My sister, Claire, just got back from a spiritual retreat to the Isle of Iona in Scotland. For centuries, Iona has been a center for Celtic Christianity and a destination for pilgrims from around the world. The story goes that the Book of Kells, now housed in Trinity College Library in Dublin, were originally penned at the Iona monastery. The books were sent to Ireland ahead of a Viking raid, where such valuables were routinely destroyed or stollen. Nowadays, the abbey is home to a “dispersed Christian ecumenical community working for peace and social justice, rebuilding of community and the renewal of worship.” The entire island is considered a “thin place,” a term Celtic Christians use to describe any place of supreme beauty or spiritual intensity, where the veil separating heaven and Earth is remarkably, tangibly thin. When you go to Iona, you’re invited to take part in every aspect of community life: attend quiet Taize services, go on pilgrimage across the stunningly green and white marble island, pray and meditate, laugh and discuss, create art and sing songs, and generally make everything you do an act of worship.
Hearing my sisters stories of Iona reminded me of our family’s visit to the island in 2004. I was sixteen years-old. It was the summer before my junior year of high school and my AP English reading list included such intimidating (to me) works as Machiavelli’s The Prince, Emerson’s Self Reliance and Other Essays, Thoreau’s Walden and Civil Disobedience, and Homer’s The Odyssey. It was a prophetic glimpse into my future occupation that I spent more time reading in the Abbey library than praying in the chapel.
But with a library like this, who could blame me?