Last week on holiday I was aware that as the boys get older, I sometimes feel like a minority in the family in the way that they’re up for doing more than one strenuous physical activity in a day, want to watch action films, embrace risk. I don’t really think any of us totally fit with stereotyped gender roles or preferences, but still…. I’m aware of my own difference in ways that I haven’t been before.
I know it’s a blessing that the boys are mostly still happy to spend time with us – even when it involves attempting a car-free holiday, carrying everything that we need in backpacks. But maybe this is part of it – when we travel in this way, the whole journey is part of the adventure (even if parts of it are tedious) and we’re pretty egalitarian in sharing the decisions and the cooking.
We’ve just been for our third trip to Iona. When we went there for our honeymoon 20 years ago, we said we’d return every 10 years if we could. There have been a few changes in that time, but most of it was exactly the same as we remembered.
Iona is breathtakingly beautiful and it is a place that many people experience as imbued with God’s presence or a ‘thin place’. I certainly loved being there and meeting the other people who are drawn there, for whatever reason. We went on walks that we have done before and explored the places that people visit, including Iona Abbey where regular prayers are held that anyone can join.
All of this was good but my best moment was seeing the dancing man. Mark was already impressive as a host/volunteer at our youth hostel. He made home-dried edible seaweed that he shared with the guests and brought in combs of honey to share from the beehive, as well as regularly passing through the kitchen to clean up things that people had overlooked. All of these things he did with a quiet grace that enabled others to feel welcomed and at home.
One night, near sunset, we were walking back to the hostel and we saw Mark on the top of a hill, facing the sea, dancing with abandon. We couldn’t tell at that distance if he had earphones or if he was dancing to some kind of inner music. He was doing what I wished I could do; freely celebrating the beauty of creation, the mystery of love, the wonder of being a part of it all. It was the perfect reaction for that place at that moment.
As we move into the first part of the next 10 years, I want to be more like the dancing man and I hope that our boys will feel free to listen and respond to the way that the Spirit leads them, too. What would it be like to be in touch with that joy in our everyday lives? If you spot me on a hilltop at sunset, you’ll know what I’m trying to do.