It’s Wednesday. The middle day of the centrepiece of my sabbatical – will it match up to my expectations? It’s now clear to me from the picture on my cottage wall that I have not walked around the entire island at all. Iona is long and thin, and my return path from when I saw Mull took me straight across the narrowest part in the middle. I’m even more glad for this bit of (mis)direction now, as the coastal route would have taken ages!
I realise too that my discussion with my friendly “angel” last night was very informative, but tinged with nonsense as I told him I’d just walked around the island. We discussed “my journey through St Columba’s Bay”, where this missionary monk from Ireland had originally landed, and he was surprised I had not noticed the Marble Quarry which has the oldest rocks anywhere on the surface of the earth. All very interesting, except that the easy walk I had through a long sandy beach just before my curious bird appeared was at the opposite end of the island!
The good news is, there’s still half the island to explore, so off I go, still with the lessons of yesterday ringing in my head. Don’t get bogged down. Watch like a hawk. So I’m watching and waiting, still not willing to set the agenda. Every time I come to a ravine I have a decision to make. Do I walk down to the sea in the hope of walking around the headlands, or do I stay up high and risk missing something – like a marble quarry? Mostly I opt to go down. Mostly I have to walk back up again.
But the ravines have a rugged beauty about them, so I rest a moment to enjoy the unique blend of stillness and chaos evoked by the gentle crashing of the waves in a confined space. No sooner have I sat down when for no obvious reason a concept from the mission strategy of the early church pops into my mind: “To the Jew first and also to the Gentile”, most famously applied by the apostle Paul, while Jesus himself stuck almost exclusively to stage one. Once more I think about the power of a limited focus. It made sense to connect with those who shared his worldview, his spiritual history, his culture before reaching out further.
Just before I began my sabbatical, I had a discussion with my friend Sue, the chair of the Christian Academics Network, about the possibility of starting a Christian University – indeed whether or not either of us thought this was a good idea. But this was just one of half a dozen conversations I had had around the possibility of delivering “leadership of self” training into Christian contexts, such as CofE schools, police chaplains, and indeed churches. I had not been keen – quite nervous, in fact, of getting branded with the faith label, and unable to go back into more “secular” territory such as the design studio, the state school, the Civil Service and the business school where we began our journey.
But when the phrase zoomed into my head in that ravine where chaos and stillness met, the answer seemed obvious. Relax! Go with the flow. Walk through the doors I will open for you. There’s nothing to fear. Stage two will come in due course. On my return from Iona I was intrigued to learn that my next door neighbour had just been appointed the new Head of Diocesan Education, responsible for 51 Church of England Schools in Birmingham.