As it’s Advent, my Iona prayer and reflection books have been well thumbed. As I re-read them, I am reminded of previous Christmas services where I’ve used prayers and poems or been inspired by one of the songs or stories.
Iona is a small island off the west coast of Scotland. In the 6th century, it was the home of St Columba. It is the burial place of ancient Scottish, Irish and Norwegian kings and a 13th Benedictine Abbey. It is now the home of the Iona community, an ecumenical Christian community committed to finding new ways of living the Gospel with truth and justice. John Bell is possibly the most famous member of the community but there are so many talented worship leaders, songwriters and liturgists connected with Iona.
The founder of the Iona community, George McLeod, called it a ‘thin place’. It is a place of spiritual renewal where heaven feels close. This is why so many people visit Iona and stay – they study, worship, labour, retreat and then they rejoin the world in order to share a message of justice and hope.
I recently attended the Presbytery ministers’ retreat at Pallotti. It isn’t Iona by any means but it was good to spend the day with other ministers as we explored both the challenges and strengths of team ministry. On the Mornington Peninsula where I live, I have a few places I retreat to in order to be renewed, places I feel content and where I go when I need to think. Maybe these are my ‘thin places’.
Here are two poems from the blog ‘The Cross and the Cosmos’ written about Iona – authors unknown.
I wonder if you have thin places where you retreat to renew and ponder? Enjoy the poems and the Advent services.
Palpably a thin place
Palpably a thin place
is this island,
where Heaven’s breath commingles with
the sky, the air, the sea.
Constantly the tides of timelap into eternity.
Timelessness at the flow
and the present at the ebb,
urging pilgrims to embrace
an expectation of Resurrection:
The promise of the High Crosses,
tangible with celestial vibrancy.
Iona: The Island
When the Creator
Patterned these islands
With sculpting tools
Of tempest, ice, fire,
He knew the rôle
That was shaped for Iona:
He knew Columba’s soul,
Filled with desire
For his Saviour,
Would thrive in this manger,
Guiding his followers
To face every danger,
As they were charged to
Go to the stranger:
And with Christ’s peace,
Both peasant and chieftan inspire.