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The Dove of Saint Columba

Dr J Macleod —

Have you ever made a mistake? How did you deal with it? Are there good and bad ways of dealing with mistakes?

Early in his life, Columba made a mistake. He copied something that wasn’t his. When the king determined that Columba was in the wrong, Columba used his family’s wealth and political influence to go into battle against those who opposed him. It is estimated that around 3000 people died as a result. For this action, Columba was exiled from his Irish homeland.

As he sailed away from Ireland, Columba repented. He acknowledged that his actions had been wrong, he decided to live differently, he said sorry and asked God for help. Once in Scotland, he founded Iona Abbey. Columba became known for his wisdom and diplomacy. He learnt to listen, to get alongside people and help them to do the right thing. He became renowned as a bringer of peace and was given the name ‘Colmcille’ (anglicised as ‘Columba’), which means ‘Church Dove’.

The dove is a biblical symbol of peace and God’s presence. Psalm 46 gives a picture of God’s heart for peace. It describes God’s desire to protect us and help us and be with us. Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit, who wants to be with us and help us to follow the teachings of Jesus (John 14:25-27). In this, Jesus offers his peace – a deep peace that incorporates forgiveness and restored relationship.

Columba’s life presents two different ways of dealing with mistakes. One is to focus on what we want, to think we have it all sorted, and even to use our strengths in anger. The other is the way of peace, recognising our mistakes, being willing to listen and receiving the wisdom of God.

The symbol of the dove is a reminder of God’s heart for peace and God’s desire to be with us and help us.