Pilgrimage to Iona 2012 – Some Remembrances
The “thin place” rose on the horizon. Iona, a remote Hebridean island off the coast of northwest Scotland, has for hundreds of years beckoned pilgrims longing to touch and be touched by a holy place. Our group of thirteen was such a group.
The sun sparkled on the rich, blue water as tiny Baile Mor, the lone village on the island, came into sight and the ferry drew near the landing ramp. Weary from our journey across the Atlantic, but filled with anticipation, we found our way to the St. Columba Hotel whose namesake, St. Columba, brought Christianity to this distant place 563 A.D. Passing the ruins of thirteenth-century Nunnery, we settled in for a week of walking in his footsteps and discovering anew the vibrant faith of the ancient Celts – longing to leave with that vibrancy branded in our souls.
Dusk fell that first night, and the colors of sea and mountain, which have for centuries lured artists to this holy place, radiated a palette of reds and violets, soft blues and pale purples. Wispy magenta clouds floated above on a still blue sky – a sense of peace and calm reigned and soothed weary pilgrims.
The days were spent in long hikes, solitary moments of prayer and meditation, times of worship in the restored Abbey and gatherings for sharing and refreshment. New friends were made; new truths learned; new horizons aspired. All the while the old truths and the eternal Truth surrounded on every side.
Prayer in the Abbey or in tiny St. Oran’s Chapel served as a reminder of T.S. Elliott’s words:
……..You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.
(T. S. Elliot; “Little Gidding”)
“To kneel where prayer has been valid” for generation to generation, is to be filled with a great gratitude for all the saints who have hallowed these stones.
Many places give one a sense of awe and reverence but Iona does so in a different way. Here the power of place palpitates. Here, in this “thin place,” where, as the Celts say, “heaven is only a foot above your head,” it is as if you can reach up and hold hands with “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.”
“Place” – the mystery of place – that is much of Iona’s power and mystery. In every moment the Celts celebrated a spirituality of creation. They saw creation and Holy Scripture standing side by side as revelations of God. It was a revelation that stood in awe of the transcendent God and heard the very rocks and sky and sea, indeed all creation, cry out, “Glory!”
And it was a revelation that rejoiced in the intimacy of the immanent God, no more tenderly expressed than in a Hebridean woman’s bed-blessing:
I am lying down tonight as beseems
In the fellowship of Christ…
I am lying down tonight with God
And God tonight will lie down with me….
I am lying down tonight with the Holy Spirit,
And the Holy Spirit this night will lie down with me,
I will lie down this night with the Three of my love,
And the Three of my love will lie down with me.
(Esther de Waal; Every Earthly Blessing; p.31)
Yes, Iona is a “thin place” – a place that calls us to move beyond self, to celebrate the wonder of creation and know the intimacy of the God within us, beside us, above us in every moment of living.