For a night, join the saints!

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.

13 responses

  • Words that stir the soul, dear Father; violent and aggressive holiness. You’ve spoken in those terms before and with each utterance, I am coming to understand that idea, that reality, more and more.

    On your island, may God keep you safe in your blissful wait, dear Father. My prayers are yours.

    P.S. Thank you for the photographs!

    • One more night, dear Clementine, just one more night and I’ll be back to my usual worries about the monastery and raising the funds to get it started. I came afraid to be here, and I leave afraid to lose what I received here… May we all be blessed.

  • Fr Seraphim, What astonishing writing. Quite extraordinary. People often trot out the usual ‘Iona is a thin place’ (where heaven & earth are close to one another), but this is writing such as I’ve never read. It is profoundly moving, profoundly challenging. Thank you for opening your heart to God, to us, to the world, to God’s Future, to the Coming of the Kingdom. Thank you.

    • Dear Philip, thank you for your kind comment. People are right, this truly is a thin place, where Heaven and earth are drawn together. What I didn’t know (and perhaps, what many do not feel) is how dreadfully frightening Heaven is. Perhaps frightening is not the right word: awe-some, full of awe, entirely alien to us and frightening because of its alien nature – these are all silly descriptions, but they are as good as I’m able to make. This is a thin place, but through the thin veil one can see a frightening revelation. It is precisely because it is a thin place that it is a frightening one, too. I’m not sure I’ve made this any clearer, forgive me.

  • Many years ago when I was young, I spent 4 weeks of summer in the Alaskan wilderness, camping beside a small lake. I was searching for God. I found silence. I found a forest steeped in silence and stillness. It took me a few days before I realized that the silence was speaking to me, from the trees, the moss, the light that never really faded. The voice of the silence was deep, profound, like the shock wave from a cannon. I read in my Bible how Elijah waited upon the Still Small Voice; and I understood, at least as much as any human mind can. Like Job I sat in silence, listening to the Voice of Gods Silence that echo’s
    between the Worlds. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy upon me, a sinner.”

    • Oh, John, how well I understand what you describe!… The thing is, I simply refuse to let go of this feeling, I refuse to ‘experience’ it and then pass it by. I know this is my way ‘in’ to Christ, and I don’t want to ‘move further’, because that would be such a wasted opportunity, that would be moving further from my very destination. May we all be blessed, dear friend.

  • Dear Father,
    I hear what you are saying about Iona and I have felt a small part of that weight and the aggressive holiness of that place. I was only there 3 days, but we walked across to Columba Bay and all around the southern part of the island just drinking it all in. I didn’t know at the time that it would grip my heart like it does. I also prayed near the chapel, the graveyard, and the Abbey. The “aggressive holiness” is everywhere. Praying for you in this soul awakening place.

    • St Columba’s bay is a place beyond description. I’ve been there three times since I came to Iona, and only rain and wind drive me away. I’d like to build a hut and live there. There is so much grace, so much clarity there. Keep praying for me and the monastery, dear Stephanie. We need it.

  • This is the most heart wrenching Lee beautiful thing I have read in a while. What you are doing is such a profound inspiration to me, and my heart breaks to feel even a small dent of the holiness that you have found their. May God bless you in everything you do.

    • Dear Raphael, thank you so much for your kind words, I am so grateful these silly posts are useful to someone. Please pray for me and the monastery, and stop worrying about typographical errors: I know many people who can spell perfectly, but that says nothing about the language of their hearts. It’s in there, in the heart, that we should say the right things, not on the outside.

  • Fr. Seraphim,
    I write to you from Virginia, an unworthy servant of God. I am most appreciative of your writings. I pray for you and your mission and hope soon to be able to support you with some donations.
    May our loving God protect and guide you Father.

    • Dear Louise, thank you so much for your comment. When and if you can, I would appreciate your financial support, as well. Please tell people in your parish about the monastery, send them the link to the website, share our posts etc etc – I’m amazed what great things we can achieve if we all work together. May God bless you for your love, dear Louise.

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