Of Thin Places and Their Meaning

These images were all made on Iona.

Iona is both an island and a construction.  As an island we can point to descriptions of the location, geography, geology etc. (all of these things are constructions too, of course, but I’ll not pursue that here!) but the construction of Iona is of more interest to me.  From being a rock in the Atlantic, it becomes something much more.

Of course, in contemporary times much of this has to do with George MacLeod and the Iona Community.  MacLeod founded the Community in 1938, and reinvented, retold and created myths and legends from the ancient past in order to inspire, comfort and challenge the Community and its Members, of which I am one, and have been for quite a long time.  One of the lines used repeatedly is a variation of the idea that Iona is a ‘thin place’, with little separating the spiritual and the material.  I love this idea: the interrelatedness of all that we are and think in the context we find ourselves in.  Jane Bentley and Neil Paynter even published a guide book to the island with this phrase in the title.

However, I think this is often misunderstood.  Thin places are not comfortable places.  They confront us and make us think again about ourselves, and reveal themselves in ways we don’t really expect.  Many people commented on my visit to Iona, saying things like, ‘how lovely – what a peaceful place to go to’ and similar.  In my experience, having lived and worked there, and been countless times for various lengths of time over the last 25 years or so, it is rarely that.  It is a place of sharp edges, of hard thinking, of confrontation with myself.  It is where I feel at home, but home is not necessarily a comfortable place.  I thought I would try and reflect some of that in imagery, and these are the result.  Although I had made the images for The Wide Open Spaces of Infinite Darkness by the time we went to Iona, it was on Iona that I realised how I would be able to publish them – that is part of the process of self-confrontation here.  The order is deliberate.

I should add that I think many places are ‘thin’, or rather, everywhere has the potential to be ‘thin’ for us.  All places can become places where we see and understand more of ourselves.  My own history makes Iona one of the places where that sort of happens almost automatically for me, but that’s an idiosyncrasy that isn’t necessarily something to be easily explained or analysed.  Our reflections are not bound by spaces – we construct them and make them what we want them to be.