Tag Archives: spirituality

Iceland Meets the Wind Off the Sun

I swear, Iceland is alive.

The late season light changes so quickly that the flow of gravity and time across space, and your body, are one. Only the photograph is still. Try opening the image in a new window. I think some of that directional energy and movement is captured in it, especially when seen a bit larger than here.


Either that, or confronting elemental nature makes a human alive.

Secret, Spiritual Iceland

Presumably, the boundary in the image below meant something once. I’m no expert, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears to be a turf wall, laboriously cut and stacked, replaced by a wire fence, and replaced by nothing at all except memories of where a boundary once was.
And again:

This is not likely a sign of increasing wealth. Nor is this near-obsolete set of boundaries at Kirkjubærjarklaustur. There’s a stone wall, and a row of birches, for the graveyard, and then a mysterious fence, with one electrified strand, even, serving no purpose now except to mark a boundary for a summer student with a weed whacker.

Fortunately, some boundaries are still full of power. Here’s the sky above the Hvitserkur ogre.

Still, these other boundaries speak of something profoundly Icelandic. Here’s the churchyard again, with its wall…

… and without (by leaning over it.)

Trees and stone: that’s two walls, one for those looking out and one for those looking in. The turf wall is no human barrier…

… and neither is the churchyard:

But it matters a lot whether you are looking in to life, from grass to stone to trees to grass, or looking out from grass to trees to stone to grass. Isn’t all of this the behaviour of people who have spent a long, long time with sheep?

And with the gentle ways of herding them?

This is old, old technology, that only works with respect that goes out at the same time it comes in.

And understands life as a series of seasons.  This is not the modern world, yet it is still alive, and you can enter it in Iceland, and then, well, and then you’ve walked through the gate.

Make no mistake. The image of Reykjavik above and the one of Smyrlabjörg below are the same.No one will tell you why. If you have to ask, you haven’t walked through the air to the air.

Water Paths in Iceland

There are vertical paths.

There are horizontal ones.


In a gale, they can be both at once.


We see these falls as paths because we are pathfinders. See the path to the right in the image below? Can’t resist?


Of course not. That is the human spiritual trace. The sheep is an elaboration, and exquisite for that. These creatures are not paths but warmth, hearth and home. Their other form is this:


That is a sheep and a human family, spiritualized as one, in time. This is the water path that makes it possible:


It is one with them, because of human path-finding. That is the spiritual path at the edge of the known world.

A Line of Prayer and Poetry Made with Norwegian Wool

The geologists came and declared all rock forms here at this East Icelandic cloister site to be naturally occurring. I believe them. Still, were the natural shapes enhanced 500 years ago? Was the cloister built here because something was recognized in the stone? I think that’s quite likely. Is there a lost art of stonework that is built on the premise of deepening natural forms until they take on meaning? It would make sense: if one were to rub a natural cross over and over again, that would be an intense, and physical, act of prayer. Still, scientists can’t answer questions like that. Likely, no one can. One can, however, enter the spirit of stone with an open mind. That much every human has, if he or she wishes it. So, what do you think: is the image below a group of eroded basalt crystals (certainly) or is it an image of Mary and the Infant Jesus?

P1420857Skriðuklaustur Monolith

Fljótsdalur, Iceland

Or something else that the monks tried to rub off? Or a painting of light that only showed up when the light was at certain angles (true)? Or St. Barbara (possibly the patron saint here)? Or nothing? Maybe it doesn’t matter. This was, however, the stone that the monks saw directly in front of them when they left the entrance to the cloister church and looked, as the landscape directs one here, uphill. That, I thought, was worth thinking on. What I did to help me think on it, not being a geologist or an archaelogist but being a poet (which is an honourable thing, with deep roots of its own) was to go 40 kilometres into town in a snowstorm to buy a ball of wool and to make a line with my hands, to help me think. As a farmer (long ago, and in my heart, still), I know that the hands are a powerful tool for thinking. So, I anchored the line in a crack at Mary’s (?) feet …

… kind of following it where I felt it was leading me…


… which was, downhill, and into the church (it’s a natural flow) …


… past the baptismal font and into the nave, where I discovered that I didn’t want to walk through the walls …


… so back again to the font (I was lost on this spiritual journey for a moment and thought about circling the font, and even tried to walk back up to Mary (?) and link her with a ribbon of life blood blowing around in the wind (ah, it was hard to keep this stuff on earth, did I mention that?), but that felt wrong, and suddenly I saw where I needed to go, drew my line of life back past the font …


… and through the monk’s doorway into the church (instead of the public doorway I had entered before) …


… and through the adjoining doorway into the cloister garden (I’ve always liked gardens, especially church ones and their Edens) …


… and as you can see, to the garden well …


My 70 metres of Norwegian darning wool, purchased for 460 Icelandic Crowns (around $4) was just the right length to drop to the bottom. I thought that was a good sign. I then took these images, so you could walk with me and share the moment of my thinking with my hands. At this point, my Mary was joined to the well in the Garden by passing through the church and the monk’s residence… a beautiful path, I thought. Next, I went to the hillside, picked a birch twig from the grass as a spindle (among the earliest images we have of men and women are made from birch twigs, and in German the word for bone and the word for birch are the same, and my family is German, so, hey) and, starting at the well, rolled the now-charged string back up, and as I wound that 70 metres around a tiny axle, over the wood chips …


… past the stones that once supported the church walls …

stone2… and through the grass …

grass… I felt that I was winding life on the axle of the universe or the pole of the earth, day by day by day, that with each twist of the birch twig to accept the string, a year passed, and I felt life in that string, not just the life the wind gave it, but energy from the universe; I felt that I was weaving with an ancient craft, in a small physical prayer, from the well up to … well, let’s just say Mary, who after all, was a spiritual fire in a human form, until all that energy was there, wound up on its spindle, at her feet …


… and that was my prayer. Not an approved Christian prayer, but, then, I am not a Christian, only a man who walks in a world of spirit, with the sense to know that if you stay at a monastery, do the work. Did I learn anything about the material reality of that stone? No. That’s for geologists and archaeologists. But I did learn this: when I carried that bobbin of yarn back up to my roomI felt that I was carrying a living heart, and carried it with the reverence and care that seemed fitting to that, next to my own, and I realized that if I unwound this thread, anywhere, let’s say tomorrow, or the day after that, or a year after that even, the energy that I had wound with the motion of my body onto that birch twig, would be there and join the points of that new story back to that stone (and my questions of it) and the church and the well. The line was a journey, that I could now carry anywhere, and have to unwind and walk. Whatever that stone is at the cloister, it’s power came from a sense of devotion not far from that. Is poetry anything else? Well, I don’t think so anymore. Now the bobbin sits on my kitchen windowsill (I thought Mary might like the warmth of the hearth) …

woolwindow… (and the steam from my potatoes), waiting for me to think some more, in this fashion of thinking that is not done with words but with the body and in the world. Poetry had its roots there. I have learned here that it has not left them. For me, that stone is not the same.