Why am I here?… What have I come for? How much more alone can I get? I’m a monastic, I’ve felt my family, I’ve left my country; I’m now on a tiny island, in a small tent, in the middle of nowhere, where humanity though the world ended and nothingness began. Why have I come? What am I looking for?
I was so tired yesterday, after the long journey from Oxford to Iona, I expected to collapse the moment the tent would be up, but I didn’t. I couldn’t fall asleep at all. This time of the year, the light is still very strong here, even after midnight. I walked to the Abbey. I prayed in St Oran’s chapel, in the old graveyard. I sat on a bench looking at the waves, as they wash the pebbles of Martyrs’ Bay. Iona turns into a different place after the last ferry, and even more so after midnight.
In a way, it is a tough place – aggressively holy. If your heart has the slightest openness to holiness, Iona will crush you. It will collapse on you like an avalanche falling from the Kingdom. Its silence is aggressive, and I don’t mean the physical silence. The ocean, the gulls, the rain, the wind that sounds like a pack of wolves howling at night – there’s always noise on the surface. But under these noises, Iona’s silence is frightening. Its stillness is frightening. The stillness of the graves, the silence of the monastic saints waiting there, waiting for Christ’s Kingdom – it is all aggressive, in your face, impossible to ignore.
When I got back to the tent, the whole island was covered in a thick yellowish glow; it came through the roof and kept me awake. The tent is little more that an onion skin, and the storm rages a few centimeters away from you head. Somewhere between one and two in the night, I gave up praying and I just laid there, my eyes open, caught between the violence of the noises of the storm, and the violence of the silence of the saints. I laid there, on the earth, increasingly aware that for this one night, I hear what they hear every night; for this one tonight, I see what they see every night. Tonight, for a short while, I can join their silence, I can rest in their stillness.
And it all became clear to me. This is what I’m here for. This is what I’ve come to do. Tonight, in this tent, at the end of the world, at the end of loneliness, I am here to join their waiting, I am here to wait with the saints, I am here to look straight ahead, in the same direction they have been staring for centuries: towards Christ, to the Resurrection, to the Live to come. Nothing else matters. Nothing else is real.