This photo hangs on the wall of our bedroom, a reminder of a visit to the Isle of Iona, Scotland. There are other images from that trip, arranged in one of those collage frames, showing the Abbey chapel, an ancient stone Celtic cross, and the Abbey grounds, each arguably more “artistic” than this picture. Yet this image has special meaning to Joan and me.

Each Tuesday, visitors to Iona take a hike over hill an3512-1d vale, through heather and between thistles, with pauses along the way for some history lessons, singing, and meditation.

St. Columba founded a monastery on Iona in 563 A.D., so, yes, there is some history here. And the singing? At each stop along the way, our guide taught us a song and its harmony, drawn from the Iona-based Wild Goose Resource Group’s repertoire. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to join our voices in sung prayers along that pilgrimage route. And, while we enjoyed the laughter and gentle conversation of a community hiking a path around the island, when we did stop to gaze out at the sea or stand among ancient ruins, quiet reflection helped us center on the “thin places,” the spiritual height and depth and breadth of holy encounters in sacred surroundings.

Among the places we stopped…this stone-blanketed beach at Columba’s Bay. We listened to theories behind Columba’s arrival here, sang a song together, and then walked among these stones, with much rattling and cobbling breaking the silence of our meditation time. We were given an assignment: look for a stone, and name it something you’d like to be rid of. A sin, a bad habit, a hurtful memory, some brokenness. Pick up that stone, let it symbolize that which you would let go of, be totally rid of, repent of, fling away forever. Hold that stone, feel its heft, say your prayer, and then go to the water’s edge and with all your might, throw it away, far away, into the deep waters. Be free of it.

And then, walk back among the stones and choose one to take home, a keepsake of your pilgrimage…a stone that reminds you of your freedom to choose, and your liberation from a weight that kept you from celebrating God fully present in your life. The stones Joan and I brought home in 2007 are still there in the room with this picture, hers on her dresser, mine on a window sill.

I’m no geologist, so I can’t tell you why my stone is so full of greens, grays, pinks, and whites. But I chose the most curiously colorful stone on that beach, a most unusual rock, one that says something about me…something. Sure, it’s a souvenir of an important week in my life, a reminder of a day-long Iona hike, part of the spiritual pilgrimage that is my whole life. But, more, that stone is also the opposite of that one I threw so far away, the thing I prayed to let go of. This stone is blessing, gift, and grace.

And when the sun rises each day, it shines into my east-facing window and falls first on this stone. Its colors come alive. And, thank God, so do I.

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