John Bell, Psalms and Iona

Last week, the clergy of the Diocese of Colorado gathered in Avon for the annual clergy retreat, hosted by Bishop Rob O'Neill. Our spiritual director for this three-day event was Rev. John Bell, a Scottish Presbyterian minister, hymn-writer and author. The retreat was titled "The Engaged Spirituality of Jesus."

John lead us through a series of talks, meditations and a sermon that showed how the Bible and Jesus Christ reveal how intimately involved God truly is in the lives of people, meeting them where they are. For me, it was John's session on Psalms, which are typically dismissed or avoided for being off-putting or unduly negative that was particularly eye-opening. For example, read through Psalms 5, 58 and 88. Psalm 88 especially conveys a sense of utter hopelessness; the final verse concludes: "...darkness is now my only companion."  Wow! That's not helpful...or is it.

John gave us an entirely new perspective on passages such as this, which is that God gives us a hearing for our deepest laments and our darkest feelings. After all, it was Jesus who cried aloud from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22). Too often, people believe they must hide their despair from God, when, as the Psalms indicate, God listens to us no matter what our situation.

John Bell is closely connected with the Iona Community, based on the island of Iona, located off the west coast of Scotland. I had the great privilege of visiting Iona about twenty years ago. Below is a link to a short video narrated by John Bell introducing viewers to the Christian history Iona.  --Fr. Abshire