Wednesday, June 8, 2016

8 June: Intersecting Communities

Blogging, like journaling, takes time, something that I always seem to lack in this community. While not a bad thing necessarily, I think I could be doing a better job of taking time for myself and to update this blog.

Life in community continues to unfold itself to me in new and interesting ways. I am especially struck by the multiplicity of communities on this island, something I hinted at last time. The Iona Community is not the only group that finds a home and welcomes visitors to this island. While they may be the inheritors, in a physical sense, of Saint Columba's project and the later Benedictine medieval legacy, they occupy only one spiritual and geographic space on Iona.

There is also a parish of the Church of Scotland, the established presbyterian tradition that provides a Christian presence in every community in Scotland. A Roman Catholic house of prayer is run by a nun, receives guests on retreat, and offers the services of a priest for Mass when one is available. Bishop's House is the retreat center of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and provides a sense of home for me in its familiar liturgies and traditions. I often drop by for Compline in the evenings and make it to Eucharist when I can - both are offered daily. What is special about Bishop's House is that it exposes me to a different community of pilgrims with whom to interact. Like my fellow volunteers, these pilgrims all have different reasons for coming to the same place, and they diversify the spiritual flavor of the island.

One might otherwise think that these four religious communities would be at odds with one another - the Roman Catholic retreat, the Anglican Bishop's House, the presbyterian parish, and the ecumenical Iona Community. Surprisingly, however (although perhaps not surprisingly if you know anything about this place), the communities work together to make a sort of spiritual quilt that that is broad enough to cover the entire island and provide enough of the legacy of the Celtic Christian tradition to welcome visitors with vastly different expectations and past experiences. Even the church services do not conflict. If one were keen enough, he could start his day with Eucharist at Bishop's House, follow that with morning worship in the Abbey, catch a service at the Catholic house of prayer, and end with back-to-back Anglican Compline and then a quiet service in the Abbey, or on a Sunday go to four communion services in a row, with enough time for a pleasant walk between each (I promise not to do this too often). In all seriousness, this is a practical, outward sign of the mutual respect these communities have for each other.

Too often in our culture, especially in the United States, we see church as something to be marketed, no different than any other consumer good. We erect large billboards promoting our services, make a distinctive brand and catchy slogans. We "church shop" as if communion with God and each other can be examined, selected, and purchased like an item at the grocery store. We see church as something to be consumed, to entertain us. At its best, the Church resists this, and here it does so beautifully. People come to Iona as pilgrims, not as consumers. They come because for the past seventeen hundred years, people have found this island to be a place to connect with God and God's creation, to feel close to Heaven, and to leave behind the busyness of everyday life for a short while. Christianity feels authentic here, even in the diversity of expression that the different traditions provide.

And churches aren't the only communities on Iona. There are the farmers, the island residents, the seasonal employees of the two small hotels, the shop owners, and the hundreds of pilgrims and tourists that visit every day. Like the churches, these communities intersect in interesting, often surprising ways - on the village streets, in the pub, on the beach. It is these moments of connection that make life here spontaneous and break the monotony of a regulated, isolated existence. And as people are coming and going at such a rapid pace, these points of intersection change daily, for the community we create here is not the same today as it will be tomorrow. Who knows what or whom God will bring us tomorrow? We can only wait and see.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Sam: thank you for your blog posts. It is a good spiritual exercise to take time to reflect on your experiences and your questions.
    I wonder if there is a time/place for "consumerism"? Each week we consume the bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus Christ. What definition of "consumerism" might bring us closer to God and what definition might take us away?
    I was struck by the way the worship services of the four groups meld so that if one wishes, the day could be spent moving from one to another. As you noted, the respect for each other makes this possible.
    Is this a model for us to consider state-side? Maybe time of worship and maybe other activities? We do often live in silos and what I take from your comments is a way we might break silos down and learn to live in community and all benefit from those interactions.
    Best wishes and prayers, Jan