Iona Community Leader Ruth Harvey reflects on living Rule 4 of the Community and the symbols of our spirituality.
Karine Polwart, Julie Fowlis and others have done a remarkable thing. Their ‘Spell Songs’ project is a deep delight of word, image and song. ‘Singing nature back to life through the power of poetry, art and magic’ they weave into song the words of Robert Macfarlane with the images of Jackie Morris. These are song-blessings or poems, focussing on ‘lost words’ such as bramble, or swallow, daisy or thrift, words that are being lost from our lexicon. I’ll return to this feast for the senses later. For now, I am left with the question: what lost words, or ways, values or precious life forces must be sung to life today?
One group bringing a new life force to our community is the newly formed group of 20 New Members who met, on line, for their first session last weekend. Scattered from Alaska to New Zealand, from Fyvie to Glasgow to Halesowen, from Germany, to Australia, Switzerland to the USA, this group of remarkable seekers will follow the two-year discernment programme, taking a deep dive into the Rule of Life of the Iona Community. They met last week for a time of introductions, bringing with them a symbol that represented their spiritual life, and how it is connected with the Rule of Life of the Iona Community. I wonder what symbol you might have brought to that conversation? What might you have shared, by way of introduction?
Another group bringing a life force to our community is our elected Trustees. They gather together this weekend, at the MacLeod Centre on Iona, to consider questions about staffing, pay and grading; about membership, global travel and fuel poverty; and about the way forward for the MacLeod Centre. By 10th September I had received 53 responses from a total of around 250 individuals to the 3 questions the Mac Vision Group had asked about the renewal of the Mac. These responses have now been read thoroughly by both the Mac Vision Team and the wider Mac Advisory Group. Council will consider them now and bring further proposals to the Community in due course.
Council will also meet Iona and Camas-based staff over this weekend, living with them and with the guests at the Abbey in community, sharing in tasks and in meals and in worship. We will eat and live with the whole range of guests sitting at our tables and in our choir stalls, including those joining us through our Unlocked programme ensuring that those ordinarily excluded are core to our shapping and reshaping of community each week.
Staff have also asked Trustees for a session on the new governance structures of the Iona Community. Rule 4 calls us to ‘share in the corporate life and organisation of the Community.’ Keeping this element of the Rule is easier if we understand how that corporate life and organisation works! There are diagrams on our web-site that describe our movement and our governance structures. They will be updated in the next days to include, for example, the two new Common Concern Networks focussing on ‘Interfaith’ and on ‘Challenging Racism.’ Our staffing pages will also be updated soon to include a profile of our newest recruit, Torsten Haak, who takes up the post of Executive Director on 1st November. Can I on a personal note say how delighted I am that Torsten has offered himself in this way, and how pleased I am to know that we’ll be working together soon.
Living Rule 4 is, of course, more than an exercise in understanding a diagram, or joining a committee or working group (essential as these are!) The quality and depth of sharing to which we are called through Rule 4 is visible at each gathering in Family Group, Region, or Common Concern Network. This Rule comes to life through joining the Prayer Circle, taking part in a Community Week, Plenary gathering, AGM or ColumbaFest. We share in the corporate life of our community when we engage in deep dialogue and powerful prayer with one another through online and onsite gatherings and exchanges. And we live out this Rule through joining one of our Advisory, Working Groups or Committees, by being elected as a Trustee, serving on the Iona Community Board, or working as a staff member. In all these ways we see the intimate inner work of commitment in a community of faith come to life in the outer practices of holding and hosting that community.
And we do this holding and hosting not alone, nor for ourselves alone.
So I come back to the question I raised at the beginning: What lost words, or ways, values or precious life forces must be sung to life today? I do believe that the model of common life lived by our staff and guests, including our Unlocked guests is singing community back to life. I do believe that our Rule of Life lived by Members and Associate Members is a way of re-singing our values and the force of love shot through the Gospel.
These are not the only ways. But they are good, true, focussed ways rooted in values of justice and equality that draw from sacred texts, and are modelled on the life of Jesus.
There’s a song on Spell Songs II called ‘Thrift.’ This song is a tribute to the hardy seashore plant by that name that thrives in the lea of cliff and surf, in the liminal space between solid ground and shifting sea. And it is this plant that shares its name with an attribute of the Scots referring to their ability to ‘dig in and cling on’, surviving on little while drawing nourishment out of scarcity. The plant shows the people that ‘hardship is a limit, not a failing.’The plant models for the people ‘how to live in hope against the odds.’ This is a powerful, uplifting poem sung in raw beauty by Karine and her colleagues.
The re-finding of this lost word, ‘thrift’ in the beauty of the song must not mask the scandal of poverty in our lands. Together, through re-finding, re-singing old Rules and common ways, we lift the spirit and we articulate and model through our living a set of values that stand firmly in favour of the least and against unjust laws.
If I was to bring a symbol today that reflected my spirituality and how it connects with the Rule of Life of the Iona Community, I would bring a small plant pot of thrift. And I’d maybe even have a go at singing this song, with Karine on a loop in the background. Then I’d plant and tend my pot of thrift on a piece of common land in my neighbourhood, and watch it grow.
(Photo of thrift on Iona provided by David Coleman)