On Sunday I went wandering on the web, ambling about as I sometimes do.
“I should go to a bookbinding workshop!”, I thought to myself. “In Stockholm!”
Post-COVID thoughts were afoot!
Top search result: The Travelling Bookbinder’s Guide to Stockholm.
Well that’s interesting.
But who’s The Travelling Bookbinder?
There’s an excellent video on The Travelling Bookbinder’s website that answers exactly that: she is Rachel Hazell.
As teacher, author and traveller, books, words and the power of imagination have always been central to Rachel’s life. She believes that everyone has a book inside them, and loves sharing the satisfying experience of creating unique artwork, in the most inspiring places.
Hazell is a part time resident of the Scottish island of Iona, and in the video there’s a quote that caught my ear:
The thing about islands is there’s less space between Heaven and Earth.
Living on an island as I do, I feel that to be intuitively true.
Here’s a passage, oft-quoted, from Ron Ferguson’s biography of MacLeod, George MacLeod (emphasis mine):
The cattle were certainly lowing in the ruins, but they were moved out of the choir as the rebuilding proceeded. By 1910, the Abbey church had been beautifully restored. A communion table of genuine Iona marble was placed in the sanctuary. The island continued to attract pilgrims, and students came for retreat. The first principal of St Colm’s College, Annie Hunter Small, dearly loved Iona and brought students to the island at least as early as 1913. George was to say later that Miss Small turned his attention to Iona. The Reports of the Schemes of the Church of Scotland for 1921 refers to a retreat held by divinity students the previous year.
The retreats had been started and funded in 1920 by Dr David Russell, who had enlisted the enthusiastic help of George MacLeod from the beginning. George was a popular lecturer at the annual Iona events. The potential of Iona for retreat, renewal and ministerial formation was obvious to him. The history of Iona and its special atmosphere – he described it as a ‘thin place – only a tissue paper separating earth from heaven’ – greatly appealed to him.
“We began to ask,” says MacLeod in the film, “could we make a permanent experiment of cooperation between Sunday and Weekday? ‘Come to Iona,’ a spirit seemed to say, ‘and do it in the large.’ Iona’s a very thin place, only a bit of tissue paper between things spiritual and things material.”
My relationship with the spiritual realm is weak, and so perhaps the tissue paper is more opaque for me than for others; but for reasons I do not completely understand, I am drawn the the notion of islands as portals between Heaven and Earth, and of MacLeod’s “thin places.”
I should still go to Stockholm–or better yet Iona–to take a bookbinding course, but I’m happy for the diversion that my search inspired.