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following The Way to Lindisfarne

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,


Knowing When

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

and bless

and stumble

and sing

and eat

and teach

and heal

and cry

and fall

and rise

and give

and lose

and change

the world in God’s name

statue of St. Aidan overlooking the monastery ruins


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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