This week we celebrate the Ascension. And my mind is on Iona. The Ascension of Christ: a mystical event in our Christian story, told forty days after Easter. Iona: an island off Scotland where pilgrims have gone for hundreds of years to breathe in God’s story and discover our own stories.
The island of Iona is known as a “thin” place; a place where the veil between material and spiritual becomes more transparent. Going there immediately hit the top of my bucket list after learning about it at a Celtic Spirituality conference in 2005. Fourteen years later, I made it. Family in tow. We knew it would be special. We did not know it would become a part of us. I did not know I would hear God’s heartbeat….but more on that in a little while.
Back to the Ascension. Jesus’ friends were still grieving after Jesus’ death when they stumbled unexpectedly into the joy of the resurrection. They were still thrown by what was happening when the resurrected Jesus ate bread and fish with them (talk about a thin veil between material and spiritual!) Shaken by grief, off balance by suspended reality, confused about what was happening, they listened to Jesus’ final teachings, they heard him commission them to continue his work, they felt the grace of his blessing upon them, and then they watched him levitate into the heavens.
There they are looking up into the clouds. Stunned. Paralyzed. Vibrating with the energy of Jesus’ blessing. Jaws to the ground. Two angels appear and ask them why they are looking up, after all, Jesus will come back “in the same way” that he has just left them. Angels don’t always make sense.
I don’t know how Jesus’ friends finally pealed their eyes away from those clouds. But then, maybe I do…
We climbed Dun-I [dun-E], my family and I. It is the highest point of Iona, the Holy Mountain. Cairns and a heart-shaped pool of eternal youth mark its top. I wandered off on my own and lay down to look over a cliff edge at the rolling green, and then I laid my head down and listened to the ground. It was subtle but it caught me off guard; ear to the earth, I heard the heartbeat I had come seeking, and as I cried into the mossy earth I knew it was my own pulse and it was the heartbeat of God, the pulse of creation, the rhythm of holiness. I was stunned. Paralyzed. Vibrating with the energy of Jesus’ blessing upon my pilgrimage. Upon me.
There were no angels, but my family came (OK, they are sometimes angelic…) and compelled me to walk back down the mountain with them. A few days later we boarded a boat (and a bus, a ferry, a train, a couple planes…) and arrived at home, back to “real” life.
We peel our eyes away from the clouds, come down from the mountain, voyage home, and return our gaze to the world around us because that is what Jesus asks us to do, because that is how we go about his work in this world. Perhaps when the angels said Jesus would return “in the same way” he left, they did not mean via the clouds over head, but rather, surrounded by beloved friends whom he has commissioned and blessed.
This is why the disciples heeded the angels’ words, went on their way, and started the Church. This is why we disciples still gather together week in and week out. We place ourselves in community, in the place where the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the detection of the heartbeat of God can best be known–through one another. I am thrilled to be back with you, to hear God’s heartbeat and see Christ’s light in you. I cannot wait to worship with you once again. See you Sunday!
Yours in Christ,
*Photo of the Iona Sound and the Mull skyline taken early one morning from a bench in front of our hotel- a lovely spot to sit before breakfast.