I do believe firmly that God at least occasionally providentially mixes with our everyday lives, bringing us certain books, poems, and people who make a profound difference to us and become a means of grace. I have marveled at God’s doings over time, bringing us blessings through others. And so John and Isobel have become to me. After a twelve-hour flight from Amsterdam to Cape Town (a daytime flight so it seemed extra long to me!), I spent the night at a Capetown airport hotel and John and Isobel picked me up the next morning for our trip back to Hermanus and Volmoed (pronounced “fallmoot”). We took the scenic route and the scenery was spectacular. At left is a photo with John en route. (I’ve attached more photos at the bottom of this article; each has a title and description. Please scroll through them as you read!) The second photo shows Isobel and me at the same scenic location during our drive.
We stopped for lunch on the way and then drove through Hermanus – an upscale community – home to artists, craftsmen, and writers. About five miles from Hermanus we arrived in Volmoed, located in the wine-farming Hemel en Aarde Valley. The property was originally settled as a Moravian missionary outpost in 1823 to minister to lepers. After the lepers were moved to Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was eventually imprisoned), the land was sold and the valley divided into farms. The present community of Volmoed bought a farm some years back, keeping the original name as a condition of the sale, and founded the present day Volmoed Retreat and Conference Centre with the vision of “bringing wholeness to broken people.” In 2001 Volmoed became associated with the Community of the Cross of Nails, centered at Coventry Cathedral in England, underscoring the community’s ideals of reconciliation and healing in the midst of a suffering world – not just South Africa but worldwide. This was also the same year that John and Isobel moved from Cape Town to build a lovely home on the property and take up residence in Volmoed.
The community and its grounds are spectacular. With a number of buildings scattered around the property it can accommodate sixty retreatants. It has a modern office and chapel complex (where my friend John celebrates the Eucharist on Thursdays and delivers a thoughtful meditation), a resource center and spacious conference room. The third photo in the gallery is of the chapel and its surrounds.
After a wonderful four-night visit with John and Isobel – including a joyous dinner party celebrating John’s birthday and a trip the next day to one of the local wineries to sample a few of their products and purchase a couple of bottles for John’s birthday present, we headed back to Cape Town for a tour of the city – including the University of Cape Town where John had been on the faculty for thirty years. We also took a tour of the neighborhood where he grew up and saw their family home there where they had lived until John retired from the University and they moved to Volmoed. We then drove to a wonderful part of Cape Town right along the ocean and strolled around the beach area before having our last lunch together. The fourth and fifth photos are of my friends near the beach and at the restaurant where they treated me to our last meal together – at least for this trip.
Thus ended my visit with these dear people who have become very important in my life. I stayed on at Cape Town for a couple more days and then flew to Amsterdam and then home to Dulles – that event-filled journey that was one focus of Part I of this two-part blog.
I have mused many times in both past blogs and also in books I have written that I do believe firmly that God at least occasionally providentially mixes with our everyday lives, bringing us certain books, poems, and people who make a profound difference to us and become a means of grace. John’s farewell gift to me was a copy of his new autobiography, I Have Come a Long Way (published by Lux Verbi, an imprint of NB Publishers, 2015). One of the benefits of this recovery period for me (referring back to my unfortunate accident in the hotel room the night before flying home) is the time I have had to read and reflect on several writings. I finished John’s book a couple of days ago and, as I said to Isobel and John in an email yesterday, it is fascinating to me how our professional lives intersected before we even knew one another!
For years John attended the American Academy of Religion, of which I’m also a member. Before we “met” at that meeting in Baltimore in 2013 (again mentioned in Part I of this blog series), in 2000 John attended a conference at the Centre for Advanced Religious and Theological Studies at Cambridge University, England – where I also spent my sabbatical in 2003; in 2001 he gave the Sprunt lectures at Union Seminary here in Richmond when Bud still had an office on campus and was actively still teaching at the time (although technically retired); in 2005 John was at the Philadelphia AAR meeting – the same meeting when I had just been awarded a contract from Eerdmans for Imagination and the Journey of Faith. (Eerdmans was also the first publishing company to have published a book by John – with the same editor, Jon Pott.) And while Isobel has flourished as a poet and artist, she is also a writer. One of her earlier books was titled Making all Things Well – a discussion of Julian of Norwich’s theology. As many of you know, I’m also an Oblate of the Julian Order.
Well, perhaps this is enough to show why I have marveled at God’s doings over time, bringing us blessings through others. And so John and Isobel have become to me! God’s doing!
Near the end of I Have Come a Long Way, John says “if home is where you long to return after you have traveled elsewhere, then Volmoed has become that place for us. We love its daily routine of work and prayer, walking in the surrounding mountains and on the coastal path. … Travel expands our horizons, but it exhausts the body; being at home renews the soul and gives stability and balance to life.” And so Richmond is my home, and within the circle of loving friends, healing is taking place and wholeness is becoming mine once more. Returning to the community of St. John’s this past Sunday was balm to my spirit. Thanks be to God – for John, for Isobel, for my sons and their families, and for all the friends in my life! God’s doing!