Ruth Harvey, leader of the Iona Community in Scotland, joins us to talk about how the community has modeled refugia for decades. We discuss the balance between action and reflection and the need to imagine new kinds of togetherness in these “tender times.”
For more background
Learn more about the history and work of the Iona Community at their website, iona.org.uk.
Ruth mentions Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff’s idea of “base communities,” which is laid out in his 1977 book Ecclesiogenesis: The Base Communities Reinvent the Church.
Ruth also refers to Capacitar, a global justice and relief movement that focuses on “body-based practices.”
Ruth’s address to the Corrymeela community, titled “Patterns of Emergent Community,” is available here.
We discuss Ann Lewin’s poem about a kingfisher, officially titled “Disclosure.”
You can see (and purchase prints of) Meg Wroe’s painting “Trinity – After Rublev, Iona” here.
Debra Rienstra: Refugia, a podcast about renewal. Refugia are places of shelter where life endures in times of crisis. From out of these small sanctuaries, life re-emerges and the world is renewed. We’re exploring what it means for people of faith to be people of refugia. How can we create safe places of flourishing, micro-countercultures where we gain strength and spiritual capacity to face the challenges ahead?
I’m Debra Rienstra, professor of English at Calvin University. And this is Refugia.
Ruth Harvey: Our intention would be that a practice that folks would develop in and through the community, not just on Iona, would be finding that balance between reflection and action, whether it’s to do with your commitment to peace, or your commitment to environmental justice, or your commitment to the renewal of worship; that in all of it, you would seek that balance of desert time and engage time.
Debra Rienstra: Hi, everyone. In this episode of the Refugia podcast, we head over to Scotland—in our imaginations, anyway—and learn about the Iona Community, which has been modeling refugia for 80 years without even using that word. Ruth Harvey, the new leader of the Iona Community, describes how times of crisis have always spurred people toward new ways of imagining and organizing community.
“In these tender times,” she suggests, “we need an openness to flashes of inspiration and to the new patterns that are forming, or could form.” I’ve always loved the way Iona folk combine action with reflection, peace and justice work with worship renewal. They’re a great example of how refugia can be places that we move in and out of, located and dispersed. As always, thanks for listening.
Today I’m so honored to be talking with Ruth Harvey, newly appointed leader of the Iona Community in Scotland. Ruth was formerly the director of Place for Hope, a Glasgow-based organization committed to accompanying and equipping people to be peacemakers in their communities.
Ruth has a long association with the Iona Community, and as an admirer of this community myself for many years, I’m so delighted that she is now leader there. Ruth, welcome.
Ruth Harvey: Well, thank you, Debra. It’s great to be here.
Debra Rienstra: Thank you so much for agreeing to take some time today to have a conversation. It’s very generous of you. For those who are unfamiliar with the Iona Community, I’ll just quote your website for the briefest of introductions. “The Iona Community is a dispersed Christian ecumenical community, working for peace and social justice, rebuilding of community, and the renewal of worship.”
So the way this works is that you have a base in Glasgow, but also this beautiful abbey and community on the Isle of Iona, where members gather regularly. And then official members of the Iona Community adhere to a rule of practice and accountability, and other people can also be associate members, or friends, or supporters.
So would you just say a word or two about the history of the community’s founding, in order to put Iona in a broader historical context?
Ruth Harvey: Sure. So, a couple of things to say. We are in our ninth decade now as a community, founded in 1938 by a man called George MacLeod, who was the—we now still call him the founder of the Iona Community.
He was the Church of Scotland minister in Glasgow at the time. And he had been ministering in the city center of Glasgow in the part of Glasgow called Govan, where they were going through a severe experience of depression. Govan, if you know Glasgow and Scotland, sits on the Clyde, the river Clyde, and there’s a very big tradition of ship building there.
Ship building was in massive decline, and he was gripped by the question, “How does the church relate to those who live in poverty?” And they were living all around him in utter poverty and destitution. He also knew about the ancient ruins of what was the Benedictine monastery on Iona. The abbey church had been renovated by the Duke of Argyll in 1910, but the living quarters had never been renovated.
So he took it upon himself to take a group of out-of-work craftsman from Glasgow—ex-ship-builders—to Iona with trainee clergy. They were all men at the time, and they were all Presbyterians at the time. That’s different now. And they began rebuilding the abbey living quarters of the monastic building.
And in doing so, they evolved what we now call our “rule” or our “rule of life.” So they worshiped twice a day in the abbey, and they developed this rhythm of work and worship on a daily basis. So part of our story is rooted in inner-city Glasgow, not the idyllic island of Iona. But our story is also rooted in the island of Iona, where these men went with George MacLeod as their leader. And the community evolved from there.
So all was rooted in the needs of the poorest in our society and asking the question, “What is the church? What do we of faith have to offer the poorest?” Since then we’ve evolved. We now have over 250 members, full members who are not all Presbyterians, not all men—although we love our Presbyterian men.
But that’s a good thing. We’re an ecumenical community. We have over 2,000 associates and friends scattered all over the world, our associates and friends. And yes, we run now the renewed monastery on Iona as a residential center. We’ve also got a residential center called the McLeod Centre on Iona, and we have an outdoor center on Mull called the Camas Adventure Centre.
So that’s just a glimpse. You can find out more on our website, but members meet—I’ll say more later, but members meet in local groups all over the UK.
Debra Rienstra: Right. So that history is really interesting from the point of view of refugia, which we’ve been exploring, because it sounds as if there was—as is the definition of refugia—there is a crisis that prompts it, and in this case biologists would call that an ex situ refugia.
So, a group of people went somewhere else to create a refugium on the isle of Iona and to build different capacities there. So I’m really interested now in this phrase “dispersed Christian ecumenical community.” All those words are interesting, but let’s focus on “dispersed.” So with refugia, we usually think of them as located somewhere, a place where biodiversity endures in the midst of crisis or disturbance, but Iona seems to be both located and dispersed.
And so I wonder, what are the advantages of the dispersal in following your mission?
Ruth Harvey: It’s a fascinating question, and it’s crucial to our existence. You know, this pandemic has meant that most of us can’t get to Iona. And so we’re thrown back on our resources, right where we are, right here in this room where I’m sitting, from which I haven’t moved very much in the last six months, give or take. So, you know, we have to be located right where our feet hold us now.
So yes, the notion of refugia being where you relocate yourself to a place of holistic hospitality—in a sense, that’s what Columba did in 563 when he was exiled from Ireland and he went with a group of 12 men in a coracle and landed on Iona and found a refuge for him and his followers there. And from that place found the strength to go out into the world, and to take the mission of Christ with them.
So we, as members of the community—so the “dispersed” refers to the 250 or so members, like myself, who live in the northwest of England—or that’s where I live—but we live all over the UK and on mainland Europe and other parts of the world: Australia, Canada, United States.
And we gather together on a monthly basis in—and I’m now going to start using this word—in our own refugia. We gather together in what we call family groups, and that’s… You know, if we could never go to the abbey again, God forbid, we would always have that potential to meet in relationship with others who share common ground.
So it would be analogous rather than in a literal sense. We don’t live together, but we do share—when we meet as members, there’s a definite sense of being in a space from which creativity can emerge to take us outside ourselves, outside holiness, out into the world. So the imagery really works, Debra, for us. That’s a wonderful gift from you, thank you.
Debra Rienstra: You’re very welcome. It’s been amazingly rich to explore this with people from so many different backgrounds and ways of thinking about the world, from science and religion and ministry and sociology. Yeah.
Ruth Harvey: It reminds me also of the whole movement of the base Christian communities that were, you know, that people [that] Boff and others have spoken about since the 1960s, and Latin America in particular. And I think the gift of that movement, that renewal movement after the Roman Catholic Church, has been a great gift to the whole world, that we need to meet in each other’s homes, sharing our questions and our queries about biblical stories, sharing hospitality with one another, sharing refuge with one another. And it’s from those place that the church will be renewed. A church without walls, really.
Debra Rienstra: Yeah. And that’s an interesting, maybe, distinction [of] human culture, is that we can create and disperse these refugia in places for short times. I sometimes call those pop-up refugia: just make them for a moment, and…
Let’s think a little bit too about the isle itself, which has been this place of pilgrimage for so many people. Boatloads of people go there in the summer, when there isn’t a pandemic. And it’s a rather famous placem, and it has a kind of legendary, I don’t know, mythos about it.
You’re very familiar with it, though. You almost grew up with it, as I understand it. Is it still a thin place for you?
Ruth Harvey: Yeah, of course. I mean, I was very lucky to spend five years [there] when I was a young child, from the age of five to ten. I was living in the community, for some of those years in a house opposite the abbey, but for some of those years actually in the abbey. And I don’t, you know, I didn’t know I was living in a thin place. I was having great fun with all these adults who came to us.
But I definitely got—as a child I got a sense of the liminality of a space like Iona. And I guess as much as anything it’s about the spirit with which the people who pilgrimage to Iona—about the spirit with which they travel.
That’s the liminality. I don’t think it’s anything more or less mysterious than that. It’s the spirit with which people arrive on the island. The openness, the questions they bring, the experiences they bring, the inspiration they bring and the inspiration they take away.
So, yes, absolutely. I get that sense of it being a thin place where the veil—George MacLeod said, “Where the veil between heaven and earth is as thin as gossamer, as thin as a spider’s web.” Because sometimes in, you know, the late-night conversations or the walking to the north end of the Island or up Dùn Ì, the Hill, there’s a really strong connection or sense of being connected to both the earth and to the Holy Spirit.
But I wouldn’t want to over-sentimentalize it. It’s really about the relationships and the people. Both the residents, the islanders, of whom there are nearly 200, who croft the land and who service the shops and the tourist industry, and also the religious community that’s there, hand in hand with the island community.
There’s a rich seam of openness. And, you know, ordinary everyday life, you know, people just get on with life there as well.
Debra Rienstra: It’s also a very windy place, which might be—it’s very windy. I remember going there once before and, you know, asking myself, “Is it thin? Am I feeling—is it thin? Am I feeling this thinness?” And what I really thought was “I’m cold.”
Ruth Harvey: Oh, freezing. I remember taking a friend who came from southern Germany. He’d grown up in [and] amongst the forests of Bavaria, and he couldn’t bear the wind. He could hardly breathe because he felt suffocated by the wind. And I remember vividly walking home from school one day and the teacher holding all five of us–that was, the school was five children.
We all held hands in a line, ’cause it was so windy. And we could see the waterfall on Mull being blown up the way because of the wind. So, you know, this is not, you know, an idyllic—well, it is idyllic if that’s your version of idyll. But that’s—that’s the reality.
Debra Rienstra: It’s a wild place on the edge of the world. I mean, you really do feel that— and stunningly beautiful.
Let’s talk a little bit about the capacities that, as a community, that you intend to develop there for the members, as well as for the pilgrims who come there. One of the things we talk about with refugia is they’re places of renewal too. And, in human culture, we think about capacities that are built in these refugia. So, what are you intending? What kind of capacities are you intending to build?
Ruth Harvey: Yeah. I mean, I love that notion of capacity, and it reminds me of the whole Capacitar movement, that we’re building a resilience for renewal and strength in times of trouble, and that’s a worldwide movement. So thank you for that connection, Debra. I mean, I think two things strike me specifically to really answer this question.
One is, I don’t know if you can remember, there’s a window in the abbey church that faces south, up by the communion table. And carved into the arch of the window—this is part of the old Benedictine monastery—is the image of a cat on one side and the image of a monkey on the other. And that’s meant to—we say that, and I’m sure that’s true, but like all things were never quite able to verify it in fact. But, you know, it symbolizes the Benedictine commitment to action with the monkey and reflection with the cat.
And I think if there’s one thing that’s written into our walls, it is this action/reflection dynamic. So our hope would be that part our intention would be that a practice that folks would develop in and through the community, not just on Iona, would be finding that balance between reflection and action, whether it’s to do with your commitment to peace or your commitment to environmental justice, or your commitment to the renewal of worship; that in all of it, you would seek that balance of desert time and engage time.
We take inspiration from the Bible. We take inspiration from Richard Rohr and others. We take inspiration from a whole panoply of mystics in our current life and in the past who have lived this life of action and reflection.
And I guess the second intentional practice that you will have seen if you’ve been there is that we have a committed team of staff who live there year round and who live what we call the “common life.” So they live cheek-by-jowl, they maybe not have chosen to live together, and they rub along. Sometimes it is joyful, sometimes it is stressful. But they commit to a life of worship and work, sharing food, sharing chores, sharing tasks, and any guests who come simply join in with that rhythm.
And I hope that that’s one of the practices that we throw back into the world—is how to live in the ordinary stuff of life, alongside folks who you might not always get along with, where you need to practice your skilled reconciliation work. It’s no longer a theory, it’s actually practice. Living in a context of worship where you’re confessing every morning to the things that you’ve done wrong, and you’re seeking forgiveness from those around you, and you’re getting on with life in between, and you’re not dwelling in the past, you’re looking at the earth on which you stand now, focused on bringing further peace and justice to the world. So those practices of action and reflection and of living a common life. And always the question, “How do you take that back out, when you leave Iona, into your daily life?”
Debra Rienstra: Hmm. Do you find that the dispersal also brings back gifts to the community when you gather together? So, I’m thinking of seeds—so if Iona is like a greenhouse where you grow little seedlings and then the seedlings bear seed and the seed goes out and is dispersed, then do the plants that grow elsewhere, whatever that might mean, in turn bring back new DNA or new capacities, I guess we could say, to the full community?
Ruth Harvey: For sure. I mean, you know, just very practically, members who are inspired or associate members who are inspired by the music or the worship of the Iona community will go back to their place of worship or their home community, might talk about it, might inspire others who then find a seed is growing within them.
I loved your imagery of the greenhouse, although I don’t know many greenhouses on Iona that are still standing—maybe polytunnels. But, you know, there [is] this great abundance of growth. I mean, I was thinking of in the McLeod Center; we have a craft room, and I think the image for me is that Iona’s a place where we craft together and we fly kites. We fly— metaphorically and physically—fly lots of kites in the wind, and some of those will continue flying, and we’ll go home with them strong and windswept.
And other kites will have been great fun, but were not to fly. And I think Iona and the community is a context in which we are encouraged to fly kites, to experiment, you know, to free our spirit. And that, I hope, would be the energy that others capture from co-members of the community, that spirit of openness, of freedom, always rooted in the gospel.
So we’re not shying away from our Christian heritage, but we’re not being exclusive around that either, and saying “you have to believe a certain code in order to come and join.” But we’re clear where we come from. We’re clear what our inspiration, our root inspiration as a community is.
And in that context, we’re flying kites, planting seeds, throwing stones into ponds to create ripples. Our ecosystem needs that care and attention, you know, we’re in a tender time. I know we’ll come to that word later, but… these are tender times.
Debra Rienstra: Yeah. That’s a good place to shift to the word “emergent,” which really struck me in your recent talk at Corrymeela, and in the materials online for both Place of Hope and Iona. So this word “emergent” is based on emergence theory, and you cited Jeffrey Goldstein’s work in your talk. So, talk about that word “emergence.” How does that apply right now? What is emerging in the church and in the world right now?
Ruth Harvey: Well, what I loved about that notion of emergence was—it almost feels like a story of salvation and a story of the new emergent communities that came in the early church. And I suppose the closest I can get to it is if I squint my eyes, if I half close my eyes, or I have a glimpse of something flitting across my vision that I may not otherwise have seen if I had been fully open and focused on the thing in front of me. And so, I think for me the notion of emergence is, what is greater than the sum of our parts? Let’s bring this together with that, but what emerges is the other.
And I think what we’re being invited into in this pandemic time—and it is a horrific time for millions across the world, let’s not pretend it’s only a time of great gratitude. Surely it’s a horror. And yet, in the horror there is potential, and I think in the Iona Community, [a question] we’re asking ourselves is, “What new patterns of meeting together, very practical, are emerging?”
So for example, later on today, I’ll be meeting with over a hundred members and associate members from across the world in an online worship service. Now, we wouldn’t be able to do that ordinarily, or we wouldn’t have thought about it ordinarily. So new patterns of coming together—is that community? Can we say that we’re meeting in community if we’re not in each other’s presence? And there are certainly new patterns of responding to social crisis emerging.
You know, we have—I’m going to put this in inverted commas—“miraculously” in the UK been able to house most of the homeless people in our society. And yet, is that going to reverse? Are we going to go back to putting them back on the streets? So, what practices, both inner spiritual practices but social political practices, must we now commit to for the long haul, for the good of all?
So we’re in that territory, Debra. And I don’t know if you know the poem “The Kingfisher” [“Disclosure”] by um, Ann Lewin, yeah. Well, it’s like that. That’s my last thought about emergence is, you know, we’ll catch sight of the kingfisher, she says in her poem, when we sit still enough, expectantly, waiting for the flash of this green-blue color to flash across our vision.
And that’s what prayer is. We sit expectantly awaiting for this flash of inspiration. I suppose it’s nothing new, is it? It’s the old story. If we go to worship expecting the same old same old, we’ll get the same old story. But if we go expecting the surprise of the Holy spirit, the surprise of the kingfisher, who knows what we might recieve, what might emerge for us.
I don’t know, that’s the territory I think we’re going into.
Debra Rienstra: Yeah, It’s fascinating to me, this dialectic between patterns that you practice and that are quite regular and organized, and this flash of inspiration. You mentioned also in your talk a connection, which I’d never really thought of very carefully, between the Iona Community, Place for Hope, Corrymeela in Ireland, and also Taizé in France. And it finally struck me that all of these refugium spaces were created out of, as you put it “turmoil and uncertainty,” in an effort to reconciliation. You said, you know, hope is born of despair in these places, these places of great disturbance. So it’s wonderful to see how all of these places have created patterns, rules, ways of living, organizations, you know, offices, letterhead, the whole bit. And yet, out of that, there’s this freedom for inspiration that you’re still holding. So that dialectic between patterns and organization, and then waiting for those flashes—it’s really beautiful.
Ruth Harvey: I can’t say it any better than that; that’s exactly what I think. And we have a lot to learn from the emergent communities that emerge out of adversity. You know, my adversity in this time of pandemic has been nothing compared to those who survived the Second World War or who are surviving refugee camps today.
And so it’s alerted me to the inspiration that does come out of adversity, the like of which I’ve never really seen. All I would add is that there is this lovely poem by Kenneth White, which Kathy Galloway quotes a lot-—she was one of my predecessors in leadership in the community—that he talks about the difference between selection and ordering. And he says the selecting of what is important to us, that is a spiritual matter. The ordering of it, right ordering of it and taking that selected priority into the world, that’s a political matter. And we are called to engage in both the selection and the ordering. And in combination—the selection of those things that matter, and the ordering of them to make a change in the world—those are the patterns that emerge.
Debra Rienstra: You do mention the Welsh word cynefin—
Ruth Harvey: Yes.
Debra Rienstra: —in one of your talks, which you’ve applied to Iona, and it means something like “habitat” or koinonia. Maybe you could explain that word a little bit.
Ruth Harvey: Well, I mean, I was introduced to it by another friend, David Williams in Scotland, and, it’s a word that connotes the complete habitat that we dwell in, and it’s used as a framework for describing organizational development. So it’s been incorporated in, in a language of business and management. Dave Snowden I think is the one who evolved the idea.
But for me, what I love about it that there’s a holistic—I mean, you’d have to delve more deeply into the cynefin framework, which Dave Snowden outlines. And I would encourage folks to do that. I talked about flying kites earlier—in the complex zone of cynefin, it’s all about safe-to-fail ideas of spacious openness to fly kites and to experiment.
And it actually has a sense of koinonia, this religious faithful community, sacramental community. And I think I want just to continue to play with that notion. But it maybe takes us into the territory of “What is the space that we’re trying to create in these refugia?” And I think there’s a lovely connection with habitat and cynefin and refugia, which maybe is worth further exploration.
Debra Rienstra: I agree.
Let me ask you a question as an American, from a context of a place where, here in the United States, the church has been, in so many ways, the driver of conflict rather than a space of reconciliation. Christianity in many contexts here has become fractured and distorted.
And so, I wonder, after so many centuries of chasing empire, if it’s even possible for churches to become people of refugia, based on the structures we have now. And I almost wonder if a structure more like the Iona Community might be the future. So I guess I’m asking what your perspective is, as a member of the Iona Community, a leader of Iona Community, on what’s happening in the United States, as far as what you know about it.
Ruth Harvey: Far be it for me to make any comment on the churches in the United States. I don’t know much. I mean, I’ve been, a renewer in residence once in a church in St. Paul, which was a wonderful experience. And many of our dearly beloved associate members of the community live in the United States and in Canada also. I think, you know, far be it from any of us to cast any judgment on anybody else.
Let me talk about where we are in this country. I think our churches have a lot for which to ask forgiveness. And I think that dynamic of, of confession and forgiveness is one for us to reclaim. If that resonates with you in the States, then that’s a bonus. But I—you know, I’m just really reluctant to pass any judgment on anybody else.
We are in need of continual forgiveness, and it’s not to dwell and to wallow in grief and to beat our breasts. But with the forgiveness that we are promised in Christ on a daily, hourly, weekly, minute-by-minute basis, we move into a place of renewal.
And we’re also a church of—and I say this word advisedly—we’re a church of reform. So this is not just about the Reformation and the Protestant churches, but it’s about sitting lightly to our structures. You know, I belong to two denominations. I’m both a Presbyterian and a Quaker, and my Presbyterian heritage I love. And our motto is ecclesia semper reformanda, church always in need of reform.
So it’s a continual process of renewing ourselves. And I think the greatest danger for our churches is if we begin to put ourselves at our own center and not Christ at the center. And if we remind ourselves often enough that we are part of the oikoumene, the whole inhabited earth, the great world church, then our current structures are just that: they are our current structures. They may come and go. And if we’re here to defend our structures, then we’re lost. Jesus did not come to build the church. He came to usher in the kingdom of God. And so if the Iona Community can point to a new way of being church, then fantastic. We’ve always been clear that we are not a substitute for the church, that we are here to renew God’s church on earth, not anyone’s denomination, but the whole church.
So I think— I mean, I don’t want to skip your question—
Debra Rienstra: No, that was a much better answer than the question was.
Ruth Harvey: Oh, no, no, the question’s a good one, but I guess I’m just a bit hesitant. It’s easy to kind of throw rocks at anybody else. And I think, you know, I know fantastic examples of wonderful Christian people in churches in the States—
Debra Rienstra: So do I.
Ruth Harvey: —where you’re being uplifted, but we don’t get a lot of airtime, I guess, those churches and communities. In fact, the opposite often gets the air time.
So—and I think I wanted just to also mention, I think I mentioned this to you earlier—that there are movements, like the City of Sanctuary movement, which—I wonder if that connects with refugia—that our large churches, our cathedrals even, can these be refuges in our city centers? Can these be physical refuges where there’s a cafe and a place of real safety for people who are homeless or who are suffering from abusive relationships or who are refugees or asylum seekers? And we now have a City of Sanctuary movement in this country, which is a wonderful way of our churches and cathedrals really visibly being that renewal.
Debra Rienstra: Yeah. The people of refugia, yeah. In very, very tangible ways. And I think that’s true, with environmental commitments as well, that churches can be, not necessarily even leaders, but very rich participants. I was just thinking the other day, that the last time in history—since I’m a scholar of early modern British literature, that’s my area of specialty, so I know about the early modern period. And I was thinking the other day, the last time we had this much disturbance, we had a reformation. (laughter) You know? Maybe it’s time, yeah.
Ruth Harvey: I think so. I think so.
Debra Rienstra: And what that looks like, I think so many of us are struggling with “What is the future of the church? What’s it gonna look like?” Not that it won’t persist, of course it will persist. It is, it is Christ’s. Whatever we do to help or hurt, the church is Christ’s, but, what form it will take—I think we’re in a time of transition, and it’s fascinating to watch that happen.
Ruth Harvey: Well, I mean, how amazing is that? And I think you’re right. One of the decisions I made for kind of practical reasons about 30 years ago was to become a member of two denominations. But it’s kept me very light on my toes. It means that I don’t—while I’m a member of two human institutions, my belonging is to the world church. And I think that’s the best I can do right now, that I’m not here to defend any one church tradition. I love both my denominations, but I would not argue for their survival at all costs. If our renewal means a real stripping back and stripping away of the old structures, then so be it, if that means we’re reminded of our oneness in Christ.
I mean—and I say that with great love and respect for everyone in all institutions of churches, which do remarkable things. I’m honored to have met some amazing lay and ordained people who are all, in my eyes, all ordained in the eyes of God. As a Quaker, we’re all ordained or none of us are, and they do remarkable things in the name of Jesus.
Debra Rienstra: Yeah. I was struck by a beautiful image that you shared in one of your talks. It was created by one of Iona’s associate members, her name is Meg Wroe. And she painted a version of the famous Rublev icon of the Trinity, or you called it the “inclusive Iona trinity.” And it made me realize again that the originary space of hospitality is in the very person of God.
And I think that’s what that Rublev icon pictures so well, that the person of God is a kind of refugium. And that made me think of your phrase “tender times” that you mentioned earlier. So talk a little bit about that. How are these times tender, and how can we become more tender as we’re trying to deal with our own losses and help others deal with theirs?
Ruth Harvey: There was a beautiful program on our Radio Scotland on Sunday, Sunday with Sally Magnusson it was called, and there was a ten-minute slot for a couple of people to talk about how they had conducted marriages and funerals in this time. And, you know, it was very beautiful to hear of the new rituals that are evolving, but also of the space that’s being created for people to weep and to mourn when they can’t be in each other’s physical presence.
Meg’s icon points to that, to relationship. It points to compassion. So, you know, creating equal space for one another. And I think, ironically, meetings over the internet create equal space for one another. It’s very hard to have a clique or a little side conversation in a large Zoom conversation. There’s an equality about the relationship somehow.
But the icon also talks about the otherness. How do we embrace those who are other, who are different from us? And I guess that would be one of the other tendernesses that I would hope we could really focus on as we emerge out of the pandemic. How do we engage with those who have different views from our own, who have different approaches to faith than ours, whose ideas we may feel we’re diametrically opposed to, and who we might want to avoid? But if we come close in that common life, like we were talking about earlier, the people who have to live in community together, we discover a new emergent entity that’s greater than the sum of our parts.
The this and that coming together creates the other, this new thing. And I think Meg’s great gift to us has been the gift of noticing that, looking at the icon again and noticing hospitality, compassion, and the welcome of the other, the radical hospitality.
Debra Rienstra: How are you doing personally in these tender times? What is giving you strength right now?
Ruth Harvey: Well, I’m doing a lot more walking. We have a hill behind the house and I’m walking up that hill, and I’m swimming. And for me being around, you know—I’m living here with my family, so that’s a great gift to us on the whole, always wonderful. But it’s—on the whole it’s great. I’m discovering, though, I’m getting used to all the internet connection and yet I am getting headaches and I don’t think it’s healthy for my back and for my body, it’s a very physical thing. And I just noticed that I need to be walking around in each other’s company. I’m not designed for this more static life.
But the empathy I now feel for people who are confined to their home through no choice of their own, or confined to a wheelchair, who are restricted in their mobility in any way, it’s been a real eye opener, I have to say. And the resilience that people display, quiet patient resilience, is remarkable.
Debra Rienstra: Yeah.
Ruth Harvey: So how are you doing?
Debra Rienstra: I’m doing quite well, thank you. I, once again, live here with my husband, my son, and his fiancée has been with us, and that has been the best gift, I think, of this time. We’ve gotten to know her in a way that we wouldn’t have otherwise, and that’s a huge gift.
And, you know, I’m kind of an indoor cat. I can spend a lot of time working at my desk, but I, too, have really enjoyed walking and being outdoors as much as I can. I’ve gotten a lot of reading done and that’s good, but I sorely, sorely, miss worship.
Ruth Harvey: Yeah.
Debra Rienstra: As so many people do.
Ruth Harvey: Yeah. Are you worshiping on Zoom or on other platforms?
Debra Rienstra: On Zoom, yeah, live on Zoom. Which, you know, it’s thoughtfully done, it’s well done, but it’s not the same at all.
Ruth Harvey: Yeah, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Quaker meeting on Zoom. There’s something very beautiful about sitting in each other’s company in silence and watching each other. And sometimes the ministry will emerge, but sometimes it’s completely silent for 45 minutes, and it’s really surprisingly lovely.
Debra Rienstra: And you would never have tried that, if it weren’t for a pandemic.
Ruth Harvey: Never!
Debra Rienstra: Ruth, I’m so grateful for your time today, I’m so grateful for your careful listening, for the work that you do in Iona, and for all the richness of what you bring, not only to Iona, but to the church. Thank you.
Ruth Harvey: Debra, It’s been an utter pleasure and an honor to meet you and to have this conversation with you, a big learning curve for me.
Debra Rienstra: This has been Refugia, a podcast about renewal. If you enjoyed this episode and you have a moment, please write a quick review on your podcast platform. Reviews help other listeners find us. You can find us on Facebook at Refugia Podcast. Leave us a comment, and send us your ideas about what refugia means for you.
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