Listening to the heartbeat of the Divine
‘The candles are many, but the light is one.’
What’s not to love? I’m resident on Iona, the sacred isle off the west coast of Scotland, where the heartbeat of the island is measured in the ebb and flow of the tides, the rhythmic crossing of the ferry, the reverberation of pilgrim footsteps, cries of new-born lambs and the distinctive calling of corncrakes, oystercatchers and gulls.
I’m staying in the inviting Traigh Bhan retreat house on the beach that fulfills my definition of home as a place where my heart is wide open. Here I love my unfolding inner and outer landscapes with an intensity that defies logical understanding.
My life has slowed down, settling into a pattern of introspective beach walks, occasional icy swims, meditations, open-hearted sharings with fellow retreatants, singing in a centuries-old chapel, lighting prayer candles, and asking the questions that have long engaged spiritual seekers.
Who am I; what am I; how might I serve; what is my highest purpose? What is mine to do in the world?
Iona is an enduring symbol of pilgrimage and Christ Consciousness – that which some might also think of as the Buddha Nature.
When the Irish monk St Columba arrived with 12 companions around CE 563, he founded a monastery that was to transform this Hebridean island into an enduring beacon of faith.
One of the most important monasteries in early-medieval Europe, Iona was renowned as a centre of learning and artistic excellence, and despite repeated brutal attacks by the Vikings, the sanctity of the island has survived and thrived.
Sheep outnumber humans, at least during the winter months. These days Iona is home to some 175 permanent residents who live simply, many being sustained by more than 120,000 annual pilgrims from around the world. It continues to inspire writers, poets, philosophers, mystics, musicians and artists.
It is a place of healing, renewal and a deeper connection with the divine. And for me it is synonymous with our quest for a world characterised by love and light.
Each Wednesday at Noon the Traigh Bhan retreat house opens its doors and heart to visitors and islanders alike, welcoming them to a Network of Light meditation that consciously links Iona, Findhorn, Glastonbury and other spiritual power points upon our beloved earth.
I love to imagine positive energies flowing out into our world, also remembering some favourite quotations about light. Maya Angelou observed that ‘Nothing can dim the light which shines from within,’ while St Francis of Assisi noted ‘All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.’ Holocaust victim Anne Frank added to that theme with ‘Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.’
Being here is a chance to shine light on my own life.
Once when walking a labyrinth created on the nearby beach, I asked why I was so powerfully drawn to keep returning to Iona. The answer astonished me – It seems I had been a doctor and monk in the 1500s ministering to the women of the island, especially those at the Nunnery, which is now a magnificent ruin. ‘And your behaviour was less than impeccable,’ I was told.
Perhaps that is why I’m drawn to visit the ruins of the Nunnery almost daily, sometimes leading a meditation dedicated to our Earth Mother and the Divine Feminine. After a period of silent reflection, I invite others to either inwardly or outwardly sound the names of women who have been a source of inspiration and succor.
My own list includes Mother Earth, notables like Mother Theresa, my mother, my sister, my ex-wife, my daughters, granddaughters, friends, lovers and impressive women like the Findhorn Foundation community co-founders Eileen Caddy and Dorothy Maclean.
Is this my attempt at atonement – or at-one-ment?
Sitting among the ruins this week I’d spoken of my perception, and judgement, that the ruins are an obvious symbol of the Patriarchy, with millions bestowed upon the restoration of the nearby Abbey, while the Nunnery is allowed to crumble into decay.
My reverie was interrupted by two male gardeners suddenly shattering the peace with their lawn mower and petrol-powered edge trimmer. I had to chuckle at my reaction and judgements, conceding that there are positive and negative male energies.
I have to confess I love the Augustinian Nunnery of St Mary the Virgin exactly as it is. Founded around 1200CE, it flourished for more than 350 years. Today although much of it is now ruined, it is cherished as one of the best-preserved nunneries in Britain.
My most prized image of it is with my daughters Bonnie and Tammy, who inspired me to help raise consciousness by walking the world with messages of treading more lightly and lovingly upon our Earth Mother.
Thanks Bon and Tam. And thanks to all the women and feminine energies that enrich my life every day.
The Abbess’s farewell
It is the end.
The last evening on Columcille’s Isle,
before the sword, the killing comes.
We three, who alone remain of our ancient sisterhood,
will make ready our few possessions,
the Word of God,
the cup of blessing,
in the wool from mountain sheep we’ve tended,
we’ll row away from Iona of our hearts,
Iona of our love,
and in a far-off cave we’ll sit,
and think on what is to come.
Who will remember our sisterhood?
Shall we be minded on?
For eons our joys, our lives,
have been a living witness,
to God’s presence,
in the rocks and stones,
in the wildness of the waves and winds,
the lonely hillsides.
As our Brothers followed Colum’s hallowed memory,
and Adomnan’s Rule,
faithful to the Triune God of Wisdom, Love and Justice,
opened our doors to the orphaned child,
and homeless women.
We gave refuge to the wounded soldier fleeing battle,
to the violated girl whose child we love,
through tending plants we sought the earth’s healing wisdom.
And all the time we listened,
listened to the heartbeat of God,
whose name is Justice.
And shall we be remembered?
It may be that the very stones enshrine our prayers,
It may be that when pilgrims come to Colum’s blessed Isle,
that they will stop,
and pause amid our ruined stones,
and know that veiled sisters lived a ministry,
faithful to God’s little ones,
and faithful to this sacred earth.
And let them know that in the presence of the Triune three,
of Wisdom, Love and Justice,
our sisterhood prays on, dreams on, that the pilgrims find peace.
My sisters, let us go.
The Findhorn Foundation is a holistic learning centre in an ecovillage setting – to find out more about our residential and online events and workshops go to https://www.findhorn.org/findhorn-retreats/iona-retreat-weeks/
YouTube video about Iona retreats
Odyssey's 'Pilgrim at Large'
Geoff Dalglish is a writer and spiritual and ecological activist dedicated to raising consciousness. He has walked more than 30 000km with climate change messages about treading more lightly and lovingly upon the Earth. He is an ambassador for the Findhorn spiritual community and ecovillage and is Odyssey’s ‘Pilgrim at Large’.