I said I was coming to Iona to find my resurrection which for me is that which points toward new life and deep hope. Resurrection is the authentic expression of a faith in the living God we come to know in Jesus Christ. Not just a day (Easter) but, a stance toward life.
I wanted to encounter resurrection. I was weary of living in Holy Saturday with all the weeping and gnashing of teeth both in my denominational family and in my own calling. Holy Saturday is part of the Easter story but no one wants to get stuck in Holy Saturday and I think we had.
I traveled from Oregon with a group from the Alton Collins Retreat Center. My friend, Rev. Todd Bartlett was leading the pilgrimage and so we flew to Scotland together. There were eleven of us on the pilgrimage –both laity and clergy, a nice mix of ages. Once in Scotland we had one night in Glasgow before we journeyed to Oban and then to Iona.
As we took the last ferry to Iona, you could see the Abbey in the distance. Much enlarged and updated since Columba’s day, it is an impressive but inviting space. I was surprised to see it on the horizon and I felt my own heart skip a beat. As we looked at it together several who were coming to Iona for the first time couldn’t contain their excitement that finally we were here. This is my second trip to Iona and it felt like a homecoming.
What is a week at Iona like?
The week at Iona has a rhythm. Part of the rhythm would be familiar as our week contained programming. Martin Palmer was speaking on sacred lands. Palmer is a translator of several popular books on Sinology (which happens to mean the study of China and Chinese topics, I had to look it up too). His recent work has been around issues of faith, climate change and the environment. His book “Sacred Land” formed the basis of his lecture and is an enjoyable read as Martin raises our awareness of the universal connections between caring for the earth, one another and our spiritual lives. His challenge to us was that we would become willing to see and to encourage the signs of hope around us as we go through yet another time of cultural and ecological change.
But part of the rhythm of Iona was new – it was the rhythm of being part of an ongoing religious community of men and women who offer hospitality, worship, and council on the way of Jesus. As a guest you sleep in simple dorm style rooms, have daily cleaning duties (I mopped the bathrooms), meal duties (I was on duty at lunch) and gathered to worship as a larger community twice daily.
The worship is probably one of the things Iona is most known for. John Bell and Wild Goose Publishing have written and published numerous books and CDs of music for today’s church. What I appreciated is Iona’s music comes from their priorities and passions. My frustration is that our response to Iona’s music is to adopt the music in our local context instead of composing music/lyrics that come out of our own faith communities. I cringed to hear people around me talk about how they were going to take it back to their church. The reality is the music is dated (much that is original was from the 1980’s and while that would be an update for many UMCs, it isn’t contemporary) and -for my tastes- the lyrics are too “God of the skittles rainbow, God of the my little pony.” For me the point of Iona’s music was to push us to contextualize it, much as we do for prayers and sermons.
Morning worship at the Abbey is simple with music, psalm, scripture reading & prayer. Evening worship (9PM) has various weekly themes including welcome, healing, peace, creativity and commitment. Communion was celebrated Sunday and Thursday. With the Abbey’s various areas of focus, I was pushed to think how this model might speak to what we do week in and week out in worship – might we take the a Sunday each month to focus the liturgy and experience on something specific such as healing, creativity, peace, hope? I love the idea of having every fifth Sunday having a liturgy for healing, renewal and forgiveness or a Sunday having a focus on creativity, peace or calling.
Worship brought hope and focus to the resurrection but it turned out my resurrection was to be found on the road.
Next: Iona Five