Colum Cille (3)
The best guidance from the presence of God
Has been vouched to me;
The King whom I serve will keep from me
All things that would deceive me.
- Attributed to Colum Cille, “St. Columba on Iona”
You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
- Psalm 16.11
[He] raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…
- Ephesians 2.6
Colum Cille possessed what can only be described as an expansive personality. He seems to have seen in one sweep of his surroundings more than most of us see in a lifetime. His early biographer, Adomnán, described Colum (also known as Columba) as possessing “second sight”, the ability to see and appreciate so much more than what comes to one’s vision at first glance, and especially to see the Presence and glory of God in creation.
The poem, “St. Columba on Iona”, attributed to Colum, gives us a glimpse into the heart of this great saint, as he offers a litany of the many things that gave him delight. He observed and described his surroundings from within the Presence of the Lord, so that Column was expressing the joy and pleasure he knows there and with which he looked out on the features and creatures of his bleak island home. The poem may not in fact be by Colum, but it is certainly about him, and probably, if not by him, by someone who knew him well.
“Delightful it would be to me” he writes, opening the poem, just to sit on a rock looking out on the ocean, watching its “heaving waves” as they “chant music to their Father”. To look over the sparkling sand dispelled all sorrow, and to hear the songs of birds around him was a great “source of happiness”. The waves, breaking like thunder on the rocks, the birds floating above the watery surf, the ebb and flow of the tides—all this gave Colum immense joy.
He expressed the desire for a new name, a mystical name: “Cul ri Erin” or “He who turned his back on Ireland.” The reason for this we will learn a bit later. (In fact, Colum Cille was a name given to him by those who knew him; his birth name was Crimthann). But he quickly adds that he was contrite over his having to leave and he bewailed all his evils, “That I might bless the Lord/Who orders all”. In the ordering of creation around him, Colum saw the hand of God, ordering his exile to Iona, and he rejoiced.
At night, to study the heavens, kneeling in prayer to “the Heaven of my heart”, and to meditate on the King of Heaven, “Chief of the Holy Ones”—this, too, filled Colum with great delight.
And he took delight in his work, which he undertook “without compulsion”—gathering food, fishing, “distributing food to the poor,” working on his hermitage, and more.
Colum’s vantage point on life and the world was different from ours. He saw everything from the Presence of God and in the fullness of joy, pleasure, hope, and purpose that Presence provided. Colum’s was an expansive personality because he lived from the Presence of the Father, in the Presence of His Spirit, and unto the Presence and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. As we will see later, Colum was well grounded in the Word of God. He mastered the Law and all of Scripture, seeking the Lord in every book, paragraph, and line; and he let what he learned in Scripture shed light on the world around him and bring him through creation into the joy and pleasure of the Lord (Ps. 36.9).
Colum Cille, like so many other great Irish saints from that period, lived a disciplined, arduous, and simple life. But his days were filled with joy because he encountered the Presence of God in everyone and everything. He became such an expansive personality because he saw so much of the Lord in all his surroundings, and he allowed that constant Presence of God to grow and transform him.
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God” wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Colum was determined to have his life shaped and enriched by all the revelation of that grandeur, whether in the Scriptures or creation, that he might know, love, serve, and delight in his Lord and Savior in everything he did, with all his soul and might.
1. How aware are you of the Presence of God in the things of creation?
2. What could you do to improve your awareness of His Presence there?
(St. Christopher: Beneath the Cross of Jesus)
The heav’ns declare God’s glory, the skies His work proclaim!
From day to day and night by night they shout His glorious Name!
No speech, no words, no voice is heard, yet all across the earth,
the lines of His all-present Word make known His holy worth.
Lord, give me eyes and ears to know You through the things You have made, and help me to…
What’s your vantage point on life?
You can learn to see things from within the Presence of God, and thus have His vantage point on the world. Our book, Vantage Point, explains how to live like Colum did. Order your free copy by clicking here.
Support for Crosfigell comes from our faithful and generous God, who moves our readers to share financially in our work. If this article was helpful, please give Him thanks and praise.
And please prayerfully consider supporting The Fellowship of Ailbe with your prayers and gifts. You can contribute online, via PayPal or Anedot, or by sending a gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 103 Reynolds Lane, West Grove, PA 19390.
T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Eleanor Hull ed., The Poem Book of the Gael: Translations From Irish Gaelic Poetry Into English Prose, Eugene O’Curry, tr. (London: Chatto & Windus, 1913), pp. 111, 112.