Signs of the Eternal

I am drawn to the ancient ruins of churches, monasteries, holy places. I give thanks for those who find value in them and maintain them. A number of years ago, I found the deep joy of sitting in the gardens that now fill the ruins of the Augustinian abbey on the island of Iona. Then this past spring Dave and I spent hours in the ruins of the monastery on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

I feel the presence and the life of those who lived in these sacred places. I experience God in spaces that once were, but are no longer the homes and centers of vital ministry. For some, these might seem to be places of the dead; no longer alive, no longer relevant. For me they are signs of our connection and continuity with the saints who have gone before us. And more, they are signs of the living, moving God whose work spans generations, centuries, and eons.

Time in ancient spaces reminds me that the work we do matters, is essential, but is not the last word of God. Like many before us, we will not see the completion of God’s reign on earth; yet we are always working and living into the kingdom/empire/reign of God.

Thanks be to God eternal!

Healing Prayers

As the clock moves past midnight and on to Tuesday morning, I am preparing for my lectionary study group, knowing that tomorrow’s time will be a bit different. A colleague and friend was in a bicycle accident this last Thursday and has a broken collarbone and ribs. He has asked me for prayer and anointing. I told him that I would, indeed, have the oil for anointing with me. Even as I say the words, I can smell that strong scent of frankincense and myrrh that flows from the tiny container of oil in my purse. It goes to hospitals with me and has often been used when one is dying.
I would usually go to a special resource for prayers for healing, but tonight (this morning) it occurred to me that it is Tuesday and the Tuesday prayers in my daily prayer book are focused on healing. And so I will use and adapt the Tuesday prayers. One of the morning prayers moves me deeply:

In the beginning O God

You shaped my soul and set its weave

You formed my body and gave it breath.

Renew me this day in the image of your love.

O great God, grant me your light

O great God, grant me your grace

O great God, grant me your joy this day

And let me be made pure in the well of your health. Amen.

And one of the evening prayers:

As I utter these prayers from my mouth, O God

In my soul may I feel your presence.

The knee that is stiff, O healer make pliant

The heart that is hard, make warm beneath your wing

The wound that is giving me pain,

O best of healers, make whole

And may my hopes and my fears

find a listening place with you. Amen.

— from Celtic Prayers from Iona, J. Philip Newell, Paulist Press.

Iona Longing

At this time last May I was a resident in the Abbey on Iona. It is difficult to describe the longing, yearning I have for that place. This past Saturday, I was so intensely aware of the feeling on that Saturday a year ago when I first saw Iona and then walked from the ferry landing to the Abbey. The day was cold (as days in May tend to be on Iona) and though cold, I wanted to be outside as the Ferry approached the island. The spray of the water chilled us to the bone. On the walk up through the village, past the Nunnery, and down the road toward the Abbey, I remember fearing that I would surely freeze during the week there and yet somehow it did not matter. I was on holy ground.

When we reached the Abbey grounds and walked past St. Martin’s and St. John’s crosses, we were led through the Cloister and up the stairs to the dining room. There we were greeted with hot tea and bisquits. It seems like such a small gesture, but I knew in that moment that the Iona Community knew something about Christ’s Hospitality. They knew was it was like to arrive in the cold and the wind, to be in a new and strange place, to be getting our bearings. That cup of tea was truly a gift. When we had warmed up a bit, we were told that we would be shown to our rooms, and then we had the rest of the afternoon to settle in. We were told to ‘come back to this room at 6:00 o’clock and we will feed you.’
“Come back to this room … we will feed you.” I have not forgotten those words. I felt safe, welcomed, assured. I did not need to know everything at that moment. In fact, we could hardly absorb more. The Iona Community knew how to welcome without overwhelming; how to provide a safe place and the time and space to let our souls catch up with our bodies (as an old African story describes a journey).

My sense is that I will write more in the days to come as I long for Iona and continue the journey in my heart.

My prayer is with my friend and colleague Nancy who is currently spending 6 weeks working in the Abbey kitchen and making home and worship in that place.

My Heart is on Iona

At this time a year ago, I was on a sabbatical graciously funded by the Lilly Endowment. Dave and I were able to spend a month of that sabbatical time with communities of prayer and hospitality in the United Kingdom. Our three planned visits were 1) St. Botolph Aldgate Church in London, a congregation that continues a ministry of spiritual nurture and hospitality at the “old gate (aldgate)” of the city, 2) The Julian Lectureship in Norwich where Julian of Norwich lived in prayer and counseled people through her cell window during the Black Plague and the Peasant’s Revolt, and 3) the Iona Community on the sacred Island of Iona, where Christianity first came to Scotland through St. Columba, and where Columba’s monks went out to welcome the stranger and were slaughtered at Martyr’s Bay, where now a community committed to worship and justice welcomes the stranger, the pilgrim.

We, of course, had many grace and wonder-filled encounters along the way … between the planned places. God’s met us and led us in ways we could never have imagined. It was truly a sacred journey.

The list of these places seems so stark, but the memory is so very alive and breathing — as present as the Spirit. There has not been a day since that pilgrimage that I have not thought of, felt, and heard the places and people along our way. They are not in the past for me; they are a part of me in a way I never expected. Particularly Iona. I ache to be there. I still feel the tears that came to my eyes when I saw it and the tears that soaked my face when I left it. In my heart I am walking there, eating with the community, working in the kitchen — chopping vegetables, drying dishes, setting tables, watching the sheep pass by the window of our room in the Abbey, worshiping in the Abbey Church, praying and singing in St. Oran’s Chapel, sharing faith in the Chapter House, drinking hot tea to warm my body when coming in from the cold wind blowing across the island, sitting in a sunny place in the open air of the Nunnery, touching St. Martin’s cross, walking the pilgrimage in the cold rain, falling in the bog (as surely many have done before me), standing on the rounded stones where Columba landed, standing amidst the ancient, ancient rock of the quarry, drinking tea and eating flapjack on the Machair, ringing the bell to call the community to worship in the Abbey Church, walking the Street of the Dead, and feeling my life connected with those who have gone before me.

Indeed, Iona is a “thin place” as George Macleod called it; a place where we come close to God. What I realize, however, is that Iona is not a place for us to stay physically; it is a place for the pilgrim to touch the holy in that sacred ground, within ourselves, and within the community of faith. Then we come home to the places of our work, our ministry and we learn anew to live, worship, and serve in prayer and hospitality. I am still integrating this experience of the Holy, and I pray I will be on that journey for a long time.

A couple of weeks ago, I found a new gift in my process. The book is titled

    Urban Iona:Celtic Hospitality in the City by Kurt Neilson, Morehouse Publishing, 2007.
    I highly recommend it.