18 July 2015

Ionan Thoughts (an iconoclast's perspective)

by Mike Sares

I'd like to be a Christian mystic, but I am not.

We arrived Tuesday afternoon, the 14th of July, onto the Isle of Iona. This is where St. Columba started his monastery. Born in Ireland in AD 521, he came to Iona in 563 AD with twelve other monks. By the time of his death in 597, Columban monks began to spread the word of Christianity all over what is now Scotland. At the community’s zenith, the monks on Iona produced The Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels known as a masterpiece of the Middle Ages.

There are stories about St. Columba’s miracles and visions. I figure that some of them are true. Jesus is supposed to have told the saint about his impending death days in advance, and Columba is reported to have seen the angels coming for him. As a result, this island has been known for centuries as a "thin place” — somewhere where the boundaries between heaven and earth are paper-thin. I doubt that this island is more holy than anyplace else on the earth; but then, I am no mystic.

As I toured the Abbey and listened to the pre-recorded tour guide, what struck me the most was how superstitious people became after St. Columba’s death. Warriors and kings wanted to be buried on the Isle of Iona because it was deemed “holy ground.” Columba’s bones became relics and were used as good luck charms by armies going into battle. I don't get it. Jesus goes with his people wherever they go. Whether he is with Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta or the staff at the Glasgow City Mission, or with St. Columba on the island of Iona – it is Jesus who makes a place or a task holy. It is His presence in his followers— “his temple, or his Body" (1Corinthians 3:16, 12:27) which causes something to be set apart for His righteous purposes.

Iona has become the home of the Iona Community which appears, from its literature, to be more concerned about social justice and world peace than faith in Jesus Christ. The island has also become rather touristy. I have seen people from several different countries walking about the island, going from the Abbey to the museum to the shops which sell everything from religious jewelry to sweatshirts. Still, Iona is a stunningly beautiful place and we’ve had two glorious days of clear weather with plenty of sunshine – a rarity during our time in Scotland. The beauty of this island is not lost on me. Inside the hotel as I write this, I praise God as I look out my bedroom window at the blue-green ocean and the hills of the Isle of Mull across the small channel which separates it from Iona. Even sailboats and ships fill me with wonder as I watch them gracefully move, their white foamy wakes fanning out behind them.

I am grateful for the time of rest away from our taxing schedule at the Glasgow City Mission. I am grateful for the loveliness that is this part of Scotland. I long for closeness with Jesus in both places. May my expectations match his will for me in both places. May I see him in the disheveled faces of the clients at the mission as much as in the rugged allure of this Scottish island.

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