a reflection on "knowing when" in honor of the feast of St. Aidan
My Dear One,
Today, Aug. 31st, is the Feast Day of St. Aidan, a Bishop of Northumbia in the 7th century. Born in Ireland, he initially relocated to the monastery of Iona on the western coast of Scotland where he served in the community founded by St. Columba. (I am an associate member of the current Iona Community.)
There Aidan heard reports of the Christian missionary efforts in Northumbria on the far eastern coast of England. The first monk charged with shepherding the people of Northumbria returned to report the locals there were obstinate savages who could not be taught or tamed. Aidan asked him why then he did not love them like children and raise them up first with milk before moving on to solid food. The community decided to send Aidan as a replacement, being a man of gentler and more compassionate temperament.
There, installed Bishop by King Oswald, he chose the isle of Lindisfarne (similar in ways to Iona) as the place to establish his monastery. Along with twelve other monks, he began the work of teaching, loving and caring for the people of the wider area. Traveling always by foot to ensure he would encounter all, even the poorest, he once gave away a horse the king had just given him to the first beggar he met. Questioned by the king as to why he would give away such a fine horse to such a lowly beggar, Aidan replied, “What are you saying, Your Majesty? Is this child of a mare more valuable to you than this child of God?”
The most remarkable thing about the Isle of Lindisfarne (now also known as Holy Isle), is that twice a day it isn’t truly an island at all. At low tide, the waters recede and a lengthy land bridge appears, connecting it to the mainland. It is important, therefore to know the rhythm of high and low tide, lest you begin the journey too late and become overtaken by the treacherous waters. To this day, people who choose to walk to Lindisfarne rather than drive become trapped by the tides and need to be rescued. Indeed, you cannot reach it, even by car, until the right time comes.
Two summers ago, I was blessed to travel to Lindisfarne, where there remains the ruins of Aidan’s monastery and the community which gave us the enduring gift of the Lindisfarne Gospels. It remains a sacred place where people still travel to go on pilgrimage and enjoy the local shops.
I hope to return there again someday, to say hi to my friends Don and Sam at Marygate House, and watch the movement of the tides, reminding me when God calls me to go and when God calls me to stay.
In honor of St. Aidan’s feast day, I wrote this poem, “Knowing When.” I hope it gives you strength for your journey this week, as together we go…
following The Way,
Twice a rotation things align within the
rhythm of the moon’s sure pull
upon the waters of the deep
It was there you knew you’d found your home
a place from which to live and love
and care and serve
A suitable match for your own soul
both monastic and missionary, knowing when
to engage and when to retreat
You stood on the shore, gauging the tide
your careful eye attune to the movements
of God’s Holy Wind
Many have since misjudged the moon
surprised by the sharp waters
as they rushed back in
There is a time to journey out
and a time to stay home and
only the wise know
which is which
and I am not so wise, my friend,
I am not so wise
And so I will stand here among
the other twelve, waiting for your signal
patiently, waiting for the right time
to go forth to love
the world in God’s name
Soul Practice This Week
Before you make any significant decisions, take time to stop, be present where you are, observe what is going on around you, take notice of the moon, the wind, the tide, pray, and only then take your first step.
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