Iona Abbey: The Magic of Song and Prayer

I came to Scotland partly with the intention of my pilgrimage to various sacred sites.  The other part of this trip was to collect Celtic and Scottish songs.  This started in Calgary of all places when Stewart and I met Eric Coyle who sang Scottish songs.  One of these was “Hairy Mary”, which is a Scottish children’s song.  To give you an idea for the lyrics:

No I ain’t no hairy Mary, I’m your ma…

No I ain’t no hairy Mary, I’m your ma….

You cannae throw your granny off the bus,
You cannae throw your granny off the bus
You cannae throw your granny
Cause she’s your mammy’s mammy
You cannae throw your granny off the bus.

I have had that song in my head pretty much since I left Calgary and today I begged a mom and daughter that are rooming with me and from Nairn to please teach me another song.  So Ayla (age 10) and mom Iona (aptly named) taught me this Scottish kid’s song that Ayla graciously filmed her mom and I singing.  They didn’t want their images on the blog so you will hear Iona’s voice in the background.

I have been going to the 9 pm services at the Abbey. The Quiet Corner is a meditation nook where folks can light candles to send up their prayers with.  I sat there while the Healing service was going on and sent up prayers for healing for myself, those I love, projects that I think are important for the world right now, for the planet, and the humans. After the service, we were invited up to the refectory to take tea with the other guests who had gone on a pilgrimage today.  Many of the folks that were there recognized me from the ceilidh and came over to thank me for leading the song.  They told me about their pilgrimage, what brought them to Iona, and how good it felt to sing and dance that night.  I spoke to people of all different countries and what struck me was their willingness to come and do something completely new and for some of them WAY outside their comfort zone.  I left uplifted. As I walked home in the wind and rainstorm, I felt lighter somehow.  The sheep and the horses walked right over to the fence and watched me as I approached as if they knew something had transformed.  I can’t quite put my finger on it and I think they are right.

For the World Service night, I had an a-ha moment around the symbolism of bread in the Catholic service- especially as it pertains to being a disciple of Christ.  I never really understood the “body of Christ” symbolism and perhaps scholars wouldn’t agree with my epiphany and yet it certainly felt “right” to me last night.  Jen’s Light Bulb Moment: Bread is the symbol for peace, love, and food for the spirit.  When we break bread, we share our own peace, spirit, and heart with others.  I really resonated with the response for that evening’s theme:

“May we be bread broken for the world, giving our lives as sacrifices of love; giving of ourselves so that others might live.”

It may seem like a lot of pressure for a mere mortal; however, I am coming to realize that this disciple of Christ thing really just means living from my heart space.  The paradox is that this is the simplest and the most challenging thing to do simultaneously because it flies in the face of what my logical mind tells me is safe to do.  One of my shamanic teachers says that the best defense for the heart is to keep it open. Fear cannot exist in the presence of love.  Simple as that.

Now back to the Abbey for some history…

The Abbey is built in a standard cross pattern that is typical of the way churches were constructed in the Middle Ages.  I realized that the altar is in the east, which is fittingly the place of Spirit on the Medicine Wheel we work with through the Institute of Shamanic Medicine.  I’d studied Art History and knew this “fact” but didn’t make the connection until I was sitting in the choir stalls looking at the altar today.

The Abbey was originally built in medieval times but was left to ruin and reconstructed in the early 1900s.  So although the foundations, floors, and some of the walls are original, most of it has been rebuilt.  Modern stonemasons and carvers have done an exquisite job of reconstruction and I was taken by the relief sculptures on the columns in the courtyard.  There were several of humans in a state of ecstasy after being blessed by the Holy Spirit (my favourites).  There were others of birds and I even found raptors represented, which I was thrilled about.  Other reliefs were of local plants like thistle.  In the picture below, you can see the difference between the original sculptures and the ones that have been restored.  The neat thing is that if you look at the picture below, ferns are growing inside the church from the walls and windows.  They must receive moisture from the walls because they are not planted or watered by people.  The tenacity of life on the planet is pretty awe-inspiring.  Who would think that fern seeds could make their way inside through stone to grow and thrive?  If that isn’t a metaphor for living, I don’t know what is.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stewart
    Jul 07, 2010 @ 11:33:49

    Good singing – a very well known song.
    Other “Scottish” songs can be heard/seen on utube sung by The Corries.
    One of my favourites is “The Flower of Scotland” :
    The Scottish rugby team sings it as their “national anthem” before each international game.
    A beautiful love song “Will ye go Lassie go” :

    notice how the live audience also knows all the words.


  2. Stewart
    Jul 07, 2010 @ 22:20:12

    Hi Jen, Lovely singing – great son, very well known in Scotland – good rhythm for hiking the mountains.
    Other well known songs : “Flower of Scotland” (Scotland’s unofficial National anthem) sung by the Scottish rugby team before they play an International.
    Also “Will ye Go Lassie Go” or sometimes called “Wild Mountain Thyme” a beautiful ballad / love song — and of course the “Mingulay Boat Song” if the ‘locals’ don’t know these then look up the “Corries” on utube – failing that I’ll sing them for you next time I see you (after a whisky or two).


  3. Carla Cove
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 23:30:22

    Love, love, love Marie’s Wedding! Aidan is learning this on the fiddle now. May hook him up with a teacher in the maritimes while we’re there. Hopefully, we’ll hear it live on PEI in a couple weeks.


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