A Pilgrimage with St Aidan

by Lisa DeRosa

by Carol Dixon 

In May 2007 I stayed for three Days on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne living in the Bothy at St Cuthbert’s United Reformed Church Centre where the Director, helped me to reflect on ‘changing gear’ from working life to retirement.     I spent the days walking and meditating, taking photos and trying a new venture – painting (not very successfully), using the trellis of set times of prayer as a framework.  Each day also I went to look at St Cuthbert’s Isle, just off the coast of Holy Island to observe it in different lights and tides as well as from different angles to help me to reflect on the routine of life from different perspectives. 

Cuthbert’s Isle

Each evening I re-membered my impressions of each day before sleeping – a kind of walk through the day with Jesus, ending with a prayer of dedication committing the coming night into God’s good keeping:  

‘Stay with me, Lord, as another day living in your presence fades into darkness and silence.

This day leaves behind it reminders that we do not do your planning for you. I know that I was, and am, and always will be in your hands.

Carry me along the shortest route to your heart.’  [A prayer of Brother Lawrence]

During the day I also spent time apart with St Aidan, standing by the statue of him near the Priory, not far from the religious settlement he founded in 635AD when he first arrived from Iona to bring the flame of faith to the heathen Northumbrians at the request of King Oswald who had been raised on Iona.

During the day I also spent time apart with St Aidan, standing by the statue of him near the Priory, not far from the religious settlement he founded in 635AD when he first arrived from Iona to bring the flame of faith to the heathen Northumbrians at the request of King Oswald who had been raised on Iona.

Statue of Aidan Holy Island

As a way of reflecting I used a hymn I had written, meditating on a verse at a time:

  1. Behold the beauty of our God, in vast expanse of sea and sky, in bobbing seal and cuddy duck, in tern and puffin’s raucous cry.

As I sang the first verse, I thought of how Aidan must have immersed himself in the beauty of his surroundings.  Although St Cuthbert was more associated with the birds and animals on Lindisfarne, they must have reminded Aidan of the island he had left to come to this foreign place, peopled by Anglo-Saxons, a totally different race from the Celts & Picts he was used to, and how in all the strangeness, he was able to feel at home in the beauty of God’s creation.  When we find ourselves in a strange place, literally or emotionally, what do we cling to that reminds us of God?

  1. We sense the imprint in the sand Aidan and Cuthbert’s feet once trod, upon their daily pilgrimage to draw them closer still to God.

As I walked along the beach I felt as though I was walking on holy ground, where saints of old had passed.  How many other pilgrims had following in their steps over the centuries, I wondered.   Are there places where we feel closer to God?

  1. We catch the whisper of their prayers in gusts of wind on rippling dunes, and lapping waves on Cuthbert’s Isle dance to creation’s joyful tunes.

Perhaps Aidan felt the same wind of the Holy Spirit driving him on as he looked out over Hobthrush islet (as Cuthbert’s Isle was known). It seems as if it inspired him to walk alongside the poor and the downtrodden he met along the way, as well as when he was with the King and the court that he had come to serve?  How does the Holy Spirit inspire us to bring the joy of Christ to our world today?

  1. We learn to praise the living God in service and in solitude, and draw aside from teeming throng to work and pray for greater good.

Window, St Aidan’s Roman Catholic Church, Holy Island.

  1. The Spirit wings across the air to touch us with God’s kiss of peace, and so renewed in heart and mind, our love for all will never cease.

I thought about Psalm 84 that I had learned as a child in its metrical version ‘How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of hosts to me’ and as I sat on the grass beside Aidan I re-read it in my Bible:

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
    for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blest are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.[c]
Blest are those whose strength is in you, 
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the valley,
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains cover it with pools. 

  1. All glory be to Christ our strength, safe haven of the Father’s love, and praise to God the three in one, from saints below and saints above.  © Carol Dixon

When Aidan left the ‘safe haven’ of the monastic life on Iona to set out on his missionary journey perhaps he felt all at sea.  Yet following God’s guidance, he didn’t set up his church within the safety of the king’s stronghold at Bamburgh as he was invited to do.  Instead he found himself close to the Triune God in the wildness of a tidal island out in the cold North Sea and the small settlement he founded there continues in different ways to this day.  

What ripples do our Christian lives drop in God’s pool of love that resonate for others, I wonder?

PrayerA meeting of earth and heaven…
I came – thinking I knew how to pray,
and discovered that all my preconceived ideas
crumbled to dust, and ran through my fingers,
like grains of sand upon the shore.
Instead I decided just to be, to wait
and see what happened, or not,
and not worry about the difference, indifferent 
to feelings of whether God was present.
And God was here, was everywhere!
Whether my intellect, imagination, or spirit
could comprehend was of no consequence.
Deep down, beyond the depths of reason,
beyond fathoming, I know:
‘Surely God is in this place.’ © Carol Dixon

Music for hymn (Whittingham Fair Northumbrian Traditionalfrom CD Cuthbert’s Isle © Carol Dixon [click on link below]

(All photos by Carol Dixon)

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3 comments

Pat Livingstone August 29, 2020 - 8:02 am

The wildness and beauty of both Iona and Lindisfarne echo each other . Places of heaven on earth. It is often this wildness in wind, smashing seas, hurling rain, literal or in the inner journey
that send me back to the Author of the Elemental.

Reply
Lynda August 31, 2020 - 5:01 am

what a lovely song Carol and a beautiful Celtic melody …. not easy to convey these concepts to the church that bears Aidan’s name here in Johannesburg but as one who has visited Bamburgh and Iona it helps with the interpretation
!

Reply
Bill Carangelo September 5, 2020 - 2:28 pm

Thank you for sharing your reflections of your inner experience the three days you spent on the isle. You took me with you.A fellow Contemplative wanna be.

Reply

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