Chapter 9 – The Iona Awakening

Christie gently tapped on Liam’s door at around 6:00 am to invite him to join the community for breakfast. No response. Deciding it would be best to let him sleep a little longer Christie and Stag walked down the still dark hallway toward the dining hall. They passed a window and noticed Liam, sitting outside on a bench in a small alcove, watching the sun lift its sleepy self from the horizon.

“You go ahead Stag, I’m going to go say good morning to Liam.”

Christie walked outside and sat next to him, quiet for a few moments before offering, “Good morning.”

“I’m never up this early. Most days I’ve only been asleep for a couple of hours by this time of day,” replied Liam.

“We missed you at the evening service last night.”

“Yeah, I’ve never understood a lot of that church stuff, or religion in general. I think I’d have just felt frustrated through the whole thing.”

“What bothers you about it,” inquired Christie?

“A lot of things. This whole idea of an angry God who sends people to be tortured in Hell if they don’t pray the right prayer, or go to the right church, or wear the right clothes. The idea of a ‘good’ God who let’s good people die horrible deaths and evil people live worry free, or deprives good people of children but then gives them to women who will have a baby in a bathroom somewhere and throw it in a dumpster.”

“That’s what you think faith is about,” asked Christie pulling something from his pocket and rubbing it between his fingers?

“It’s what I’ve seen. Where I grew up there were a bunch of different churches. The Catholics said everyone was going to Hell except them and the only way to not go to Hell was go through a class, eat a cracker that they said was the actual body of Jesus, and start doing what the priest said…the same priest who got caught having sex with young boys in his office. The Baptists said that the Catholics were a cult and they were going to Hell. Actually, I hope that priest IS burning and being raped by demons in Hell right now. There was this other group where the women couldn’t cut their hair or wear makeup, or wear anything other than denim skirts and they said that everyone else was going to Hell. A couple of towns over there was a huge church where a few thousand people went every week. Multi-million dollar buildings on a multi-million dollar piece of land. The pastor had his own jet, drove a Bentley, and finally left town after four women came forward and said they were all fucking him in exchange for ‘allowances’ of several thousand dollars a month.”

“Stop saying ‘fuck’,” interrupted Christie, this time with a smack to the back of Liam’s head that startled him out of his rant.”

“Seriously? You’re smacking me now?”

“Don’t say ‘fuck,'”

“You’ve just said it twice yourself!”

“Shut up,” said Christie while continuing to rub a white stone between his fingers and looking out across the grounds toward the water.

“Anyway, it didn’t take long for me to realize it’s all a sham. People go to a building once a week to sing songs, listen to a lecture, eat a cracker, and pretend to be good people, and then walk out of the building an hour later and go right back to treating each other like shi… like crap.”

“You’re right Liam. It is all a sham, what you’ve described.”

Liam didn’t expect to be agreed with, and looked at Christie without saying anything, but in a way that invited him to elaborate.

“Liam, do you know anything about this place?”

“No, I’d never heard of it until now.”

“We’re sitting in the middle of a battleground. Not a place where armies fought with guns or swords or tanks or bombs, though many people did die in this battle. Iona is the last battleground of a great war between religion and spirituality.”

“There’s a difference,” asked Liam?

“An irreconcilable difference, Liam. It’s believed that sometime in the early fourth century a Roman soldier, passing through Scotland, shared with the people here the story of a man named Jesus, who called himself the Son of God, who performed miracles, who ate meals with outcasts and sinners while shunning, and criticizing the religious leaders of his time. He showed compassion to prostitutes and thieves, while calling priests the ‘sons of Satan.’ And this Jesus taught people that if they wanted to know God, truly know and experience God, all they had to do was love one another, and live and love better than the priests and preachers.

“This Jesus taught that God was in and knowable through all things. A field of flowers, the birds flying overhead, the smile of a child, the stars in the sky. That everything that  existed was not only made by God, but God was in it, and all things, from the smallest blade of grass to the largest mountain. From the insect crawling on that blade of grass to the billions of stars in the most distant galaxy, God was the maker of all, was in all, and through all things constantly shows us his nature as a good, loving, kind, compassionate, forgiving, and wildly creative deity. God speaks to us through everything that exists.

“The Jesus that soldier spoke of was killed by the priests. But after three days in the grave, he returned from death to demonstrate his greatest lesson, that he and God were one, the same, and he himself, Jesus, was that creator and because of him all things live and move and have their existence.

“The people of this land understood that Roman soldier’s message. They already had a spiritual way of understanding the world around them that fit perfectly with his message. They knew of this deity and his goodness, but didn’t know his name or that he had died and returned from death to reunite humanity and deity and unveil the image of that deity within each of us and within all things.

“The message took hold and spread throughout the land of Scotland through people like St. Patrick, and St. Columba, and countless others, and a rich, vibrant way of spirituality swept across Scotland, and Ireland, and England, and Wales. People came to know God, and experience him in all aspects of life. Work. Play. Raising their crops. Weaving their tapestries. Eating together. Caring for one another. God was in all things, in all activity, and they did not see spirituality as something you do in a church on Sunday mornings, but in the way your hands feel in the soil or the way the breeze feels on your skin, or the sound of a child’s laugh. The image of God exists in all things and all people, from the moment they come into existence, and the whole point of any and every life is to simply unveil that image of God and begin living and loving from that place, because true perfection is found in that image. To the people of this land, all of life was a continuous prayer.

“But, just outside of our borders was the great Holy Roman Empire, the most powerful political, military, and religious kingdom on earth. The emperor and the Pope ruled together and global conquest was the goal. Military conquest. Religious conquest. Political conquest. The military slaughtered those who refused to be  ruled by the emperor. The crusaders slaughtered those who refused to be spirituality ruled by the Pope and his priests. And where we had men like St. Patrick and St. Columba who taught that the image of God existed in all things and all people, they had men like Augustine who taught that all things were evil at the core, even a newborn baby, and that all people had to be ‘saved’ from an eternal torture in Hell and that salvation came through surrendering to the Pope and his priests. Those who refused to surrender, were beheaded or burned, but only after being tortured in the most horrible of ways. What a great way to build an empire. Only the Pope and his church can rescue you from Hell.

“The Holy Roman Empire slowly crept into the British Isles with their armies and their priests. And finally, sadly, right here on this island in the year 664 a meeting was held, and our people surrendered to the Romans, and religion, the religion you described to me, Liam, defeated true spirituality in the way of Jesus, and has continued to spread around the globe for the last fourteen hundred years, replacing the image of God in all things, with the image of the church and her priests and popes and preachers and charlatans.”

“So, you’re saying I don’t need to be saved from Hell so I can go to Heaven,” asked Liam?

“You do need to be saved Liam, but not from a place of torture after you die. You need to be saved from yourself, and the Hell you are creating in your own life and in the lives around you, and in the world you share with us. Heaven and Hell are right here, around us, in us, always, from the beginning of time. We can cooperate with God as co-creators of Heaven right here and now. Or we can cooperate with evil as co-creators of Hell right here and now. And whichever you choose to create, you not only create for yourself, but you create for every living thing on the planet. Every thought you have becomes a decision, which then becomes an action, which, like a stone throne into the sea, sets into motion ripples and waves that reach us all.”

Liam felt startled by the analogy Christie had just used, as it perfectly echoed his own silent thoughts by the seashore the evening before.

“Yesterday in the cemetery you asked how old I was and then said that I was just setting my feet upon a path that would bring a lot of destruction in my life, but that I was here just in time. What did you mean by that,” asked Liam?

“Liam, we are all connected in a very deep, mysterious way. You, Anastagio, me, everyone you’ve seen here, in fact every human being who ever has lived, is alive today, and will be born tomorrow are knit together into a living tapestry of creation. What do you see up in that corner of the alcove Liam,” asked Christie pointing upward?

“Wow that’s a big spiderweb. I hadn’t noticed it.”

“Watch,” said Christie as he plucked a blade of grass, stood, and gently tapped the end of the silk strand furthest from the other end of the web that spanned about 16 inches across.

Immediately the builder of the web, a nickle-sized black spider darted out of the furthest darkest corner where the web began and scurried across the web to the point where the blade of grass touched the silk.

“Creation is like this web Liam. It touches all of us. It comes from all of us. And everything we think, or say, or do creates invisible, yet perceptible movement that touches us all. If our hearts and spirits are alive, and awake, and paying attention, we can feel and understand every movement. I feel the movements you are creating in our world, with the way you live your life. And I know, it will not end well for you, and it will create grief for many. But, my friend. You are here, now, at Iona. And you’re just in time.

“You see Liam, true spirituality, faith, has nothing to do with church buildings or religious organizations, or preachers, or clothing, or sermons, or Heaven and Hell awaiting us in some distant time and place after we die. It’s so much simpler, yet so much more real and profound than what we humans make it to be. It’s simply this: Understanding that we and everything that exists are all here as the result of a wildly creative, passionate, good, and loving God who has placed his mark, his image, within everything that exists. It’s understanding that evil came into the world and every moment that evil tries to extinguish, cover, and hide the image of God. Being saved, or ‘born again’ as some put it is simply what happens when we rediscover ourselves and the image of God within us, and we begin living out of that place, creating Heaven all around us with every thought, decision, and action. And it’s in that place that we find God, walking alongside of us, guiding us, giving us peace, and rebuilding a bond between us and him that will last for all eternity when all things are finally made new, as they were intended to be.”

Liam sat quietly until Christie finally stood and said, “Let’s go have some breakfast before we begin our trip back to Glasgow.”

As Liam stood and they turned toward the door, Christie reached for Liam’s hand and placed within it the object he’d been holding between his thumb and forefinger throughout the conversation. It was a smooth white stone, with the word “Faith” carefully etched into it’s surface on one side, and the word “Fe” etched into the other.

“Take this my friend. Remember me and this conversation wherever your travels take you and whenever you hold this stone in your hand. I’ll be staying behind when you and Anastagio leave. This is where I live.”

After breakfast and goodbyes Liam and Stag left the shore on the ferry back to the mainland. When they reached the other side Liam pulled his phone from his pocket. A signal. Five missed text messages. Two missed calls. All from Isabella. He dialed her number. She answered.

“Mi amore! I was so worried. Are you okay? I’m so glad you called me back.”

“Hi Isabella. Yeah, I’m fine. I knew I was probably missing messages from you but I was on Iona, an island off the coast where I couldn’t get a signal. It’s good to hear your voice. Where are you?”

“I’m in Glasgow, Liam. Will you be back today? I flew here to see you.

Bonus Material

Chapter 8 – Oneness

As Liam walked slowly toward The Abbey, bringing his emotions back under control, he thought to himself that the last time he remembered crying was around the same day he last prayed, when his little brother died. Liam didn’t cry. Life had taught him to build walls around his heart, to keep emotion at bay, to focus his energy on accomplishment and pleasure.

He paused for a moment, pulled his phone from his pocket thinking of Isabella. No signal. Liam wondered where she was, who she was with, what she was doing, and if she was thinking of him in that moment too.

Making his way down the path past the massive stone Celtic cross and through the arched entryway of The Abbey, Liam approached  Stag and Christie as they stood talking with one of the caretakers.

“We’ll be staying here for the night Liam. I’m afraid your accommodations at The Abbey will be austere compared to your penthouse back in Glasgow. I hope you don’t mind, ” warned Christie.

“I suppose I can adjust for a night,” Liam replied with half a smile. “What’s the plan for the rest of the day?”

“The time is yours. You can relax in your room, or walk the grounds, there’s a nice common room and a library. We’ll have a shared evening meal later. And at 9:00 there’s an evening service every day, if you’d like to join us, “answered Christie.

Liam chose to spend most of the rest of the day walking around the island. He couldn’t remember the last time he walked, just to walk, and see, and feel, and listen, and notice anything other than himself or that day’s conquest.

He took his shoes off and felt the grass under his feet. For an hour or so he sat, simply leaning against a tree near the cemetery, noticing the clouds passing overhead, and the occasional contrail of a jet. He wondered about the people on that jet. Who were they? What were their names? Where were they going and why? What were their lives like? Did he know anyone on that plane? Had he at some point passed by one of them as a random stranger in an airport somewhere a week ago, or a year ago? Could one of them have stepped in front of him in a line somewhere, perhaps just to get a cup of coffee, and forever altered his life? Was Isabella on that jet?

Even as he sat alone, on a tiny Island off the coast of Scotland, far from anything or anyone familiar, Liam began to not feel alone. Somehow he felt as if he knew the people passing thirty-two thousand feet above. The forty-eight kings were a few yards away and they had touched his life as he touched their headstones. He ran his hands through the grass where he sat and felt grounded, rooted, and an inexplicable oneness with the soil beneath him, like he belonged to the earth and the earth belonged to him.

Liam left the tree and walked down the grassy hill toward the craggy coast where sea meets stone and birds dip from the sky to pluck insects from the water’s surface and small colorful boats bob in the waves. As the abbey sits at an inlet, the waves aren’t large, as one might expect next to the sea. They roll in quietly, almost undetectable, from some distant place, before slowly building to a gentle whitecap that rises from the surface to kiss the stony shore.

Liam was mesmerized by this. What started the wave? Did someone a thousand miles away drop a stone into the water, setting ripples into motion around the world to become gentle lapping whitecaps at his feet on Iona but a tsunami destroying towns and taking lives in another place? What if he dropped a stone into the water? Where would his ripples go? What would they do? Would they lull someone to sleep by their shore in a distant place? Would they become a tidal wave killing 300 people in another? Liam stooped to pick up a stone and toss it into the water, but paused, and let if fall from his hand back to the ground, not wanting to take a chance on being responsible for the destruction of a village in Thailand.

The afternoon passed quickly, and as the sun began to dip below the horizon Liam walked back to the abbey for the evening meal. Two weeks ago he would have never imagined himself having dinner, in a monastery, with a half Italian concierge, a short, dark-skinned Scot, a handful of monks, and a dozen or so people from around the world who had come here on some kind of spiritual pilgrimage. Yet here he was. And it didn’t feel strange, or uncomfortable, or threatening. It just…felt.

Liam skipped the evening service as “church” never really seemed to make much sense to him, and instead settled into his small, quaint bedroom for the evening. Again he looked at his phone only to find no bars, no signal, no hope of speaking with Isabella. He began to worry that, had she been trying to reach him, perhaps by now she was thinking that he’d lost interest in hearing from her. He rolled onto his side, and for the first time he could remember, felt himself drifting to sleep before ten o’clock.