So I’m on Iona. It’s the middle of Tuesday afternoon, and a bird of prey has just shown a disturbing interest in me. I must get to the top of that brow to get my bearings. But the way is steep, and each time I catch my breath I see the bird quietly watching and waiting in the distance. Finally there before me is the coastline of Mull where I first saw the sun rise through my bedroom window, and I quickly pick up a footpath in that direction.
Some makeshift metal steps lead me across a muddy bit and on towards a long boundary fence which also gives me a sense of direction, so I stride on purposefully, until… Splodge! Splodge! Both legs sink knee-deep in slimy mud. Whoa! I wasn’t expecting that! I try to lift a leg, but the suction is too strong. I hold the fence and try to help my leg with my other arm, but no good. Finally I put both hands under my left leg, and pull hard. Success. Now I can grasp the fence, and the other leg follows.
Strange – I am aware of danger, but still more aware of God’s presence. This is such a familiar feeling – getting stuck in the mud. Really it’s why I needed a sabbatical. I felt I was getting bogged down with things that were good, but somehow not the best. It seems like God is saying, Phil – you really mustn’t let that happen again.
My progress is much slower as I tread carefully through the now soggy terrain, sticking closely to my guiding fence, and slowly the evening draws in. Suddenly there is a gate in the fence and a wide stony track beyond it. Hallelujah! The direction seems good and I press on past a little crossroads, my legs now on auto-pilot – until I hit a farm gate barring my way. Wearily, I turn back towards the crossroads, but as soon as I turn, a man walks out of the darkness. “Can you help me?” I ask. “I think I’m lost”.
“Sure”, he says. “Straight through this farm gate. Follow me.” For the next 15 minutes we walk together, and as I arrive at my cottage the clock tells me I’ve been out for 9 hours. The sudden heat drop makes me start shivering, and despite undressing and leaping into bed, both legs are soon seized with cramp. Vigorous massage solves the problem, and finally I fall asleep – for about 11 hours.
Next morning I awaken without a trace of stiffness ready to explore the rest of the island. It’s as if yesterday were another world, a piece of theatre crafted by God to teach me something. The bird warning of danger, the grand vision of Mull giving an overall sense of direction, the fence to mark the way, and the angel to take me home. Yes, there is an ever-present danger of getting bogged down, but if I watch carefully, God will guide me safely on to my destination.