Would you believe… it is almost three years since my last visit to the wonderfully idyllic isle of Iona. I need to go back, and would recommend it to everyone, to visit at least once. Here are:
- some recollections which you may like, and
- words that I wrote at the time (indented), and
- an idea for a lockdown Iona meditation-experience for you.
Off the western coast of Scotland, Iona is a small island steeped in myth and ‘magic’, and the whole island is, I believe, a ‘thin place’ – a place where Here and the Other are oh so close. When the wind howls you can hear the ancestors call, when the sea gulls screech on the beach, the Machair (pronounced ‘makker’) you can discern angel-song, and in the quietness you can hear the echo of ancient elementals whispering.
Having parked the car at Oban, it’s a fifty-minute long ferry ride to the Isle of Mull, a coach ride across Mull, and another ten minute ferry ride to the isle of Iona. I arrived at Iona’s port, Baile Mòr being the only one having stepped off the ferry onto the quayside .
I hear a multitude of voices call as with once voice.
Above the the noise of the waves and wind,
the Ancestors voices cry out, ‘Welcome’, to all pilgrims.
The Abbey is a special place, as well as the Nunnery. The weight of history presses in, and myth, shy at first, reveals itself to those who a patient. But, there’s more. History is important, and on this island it is fascinating, but only to revel in the history is to not hear those ancient voices that speak without ceasing.
My favourite ‘thin places’ of ‘thin places’ were St Oran’s Chapel, and the Sithean, and the Machair.
Smaller that the Abbey, and a more humble a building, St Oran’s Chapel sits alongside the Abbey but radiates extraordinary power. There, with no other people around me, I lit a candle for both my parents who had passed on (my Dad about six months earlier, and my Mother two years before that); and I lit another candle, vicariously, for people from around the planet who wanted a candle lit for themselves or for a loved one.
Longer than this candle burns
is the memory of those whom we love.
Their light continues on
and their love reaches us even today.
Before you get to the raised beach area, the Machair, is a mound about fifteen feet high and with a fifty foot circumference. You cannot miss it. You can see it a long way off, and on top of it you get a good, commanding view of the view. This is the Sithean Mòr or the Fairy mound, also known as Cnoc nan Angeal, that is the Hill of the Angels. Before Columcille set foot on it, it had been used by Druids for a millennia. It is a place of Encounter. The Druids gained the Wisdom of the Ages there, and Columcille (or Columba as he’s also known) conversed with angels. I couldn’t help but stand on the top of the mound, too.
Atop this high place,
you are called to both finish and start.
One liminal door closes, dear pilgrim, but another liminal door opens.
Go, with the Ancestors’ blessings.
And, from there, a two minute walk took me to the beach, the Machair. The sky was mainly grey cloud, the wind howled, the waves, some thirty foot high, crashed to the distant rocks. To say it was fresh was an understatement. It was bracing, it was a fierce storm, it was one of those wonderful-to-be-alive moments. And, there was more. This, too, is a ‘thin place’ of a ‘thin place’. As I stood, windswept on that beach, in the storm, paradoxically, there was a calmness; in the noisy waves there was a silence beyond all sound; and in the remoteness of the beach – there was no one seemingly about, apart from me – it felt like a thousand invisible, ageless, witnesses crowded in.
What we see is a fraction of what is.
With a seeing beyond seeing,
we glimpse the Universe as it is, alive and full of love.
We see the communion of the ones that have gone before us.
We are never alone.
The sun was sinking below the western horizon, and I made my way back to where I was staying for the week. That was then, but what of now? Your invitation! In the light of some others organising lockdown and virtual ‘tours’ and retreats on other themes, I wondered if you would be interested in an creative-visualisation. hour-long visual-meditation of an encounter on a ‘virtual’ Iona experience? I will send details, if you are interested, if you email me, at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Call is always present, calling those it wills.
Sometimes loud, sometimes softly,
sometimes in the wind, or Sun, or water, or earth.
Sometimes the call is in that imaginal realm,
but is no less real.
Open your eyes of your heart. It is calling you.