A Thin Place

Perhaps there never will be enough photographs of Iona Abbey! At one time Iona was the center of Europe in the sense that from this center Christianity was spread throughout Scotland and from there through the rest of the United Kingdom and beyond eastward into many parts of Europe. Certainly, when viewed on a map, Iona is not at the center but on the very western edge of Europe! This tiny island west of the island of Mull is only 3miles long and 1 mile wide. https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryMagazine/DestinationsUK/Isle-of-Iona/. It is often described as a “thin place” not only in its physical size but also in its spiritual capacity, representing a thin place between the human and the holy.

It was Columba, along with some of his followers and disciples, who settled on Iona in 563AD . The present Abbey has a miraculous story all of its own and its influence is disproportionate to its size! The incredible Book of Kells, which is on display in Trinity College Dublin, was begun on Iona prior to 806 when the island and the monastery suffered its first of many Viking raids. The book was smuggled off the island and found its way to Kells in Ireland. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Kells It is believed to finally find its home at Trinity College Dublin in 1661 and can today we viewed there! The feast day of Columba was celebrated last week, on June 9th. I offer you Malcolm Guite’s sonnet in celebration of Columba but also as a story of his own calling to faith. The name Malcolm is derived from the the name Columba. Malcolm tells of visiting the small village of Glencolmcille in Donegal, as it was preparing to celebrate the life of Columba who had left that village on his way to what turned out to be Iona. As you read the poem consider your own calling into faith and pilgrimage. Where do you trace this call? Consider the people over the years who have helped keep this call alive? Where has God led you? Are you still following? I hope with curiosity and imagination you continue to ask questions, continue to ponder and delight in life and all its gifts.


 You called me and I came to Colmcille
To learn at last the meaning of my name
Though you yourself were called, and not the caller,
He called through you and when He called I came.
Came to the edge at last, in Donegal,
Where bonfires burned and music lit the flame
As from the shore I glimpsed that ragged sail
The Spirit filled to drive you from your  home,
A fierce dove racing in a fiercer gale,
A swift wing flashing between sea and sky.
And with that glimpse I knew that I  would fly
And find you out and serve you for a season,
My heaven hidden like your native isle,
Though somehow glimmering on each horizon. Malcolm Guite The Singing Bowl

The Prayer of St. Columba

Be a bright flame before me, O God
a guiding star above me.
Be a smooth path below me,
a kindly shepherd behind me
today, tonight, and for ever.
Alone with none but you, my God
I journey on my way;
what need I fear when you are near,
O Lord of night and day?
More secure am I within your hand
than if a multitude did round me stand.

3 thoughts on “A Thin Place

  1. Our world is so full of interesting manuscripts, people, places and journies, isn’t it? While I’ve always heard of the Book of Kells I’ve not known much about its meaning and history, other than the basics. The blog today sparked great interest and I’ve had an “Aha!” moment. Now I have a reason to look at a book long shelved in my daughter’s closet, “A History of Illuminated Manuscrips” by Christopher de Hamel, given to me many years ago by someone who believed I would find it fascinating. But as we’ve all experienced with such a gift, the time wasn’t quite right with young children, commuting to work, and not much extra time for serious study. But now! The timing is perfect. As I located the book, I was shocked to see that a bookmark held the place in the chapter on Books for Missionaries and features the Book of Kells, and I’m delighted with the coincidence. I have learned that my oldest daughter found this to be fascinating, even as a youngster. According to the book, much more is unknown about its origin and history than is known. I won’t digress further, though tempted!

    To the point of being called into faith, I’ve always been amused by my father’s remark that by parental persuasion he developed an addiction for church. While I haven’t experienced that same addiction, parental persuasion certainly guided my earliest faith journies. Throughout life, numerous experiences have provided strong faith reminders for me, very spiritual in nature and almost always in the absence of other people. A perfect shaft of morning light in a silent room will do it every time.

    Thank you, Edward. I’ve enjoyed this post a great deal and I’ve found much to discover further.


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