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! Click on the title or the ‘play button to hear me read the poem!
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.
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23 responses to “Columba and my calling.”
Thank you, Malcolm! Have you ever been to Iona? I was there in 2013–St. Columba impressed me greatly. Blessings! ~Lynn Lewis
Yes I went there, as I had promised after I became a Christian and have been back several times since
Thank you Malcolm, a beautiful story. Columba and the Isle of Iona are close to my heart too, in fact today I will take part in the Iona Community service of recommitment for associate members (online) and will begin preparing a Columba-themed worship time for our new Cambridge Iona Group on Saturday afternoon. So this story of Columba and your lovely sonnet, on his day, are very welcome.
Thanks Kay. Hope you’re keeping well
Malcolm, thank you so much it was so beautiful to read your epiphany story at Gleann Cholmcille – as it would be in the native language. As a Donegal woman I feel especially touched by your deep encounter and calling, amongst these beautiful people (ok, I am bit biased!). I was born in Letterkenny, about 15 miles from Colmcille’s homeplace of Gartan – a most beautiful spot also and one which is completely seeping in Spirit too and one of special reverence in my own life. Thank you and bless you for responding so deeply and magnanimously to the call.
Thanks Judith I’m so glad this touched you for me Ireland has always been an almost magical place
I am an Orthodox Christian living in Denmark and my mother died last Wednesday at the venerable age of 91 – in the afternoon after gardening all morning – a shock for us but what a merciful way to go – no illness!
I am just in the midst of writing a eulogy and in between as a break…reading my emails. I recently signed on to receive yours! Being Orthodox this one touched me especially today and I would just like to say thank you!
I preferred to email you privately instead of putting it in the public comments – hope you don’t mind!
May the Lord continue to bless and inspire you as you write your sonnets.
With love in the Risen Christ, Marianne
Sent from my iPad
Many thanks. In fact this has appeared as a comment- not sure how to change that
What a wonderful part of your own spiritual odyssey. Thank you for sharing it and the sonnet.
Thank you for sharing your story. Iona is a special place. I remember standing on the high ground one Sunday afternoon, in rain gear, watching squalls move in from the west and being totally at peace. Blessings.
Thanks it’s always good to hear how it has affected other people too
My maiden name was Malcolm & I felt a sense of God from my earliest days though my parents were no church goers. I ended up an ordained ed Anglican, though brought up vaguely Presbyterian in Northern Ireland. After 30 years in ministry in England & Ireland some years ago I met & married a Colm who enjoys teasing me about my first surname’s meaning. Thank you for the storyx & the wonderful poem.
Thanks. A great story and lovely to make that connection
This is so beautiful, Malcolm. Thank you!
This is a lovely story! A happy feast day to you.
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What a wonderful story you tell of yourself and Saint Columba.
Wonderful poem, wonderful story of God’s Grace seeking his wandering children. When I pray for my atheist children I pray that the Holy Spirit will seek them and find them and call them back in such a way.
I hope your prayers are answered
Many thanks for your stimulating poems. With happy memories of Glencolmkille in the ’60s Mgr. Aidan J. Turner
Thanks Aidan. You sent this as a comment so I have removed your visa details! No worries about the coffee just say a prayer for me instead thanks M
Thanks Aidan. I’ve edited out your visa as this is an open comments page! Don’t worry about the coffee just say a prayer for me.