Saint Columba

Todays meditation comes from Laura Symon

Today is the feast of St Columba – or Colmcille, as we call him at home. Credited with spreading the gospel throughout Scotland, Columba spent some of his early years at Movilla Abbey, only 4 miles away from where I grew up and is perhaps most strongly associated with Iona Abbey, that wonderful community devoted to peace, prayer and social justice. As an Irish expatriate to Scotland, he is very dear to my heart – I think of him when I sit on the Stena Line, though his journey in a wicker currach was neither so direct nor so comfortable!

The stories of Columba’s life are colourful – full of political intrigue, dangerous seafaring and even a rumoured face-off with the Loch Ness Monster! Columba himself was devoted to prayer, and delightful stories of his prayer life are still in existence. He would frequently steal away from his community at night to spend time with God, would pray all night long in vigils, and even experienced visits from angels! Several of his prayers and poems have been recorded and within them, one can find this lovely line:

‘Delightful it is to live on a peaceful isle,

in a quiet cell,

serving the King of kings.’

Like those in other monastic communities, the monks of Iona had their own dedicated space, or cell. These little unadorned huts were not merely living spaces, but centres of their personal devotion and prayer. The stone foundations of these small homes can still be seen dotted around the island.

These words of Columba offer us something during this time – though our isles may not feel quite so peaceful these days. During lockdown, our worlds have shrunk. Pre-COVID we had workspaces, cafés, shops, hill walks, visitors, church – now, we live in semi-seclusion, each in our own quiet cells. Working out how to live life fully in that space doesn’t always come easily.

Yet for many years – and still today – men and woman have been making something beautiful of that quiet time in a single place. Even when we are alone in a room, there is still work being done in serving the King of kings through our prayer and praise. Perhaps we hum a hymn while we cook or thank God earnestly for the birdsong that comes through the window. Perhaps, like the monks, we follow a routine of daily prayer and intercession for others. All of this is important work in God’s kingdom, and like Columba, we can learn to take great joy in it. The task of serving the King of kings is still possible in our own small spaces, and perhaps we can use this experience to see new ways of doing so as we spend time with Him, who is always ready to join us in our homes. May we use this time in our own quiet cells to learn to ‘pray without ceasing’ to the God who was so present for Columba, and still is to us today. 

Window of St Columba in St. Columbanus’, Ballyholme Parish – courtesy of

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