Tag: Holy Island

Cuddy’s Isle

Cuddy’s Isle (St Cuthbert’s Isle) on Lindisfarne, Northumbria. This photograph was taken by my friend Helen Gheorghiu-Gould earlier this week. She is currently having sabbatical time and this visit is part of her time away from her ministry. It is a time of reflection, prayer, rest and opening her heart to God’s possibilities for her.

The photograph took me back to the many visits and associations I have had over the years and stirred the heart-strings both of memory and of my halting spiritual pilgrimage. It has always been, for me, a place of encounter with God where He has guided me with love.

Holy Island (Lindisfarne) is a deeply special place for the story of Christianity in our land. It was to here that St. Aidan came from Iona to proclaim the love of God in Jesus Christ for His people. Here St. Aidan trained up twelve Saxon boys, including four brothers, to spread the Good News of Jesus. It was here, the day after Aidan’s soul was taken up to heaven that a boy named Cuthbert came to dedicate his life to God after first testing his vocation at the Abbey in Melrose.

When Cuthbert was called to be a great leader of the church and weighed down by the many tasks he undertook, he escaped to his special meeting place with God. As Lindisfarne became (and becomes) an island twice a day, so the little island known as Cuddy’s isle is the same. Here Cuthbert crossed before the tide cut him off and left him to simply be with God.

Here’s a poem I’ve just written inspired by Helen’s photograph and the thoughts it has stirred.

An Island

There is an island
made holy by the prayers and tears of saints.
A holy, set-aside place where souls in search of God
find him waiting.

It is a thin place
where earth touches heaven
and barriers are paper-thin:
tissue hiding nothing,
darkness transparent,
light warmly radiant.

I have been there,
down the rough path
past the church to a bend in the road
where expectancy parts the air.
The sea drifts to shore,
benign and welcoming
or pushing waves to the limit of its power.

Go there.
It beckons and seeks you.
Clamber and scramble the rocks of your desire.
You have a meeting, a moment, an arrangement.
God waits and stretches out his hand in welcome,
shelters safe and holds.

You are there
at the place of speaking,
listening,
being still.

Even as the wind swirls and chills,
you are warm.

And this place?
Cuddy’s Isle of Lindisfarne.
Or perhaps…
your heart.

[Mr G. 1st July 2021]

St Aidan of Lindisfarne – Apostle from the North

Feast day, 31st August.

St Aidan window | Leonard Evetts
Holy Island Church

In 635AD a monk from Iona arrived at the court of King Oswald at Bamburgh in Northumberland. The King had recently won back his kingdom from the pagan Penda and he vowed that his people should become, as he was, Christian. When his father was defeated by Penda, Oswald with his brother and sister were sent, for safety, to live with the monks on Iona – the island consecrated by the prayer of St Columba. There Oswald learned Christianity and it was to Iona that the newly crowned king sent for a missioner to begin the work of proclaiming the Gospel. The first monk to arrive failed to make any headway with the people and it is thought he was too harsh on them. It probably didn’t help his case when he called them ignorant, unteachable and barbaric!

The saintly monk Aidan gently told him that he had tried to feed the people with ‘meat’ when first they needed the ‘milk’ of the Gospel. Not surprisingly, the Abbot told Aidan if he could do any better, he should go to Lindisfarne and see what he could do. Thus he was sent to re-start the mission and his gentle approach to evangelism soon paid off.

As a Celtic monk, he preferred the isolation of an island – although one which was accessible to the mainland for his missionary work and also near the King with whom he intended to work in partnership.   Ideally suited (and you can so easily detect the hand of God in this) was the island known as Lindisfarne or today, because of Aidan, Holy island.

Aidan’s approach to mission and evangelism was neither hard-line nor hard-sell.  He was a Celt and the Celtic approach was to quietly but certainly overlay pagan beliefs with Christian ones but not by denouncing the pagan.  To pagan belief, the Celts introduced a richer interpretation.  For example, the pagan worship of the Sun was easily transferrable to worship of the SON, Jesus Christ.  Without threatening but through gentle loving, the seed of Christianity was carefully and firmly sown and it paid off.

Aidan also went ‘local’.  He set up a monastic school which trained  youths for mission, having first steeped them in prayer and Bible study.  Twelve boys (like 12 disciples) were the first to arrive and they laid the foundation for a monastic school which was to gain huge renown.  The boys, when trained, were sent out as ‘Apostles’ to England.  Cedd, for example, took the Gospel to Essex (having first proclaimed Jesus Christ in North Yorkshire). Chad, his brother, proclaimed the Gospel in the Midlands. Aidan himself was tireless in his Missionary journeys.  The mission succeeded and was blessed by God, because it combined the deep zeal of Celtic spirituality to travel to foreign parts for the sake of the Gospel with a deep understanding of what the Gospel is.  It used local people to spread the Word.  Though Lindisfarne began as a Celtic foundation (and was staffed in part from Iona and Ireland) it was also an Anglo-Saxon (native) mission.  That’s why it took root.  It may sometimes be true that a prophet isn’t often heard in his or her own country but there is another truth which is that if you are convinced by Jesus Christ and build up your relationship with Him, then you will witness to people in your own locality.

Aidan was a clever, wise and astute purveyor of the Gospel and he made it his business to get to know the people he preached to.  At first he even took King Oswald along to interpret what he said until he learned the native tongue.  And he was gentle and loving.  In all this he has much to teach Christians about mission today.  He is the Apostle from the North but he became the Apostle of England.  Ripples of Gospel love started from Lindisfarne and quickly spread by God’s grace.