After struggeling with what to think of my stay in Iona, now back home I feel even enthusiastic about what I learned there about being taken „outside holiness“. The following video has a prayer which sums up pretty well what Iona is all about. Watch it! (Or make an effort to read below my attempt to understand the experience in Iona.)
Iona is not about monasticism.
Let’s repeat that. Iona is not about (continental style) monasticism.
As we were sitting in a pub on our trip home waiting for a bus I was thinking that a pub really is a „Zwischenort“, an „in between place“. It is not made for arriving or being welcomed home. It’s just a place of „passing by“.
How do we design our churches? Some really try to give you the sense of being welcomed, being at home, being protected. The abbey church in Iona indeed is like a fortress, built with big and heavy blocks of stone. However, it is just too cold in there. You couldn’t manage to make yourself comfortable in there for a long time.
The services are short and have a feel of business. Every evening the service is different. And you are never sure if suddenly you are asked during the service to share some thoughts with your neighbour or „are invited“ to be involved in some other way.
The songs, the psalms and the prayers are all in a fresh language. (Über ein Lied sagte jemand aus der Gruppe: „Da ist der Genderbeauftraugte einmal drüber gegangen und hatte nichts mehr zu beanstanden.“) Concerns and good causes are never forgotten.
The energy of Iona is directed to the outside. The main concern is to get involved with the needs of humanity and the environment.
Compare that to the main concept of „stabilitas“ of the Rule of St Benedict. Remember that the first chapter doesn’t speak well at all about traveling monks. The monks on the continent frowned upon that. They wanted to cultivate the land and build a small paradise inside the walls of the cloister. The energy of continental monasticism seems to be directed to the inside, to silence, to internal movements of the soul etc.
Iona has no „style“.
I guess it was so difficult for me to grasp what Iona is all about, because there is no specific „style“. Think of Taizé. The chants from Taizé are their trademark. But it is not only their music but a certain kind of decoration of the church which seem to represent „Taizé“: orange fabric, icons, boxwood bushes, monks in white robes, candles, candles and candles.
But what is Iona? Not the songs. I mean, we just used the hymnary of the Church of Scotland like every other parish in Scotland does I suppose. And it’s also not the „liturgy“ – as I said, they are not very much interested predictable services. (The Monday evening service turned out to be a small National Coming Out Day demonstration for example.) And it’s also not the language in the prayers or songs. There really is no place for all that irish blessings kitsch in Iona.
Isn’t that great? All that is challenging me to discover the paths where I am not „at home“ and meet other people who also have not „arrived“ yet or „attained“ something (heaven, Nirvana, enlightenment, or whatever). Why, why should we continue to dream of a cuddly and warm fireplace while the hearts of those burn who are traveling and on the road meet a stranger on their way to Emmaus?