Here’s where I am: It is Sunday afternoon on the Isle of Iona in the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. I am sitting on a grassy bank at an incomparably beautiful bay called the Mhachair.

Soon I will have to head back to the Iona Abbey, where I am spending my summer in the kitchen as a volunteer, and where I am responsible for setting out tonight’s supper for about 60 abbey guests and staff. Soup, sliced bread and fruit. An easy task tonight.

But right now I sit with my feet on the edge of this vast stony beach, and I am poking about for perfect stones. The stones of Iona are beautiful, are famous, are plentiful on her beaches. Local craftspeople string these beauties on strips of leather or set them in silver. I am hoping to find a few of Iona’s finest stones to send back to the U.S. as gifts for my grandchildren.

I pick one up, note its flaws, then drop it again on the beach? I poke, I dig, I hunt, but these stones are not smooth enough or round enough or just the size I imagine fitting into my grandson’s hand.

Why is it that I have to learn this over and over again? I have picked up this particular coral granite stone three times. Three times it has caught my eye, and three times I have turned it over and noticed a small chip. I am about to reject it yet again, when I realize that this stone is indeed the perfect one. It is perfectly the stone it is meant to be. I drop it in the pocket of my fleece. Christopher will be pleased to have a stone all the way from Scotland.

Here’s where I am: It is Sunday evening on the Isle of Iona. Before I head back to the small cottage I share with 13 other volunteers, I walk out to the north end of the island, hoping for another dazzling Scottish sunset.


I have come to Iona looking for myself, hoping to find my way to some ephemeral perfection in which I am fully compassionate and fully mindful and fully at home in my own skin. How often I poke and dig and hunt through my own being, always discovering that I am not enough.

After eight weeks in this stunningly beautiful place, where we all work very hard at tasks totally unlike our day-to-day work, will I finally pick up this stone of self I keep rejecting and notice that I am no more and no less than the person I am meant to be?

Here’s where I am: It is Monday morning, and I am sitting in the chaos of the MacNeil Library, a volunteer lounge above the refectory in this ancient medieval abbey, putting thoughts on-screen to share with you amidst many distracting conversations.

I breathe deeply. I notice that I am — despite my doubts and questions — exactly where I am meant to be in this moment, doing exactly what I am meant to be doing, being as fully myself as possible in this one perfect moment in time. With five more weeks to practice, will I finally learn the art of mindful acceptance?

Here’s where I am: Spending my summer in Scotland, re-learning by fits and starts life’s elementary lessons, and soaking up the beauty of this small piece of creation.

Where are you in this one, perfect, unrepeatable summer moment?


Karen Christensen is the pastor of the First Congregational Church of Buxton, Maine. She can be reached at: [email protected]


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