Today, June 9, is the feast day of the sixth century St. Columba of Iona, also known as Colmcille in Ireland, the land of his birth. Born into the clan Neill, some claim that his name originally was “Crimthann,” meaning “fox,” but he comes down to us as “Columba,” which means “dove.” Perhaps this legend is because his life was held in tension between strife and peace, between the necessity for diplomacy as a result of his lineage and station, and his yen for a quiet, monastic life as a contemplative and poet.
In the middle of his life, it is said that Columba became embroiled in violent disputes between his kinsmen and King Diarmait, the high king, concluding with a relative of his being accused of murder and slain by the High King’s men. The responsibility for both deaths weighed heavily upon Columba, it is said, and so he and twelve followers left Ireland in a reed boat covered with leather, and set out for Scotland, eventually making landfall on the tiny island of Iona, off the coast of southwestern Scotland in the Inner Hebrides. There he lived the rest of his days, founding a monastery that served as his home base and a center of learning. He was believed to have been happiest in his simple cell there, near a cross dedicated to St. Martin, himself a soldier who turned to peace. Although Columba made his home on a remote island, he nonetheless remained engaged with the world around him.
Many poems and prayers are attributed to St. Columba, including this one:
Let me bless almighty God,
Whose power extends over sea and land,
Whose angels watch over all.
Let me study sacred books to calm my soul:
I pray for peace,
Kneeling at heaven’s gates.
Let me do my daily work,
Gathering seaweed, catching fish,
Giving food to the poor.
Let me say my daily prayers,
Sometimes chanting, sometimes quiet,
Always thanking God.
Delightful it is to live
On a peaceful isle, in a quiet cell,
Serving the King of kings.
This beautiful prayer describes five actions of a disciple: blessing, study, work, prayer, and service, all dedicated to God, but in service to the world. In all we do, we start by blessing God, by opening our hearts to holy learning, by laboring for the least and most vulnerable among us, by seeking God’s presence and guidance daily in our prayer lives, dedicating all our effort, even our resting, to the inbreaking of God’s reign within us and over us.
Undergirding this is a longing for peace, and this is where perhaps we can hear Columba’s prayer resounding in our own hearts today, as we ourselves have been awash in repeated news of violence, war, and division all about us in the last few weeks.
In thanksgiving for the life of St. Columba, may we all make our prayer one for peace—peace we are willing to back up by action to protect each other from the scourge of violence. May we remember that silence in the face of evil is not, and never can be, considered peace.
Beloved Savior, settle your peace upon us,
peace beyond our ken,
peace that drops soft and slow
like the rays from the sun at the clouds’ parting.
Light us from within, Lord Jesus,
with the beauty of your gospel of grace and mercy,
that we may radiate your love
as a beacon to the world.
Help us be truly present
in each moment with You, O God,
that we may be filled with the wisdom
of compassion and charity,
walking in truth and integrity with each other.
Breathe upon us your Spirit, O God,
that we may be utterly at peace
and grounded within your love.
Trusting in your unfailing goodness,
we commend to your care those we lift before You.