In 2005 Russell and I had a holiday in Kerry, South-West Ireland, and looked across at two islands, Little Skellig and Great Skellig- the site of a 6th Century Monastery.
The following year we went north for an Uncle's funeral, and spent some time in Northumberland and visited Lindisfarne, also known as Holy Island. In the Parish Church is a wonderful sculpture of St. Cuthbert's body being moved by his monks because of the fear of Viking invasion.
Last year we rented a cottage in North Yorkshire, visiting Whitby (with their wonderful fish and chips) but also the site of St. Hilda's monastery. We were also able to go up to Durham and visit the Cathedral where St. Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede are both buried. In Millenium Square in Durham there is a bronze version of the sculpture from Lindisfarne.
At one of the earliest Readers Conferences I attended, the speaker was Ray Simpson, Guardian of the Community of St. Aiden and Hilda. I found that his talks resonated very deeply with me. Since then, he and David Adams (Vicar of Lindisfarne for 13 years) have become two of my favourite authors. I even like the covers of their books.
Almost without realising it, I seem to have been drawn towards what we know as Celtic Christianity/ Spirituality. Perhaps this is part of my personal pilgrimage.
Others are drawn to different spiritualities, perhaps Franciscan, Benedictine or Ignation, or perhaps a combination of several different traditions.
All that I want to say for the next few minutes about the major themes and saints of Celtic Christianity can be viewed within this idea of Pilgrimage.
Devout Christians of the third and fourth centuries, having been granted religious tolerance under Emporer Constantine, found that to go deeper in their relationship with God, meant leaving the crowded towns and cities and going to the Desert. Here they lived in caves, or established “cells” or communities of cells, over which an Abba (Father) or Amma (Mother) would be responsible for spiritual guidance: Hence the "Desert Fathers and Mothers".
It is an interesting fact that Christianity is often at its strongest when there is persecution; When it is relaxed commitment is often weaker- perhaps because there is no heavy price to pay.
One of the most famous sayings was “go to your cell and your cell will teach you everything”
For the Celtic Christians who heard of this, they too established communities, in remote areas, often the Western fringes of mainland Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England, including Cornwall, and areas like Northumberland.
Islands like Iona and Lindisfarne were especially favoured for their remoteness.
Christians today are finding the practice of Contemplative prayer akin to time with God in these cells.
The Trinity- accompanying us on our Pilgrimage
God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – often used in the threefold format of Celtic Prayers.
The Holy Spirit is often associated with the appearance of the Wild Goose
(the name used for Iona's Publishing entreprise)
On our journey, God is said to be above and below us, before and behind us, so we are encircled by God's loving presence, provision and protection.
The presence of spiritual conflict and the protective role of Angels is also deeply part of Celtic Christianity.
Celtic Christianity has a deep connection to the Created Order and to sustaining the ecology and balance.
Celtic Christians often sought God in the “thin places” - where land meets sea and
mountain meets sky. This is one of the blessings of living on the Isle of Wight with its coast and downs, beautiful skies and sunsets.
Yet not only is God's presence known in these special physical places, but in the
“ thin places”of our lives- times of challenge and change- birth, illness and death.
Many people feel close to God up a mountain, by the sea, or in some place in which Christians have prayed over the centuries- a Cathedral or somewhere like Carisbrooke Priory.
Pilgrimage may take us to certain physical places, but it is also the inner pilgrimage of our spiritual journey with God who dwells in us by his Spirit and who calls us increasingly to be transformed into the image of His Son- a journey which will only be finalised when we reach Heaven, and amazingly find that we are “like Him”.
On this Soul Journey/ Pilgrimage, the Celtic Christians knew the value of the "Anamchara” or soul friend.
Like the early Desert Christians who sought guidance from their spiritual Fathers and Mothers, so the Celtic Christians sought spiritual guidance.
Other terms for the same thing are: A Soul Friend, Companion for the journey, Spiritual Director or Co-discerner.
Both are travelling on a soul journey/ pilgrimage, and together they seek to discern the will of God.
Having a Spiritual Director is compulsory for all those reaching the end of their training in the Church of England- as Priests, Deacons or Readers. It has been a feature in the Roman Catholic Church and may be offered through guided retreats etc..
Many more people are finding the value of having someone in the capacity of Soul Friend- someone they trust and who will be honest and who will listen to God with you as you travel your journey.
The Diocesan Spirituality Team who run the courses established by Peter Lippiett, now under the name “Inspire”, have a list of Soul Friends/ Spiritual Directors.
Several years ago I reached a point when I knew I needed help to travel further in the direction I was discovering. For some months I had been buying second-hand books at the Priory ; I was offered two names by Peter Lippiett; When I eventually met the person and he loaned me a couple of his own books, I recognised his distinctive margin markings from those I had been buying!.
On the journey we may well meet strangers, and encouragement is given to meeting Christ in the stranger, and perhaps allowing ourselves to be met by others along the way.
This may well give opportunity to share the love of God in practical ways, and Social Justice is a key element- speaking out for those who are unable to do so for themselves.
Much of the modern music from Iona by John Bell takes up these challenges.
Saints : 4th- 7th Centuries
Patrick (373-462) Bridget (451- 525) Columba (521-597)- Iona, Scotland
Wales David (500- 589)
Much of what we know about these Saints is recorded by the Ven. Bede of Wearmoth/ Jarrow (672- 735).
Aiden (died 651) Irish-born; monk at Iona, then to Lindisfarne
Cuthbert (634- 687), S/E Scotland, Melrose & N/E England: Lindisfarne
Hilda (614- 680) Whitby, Durham, Abbess of a community of both men and women.
Does this have something to say to us about the debate on Women Bishops?
Hilda also encouraged the talent of Caedmon ( after whom an Isle of Wight ferry was named) .
He originally looked after the animals, but God called him in a dream to be a poet and song-writer, and Hilda recognised this as a gift from God to be encouraged.
Because I read and try to write poetry, I find Hilda's acknowledgment of Caedmon's gift very encouraging.
Poem - Jan Richardson
Ray Simpson , Guardian of St Aiden & Hilda, Lindisfarne
Books: “Soul Friendship”, Celtic Insights into Spiritual Mentoring (Hodder & Stoughton)
“ Prayer Rhythms for busy people” (Kevin Mayhew)
“ Before we say goodbye”- preparing for a good death (HarperCollins)
CD : “Celtic Journey” An invitation to walk life's pilgrim way (Kevin Mayhew)
David Adams, who became Vicar at Lindisfarne
Books “ The road of life” -Reflections on searching and longing.(SPCK)
“ Power Lines”- Celtic prayers about work (Triangle)
“ Candle Prayers” - Reflective services for living in the light (Kevin Mayhew)
He has also produced a Lent Course which we could perhaps consider for another year for WWCT.