I was in Reykjavik four years ago for Christmas on what was my second visit here. I had seen that there was a service in English at Hallgrimskirkja in the city centre on Christmas Day and decided to go. Those plans fell through as plans often will. I wound up going out to lunch instead and never made the service which I regretted. So I promised myself I would make amends this year and today I did just that.
I haven't been to a church service in ten years. It's not a fact I'm overly proud of but living in Northern Ireland did a pretty good job of putting me off organised religion. I found it had less to do with peace and unity than it had to do with one-up-man-ship and division. For far too many people there it is nothing more than a banner to hold over your neighbours to remind them that even though you don't know each other they aren't good enough for you and never will be.
In a country where children are segregated at primary school I saw very little to convince me that religion could do anything to help the scars left behind by six hundred years of sectarian squabbling. It would be wrong not to acknowledge the strides forward that Northern Ireland has taken in recent times but if you keep picking at old wounds some of them will never heal.
Today was a different story altogether though. The Reverend Bjarni Þor Bjarnason led the Holy Communion accompanied by organist Friðrik Vignir Stefansson and leading singer Arni Gunnarson. The awe-inspiring interior of Hallgrimskirkja is home to a seriously impressive 5,275-pipe organ. The combination of the grand visual style of the church and the heavenly sounds of the organ leave you in little doubt that you are in a very special house of the Lord. It left me feeling humbled in the best possible way. It's Christmas, you're a long way from home and you feel tiny under the enormous weight of concrete that hangs majestically above you in there.
Bjarni Þor spoke eloquently and succinctly about the distinctions between having a house that one can fill with furniture and other worldly possessions and the concept of creating a home. A home can only be achieved by filling the house with the right kind of atmosphere brought about by meaningful and caring relationships. His message was simple but all the really important lessons in life are.
One of the most fundamental of all human traits seems to be that we require the basic elements of our relationships with each other pointed out to us over and over again in order to get them right. Or more correctly, to not get them wrong so consistently. Our self-centred ways make us immune to each others needs when it is these very relationships that will define our time on this planet. It is who we surround ourselves with and how we treat them that matters the most.
The things around us make no difference to who we are as people nor are they capable of making our lives any better in the same way that not having something you want is incapable of making it any worse. Except perhaps in our own heads.
I left feeling refilled and with a redefined set of expectations for those around me, and probably more importantly, myself.
Today went a long way towards rebuilding my faith in the role that religion can play in modern society as well as in my own life.
Thank you Iceland.