The following is from the journal I kept while in Scotland. It's an except from the day we went to the Isle of Iona. It is a tiny island off the coast of Mull in western Scotland. St. Columba, coming from Ireland, founded a community there in 563. Iona became the religious and scholastic center of Scotland. It is thought that the Book of Kells was written there. A nunnery began in the early 1200s. The Reformation ended the religious communities there. Today, the Iona Community is an ecumenical group that hosts retreats on the island.
...I was looking forward to Iona. As the birthplace of British Christianity and burial ground of Scottish kings, I expected an air of spiritually and significance. But something about it felt empty. The nunnery was a pile of ruins turned garden; the abbey felt as ecumenical as it claimed (i.e. stripped down to bare essentials that most can agree upon); St. Columba was not as represented as I expected, given that he was the founder. The Catholicism of this place was gone. There was a brief moment—to the left of the main door into the abbey was a door just a half inch taller than me. Inside was a small room, a shrine to St. Columba, a red ray of light for my faith. I said a quick prayer, but now I wish I’d stayed longer. I always want to hold on to moments like that.
I suppose the moral is that I can’t force moments of profoundness. They come unexpectedly, without motivations to taint them. They come in Catholicism instead of the faith of my upbringing; they come at Haworth instead of a church I know; they come in corner shrines instead of abbey sanctuaries.
I will not mourn for the emptiness I experienced. My religion is not dying; it is alive and moving. That the cradle of British Christianity is no longer Catholic means nothing. The birthplace of the faith for the entire world isn’t either. The faith goes on.