We stood at the West Tisbury shuttle bus stop on a Saturday afternoon in Martha’s Vineyard. I’d been experiencing that island in Massachusetts for the first time, staying in a hostel for $27.00 a night—the only way I could afford that expensive place. I’d enjoyed the morning at the Farmer’s Market at the Grange Hall and now I was ready to explore Oak Bluffs. Waiting with me, was a young woman standing off to herself and a man around mid-forties with salt-and-pepper hair, a bit scruffy with a two-day beard who stood alongside me. Bored with the wait, I started a conversation with the man.
“The weather’s great today, isn’t it?” I said of the mid-June morning that felt like a crisp fall football day in North Carolina.
“Yes, it really is quite pleasant, I think. You’ve been shopping, eh?” he responded, and nodded at my bag.
His voice had a slight accent, maybe Scottish, somewhere in the U.K., I thought.
“Yes, it’s a nice market. I had no idea there’d be so much farming here. I just thought it would be like the islands off our coast in North Carolina.”
We talked about the variety of crops grown in the area. I asked him where he was from.
“I’m originally from Glasgow, Scotland,” he said. “I’ve been here sixteen years already, painting houses. There’s a lot of work on the Vineyard with all the salt and wind on the clapboards.”
The bus came and we ended up sitting in adjacent seats.
We talked about the large immigration of Scottish people to North Carolina. I told him about the Highland Games in our mountains and the popularity of music that had developed into what was now bluegrass.
“Yeah, the Scottish people have to come here if they want to hear their traditional music. You can’t hear it in Scotland. It’s like it came to the States in a time capsule.”
We continued talking about music and then moved on to the topic of Scottish Presbyterians. I told him about my Grandma Smith who was strong in that tradition and he told me about his sister who lived on the Outer Hebrides in a community of Presbyterians. He remarked that those islands had a stunning beauty but he wasn’t sure he could live in that remote area.
“They’re so strict they tie up the swings so the children can’t swing on Sunday.” He chuckled then added, “their church is called ‘Wee Freedom,’ you know the Scottish word for little is w-e-e and that’s the truth about their freedom, they just have a little of it!” We laughed and he pulled the bell cord and picked up his bag.
“This is my stop. Nice talking with you,” he said and turned to leave.
I couldn’t remember when I’d enjoyed a conversation so much. I made a mental note to look at a map of Scotland and locate the Hebrides.
And I did. Off the western coast of Scotland, there was the inner and outer band of islands, the Inner and Outer Hebrides. I looked up pictures and saw what he meant by their “stunning beauty.”
From that moment, a seed of desire was planted in me to go to those islands. That was in 2007. Eight years later, when preparing for a presentation on pilgrimages as a spiritual discipline, I came across a book about Iona. I’d never heard of that island in the Inner Hebrides that had been an international pilgrimage site for hundreds of years. Slowly that seed grew and pushed through the ground and developed into a full-grown plant. I took my pilgrimage to Iona in September of 2017—ten years after that conversation with the stranger on the bus.
I think of that morning in Martha’s Vineyard, how I started that day like every other when I’m on my pilgrimage—praying that God will bless me and the people in my path. I had no idea, that the Scottish painter would be one of those people and that our conversation would lead me toward Iona.
Last September when I was standing on the shore of the South Beach, I was overwhelmed by the stunning beauty of that remote area, so many hues of blue, the pinkish sand, the strong winds and sudden rains, the sheep and Highland cows that seemed unaffected by the weather. I marveled at how God had led me to that moment and honored the desire of my heart.
How about you?
What chance meeting has led you to a significant discovery in your life?
How could you allow yourself to be moved by God’s spirit so you can be open to the people and places in your path?