. . . Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels unawares . . . –Hebrews 13:1
We are on the train to Scotland, and finally I have a chance to catch up! I will write about our pilgrimage one country at a time, and so we begin at the beginning: Iceland.
What a unique and amazing experience! Iceland decided somewhere along the way that they would benefit from embracing the tourism industry and so they have invested in becoming radically welcoming to outsiders. Everyone speaks English, the people are amazingly kind and generous of spirit, everything we needed was readily accessible.
The land and climate in Iceland are rugged and, at times, harsh. The southern section consists of lava covered in moss, and resembles what I imagine the moon’s surface to look like. As we moved east and north things became greener, but everywhere there was evidence of Iceland’s being formed by a volcanic eruption in the middle of the ocean. There were steep cliffs, gigantic waterfalls, very few trees (and those were quite short and planted in intentional, straight rows).
My favorite part of the exploration was standing between two tectonic plates: North America to the west, and Europe to the east. These plates shift, apparently, a centimeter per year. One can scuba dive between the plates and see where they come together, but the water is a steady 32 degrees and we decided against it. But it was a powerful experience to stand, as it were, in “no [one’s] land,” marveling at the stark beauty and the wonder of God’s creation.
The church can learn a lot about welcome from Iceland. Even in a harsh environment, the welcome was warm. When they have every reason to hold up and stay isolated (from the cold, and the isolation, and the harshness of the climate), they do the opposite, and they offer intentional welcome. They go out of their way to learn the languages of others, they offer hospitality, they smile when strangers approach, they go out of their way to meet others where they are.
Iceland has a unique religious history, too. They started as Pagan, a result of being occupied by the Vikings, but there is evidence of Christianity in Iceland from its beginning. In the year 1000 there was threat of division based on the Pagan/Christian split, but it was decided eventually that all the nation should be baptized as Christian. At the time there was one Christianity in Europe, which was that of the Roman church. But in the year 1540, Lutheranism was introduced by command of the King of Denmark, who was also the King of Iceland. Fascinating. We only visited a few churches (the only ones we passed on the small island), and while Lutheran, they resembled post-Vatican II Roman Catholic churches.
We only had three nights and two days in Iceland, but we made the most of our time. We stayed in three different places. We toured the south and drove the Golden Circle. We saw waterfalls and geysers and lupine everywhere. We explored the wonderfully small city of Reykjavik, which reminded us of a European Burlington, VT. We soaked in the mineral-rich waters of the Blue Lagoon (Miss R’s favorite part) . We met a lovely couple who runs the guest house we stayed in the final night, and they made us feel so welcome that we are already hoping to return for another visit.