It is a Jewel

As the popularity of the island monastery increased, Columba (feast day 9th June) found he needed to escape from Iona to find the peace of God elsewhere.

Adamnan in his Life of Columba tells how on one of his fishing trips Columba discovered an island which gave every impression of being a barren rocky waste, but once the cliffs had been scaled there was revealed an interior of lush beauty and serenity. ‘It is a jewel’, Columba thought, an answer to his prayer for a place of withdrawal and solitude. He soon discovered that there was a dwelling place, simple but with strength to withstand the Hebridean storms. He was not, then, the first to visit or live on this island. Neither was he the first to have prayed here, for there, some little distance from the house, was a simple chapel.

The story tells of one window for light, a door for entrance, and a stone ledge to act as altar for offering. As he speculated who may have built this church and lived on this island, his mind turned to the fact that, over and above all else, it was Christ, who in that church, had been here before him, and Columba resolved that Christ would fill it again.

That little stone chapel on a deserted island off the west coast of Scotland is a picture both of the Church and of the Christian. The window for light represents the soul’s desire for the illumination of God. Most of our Pentecost hymns include the prayer that God’s Spirit should come; surely not so much a prayer to persuade God to act, but more to place ourselves in the right disposition in which to receive. We need a window into our souls, if the light of God’s inspiration is to flood in; the light still shines whether the curtains are open or closed!

A door for entrance is a picture of the Sacrament of Baptism, where once again the gift of the Holy Spirit is active and effective in the individual’s life. We recall the truth that at some stage of our lives we were carried into membership of the Body of Christ, his Church, through the open door of baptismal grace.

And now inside, we place ourselves in the light of God’s Spirit filling that holy place. And a stone ledge to act as altar for offering is the sacrament of the Eucharist. Here, through the action of the Spirit, the whole temple is blessed with the presence of her Lord. As we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi we are reminded that the Church is formed by the presence of Christ as she enters into his sacrifice. Not only should each Church have altars that are used regularly, but each heart should contain a place to act as an altar for sacrifice, if Christ is to dwell there.

‘It is a jewel’ – ours to rediscover and to use – for Christ already fills the Temple of our heart.

Christopher Collins, the author of this meditation, is Vicar of St. Aidan’s, Sunderland, in the diocese of Durham.