Sounds of Iona – January 2023

A refuge for pilgrims on the way to, or from, the holy island of Lindisfarne.

Winter – a time in my part of the world for hunkering down, staying warm while also warming up to the year ahead.

The Iona Community has a busy year ahead. It feels like we’re at a bustling port, organising our luggage for a full-on voyage. Our islands centres are preparing to welcome new staff. We say farewell to Catriona, the Abbey warden, at the end of this month, who has served us so well during a time of immense upheaval in our world. Our Community Life Committee meets in Germany in the next few days. Later in the year I will be travelling to Australia and New Zealand to spend time with our Members and Associate Members there and to support our sister community, the Wellspring Community, in their year of Creation Care. The eCoracle is full of dates for the diary for all in membership.  The ebb and flow of our daily prayer and reflection, lived out alone and through Regional and Family groups continues to sustain us.  

I travelled to Lindisfarne on Monday of this week. A tidal island off the north east coast of England, Lindisfarne, or the Holy Island of Lindisfarne to give it its full name, is famous as a place of pilgrimage. Aidan came here in 635 from the monastery of Columba on Iona to bring Christianity, and a reconciling hand in a world being torn apart by conflict, to the NE of England. The home of saints and scholars over the centuries, Cuthbert was one of the island’s most famous bishops, buried here before his bones were removed to Durham Cathedral.  

This is now a thriving island community with around 160 residents, dependent on both tourism and other small industries, including fishing. With over 1500 years of history between the island of Iona and the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne, there’s more than a causeway that connects us. Today, Sarah Hills, the Vicar of St. Mary’s Parish Church on Lindisfarne is a spokesperson on behalf of the fishers of this island whose livelihood is being threatened by a proposed ban by the Westminster government which would put not only their businesses, but their whole livelihoods at risk. You can hear Sarah outline the situation here.  I’ve spent some time with Sarah, a good friend, reflecting on the year ahead, on the connections between our beloved islands, and about a possible pilgrimage between them later this year (watch this space). And yes, as the photo below suggests, we did jump into the very cold sea!

Ruth and Sarah before a swim in the chilly North Sea!
Ruth and Sarah before a swim in the chilly North Sea!


As I wait for the tide to turn, and for the causeway to the mainland to open, I’m mindful of the refuge boxes perched on stilts at various points on the crossing (pictured above). Refuge for pilgrims who have been caught out by the tide and need to escape the incoming sea.  Perhaps I’ll take with me from this holy island the image of the year ahead less as a busy port, more as a pilgrimage, where the ebb and flow of the seasons, of each day, offers space, sanctuary, refuge for pause and reflection amidst the busy-ness.





Ruth and Sarah photo: Ruth Harvey
Lindisfarne Refuge photo: Wendy Lloyd

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