Pilgrims have traveled to Iona, Scotland for centuries to the Abbey founded by Saint Columba. But before he was seen as a saint, he was recognized as a sinner for leading his Irish clan in a battle where three thousand died. He is every man and every woman; all of us with our shadow side that our public self tries to hide. I think of this as Halloween is followed by All Saints’ Day.
Columba got into problems partly because of his love for books. He made a copy of St. Jerome’s Psalter that had been brought to Ireland by a man named Finnian. This was back in the day when there were no printing presses and books had to be reproduced by hand– painstaking work resulting in a precious copy. Columba thought the book was his, but a king ruled against him and so Columba had to give the copy he’d made to Finnian. But it didn’t end there. Columba harbored a grudge at that injustice. Later, when a man who’d taken sanctuary with Columba was killed by the king, war broke out. Columba led and won the battle in which three thousand died. He got his Psalter back.
Eventually, Columba’s grief over what he’d done led him to a self-inflicted punishment, one most severe for a Celt: he banished himself from Ireland. On Iona, he established a monastery that was a classic center of learning, where monks came from near and far. Iona’s scholars copied thousands of books– just like Columba had copied that Psalter. He grew from being a gruff and rigid young man to a mellow and venerated Saint.
I think about the times in my life where God has humbled me and I finally recognize my shadow side. Most of the time I’ve pushed away my weaknesses by defending myself from any hint of culpability, never letting accusations permeate my well-developed armor. But God works from the inside, and when that gentle voice with the clear message comes, I recognize it as truth. Like Columba, I hang on to hurts and injustices. One of the hardest for me to let go of was my anger at The Research Company.
All I could see was how wrong they were for the way they’d treated me, what seemed almost cruel since, at the same time, I was going through cancer. Others saw the problems with The Research Company and knew they’d treated me in an unprofessional and damaging way. They supported me and believed I was right. But what I realized over time that couldn’t be justified, was the hate I’d hidden in my heart against them. It became an obsessive thing, wondering what was happening to them after they forced me out, hoping they were having problems– individually and as a company.
At times, I attempted to follow the Biblical directive; pray for your enemies. But it was half-hearted and usually ended with asking for them to see how wrong they were and how right I’d been. Years later, when I finally stood back and looked at the situation without my harsh judgements, I let go of that anger. I saw how that hate had kept me from joy. My harbored injustice had not resulted in a battle that killed three thousand. But I didn’t know what might have been accomplished if I’d let go of it sooner, more concerned with grace than with being right.
I think of the legacy left by Saint Columba and how lives, including mine, have been enriched at that place of his exile. Beauty came out of the ashes he left behind on a battlefield in Ireland. For me, beauty has come from the ashes left behind at The Research Company, just one stop on my journey through life.
How About You?
How have you harbored injustices that you’ve experience in your life?
What has resulted from hanging on to them?
How have you resolved those feelings of injustice? If you haven’t, what steps could you take towards that?
Bert Ghezzi, Voices of the Saints: A Year of Readings (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 150 – 151.