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 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. John’s 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 Colm’, which is 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.
16 responses to “Columba and my calling.”
Malcolm, thank you for that story and the wonderful poem that you wrote. I believe that Columba called your name as God calls each of us, each day, to tell us that we are loved and Creation is good.
Beautiful story, Malcolm. Love the surprises of God.
Thanks for sharing.
What a calling Malcolm.Deep calls to deep.I am touched by your story
Oh, so beautiful and powerful. All day long I have been imagining daring answers to that prayer, ‘Thy kingdom come’ and this is surely such an answer.
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That’s lovely and wonderful and powerful, all at the same time. I can hear the wonder in your words as you things came together in your heart. Isn’t that a special thing? I love it! I once thought I could be Buddhist (although I’ve always been Christian), but God informed me I was too much of a Christian. I’m glad I listened 🙂
Wonderful, Malcolm. I can tell that this transformative experience still thrills you.
Beautiful story and beautiful sonnet. Thank you for sharing. (Interesting that I happened upon this… I believe that my last name shares a Latin root with St. Columba as well, although in a different language!)
How beautiful. I agree with Melanie above – Deep calls to deep. And how can you ever forget this God-arranged encounter. For me, it brought back simple memories. When I was a child living in Brisbane, Queensland, I used – through the year – to spend a week or two with my grandmothers and, while there, attend the local parish school. My father’s mother lived in a suburb called Wilston, where the local parish was that of Saint Columba. Over my childhood, I became familiar with the church and school there. Years later, in my adult working life, I lived in Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory – right in the centre of Australia. There we had a young parish priest who came from Donegal, Jimmy O’Gara. Jimmy had wonderful vestments. He had been in Western Australia and met a woman who was talented at needlework. Jimmy paid her to make him a set of vestments which were based around the trail of Saint Colmcille and the Standing Stones. The vestments were/are quite remarkable and I said to Jimmy that he should ensure that they were left to a museum or art gallery. According to the Darwin Diocese website, Jimmy is now at Nhulunbuy / Alyangula, still in the Northern Territory.
Dear Malcolm, I read your sonnets regularly and am writing a review of Sounding the Seasons for our diocesan newsletter. I have made a pilgrimage to Ireland and love the land and the liminal of her shores. But this email today reminds me that as a10 year old I first heard God calling in a convent in St. Columb Major in Cornwall…so your sonnet today speaks particularly to me. Thank you for your sharing and your depth. Owene Owene W. Courtney 2687 Holly Point Road East Orange Park, FL 32073 904.553.7338
Thanks for sharing this
That’s a great story Malcolm. Isn’t it good to discover meaning in your name? It matters what people call us in our lives. I didn’t know that Was the meaning of Malcolm, nor had I realised the connection between Colm and Columba. Thank you for this post and for the ways you share your work.
I enjoyed your story too ……isn’t it wonderful when we are permitted a rare bit of extra clarity and a pice of the puzzle just slips into place.
Lovely lines:”And find you out and serve you for a season,
My heaven hidden like your native isle,”😊