Saturday, 1 September 2012

Lindisfarne - the Sixth Day

Patrick - dear saint of our Isle

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

There's a fair amount of information on St Patrick  this site is fairly open to both legend and fact - such as it is.

Patrick's missionary work was nowhere near Lindisfarne and centuries earlier than the brothers and sisters we celebrate this week.

Which, I suppose, is the point on several levels. 

To be reminded that we are all 'dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants'. That we are all beholden in our belonging and our traditions to those who have gone before. We have all sat at the feet of someone who told us this story that we seek to be a part of. 

Also, that Lindisfarne, and anywhere else that we regard as sacred, may be places for rest and renewal, but our ministry is most often in the place where we live and the people that we meet in our ordinary but 'extraordinary' lives. 

And then, that we should be aware of this world where we live; that the missionaries carried the faith across the country; the holy road led everywhere; reached everyone. And that there are memories are left behind if we only open our eyes.

St Patrick's Well isn't my nearest sacred space but the one I would probably have never visited if I hadn't made the commitment to 'look at the ground beneath my feet'.

Part of the nature reserve - known as the 'Wirral Way' - travels through Bromborough, about five miles from my home.

Bromborough is one of the possible sites of an epic battle in 937, the Battle of Brunanburh, This is the first battle where England came together as one country, to fight the combined forces of the Norsemen and the Scots, and historians consider it the birthplace of England; this area is known as Dibbinsdale being centred around the River Dibbin. It's a mixture of meadow, riverside wetland and retains some of the ancient woodland of the 12th Century forest.

A breath of water and woodland surrounded by busy rush hour traffic; industrial units and a shopping outlet; I have driven past hundreds of times always on my way to 'somewhere else'.
This summer I turned into the sandstone lined lane; came to a halt in the tree encircled car park and took a look at the reserve map with the philosophical comment 'you are here'.

And on one of the many woodland walks there was a label and a small detour over a wooden bridge to a spot marked 'St Patrick's Well'.

St Patrick is reputed to have blessed this well, a scarce source of fresh water at the time, before his mission to Ireland in 432. Tradition or otherwise - this little corner has kept the title ever since.

Water has always been a sacred place in pagan and celtic spirituality. It would make perfect sense as the celts moved from pagan to Christian belief to have their source of water blessed by a man who embodied the strengths of the Druids and the Christian faith. You would wonder why it wasn't more famous; why, indeed, it didn't have it's own pilgrimage trail?

                                                  On seeing the sign I was a little hesitant to go further; what if it was neglected; vandalised; graffittied? What if it was a dreadful disappointment? What if it wasn't even there?

But it was; the walk lead downhill into a sandstone gorge. I found myself following a path below the surface of the modern road - beside the path the runoff from the rain mingled with the cascades of a brook that widened into small river.  An arrowed sign that seemed to lead nowhere and there it was - a small squared-off entrance with markers of ancient masonery held in the grip of the deep roots of a beech tree. The water clear and bright above the debris of nature's leavings - seed pods, twigs, leaves and crab apples.

A certain neglectful elegance; a stillness; a sense of presence that was both spiritual and remarkably mundane.

There was nowhere to sit apart from the floor and the weather wasn't kind - leaning against the rocky outcrop the sound of the traffic above faded into a quiet humm. Any sense of moving on disappeared; stillness descended.

As dogwalkers and bmx bikers passed by there was a sense of timelines crossing; boundaries being pulled down. Sixteen hundred years plus of people coming to the Well; a place of life, of faith, of hope. And here I am today seeking the same refreshment of life.

Even if Patrick hadn't been here although there was a plain-ness and a practicality that would have certainly suited his spirituality - this place, this water was valued; was important; was sacred in a discrete way; sacred enough to remain inviolate. Somewhat returned to Creation; but why not? Why not?

God in the Everyday; the Everywhere - in a walk through woodland; across tidal  sands or sitting in a ancient church. Holy men and women have come before us whether or not we know their names - we are all part of a greater realm - we just have to take the time to step out of the normal way of things now and again.

I count the four hour plus drive to Lindisfarne as well worth it even when it is just for the day; but I can't do it every day.  Perhaps this is a good reminder that before we start out on our pilgrimages of faith we should first know where it is we start from.

As Mary Oliver says:

"Instructions for living a life.

Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it." 

wordinthehand 2012

The Northumbria Community's Compline for Saturday  here


Lynda said...

I appreciate your reminder that our sacred places "may be places for rest and renewal" but our ministry takes us into the ordinary places - wherever God leads us. I am blessed to be able to minister at Manresa Retreat Centre which is a very sacred and holy place for me but that isn't in my everyday life. As an aside, I attend St. Patrick's Parish.

Word in the Hand said...

A great saint to live up to Lynda. Manresa sounds lovely - maybe I should put it on my wish list - blessings to you M+x

Margaret said...

Mary Oliver is the best. It is all a little Budhist, isn't it?

claire said...

I know so little about Celtic spirituality, and I love to discover it here.
Thank you, Word. Thank you for the depth of your thoughts, of your wisdom. What a treat!