|Blooms in a bog on Iona's Dun I|
A number of friends associated with Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and Grace Baptist Church (also located in Richmond, VA) shared their exposure to the renewal associated with the island of Iona where the Irish saint founded his monastery. Then, Kathy traveled to Iona, and as she traveled, I read about Scotland and was intrigued by the story of Columba and the monster of Ness. A few years passed during which I occasionally thought of writing a piano piece about the story. To commemorate the bicentennial of Liszt's birth, I finally wrote that solo piano "Columban Legend." Around that time, our adoptive son came to live with us. He had an interest in books and video games rooted in mythology and magic. I thought reading the stories of a saint like Columba might be a good faith-based connection point with him, so I ordered a copy of Adomnan's biography to share excerpts from time to time.
One thing led to another and I started writing lots of little piano pieces. Last summer, Kathy and I traveled to a conference on Iona and that was a life-shaping experience. On that trip, I discovered the fun fact that the Robertson family has a historic association with Columba's community. This was a neat finding as my maternal grandmother was a Robertson.
With all this Columba-oriented engagement in my life, it stuck me that I have become involved in an informal Columban priesthood of sorts. I find myself interpreting my own Christian experience, and sometimes providing counsel, through my version of a Columban lens.
|Image of Columba in the refectory at Iona Abbey|
For those who aren't familiar with Columba, I offer the following brief explanation of my own interest.
There is a great deal in the life of Columba to intrigue a musician. He was a singer of penetrating sweetness and experienced something like glossolalic chanting on at least one occasion. He was also a composer and a compelling advocate for the class of bards when its very existence was at stake.
I am amazed by the number stories about Columba and I find that their details have potential for speaking to my own situations in a metaphorical fashion.
As a Baptist, my entrance into the Christian Faith was through an experience of being "born again." Jesus and Nicodemus had a discussion about that term in John 3. In the Baptist tradition, it has come to mean a moment of personal surrender through which Christ becomes both one's savior and lord. Something supernatural is believed to happen at this time, something that makes one's life new in the here and now.
From time to time, I long for a fresh deepening of this newness, and during a recent contemplative prayer gathering, that yearning returned. I found myself considering the little and big bits of obsessiveness and depressiveness and cynicism and sarcasm . . . in my life. I also thought on my experiences of wholesomeness and healing, beauty and peace. The result was that I wanted somehow to wallow before, but far below, God, and to slough off those essentially lifeless things, finally to rise up as a newer, better, truer me. I consider these desires, these impulses toward some spiritual movement, a blessing.
|Snake-like forms on St. Martin's Cross|
And then I found myself thinking of snakes.
Of course there's the serpent of Genesis who tempted us to estrangement from God, and there's the serpent lifted up in the wilderness for the healing of a wandering nation (also mentioned in John 3).
St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland,
or so it is said. For his part,
Columba blessed the snakes of Iona,
rendering them harmless.
It is my understanding that there is a Celtic tradition that views snakes in a positive light, as symbols of rebirth, in fact. What more vivid image could there be for the throwing off of the old self than that of a snake shedding its skin?
The snake must move forward to bring this about. And once the process is begun, there is really no way of going back.
While effort is required of the snake to complete this moulting, it does not happen at the whim of the snake. It happens when the time is right. It happens when that old self can be left behind.
The snake discovers and reveals its new self through many movements ranging from full-body convulsions to the tiny actions of individual scales.
The snake travels on, belly to the ground registering the gritty grains of sand. Its eyes straining to make out forms through the thick blades of grass, it knows best by listening, by feeling the vibrations of its world.
Occasionally it lifts itself or climbs for vision and sustenance.