Feed My Sheep and Iona of My Heart

Testimony by Jeanne Powell and Dave Powell

Scripture: Psalm 19:1-14 and John 9:1-11

July 28, 2019

 

Good Morning!!

Dave and I are grateful for this opportunity to share with you some of our spiritual journey.     We have come to know so few of you in our short time at Eagle Harbor church; it’s been about 9 months now.

We hope that if we tell you something of our journey, we will get to know each other a little better.

What a great question, where in the world is God?  And where have I found God?

When I think about it, I have been looking for God for a very long time.

I remember when I became Children’s Co-ordinator for our neighborhood church back in the late 1980’s.

I was given a set of keys to the church building.  I felt like I had been given the keys to the Kingdom, to God’s house.  And I was sure I would find him home!

I worked hard and loved being useful but I did not feel closer to God.

Dave and I joined a small group Bible Study.  I wanted to learn as much as I could about God.  Small groups, we were told, would help us feel connected, to other seekers and to God.

Ten to twelve of us met together every week for 15 years.

I came to know about God but didn’t “know” God.

I found myself looking for God in the mountains and river valleys of this beautiful part of God’s creation we call the Northwest.  Over the next 20 years we hiked and paddled, cycled and skied our way through the remainder of my career as a Kindergarten teacher.  Those times fed my soul, as did my work with children.

But still I felt I was missing something.

I remember once commenting to my elder daughter that I prayed to God, about some issue which I can’t remember now.  She asked me “Oh, and what did God say?”

I was taken aback by her question.  Somehow, I had never expected to hear from God.

I would just send out my requests, share my troubles and God would listen.

But never actually respond.

So I started listening more and talking less in my prayer time.  Much to my surprise, I once felt this overwhelming sense of being loved.  There was great peace in that feeling, a sense of being enfolded in God’s love.  I was so grateful for that time and though it was years ago, I treasure it to this day.

On another occasion, as I sat with God, wondering what I should be doing with my “one wild and precious life” (to quote Mary Oliver), the words “Feed My Sheep” floated into my consciousness, out of the silence.  Honestly, I did not know what to make of what I heard.  How was I supposed to feed God’s sheep?  And which ones?

At some point, Dave and I moved to a church that seemed to be more service oriented.  People were involved in providing weekly dinners for low income folks in the neighborhood.

The church helped with Nicklesville and we started a community garden behind the church, growing extra food for the food bank.  Soon we were consulting with the City of Shoreline about starting a community garden in a park across the street from the church.

Later the City wanted to start another garden near my house in a now unused school playground.  I was able to share in that process.  HopeLink food bank was given two of the plots and so I gathered a team of gardeners.  Together we grew and donated 500 to 800 pounds of produce a year for low income Hopelink clients.

God had given me work to do and had opened doors so I could do it.  We were a team!

On a vacation to visit our youngest daughter studying in Ireland for the summer of 2008, we traveled to the Island of Iona, off the West coast of Scotland; part of the Inner Hebrides.

It was a difficult place to get to but Dave was determined to go.  Three ferries, a train ride and a long bus ride later, we arrived.  We seemed to be at the edge of the world.  Surrounded by ocean turning turquoise on white sand beaches, the wind blowing the clouds across an enormous sky, barren mountains and hills of purple and pink rock; it was pure magic.

No advertisements, just a few cars belonging to a small population of year round residents, a few little stores and hotels nestled into the small bay.  A few stone houses clinging to the one narrow road on the island.  Visible from the island of Mull across the water, the enormous Abbey church, dating from the early 1200’s, dominated the skyline of Iona.

We met visitors to the island, seekers like ourselves and became instant friends.

We felt welcomed in this ancient place, where people of faith had come for well over a thousand years to find God.  In the Abbey church, we felt at peace.

We were somehow part of the long line of saints who had gone before us and would come after.

We returned 6 more times to Iona in future years, to drink from that well of communion with God and other seekers; to rest in the beauty of that garden isle.  We returned to Iona with others and were touched by their pilgrimage stories and the stories of pilgrims we met on Iona.  I saw God revealed in their lives.  Like the blind men, I knew God in part.

On Iona, I felt I had experienced God’s presence.

Like the blind men, I felt I came to know God more fully when I put all those stories together. Like the blind men, I learned that I could know Truth when I could see it from many different perspectives.  In community, among the communion of saints, I could draw closer to God; I could borrow from this “Faith Lending Library” and perhaps have some small part to share myself.  And I saw that together, we could move mountains in our work for justice.

I remembered John 9:7b  “So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.”

I came to know in my heart of hearts, what David Adam said so well, in his book, The Road of Life:

“Everything that is, is holy.  Once this is discovered, the whole world is filled with glory.

But most of us need to find one holy place before all can be seen as holy.  We need to find one special place of the Presence, of rest and peace, before we can share this with others and discover that the Presence is with us always.  Nothing is outside of God and nothing is without God.  To discover this is a great homecoming.  When we are aware of this, we cease to be strangers and pilgrims, for we have arrived and belong.”

Iona was this special place of the Presence for me.  Where is yours?

–Jeanne Powel

 

In 2008 when we made our first short 3 day trip to Iona –

We had recently left our church of 20+ years

I was in a place of transition……waiting……… not knowing.

I was in a place of longing  -–  to experience God  —  to continue learning  —

to find a church home consistent with my sense of the spiritual.

 

After this first trip to Iona  — we were so taken with it  — strong desire to return.

Learned about staying in the abbey —  week long program

Jeanne found out about multi-day long walks through the countryside.

We made plans to make a pilgrimage trip to Scotland — and Iona — in 2010

 

Recently heard a Boundary described – as a place of receptivity.

At the edge of knowledge you are open to new things.

 

To me, this speaks of Iona – a boundary place, both literally and metaphorically –

very remote – seemingly at the edge of the world –

 

People call Iona a thin place –   there are various definitions of thin place

but for me it means……..a place where we can sense the divine more readily.

 

The Iona abbey – built in early 1200s  —

fell into decline and ruin during the reformation

remained that way until it was rebuilt in 1930s

 

Abbey our home for a week — living in community with 40 other pilgrims  –

we were together constantly — eating, working, discussions, worship, activities

 

first day disoriented  –  people from all over the world – we did not know anyone —

Had to learn the basics  –  daily schedule, help with meals, housekeeping duties —

terminology (refectory, sacristy, chapter house)

 

Amazing how soon we got over that –

made new friends quickly – got into the rhythm of the days

 

As Jeanne said  —    Iona –place of great beauty  —

turquoise water –  grassy meadows – wildflowers – hidden bogs

incredible rock formations  —  ancient stones are some of the oldest on the planet….

Lewisian gneiss with lovely bands of color – 2.8 billion years old

Iona marble  — white with green embedded – 2.3 billion years old

 

very quiet, peaceful place  — the sounds are of nature…….

the wind  –  waves  –  birds  –

 

you definitely feel the presence of the spirit of God

 

Haven’t discussed with many people, what I am going to talk about now

but hope there are folks here who will relate to this – find it meaningful

 

abbey sanctuary – 2 services daily  –  9 am and 9 pm

in the sanctuary – think of a medieval cathedral

high walls and floors all stone – random placement like flagstones

 

First night  –  Saturday  –  welcoming service  —  Psalm being read

I received a vision in the south wall  –

the rocks seemed to take form of a sheep w/ faces of 2 lambs imprinted on its side –

had a feeling I  would be cared for during that week

 

Next morning  –  Sunday morning service  –  sermon about troubled youth….

abused as a child,  then later an abuser of himself and others.

Received another vision in a different part of the south wall  —

prostrate person with weight of rocks on his head and

a wild beast nipping at his feet

gave me a visceral feeling about what was being said by the preacher

 

Went on at virtually every service for entire week –  both morning and evening

I felt God was sending me visions to illuminate his word

I discussed this with one of our leaders – an elderly poet with a long history at Iona

she merely said —  “Iona is a thin place”  — and gave me a wry smile

 

Thursday — last evening service

on north wall of crossing

saw face of bearded, rough hewn man looking to left

suggestion of wings at his back

I felt it was a saint of Iona watching over us

 

Next morning leaving service

on north wall   —    saw face of man in profile  —  I took to be another saint of Iona

strong feeling the saints of Iona would be with me after leaving Iona

and would care for me

Now I am logical person  –  well developed right brain  –

four college degrees in math & law  —   teacher’s and principal’s credentials

way too much education!  (smile)

But I know these experiences were real, not figments of my imagination

 

But no time to process it then –

that same day we left Iona, traveled all day by ferry/train/bus

to Melrose — small, rural town S of Edinburgh

 

to begin pilgrimage walk  –  long walk, 65 miles over 6 days

from Melrose  –  starting at an old abbey in ruins

east to Lindesfarne (aka Holy Island) on E coast of England

site of another abbey in ruins

these are places of Christian presence since the 600s

walk called St Cuthbert’s Way, after Cuthbert –

monk at Melrose, later abbot at Lindesfarne in late 600s

 

Jeanne and I walked alone  –

most of it quite remote  –

several days we saw no one from morning departure to afternoon arrival

 

As on Iona – this was a very special time for me

the beauty – rolling hills – moors – streams – farm fields – small villages

the variety of birds

the still quiet

 

to prepare for our walk – read from Book  —  Celtic Daily Prayer

found a meditation by Cuthbert  —

in 6 parts  —  perfect for our 6 day walk  —

we decided to read one passage daily at a rest stop

 

2nd day of walk –  lunch in grove of beech trees  –  recall listening to screeching of eagle

thinking about  recent instance of pastoral emotional abuse   –  close relative

my angry, ego driven self wanted to do something to that pastor

get him disciplined  — or fired

voice  — simply said —  “Let it go”  —

I said OK and was at peace

 

Celtic Daily Prayer

One portion of that morning’s reading

God’s will would I do,

My own will bridle;

How fitting!

 

Another similar experience two days later

walked carefully past group of feral goats

then stopped at stream to rest

thinking about another question of import to me

again heard a voice giving me guidance

 

We completed our long walk by emulating the monks of old –

walking a full half mile through the mud at low tide

from the mainland to the Holy Island of Lindesfarne

 

Although we didn’t feel we had truly finished until….

we stopped at a pub and had two bottles of ice cold hard cider

 

I have thought a lot about thin places.  To me this quote from Mark Roberts is apt.

 

If you want to use the thin place metaphor,

then perhaps you should say that the purpose of thin places

is to help us realize that all places can be thin.

Or, better yet, perhaps the purpose of a thin place

is to train us to make the other places in our lives thinner.

Moreover, when we realize that the Spirit of God dwells within us,

we will come to believe that we are called to be thin places,

as God makes his presence known through us.

 

What effect did this pilgrimage have on me?

 

Indirectly led me to Congregational Church with in a few months

been a transformative experience for me

 

more at peace about spiritual Qs

sense of God has become more clear, and stronger  –  {{saints still there 🙂 }}

 

5 more trips to Iona    —     led a group in 2016

have given talks on Iona

led a retreat on Celtic spirituality last year

 

Where did I find God on this pilgrimage?

I will share a poem I wrote in 2015 after our 5th trip to Iona

 

IONA OF MY HEART

 

When I enter Iona

I leave my known landscape,

and slip into another world.

 

White sand and turquoise water.

The stones at Columba’s Beach,

a vivid array of colors.

Bursts of tiny purple blooms, toadflax,

nestled in the nunnery walls.

Soft evening light bathing

the pink granite over on Mull.

 

There are small voices

in the enduring quiet.

Hidden corncrakes rasping.

The incessant caw of the rooks.

The plaintive call of the cuckoo

across a moor.

The abiding wind.

 

Public footpaths across

pastures and moorlands,

the infrequent fences breached

by styles, and kissing gates.

 

A sense of the ancients enfolds me.

One ruined abbey rebuilt,

the other, a nunnery, only a timeworn shadow.

Lachlan the warrior chieftain

enshrined in a grave slab.

The burial ground of kings,

their bodies carried

along the Street of the Dead.

Columba walked these paths,

launching fifteen hundred years

of Christian presence.

 

The cool stillness of the abbey sanctuary.

Liturgy both comforting and challenging.

Stories told by the stones.

The palpable presence of the saints

watching over me.

 

Instant community for a week.

Quiet conversations.

Perhaps an answer to a troubling question.

 

Iona projects itself into me,

like sunlight coming through a window.

I know the paths and the rocks,

and they know me.

As do the ancients.

 

In all these ways I have found God.

I am awash in peace.

 

–Dave Powell

© 2015

 

Subscribe

Subscribe to our e-mail newsletter to receive updates.

Comments are closed.