By Stephanie Evelyn McKellar

Abbot of Iona Abbey (679–704)
Dùn I

“Perched on Dùn I
Gazing north
On a clear day,
Columba saw a drab, grey
Storm-cloud, rising
Over the sea
Towards Arisaig,
And Silnan heard him say,
That cloud brings fear
And plague
To folk and beasts. Today
It will pass us by
Here on Iona, but tonight,
Crossing over
The sea,
It will blight
Ireland from Dublin to the River
Delvin. It’ll cause
Sores filled with pus
On human skin
And the udders of cows,
And at its height
Will kill
All its victims;
Yet still
We must
The mercy of God —
We must
Send relief.
So get food,
Silnan. Leave.

To Dùn I.
For, yes,
My son,
If life goes on
You will need
To feed
The sick
With this bread
I bless
In the name of God.

You must dip
This bread
In water
So every daughter,
Every son,
Every cow
And sheep
Wetted by each precious drop
Of this water
Will discover
How to heal.

On this clear day
Gazing north
From Dùn I,
I say,
Go now.
I know now
Will be well.’”

The highest point on the island of Iona is a peak called Dùn I (I = “ee”). While this climb, and the accompanying 360 degree island view, is available to anyone, pilgrims climb it as part of their pilgrimage around the island. It serves as a celebration point, a mountaintop moment, for it can be difficult to scale, and even harder, sometimes, to then find your way back down. Atop you can be overcome with a clear sky that lets you take in a multitude of northern Scotland’s islands. Other days, or perhaps even a few hours later, the view from Dùn I can be marred by clouds and fog, and even the nearby Iona hostel can be difficult to make out in the mist.

A journey, a pilgrimage, even a delightful meal around a table with tasty drink and enjoyable fellowship can make for a difficult departure. A place or moment can be filled with such serenity, clarity, and achievement that it begs, "Let’s stay here a while."

But Iona is a place of sending, and so is the table. The table Jesus modeled of bread and wine enriched, nourished, and enlivened the disciples so that they might be reconciled to their Creator, to each other, and sent out to be reconciled and part of the healing of the world. They went from belonging at this table to cultivating belonging among brokenness and broken hearts. We arrive to the mountain top moments in our lives, and we arrive to the table, to re-orient ourselves, find our way, and then head back down the mountain, from the table, embodying the spirit of Christ with (ideally) every footstep and encounter.

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”
- Nelson Mandela