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9th to 16th September 2011

Well, I finally got there. Last week I travelled to the Isle of Iona (Scottish Gaelic: Ì Chaluim Chille), off the western coast of Scotland, in the Inner Hebrides, and stayed at the abbey, for a week. For about 20 years I’ve felt the attractive pull of Iona. It began, I think, when I went to a workshop in Reading, Berkshire where John Bell strode into the room and in a few minutes had the assembled song-shy people rather astonished to discover themselves singing in wonderful harmony. Since then, the music, the theology embedded in incarnation, the radical call to love the world, to be on the side of the powerless, to hunger for justice has attracted and challenged me. Iona is known as a place of pilgrimage, a ‘thin place’, and has a certain spiritual mystique about it. I wondered if reality would pop the bubble of high expectations I had about the place and the ecumenical community making their temporary home there?

Iona didn’t disappoint, to my relief, and it didn’t overwhelm, or feel unreal, or too separate from the ‘real world’. Yes, it’s a long way to travel there, for most people. It was quite an adventure to plan the journey, book the train tickets, travel by bus, train and ferry. The island didn’t disappoint. We had the wonderful variety of island weather: wild winds and rain as a legacy of passing hurricanes, then clear blue skies and sunshine. The skies were amazing, the landscape stunning: white beaches, rocks and stones marking arrivals and departures, heather-speckled moorland.

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It’s true what they say of Iona light which makes you look, look again.

The experience of community – that nebulous word – didn’t disappoint. Living in the Abbey, alongside staff members, visitors and volunteers we shared stories, fabulous food, worked alongside one another in cleaning, serving food, washing-up, chopping vegetables. We worshipped in the abbey – but not only in the abbey: “We continue to worship God”  Work and worship are not separated.  The community has a dispersed membership, finding its centre in some ways in this place and its wisdom, even if not actually physically there. There was an intimacy, in the moments we shared of our own lives, in the hospitality shared: “Do you have everything you need?”, in the encouragement to take the gift of the moment: “Go for it!”

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Challenge as well of living closely together, and of remembering our accountability for our time, our money, our use of the earth’s resources. What will our rule of life be?

So what was the moment I will savour from this pigrimage? I hate being asked that question, and almost discarding so many moments to pick out one favoured one… but I think it could well be deciding I had to go up Dune-I, the highest point on Iona,

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before I left, so (with some nudging) I chose to arrive late at our final gathering/reflecting time in order to hastily climb the hill and see the sun set. (If you know me, you’ll maybe realise that to do that little ‘rebellion’ was quite a big step for me to take!)

So off we went again, sent off with waves of goodbye from the folk on the shores of Iona, carrying Iona blessings with us.

For such a time as this we are called to commitment.

For such a time as this, we are called to God’s service;

Sometimes to listen, sometimes to weep, sometimes to wait or to speak.

Called to be caring, called to act,

for such a time as this.

(text and tune: Latin American, source unknown, arr by John Bell)

 

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