Iona is a mile wide and four miles long and there is surprisingly much to see. The Abbey offers two walking pilgrimage choices – an off-road 7 miles walk or an on-road 3 miles. With encouragement from others in my group, I picked the 7 miles. I had my boots (which I had just had repaired before our trip), scarf, hat, gloves, rain poncho and a cheese, apple, pickle sandwich and 40 of us began.
The day was beautiful. No rain at all, cold but not too cold, clear and breezy – a great day to be alive! The walk started fine, but 2 hours in we were off any road, walking on narrow, rocky paths, on sides of mountains and marching through bogs. I would have been fine if I hadn’t hit so many bogs and as we reached Columba Bay I saw that the whole bottom of my boot was coming off (yes, the boot I had just had repaired!). The more bogs I had to go through, the worse it got. By the time we reached our “tea and flapjack” station, I had to hitch a ride back to the Abbey. It was 2PM, I had been walking since 10AM so I didn’t feel too bad.
(There was a built in irony to my dealing with my sole coming off while I was here in Iona for some soul time, but I let that pass..)
Over the past two years I have developed a regular practice of noticing were God was in my daily living and reflecting on it and this has radically changed my experience of my faith. So, after I returned back to the Abbey and I threw my boots in the trash, I felt I was given a extra bit of time to discern God’s guidance in the week, so I poured myself a nice cup of tea and got ready to listen. (OK really, I went to the local hotel so I could sit someplace clean and nice and I had a wisky but I don’t want to come off as to much of a wuss so I am sticking with the tea story.)
One part of the week God kept lifting up to me: On the pilgrimage with us was a blind pastor. Blind all her life, she had come to Iona with the group with which I was traveling. When I first saw her, honestly I was confused. If she couldn’t see anything how and why would she travel all the way to Iona? And on a more practical level, how could she navigate it?
During our time on Iona, she did the seven-mile pilgrimage and the day trip to Staffa Island. I struggled on the pilgrimage; it was a challenge to navigate the rough road and bogs. As someone with a fear of heights, I wouldn’t even attempt Staffa. Yet she did these magnificently and I felt a nudge to consider what this was saying to my journey.
All of our lives speak. How we live, what we do, and don’t do, models for others one expression of the faith. And, while I recognize that what I may have seen in her life is my take (and thus much more narrow and restricted than the reality), God spoke to me through her.
What I saw was a very everyday person living life fully. She seemed to trust herself and others. She didn’t need certainty. She didn’t need it to work out perfectly. She lived the life she was given. She just went for it.
It was her choice and it is each of our choices, will life stop us? Will what doesn’t work out; life’s mistakes or accidents stand between us and living resurrection?
This stuck with me as I left Iona and went touring in Scotland over the next 10 days with my husband. The common thread God kept bringing my way was stories of people living fully in the midst of changes and challenges. Of course, not everyone. Some of the stories I heard of castles and kings were those who just gave up and lay down and died. Sadly, this too happens but not to those who claim resurrection.
I came to Iona searching for my resurrection. I came to lay my spiritual and vocation confusion down in Iona’s beauty and holiness and just be. I came seeking to hear a surprising word from God and to gain a sense of renewal and hope. And I received these things and more in my time of pilgrimage.
The worship each morning at Iona closes with the phrase, “I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing” – All during the week I thought about that phrase and what I was offering God and I recognized I was holding back.
It took me to the end of the trip to recognize that my offering is my life.