“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
No, it doesn’t.
It begins after the 60th mile. You’ve already put 4 or 5 days distance between you and home. You can’t go back; you’ve come too far. Your friends and family now feel your absence. They are starting to believe you will do it this time. You have blisters. The scenery has changed noticeably. The people are strangers. This is the furthest point you have come away from what you had always known, just as Sam stopped while leaving the Shire, knowing where he tread next was the adventure. The next step is the first one and the next mile is the journey.
Ia, pronounced Hi-ya, was a young Irish noblewoman living in the 6th century, during the great flourishing of Christianity on that island. She was a sister to St. Erc of Slane and companion to several holy leaders. They had banded together to make a missionary journey to Cornwall and set up a monastic establishment. Ia was a contemporary of St. Melangell and shared many commonalities. The group of missionaries had gathered at modern day Waterford to set sail.
Ia missed the boat.
We don’t know exactly why she was not with her companions on the day they left or if they purposefully left her behind. The stories say she was too young to travel by herself, which is why she did not hop the next boat to the Cornish coast. She did not give up and turn back to what could have been an acceptable Christian life in Ireland. To Cornwall God had called her and to Cornwall God would take her.
Ia saw a leaf washing up near the shore. She reached out with her staff and poked the leaf. It did not sink. Then she watched the leaf grow into the size of a coracle, a basket-shaped boat made for one. Ia stepped into the leaf and the wind took her out across the ocean. She landed near the Hayle River and set up a monastic cell near her companions. The group continued to witness to the Gospel of Christ until she and the entire group suffered martyrdom at the hand of the King of Cornwall. The port city of St. Ives is named after her.
We often make ‘beginnings’ as St. Anthony says, “Every day I say to myself, ‘Today I will begin’” I know I often leave a wake of well-intentioned beginnings which never come to fruition, new habits which do not stick and unfinished projects. Yet, what the life of St. Anthony shows us, is that we never begin at the same place. What we work with, our soul and body, are ever changing, one towards God (hopefully) and one towards the grave. The key is perseverance. Every morning may be a fresh day with no spots on it. The materials we are given, however, are there to be shaped from the clay of yesterday.
For St. Ia, she had already put ‘skin in the game’, of forsaking all for the Gospel of Christ. The coastline was her last safe step. Beyond there, she ventured into the unknown. Where have you stopped? Do you hear voices telling you that success is impossible because you’ve never made it past a certain point? Have you stopped because you see no other way forward according to your best reckoning? Perhaps you need just a leaf and a step forward, instead of a boat and a gaggle of friends, to bring you towards where God would have you.
Troparion of St Ia
Thy life and mission
were pleasing to God, most pious Ia,
for seeing thee left behind in Ireland,
He miraculously transported thee across the sea to Cornwall on a leaf.
Wherefore O Saint, pray to God for us
that we may never give way to despair
but ever trust in His great mercy.