My vision of Grandma Bowey

I shared this brief reflection about my grandmother on my mother’s side at her memorial service in Dunston, England yesterday:

There are two things that my grandmother loved – God…and running. There are of course lots of other things she loved: her husband, her brothers, her children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren, and her friends. She loved sitting in her chair by the window keeping up on all the goings on happening along the street, sipping a good cup of weak tea. But these two things stand out in my memory – Mary Bowey loved God – and running about.

She didn’t run for exercise or to win any prizes, but until quite recently she could always hustle along faster than me. When I was a young child visiting Dunston from America, my sister and I would return back to her house after a trip into Newcastle or to the Metro Centre with a dull ache in our legs from all the hurrying to and fro. Late to catch the bus? No problem for Mary Bowey, she somehow seemed to find the speed to reach it just in time and hop on. She never learned to drive but that wasn’t a concern as she managed perfectly fine on her own two feet.

About ten years ago I came for a visit with my wife and thought for sure she would have slowed down a bit. We still couldn’t keep up with her! She was 89 years old at the time. And last spring I had the great blessing of being able to visit her weekly for about three months when I was living in Hexham with my family. It wasn’t until the second month of visits that she would stay in her seat by the window and let me fix my own tea. And by then she was over 100! She lived by herself past 101. Remarkable!

My grandmother also loved God. When my sister asked her a few months ago what advice she would give her great-grandchildren my grandmother responded that she hoped they would always go to church. Well they would be hard pressed to be as faithful in their church attendance as Mary Bowey was. She was a member of the Girl’s Friendly Society and then later Mother’s Union for over 70 years. And if my memory serves me right I am quite sure that many of my breathless attempts to keep up with her blistering pace up the sidewalk took place on the way here, to this church. My grandmother loved to run — to church.

It was difficult for all of us to see my grandmother grow weaker at the end of her life. After almost a century of running about it was hard for her to find herself slowing down. And so while it is sad for those of us who love her to say goodbye at her death, it is with hope and joy that I turn to the words of Isaiah:

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

In my memory my grandmother will always be speeding off to worship at church. But my vision of her now is of a vibrant, courageous, spirited woman running into the arms of God.  For I know that God has delighted in renewing her strength so that she will never again be weary. She is in a good place now – still running; welcomed by the God she has loved her whole life long. Amen.


They are catching on…

This evening we had a message on our phone from a friend in Madison telling us to check out the Sunday edition of the Wisconsin State Journal to find a story that was written in Hexham, England. I happened to have a copy of that very paper (since I went shopping at Metcalf’s Sentry grocery store on Sunday and they give away free papers if you spend a certain amount). So I scoured the paper looking for the story and eventually found it.

The story, titled, “So Much Moor” in the print edition, is a nice little summary of some of the best places in northern England to visit. It makes the well reasoned case that northern England is worth a visit – even worth skipping London for. I can’t agree more. I guess others are catching on too.

– Mark

St. Cuthbert’s Gospel

I thought that my exploration of St. Cuthbert would have come to a close with our return from England and re-entry back to work. But one of the members of Pres House, a doctoral student in History, shared with me an important piece of news that I had missed about St. Cuthbert: the British Library recently permanently acquired St. Cuthbert’s Gospel.

St. Cuthbert’s Gospel is the oldest intact European book in the world. It was written at the end of the 7th Century and survived so well because it was buried with Cuthbert for centuries. It is the Gospel book of John, which was Cuthbert’s favorite book of the bible.Throughout my reading about Cuthbert his beloved Gospel of John is mentioned again and again.

“To look at this small and intensely beautiful treasure from the Anglo-Saxon period is to see it exactly as those who created it in the 7th Century would have seen it,” said the library’s chief executive, Dame Lynne Brindley in this BBC story.

Check out this short BBC video clip about the acquisition or read the book for yourself by paging through a digitized version of this remarkable book (just be sure to brush up on your Latin first!).

– Mark


We have been home in Madison for a week now. And I remember why I don’t normally blog. Not enough time! We are still technically off work until this Sunday, but it has been a busy week nonetheless. Between taking care of unpacking and getting life in order again we had the honor of co-officiating the wedding of two Pres House alum that we’ve known since they were freshmen. It was up in beautiful Door County.


We have had a few adjustments coming back: remembering to drive on the right side on roads that seem enormous, getting used to the heat of summer in the Midwest, and retiring some of our British vocabulary in order to be understood.

As I begin to look back on our sabbatical I am incredibly grateful that it was all we had hoped it would be and more. But all good things must come to an end. One of these days I’ll get around to turning Facebook back on (though I am in no rush) and it was great to see some Pres House folks at the wedding. It has been nice to reconnect with neighbors and I am looking forward to re-entering the community at Pres House this weekend. I don’t know what we will be doing with this blog in the future. Is it too early to start planning our next sabbatical…;)

– Mark

Saying Goodbye (and bell ringing initiation)

We fly home to Madison early on Tuesday morning. So today we began the sad process of saying goodbye to our wonderful new friends here in Hexham. This morning I rang bells with the Hexham Abbey Bell Ringers for the Sunday morning service at the Abbey. It was extra special because I rang alonside John and Jean, the couple who we exchanged homes with during the past months. They returned from our house recently and we are all staying together in their house here in Hexham for our last few days.

After a bit of a rocky start to my ringing, I rang reasonably well in the middle of six bells and managed to change my position in the order of bells (called “call changes”) with the help of my excellent ringing coach, Andy. It was fun, meaningful, and memorable. Here is a video clip of my “performance”:

After ringing, I was honored to be given a certificate making me an Associate Member of the Hexham Abbey Bellringers Guild. When I first learned that John and Jean were bell ringers I hoped to simply witness bell ringing at the Abbey. It has been an unexpected joy to not only watch, but to learn beginning ringing myself, and be welcomed into the ringing community of the Abbey.

Then this afternoon John and Jean hosted a lovely catered luncheon for us and some of the people we have gotten to know here in Hexham. It was a wonderful time for us to say goodbye to friends we have grown close to here. These friendships have made our time much more than simply a tourist experience. We are most definitely going to miss Hexham and the people who have made it home for us in the past three months.

– Mark



This gallery contains 7 photos.

We just returned from a fantastic week in Paris that culminated in a trip to Disneyland Paris. We are full to the brim with art, magnificent buildings, chocolate croissants, and Disney characters! Here are a few photos.

Cuthbert’s Home

For the past three months I have been reading about, and meditating on, the life of the 7th century English pastor, St. Cuthbert. And so it was with great excitement that we went to Lindisfarne and Inner Farne islands at the beginning of this week.

St. Aidan founded a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne in 635 AD at the request of King Oswald. After spending time at other monasteries Cuthbert become prior of Lindisfarne later in the 7th century. Despite its remote location off the northeast coast of England, Cuthbert eventually moved to the even more remote island of Inner Farne.

Today, Lindisfarne remains a relatively quiet and beautiful place. It is only accessible by car or on foot during low tide. To get to it one must drive across a road that is covered by the sea at high tide. Despite numerous warnings to keep careful track of the tides, every year someone tries to beat the sea – and loses. There are little huts built up on stilts for those who get caught in the rising tide. One of my daughters saw this and asked, “But what happens to their car?” Well, it is claimed by the sea as so many other human made instruments have been through the ages.

On Lindisfarne today there is a small village with nice pubs, bed and breakfasts, and shops. We ate and spent the night at a pub overlooking the ruins of a 11th century priory and a 16th century castle. There is nothing left of the original monastery. The ruins that are visible are from a cathedral and priory built by the community from Durham cathedral in the 11th century at about the same time that St. Cuthbert’s body was finally laid to rest in Durham. After King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in England, many of the stones were used to build what was seen as more important to the realm at the time – a strategically located castle.

One of the best aspects of visiting Lindisfarne is enjoying the sound and vistas of the sea all around. As the tide came in and the majority of visitors went out, we were left on the island in peace. As we walked along the shore we heard the braying of seals and saw up close some of Cuddy’s ducks (Eider ducks). We could also see the magnificent Bamburgh Castle on the mainland and Cuthbert’s second home – Inner Farne Island.

Cuddy’s Ducks

Inner Farne Island can only be reached by boat. And it is quite an adventurous boat trip. We climbed on board a small fishing vessel with about 60 other visitors and set off into the wind and waves of the North Sea. While we didn’t get seasick in the hour and half trip, much longer on those waves and we would have released our lunch to the wild. Before stopping on Inner Farne Island, we took a tour around the Outer Farne Islands famous for their shipwrecks and thousands upon thousands of nesting birds.

Inner Farne Island today is also home to countless sea birds of about 12 different species. Spring time is the most amazing season to visit because they are hatching their eggs. When we first arrived on the island we were pleasantly surprised to come across a pretty, little Arctic tern sitting on a fencepost. Then it suddenly flew up and began attacking us. The terns are fiercely protective of their young and will dive bomb and peck your head with their sharp beak. Even our five-year-old daughter couldn’t escape the wrath of a tern as the video below shows! It is a good thing that we heded prior warnings and wore hats which at least kept the skin on our head intact. I wonder if St. Cuthbert had to wear a hat during the 10 years he lived on Inner Farne island…

I put together a little video of our time on these two special islands. Unlike my typical approach, I did not add any music to this video. Instead I simply made the soundtrack as close to what St. Cuthbert would have heard during his life on the islands: crashing waves, blowing wind, and the calls of thousands of nesting birds.

The two days spent on the Northumberland coast were two of our best days in England (and we’ve had a lot of them!). It is remarkable and humbling to consider that for over 1300 years people have been meeting and worshipping God amidst the amazing birds and creatures of the English coast.

– Mark