I came across a poem today called “Iona” by Kenneth Steven. You can find it in a collection of his poems that goes under the title, “Coracle.” There is a simple beauty to his poems. They are very accessible even to those who do not easily take to poetry, and yet I find when I read some of his poems, I want to shut the book, speak to no one and sit silently in the presence of God whose beauty I have often seen in a fresh and indeed refreshing way. For me that is a sign of a good piece of spiritual writing, whether the author or poet intended the result or not… it brings me to silence and makes me yearn for the living God; to see, to touch, to embrace Him in his beauty and to be embraced by that beauty.
I have only been to the beautiful island of Iona once in my life so far and that was over 40 years ago.The 10 lines of Kenneth Steven’s poem seemed to fit so well with what still lingers in my memory all these years later. I don’t want to quote the poem as I am unsure of Copyright law, and in any case I would counsel you to buy the book for yourself. I do want to refer however to a truth expressed poignantly in the poem: The truth that sometimes a place such as Iona is found by those who have lost their way, and would not have been found if a person had not lost their way.
In a sense that is the story behind my taking up blogging. The way that I had mapped out for my life suddenly came to an end, but in the process I found myself in another place, on another way, and I have come to appreciate its beauty. Some of you know what I am referring to, but some of you may be scratching your heads. Lest you invent a story that is more exciting than the truth, the rather tedious and tame non-scandalous truth is that I have developed a lung disease ,which has meant my having to give up my post as a parish minister in the Church of Scotland. I was absolutely sure that the Lord had called me to Wester Hailes and that is where you would have found me when I would have reached normal retirement age, 8 or 9 years from now. That was the way I had mapped out, but now I find myself having to adjust to stopping that journey. The Lord, just as for the Israelites of old, is leading me on a way that I have not been on before. At first the adjustment was hugely difficult. In a sense is still is. I see this huge empty space looming and wonder with what and whom and where etc things will begin to take on the contours of an identifiable shape. However, fear is giving way to realising this is a new start that God is offering me. It is a gift of His goodness to a child whom He loves, not a punishment or being disqualified from the race which is what Satan, that pious sounding but false bible teacher was trying to get me to believe.
I could tell you many beautiful things I have found in this place and may well do once I have learned to enjoy them and savour them better for myself. Even at this early stage of readjustment I do want to share a treasure that I have found as I have beach-combed this new, unvisited and unsought place: I have discovered that I can make a friend of time. That is a concept and a phrase that I got from one of my heroes, Jean Vanier or Henri Nouwen. I cannot remember which and in any case their thoughts on things are often very similar. Each had a great admiration for one another and I don’t think they would mind my uncertainty as to which one of them had blessed me with this principle: Make a friend of time. At times in these early days of what is for me a new way and a new phase, I have by default mode of thinking treated the passing of time as an enemy who wounds me with arrows of frustration, foreboding, anxiety and restlessness. I have not found it easy to befriend time, and yet time passing has allowed God to speak things and do things, and help me to speak things and do things and stop speaking and doing other things that would never have happened without the passing of time. In a very real sense though still not well physically, I am more well than I have ever been in the deepest sense. It is almost as though I needed this time period of illness in order to become truly well in the core of my being.
Are you finding the passing of time difficult? Perhaps you too have all of a sudden found yourself being carried down a way that you did not choose. It is unfamiliar. I hope you will discover treasures and beauties in God, in life, in the world around you, in your fellow human beings and even in yourself that you would never have discovered had you not found yourself travelling by a different way to a place whose shores you have not walked upon before. Give it time, make a friend of time and that can happen. You may find yourself one day telling others what I am telling you, and using the words of Jacob as though they had been written for you: “Truly God is in this place and I did not know it…. This is the gate of heaven.”
As I close, I end with a P.S. which perhaps you will take tonight as a spiritual nightcap: I stored it in my head years back, source unknown. Whoever said it, this is what they said: It is good for us to spend time in the waiting room in the doctor’s surgery. It reminds us we are not in charge. Perhaps that may be the biggest blessing that God may bring for you out of what you are going through at this moment: God really is God.