Friday, October 3, 2014

Inspiration in an ancient landscape

Pilgrimage on Iona to Columba's Bay

As I write this, I am sitting in the attic room of a B&B in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland.  My high windows overlook the harbour where I'll leave from very early tomorrow morning to cross The Minch on the ferry, to get to mainland Scotland. The sea is calm and pink in the light of the setting sun. The wind changes here by the hour.  Yesterday the wind was so strong I could have spread my arms and flown across The Minch.  Parents had to hang on to their children!

I travelled last week to Iona to attend a pilgrimage/retreat led by John Philip Newell, author and poet who is internationally acclaimed for his work in the field of Celtic Christianity,

The island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, is the symbolic centre of Scottish Christianity. In 563 AD, Columba, with thirteen followers, landed at the south end of the island, at St Columba's Bay, to establish a monastery. Since then the island has always been revered as a holy place and over the centuries, it has continually been reinvented and reconstructed as a centre for pilgrimage.
John Philip asked what we hoped to take away from Iona.  Some said they wanted to look again at their Christian faith in a new way through the earth-based tradition of Celtic Christianity.  Some were pastors or ministers.  One was a nun, another a monk.  Some came to take the time to consider their spirituality.  I said that I had come to gather in the light of Iona-not simply the physical light, but the peaceful, quiet spiritual energy there-and take some home with me.

Columba's Bay

I felt the blessing of the land, not only in the quiet, contemplative peace I found there, but also in the stones.  Heart-stones.  I went to Iona two years ago for a week-long retreat called Quiet Week. A couple of people on the retreat found heart-shaped stones.  I loved them and made an effort to find my own.  I combed the beaches without any success.  This year I made no effort and found heart-shaped stones wherever I walked.  It was like the earth was offering me blessings one after another.  I found at least 15 of them which I then began to give away.  I continued though to find them wherever I walked and so began to take photos of them.

My journey has continued onto the Isle of Lewis where I've spent the past week.  My friend Mary and I spent time with the famous standing stones at Callanish.  They are Lewisian Gneiss, probably the oldest rock in the world at 2.8 billion years old.  Interestingly, it's the same stone that is on Iona. No one knows the date  the Callanish Stone Circle was constructed-perhaps 5000 years ago-some say before Stonehenge.

We travelled the length of Lewis and Harris, marvelling  at the way the sun moved through the clouds to shine on the treeless, peat bog-covered hills.

Light on the hills of Harris

I am going away from the Hebrides having gathered in some light, feeling more at peace having spent time in this ancient landscape where you feel the power of the wind, the sea and the rock.

"In the gift of this new day,
in the gift of this present moment,
in the gift of time and eternity intertwined
let me be thankful
let me be attentive
let me be open to what has never happened before,
in the gift of this new day,
in the gift of this present moment,
in the gift of time and eternity intertwined."

John Phillip Newell
Sounds of the Eternal