There is something about the quality of clear air. The Scottish island of Iona has that. Before the sun sets late in the evening, the air is golden with a translucence that practically vibrates.
There is something about the land on this small rocky island. It’s the unevenness of the terrain, the outcropping rocks and the gazillion wildflowers that burst from crevices and fling meadows of blooms under one’s feet. Then there’s the ocean surrounding the island, forever changing colour.
Of course, there’s the Iona stone abbey itself, dating back to the sixth century, as well as the remains of a 12th-century Augustine nunnery. Often described as a “thin place” (where the veil separating the eternal from the temporal has grown translucent), Iona offers today’s pilgrims a profound sense of ancient spirituality.
Twelve of us from Emmanuel United in Ottawa, including Rev. Peter Lougheed, came to the island for a week in June to live among others in Iona’s ecumenical community. One morning, about 30 of us embarked on an 11-kilometre overland pilgrimage with a rest stop at St. Columba’s Bay, where the Irish missionary landed in AD 563 in his quest to bring Christianity to Scotland.
At the beginning of the walk, we sang the Taizé hymn Take, O Take Me As I Am. The music triggered a memory from more than a year earlier when I’d sung the same hymn.
It was Ash Wednesday, 2013. I’d been absent from church for several years, but decided to attend the evening service at Emmanuel United. Singing the words “take me as I am” resonated with me, and I went to the front to receive the ashes.
Soon after, I had a dream that contained no images, only the name “Makalah” being spoken with urgency. Three more times that night, I heard the same name. Each time, it woke me up. Each time, I wondered who was being called. In the morning, I received the message: “Makalah. That’s what God calls you, Makalah.” I felt I wanted to add it to my name, but wasn’t sure how or when.
Then last June, we reached the rocky shore of St. Columba’s Bay. I shed my socks and boots to wade into the clear waters. It seemed like the right time and place to be blessed with my spirit name. Peter and my new friend, Rev. Caro Smyth of Glasgow, performed a blessing and my spirit name became real. A new purpose for my life was evolving.
For some time afterwards, I still felt the weight of Peter’s hand on my head and the sensation of cold water flowing over me. Even now, the shift inside helps me realize my experience at Iona was more than a wondrous dream.
I believe we each carry divinity within and have the capacity to allow Mystery to break through when we access “thin” places. By putting ourselves in the path of sacred opportunity, we may even experience rarefied moments that lead and inform us. It’s something like walking in the midst of prayer.
Carol Makalah Grace Scott is a member of Emmanuel United in Ottawa. She is studying to become a licensed lay worship leader.
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