A Trip to Iona — Thursday, June 12, 2003

Thursday, June 12
At 8 a.m. I record a couple things from the night’s tape recording.

— I’m lying here not even thinking I’ve been dreaming. I’m not asleep, yet all this stuff has been going through my mind generally, gradually. Now talking about electricity in automobile plants, for God’s sakes. I don’t know where it comes from.

— Something very appropriate in my lying here in sleep mask and earplugs. It’s like isolating myself from everything around me for this purpose. But I’ve done that my whole life, and there’s not been the results I would hope for, and I’m thinking, maybe I need to go more into the world. Perhaps if I could find a proper venue for it I could write an article about the spiritual nervous breakdown caused by the protestant revolution and the materialist revolution that followed. It would be an unusual mixture of elements because it would take for granted that we are many lives joined, and that these lives contend within us, and that changes in civilization result in parts of ourselves fighting violently or actively or quietly or in whatever manner, against each other, we being the battleground. Stuff the guys have told Rita and me would be much background on it. And I begin to sense that the book on what they have said has more to do with this than with the fact that they said it. I think perhaps the book has lacked a point of application to individuals, and maybe this is it, or part of it.

After breakfast I have scarcely started walking – past the nunnery, the road to the left past the library that I had missed til last night – and I find what I have been looking for: a comfortable bench to sit on; a view of town and sea and Mull ahead of me; sunlight so bright as to require sunglasses for the first time.

But then I find a gate that leads inward toward the hills. Right outside town, it is. A local woman says it is all right to go through as long as I tie the gate firmly behind me. So after a while I am perched looking westward at one more set of hills that overlook the Atlantic. But between me and them is not only a valley but a fence, and if I hadn’t stepped through a very wet patch and paused up here, probably I’d have gone down and found the fence only when much closer to it. A good excuse to stop here anyway, to try to dry my socks in the incessant wind, to sit as I did yesterday with my bare feet in the heather or whatever it is. Another lovely day. I left Dun I when I did yesterday mainly because I saw clouds coming in and didn’t want to be caught out in the open with hills to climb and descend in the rain. I suppose I exaggerated the danger – it’s a small island, after all – but how much space does it take to break your leg or arm – or your neck, come to that. It’s hard, in unfamiliar surroundings, to estimate risk.

For the third day, I have found a spot with no one in sight or sound of me. Just grass, or whatever it is, and rock, and sky — and sheep droppings. Paradise?

I invite David to talk into my tape recorder. Nothing. Then a few minutes later I feel him come through:

“If by transformation you think that you mean walking to a place, becoming instantly transformed, and walking way a different man, your ideas are more romantic than realistic. It is as your friend Richard said, you go to a holy spot not to go one person and then become another, but to be infected, and by being infected be able to then infect others.

“You know in a different part of your mind that this is what you’ve been doing at Iona; at Machu Picchu [in 1999]; at Avebury; Salisbury [both in 2001]; at Monticello [various times], for that; at Skye [in 1970], long before you knew what you were doing – nor did you have any part in the planning of it; at Sligo; at Yeats’ lake; at Yeats’ tower; in the Ox mountains; Galway Bay; Connemara particularly [all in 1976];

“If you will remember, every time you went to any tourist place, you attempted to feel your way into that time, and came away always discouraged because you did not feel that you could do it. You wished away the asphalt and the cars, the airplanes, the buildings, all of 20th century America – even your fellow people; even to a degree yourself. All of which of course is impossible and undesirable.

“But while your conscious mind was attempting to pretend, shall we say, that it was back in another time, another level of yourself was using the physical locality as a means of re-connecting with another person. Most particularly the time [in 1971] in Wyoming when you were there with your friend and your wife and your sister-in-law and you went prowling around the perimeter of a bygone fort, feeling stirred but not knowing why, wanting to connect and not knowing how, and this I should think would be obvious. [I take this to mean Jos. Smallwood, a 19th century American life I have interacted with.]

“So on one level you are accomplishing exactly what it is you want to do, because on this island you will find when you check with your friend [Richard], that there is a pattern to be discerned. First you went south, then north, now you’re in the hills in the center. As you pin down precisely where you’ve been – particularly the two hills – you will find a grounding at each place, a grounding in a certain order.

“Now, you will also notice that your unaccustomed silence – your uncomfortable and perplexing silence at breakfast times – is connected with the reconnection with other places and other times. This is not to go into “why,” but it will uncover itself. Your inability to communicate in an easy, human way with your fellow pilgrims, your inability to overcome the “ministership” of one of your pilgrims particularly, will reveal itself as intimately connected with the process that is going on here.

“Particularly since you noticed that your casual [the rest of the sentence lost to wind noise blowing past the microphone]. You seem strange to them. It’s not the kind of strange that repels, it’s the kind that somewhat fascinates, at least interests. Anyone looking at you can see that you’re not (I hesitated to say) entirely here. But after all, you just opened your eyes in the midst of this and found yourself on this rocky crag somewhat to your surprise, as has happened repeatedly. When you first closed your eyes and meditated today, and opened your eyes again, where you are, where you have been, where you’ve not left, seemed somewhat strange to you. Or, it doesn’t seem strange, so much as [wind noise]. It appears [wind noise].

“You needn’t fret yourself so much about getting something done, or accomplishing something by a given moment. Living and enjoying the moment is [again, wind noise drowns out the word].”

Then I go clambering around, and after a while I come down near the Iona Community gift shop. I do a little more shopping, and give a copy of my novel Messenger to the woman I’d offered energy to on Tuesday, who I will call Susan. (I had brought it for Robert but somehow hadn’t gotten it to him.) She invites me to supper at the Mac (that is, the MacLeod) Center at six. This I take to be something happening at last. The 2 p.m. boat around the island again doesn’t go out (conditions too rough) so I decide to sit and quietly read.

At six I go up to the Mac and find a large building that very much looks like communal living. Warm enough, inviting enough, but way too big for normal life. Courtesy of Susan’s invitation, I partake in their common meal on the last night of their weekly visitors’ stay. She tells me she is not impressed by the level of spirituality; says it is more like her idea of a church summer camp. There isn’t for her what she had hoped.

After the meal, she and I find a quiet place to talk. I am quite open with her. I tell her I would like to build a bridge between what I call the metaphysical types and the Christians. She says to me – meaning to help – that all my searching is because I am angry with God and haven’t accepted God. This doesn’t ring true to me. (Later I think maybe it was projection: She does not seem to be a joyful person.) She says I need to give up my will and be willing to do whatever God wants. I tell her, I did that years ago. Finally she asks me to answer one question: Have I accepted Jesus as my personal savior.

This question is asked with all good intent. She likes me, she really would like to help me, she really thinks she is giving me the word. The effect is the opposite of what she would have wished, but, oddly enough, it is just what I need. For I realize, as she asks me this question, that there is no responding to it, because the only honest response would to be ask her what the question means. To her it’s perfectly obvious, and she will take any questioning as an evasion or an attempt to play word games.

Quite suddenly I realize, it’s useless to ask what she means, and useless to attempt any bridging across that gulf. With Christians, even discontented, spiritually awake Christians, it always comes down to the same point: Accept Jesus as your personal savior and all else is resolved. For Christians know; they have the key; they cannot learn from you or even from your questions, because they know. Nothing you know of feel or have experiences is of any use to them at all. So, beyond a certain point, there is no dialogue with them; it is like arguing with a communist.

Her well-meant charge to me has the unexpected effect of suddenly freeing me to be who I am. I will waste no more time trying to build bridges. I will say what I know and the devil take the results. If Christians want to claim the Bible and God and Christ and goodness and holiness and charity, etc., let them claim all they want. But I will calmly take what is mine, whether they pretend to ownership or not.

If there is no bridging over to the churches, there isn’t. So let us take what we need and lump the rest. The medieval contemplatives and others who strove for what I would call higher consciousness may serve to be our guides. The disputation over facts of existence etc. we can leave to others. Let us leave the Christians alone and be only our truest selves, and if we are good our goodness will shine forth, and we will attract others of like goodness. If we are not good – if we fall into anger, pride, envy, gluttony, sloth, covetousness, lust – we will draw to us what we are. By our fruits let us be known.

Furthermore, and henceforth, let us boldly appropriate whatever in Christianity is good, as in any other religion or way of belief – taking it as our birthright, regardless of apologies or exegesis.

I do believe I may have just gotten what I came to Iona to get. Ironic, isn’t it?

My goodness, I’m energized, and liberated! Enough trying to bridge incompatibles! I’m free! We’ll see what it comes to.

So, I read Merton discussing his reading, and think, `what is he talking about?’ (Susan didn’t use the term “the wrath of God,” but she did say that God is angry and getting angrier. She didn’t seem to know that anger is one of the seven deadly sins. Perhaps this is Catholic theology.) So much of Merton’s world depends on God versus the devil, with all these medieval arguments I have no patience with. It is obviously true that I don’t have the background to understand it all – but we don’t need background today, we need the water of life and health, and we are not being given it. Scholarship can go too far, and destroy what it examines.

It will be telling, whether this mood lasts til morning, and, if it does, if it lasts til July. It would be nice to be really on my feet. What a relief, to look forward to saying just what I think, to one and all, right or not, provisional or not, informed or not. Surely this must have been a great block in my writing? And it stemmed from talking to Susan, which stemmed from her inviting me to supper, which stemmed from my giving her the book, which stemmed, originally, from my trying to give her some energy because she was tired. All but the first cause took place today, right after I came down from the mountains. I wonder if they are connected to the fifth chakra, or perhaps the third. Richard will know. But it feels like some blockage, either in will or in communication, has been blown out.

Looking at Richard’s list of seven chakra points on the island, here’s what I have done.
Tuesday, 2nd
Wednesday, 5th and 6th
Thursday, 4th. (If I have located it right, I was right there.)

I decide to try to do two long walks tomorrow, to the north and to the south, to try to touch all the points. I pack, so that I’ll feel I have plenty of time during the day tomorrow, leaving out only what I will use on Friday and travel in on Saturday.

I continue reading Merton, still amazed at the time and effort he expended on what seem to me inessential questions – nearly nonexistent, because not really real – that seemed real enough to him and to those whose books he is reading. But then, he was an intellectual and I am not.

One thought on “A Trip to Iona — Thursday, June 12, 2003

  1. I’m astonished at how parallel your recent writings are with much of what I’ve been feeling lately; particularly the interaction with Christians. I keep wondering, off and on, if they really do know something I don’t. Then I investigate again, just a little bit, and am driven off by their rightness. How can they be so sure? It must be a different resonance, one that I just can’t squeeze myself into. Yet I keep seeking that surety for myself, step by miniscule step, and reading your ventures helps me with mine.


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