IONA contains some of the oldest black surface rock on the earth, and some of the worst weather. Huge storms with gale force winds would blow in from the north Atlantic and rage for days. I learned to walk bent over to compensate for the 50 mph gusts. Occasionally the driving sleet, snow and rain would stop and there'd be a brief period of calm and "brightness." We'd run outside to savor the weak horizontal light. Sometimes amidst our "sun dance" there were even wee glimpses of rainbow. But mostly it was absolutely the worst weather I have ever seen.
During one five day storm the ferry from the island of Mull was cancelled for the week, and we had to live off food stocks: endless tea, oatmeal (with salt not sugar), thick stale bread and old yellow pudding. When I grew weary of caffeinated tea and asked for the herbal variety the locals laughed, "The Yank wants Herb tea!" Later in the month when I came down with the inevitable flu and was bedridden, friends somehow found and brought me fresh green salad with a slice of tomato-- a miracle!
TWICE daily we trudged though the darkness and cold and gathered to worship in the abbey. There was no heat and only candlelight (my job was to light the candles, so I better not be late). There was no organ, just the sound of the wind howling outside. I remember singing with that small company, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel, to ransom captive Israel, who mourns in lonely exile here... Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel."
Strangely the severity of weather and life seemed to contribute to the warmth of the Spirit and community. Acknowledging the existential darkness, allowed the Light to truly shine. Why is that?
I believe the Iona Paradox can be stated as follows: the more we acknowledge our hurt and darkness the more we may receive the divine-human light. And the inverse is equally true: the less we acknowledge our hurt and darkness (and project it on to others), the less we are open to the true light of forgiveness, justice and hope. In the very things that we ignore, reject and even despise as dirty and strange, God's incarnate light and presence is shining deep in the flesh.
IN other words, God is in the wound. The prophet was right, "The people who walked in deep darkness have seen a great light; those who have lived in a land of deep darkness-- on them light has shined."