The Wind Blows Where It Wishes: Priorities On Iona

20171107 THE WIND BLOWS WHERE IT WISHES PRIORITIES ON IONA

I was recently fortunate enough to spend some time on the Isle of Iona. Here’s one reflection as I look back: I’m on the beach, near the water’s edge, and I’m looking out to sea. Grey clouds hang in the sky, and there’s a gale blowing in. There’s no one about, no one except a few squeaking seagulls flying high above me. And, it’s wonderful.

The sun is hidden by thick clouds so much so, that it is impossible to locate its position. The sea air is salt-filled and damp. The air is cold, crisp, and fresh. Mighty waves  crash loudly against nearby rocks with ferocious and unbridled power. It is nature wild and rugged, and it’s beautiful.

I’m alone. I’m standing on the Machair, (pronounced ‘makker’), the ‘raised beach’ on the westward side of the Isle of Iona – which is part of Scotland’s remote islands of the Inner Hebrides.

Yesterday when I was here my thoughts were calm, my mind quiet. Not so today. Thoughts come and go as I ponder on priorities. Any yet, it seems right to let the thoughts come and go, to let them surface and not to stifle them.

‘We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.’ William James

There are two thousand acres of island behind me, and a population of less than one hundred and fifty souls. In front of me there is nothing but sea. Just open water, wind-swept turbulent ocean. There is nothing for two thousand miles – I expected it to be more – until one encounters Nain, a town on the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada, which has a population about 1400 people. Each with different priorities to the small community here, and both Nain and Iona with different priorities to those who live in cities, and different priorities to me and you. Connected, but seprate, and each of our priorities all equally important.

Priorities?

That’s the main thought that runs endlessly around in my mind, as I stand on this isolated beach. What really is important? What actually lasts?

Right now, some of my friends in response to those questions, I think, would say action is important. I do believe, sometimes, that that is so. Others would say prayer or ritual is important, and I do believe there are occasions when that is right. Others would tell me that right doctrine is all important, and that less than that displeases God. Doctrine and what we believe may be important, at times, but right here, right now all of the aforementioned seems relevant to me. Right now the wind blows where it wishes, and another voice, underneath the murmur of the wind, whispers to my spirit albeit with  great clarity.

‘The end of all my labours has come. All that I have written appears to be as much as straw after the things that have been revealed to me.’ Thomas Aquinas

It is a disconcerting fact to know that what I think is important, may not actually be important. That what I think pleases God, elementals or Spirit maybe not actually please God, the elementals or Spirit, and that others may be closer to the Source than me or you. To my embarrassment, in the past, I have put myself in a position of believing I knew the truth as though it was all-important, only to realise that I knew very little. None of us do, in cosmic terms, know that much. And the comforting thing is: we’re not expected to. Knowledge will take us so far; wisdom will take us much further. Bu, there’s more.

The idea that at the end of time we all face an intelligence test, a right doctrine test or some other rest, to ensure that we’ve been on the right track is an error. What then is our priority for now?

What should our priority be? However we interpret it, however we work it out in our daily life, at home, at school, at work etc, whatever we do, there is an underlying priority and ‘force’ that seeks primacy. Yes, we can still work hard, pray, write and recite liturgy and doctrine etc, but what is our priority on the cosmic scale? There’s more!

It’s love!

Whatever we do love should surely be its foundation. Anything less than that, just makes us a hardworker, a liturgist, a ceremonialist, and probably condemnatory others, as though we have the monopoly on what is right and wrong. The wind blows where it wishes, and it is for me to understand that. I am not the door-keeper admitting others that conform to my doctrine; rather the Source, the Wind, Spirit is the one who ‘admits’, and the Source is inclusive and welcoming to all. The Wind blows where it wishes. I do believe the Wind is blowing in your life.

‘The power of Love, a force from above, cleaning my soul…’. Gabrielle Aplin

What is my priority? To keep up with the Wind, or rather the One who rides on the back of the wind. And not to keep up as if to exert myself in some frantic way, but rather to hold out my arms, as I stand on this windswept beach, as though my arms were mighty sails on a boat, and to revel in the knowledge that wherever the Wind blows is where I want to be. Isn’t that the same for you? And the depth of care for each one of us behind the Wind is love. Love.

The wind has picked up on this beach, and the storm comes ever closer.  I might like to think I am in control, but the weather doesn’t obey me, and the Source is not at my behest, either. It is easy to fall into thinking that. The Wind blows where it wishes. And, so far as is practicable (as we all have commitments to honour) what a joy to be known as Windswept – to allow ourselves to be blown about by the Wind, the Spirit and to enjoy the journey, to know Love and extend love to others. How we work that out is for each one of us to work on, as it will be different depending on events that present themselves to us – but when opportunity to be open to the Spirit occurs, to experience Love and to pass love on, we will know.

Suddenly my priorities don’t seem that important. Another voice can be heard under the murmur of the wind, and it calls to me, it calls to you, wherever you are. I am on a windswept beach on Iona, but there is no distance between each one of us – we’re all connected – and no distance of separation for the Wind, for the wind blows where it wishes.

‘The greatest happiness in life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather loved in spite of ourselves.’  Victor Hugo

 

 

A Note From A Reluctant Edge-Walker

z 20171023 reluctacnt edgewalker

Having disembarked from the ferry at the port on the windswept Isle of Iona, I left the small village and headed along a path, as instructed. I knew the journey would take about half an hour, and so with light failing and with a flashlight in hand, I set off. All that seems an age away, now.

I’m back, and for various reasons it looks as though I’m going to be in London for a few more weeks.  Behind me, metaphorically, is the pilgrimage to the isles of Iona and Skye, and now I’m’ here. London.

I’m back. It’s a shock. A sort of punch to the solar plexus. Winding.

I had such  great experiences on those islands. Profound. Deep. Ancestor-Connecting, Loving. Source-encountering. God-filled ‘Thin-place’ experiences. I didn’t want to leave, and yet I knew I had to. I had so easily ‘acclimatised’ to that island lifestyle – and do believe one reason for that is something we all share – we all ‘possess’ (or, perhaps it embraces us), an inner, ancient, ‘drum beat’ that continues, wherever we are.

And, that same ‘drum beat’ beating in my chest, seems at odds with the ‘world’ that I now inhabit in London. The pace is faster, it’s shallow, its priorities are different, it’s loud, far too loud, and yet….

This is where I should be for now. I know it.

And so, I’m becoming more of an edge-walker, again. An edge-walker, one who straddles both spheres of spiritual and physical encounter, holding them in balance, in ‘tension’, equally, and joyfully. Yes, that balance is returning. And, once again I’m getting used to that way of living. It’s probably not what I would want – those islands still call – but it is the way it is for now.

Someone once wrote about the desire to be in heaven and to enjoy all that that means, but tempered it with the realisation and desire to stay here for a while to do the work that they had been called to. One destination was far better, but this ‘destination’ was necessary and expedient. For now.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to ‘unpack’ some of my experiences experienced on Iona and Skye – both wonderfully ‘thin-places’. There were some great encounters of the spiritual kind, and perhaps another example of the necessity of us being edge-walkers was my physical journey from the port on Iona to the place where I was to stay.

It was my first hour on the Island, as regards this pilgrimage, and as I was a little wet. A light rain was falling, it was getting darker, and I came to the first of three gated fields that I was to pass through. The field presented no problem, and though these fields gently undulated so you had slopes and dips to encounter, it was a pleasantly green field to behold, although less was being seen by the minute as the light faded.

Not so the second field. It had a sign on its gate: Beware of the bull. I had hoped this was a farmer’s sense of humour running riot, but no. As I moved through the field in a direct line, following the path, there he was. Suddenly, and I know you will be shocked by this, but suddenly the peaceful presence that had embraced me on this island seemed to ‘evaporate’ and the ‘angel of common-sense’ spoke. I looked to the ‘spaces’ either side of this field and they were not navigable, and it was getting darker, and there were some treacherous drops around.

My pulling back into the non-spiritual was competed only when I decided to walk through the field, but on the furthest side of the field, as far away from this lumbering, brown, wonderful-but-wild beast. Once again I was an edge-walker on a spiritual journey but having to deal with physical challenges – and isn’t that like your daily life and mine, usually?

‘It seems to me that we do live in two worlds… there is this physical one, which is coherent, and there is the spiritual one, which to the average man with his flashes of religious experience, is very often incoherent. This experience of having two worlds to live in all the time, or not all the time, is a vital one, and is what living is like.’ William Golding

You will be pleased to know that the bull, having turned his head slowly to look in my direction, slowly turned it away as though thoroughly disinterred in me, for which I was grateful. He had discovered three cows in the neighbouring field and had wandered off in their direction.

And, so I journey on, both physically and spiritually, thus confirming that we are all, indeed, edge-walkers, working our way through life in all its spiritual glories as well as driving along highways, catching trains and buses, and dealing with our taxes. That ancient ‘drum beat’, though, still beats within your chest and mine, too. Pause, and you may here it. Hear it, and you might want to respond, my dear edge-walking brother or sister.

 

You, The Hero: The Call To A Celtic Adventure

20170928 YOU THE HERO THE CALL TO A CELTIC ADVENTUREYou are the hero of your story. There is no one quite like you, and no one has a story of adventure like yours. Latter-day Celts were a brave and adventurous people – you only need follow the adventure of one of my favourites, Brendan the Navigator, to appreciate that. And, that spiritual ‘DNA’ runs in your veins. You are the hero of your story.

‘A true spiritual journey is beyond time and space, history and culture, guidelines and descriptions.’ John Daido Loori, Riding The Ox Home

There is a story told from ancient times of a man who was ‘called’, at seventy-five years of age, to leave his family and to become a ‘hero’ by being adventurous and travelling some distance to forge a great nation. In the movies this ‘calling’ is perceived as the voice of the Source of All, God, and the hero in question hears this loud, booming, commanding voice, and of he sets.

I hear your voice on the wind
And I hear you call out my name
“Listen, my child,” you say to me
“I am the voice of your history
Be not afraid, come follow me
Answer my call, and I’ll set you free”

Sung by Celtic Woman. Writer: Brendan Graham

There’s no reason to suppose that the Source’s voice, when ‘calling’ that man was so loud and booming, and it’s only an assumption that he set off immediately. But, it makes great tv and movie scripts. Like most people’s understanding of being ‘called’, I have a feeling that this ‘calling’ might have been a gentler affair, a whisper, and over a protracted period of time. But, it was, for him, an unmistakeable ‘calling’.

And so, one by one I mentioned to some friends of my planned adventure to Iona.

It might be that you are ‘called’ to do something else. It could be that you ‘come alive’ when you do a particular thing or plan to do it, or think of a certain place, or a journey toward growth or maturation or enlightenment/transformation, and that may be a ‘calling’ for you. Or, it could be a nagging feeling of ennui to do something and not accept the status quo. It might even be an ‘inner whisper’, and, having discounted it earlier, it might, yes, it might even be a loud ‘inner voice’ or shout!

I made a mental note to myself: #1 ‘Callings’ to something different and adventurous come in a myriad of ways – there is no standard format.

‘Iona? Oh, that’s a Greek island, isn’t it?’, one of my friends said. ‘You’ll get some nice weather there, then’, another said. I then put them right by informing them that it is as a small island off the west coast of Scotland. Another then another friend exclaimed, ‘….but it’ll be October, and cold’.

No matter who much I tried to convince these friends – others were understanding – I couldn’t convince them that this was the right thing for me to do.

I made a another mental note: #2 Be careful who you tell. It’s your ‘calling’ and not there’s. Those that understand will give you lots of encouragement and praise. Those who don’t understand may actually try to convince you that the idea is as ‘soppy as a box of frogs’. Remember, you don’t need to convince them. It’s you calling. You are the hero of your story. Choose wisely which friends you inform.

Do you feel like a hero, feel like you’re called?

‘…it is summed up in an often mutilated text…: ‘I am calling all of you, but so few of you allow yourselves to be chosen”, Matthew 12:14, The Book

When the ‘calling’ is first ‘heard’ it is felt within the confines of daily life, in surroundings that are familiar and ‘cosy’, and with friends around (and some of them may not understand). And, all this may be too much to ‘leave behind’.

The Abbot of the Zen Mountain Monastery tells an old tale [and no pun intended] of the ‘riding the ox home’ tale. The story centres around ten oriental prints, and the first print is of someone looking for the ox. They cant see the ox, have no idea of what lays ahead, only that they have an inkling that something is not quite right, and have a ‘glimpse’ of becoming aware of the possibility of a spiritual search and adventure.

Vigorously cutting a path through the brambles, you look for the ox;
rivers wide, mountains far, the path gets longer.
Running out of strength, mind exhausted, you cannot find it.
Rustling of maple leaves
singing of evening cicadas.

John Daido Loori, Riding The Ox Home

I made yet another mental note to myself: #3 At the beginning, events and ‘things’ may crowd in, and the ‘calling to adventure’ could be drowned out by the ‘mundane’, by already-made committments, by being too busy, or continually ‘kicking it into the long grass’, or wandering aimlessly listening to the cicadas, or even by well-meaning friends giving me brochures of wonderful holidays on some Greek islands.

I’m too old to worry about what people think, and close friends are happy for me to take off to Iona for a pilgrimage in response to a call to adventure. And so, plans are coming together, and it won’t be long for me, now.

‘Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him.’ Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

You are the hero of your story. There is no one quite like you, and no one has a story of adventure like yours. Live that latter-day Celtic adventure now.

 

Deep Calls To Deep: Iona Pilgrimage 2017: The Plan

20170913 IONA PILGRIMAGE PLANPeriodically, it is right, I believe to take stock of where we are, where we’ve ‘come from’ and where we’re headed, and where we would like to head to, where we feel called.

It seems an age away, when I last visited the isle of Iona, off the Scottish rugged and wild west coast. Infact it was twenty-eight years ago to the month. Then, in my mid-thirties and with umpteen years of informal study, theological practice and experience under my belt, I stepped out of seminary, after a three year period of formal study. [Tadhg’s Journal: 1989]

Quote: ‘Too often we don’t trust our own deepest truth; it makes us feel too vulnerable or it seems incongruous with the person we think we are or must be.’  Emily Hanlon

And, right now, with various significant things that have happened this year, and a number of major decisions ahead, I need to return to the beginning, to where it all began in earnest for me.

Twenty eight years ago I was on the isle of Iona. Just south-west of the island’s centre is a path that leads westward. It leads to the seashore, but just before you get there, there is a small hill. The hill has two names. Some know it as Sithean, the Fairy Mound, others know it as Cnoc nana Aingeal, the Hill of Angels.

It was in AD563 that columcille, also know as St Columba, sailed from Ireland and settled on Iona, founded the Abbey on eastern part of that island, and from there (officially) set out to evangelise the Pictish tribes (of what is now Sctoland) and the rest of the country.

And so I sat on the top of the hill and pondered. To me, this place is Sithean. It was humbling. Humbling to know that 1426 years ago, that Columcille had sat or stood here, on this very spot – and according to Adomnán, Columcille was seen meeting with angels.

There is a power here.

I know that we don’t need to travel to far off places to encounter, that we can encounter wherever we are, and can even encounter using our imagination, our mind’s eyes or what some call our vision-eye. But, at this time, this place assisted me.

There is a peacefulness about the island, a ruggedness, and yet in the wind one can hear the soul of the island, or is it angels or the fae?

And as I sat there, I lay back, half closed my eyes, and rested. It ‘felt’ as if a ‘thin place’, a liminal-door had opened. In the distance, when the wind changed it sounded like children playing. Then the wind blew from another direction and the sound was lost, and then it was, again, ushered along with the breeze. I could hear the sound of children in the distance, high-pitched laughing and giggling. Playing? I immediately opened my eyes, sat up and looked around. No laughing. No children could be seen. There was just the silence. Silence, apart from the low ‘murmur’ of the continual wind blowing from the sea.

Wherever we are, we are encouraged to expect the unexpected. There is a story from ancient times, of a man sitting at his tent door. In the heat, desert heat, of the day, he looked over at the oak trees of Mamre. Suddenly, he saw three men standing there. He was gracious to them and offered them food. It is said that these three men were infact angels, and some believe that the man had, infact, encountered The Source Of All.

Expect the unexpected.

I lay back, again. Half closed my eyes. Some minutes later the sound of children laughing was back, but this time I remained still. It grew louder. And then suddenly the giggling sound, subdued but distinct, was all around me. I was bathed in innocent laughter. I remained there, not moving a muscle, enjoying the experience – knowing there was nothing I could do to enhance the experience. It was a sacred time, a sacred place. I just enjoyed it. So much so, that after many, many minutes I couldn’t help but fall into a light sleep.

I woke up about half an hour later. The was no sound, except for the howling wind. It had started to rain.

But, this is Scotland and I had come prepared. The rain was fine, but constant. Typical for this area. The Scots call it dreich (pronounced ‘dree-ch’. The ‘ch’ sound is like that in loch. It’s not a ‘k’ sound, but a guttural sound as if you’re clearing you throat).

I walked back to were I was staying, and pondered further my experience at Sithean, the Fairy Mound, or Cnoc nana Aingeal, the Hill of Angels, and that encounter

That evening, I considered the reason I was here.

It is good to draw away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, and if that means not going to a remote area like Iona, then perhaps a change of habit and a relocation of a few miles for a couple of days. But, then there’s always the imagination.

I sat there, pondering. As I gazed at the horizon the word reverence sprang to mind. John O’Donohue wrote: ‘Our world seems to have lost all sense of reverence…Ultimately, reverence is respect before mystery…Reverence is also physical – a dignified attention of body showing that [the] sacred is already here.’

Having finished theological studies, it was time to embark on further studies and a ministry centred on Christian Celtic, and then later, Druidic theology, but inclusively. In a way that would draw alongside all people, to share and to learn as iron sharpens iron, and to know them as friends. A fledgling ministry in serving The Way, that would grow, was my Iona prayer, then.

And so it started, twenty-eight years ago. And now with major changes ahead, I plan to go back to Iona, and to Sithean in the next few weeks. It will be a time of return, re-energising, and renewal for me. A time to decide the future of this ministry as vows need to be re-made, tasks finish but new ones approach, and a time to decide whether to write as I do here or write and lead workshops, and more. Good challenges ahead.

In your heart and mind’s eye, your vision-eye, in your imagination, I want to invite you to join me when I embark on my journey to Iona, and will write daily. It will be a time of return, re-energising, and renewal for me. And, hopefully for you, too.

Quote: ‘Life is a journey. When we stop, things don’t go right.’ Pope Francis

However,  articles continue as normal, and your company is always sought now, and even more so on the planned Iona pilgrimage.

Blessings, Tadhg.