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St. Columba Day, Our Home & Thin Places

Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, *        the lands and those who dwell therein. Let the rivers clap their hands, *        and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord,        when he comes to judge the earth. In righteousness shall he judge the world *        and the peoples with equity.   - Psalm 98:8-10

Collect for the Day:  O God, who by the preaching of your servant Columba caused the light of the Gospel to shine in Scotland: Grant, we pray, that, remembering his life and labors, we may show our thankfulness to you by following the example of his zeal and patience; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

St. Columba was born of a royal family in Donegal, Ireland, but he is best known as one of the most famous of the Scottish saints. He became a monk at an early age and founded monasteries in different parts of Ireland. He was forced to leave his homeland because of a personal feud that turned into a war.  Twelve companions from his monasteries went with him.

The missionaries settled on Iona, an island off the west coast of Scotland. Columba’s choice of Iona was later attributed to his inability to see his beloved Ireland from the island.

Grey eye there is

That backwards looks and gazes

Never will it see again

Ireland’s women, Ireland’s men

- Life of St. Columba, 11th Century

What grief Columba must have felt to be exiled from his homeland.  Some of us may have the experience of being exiled from home in our lives, through broken relationships, differences in life values or direction, or merely the transient society in which we live.  In one way or another, we all must leave home.  And much of our adult life seems to center around finding our way back home again, in some way, shape or form.

The Scottish phrase, “East or West, Hame is Best” is etched into the mantle above the fireplace at St. Andrew’s.  It reminds us of our need for home, and has inspired many works of poetry and song, such as:

These Are My Mountains, by Jimmy Copeland

For fame and for fortune I wandered the earth

And now I’ve come back to the land of my birth

I’ve brought back my treasures but only to find

They’re less than the pleasures I first left behind

For these are my mountains and this is my glen

The braes of my childhood will know me again

No land’s ever claimed me tho’ far did I roam

For these are my mountains and I’m going home

The burn at the road sings at my going by

The whaup overhead wings with welcome cry

The loch where the scart flies at last I can see

It’s here that my heart lies, it’s here I’ll be free

Kind faces will meet me and welcome me in

And how they will greet me, my ain kith and kin

The night ‘round the ingle old sangs will be sung

At last I’ll be hearing my ain mother tongue

Columba may also have chosen the island of Iona because the site was already regarded as sacred in the Celtic tradition, a “thin place.”  In recent years, there has been a revival of interest in Celtic spirituality, partly because of the popularity of Celtic religious art, and partly because of the wide influence of the Iona Community that Columba started 14 centuries ago.

“A thin place,” it is said, “is a place where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin. It’s a place where we can sense the divine more readily.” 

I have been especially blessed in my life, in that I have worked at two places that people love to identify as “thin”:  the Grunewald Guild, an art & faith community near Leavenworth, and here at St. Andrew’s House.  These places have helped people experience transformation in their lives by the surrounding creation, well-worn spaces and decades of prayer contained therein.  But now, during this pandemic, we must find other spaces, perhaps in or right around our home, neighborhood or city.  Where can you go to find your thin place?  It may be nearer than you think.  A corner in your home, a chair by a window, a garden space, a favorite walk, for example.  Perhaps, it is less in the place, but in the seeking of the place, and the setting aside a place in our hearts, that the “thin place” is found.

A poem from Tadhg Jonathan:

Atop a high mountain or in the dark valley below, in the corner of your room, or in the hustle and bustle of the busy city centre, may you find a ‘thin place’.

It is a place, or time, or event so unique, so full of wonder, so sublime.  A place where Heaven and earth collide, and the diaphanous veil of separation is unusually thin.

A time where you can almost feel angelic wings beat against your cheeks, and see the Divine smile shining through.

An event where your heartbeat quickens, and you experience the mystery of the Other in the ‘mundane’.

A ‘thin place’ is a threshold, a limen, a holy bridge, a door to the Throne Room, slightly opened.

It is a moment in time and space, in which we can dwell, and dance, and move, if aware.

A ‘thin place’ is an encouragement, a sacred invitation to draw near, to approach barefoot, in humility, in reverence and awe.

It is both seen and unseen.  Invisible we see you!

May you, in the wilderness of the countryside, or the city, find a ‘thin place’ today, and be blessed.

Today, in honor of St. Columba, I invite you to discover your thin place, to find a way to come home; perhaps not to the home of your birth, or even the place where you currently lay your head, but to the home of your heavenly Father, who was, is and always will be the place where you truly belong.  

I leave you with a traditional Scottish blessing:

May the blessing of light be on you - light without and light within. 

May the blessed sunlight shine on you like a great peat fire, so that stranger and friend may come and warm himself at it. 

And may light shine out of the two eyes of you, like a candle set in the window of a house, bidding the wanderer come in out of the storm. 

And may the blessing of the rain be on you, may it beat upon your Spirit and wash it fair and clean, and leave there a shining pool where the blue of Heaven shines, and sometimes a star. 

And may the blessing of the earth be on you, soft under your feet as you pass along the roads, soft under you as you lie out on it, tired at the end of day; and may it rest easy over you when, at last, you lie out under it. 

May it rest so lightly over you that your soul may be out from under it quickly; up and off and on its way to God. 

And now may the Lord bless you, and bless you kindly. Amen.

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