God in All Things
by Joyce Tompkins
Joyce Tompkins is the Religious Advisor to the Campus Protestant Community. Other Spiritual Reflections are available on the Religious Advisor's page.
You can write to Joyce at firstname.lastname@example.org
God is always with us. Why is it so difficult to remember this in daily life? Sometimes the only way to remember the intimate nearness of God is to go to a far-away place. One such faraway place is the island of Iona, off the coast of Scotland in the Inner Hebrides. I traveled there on pilgrimage in June with a group of teenagers, and I learned this most basic spiritual lesson all over again.
On our second morning on Iona, a Monday, we had our first session with Ian, one of the program staff at the "Mac," the center near the Abbey where we stayed with two other youth groups and an assortment of stalwart single pilgrims. The theme of the week was "Out and About," which meant we were supposed to be outside, despite a thick fog that was really a fine rain. Ian talked to us about symbols of our faith, then sent us out in pairs with cameras to snap photos of crosses. My partner was a British woman named Caroline. We set out dutifully into the wet and headed right down to the Abbey. Finding crosses on Iona did not seem like a very challenging assignment. We took turns snapping away at the five Celtic "high" crosses still standing on Iona, including the massive St. Martin's cross, which has stood in its spot for over a thousand years. After photographing the cross from every possible angle, including close-ups of its intricate Celtic carving of vine patterns representing the interweaving of heaven and earth, Caroline and I agreed that we had enough pictures for our project. Both of us were eager to head back to the Mac where there would be hot tea and biscuits waiting.
But as we left the Abbey to head up the hill, we saw several of the young people crouching down in the grass with their cameras. Heedless of the water running down their faces, and the mud in which their knees were planted, they were reverently gathered in a circle around something. Curious, I peered through the mist to see what they were about. They were photographing a cross. A cross in the grass, where one long stalk had bent horizontally under its weight of rain to intersect another vertical stalk against the backdrop of a gray rock. The two stalks formed a perfect cross, not of wood or stone but of living green plants. Four teenagers knelt before it, in rapt adoration. It was a living embodiment of that Celtic symbol, heaven and earth entwined together -finding God in all things.
Caroline and I never had our tea that morning. Instead, we headed away from the Mac and the Abbey, into the fields and pastures and rocky outcrops of Iona. We found crosses everywhere. The timbers of an old sheeps gate. The petals of a purple flower. The blaze on a heifer's forehead. The quartz intrusion in a granite boulder. The cracks in a stone wall. The crossed trails of slime left behind by two enormous slugs traveling in perpendicular paths home. Yes, even the slime trails of slugs traced the shape of a cross. God in all things.
We don't have to go far away. God is right here, in our own backyard. We don't have to go into beautiful old churches to look for the signs of the divine presence. God is with us. In our cereal bowls. In the barking of the neighbor's dog. In the teenagers' holy and raucous rap. In the wailing of the baby and the mowing of the lawn. In the dew on the grass and the slime trail of the slug. God is as near to us as our own breath. We only need to open our eyes.