“Without a vision, the people perish.” – Proverbs 29:18
New Year's Eve walk along the beach
In just a few minutes my taxi will arrive to take me to the airport. I am headed to Geneva this day to meet a group of European Franciscans whom I will accompany to the Scottish isle of Iona this weekend.
Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
Be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;
Thou my best thought in the day and the night,
Both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.
Iona has a long history of being a deeply spiritual place. Inhabited by Celts long before the coming of the Irish monks, evidence of pre-Christian Iron Age religious practice are to be found all over the island. With the coming of St. Columba, a Benedictine monk from Ireland, in the 6th CE, Iona became a very generative place for Celtic Christianity which eventually would missionize the entirety of Britain.
Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word,
Be thou ever with me, and I with thee Lord;
Be thou my great Father, and I thy true son;
Be thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.
It is on Iona that the Indo-European fertility symbols of lingam and yoni were combined to create the beloved Celtic Cross with its symbols of the four directions and universality. And it is on Iona that the Book of Kells would be created, having been spirited off to Ireland in advance of one of the many waves of invading Norsemen who periodically swept in off the North Sea to destroy the monastery on the island.
An interfaith community now inhabits the rebuilt monastery with a long history of musical and liturgical innovation. We will be staying with them.
Iona is a routinely described as a magical place, a place where the veil between the material and spiritual realms is very thin. At these thin places, pilgrims have reported visions of the divine, many of which have changed the lives of those who experienced them.
Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise:
Be thou mine inheritance now and always;
Be thou and thou only the first in my heart;
O Sovereign of Heaven, my treasure thou art.
I awoke yesterday morning with my favorite hymn playing in my head. Be Thou My Vision is set to an old Celtic melody, Slane, a traditional favorite in Ireland. The link here will take you to a beautiful Youtube instrumental rendition of this melody. Treat yourself to the four minutes this video will take to soothe your soul if but for a moment.
My family roots lie deeply embedded in Celtic soil and so it is little wonder this music appeals to me. But my memories of singing this hymn are tied to my time in California. It was the hymn we sang in my multicultural parish in San Jose on the Kirking of the Tartans in which the cloth from every culture represented there was placed on the altar in a riot of color and symbols. It was also the hymn sung at my ordination to the priesthood.
The lyrics of this hymn well describe the stage of life at which I find myself, seeking vision for a new phase of life that I seem unable to avoid. The wheel is turning and the door behind me appears to be closing. No new door ahead has appeared. The way forward is unclear, murky and frightening. I am praying that the thin places of Iona might provide me with some kind of direction.
For those of you who pray, I shamelessly ask your prayers. For those of you who don’t, I shameless ask for you to keep me in your thoughts these next couple of week. I depart for this encounter with the divine with no small amount of trepidation. Pray not only that I find a vision of what I am to do. Pray I find the strength and courage to engage that vision and a peace that has eluded me for these last few years in seeking it.
High King of Heaven, thou Heaven's bright sun,
O grant me its joys after victory is won!;
Great heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be thou my vision, O Ruler of all.
There’s the taxi….
The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., M.Div. Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Professed Member, Third Order Society of St. Francis (TSSF)
Asst. Lecturer: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
Osceola Campus, University of Central Florida, Kissimmee
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
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