Friday, 31 August 2012

Lindisfarne Days - the Fifth Day

Boisil - Healer and Teacher

                                              Genesis 1:22
God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.
Saint Boisil, Confessor, was a Northumbrian trained  at Lindisfarne Priory by Saint Aidan.  He became a monk and quickly rose to be Prior of Melrose Abbey. Bede tells us that the saint was a man of  virtues as well as an eminent scholar. 

He was widely known and sought after for his herbal remedies, and for his blessing of the healing properties of the two local springs containing iron salts. Interestingly, these wells are clearly marked on the OS maps of today - the Wellbury Well in the bank just below his chapel, and the Hare (corruption of ‘Heir’ meaning ‘Holy’)Well which lies near St Boswells Burn. 

When the young Saint Cuthbert came to Melrose Abbey rather than the more famous Lindisfarne, Boisil welcomed him at the gate and said  to the monks with whom he was standing: "Behold the servant of the Lord". The Abbot soon gave permission for Cuthbert to enter the community, and Boisil ensured that he "watched, prayed, worked and read harder than anyone else". They became great friends. Both were given to travelling amongst the villages neighbouring Melrose and preaching to the local people.

In AD 659,  Boisil became Abbot of Melrose. Two years later, Boisil showed a gift of foresight, or health knowledge,  when a great plague swept through the monastery. Cuthbert was affected by the disease and came close to death, but Boisil confidently announced that he would recover. He also predicted his own death from the same epidemic, to which he, indeed, fell victim. Shortly before the end, Boisil made his most famous prophecy, foretelling that Cuthbert would be a great influence in the Church and would, one day, rise to Bishop.

The growth of the faith may have been led by the lights of saints such as Aidan and Cuthbert - but on their own they could well have fell into legend and folklore. 

The monasteries and abbeys provided places of academic and spiritual learning, a place for a community of faith to develop and support each other; a place for a lineage of faith to grow. 

Whilst having every faith in the gift of prophecy I feel Boisil expressed it through his talents as a teacher; awareness and compassion as a healer. When you take the time to get to know people then you can 'know' a great deal. 

George Bernard Shaw wrote ' he who can - does, he who cannot - teaches'; which becomes a paradox if the 'can' is 'teach'. Christianity became fruitful and filled the villages, farms and lanes with those who could and did - but with thanks to those who could and taught. 

Cuthbert was guarding sheep when Aidan's light called to him - this poem seems appropriate for a Abbot who probably treated his students like so many lambs. 

The images are of the more northerly scottish isles - a reminder of the web of faith that had spread across the land to Lindisfarne and then back out into the world.



The Northumbria Community's Compline for Friday is here

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Lindisfarne Days - The Fourth Day

Ebba -Warrior Princess

Genesis 1:16,17
  God also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth,

Moon through the Rainbow Arch, Lindisfarne Priory

Having just celebrated Ebba's feast day my post on her is here

Another saint with a few legends and fewer facts considering her position as prioress of the double monastery at Coldingham.  The reports tell that she was a devout and holy woman so suggests that perhaps she wasn't particularly interested in promoting her own achievements to the world. Some people make better stars than suns and moons.

As the sister of Oswald and Oswy she certainly had great value as a marriage partner. But although some tales tell that she entered religious life to escape the attentions of a prince; as a new found Christian this may not have been a decision forced upon her. 

it may well have been that, like her brothers, Ebba saw herself as not as a handmaid but as a soldier of Christ (a name the Irish monks had used for themselves) and took on the vocation of teacher and missionary with all the academic and diplomatic skills that the royal household will have taught her. The Angles of the North-East would not have been pushovers. And Wilfrid has her to thank for settling more than one dispute between him and her nephew Ecgfrith the then King of Northumbria; including getting him out of Dunbar prison for acting like a lord rather than a monk.

That she was not so canny at running the monastery is a great criticism of her; however religious life appealed to many members of society as a refuge; avoidance opportunity and retirement home. Not all inhabitants regarded chastity or temperance as particularly important until holy orders were confirmed - and maybe not even then. There wasn't the discernment of vocation that has developed now and, of course,  the communities of religious life were still finding their way and writing their Rules. 

Perhaps  her real skills were in bringing Jesus to those who sought him rather than managing those looking for somewhere to hide. If so, no wonder she would retire and leave them to their own devices. 

Ebba probably never visited Lindisfarne; it seems to have been a male only community - intended, perhaps, to support the choice of celibate living. 

And the cultural, rather than religious practices, would have made it difficult for women to walk the roads as their brothers did. I wonder how much of that decision was made by the women themselves? People seem to always have trouble with St Paul's assertion that there are no 'this or thats' anymore. 

With many men away from home - fishermen, herders, kings - it was the woman who customarily ran the household. Often with great authority, efficiency and hospitality. A monastery was simply a family on a very large scale. 

This pattern of monasteries and missionaries echo the ebb and flow of Celtic life -  wanderers of Christ need somewhere to leave and somwhere to come back to. The hearth was considered to be the woman's spiritual domain. And women's ministry, acknowledged and important as it was, was usually centred around a settled community. 

Being the one with a different calling; a different vision of life has never been easy. I have a great empathy for this woman who - a very unreliable legend has it - cut off her nose to spite her face (there was a prince involved).

 Only to have God restore her. 

This poem is one of a series of Woman's Prayers written on the island - it is inspired by Mary Magdalen - a woman I'm sure Ebba would have welcomed. The other poems are here and here . And the photos are of some of the women who have made it onto the island - in one way or another.

Woman's Prayer - Redeemed

Lord, God of my life
I walk in your footprints
A follower, head bowed
Freed from my demons
I am nothing but yours
I am not worthy

You come to stillness
And say my name
I lift my eyes to yours
A look of invitation
Love’s companion
You take me in your arms
Mercy wrapped in Mercy
And I rest
Clothed in You

Blessed be


The Northumbria Community's Compline for Thursday is here

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Lindisfarne Days - the Third Day

Felgild - the Unknown 
Genesis 1:11
Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed—bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds."

What information there is about Felgild is here

There is so little known about Felgild and I admit that I have never been as far as the Farne Islands. 

It may feel that this day is hardly worthwhile. But then I also agree with the sentiments of the Northumbria Community - the faith is made up mostly of the un-named and the unknown - with thanks to God for having us all written on his hand. 

Like Peter's mother-in-law, Felgild is cured of his illness so that we may be certain that God knows each and every one of us and provides, in one way or another, the means for us to fulfill our particular and perculiar ministries and vocations. 

The history of the Lindisfarne Monks suggests a gathering of at least twelve men with twelve apprentice boys as well as the pastoral and domestic carers needed for such a place to survive. The number of named saints is pretty well limited to the writings of the Venerable Bede. But the faith is more than those who find themselves recorded in history.

Surely there were many, many missionaries carrying the Good News throughout the lands - living out the Good News in their land - surely there are many now?

How is this shown on the island? One way could well be the flora that flourishes here. Most of the island is covered in a matting of greenery and varied vegetation. From a distance or a pacing walk nothing much to look at. Sandals, walking boots and trainers regularly and carelessly cover the ground; climb the cliffs or wander the bridleways without a second glance at what is underfoot. The focus being on where they are going - not where they are now. 

But the life underfoot and spilling from walls and cliffs is precious and unique. Each flower a miracle in itself; a celebration of creative giftedness as they survive the salt winds and coarse sun to bloom in celebration of life calling to life. Some so delicate you would imagine them cossetted in a glasshouse and admired through a lens.

 And here they are; pilgrims from the mainland; hermits in the clefts and gullies of the rockspaces; martyrs in the giving of themselves; saints in the divine beauty that they reveal. And I know hardly any of their names. 

A visit last year resulted in this reflection -

Blessed be

The Northumbria Community's Compline for Wednesday is here


Lindisfarne Days - the Second Day

Cuthbert - Anam Cara

Genesis 1:6
And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters 
to separate water from water."

Information about the life of Cuthbert here

seal off Cuthbert's isle
In my heart I feel a great similarity between Cuthbert and Francis of Assisi. Cuthbert doesn't seem to carry the angst that Francis suffers; perhaps because elder 'brother' Aidan had gone before him. He holds the same sense of mindfulness of the world around him; tales of praying otters and friendly 'Cuddy' (Eider) ducks add to the sense of a man at one with creation.

Like Aidan he carries with him the sense of God's hospitality which results in a ministry of welcoming others with a kindness that is both physical and spiritual. The wildness of Lindisfarne is even now held in a breath of God's peace which captures the pilgrim with the first step onto the island and is in everything.

Massie's Cafe
If you have not visited then you may imagine that the island as some kind of open air cathedral with 'quiet please' signs on every corner. In fact, the change of the tide brings a wealth of visitors; pilgrims, fishermen, photographers, National Trust members, birdwatchers, ramblers, families with buckets and spades. There is a camp for inner-city and underpriviledged children, a varied selection of B&B's, hotels, holiday cottages and, yes, even retreat houses. And people live there, work there and commute there -and back again. In spite of the vaguaries of weather and tide - even the children sometimes have to board off-island - it is a home and a place of welcome. 

view across to Bamburgh; 
The wisdom and healing of Cuthbert called to just as many people way back then - Anam Cara meaning soul friend - despite the difficulties of travelling and the waiting on the capricious nature of wind and wave. And whilst the grace of God may be without measure; there is a human cost; even the most compassionate of friends needs a time to rest. 

Before he headed out to the remote refuge of the Farne islands, Cuthbert found a space apart on a little outcrop isle now known as Cuthbert's Island - this place being cut off even from Lindisfarne itself at certain points of the tide. 

Cuthbert's isle 
Arriving on Lindisfarne my first call is often the hill overlooking the isle to gauge the likelihood of getting on during the day. This has to be measured with care as the tide moves in rapidly over rocks and quicksand catching your balance even when quite shallow. The remains of a chapel capture the heart with thoughts of nights spent in prayer and rest held against the heart of God and sometimes against the furies of the Spirit's storms. The poem below was written on a day of fury and grace.

Cuthbert's chapel
The tip of the isle is called the promontory and is a place to stand against the wind and the gaze of the setting sun - see my post Lindisfarne Pilgrim.

Some Christians question the need for saints; surely the personal relationship with Jesus is all we should strive for. But I have a need of friends who have gone before; as brothers and sisters who can lead me home.  From my first step on this island it felt that Cuthbert has made a space for me. 

Island Madness

Madness rains;
Baltic storms hauled westward
By an intake of Earth’s breath.
This place, a vortex of power;
Creation’s pride overflowing.
Snow, wind and waves
Unbound in glorious fury
Against rock and stone.
While God’s breastplate
defends the Heavens,
glowering at a gunmetal sea.

Madness reigns;
Pilgrims called eastward
By the Spirit’s insistent breath.
Fellowship bound in Faith,
Boundless in Love.
Leaps of laughter,
in defiance of Gaia’s boasting,
are tempered by the
Aweful recognition of earthpower.
Yet it is transient man who is pledged
In Covenant to Creation’s Lord.

Blessed be.


Northumbria Community's Compline for Tuesday here

Monday, 27 August 2012

Lindisfarne Days of Creation

Aidan - Flame of the North 

Genesis 1:3
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 
The end of this week sees the feast day of St Aidan and the Lindisfarne saints. On the island this is a week of thanksgiving. 

For a wonderful account of the life of Aidan see Canon Kate Tristam's article here

St Aidan's Bamburgh
from the Baptistry
When I have the time, my visits to Lindisfarne include paying my respects to Wilfrid at Hexham and then Aidan at St Aidan's in Bamburgh. By tradition, Aidan died in an earlier wooden church on this site and the beam he was leaning against has survived two major fires. Benedictines rebuilt the church in the 12th Century, honouring the memory of the Celtic 'apostle'. 

In a symbol of resurrection the beam is now part of the roof work over the baptistry. 

There is a simple shrine over the ground where he lay and, touchingly, prayer tokens take the celtic shape of shells, pebbles and feathers tucked into a little stone recess at the side.  

Then it is often a case of racing the tide for the crossing - it seems to be another personal tradition to only just make it one way or the other. 

This year was the first year that I made the crossing on foot - in bare feet to be precise -  following the sentinel posts that mark safe passage. The poem and post Pilgrim Sands celebrates the experience of walking in the footsteps of all those who wander for the love of Christ.  

There are always poems surfacing in thanksgiving that my own 'wandering' leads me to a place of ebb and flow. A place where the Spirit feeds my spirit and then sends me home to follow my own roads and pathways of life and ministry. 

There are probably a thousand ways of expressing Celtic spirituality - a thought that came to me about Aidan is that he carries God's hospitality with him. That wherever he was, he was the doorkeeper to the Kingdom - and his lamp was always lit.

Blessing of Aidan 

May you  shine with Heaven's Light 
May your heart be Light
in Love's longing
May your words be Light 
in dark times
May your hands be Light
in life's struggles
May your feet be Light
in sharing journeys
and bringing all to the Feast
May you shine with Heaven's Light

Blessed be


The Northumbria Community offers an on-line Daily Office which includes a Compline dedicated to the Lindisfarne saints. Monday is for Aidan

On the island there is a whole week of celebration leading up to Aidan's day on Friday - for those who are able to be there - and I wish I was one of them - this is the events diary and and more details here
St Aidan's Week/St.Mary's church: Choral Evensong with the Choir of St Cuthbert's Norham 17:30hrs
St Aidan's Week/St.Mary's church: Procession of the Lindisfarne Gospels (Facsimile) beginning at St Aidan's Church 15:30hrs
St Aidan's Week/St.Mary's church: Evening Prayer, followed by a of commemoration of St Aidan 17:30hrs
St Aidan's Week/St.Mary's church: Concert with 'Village Voices' 19:00hrs.
St AIDAN'S DAY/St.Mary's church: Holy Communion 08:00hrs.
St AIDAN'S DAY/St.Mary's church: Mass celebrated by Fr Des McGivern, preacher Revd Rachel Poolman 11:00hrs. Followed by a Barbecue at the Open Gate and 'Story Telling' in church with Adam Bushnell.
St AIDAN'S DAY/St.Mary's church: Story Telling in church with Adam Bushnell at 11:30hrs.
St AIDAN'S DAY/St.Mary's church: Parish Communion and walking of the ancient monastic bounds; preacher Revd Mark Tanner, Warden of Cranmer Hall 10:45hrs.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Holy One of God

GospelJohn 6:60-69 

After hearing his doctrine many of the followers of Jesus said, ‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said, ‘Does this upset you? What if you should see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?
‘It is the spirit that gives life,
the flesh has nothing to offer.
The words I have spoken to you are spirit
and they are life.
‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the outset those who did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. He went on, ‘This is why I told you that no one could come to me unless the Father allows him.’ After this, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him.
  Then Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘What about you, do you want to go away too?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.’

It often surprises me that Christianity has as many followers as it has. This may be historically due to the fact that once Rome took Christianity as its official religion it became part of the culture that moved across the world. But the Roman model doesn't seem to fit with what is happening here. To be a Christian of the Empire meant to be part of the big picture and to be on the side of the winners; the people in charge. And it had an order and a rhythm that supported people when, otherwise, life was difficult. The Church was a place of safety and certainty; a place of belonging. It has been that for many years.

How strange then, that in this passage we see the church and the culture of Jesus' time turn away from his teaching. They prefer their own places of safety and certainty; their own belonging. They have been waiting for God to speak to them again; yet this new message is too much; it requires courage; it requires belief in a new way of living; belief in a God who wants to be involved in their life; to give them life. Jesus teaches that this is not a faith that you live on your own terms; God must be as urgent in your life as food and drink. And Jesus is the food and drink that will lead you to God.

That's a difficult faith to live in a world of logic; facts and figures; a world where reason is set out before us as an answer to everything.  No wonder so many walked away; why not the apostles?

From the mumbling and fumbling, Simon Peter makes a bold statement - that they believe Jesus is the Holy One of God; he uses scripture;  words he has learnt from his youth. They have nowhere else to go; no-one else to go to. Out of all these reasons perhaps the last one is nearest the truth.

The Father has brought them to this moment with Jesus through the Father's gift of Love. The revelation - that they love this man; they are more than his friends. They have walked and talked with him; sat in taverns and under stars with him;  stood by and watched as he healed and forgave. They have taught him to throw a net; he has taught them to think. They have shown him how to row; he  has shown them how to see. This is a relationship they do not want to end.

 Jesus has spent all this time talking about love; a relationship of love; from the Father; through him; to the world. For the apostles this has now struck home; Jesus is their world. They may not understand; they may use fancy titles for what they cannot express;  but this they believe.

Who else could they go to?


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Lindisfarne Pilgrim

Here I am

Held in the palm of Your holy place
Fled from the gravity of daily life.
I perch on sun-warmed rock.
Heavy honeyed air is
Stirred by ancient breezes.
Almost beyond hearing
Seals sing Jacob’s mantra
‘Here I am’.

Poised on the promontory of faith
Sun and wind send their might against me.
And I stand, not bowed but exulted.
Fused to this place.
Sun Spirit,
Air Spirit,
Earth Spirit
Glorious Trinity of all You are.

Your breath on me is intoxicating, incisive,
Eroding pretence and artifice.
Leaving me standing bare boned
Before You.
Eyes closed against your crimson gaze.
Daughter to the island,
Sister to those gone before.
Here I am.

Blessed be