“What do the Iona Community do?” asked a friend, who should know better. I didn’t know, then. Now I’d say that this dispersed community does a lot of good in a lot of places but though the good they do is always embodied, it’s not always corporate. Am I just playing with words? Is the work and worship – at the Abbey and the MacLeod Centres on Iona, in the Community central office in Glasgow and in all the various locations in the UK and around the globe where members, associates, friends and staff live – just words?
Words are very important. Over Christmas someone pointed out that “In the beginning…” is better translated as “When…” – Genesis is not a chronicle; it’s a narrative. Standing back from media soundbites and ‘human interest’ servings of infotainment about the plight of refugees, over that week guests at Iona Abbey reflected on refuge: what it means to people as individuals, in scripture, in our households and places of worship. So that, by the time there was the opportunity to commit to one particular strategy of sustainable provision of refuge, people were not simply reacting to an agenda set by party politics and politicised multinational interests but deeply aware that refuge has always been central to the traditions started by Abraham – inspired to wander but never lost.
This is the rooted awareness that leads to engagement. I see Iona as a holding place. A place where people, embraced by and participating in community life, can finally face those things that are most challenging. Looking at the 2016 brochure, the themed weeks focus on particular aspects of the core values of the Iona Community: working for justice, healing and peace in our localities and the whole of creation; the gathering spaces (formerly ‘open weeks’) focus on the experience of community itself, permeated by these values.
So if you find yourself praying in the laundry room on the evening of 25th March, learning about the Quakers in Kenya from 9th-15th April, finding out that having your fabulous 50th birthday is just the start, with counsellor Susan Dale, or participating in one of the livelier sessions from the Wild Goose Resources Group (yes they really did bring a king-sized bed with red satin sheets into the sanctuary to celebrate the Song of Songs), with Greenbelt on Iona, Those Dangerous Women or environmentalist Bob in July, the Youth Festival or being rejuvenated by Playing for Change in September, at the core of all the fun and oddness and hurly-burly is a deep commitment to (in order) face our fears; be peacemakers; live abundantly and confront ageism; celebrate the diversity of sexuality; worship exuberantly; rage against and heal the hatred unleashed against women and nature; question authority joyfully; and be wise enough to be foolish enough to let go of our inner censors to creativity.
There are many words at the Abbey and MacLeod Centre, just words, words of justice; there is also silence and stillness, movement and music. People come with all the cares of the world and leave re-energised, reconnected. The blear of shouting media voices turned down (there’s no radio, no TV, no WiFi) there is the opportunity to be more attentive to the small still voice hidden in the thundercloud. Encountering fellow travellers from all the walks and tracks and songlines of our planet, marriages are made, partnerships struck, friendships sealed and conflicts healed. That’s what they, we, you, do.
wild goose image from www.welcometoiona.com