Holidays have been at the forefront of most people’s thoughts as we enter the ‘road map’ to some freedom from this dreadful pandemic. It made me think of a very special holiday I had with my church family from St Chad’s in Lichfield. In May 1995, I joined them on a week’s break to Iona in Scotland. I was at a bad time in my life – fed up, tired and somewhat bored. I was at a proverbial crossroads and needed time to reflect and find some peace.
Iona has a natural beauty and a special feel about it – I do recommend a stay there. I was with a group of fourteen, we travelled up by train and then by ferry and stayed in the Abbey. The Iona Community is very special and comprises of some resident employees, but mostly volunteers. Everyone, including weekly visitors, have to do some chores – cleaning, cooking, serving and washing up as well as attend special services in the beautiful age-old Abbey. It took a whole day to get there and, after arriving and being given our rooms to sleep in – mainly dormitories and bunk beds – there was a special welcome with homemade refreshments.
Our days were mapped out by Bible study, linked in with chores and daily services. I missed the first service in the Abbey as I got myself locked in the dormitory after everyone had gone down! The door had self-locked and I was shut in. It wasn’t a very pleasant realisation, but I knew someone would have to come back, as belongings and bags were left on bunks. It was about an hour later when someone returned, but they couldn’t get in, and I couldn’t get out! The maintenance man was called and had to take off the handles – I was free! I received plenty of apologies and became infamous early on in the holiday. To compensate, I was asked by the community if I would serve the wine that evening at the service. It was a very special privilege indeed – the Abbey was full of visitors, employees and locals, and there was me standing up behind this ancient altar with a special cup of blessed wine! Iona music is very reflective and uplifting and each service very special.
During the week I had a chance to meet others on personal spiritual journeys – it was very humbling. We were all taken with David – a lovely man who had us all in stitches with laughter. He made such an impact with his faith and character. He was a Cistercian monk who had travelled Australia and Japan – the tales he told were so funny! There were guided walks across this small island including one where we were encouraged to throw a pebble off the beach into the water, after pouring all our troubles and worries into it, thus freeing our minds. It was a fantastic experience. We walked up Dun-I, the highest point on the island and you could see for miles across Mull and beyond Staffa. I spent quite a few hours up there on my own! We took a boat trip to Staffa and Fingal’s Cave. What a place! And I sat with the puffins that were nesting at my feet. I loved Iona – never once did I feel threatened. I walked that place on my own and got soaked with horizontal rain! I even stood listening to the hidden corncrakes in a lovely field of wild flowers – but never once saw one! I walked with people and listened as they explained their lives. I found a lovely peace, and felt closer to the Lord in this special place!