It was a long 12 hour day at sea! I hopped on the ferry on Barra at 6:30am. After one out-of-the-way stop, I made it to Oban with enough time to sample the fresh muscles at the ferry side stand before getting back on and heading over to Mull. I then took an hour bus ride around the coast of Mull to another ferry stop at Fionnphort to take the short hop across to Iona. The trip to Iona was beautiful but I was so ready to be on solid ground! My brain is still swimming!
I’ve heard so much about Iona…my Presbyterian people love it here. After an amazing time on the Isle of Barra, I honestly wasn’t sure Iona could compare, even with the wonderful things I had heard about this thin place. A “thin place” is a place where God feels near…the space between heaven and earth is made thin…holy ground. My expectations were high for this little spot.
I walked into my hotel and immediately ran into one of my campus ministers from my college days. Small world…especially when you’re a Presbyterian on Iona. After catching up and eating dinner, I headed out to evening worship at Iona Abbey. The cold, damp chapel, didn’t exactly say light and life. I was still a skeptic that this spot, revered by so many, was more than hype. Maybe this whole “thin place” thing sprang up when folks like me, who had traveled 12 hours or more to get there, saw the island’s beauty, and couldn’t help but feel close to God and thank God that they had finally arrived. Maybe, whenever you go into any chapel situated on a beautiful island in the middle of the ocean, you can’t help but feel that it’s sacred. Maybe folks come expecting to see and feel God, and as a result of their seeking and awareness, they do indeed have a spiritual experience. I wasn’t completely convinced of any of those possibilities as I entered the Chapel for worship.
As worship began, the 9:00pm sunlight (yes, 9pm!) began to stream in through the windows on either side of the chapel. We sang a Billie Holiday jazz tune, followed by “How Can I Keep from Singing” – always a favorite. We did readings and some folks shared the things that were beautiful and holy about their day. The worship was refreshingly simple. We prayed for ourselves, to forgive others, and for others hurting in the world.
I left feeling revived. My head was still wobbly from all the time on the boat today but I felt renewed. Was it because I had just worshiped in a “thin place”? Or was it because I had just worshipped fully (which can be accomplished in many places)? I’m not sure I’ll ever know. But I do know that if we show up expecting to experience God, we will. God always shows up whether we’re on a remote holy island or sitting at a stop light in traffic. You don’t have to come to Iona to experience God. But it’s sure not a bad place to start.