Monday, June 14, 2010
Verily, verily I say unto you...there is NOTHING new under the sun...
And so it is with the beautiful, beautiful Isle of Iona.
This morning started with a dreich rain. We left the Bunessan guest house in wellies and raingear, fully prepared to freeze during the Sunday service in the Abbey. We got to Fionnphort really quite early, and stood around looking at the ferry and the water and just talking for about an hour, and in that time, the sun broke through...first, quite poetically, over the Abbey on the opposite shore...which was weird. I tried to capture it on film, but that is one of the things about Iona, and indeed the whole West of Scotland, the light...well....the light is like a spirit, or an eccentric character that is part of the community...it is thin and thick, dark and bright, moving and still......sensed and at the same time very intangible. This, as one would suspect, effects the colours, which on Iona are all the blues and greens....with splashes of pink and orange, yellow and white....it is indeed a thin, thin place between heaven and earth.
George McLeod told me that...I didn't make it up...much as I'd like to claim it.
Today was a day when the island was laughing, and the water was dancing, and the sky was singing, and the flowers were clapping their hands!
Creation was in full-on praise!
I really didn't know what to expect today. It's been 11 years since I was last on the island, 20 years since I crossed the thresh-hold of the Abbey, and thought at the time that I would never return. Ever. Ever.
But, as Eileen believes (and has been bugging me about for the last 19 years) all circles must be completed. Today I did just that.
I was warned by Iona friends that I would see so many changes.....I did see changes, but none that were upsetting or unusual. There are a few more houses on the island, but they are tasteful and in keeping with the place. The pub has another wing added to it, again...change that works. The Abbey was the same, but with much less staff than I remember....The morning worship was much the same as it ever was when I was there as the Childrens' Programme Worker. It seemed a little bizarre that it was lead completely by women. Whatever. I think it was more about staff shortage than emasculation. I think. They announced that communion would be taken by a woman who is a minister in the Reformed Church in America. I wondered if she was a graduate from NBTS. When she began the speak, she sounded young and American, then got more and more Scotchy as she went.....I understand this....it happens to me. It either means you have a good ear...or you're a phony. Or both.
I had the post-service cup of tea in the cloisters..talked to some folk...
Bought stuff in the shop and saw one of the Island girls that was a such a sweet kid back in the day! It was lovely to see her....she hadn't changed much! Lovely girl!
Went to the other shop and bought quite a lot of books...Eileen paid....yikes.
Then, I thought I should go up Dun I....that big lump of land on the North End. From Dun I, you can see the whole island, and many other islands, and way out to sea. Standing on Dun I, I think I first accepted that my mother was both very much "on the other side", and very much always with me. Thin place. A mighty thin place, the top of Dun I.
I harkened back to the days when I would run up it after tea..yes, run!..When the charges were all sent happily back to their parents, it was a way to shake the food down and have a stretch of the legs....oh boy.... were the 20 years evident here! I attempted my mountain goat ascent....but it just was nowhere near as fast and strong as it once was...not even a shadow! I couldn't even blame my shoes, because I realized I'm still wearing the same wellies I bought back in 1979! (Way to go L.L. Bean!)
No, it was me...I'm a lot older and chunkier! The view was spectacular. The thinness and the light so present. I could feel my pounding heart and my insufficient clotting factor tying me to the rock and grass and water, and my spirit away up in the thinness and the light. Quite exhilerating to straddle two realms in such a way.
I thought of my studies...my call...my future....the Iona Parish without a minister...the whole of Mull without a minister. As much as I'm not so keen on being a parish minister, maybe I am meant to come back here. Maybe I'm meant to return to the Community...after all this time, and all the pain I've gone through....When the kids are older....was this a possibility? I heard barely discernable, magical music and birdsong.....what was God saying?!
On my descent, I met a lovely couple from Devon. They told me I looked like a mountain goat running up the hill....I instantly loved them. We talked about the island and the Community. They said they were glad to meet someone so friendly...I silently hoped the Community folk were nice to them....English, Yanks, Germans....sometimes not treated so nicely.
I thought before lunch I should go and meet the Reformed woman...thank her for the lovely service, ask if we had any shared acquaintences. I was thinking that the combination of female, Reformed Church, US, Iona responsibilities would make for a great interview.
The Abbey staff said she was up at the MacLeod Centre, at the Mac, they told me she was in the kitchen....at the kitchen door, I was directed to the sinks, where she was helping with the washing up....as you do on Iona...it's all about living in community! I queried whether I should wait, and the bloke said....no, no, go on in. So I did.
She was not only affronted that I introduce myself over a sudsy sink, but that I insinuate that she was American, she has lived in Scotland for 5 years. She is an ordained minister in the RCA, but is not American! I apologized for the mistake. I asked her surname...I thought I might send her a card to apologize for upsetting her. She FREAKED OUT! She said her surname was none of my business.....so, I left.
I walked out into the sheep bleating, oyster-catcher screeching, blue-green dazzle of lovely Iona, and knew that, indeed, there is nothing new under the sun! No magical music or birdsong...just the barely discernable, omnipotent's.... laughter! God does have such a fabulous sense of humour!!!!
The Reformed Church minister currently acting as Island Warden (yes, that's the title)does not!.... reformed, she believes, from American to Scot...but no sense of humour at all.
Nor was she aware that as busy as she was, the island was laughing, and the water was dancing, the sky was singing, and the flowers were clapping their hands!!! Shame really.
She was missing out on a fabulously praise-tastic day! With a giggling God enjoying the show at its edges!
Iona, it's amazing worship...so inspiring (especially the stuff by John Bell) ....
Iona, the ancient, holy, thin place...
Iona, of Druids and Columba, Benedictine monks and Augustinian nuns...
Iona, of Viking raids and the stormy winter sea taking back its own...
Iona, the inspired project of George MacLeod's to bring the worker and the clergy together...
Iona, of colours, light...many, many sheep...
Iona, the 'Parnassus Hill' of Scotland.....muse-central for artists, poets, priests....
...is ALWAYS going to draw the incredibly gifted and spiritual...
and the wannabe, freak-show, immature, sanctimonious prats who feel awesome about themselves by exiting the real world, and judging it most cruelly from atop a jewel in the sea!
Deny it they may, but there is truth in it.
Iona is what it is.
Worship God... not an island
Worship God... not a community.
I love the island and the community.....it's a large part of who I am now, and after closing the circle....I'm fine. I am really, actually, quite fine.
There is nothing new under the sun! This circle is complete!