In which Ruth copes with living on an island for 5 days

You know I’m a city girl. You know I’m not terribly keen on the country unless I’m inside a luxury coach (with toilet, of course) or seeing it through a window from the warmth of a nice interior somewhere. For a day or two. At the most. But somehow Iona is different. I have even managed 7 days there before and only started to twitch at the end. I love going to Iona and the journey is all part of the pilgrimage, from the roads round lochs, stopping at the Green Wellie Shop at Tyndrum, to the one-way system in Oban. I’m familiar with Iona. I know how it breathes. I know where the shops are and where you go for peace. I know where the best stones are to be found. And I know that the view over the Sound to Mull changes every 5 minutes or so. I know the water is so clear and so blue/green that you could be in the Mediterranean.  I know where the sheltered beaches are and what the sound of the Corncrake is like. (Bloody irritating.) I love St Columba’s chapel in Bishop’s House like an old familiar church. I like meeting people as they pass by and sit beside you in church. I love Iona.

So that is why I am always happy to take my little flock to Iona. Because I know that mostly they are country people or love the outdoors and will love it even more than I do. And I’ve never been wrong. This past 5 days was no different. I took a group of 18, mostly from my little flock, some of whom hadn’t been before, and they loved it. We laughed a lot. There are many in-jokes which will frustrate those who didn’t go in the days to come, no doubt. (Tippi Hedron impersonation anyone?)

Anything to irritate? Yes. The fact that 17 adults seemed incapable of remembering any times given to them. “Ruth, what time’s supper again?” “Ruth, what time is the Eucharist?” “Ruth, when do we meet again?” “Ruth, when’s the ferry?” (even when I hadn’t booked their ferry!) Over and over and over again. It was like herding cats or dealing with very small and unsure children. Next time I will do a timetable and stick it to their foreheads. However, I don’t think it will stop the uncertainty about time. And of course, we lost some of them on the way but we gathered them in eventually (after I went another few shades greyer).

I paddled, went to Staffa again but this time it was so calm we even sailed right in to Fingal’s cave, saw porpoises and seals basking in the sunshine, got sunburned, went to the Abbey on the Feast of St Columba, went up the North End in a golf buggy, painted stones, over-ate at a barbecue, ate Hogget and laughed like nothing on earth.

Every morning I did a little talk on all things Celtic: St C himself; Spirituality; Prayer etc and borrowed heavily from Ian Bradley’s books. I did quote him even in my sermon on Sunday so much so that when we went up to the Abbey just an hour or so later and heard Ian Bradley himself preaching it was almost as if he’d read my sermon. Or rather that I’d borrowed liberally from his book!  One of my little flock even brought him back to Bishop’s House to meet me after the Island Pilgrimage. (I was shopping!) He was very charming, as was his wife. And didn’t mind me borrowing from his books at all.

And now we are home once more. I would like to go back again quite soon.

Chapel

 

Crucifix

 

Puffin grass

 

View from Dun-I

 

Iona sea

 

Dun-I cairn

 

Iona beach

 

St Columba

Today is the Feast Day of St Columba and this is my favourite painting of him by John Duncan. It depicts the story of Columba and the White Horse which goes thus:

After this the saint left the barn, and in going back to the monastery, rested half way at a place where a cross, which was afterwards erected, and is standing to this day, fixed into a millstone, may be observed on the roadside. While the saint, as I have said, bowed down with old age, sat there to rest a little, behold, there came up to him a white pack-horse, the same that used, as a willing servant, to carry the milk-vessels from the cowshed to the monastery. It came up to the saint and, strange to say, laid its head on his bosom-inspired, I believe, by God to do so, as each animal is gifted with the knowledge of things according to the will of the Creator; and knowing that its master was soon about to leave it, and that it would see him no more-began to utter plaintive cries, and like a human being, to shed copious tears on the saint’s bosom, foaming and greatly wailing. The attendant seeing this, began to drive the weeping mourner away, but the saint forbade him, saying: “Let it alone, as it is so fond of me, let it pour out its bitter grief into my bosom. Lo! thou, as thou art a man, and hast a rational soul, canst know nothing of my departure hence, except what I myself have just told you, but to this brute beast devoid of reason, the Creator Himself hath evidently in some way made it known that its master is going to leave it.” And saying this, the saint blessed the work-horse, which turned away from him in sadness.

From Adamnan’s Life of St Columba

And if you are near Edinburgh this weekend and into all things Iona-ish you could go to see a play called ‘An Island Between Heaven and Earth’ at South Leith Church Halls telling the story of the unemployed shipyard workers and trainee ministers who went to Iona to restore the Abbey in 1938.

And finally to finish… the prayer by George Macleod which I use as an invitation for communion:

Come, not because you are strong but because you are weak.

Come, not because of any goodness of your own but because you need mercy and help.

Come, because you love the Lord a little and would like to love him more.

Come, because he loves you and gave himself for you.