Thursday, May 19, 2016

18 May: Journeying to Iona

Iona Abbey, my home for the next ten weeks

There's always been something for me about writing on trains, where the pace of travel mirrors the pace at which the mind works to express itself in the written word. And I can't imagine a more beautiful place through which to travel by train than the cool alpine forests and lochs of western Scotland. My journey to Iona is almost complete - I have come to the end of my three-day pilgrimage, this bizarre Triduum which saw my graduation from Wabash on Sunday, my journey to England Monday, and the trip up to Scotland yesterday evening. After such a rapid change of scenery, I'm looking forward to the stability that ten weeks on Iona will provide.

I believe that I am following God's call back to this place, where for one week last year I sensed more growth in my discernment than for a long time before and after. Last Sunday we celebrated the feast of Pentecost, remembering the descent of the Holy Spirit on the earliest Christians and the "birthday" of the Church. I can't help but think, however, that the spirit must be chased sometimes - like something precious caught in the wind that is always just a few feet out of reach. That is what I feel like I'm doing now - chasing the spirit back to a place I only recently left, to this island. And perhaps it is just the beautiful scenery - we are passing Loch Lomond as I write - but the voice I heard calling me back here seems to get louder the closer I get. 

Such personal pilgrimages and wanderings are often lonely exercises, and already I have begun to adopt the isolating, self-sufficient mental attitude I learned last year when I was so often on my own in foreign cities. But Iona is a community, and as I quickly discovered last May, it is not a place to go and think big thoughts quietly on a stone beach, cut off from other humans. Rather, God speaks here in community, in human interaction, through food, drink, and common prayer. I have just met up with four fellow pilgrims, who begin work on Iona today. We will arrive already a small community. 

My prayer is that I will give myself fully to this community in the coming weeks, and that it will in turn reveal itself to me, and that the Holy Spirit may work through us all in the process.


PS: Speaking of Loch Lomond, I had no idea last year that it is on the route to Iona from Glasgow! My return to this part of the world reminds me of a line from this famous loch's ballad: "We'll meet where we parted in yon shady glen, on the steep, steep side o' Ben Lomond, where in deep purple hue the highland hills we view, an' the moon looks out frae the gloamin'."


  1. Hi Sam--Glad to hear you are safely arrived. Blogging, in the beginning, can feel a little like shouting into the wind, but I wanted you to know that you are being read by someone other than your family. Looking forward to reading about your new adventures.

  2. And the Strains are also looking forward to sharing your thoughts and journey.

  3. Looking forward to many more great posts to come!

  4. Looking forward to many more great posts to come!

  5. Sending beautiful thoughts, warm well wishes, and lots of love your way! I cannot wait to follow along and share in your magnificent journey.

  6. Love and prayers come to you from the Branstetters. Love reading your post (better late than never��)