For anyone who’s following this blog closely (or who just gets way too excited about seeing what I’ve been up to), you might wonder about the longer-than-usual interval since my last post. So just to put your mind at ease, the reason for this delay is that I’ve been to Iona, which—while being a place of rich history, austere beauty, and deep peace—has very poor internet connectivity. Now that I’m “back” from Iona, however, I wanted to share a little update. And the update begins with a few reflections about the journey there.
One does not get to Iona by accident. From Oban (where I last posted), you take a ferry to the Isle of Mull, and then you traverse Mull from one end to the other—a distance of about 35 miles. Now when I left Oban last Friday morning, I thought I was in for a rather unpleasant trip. It was raining when I boarded the ferry; and so, for the first time in my sabbatical I had to put on all my rain gear and try to psyche myself up for a messy ride. However, by the time we reached Mull, the clouds had parted and we were having one of the most beautiful days I’ve experienced here in the UK. And what a day to have the weather cooperate! The ride to the other end of the island wasn’t easy. But as I think the photos below will show, it was definitely worth it.
So, after a day of seeing God’s grandeur unfold before me, I took one last short ferry ride and arrived at Iona. I’ll reflect more on my time there in future posts or in things that I share when I return home. But for now, let’s just say that Iona‘s reputation for being “a thin place”—a place where the boundary between the physical realm and the realm of God’s Spirit is more permeable—seems well deserved.
Maybe it’s the unadorned beauty of the island. With far fewer distractions than we’re accustomed to, getting quiet and focusing on God’s presence seems to come a bit more naturally. Or maybe it’s the sacred history of Iona. The Christian community here was founded by Saint Columba back in 563 AD when he and 13 brothers in Christ arrived in a small boat from Ireland, having trusted that the Lord would bring them to the place He wanted them to be. And for several hundred years—despite repeated attacks from marauders—it served as a center of worship, discipleship, art, and mission that in many ways changed the course of Western history. Or—for me, at least—maybe it’s the fact that Iona is still a place of meaningful community. The Abbey here (parts of which date back to the 1200’s) hosts an ecumenical ministry that sponsors daily worship and weekly programs of spiritual enrichment. And they were kind enough to invite me to participate, even welcoming me to join them for lunch in the Abbey.
One highlight for me was a hike to the center of the island, where one can visit “The Hermit’s Cell.” This circle of stones pictured below is believed to be the foundation of an isolated hut, where members of the Iona community could retreat for times of solitude and prayer. Of course, it seems like Iona would’ve already had plenty of solitude and prayer! And yet, this is a testimony, I think, to the importance of establishing a rhythm in our lives that includes times of seeking God together and times of seeking God alone.
There’s much more I could tell. But for now, let’s just say that it was a wonderful visit. After cycling back across the Isle of Mull today, I’m spending tonight in Oban. And in the morning, I’ll set off on three days of cycling that will bring me to Glasgow. These will be some of my more challenging cycling days, both in terms of distance and climbing. So please pray for my safety and endurance. But do so knowing that I’m having a good trip and that I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to be here.