As I write this in August 2013, I am more surprised by what is not in my journal than what is there as I begin to reflect upon the Iona experience that was occurring just about a month ago today. It feels like so very long ago. There are subtle shifts in my thinking and doing that I know are part of — or subsequent to — the days spent on that Holy Island. I am just not sure what they mean or how they will continue to emerge into my daily life. The entries that I made — almost every day — speak of the silence and the incredible beauty of the gardens, the quaintness of the houses, with bicycles propped against the walls, houses oriented to protect the doors and windows from the strong winter gales that can “bend the window glass.” I wrote of the water, the endless opportunities to walk and wonder among the ruins. I wrote of the beaches and the quest to find the perfect rock or pebble as a memento of this holy and historic place.
The landscape was open and airy, the ships sailing by, the ferry pulling in and out with pilgrims and tourists all contributed to, and did not really distract from, the “holy presence” that for me was nearly palpable on Iona. My pictures remind me of the solitude I felt when walking through the pastures — this time with sheep and cows — marveling at their peaceful presence and tolerance for intruders in their island home.
The rhythm of this island was dictated no so much by the tides but by the call to prayers at the Abbey.Sitting inside that magnificent stone structure, surrounded by the unseen but very rich presence of thousands of pilgrims and fellow seekers, was an indescribable experience: morning and evening prayer, a healing service, times of silence, sharing biscuits after the service all memorable in their own right. Songs echoed with clarity when sung from the hearts of individuals who were united — if only for an hour or two — by a desire to connect and commune with God and within this community. That is my most powerful experience in Iona. I have never experienced collective silence as I did there … and it was holy.
One of the most powerful memories was the invitation to communion on Sunday morning. The church was full — the priest, a woman whose age or look I have no recollection of, spoke with a voice that clearly offered a simple, urgent, compelling invitation to “come to God’s table.” She explained that the table was set for those who believed and for those who were not so sure they did believe; the bread and wine were there for the taking by seekers, questioners, the curious, and the doubters; for the healthy and the sick, for the rich and the poor, for those who came with thanksgiving and gratitude and for those who questioned and doubted and were even annoyed with God. She offered simple, convincing reassurance that this bread and this wine — which we passed to one another — would forever link us to each other and to the one who first broke bread with friends and those who betrayed him. For some reason, this open, inclusive, lovingly presented invitation was pivotal to my experience on Iona. In that service we sang a song that just that morning had been the words a still small voice whispered to me in my own time of quiet prayer: “ Be Still and Know that I am God.” Hearing it sung by this random congregation of pilgrims and members of the Iona community was confirmation that this is the discipline I need to work on. How challenging it is to be still — really still; to know — really know down deep in your bones that God is God … in control, loving, waiting, longing for communion with me — with you — with his people. In my journal I wrote about this experience as affirmation of my desire to be in sync, to seek and serve, to be and do all the Divine has for me … but first I must be still … stop striving/stop making it complicated … just be.
This cross hangs in the chapel of St Columba at the Abby in Iona. The woods are beautifully contrasted; the open arm of love, the symbols of communion/ connection and community spoke to me and drew me back to this place several times.