Some music for your listening pleasure while you read: Natalie MacMaster’s David’s Jig. Even though she’s from Nova Scotia, this dynamite Canadian fiddler can set the mood for most things Irish or Scottish.
Throughout the year Northern Ireland YAVs take three retreats as a group. Our first was to the North Coast to see the Giant’s Causeway and visit the Corrymeela Community, and our second retreat was to County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. This past week we spent five days in Scotland. The first half of our week was on the Isle of Iona, a very small, rugged island off the west coast of Scotland. (I think Iona is about 3 miles by 1 mile in land area. If you’re really interested, feel free to google it and let me know the exact math.) To get to Iona from Belfast, we had to take a plane, a bus, a train, another train, a ferry, another bus, and another ferry followed by a mile walk to the hostel…with a healthy side of both coffee and patience.
Iona is the center of inspiration for the The Iona Community, a community that describes itself as “a dispersed Christian ecumenical community working for peace and social justice, rebuilding of community and the renewal of worship.” An emphasis in The Iona Community’s spirituality, which we encountered during our time of worship in Iona Abbey, is a Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit: The Wild Goose. This metaphor is built on the reality that the Holy Spirit is not subject to rules, but is spontaneous, unpredictable, and undomesticated.
The worship, which is fairly short and simple, takes place at 9am and 9pm in the Abbey.
As we entered the first night in our raincoats and weary from a full day of travel, we were greeted by this bookshelf filled with Bibles in dozens of languages.
This is a simple symbol for the inclusivity of the Iona Community.
We sat among strangers, many of whom had traveled quite a distance to be there, as worship began. I believe that many of us (YAVs, that is) found feelings of homesickness almost immediately. I know I was feeling it. It was the first time in ten months I was immersed in a worship service that emphasized liturgy and traditional music. I think that first evening had some string instruments, a piano, and some sort of hand drum. (Not sure. I couldn’t see the musicians from where I was sitting.) Churches in the protestant contexts in Northern Ireland, on the whole, have more contemporary services that often use more evangelical and more exclusive language. I confess that at the Abbey I loved reciting rich liturgy and singing out of an old, worn hymnal. I loved the tradition. I hadn’t been on the island more than a few hours, but I felt at home.
Worship for the Iona Community is not just about what happens in the Abbey. It continues as you leave the doors. As you leave the island. As you go back to your little piece of real estate. That’s why another aspect at the center of the Iona Community, as emphasized by the founder, George MacLeod, is that there is no division between the secular and the sacred. Our God is not a God of divisions, a God that will only work through what we brand as ‘sacred’ forsaking what some call ‘secular’. God is bigger. All of creation (yep, that includes humanity…stinky, imperfect humanity) has worth and can be a catalyst through which the Spirit works and brings about peace and justice. We just have to have eyes to see that there is no division, except for the divisions we construct. But that’s the hard part. Breaking down the divisions in our minds that our societies, churches, and friends have told us are there. But it all starts by seeing one human being who’s different than you as an equal, someone from whom you can learn. Seeing them as just another traveler, made from the same dust with the same blood flowing through the veins. As Adam said to Eve in that old story we’ve all heard, “You are bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” (Kind of set the bar high for pickup lines, huh? Thanks, Adam. Jerk.)
So how’s about we all try to see the world (and other people, for that matter) a bit differently? No divisions to be maintained and enforced. Just bridges to be built, conversations to have. It won’t be easy. But when was easy part of the deal? We can’t stay on our little islands, the Abbeys where we feel safe, forever.
When you start to look at things in a new way, the untamable, spontaneous Wild Goose may surprise you.
“‘[Aslan] doesn’t like being tied down…He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.’” -C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
PS. Here’s some photos from Iona. Enjoy!