The stone comes from a beach of a thousand, thousand, thousand stones like it on the edge of the Island of Iona off the western coast of Scotland on which I made a retreat as a bridge between the life I have left behind in Denver and in the church, and the life to which I would soon go – the one in which I am now – a priest without title or clericals, church or congregation, in Albuquerque, raising money for those experiencing homelessness.
The beach of Columba’s Bay on Iona is a long hike from the side of the island on which I was living near the 11th century monastery but the walk was worth it. The decent down the hill to Columba’s Bay was steep at first and then stretched out into a long, green pasture before the pebbled beach brought one to the sea itself. It was here that Saint Columba first landed in the 5th century with his 12 friends to bring Christianity to Iona and soon to Europe. It is called New Beginnings beach for this reason (Columba had been sent into exile from his church in Ireland.)
It is a tradition among pilgrims who reach New Beginnings Beach, to pick up two stones. One is tossed into the sea and takes with it fears, regrets, betrayals and resentments – something one is leaving behind in the pilgrimage. The other stone is to be taken as a symbol of what is next – what Gift God is preparing for the possessor, as yet unknown. My stone was green and had the faintest green image of a harp. I had it made into a necklace which replaced the crucifix I had always worn around my soft, vulnerable neck.
On the way back up the hill from the beach I became deeply peaceful. Green seemed to be a theme of the day and its hike. A green pasture, a green beach and a green stone. On the way up the hill, I had a deep sense of peace about the move to Albuquerque but was still worried about the arid, dry and impoverished state as a place for me and for Kai (a water dog…) so I asked God, “Will I be ok?” I heard no response. No angels sang. No clouds parted. No booming voice of an old man on a throne announced my impending greatness or happiness. Silence. And green was all around me and a deep sense that all would be weird and well. I took the green stone and wear it still and keep this memory of the green approach to New Beginnings Beach. I asked God, that day for green and for a new beginning.
The next week I went to Albuquerque to meet my new co-workers, my new house-church and to find my new home. I kept seeing brown houses in brown yards until God seemed to open up the way to this property – which became my home. As I write this, on my front porch, in my new-beginnings-life, this is what I see if I look up over my computer screen. Green. Bordered by a canal in which Kai swims daily.
God seems not to communicate much. God is shy and introverted and mildly autistic. And hurt. But God does communicate and God does hear us. And God does, if one pays attention, offer the sacred even when what we asked for was the assurance.