Columba and my calling.

A fierce dove racing in a fiercer gale

A fierce dove racing in a fiercer gale

June the 9th is Saint Columba’s day, a saint who has a special place for me, as somehow, he feels bound up in my own journey to Faith. When I was 19, and moving from a formerly thorough atheism, towards a greater spiritual openness, but by no means yet a Christian, I went for a long slow walk round Ireland. I went without a map because the Zen practice in which I was interested at the time, and on which I still draw in prayer, was always emphasizing ‘The map is not the reality”! You must utterly and absolutely be in the place you’re in, and let that place be what it is and teach what it has to teach without any overlay from your maps and preconceptions. So I took that literally and walked round Ireland without  a map, just keeping the sea on my left! One evening, St. John’s Eve it was, right at the end of my journey, I came round a headland at sunset into a beautiful little bay and inlet on the west coast in Donegal, just as the fires were being lit around the headlands for St. Johns Eve, and there was drinking and fiddle playing and dancing round the fires that evening. And I asked where I was, and they said Glencolmcille, and I felt a sudden quickening and sense of connection, as though a memory stirred. And they asked me my name and I said ‘Malcolm’, and they said, ‘Ah that is why you have come, because he has called you’, and I said ‘who?’ and they said ‘Colm has called you, Malcolm, for this is the place he fought his battle and gathered his disciples and from here he left for the white martyrdom and Scotland. And they told me the story of St. Columba, and the battle he had fought, of his repentance, his self-imposed exile, his journey with twelve disciples from this glen to Scotland where he founded the abbey of Iona from whence Scotland and much of the north of England was converted. ‘Of course he is calling you here’, they said, ‘for your name, in Gaelic means servant of Columba. And as they spoke I remembered at last, right back into my childhood, how I had been told stories about this saint, and how I was named for him, and how my grandmother had published poems about him and sung her lullaby for the infant Columba over me as a child. I wandered down to the shore whence he had set sail and felt how thin the veil was, how something of heaven, whatever heaven might be, seemed to glimmer through the sky and the sea itself in this place. And I thought: ‘I’m not a Christian, and I don’t see how I could ever become one, but if I do ever become one, I’ll remember Columba and I’ll go to Iona and thank him’. Which I did, and I did. Now here’s my sonnet for the saint:

Columba

 You called me and I came to Colmcille

To learn at last the meaning of my name

Though you yourself were called, and not the caller,

He called through you and when He called I came,

Came to the edge at last, in Donegal,

Where bonfires burned and music lit the flame

As from the shore I glimpsed that ragged sail

The Spirit filled to drive you from your  home,

A fierce dove racing in a fiercer gale,

A swift wing flashing between sea and sky.

And with that glimpse I knew that I  would fly

And find you out and serve you for a season,

My heaven hidden like your native isle,

Though somehow glimmering on each horizon.

Glencolmcille, scene of a small epiphany

Glencolmcille, scene of a small epiphany

9 Comments

Filed under christianity, imagination

9 responses to “Columba and my calling.

  1. Janine

    Saints be praised…thanks be to God!
    God Bless you!

  2. Eileen

    Simply beautiful — I needed that lovely story today.

  3. Malcolm, I feel breathless from both the beauty and the power in your story.
    The poem is a perfect complement to it. Everything you write is a blessing to me.

  4. Thank you for the stirringly beautiful witness, Malcolm. I’m so glad you heard, and went, and heard, and went, and heard, and came, and went, and came again. In His Name. Ruan

  5. Sally Phalan

    That’s a deep story of the Spirit, Malcolm, thank you for sharing it. I didn’t realise you had this close Irish connection – makes me feel even closer to you in spirit!

    I feel a special connection with Columba myself. When I was a child, my mother, who didn’t by any means have an easy faith, and didn’t go in for traditional Catholic practices, used to take me and my little brother to St Columba’s Well, up in the Dublin Mountains, to pray for his healing. My brother had/has Autism. I remember the tokens of previous healings left around the well, notes and even abandoned crutches. I looked deep into the clear water and sometimes had a fantasy of pushing my brother in order to see him emerge transformed by the magical waters. While nothing apparent happened, who knows what graces flowed to us unseen through my mother’s prayers – certainly our times at the well left a lasting impression on me.

    In more recent years I rediscovered this well as Tim and I go to Sunday Mass in an Augustinian house nearby it. The Augustinians take care of the well and this was done for many years by an elderly brother called Columba whose memorial is now close by the well. There is information about the well in the house and I was touched to learn that my mother’s name was the same as Columba’s – Eithne.

    Every June 9th there is a big ecumenical prayer gathering followed by traditional song and dance, one of the few such well celebrations left in Ireland. If I am there this Sunday, I will say a little prayer for you, Malcolm. Sally

    • malcolmguite

      Thank you for telling me that story Sally and yes I would be very grateful for the prayer. I went back to Donegal last summer and stood in the same spot with my family around me. That was a powerful thing too

  6. Malcolm – thank you for sharing your story – your poems and writing are inspirational.

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  8. Pingback: Good posts from the Christian Blogosphere, Late August 2013 (Vol. 4) - Dreaming Beneath the Spires

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