Although I enjoyed the experience of staying in the Abbey with the Iona Community a few years back, generally I have preferred to stay on the nearby island of Mull instead. I found the full on programme just a bit intense, even though you were welcome to miss out bits you felt like you were missing out. I think it’s actually more relaxing to stay in a guesthouse in Fionnphort, travel to Iona for a day or three and enjoy the sunsets over Iona from the beach on Mull, after a nice meal in the Keel Row pub.
The ferry from Fionnphort on Mull to Iona only takes ten minutes and you can get there before the first hymn has finished on the 9am service if you want to. During the summer there are short 2pm services focusing on Peace & Justice as well so it’s only the 9pm service that’s impossible as the last ferry leaves Iona at 6:30pm.
This year my hosts at Staffa House were Gillian and Ali, former Iona Community staff who have brought their skills in welcoming and cooking for people to a more homely scale but keeping a strong commitment to using local produce and environmental responsibility. The very comfortable house has lovely views of the beach and is only a short walk from the ferry terminal.
I know you don’t have to go to Iona to hear from God, but in my experience it definitely helps. The founder of the current community, George MacLeod, talked about Iona being a ‘thin place’ – perhaps sensing God’s closeness through the beautiful landscape as well as the spiritual history and invited presence of the Holy Spirit. I do feel Iona is a special place, and yet, I think my attitude and the things I do when I’m there make a lot of the difference. I want to bring something of that home with me, as well as the glowing face that honestly has more to do with unexpected strong sunshine than a Moses-style encounter with God.
I spent time just sitting outside, enjoying the view. I did some fairly gentle walking, including a bit of a climb to enjoy a perspective-changing 360° panorama (up Dun I).
I spent some time sitting in a beautiful church thinking, looking at song words, scripture and inspirational writings. I chatted to other visitors from around the world exchanging suggested places to visit. I allowed my mind to wander but made notes in a journal before I’d forgotten anything that felt particularly meaningful. And I sang songs in small places with great acoustics.
All of these are things I can do much closer to home if I only make the time and effort. I know other people might struggle to carve out time away from children or other responsibilities but I really don’t have that excuse. I could even offer to child-mind for someone else to allow them some refreshing quiet time. Perhaps we could all do with a taste of Iona from time to time.