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  • Writer's pictureBethany Lynn Alvey

Fàilte! ... Chan eil Gàidhlig agam. (Welcome! ... I don't speak Gaelic)

I've always loved stepping through sliding glass doors. There's always something interesting on the other side, something outside worth catching the eye while you're still inside, and something to experience once you move through them - a yard, a balcony, a deck, a garden. I suppose I thought of that because writing a first blog is a bit like stepping past that doorway - there is so much world out there, where do I begin?

Since you landed here, I'll start with this site - why Caraid Anam? After all, I'm an American citizen, I am learning Gàeldhig (Scottish Gaelic) but do not speak it yet, and even if I did, how many folks out there in the world would recognize those words or what they meant (soul-friend)? And for those that have heard the Irish anam cara before, why go through the trouble of writing it in Scottish Gaelic?

I remember having a conversation with a highland tour guide during my second visit to Scotland, in 2008. We were on the coach waiting for the last of our tour group to rejoin us after having spent a frosty afternoon in late December at Clava Cairns near Inverness. He was asking me about how I'd come to live in Edinburgh the first time (a semester abroad).

Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh Scotland

I remember the plane circling the Firth of Forth before landing. I'd never been out of the United States before, never been away from my family before, I was exhausted and to be honest, a little scared. I looked out the window and as we passed through white clouds, I saw my first glimpse of the deep haunted blue of the Firth against the lush green of the shore, all hung with mist gently lit by the morning sun. I'm home. The thought welled up from somewhere deep in me, and the rest of me was surprised by it, and immediately agreed.

"I feel foolish sometimes, like I'm making it up," I told our guide as we sat on the coach watching the last of the tourists snap photos (this was before Outlander was a hit series, so no one was putting their hands all over millennia-old standing stones and cairns). "My ancestors left Scotland in the early eighteenth century. No one in our family has lived here for generations. But when I breathe the air, hear the stories, the music, I just - " and I teared up right there on the tacky bright yellow highland tour bus.

Without batting an eye he said, "That's your soul. Your soul knows where it comes from."

As easy as that.

I'm fairly certain he had no idea the layers of personal meaning he invoked in those ten words - that I'd been turned inside out by God on that first and longest stay three years prior, that I was reckoning with a new self that was more than what I knew what to do with, and that I was consumed with thoughts of how I could get myself to move back to Scotland as soon as possible. But the simple affirmation helped still that insecurity; there was something deeper going on in me and my relationship to this place.

Each time I've returned it's marked a significant phase of my spiritual journey, and feels intensely personal. I have both drawn closer to Scotland and further apart, dearer to me than ever and less of an obsession. I've gone through all the ups and downs of a true love - from infatuation filled with kitschy Scottish merch while daydreaming and doodling in my notebooks, second-guesses that maybe I imagined it all, jealousy when I watch others visit or move there, through all that to a calm, quiet, strong love that knows "what's for ye won' go by ye."

Tha gaol agam ort, Alba.

As strongly as I've felt (feel) about Scotland, it's all gathered under the more enduring Presence. My journey with Christ has been the current and tide of my life. It was Jesus who prepared me before I went the first time. It was the Holy Spirit who bowled me over with love while I lived there. It was the Father who invited me to say goodbye to Scotland in 2009 with no hopes of returning, and the Father who brought me back in 2014 and again in 2015. It is Christ who teaches me to decolonize and reconnect with the indigenous part of my being that will be on display with "every tribe, nation, language, and tongue." It is the hand of the Divine that has been confidently walking me to corner after corner - like on a Take-Your-Daughter-to-Work Day - and showing me how others relate to Them, how others express their love toward Them, and how They are on display through a dizzying array of humanity. It becomes difficult to tell where the line is between the Father choosing me and me choosing Him, and is strangely freeing, too.

I am so grateful for the journey God has taken me on, and the freedom I've experienced as a result. There have been so many delightful surprises, and meaning has deepened. The divinely orchestrated companionships - apostles, community leaders, philosophers, teachers, spiritual directors, peers of all shapes and sizes - have impressed upon me the reality of our shared journey, though no two are alike. The peregrinatio (the journeyer) can always benefit from a companion, whether on a journey in the body to a new country, or in the expanses of the spirit and soul.

Iona Abbey, Isle of Iona

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