Note:  Video update and pictures at the end of this page.

Day 4 – Journal and Reflection

For those who have been to Iona, perhaps many times, you will know that the moment of arrival is very special, particularly on a gorgeous summer’s evening like tonight. On the short ferry crossing from Fionnphort, the sea was calm, coloured azure  blue and the sky near cloudless. As the Abbey came into view, almost shimmering in the heat, this ‘pilgrim’ felt a rush of elation - surrounded by the beauty of creation, and knowing that a place of great spiritual depth and inspiration was imminent.

The long road today began in the early morning at Carsaig, scrambling round the rocks to the Nun’s Cave, and thereafter facing a steep climb with the pack, upwards to the top of the sea cliffs. A tramp over open moorland followed, often on rough ground without tracks or paths. The heat of the sun was intense, with little shade or breeze. It was a relief to reach a Forestry Commission plantation and descend on a track to the main road to Bunessan. 

I had passed close to the ruined villages of Shiaba, scandalously cleared for sheep, and of Scoor, beside which is Kilvicheon Chapel. Buried there is Mary MacDonald, from a family of Gaelic poets who wrote the words (in Gaelic) to ‘Child in the Manger’. Bunessan has given us the name of a famous tune too, to which we sing Mary MacDonald’s hymn, as well as ‘Morning has Broken’

Onward from Bunessan to Fionnphort, with Iona and the Abbey now in sight. About 20 miles covered, partly on very difficult terrain, but now worth it in the moment of arrival. A slimmer and stronger version will be returning!

Thoughts of identity were coming to mind today - this beautiful countryside cannot elicit anything other than wonder at the beauty of God’s creation, and a sense of pride in Scotland. Likewise, on seeing Iona again there is a strong connection for me with the heritage of faith, both in the Reformed tradition and beforehand. But such pride to an extreme can lead to bigotry or xenophobia - see the nuns of Iona fleeing to Carsaig from the zeal of the Reformers.

I read recently Christine De Luca’s poem, written ‘The Morning After’ the independence referendum of 2014. Noting our ‘dragons to slay’, Christine describes the ‘best in Scotland, an open heart’. I am proud in my identity to be Scottish, Christian and Reformed, and to have the privilege of being a minister. But as the hymn says, ‘all are welcome in this place’, and that must be on equal terms - all nationalities, ethnicities, Christian denominations, those of other faiths and none. That desire for peace, justice and an ‘open heart’ rings true on arrival at Iona, from the continuing work of the Iona Community and the legacy of Columba.

From ‘The Morning After’, by Christine De Luca

It’s those unseen things that bind us,
not flag or battle-weary turf or tartan.
There are dragons to slay whatever happens:
poverty, false pride, snobbery, sectarian
schisms still hovering. But there’s
nothing broken that’s not repairable.
We’re a citizenry of bonnie fighters,
a gathered folk; a culture that imparts,
inspires, demands a rare devotion,
no back-tracking; that each should work
and play our several parts to bring about
the best in Scotland, an open heart.


Day 4 – Prayer

God of the Tides by Jan Sutch Pickard

God of the tides,
Whose faithful rhythm
Underlies our daily lives
Help us to keep on
With courage and caring
Both when we are full and fulfilled
And in times of ebb and emptiness
Neap and spring tides in our lives –
Within the ocean of your love. Amen.