Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Iona World IV

I anticipated some personal challenges on Iona. After an intensely interior year focused on an Ignatian approach to spirituality, how was I going to manage a week of equally intense community life? And Ignatius was, paradoxically, a man of the cities. How was I going to bridge the distance between Paris, a Jesuit hometown, and Iona, the pastoral island "thin place" to Celtic saints?

OK ~ figured it out. I took a volume of Gerard Manley Hopkin's poetry and writings with me -- Hopkins having been that Jesuit, largely unknown in his lifetime, who penned those expansive nature poems. And so when I got up before 5:00 am on Iona to watch the sunrise and walk to the beach, the language echoing in my head served to connect all my experiences:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil... .

As it happened, among the first things I saw on the beach were oystercatchers -- including a frantic pair of adults, indicating to me that they must have a young one nearby. I've only seen oystercatchers during their winter layover in northern Florida, but I was soon to discover that they summer in northern Scotland. They were all over the place -- at least, all over the beaches where I walked every day. I did find the one little one, but limited myself to only a few photos and didn't make any effort to disturb what must have been others nearby on other mornings.

It wasn't until I came home that I read up on Brigid, a woman swirling in mystery and somewhat lost to mythology. A goddess of the Druids? A Catholic saint? She looms large in the Celtic world and, it seems, the oystercatcher is her sacred bird. According to legend, she sent oystercatchers out to guide sailors safely home.

Everything, in the end, has a way of merging. Celtic Brigid and Jesuit Hopkins. Oystercatchers and kingfishers catching fire. There are gannets, too, over the Irish Sea. I didn't find Iona to be an easy place, but with Hopkins in my pocket and oystercatchers among the rocks, I was all right.

Adult Oystercatcher

Little Oystercatcher ...or...maybe it's an adult Ringed Plover? Thanks, Virginia, for the correction! Anyone know for sure?

Brigid Window in the Iona Abbey Church

5 comments:

Quotidian Grace said...

Beautiful pictures, GG! I'm hoping to get to Iona next summer. What a great trip you've had!

Paul said...

Quite a spiritual stew you've whipped up. Never cared for Hopkins, but oystercatchers work for me.

Gannet Girl said...

But Paul, now you can tell your students that, to your baffled amazement, you have a friend who DOES find good stuff in Hopkins.

Globetrotter said...

This entry is awe -inspiring. I now am undecided whether to run out and buy a book of Hopkins' poetry or paint that little oyster-catcher! May I?

Your photos and writing are gorgeous and I'm anxious to read more about this amazing trip.

Kathryn said...

Brigid is one of my favorites. A woman at my church has written extensively on women in the early church.