Poet Cathy Smith Bowers speaks of abiding images — moments of intensity that inspire her poetry. On September 10, 2016, 17 women ages 48 to 87 crossed the final threshold on their spiritual pilgrimage as they walked from the small ferry that transported them from Fionnphort on the Isle of Mull to the Isle of Iona. Iona is not an easy place to get to; it required a van trip from Glasgow to Oban, a ferry from Oban to Craignure, another long drive across Mull to Fionnphort, and then a short ferry ride to Iona. Perhaps the long journey to our destination was a metaphor for our spiritual journeys; you have to be intentional about making the trip, expect the unpredictable, and be open to new experiences.
Each woman in our group had a different intention for the journey. Some were dealing with the loss of a loved one; others wanted to soak in the mystery of this sacred isle, sacred because of its pagan, Druid, and Celtic Christian spiritual activity. Some were hoping to feel the divine feminine said to inhabit the island. Each of us was open to whatever we might experience, and each left with abiding images as we gradually re-entered the other world.
Some of my abiding images occurred our first full day on Iona when I hiked with two women 15 years younger than I. We had walked to a rock-strewn beach on the southwest coast of Iona and, from there, we saw one of Iona’s natural phenomenons — Spouting Cave — which produces a fountain of spray bursts above a cliff. We decided to climb to the cliff’s top. There was no path so we had to make our own. I followed their lead, pulling myself up rocks, carefully finding the best footing, hoping my knee replacement would not fail me, and at times crawling. Something in me loved this challenge, and when I finally reached the top, I felt freer and more alive than I have in years! As I looked at my two friends, a rainbow appeared behind them each time the waves crashed in and water sprayed up.
As the week unfurled, we became more deeply immersed in the ancientness and energy of Iona through morning and evening meditations as well as programs on self compassion, St. Bridget, peace, and I-Thou relationships. Yoga dance enabled us to move our bodies in new ways with laughter and abandonment. These moments provided many opportunities for abiding images as did services in the Abbey, group walks to different beaches and landmarks, tea in the hotel’s garden, or silent moments of deep reflection.
All of us have abiding images of the rocks of Iona. These rocks, some billions of years old, are sacred. Their attraction is hard to describe. Soon after I returned home, I was looking through some old notebooks from earlier Chrysalis courses and found a quote from Jung’s Man and His Symbols which helps me put into words our attraction to Iona’s stones.
“The self is symbolized with special frequency in the form of a stone, precious or otherwise….the stone symbolizes what is perhaps the simplest and deepest experience…the experience of something eternal that man can have in those moments when he feels immortal and unalterable.”
Our closing ceremony took place in the ancient St. Oran’s Chapel where the oldest member of our group participated with John Philip Newell in a blessing ceremony in which she dipped her finger in a bowl of frankincense and traced a circle on our foreheads after he blessed each of us. The look on her beautiful, tear-stained face is burned into our collective memories. It was during this ceremony that I realized my quest to experience the divine feminine on Iona was realized; it was alive in each of the 16 remarkable women with me.
We returned from this “thin place” refreshed and renewed. My spiritual journey continues, and I am grateful to Chrysalis for providing the space and programs that have helped me along the way.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
What are your intentions for your spiritual journey?
What thresholds have you crossed on your spiritual journey?
When have you had to make your own path?
Are there “thin places” in your life?
What abiding images do you have that sustain you?
“Perhaps the long journey to our destination was a metaphor for our spiritual journeys; you have to be intentional about making the trip, expect the unpredictable, and be open to new experiences.”
“Each woman in our group had a different intention for the journey.”
“All of us have abiding images of the rocks of Iona.”
“My spiritual journey continues, and I am grateful to Chrysalis for providing the space and programs that have helped me along the way.”
Betty Williams has been a member of Chrysalis since its beginnings when she served on the first advisory board and editor of the newsletter. She has participated in numerous Chrysalis programs including the first Spiritual Paths. She was the Assistant Director of the University of Richmond’s Women’s Resource Center and the owner of BW Custom Résumés. Her latest passion is serving on a Caring Canines Therapy Dog team with her labradoodle Luna.