Friday, August 24, 2012

Scotland day 4

Day 4:

The Abbey on Iona
On Tuesday we came down to breakfast at 8:00 am and both of us paused when we entered the dining room.  The view from the table was across the channel to the Isle of Iona and one could just make out the abbey underneath a grey sky.  We ordered our breakfast (Dean had haggis along with his eggs and some salmon...because he could), had some pleasant conversation with people from Manitoba (yes, we had mutual friends), Japan, and Britain.  Then we caught the first ferry over to the island at 8:45am.  Iona is a beautiful, quaint island (population 125) with a small village located right where the ferry disembarks.  There are no cars allowed on the island except for locals, so pretty much everyone is on foot, which is no problem really because the island is only 3 miles long and 1 mile wide.

A street on Iona in the village

Dean and I walked up a road and soon found ourselves at the site of a 13th century nunnery.  The ruins are now the site of a well-tended garden.  We wandered around for a bit, standing in the chapel, walking through the corridors, and gazing at the gravestones.  From the moment we stepped through the gate, I sensed a quiet peace resting there that made me want to tread lightly and pause respectfully, acknowledging the sacrifices and devotion of those who had lived and worshipped there.

The nunnery
We continued on our way and came to Iona Abbey, founded by Columba in 563 when he came over from Ireland.  After gazing at some of the Celtic crosses installed on the grounds, I found Dean in what is called Columba's Shrine, a small chapel attached to the abbey that is said to house some of Columba's remains.  Dean and I sat in small, wooden chairs inside this stone room, unwilling and perhaps unable to speak.  After awhile, I found myself silently telling God about everything that had been heavy on my heart for days.  I repented, I listened, I breathed, I let it go.  And then we sat in more silence, the peace of the place sitting like a weight on us.  Finally, Dean asked me what passage the Bible on the lectern was opened to.  I got up slowly, took a few paces to the open book, and softly read the story of Solomon dedicating the temple as a sacred place where God was present.  I don't know exactly how long we sat there, just the two of us, but I know we could both have stayed longer. 

Me standing beside a cross that has stood there for 1200 years.
Columba's Shrine is the small building joined to the abbey and mostly
hidden by the body of this cross
The entire time we were walking around Iona, I kept feeling the urge to stop and rest, to stop and listen, to sit and be silent, to look and wait, to let God near.  It was a welcome contrast to so much of my life which is filled with urges to work faster, accomplish more in less time, be better prepared, work more efficiently on an endless list of tasks, keep up with a busy schedule, and even catch ferries that don't wait for latecomers.  I felt like for the first time in a long while, I was breathing deeply again; not just physically, but with my mind and spirit.  It is hard to describe what happened to us on Iona.  Perhaps I don't need to analyse it as much as I need to embrace it.

Though the history of the monks and sisters at Iona is not without war and power struggles, I was left with a sense that over time holy habits build holy places.  My continuous, lived prayers invite God to dwell with me and inhabit this place I live.  Over time, they also lay a foundation of peace, faith, hope, and love which undergirds everything I do and say and think.  And hopefully, this foundation becomes broad enough to support others as well.

Dean walking from the abbey to the village on Iona
After we left the island that afternoon, we stopped for homemade soup and fresh scones at the only pub in Fionnphort.  Then we hopped on the bus (along with several hundred other tourists - Iona is quite an attraction) and caught the ferry back to the mainland.  We picked up our car in Oban (still no parking attendant or ticket in sight) and after a few hours of driving through lush green countryside, we arrived at our accommodation for the night at the University of Stirling.  We had a light supper consisting of soup and haggis bites (of course) and retired for the night.  Tomorrow, we were going to see a castle!

To be continued....

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