Reflections on Iona

The Abbey of IonaEvery year thousands of pilgrims travel from all over the world to experience the breathtaking beauty of Iona, and the striking simplicity of worship at the Abbey. It is said that for many a visit to Iona is a life-changing experience, a source of healing and peace where new courage and hope to face life’s challenges are found.

Four of us recently set off on the long journey to Iona, complete with waterproofs and thermals and a sense of adventure and expectancy in our hearts. During our stay we were blessed with the most beautiful weather, seeing Iona at its best - deep blue skies and turquoise seas, white beaches and wonderful sunsets. The thermal clothes and waterproofs were definitely not needed!

With the arrival of the first good weather of the year, the day trips to Fingal’s Cave on the nearby island of Staffa began, the boatman sharing with his passengers that it was his first trip without his son, one of those drowned in the terrible tragedy last December when four of Iona’s young men were lost at sea. As we stood by their graves in the Abbey graveyard, which over the centuries has welcomed crofters and kings, we were able to pray for their grieving families attempting to pick up their lives again, and for their commitment to the island community which the young men held dear to their hearts.

Several other special moments stood out for me:

There was the weekly pilgrimage walk round the island visiting places of historical and religious significance where we stopped to pray, reflecting on the journey of our own lives and the life of the world as we did so. Part of the walk was in silence, with young and old helping each other over difficult and boggy ground. In a very small way we could identify with the people of Kosovo, and prayed for them as they walk on to an uncertain future. We were going back to hot baths and warm homes - it was a humbling moment.

Then there was the Wednesday evening worship, when we danced around the Abbey to wonderful African music led by an ecumenical group from the Churches of Tottenham in North London, many of whom were originally from Africa and the West Indies. The children from St Mary’s School, Beaconsfield, spending a week in the McLeod Centre on the island, accompanied us with a variety of musical instruments. We certainly made a joyful noise unto the Lord! (Psalm 100)

And the Friday evening communion, when a candlelit table was placed in the centre of the Abbey and everyone, including the children, were invited to partake at the Lord’s table. As we shared the freshly baked bread and the wine together, we felt a strong sense of Christ’s presence in our midst, and that we were brothers and sisters together in Christ.

Yes. Iona is a life-changing experience!

Jan Huckle

Read about Saint Columba, the founder of the monastery on Iona
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 30th May 1999