This is the approach to the Island of Iona from the east with the little village off to the left and the 12th century Benedictine abbey to the right. This abbey replaced Columba’s which would have been round, made simply of stick and mud with thatched roofs.
Today we are off on a pilgrimage within a pilgrimage. John Philip and Ali will take us on a walk around the island to meander over the many different landscapes – sand, rock, glade, cliff, forest; and then back, this evening, to the abbey for a celebratory tea.
Were I to look back on my life and ponder the happiest times, they would be dinners with friends, long walks and cuddling Kai-the-dog. Though perhaps in reverse order. So today will be wonderful nd I will pet some sheep along the way.
Yesterday I walked for miles and miles in the pouring rain which was wildly cleansing and healing for me. At one point a farmer joined me for a bit, showing me his flocks with great pride and pointing me to a beach where I could find the green and white marble of Iona – some pebbles to take home. I climbed a massive cliff and tossed an ugly stone into the ocean – an act of symbolic defiance against the evils of the past few months. The I tossed four more stones to represent the names of those who had so hurt, betrayed and manipulated me. My friend Elizabeth suggested the practice as a healing one, adding that once the first stone is thrown, I must then pick up a new stone and take it home with me – which I have done.
Today’s walk is an important one, was yesterday’s. Yesterday’s walk was private, personal, alone. Me on an ancient island filled as it is with holy holes in the earth, blessed with constant rains, swept with powerful winds and covered with wee fairies making mischief and dancing dance. I walked with Bridgit, so well-known for her reckless disobedience and wanton disregard for power and the decay she found in bishops whose prestige and power had long since hollowed out their ministry into flaccid, doughy impotence. She was so reckless in her care of he poor that she even gave away their rich vestments to warm those without clothes. She is my hero. She is a representation of all that is good in God’s earth. She stood firm against the presence of men who think they are in control. But as my friend Elizabeth also says, God will not be mocked.
John Philip said yesterday, “God is not the God of the order which suits the church’s power.” Nobody spoke. We all kept silence. Nobody dared to speak.
He explained that in the 17th century, the church forbade the Celtic people to visit their holy wells. The church even filled them in, destroying and hiding them forever. Even Brigit’s famous well is now lost to us, having been filled in and covered with rocks and then peat and sod. But I believe something is happening. Something new. Many of us are acting up, speaking out, writing. Many of us are speaking out against manipulation, against power, against injustice. And church power is beginning to falter as it notices that funding streams are quickly drying up with generational changes, unstoppable. Their poverty will bring on their poverty.
So today’s pilgrimage will be different than yesterday’s. Today’s pilgrimage will be with these dozens of new friends – almost all lay people – and all searching for a new way forward – a new hope. We are less interested in ecclesial coats of arms and more interested in the fanciful animals in the Book of Kells (written on this island by five faithful monks hunched over wooden desks with candles and ink-pots before the 9th century. Today we will walk to find the secrets of Iona and I will beg Brigit to walk with me.
I made a new friend names Terry. She is a chaplain who, in her spare time, is a manuscript illuminator. She is honest and kind, brilliant, authentic, full of the Holy Spirit and also wounded. We went, together sharing stories of betrayal, to the healing service in the abbey last night and received prayers for our healing amidst candle light an ancient stones. Today we will plot and plan our futures.
Some people come to Iona seeking healing. Some come for wisdom or for reconnection or for penance. But I am becoming aware, so slowly, that I have come to begin a new thing. It is time to set aside the evil of this past few months – let it go – speak of it never again – not in secret-keeping nor in mandates of silence but rather as a testimony to a new pilgrimage. It is time to claim Brigit’s call to act without the permission of church authority. Let the church build its little castles. Boys will, always be boys. But there is a new kingdom God is announcing – a place of overlap between God’s truth and ours. A place of wells, opened and uncovered. And it is over that hill to those wells and glades that I want to hike. And will. Today.
Today something new is about to begin. A new walk. A new well. A new life.