|At the age I was when I caught this fish, I enjoyed reading the history of Great Britain.|
|The restored Abbey on Iona.|
|A courtyard in the Administration area of the Abbey|
|A garden in the ruins of the Nunnery. We lunched there.|
|This cross has stood here for 1200 years.|
|George MacLeod. (Ended up a Baron)|
When I was a young boy, I had a book which I think came from my father’s childhood. It was an old book with those thick rough pages that old books had. The cover had long since gone, but I cherished it. It was entitled something like “A Boy’s History of Great Britain.” There were short readable articles progressing through a very abbreviated history of Great Britain, which were illustrated by line drawings. In it I read about Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Picts, Castles, Kings and events. Chapters about such things as the Magna Carter, Queen Elizabeth I, Robert the Bruce, Sir Francis Drake, the Fire of London, the plague, William Wilberforce and many other snap shots of UK history. I devoured this book as a youngster, and have always valued the fact that it and others, gave me an appreciation of the movements of history that led to where we are now as a society. Among the many pictures in the volume, there were two drawings I can remember clearly. These were a drawing of St Columba arriving at the Isle of Iona, and a drawing of Hadrian’s Wall. This trip to the UK I determined to visit both localities.
St Columba came from Ireland, though the reasons for his coming are somewhat disputed. In 563AD he set up a monastic community on Iona, a small island off the West Coast of Scotland, and became a big influence in the spread of Christianity in what is now Scotland and the North of England. There is quite a history in his work and the establishment of a Benedictine Abbey there. But it has been the more recent history of Iona that has drawn me to want to visit the Island. In 1938 George MacLeod was a very active minister in Govan in Glasgow, where poverty reigned. He had fought in WW1 and been decorated for his gallantry, but his experiences in the war led him to train for ministry. He became known for his oratory, his pacifism, his socialist leanings and his involvement in ministry outside the boundaries of the Church. In 1938 he gave up his parish ministry and founded the Community of Iona, using unemployed labourers and clergy trainees to rebuild parts of St. Columba community’s buildings. The community continues and is dedicated to holding each other accountable for their discipleship and committed to justice, peace and the integrity of creation. They explore ways the Christian faith can be expressed in each generation. I read a book by George MacLeod years ago and enjoyed it immensely. I copied out a quotation, which I later discovered has become one of his most popular pieces of writing. I have had it on the wall of my study, my Church office and even on notice boards within the Church. I identify with it in my own life and ministry.
The cross must be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am claiming that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap, at a crossroads so cosmopolitan they had to write His title in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble, because that is where He died and that is what he died about and that is where church people ought to be and what church people should be about.
Because of this movement, I was keen to make a pilgrimage to Iona. We caught trains through beautiful scenery to the town of Oban. Then the next day went on a ferry to the Island of Mull, a bus ride down to the end of the island, then a ferry the short distance to Iona, where we spent several hours visiting the Abbey and learning more of the history. I was pleased to visit, even though I was not in good health. There I sensed again a comradeship with people who had gone before – St Columba to George MacLeod (who apparently was often not easy to get on with) – who each sought to give expression in their time to what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I sensed a calling again to continue to be involved in issues of ministry amongst the vulnerable, and to continue trying to give relevance to what it means to follow Jesus.
In AD 122 Emperor Hadrian visited the frontiers of the Roman Empire. The Romans had conquered Britain, but moving North could not fully subdue the Picts, who they saw as barbarians. They did not see it as worth the effort to try, especially in the rugged Highland regions. Apparently they saw them as blue, (they painted their faces and had tattoos) unclothed, hairy and uncouth. It was decided to build this frontier wall from coast to coast, to keep the Picts out. It was a colossal project, which took 15 years to complete. I think I read that 40million ton of squared rock was used in its construction! There were “milecastles” every Roman mile (It is 73 miles long) and bigger forts built along the way. As a boy I was fascinated by the article about the wall and was keen to visit. When we visited Carlisle on our last visit to the UK we walked for miles along a path called “Hadrians Wall Path” but never found it. This time we took a guided day trip from Edinburgh, the three hour drive to visit the wall at Housestead Fort. Again, even though I was in bad health, I loved finally stepping foot on this wall, walking along the path beside it and seeing the ruins of “Milecastle number 37” and the bigger ruins of Housestead Fort where up to 1000 men were housed. Over the nearly 2000 years a lot of the rock has been taken for farm buildings, fences and even to repair Carlisle Castle. There are, however, big sections of the wall still intact.
Line drawings and history, in a book I read in my childhood came alive for me in both my visit to Iona and Hadrians Wall. I felt deeply privileged to be able to encounter both.