Today is the day when the liturgical church celebrates the life of St Columba. Here at St Columba College, this is our feast day, our day for liturgy, celebration and fun. No classes today!
This morning, sitting together in the newly-decorated chapel for staff prayer, we were led in contemplating the old Celtic word trasna or ‘crossing.’
St Columba crossed the Irish sea in a small boat called a coracle to found the mission on the Isle of Iona. This was his self-imposed exile, penance for his involvement in a battle which resulted in the taking of 3000 lives, was a commitment by Columba (or Callum, or Columcille as he is also known), to bring the gospel to the pagan Picts of Scotland.
The word trasna is used to show not only a physical act of crossing, but also a spiritual transition from the old way of being to the new, from self- to other-centeredness, from secular to sacred, from the ordinary to the extraordinary. In Columba’s life, this crossing symbolised a intentional shift from being a strong-willed, powerful prince to being consumed by the call of God to live in peace and humility and to share the love of God in a strange land. This idea of a ‘crossing’ moment is seen throughout Scripture, but no more profoundly than in the New Testament.
In the gospels we see the trasna of Jesus at his baptism when the Spirit descended on him and the Father spoke the words, ‘This is my son in whom I am well pleased.’ From that moment on we see a different Jesus who, after his trial in the wilderness, entered the work of God with focus and determination.
We see in the life of Peter two monumental trasna events: one when he who denied Jesus became a bold and undaunted preacher of the Christ, and the other when he received a heavenly vision showing him that he was to call no person ‘unclean.’ The two crossings–one from an ordinary fisherman to an extraordinary apostle, and the other from an exclusive worldview to an inclusive one–mark a colossal shift which affected the entire history of the Christian faith.
We witness the trasna of Paul on the road to Damascus, encountering a vision of Jesus and having his life turned around so that he no longer persecutes those who follow Jesus, but seeks himself to make more disciples of Christ.
Trasna. Crossing. Turning point. A moment of decision: which path will I now take?
For St Columba, his trasna took him across the sea to a place just out of sight of the Irish homeland to a wild, unsettled island. Here he lived out his days sharing the good news on the Scottish mainland, teaching and nurturing others in their faith journey, and creating and documenting a rich tradition which, in part, became what we know today as ‘Celtic spirituality’–which itself enshrines the sacredness of the ordinary.
So on this St Columba Day, I close with a prayer of St Columba, which is also our College Blessing:
Deep peace of the bright blue sky to you!
Deep peace of the running waves to you,
Deep peace of the flowing air to you,
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,
Deep peace of the sleeping stones to you!
Deep peace of the shining stars to you,
Deep peace from the heart of Mary to you,
Deep peace from the Son of Peace to you.