I like to think of things that were once long ago and far away. This past Spring I planned to take my children to Scotland, our family home. I had carefully planned out all the details of our trip. I had arranged that we would visit Iona (in the Inner Hebredies) where the gospel was brought to Scotland by St. Columba in 563.
After the arrival of St, Columba and 12 other Irish monks, Iona became a renowned centre of learning where many Christian and historical documents were scribed. The Book of Kells was begun if not completed there. In 1208 a convent of Benedictine nuns was established there. It was the ancient burial ground for many great Scottish, Irish and Norwegian kings. Was there something about this Holy place that bred greatness where God could take a“heart as stony as flint,” and striking fire, transform it (H. Vaughan) as a people were converted to Christianity. The thought of it moves me deeply. Amidst the darkness, the silence, the drought of mid summer…
I imagined after arriving there, we would wake to the morning stillness over the abbey ruins. I had hoped that in this stillness, we sense the overwhelming isolation of what God sometimes calls us to…when all else fades and the battle consumes us. Deep down, do we not wish God would touch us and call us to greatness in His kingdom rather than being left with the feeling of being between two worlds. There would be no doubts. We would belong to his kingdom and He would call us to enter the battle alongside Him with our swords in hand.
However even before I bordered the plane to Scotland, I was not feeling well and when we arrived in Oban, I went to the hospital, forcing us to cancel our ferry trip to Iona. As I lay in my bed, listening to the ferries full of people coming and going to the islands, I was reminded of a true story by Kay Grierson, I had read when I visited St. Giles Cathedral in Edinborough in 1973. I had stuffed the page into my purse and have kept it these almost forty years.
On a holiday a few years ago, I was urgently admitted to hospital and there, for several months I remained. Relatives and friends were far away. Life was pared down to essentials, to the simple question of survival.
The hospital was small, a converted country house set among trees, with an open lawn reaching down to the cliff edge. At my request the nurse never pulled the curtains of my room, and each night I used to lie and watch the sky darken, the stars appear, and the moon send a glistening path across the sea. For the first time in my life I was keenly aware of the significance of the psalmist’s cry, When I consider Thy heavens, the work of They fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man that Thou are mindful of him?
One day I saw, away in the distance, a tiny figure cycling round the headland in the teeth of the gale. As he reached the hospital I saw he was dressed in heavy oilskins and sea boots, and I took him for a fisherman. He propped his bicycle against the wall, untied a basket from the handlebars, and pushed open the swing doors.
Minutes later Matron showed him into my room and introduced him as the minister of the local church. He looked at me thoughtfully. “Aye,” said he, “and it is Job’s sad sighing which is in your mind?-Thou hast hedged me about that I cannot get out.”
He smiled gently. “But you are only laid aside for a little while, and you will learn a lot from the experience. Look, I have brought you a Bible.”
Before leaving, he bowed his head, and his benediction brought a little quietness to my troubled spirit.
Next day being the Sabbath, I lay watching the country folk coming along the cliff path to the Kirk. I could just hear the bell pealing. I took up the Bible and read about Job bemoaning his lot. Poor Job, I thought trying to identify myself a little with his misery.
Then suddenly I realised that I was not miserable. I was happy lying in that tiny room, cut off from friends and family, and unable to get out of bed. I was happy, because on that still and peaceful Sunday morning I was appreciating a little of that peace which passeth all understanding. I was something which even in my happiest days I had never before known.
To be continued….
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