Iona is described as a Holy Place. Some call it a “thin place,” where the separation from Heaven and Earth is thinner and a spiritual encounter is more commonplace than the rest of the world. I’m not sure how to describe Iona, but I can say it’s different here. There’s a deep history of faith on Iona, with St. Columba coming here with his monks from Ireland, making this a place of faith and outreach into Scotland. Ancient people saw Iona as a Holy Place, with kings wanting to be buried in its holy soil. There are ruins and relics of faith from centuries ago, but it continues to be a place of spiritual encounter. George MacLeod, the founder of the Iona Community, wanted to bring together clergy and working class people through rebuilding the ruins of the monastery here. Since then it’s been a place of worship and renewal with some of the Iona Community’s life being centered around life here on the island. The people who are here are seeking God in one way or another. Some come to see the abbey for a day trip and are then on their way, but for most a trip to Iona is a search for a connection with God, and the atmosphere is different from their presence. I attended worship at the Bishop’s House, an Episcopal retreat house, and the priest leading worship mentioned that we were all here in worship when we could have easily been doing something else on a nice day. The whole island is like that; the people here could have visited any other vacation destination, but they chose to be here on Iona seeking a sacred connection. The atmosphere of so many spiritual seekers here on a small island is different than any other destination.
And, it’s beautiful here. There are scenic vistas, with water and mountains, all around. Taking a walk on Iona, where there is plenty of room to do it, is to have the natural world preach a sermon to you.
I heard someone say that visiting sacred places should awaken us to the sacredness of every place. Being here should not make me think, “Well this is nice, but my place and normal life is just mundane and void of God’s presence." It’s not that God can be found here and not anywhere else; no, God is everywhere, and while it may be a little easier to find God here, being on Iona reminds me I can find God wherever I chose to wake up to God.
"In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." - Rule of St. Benedict