book Burning Religion, one can see how much I might enjoy Meziprostor. This little festival, at the famous Czech Underground location, Skalak Mill, goes on my list as the best festival I have ever attended that accomplishes the task of being an “in-between space.”
I met Trey McCain at the airport in Prague, and one of the festival coordinators, Alexandr (Sasha) Flek picked us up. Trey and I spent a night at a Rainbow Gathering inspired community in an old mill just outside Prague. It is the inspiration and hard work of Sandy and his family who have been there for 16 years – oftentimes helping young single mothers with children. The next day we were off to the next mill, and the Meziprostor festival.
At Meziprostor, I taught a morning devotion on Saturday, and held lecture about “Why We Can’t Find Ourselves: lessons on contemplation and community from the desert fathers and mothers.” I will be sending my notes out to people who have expressed interest in this particular topic, so please let me know if you would like to receive them as well. On Sunday, a spot opened up in the schedule, and Sasha asked Trey and I if we would like to fill the slot. So, we did a hands-on workshop of Lectio Divina (sacred reading) meditation, and meditation on nature as a dialogue. We gave examples of scripture meditation in dialogue, and searching for God in nature, and sent people out to do the work, then talked about it together afterwards. Trey made an incredible workshop partner, and people appeared to both enjoy it and get something beneficial from it.
After Meziprostor, Trey and I stayed in a Hobbit Hut designed for Tall Skinny Kiwi, Andrew Jones on the land of Mathias and Carrie. Cat Camissa, from Austin, who also came all the way for Meziprostor was there, and we spent a couple nights in Prague with Sasha and Katka and a host of friends in their circle. On Monday night, we went to a third mill, which is a pub on the river in Prague, and Tomos Sedlacek, the writer of the best-selling The Economics of Good and Evil was there. He joined the group, and there was a wonderful high-intensity debate over a pile of different topics between Sasha, Myself Tomos and a handful of others. I love a good hot debate with a hug and new-made friends at the end, and that was exactly what it was all about. We debated God, and science, and faith, and the state of Christianity, and a host of other topics late into the night, and rolled into bed around 2pm. These are the kind of things that regularly pop up in this traveling ministry.
Next Up: Cardiff and the Welsh National Eisteddfod
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Links to previous episodes of this 2018 Mission to Wales, Cornwall, Devon, England and the Czech Republic: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3