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. This poem is now collected in my book The Singing Bowl from Canterbury Press which you can get on amazon, or better still, order from your local bookshop! If you are in Canada you can get it direct from the excellent Steve Bell’s online store Here


 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


Filed under christianity, imagination

11 responses to “Columba and my calling.

  1. You never fail to inspire the spiritual longing in me, Malcolm.

  2. I’m touched by that moment in your journey, Malcolm. he brings us sometimes by some very patient, gentle, inexorable ways.

  3. Ronni Lamont

    Thank you so much for this story and sonnet Malcolm. It is deeply moving.


  4. Sheila Brockmeier

    What an awesome story! I love your poetry, but this incident and the poem gave me chills! Bless you for responding to God’s call and sharing your many gifts! Grace and peace, Sheila

    Sheila Brockmeier


  5. Thank you, brother. Our son, Calum, is also named after Columba, or “messenger of peace.” It is what you have been so many times to so many souls. Peace…

  6. What a blessing, a most special gift, from God by sending you on this journey, and a moment to look back on time and time again. He is good!

  7. Tony Morris

    I found this very moving Malcolm – of course – and it brought back memories of walks in donegal, derry, iona and of course walking with you in Lindisfarne. Thank you as ever. In the bizarre way in which these things work I had just sent you my email of 3 June (re Bleddfa: did you get it?) when someone (from Bleddfa) pointed me to wonderful article in the Church Times about retreats – and there you were smiling out of the paper at me … ! Shall we get a date in the diary for a follow up Red Bull meeting in Cambridge? Once term has ended maybe …? T ______________

    Tony Morris 07985 935320 ______________

  8. Tony Morris

    PS: did you manage to walk all the way round Ireland? It’s a wonderful notion … I’d love to find out your favourite bit of coast … ______________

    Tony Morris 07985 935320 ______________

  9. Alma Brayden

    Hi Malcolm I have just read the delightful memory of your visit to Donegal and how you came to be named Malcolm. I admire your sonnet ‘Columba’. I bought your book ‘The Singing Bowl’ last year and treasure it. I am a poet/painter and live in Ireland. First collection published in 2010. Good wishes Alma

  10. Anne Boileau

    Dear Malcolm
    I go to Iona every spring with Roselle Angwin and a group of writers. Your story about how St Columba found you is very moving and convincing. We always walk in silence to his Bay and find green stones in the shingle – said to be his tears. The veil is indeed thin on Iona as well as in certain parts of Ireland. Thank you.

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