A MONK ON IONA WITH ST. COLUMBA

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I do not really remember very much about the journey across the Irish Sea, but I do remember landing at Iona. It was rough weather, and the coastline was rocky. We had a great deal of difficult finding a safe place to land. Of course Columba didn't let a small thing like that faze him, so we were finally safely on land.

Columba was an amazing man, a man of many moods and capabilities. Foremost, of course, was his overwhelming sense of God's purpose, but playing a close second to this spiritual strength was his ability to organize experience in such a way that you found yourself following his orders without question. And time usually bore up the accuracy of his judgment, the workability of his plans. We settled down quite quickly to building our little buildings, planting our gardens, tending our animals. Fortunately, we had brought quite a bit of food with us, so we did not starve while waiting for our crops to grow.

Back home I had been very close to my mother and sisters, who were followers of the Old Religion, which celebrated the feminine as the part of divinity most accessible to women, concerned as they always are with caring for the flocks and gardens, giving birth to and caring for the children. It did not seem to me that the coming of the worship of Jesus Christ needed to conflict with these beliefs, but could be added to them. I saw no reason to change my own inner feelings about the nature of the divine feminine as a natural part of life.

But Columba didn't hold with such an easy adaptation. His had been a military - as well as a devotional - upbringing, and his religious vision held no place for the feminine. On Iona, faced with the devotees of the Old Religion who still lived on the island, he began turning more and more against their beliefs and their sacred objects and places on the island. I tried to reason with him, but received only cold responses, and finally, an order to put such heretical ideas out of my mind.

Deprived now of both my sense of dedication to his ideas and of his good will toward me, I began to droop, and a feeling of profound deprivation as an outcast took the place of my former pleasure in his company. I had to force myself even to eat, so profound was my disappointment and grief.

I began losing weight as I lost heart. My life no longer seemed one I could go on living, although I knew it would be a sin to take that life God had given me. I also felt extremely guilty of disloyalty toward Columba, and yet I could not bring myself to follow him in this one thing. I took to finding things to do that enabled me to be alone. Gradually I found myself increasingly unable to eat, and began to have severe stomach pains.

I do not know whether I starved to death or died of stomach cancer. But I did die - fairly soon after I began isolating myself. I doubt that I was mourned by the ones I left behind.

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