This poem was written while participating in a cross-cultural course to Iceland and Norway with Wartburg Theological Seminary in January 2016.
At matin, we rise for prayer
The sky is black
The cold is bitter
I walk to the chapel at Skálholt
My hands ache and long for warmth
Christ emerges from the altarpiece in blues and grays
His arms are open, embracing all who enter.
The nave echoes with chanting;
I do not hear my language
But I listen with my soul:
Give us this day, our daily bread,
And forgive us our sins.
At the pastors’ house, the bread is warm
The coffee is strong and candles glow
The walls are dressed with shiny frames and colorful canvas
Dalí and Picasso
Original and print
Art and artifact
Each revealing the stories of one’s life
And drawing me into wonder about my own.
Outside the parsonage, the wind howls
Thick walls have sheltered the family for twenty-eight winters
And the pastor hopes for twenty-eight more.
Laughter rises from the common table
And I wonder, do homes belong to people
Or do people belong to homes?
The falls at Gulfoss roar
The wind pushes me toward the cliff
I can barely keep my footing
But if I let go, it carries me
With a force that is greater than my own
I slip on sheets of ice and stumble on rocky craters
My bare heels burn on freezing sand as I run into the ocean
The path is uncertain
And the pilgrimage is not without pain.
With squinting eyes, I walk toward the altar
Yellow and orange flood the sacred space
With empty hands, I receive bread and wine
I cannot see the priest’s face
For the rays of light are too bright to bear
I cannot understand the words spoken,
But I taste the sour wine on my tongue, saying,
For you, the body of Christ, broken
At vespers, we worship in darkness
The blue lights and grand piano set the mood
As the melody of the choir soars, I sit in the pew;
I look through a long, narrow window
I can see the city lights,
And I am reminded of the parish
Beyond these walls and my sight
A baby boy is baptized
His long white gown spills over his grandfather’s arms
No one sitting in the pews knows his name
Until he is claimed as a child of God
Outside, the flag flies at half-mast
In the sanctuary, two caskets sit side by side
She died on the twenty-second
He stayed only five more days
Polka from their youth plays on the accordion
The caskets are carried to the grave
Two lives intertwined in life
Two souls dancing in death
The burial hymn of an Icelandic poet runs through the veins of the people,
And ring softly in my ears:
“Thus in Christ’s name I’m living;
Thus in Christ’s name, I’ll die…
O Grave, where is thy triumph?
O Death, where is thy sting?
‘Come thou wilt will, and welcome!’
Secure in Christ, I sing.”*
Pink and orange linger in the horizon
The sunset lasts for hours.
Steam rises from the rocky earth like a prayer
And I welcome the cold on my cheeks.
*Hallgrímur Pétursson (d. 1674), Icelandic Burial Hymn