Iona sees you

By Renatus Derbidge, September 2021

The small island of Iona in the west of Scotland still lies in Europe and yet it is a completely different world. Although we can get almost anywhere quickly today, you still have to “journey” to Iona.

First the plane – a rush, speed, confinement – then a train ride through the picturesque Highlands, followed by a one-hour ferry ride to the Isle of Mull. At the latest on deck, being immersed in the blue horizon, you realise: it’s all about slowing down, breathing out. Then the bus continues through the most beautiful glen in Scotland until you finally arrive at a small fishing village where another ferry takes you to Iona.

If one observes the people stepping on to the island as they walk from the ferry over the ramp to the pier, one can experience calm descending. As if people were entering a cathedral, intuitively silent.

That’s how I felt on my first visit to Iona and that’s how I still feel today, although I now live in the immediate vicinity on Mull and so can visit Iona quite frequently. The island envelops you in a very special mood. For me, this is “holiday”, relaxation, an atmosphere in which I can completely find myself and gather new strength.

Here, peace reigns over everything, allowing you to breathe freely. This is a quality in which you can open yourself to inspiration. My experience on Iona is that I can look at burdensome issues there – everything that is old and stifling or that has demanded to be looked at for a long time – in a free, companionable way and thus transform it or let it go. How is this to be understood? Iona is not just what you see, an island, but much more. Places are presences, have their own aura through which we move. Iona has the quality of “disarming” people, you feel lovingly looked at by the island and not judged.

How does it do that? Perhaps it has to do with its history which is linked to St Bride, who is said to have come to Iona as a child in the time around Christ’s birth and, as a young woman, took the baby Jesus to her breast in a vision to nurse him. Or St Columba, the Druid from Ireland who turned to Christianity and founded a monastery here in the fifth century with twelve like-minded people, which became the centre of Irish Celtic Christianity, from which hundreds of monks fanned out across Europe to proclaim a faith deeply connected with the spirits of nature and filled with artistic beauty. His brotherhood was characterised by solidarity – between people, the sexes, but also human beings and their fellow creatures. And the spirit of this Christianity can still be experienced as a mood on Iona today.

About the author: Dr Renatus Derbidge is a biologist and was a staff member of the Natural Science Section at the Goetheanum and teacher at the “School and Work” Rudolf Steiner Upper School in Basel. Today he lives in Scotland as a farmer, author and course leader.


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