|Psalm 24; Mark 3:7-19
Larry Boutelle, Laura Ford, Al and Carol Parfitt, Gary Wegenke, and Seth Weeldreyer
June 10, 2012 – Second Sunday after Pentecost
Scholars tell us that Psalm 24 is a song that was likely shared as pilgrims journeyed toward and ultimately entered the sanctuary of God – in ancient time the Hebrew Temple in Jerusalem. "The whole earth is the Lord's" … as are all sanctuaries, the psalmist declares. This sanctuary. And the Iona Abbey a place of Christian worship and witness to the world since the 6th century. Who shall ascend to the heights of natural or human construction – or we might say to the distant reaches of geography – to stand in God's holy places? And how?
We will share blessing and salvation, the psalmist promises as we seek to enter and share worship with clean hands and pure hearts, longing for what is true in God's love. Such was the company of those fifteen pilgrims who traveled to the Iona Abbey lat month. Such is the company, dear friends, among those of us who gather here each Sunday to love God and other people and all creation. Such was the company of those earliest followers of Jesus, who traveled with him along the highways and hills of ancient Israel / Palestine. According to Mark, Jesus just healed a man in a synagogue, God's holy sanctuary. Now he is on the move again – maybe as an attempt at retreat, except he remains in common areas of life and people come from far away to join him. Hear what God's Spirit may say. (read Mark 3:7-19)
They came … not from Judea and Idumea, but from all around the U.S., Britain, Europe, Asia, South America, and Australia to live and work at the Iona Abbey – some like us, for a week, others for a couple of months or more. Many experience a kind of healing in that place and come to know, to name God in new ways. Jesus went up a mountain to share an intimate moment with his closest friends – twelve we are told, not fifteen. And interestingly, Mark tells us Jesus appointed each by name. Why does Mark tell us this detail, naming each one? Maybe for historical record … it's helpful and important, although there is a little variation among those exactly listed in the gospels and in Acts. And I wonder if Mark attempts to convey something more intimate. You see, to name something, someone, even God in a biblical understanding captures and expresses what is most personal and powerful. Each of the five people who now offer a reflection on the pilgrimage to Iona has a name, of course. And now they will offer a personal and powerful glimpse into their experience of life and faith.
Reflections from Al Parfitt
In 1745 Prince Charles Edward Stuart landed on the west coast of Scotland. His goal was to claim by force the crown of Great Britain for his father. After several months and several battles, he failed. No doubt his father was disappointed, but his comfortable life as a pensioner of the King of France did not change. Prince Charles escaped from Scotland, with the help of Flora MacDonald, and returned to France, to drown his sorrows in good Scotch whiskey. The English were upset at the Scottish nature of the rebellion, and deprived the Scots of their bagpipes, their kilts, and in many cases their ability to feed their families. Many Scots had two choices: join the British army or emigrate. They did both. The plaques in St Giles Edinburgh attest to the valor of the Highland regiments, and America is full of Camerons and MacDonalds, not to mention a few Fifes and McCrackens.
More than a thousand years before Prince Charlie, another character landed in Scotland, a shadowy figure named Columba. His trip also had a whiff of violence; legend has it that Columba agreed to go as a missionary to the wild Celts of Scotland to atone for touching off a nasty little war in Ireland over doctrinal issues. But his mission on the tiny island of Iona prospered, although it was not without problems. Over the centuries the monks were overrun at least twice by Vikings, and although they eventually built a large abbey and convent out of fine Iona rocks, the Reformation brought all this to an end and the buildings to ruin. In the late 19th century the Duke of Argyll, the hereditary chief of the Campbells, paid to rebuild the Abbey Church, and in the next century a band of true believers formed the Iona Community, and rebuilt the abbey as a modern hostel. The convent remains as a picturesque ruin.
But although modern Iona is a peaceful place, with friendly people and little traffic, is there any hope that humans can break away from their fatal addiction to war and violence? If you read the news from Syria and Mexico, perhaps not. However, there are some hopeful signs. Sometime in the next few years Scotland will decide whether to become an independent country. They will decide this, not by wild duniwassals charging out of the highlands waving spears and claymores, but at the ballot box. They might vote yes. The Scottish National Party controls the Scottish parliament at Edinburgh, and the Conservative Party that controls the British Parliament at Westminster has little or no support in Scotland, rather like the Democrats in Utah or the Republicans in the District of Columbia. Scots I talked to were ambivalent; one said the vote might depend on how many times David Cameron sticks his foot in his mouth.
As we look out on the world we see that humanity still has a long way to go. But the stones of Iona have seen a lot, and perhaps if the Lord tarries, they might someday see a world in which peace and justice are more than just a wonderful ideas.
Reflections from Larry Boutelle
The Abbey was about what I expected. The worship services, the dining room ambience and cuisine was predictable. The island was more than I expected: more homes, more shops, more visitors, more interesting. But what was most interesting were the people. The Chestershire church group whose pastor was always working with members of her congregation to plan what was going to happen back home in the next year. The members of her congregation who in many ways could have been anywhere –they just loved being together. The Dutch Ionaphile who, with his wife, were at the Abbey for the fourth or fifth time, and this time had brought good friends to share their love of this generously welcoming place. The American woman who was excitedly tracing genealogical roots while slowly getting excited about what the Abbey was all about.
And then there was our group. A diverse collection of interests and motives that plumbed the deeply spiritual, focused the historical confusion of too many kings and queens and wanna-bes, those who fell in love with the open-hearted music and liturgies of the worship, and those who wanted to explore the rocks and vistas of the island. For me this included some fantastic birding. I saw over 40 new species of birds. And I believe everyone who went on the short trip to see the Puffins felt it was a highlight. I simply soaked up the place and the wonderful people who came to share it with us for the week.
The interesting diversity of the people was accentuated with an interna-tional feeling brought to the Abbey by the volunteer staff from the Czech Republic, Italy, Germany, Greece, and Australia and a strong representation from the Scots and English. But it wasn’t just that there was diversity. From this diverse group was a shared feeling that God was a powerful part of our lives, moving us in ways as haunting and majestic as that ancient Abbey standing solidly on the rocks of Iona.
Reflections from Carol Parfitt
The Saturday afternoon we arrived on Iona, the island wore its smiling face. The sun shone. Early flowers bloomed. Sheep-- hundreds of sheep- grazed placidly in the green pastures. Birds sang, and the birders among us pricked up their ears. As we walked from the ferry dock to the abbey, we passed ancient stone walls adorned with pretty little rock plants.
Yet there were clues that Iona is not always placid. Except for one clump of trees, home to a colony of rooks, there were few plants over three feet tall. Every garden was protected by stone walls. Most buildings had thick stone walls.
Saturday night the wind and the rain came. The wind howled and things went thump in the night. Sunday morning the gale continued, and we were grateful to be staying in the Abbey, from whence we could enter the Abbey Church by scuttling around the cloister. Other worshipers came from the Macleod Center, part of the Iona Community, and from other places all over the island. They arrived wet and windblown and cold. They and we stayed cold, too, because the Abbey boilers were being replaced. The anachronistic central heating was off all week, enhancing the medieval ambience. “Wear layers”, Seth had told us, and we did.
As members of the Seals team, Al and I helped serve and clean up Sunday dinner. And then we decided to brave the elements and visit the Macleod Center, where the other half of the guests slept and ate, and where the craft room was located.
During announcements, a staff member had given directions. “Go out the front gate, and turn right. The Macleod Center is at the top of the hill. The name is on the gate. You can’t miss it.”
So we zipped up our rain jackets and headed out the gate. We turned right on the main road. We clutched our hoods around our faces, and bent over nearly double, trying to stay on the road as the gale force wind tried to blow us away. We toiled up the hill, looking at every gate for a prominent sign. It was raining sideways, and the water drops felt like hail.
A verse popped into my head. “The wind blows where it wills; you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from, or where it is going.” It seemed significant, but at the moment I couldn’t process it.
Eventually we gave up and turned around. Almost back at the Abbey, we saw the sign, which had been masked by a couple of parked vans. We paid the first of many visits to The Mac, and continued to enjoy Iona and it’s people.
But what about that wind?
Another thought which stuck in my head came during the great off-road pilgrimage. Several dozen people hiked along the old pilgrim’s route, with stops for history, Scripture, and meditation. We ate our sack lunches at St. Columba’s Bay, where Columba and a handful of companions landed after sailing in a coracle from Ireland. Their intent, which was carried out, was to evangelize Scotland and points beyond. Gratefully we sat down with our backs against one of large basalt hills which pepper the island. Our leader explained that this hill was called the Hill of Turning. As soon as the monks rounded that rock, they could no longer see the Irish Sea, the bay, and their trusty coracle. They were in a new phase of their lives, and there would be no turning back, or even looking back.
This too seemed significant.
Later I tried to make some sense of these two moments.
The verse about the wind is found in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus about being “born again” in the third chapter of John. Nicodemus asked what that meant, and Jesus answered,
“In truth I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born from water and spirit. You ought not to be astonished, then, when I tell you that you must be born over again. The wind blows where it wills, you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from, or where it is going. So with everyone who is born from spirit.” The footnote says that the Greek word for “wind” and “spirit”is the same.
What does this mean? I think of “the Spirit” as benign and gentle and of “wind” as stronger, and sometimes dangerous.
Three years ago, strong winds with hail tore up every house in our neighborhood. Trees came down on roofs and powerlines. Roofs and siding were full of holes. Hurricanes and tornados do even more damage. Friends who have a sailboat tell terrifying stories of being on the Atlantic in a gale.
Great winds threatened the ship in which Jonah was traveling, and shipwrecked the ship on which Paul was being carried to Rome. Jesus’ disciples were terrified when a storm blew up on the Sea of Galilee.
And I just hate it when wind and rain knock down all the irises and peonies at the peak of perfection.
But perhaps sometimes the Spirit of God IS a wild wind. Perhaps sometimes being blown off course sends a person in a new direction, and this turns out to be productive. Perhaps sometimes one needs to walk around a Hill of Turning, and move on.
These are Iona thoughts.
Reflections from Laura Ford
My initial thoughts for going to Scotland on this spiritual pilgrimage were, I admit, a bit selfish – I just wanted to see Scotland. But then I began to look into the whole idea of taking a spiritual journey to gain back some of what I thought I had lost over the past few years. I have always felt that as an adult I am on a journey to God’s heart – but recently felt I had lost my way. A spiritual pilgrimage is often undertaken for just that reason: to re establish a connection to God and understand a bit about our place in the world and on our journey.
I was anxious to experience this ‘thin place’ of Iona. It had been presented as a place where God’s presence was palpable. Although I did not have that experience, what I did discover is that my relationship with God is right where it has always been: within me. It can be an amazing and humbling experience to discover the depth of God’s yearning for us to seek Him, and to know His ways. I not only discovered a bit about my spirituality, but I became enamored of several things Scottish – not the least of which is their ‘dry stone’ fences (or drystane).
The ancient technique of building a stone fence calls for a master waller to create two parallel walls of interlocking stone, free of mortar. On occasion a large stone is placed that connects the two walls (called a ‘tie stone’) for stability. And the capstone or ‘cope’ has the role of preventing the wall from coming apart. Small holes (called smoots) are purposely placed in the drystane to allow for movement of wind and of small animals. What is critical with the creation of a drystane is that the selection of the correct stone for every position in the wall makes an enormous difference to the lifetime of the finished product. I paid attention to the drystanes that we saw in Scotland. Most of them were quite old, covered in moss or well established as the boundaries between pieces of land or pens for a variety of animals. Some of them had artistically arranged stones that formed a pattern or picture – all without mortar. A little reading uncovered the fact that many of the drystane walls in Scotland have carbon dated to be several centuries old. And they still stand.
I began to look at some parallels between the drystane and my Christian walk. Each stone wall is a unique structure – as it is created out of the available stones from the field. I am also a unique creation – a product of my experiences. Just as the stone wall needs to know support of a parallel wall that is like constructed, I need others in my life who can be leaned upon if necessary, or provide an example of strength. I will stand much stronger in my faith when I am in the company of others who are on a parallel path, and are not at cross purposes. I need that tie stone for stability that comes from knowing others with a greater understanding of God and His word – who can connect or bridge me. And I need to be the tie stone to others occasionally. I also need the capstone of strong leadership to keep me from coming apart, or diverting the support of others on similar journeys. And those smoots – the small holes that allow for movement of the wind and small animals – well it is important to keep in mind that occasionally holes will appear in our lives through the death of loved ones, divorce, the growing up and away of a child. Yet I can allow God and the Spirit to move through those ‘holes’ so that I continue to stand. May the drystane of my spiritual walk still be standing, and covered in moss and the character of my life.
The Spiritual Pilgrimage to Iona was incredible, profound, too short, frustrating and exhilarating at the same time. My thanks to my fellow pilgrims for tolerating my meanderings in Scotland, to Seth for his capstone leadership, and to you fellow wall builders who prayed us through.
Reflections from Gary Wegenke
As the years of my life continue to add, I search for the time and places to reflect on who I am and where I’m likely to be in the future. Many stages of my life have already been revealed – a son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, public school teacher, school administrator, and a university professor. Beyond these titles, the question remains … who am I? A few days on the
Scottish Island of Iona gave me time and a place to do just that … begin to discover who I really am.
My reflective experience or pilgrimage began when the ferry from the Scottish Island of Mull docked at Iona on May 12 … a chilly, windy, Saturday afternoon. The sun was shining, but the wind off the Atlantic Ocean made the hooded jacket I was wearing feel needed and comforting.
The two large suitcases Sandy and I had were taken by taxi to the Abbey. We, along with our 13 church friends, took our first steps as pilgrims as we walked up the hill toward the Abbey. The journey took us on a paved path lined with waist-high rock walls. Ewes and their lambs were grazing in their pastures, while noisy Rooks nested in the tops of sycamore trees along the way.
I was in a place, I thought, that appears only in books.
I had once read, the Celtic Christian tradition emphasizes the significance of God in the natural world. Nature to the Celts is a sacred book, parallel to the scriptures. On the walk to the
Abbey, I sensed that God was nearby and I needed to take a deep breath, relax, enjoy the moment, and let the week’s mysteries/uncertainties simply unfold. The surroundings were saying to me … you’re here … now be here … be yourself … there is little you will control.
There are numerous Iona stories that in hindsight provided me opportunities to be me in this unique place. Examples, like … a 7-mile hike through watery bogs, up rocky terrain, and majestic views of beaches and the ocean … worshiping with people from other countries through word and song. As well as, each day making time to reflect on the beauty and history of a place … Iona … discovered by the exiled monk Columba in 563 AD. On Iona, I was a part of the island’s history.
Each day as I entered the Abbey, I paused and reflected on the Cross of St. Martens that has stood outside the Abbey since the 8th Century. Certainly the cross symbolizes the Christian cross of resurrection and redemption, but it also symbolizes the earth and sun (nature). Woven together the Celtic knot perhaps is a symbol of my life … your life … perhaps living requires courage and risk taking as we move through a variety of lifetime experiences … pain, sorrow, joy, wonderment … Who am I?
The cross of St. Martens to me indicates that I am who I am, inner-connected with other people most of whom I have never met. I am inner-connected to the wonders of nature that surrounded me in Iona and in my life each day. The Iona experience has left me to believe my soul is connected with those that have spent time in this special place. Who am I? … to me remains a mystery requiring much more reflection as I attempt to deepen my faith by taking time to understand God’s world … knowing I am a child of God.
John Bell and Graham Maule wrote a song, “Take this Moment,” we sang at worship in the Iona Abbey. The lyrics that I selected say:
God … “Take the time to call my name, take the time to mend who I am and what I’ve been, all I’ve failed to tend.
God … “Take the little child in me, scared of growing old; help me here to find my worth made in Christ’s own mould.
God … “Take my talents, take my skills, take what’s yet to be; let my life be yours and yet, let it still be me.”
Jesus commissioned the twelve to preach and share his healing work. Consistently spiritual retreat for them entwined with everyday life. It is hard to separate the two. And that's a calling that resonates deep in the spirit of Iona. "What happens on Iona," says the popular refrain, "does not stay on Iona." Some in our group may have wished that wasn't true! As some kind of bronchial illness that struck about half of our group lingered for weeks … maybe still in some trying to heal!
I've long appreciated in my own life how pilgrim experiences on Iona inspired life, work, worship elsewhere … right here and now. I wear this stole today as a kind of symbol for me of that pilgrim journey in life and faith. It is supposedly a Scottish tartan created for clergy. It is a gift to me from Brenda Biggs and Ken Barley at my ordination service in this sanctuary years ago. Since then I've tried to live into the calling to service this stole represents … on a sort of pilgrimage through everyday life and faith with others.
In fact, we all share a pilgrimage everyday. May we be inspired in some way by those reflections offered in a connection to our everyday journeys. After we have come to this high place. After we have come to God in Christ each in our own way. Let us go, praying God will take this moment and every moment, take our time and tiredness and all our talents to be used in the service of Christ our Lord.
Thanks be to God. Amen.