Monday, January 4, 2016


There are numerous monasteries, convents, retreat houses, and churches that combine prayer and daily Bible reading with action for justice and peace, and one of the names that is on the bucket list of Anglicans searching for a place to join with others in carrying out this work is the Isle of Iona. Iona lies off the west coast of the Isle of Mull where St. Columba, an Irish monk, settled and influenced the establishment of Christianity in England, Scotland, and the European mainland. Iona, the site of a restored Benedictine abbey, attracts followers devoted to rebuilding “community,” and is populated by people from all walks of life -- followers who flock there to work in the kitchen and laundry and to light candles, lead morning services, or conduct sessions of Aramaic prayer for as many as ten weeks of volunteer service.

Sister Lucy, former head sister of St. Mary’s Sewanee, Tennessee, led many pilgrims to Iona and is reputed to have called forth miracles in this “thin place” off the coast of Scotland.  I’ve often told the story of a miracle about The Rev. Elmer Boykin, a good friend of mine (now deceased) who made one of Sr. Lucy’s pilgrimages to Iona years ago. It was a small miracle but nonetheless, one that reflects a kind of luminous clarity that occurred in a priest who suffered from Parkinson’s disease. During most of his life as a priest, Fr. Boykin had a booming voice that lifted the rafters when he preached and celebrated at the altar, but when he became ill, he not only lost his ability to celebrate, he could no longer read the Gospel at a service. When Sister Lucy was asked to conduct a service in the Abbey chapel at Iona, she walked up to The Rev. Boykin and in her characteristic no-nonsense way told him: “You read the Gospel.” Anne, the priest’s wife, hid her face in her hands in embarrassment, knowing that he hadn’t been able to proclaim the Gospel for several years. However, when the time came for the proclamation of the Gospel, The Rev. Boykin stood at the lectern and read it, every line reverberating in the old abbey chapel, and at that point in time, he reclaimed his voice. His wife Anne says that there was never a repeat performance, but in a restored abbey on an island off the coast of Scotland, he found his voice long enough to proclaim his faith.

The church in Iona was an early Celtic church, and the Celts, a strong part of the Anglican tradition, are impressive for their focus on blessing everything, from thresholds of homes and cooking pots to states of the heart. A blessing is an act that changes the atmosphere of a place or the heart of a person in a cogent way. In this new year, Fr. Matt Woollett, priest at the Episcopal Church of Epiphany in New Iberia, Louisiana (where I reside part of the year) has issued a call to parishioners to have their homes blessed, as is customary during the season of Epiphany. I had my home here blessed many years ago when the priest used the “long form,” blessing every corner and room, even the patio outside. The year that it was blessed, Hurricane Andrew roared through, flattening trees, destroying roofs, and flooding low areas in south Louisiana. However, although the wind squeezed my house back and forth like an accordion, it survived without harm, perhaps because “the defender of the household” had been invoked months before the storm.

For those who wish to read more about blessings that have Celtic roots, John O’Donohue has written a wonderful book of lyrical blessings entitled To Bless the Space Between Us that emphasizes seven rhythms of the human journey: beginnings, desires, thresholds, homecomings, states of the heart, callings, and beyond endings. He writes that “in the evocations of our blessings, the word ‘may’ is the spring through which the Holy Spirit is invoked to surge into presence and effect. The Holy Spirit is the subtle presence and secret energy behind every blessing…”

May you enjoy a blessed New Year.   

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