In an interview in Time magazine in 1948, Iona founder George MacLeod said, “As feudalism was the earthly seeding-bed of Thomas Aquinas, as emergent capitalism was the forcing house of Calvin, so our scientific, political, economic structure, without precedent, whose birth is our present agony, will be the seeding-bed of new discoveries of God’s approach to Man, and of the manner of our response. . . . Like Christian in his Progress we are inclined to say ‘We do not see the Gate, but we think we see a light.'”
What I find compelling about the worship at Iona is the fierceness of other-focus, and the dignity and divinity of humanity that is embedded in the liturgy. At the end of scripture reading each morning, instead of “The word of God. Thanks be to God,” the reader says, “For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us,” and we respond, “Thanks be to God.”
By and large Iona seems to draw a certain type of pilgrim–the type that would appreciate the Carrie Newcomer song “Betty’s Diner,” which Rachel Frey and I sang at the talent show last night. Her lyrics about how God is found in people comforting each other and drawing strength from each other in the booths of an all-night diner were described by more than one listener as “innately Iona.” That bridge between the sacred and the secular continues to be lived out here 70 years after it began to take shape, and it’s something I’m excited to share when I get back to the states.
I’m not sure whether MacLeod would have loved knowing he also shared this same passion for Holy Work with Bengali native Rabindranath Tagore, who wrote at the turn of the 20th century one of my favorite religious poems of all time in his collection Gitanjali:
Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads! Whom dost thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut? Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee!
He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the pathmaker is breaking stones. He is with them in sun and in shower, and his garment is covered with dust. Put of thy holy mantle and even like him come down on the dusty soil!
Deliverance? Where is this deliverance to be found? Our master himself has joyfully taken upon him the bonds of creation; he is bound with us all for ever.
Come out of thy meditations and leave aside thy flowers and incense! What harm is there if thy clothes become tattered and stained? Meet him and stand by him in toil and in sweat of thy brow.