Dear Friends in Christ,
As most of you know, Wanda and I made a trip to England and Scotland this summer. While we both took vacation time from our vocations to make the trip, the experience was much more than that. One of the tenants of Islam is that all member who have the financial means must make a pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lives. For Muslims, Mecca is the beginning point of their faith.
For Anglicans, we have a select group of places that would classify as beginning points: Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Rome, and, for us as descendents of the Church of the British Isles, Iona. Pilgrimage can be defined as, “a journey to a sacred place or shrine” or “a long journey or search, especially one of exalted purpose or moral significance.” Iona is one of those places.Iona is a small island (1 by 3 miles) off the coast of Scotland. It lies in the waters between Ireland and Scotland has part of a group of islands named the Inner Hebrides.
In the mid sixth century, a monk and priest from the area of Donegal, Ireland, fled religious violence which resulted from his refusal to turn over a copy of the Psalter which he had translated. Although victorious in the battle, his participation in the violence led him to exile himself from his own homeland vowing to win as many souls to God as he had taken in the battle. The name of this monk and priest was Columba.
On the eve of Pentecost, 563 C.E., Columba and eleven other monks landed on the first island the found sailing east from Ireland. This was a small island, later named Iona, which is Gaelic for “island”. There he founded a monastery from which he and his friends would evangelize northern Scotland and Northumbria. He is considered to be the founding missionary of Scotland. In fact, he preceded Augustine’s arrival in Canterbury. Later, a nunnery was established, and Iona would continue to grow the spiritual center of Anglicanism. This island also became the burial ground for many of Scotland’s royalty. Even Shakespeare’s Macbeth would lie in rest at Iona.
As a descendant of these religious giants, I found my experience on Iona to be a reclamation of my faith and hope as an Anglican. Despite the turmoil of today (maybe even because of it), I felt and knew that what has begun in us will not be forgotten or lost. Our Faith with a big “F” that God has reclaimed the Creation and all of its inhabitants through the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of our Lord can not be wiped out by anything or anyone. As long as there is a shattered cross or stone left to testify to faith that was in them and is in us, there is hope and call toward justice.
Although it was much too short, Wanda sent me into a small room just of the narthex of the chapel. She had been there before. It was a prayer, meditation, and watch room just up a small set of stairs. The stairs had been so worn away by those who climbed them that a set of wooded steps had to be built over the stones. In that room was a very small window, a prayer desk, and a single candle. If I could receive just a portion of the courage and grace of the souls who have knelt there before, I would know my call. That call may simply be this: remember, tell, and carry on.