Sunday, 20 July 2014


Carn Domhnach ('Burial mound of the church'!) is the
ancient spiritual centre of Inishowen Peninsula in North Donegal
This morning, I drove across Postman Pat countryside to the pretty little village of Carndonagh.  It was my first visit to the Moville group of parishes where I'm helping out for a few weeks over the summer.

The church is right by the famous Carndonagh Cross.  Saint Patrick himself is said to have founded a worshipping community here.

It was rite one: not my forte!  Lots of -ests and -eths to get my tongue around.  

Over the past year, I've learned this about liturgy.  It is creative.  Even older forms and rites, and even in traditional churches with older congregations.

A year ago, preparing to start training for ordained ministry, I was worried about 'making mistakes'.  By that, I meant accidentally departing from the prescribed rubric. 

Now, I think a bigger mistake is to be a slave to the letter of the prayer book!  It's important to spot those wonderful words 'may be said', 'or a portion thereof' and - my personal fave - 'may be adapted according to local custom'.  

Even the contemporary 'Morning Prayer 2' is titled 'an order' and not 'the order' for regular worship.  Cool!

Don't get me wrong.  I like liturgy.  I think all Christian groups have their standard orders of service, and paying critical and conscious attention to it helps us get it right.  Otherwise, without meaning to, services can get flabby, frothy, and more imbued with wider cultural references than the scriptural, story-shaped liturgy we need.  

Did you know that about 70% of the words in the Book of Common Prayer come straight from the Bible?  There's probably no other denomination that hears so much scripture in one 60-minute service!  (Sermon over.) 

Carn's famous Celtic cross
Close-up shows Criost eirithe - Christ is risen!

I think the Church of Ireland has to be brave and bold and follow the Spirit and do things differently.  But throwing out carefully crafted liturgy isn't itself a barrier to fresh expressions of church.  There's a lot of brilliant liturgy in the treasure chest of Christian experience.  We need clever worship leaders to select the right elements for the occasion.  Post-moderns love a bit of ancient stuff woven in with silence, music, drama ...  

Liturgically freer churches aren't all packed to the rafters (a few are).  So I think Anglicans should continue to do what we do (sometimes) well: liturgy.  Our USP.  Based on scripture.  Flexible.  Economical with words.  Ancient faith expressed for people today.  Tolerant of mystery, using silence as well as sound; shadow as well as light.

That's what I was thinking about on my way home this afternoon.  And just a year ago, I doubt any of this would have occurred to me.    

So thanks, parishioners of Carndonagh church, for having me and helping me reflect on worship.  (And perhaps for putting up with my experimentation a bit too.)  Carndonagh might mean 'burial mound of the church' - but this little Christian community is alive and well!  

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Nile Safari Adventure

The drive from Arua to Entebbe International Airport crosses the Nile twice and goes through Murchison Falls National Park.  So it would have been rude not to make a slight detour to see the wildlife.

We left Arua in the dark.  Bye bye little wooden lodge.  Spirits lifted when the sun came up, and sank again when the rain started.  Not good wildlife viewing weather.
The Nile on a wet morning

I'd been thinking a lot recently about the whole issue of providence.  So I thought, I might as well.  Lord, I think this is a superficial prayer.  I'm not sure this interests you, or figures greatly in your redemptive plan.  But I'd like to see a lion.  I'd really like to see a lion.  'Cos I've never seen one in the wild before.

The rain got worse.  It's not looking good, advised our driver Oyobo.  The animals hide when it rains like this.  

Message received.  Adjust expectations.  We'll see lots of birds and interesting plants.

The ranger, Saviour, apologized as we met him at the park entrance.  You must remember that lions are big cats, he said.  Cats hate water.
Rain eases off as we reach the park

We drove less than five minutes, and already there were hundreds of antelope everywhere you looked: Uganda cob, Jackson's hartebeest, oribi and water bucks.  And buffalo as well.  We saw some elderly males, driven out of the herd by younger ones, in threes and fives.  Each had an egret perched on top, in an I'll scratch your back if you let me eat your fleas arrangement.

Families of warthogs scuttled merrily in front of the car.

There were Rothschild giraffe, too.  Hundreds.  Last year in South Africa, we gasped in amazement at the sight of three giraffe.  In Murchison Falls, they were everywhere you looked.  The older ones are almost black.  We saw some younger males duel by basking each other's neck, just like in the BBC's Attenbrough footage recently.  

Poised and ...
We got a rare glimpse of an elephant lying down.  Apparently you don't see that very often.

So, the rain had not kept the wildlife in hiding all morning after all.  It's so abundant in Uganda.  It couldn't possibly all be concealed in the trees and bushes.  There wouldn't be space to hide this number of animals!

... thump.  Two young males neck-duelling.
On our way across Buligi, a strip of savannah between the Albert and Victoris Niles, to see the hippo, Saviour noticed that the hundreds of antelope were on high alert, motionless and emitting a strange high-pitched noise.  Then he spotted an antelope carcass.  More accurately, half a carcass.  The insides had been expertly removed to leave a rib cage and pelt and no more.

There must be lions nearby!

We drove up to the carcass, beside a clump of bushes.  We drove as slowly as Oyobo could round and round the bushes ... and then we saw it.  This was a lions' den.  And inside, you could just make out a massive paw.  And every few seconds, a big face lowered to lick said paw.  

We decided there were in fact two lions in there.  Oyobo whooped.  In all his years driving Mzungus round on safaris, he'd never seen a lion himself.

Unfortunately, there was no way of getting a photo.  It was dark in there.  And we definitely weren't going to get out of the car for a better angle!
Antelope carcass minus innards

Off we drove.  God, you're good.  I saw a lion's paw and face!  After such a rainy morning, too!

We saw more of everything, plus a mongoose and a few monkeys.  Even the birds and trees were more interesting now, because there were lions around!

On the way back, Saviour wondered if the lions had dragged the rest of the carcass into the den, so we swung by.  It was gone.

But antelope is salty meat and makes lions thirsty.  And there they were!  A lioness and her adolescent male, walking to a pool for a drink.  Crouching every few metres in case another kill might present itself.

They lapped.  And lapped.  Thirsty work, this.

They were so close, you could see the expressions of contentment on their faces, the ambivalence about taking down one more antelope if it just walked into the mother's teeth, but hey they'd eaten well so no need to fret if not.

Off they sauntered, as only the queen and prince of the jungle can do.  Back to their den.

Wow.  That's providence.  Next time I must be specific and pray I get to see an adult male.

We'd been so transfixed by the miracle spectacle of these lions drinking right in front of us that we were late now for our ferry crossing over the Nile.  So, we had a picnic of boiled eggs, groundnuts, sesame cakes and bananas on the banks of the great river.  In the distance were some volcanoes.  

As we were enjoying the view, some baboons had been getting closer.  Oyobo was sitting outside; we were in the car, terribly overheating but safe from the baboons.  We thought.

One jumped onto the roof of the car.  My window was open six inches.  A dirty hand was thrust into the car.  I pressed and pressed but the window wouldn't wind up.  Oyobo had the keys.

He thought quick, though.  He flung his banana one side of the vehicle, and the big hairy burglar went off in pursuit.  Oyobo jumped in and wound up the windows.  Who needs sub-35 temperatures when there are baboons about?

He was about to punch you in the face, Oyobo said, grinning in his new status as hero.  He was going to punch you to disorient you and enter the car and steal your bags.

I'd take on a lion any day before one of those brutes.

Our vehicle crosses the Nile
Keeping cool
At 2 pm, the boat arrived.  As a ferry transported the car to the other bank, we took the cruise boat down the river.  We watched antelope take their chances at a good drink of water from the river's edge.  We lost count of the hippo.  

We had a close encounter with some crocodile.  One in particular was barely arm's length from the side of the boat, basking in the hottest part of the day.  It slowly opened and closed its mouth.  Our guide reassured us he wasn't anticipating a nice meal of Irish visitor, but was regulating his body temperature through his mouth, because the scales keep heat trapped inside.
Also keeping cool.  Phew.  I thought he was poised to bite.

Normally, you'd see giraffe and elephant come down to the water's edge.  Not today - the morning's rain kept them away.  Still, who cares when you've seen lions up close and personal?

The water got choppier and scummier as we came close to the Falls themselves.  The mighty River Nile, having flowed from its source near Jinja, from Lake Victoria to Lake Albert and through this lush, vibrant National park on its way to Sudan, Egypt and the Mediterranean, is squeezed at this point through a six-metre cleft in the rock.  That's some power.  

That's around when we saw African eagle.  

From the south bank, it was a bumpy drive through Rabongo Forest towards Masindi, where we'd spend our last night in Uganda.  Our last night for this trip, of course.

The Mighty Nile is squeezed through a 6m cleft