I lost myself in our conversation, feeling it was more important to be present in that moment than to be on time for the service. When I finally pushed open the Iona chapel door, I heard the piano playing, the congregants singing a song that was familiar from another place. Tears splashed my eyes as I settled into the row and reached for a hymnal. The last time I heard, How Great Thou Art, was in Asbury Methodist Church in rural Chatham county at the funeral of my mother-in-law.
That song had a strong history in my husband, David’s family. I knew when he was young he’d play their piano for his father, “D.B.” to sing his favorite, How Great Thou Art, in his bass voice. We knew he’d want that song at his funeral and so it was sung by a woman from their congregation. Years later, when my mother-in-law, Mary Dell’s health was failing, she interrupted a lunch conversation and announced, “When I have mine, I want a man to sing.” We realized she’d been planning her funeral. Had she disliked the woman’s voice that sung at D.B.’s? Maybe she just associated that song with the memory of his deep voice. We honored her request, as a young man sang on that chilly March day in the intimacy of the small brick church in central North Carolina.
Now, hearing that song played by a young Iona volunteer from Germany, sung by an international congregation, in the amazing acoustics of the stone chapel, I listen to the words as if they are a new discovery. I have felt God’s greatness in the way my pilgrimage to Iona has unfolded; the desire to see the Hebrides, planted seven-years-ago by a Scottish man in Martha’s Vineyard; learning about Iona through my Duke Chapel presentation on making travel sacred; gifts of time and money for my trip when I retired from school nursing. There had been ‘signs’ along the way that I should go to that last week for the year at the Abbey, the one with the theme that spoke to my heart, “The Pilgrimage of Life.”
I had seen more of the “worlds Thy hands have made” in my journey to Iona by way of Paris and London and Edinburgh, up into the Scottish Highlands, and on to that windswept island of Iona. We talked about Cosmic God in our sessions and the expanse of God that is beyond words and our human understanding. I’d experienced the worlds of my new friends at Iona, their lives and the way God was moving in them. Singing that song in such a historic and sacred place, made me feel both tiny in the midst of such grandeur and deeply loved by the Creator.
I’d felt led by the ‘still small voice of God’ to be myself, to be present so I could absorb everything, and to be patient with my week of living in a community. By letting go of my fears, my self-consciousness, I was available to receive the blessings of Iona. When we sang the chorus, “Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee,” I felt my soul was free.
Looking up to the light beaming through the windows of the chapel, thinking of the island vistas of sheep grazing and the white caps of Iona sound, feeling the ever-present wind on my face, my soul did sing. It was a song of gratitude and praise that God had brought me to this place. It’s the same song that echoes over the years at Asbury Church in the voices of our ancestors.
What about You?
Have you found ways to let go so your soul can sing?
What are the words of your song?
What message have you received from the ‘still small voice of God’ that helps in letting go?