Thursday, 8 November 2012

A Walk Around Holy Island

Lindisfarne Castle and Harbour

Holy Island is one of those 'thin' places. In the words of Josiah Conder's famous hymn, 'Alike pervaded by His eye, all parts of God's dominion lie, this world of ours and worlds unseen and thin the boundary in between.' On Holy Island I am always so aware of the Communion of Saints. I recently led a retreat on Lindisfarne for Ripon Cathedral and several of us commented that, as we worshipped in St Mary's Church, we found ourselves praying about the living and the departed as though there were no difference - there was a deep sense that we were surrounded, joined and led by all who have in the past and do now follow the journey of faith.  

St Cuthbert's Island

St Mary's Church

Services take place each morning and evening at St Mary's Church, led by local Christians who make visitors very welcome. There are also Celtic Prayers at Open Gate Retreat House (run by the Community of Aidan and  Hilda) at midday and in the late evening. One of the pleasures of going to the island for a retreat or holiday is that you can dip into the daily worship of these two communities and you are unobtrusively but warmly welcomed - perhaps not so much welcomed as surrounded by those who draw alongside you, for a time, in prayer. On Tuesdays and Thursdays there are commemorations of St Aidan and St Cuthbert - in the summer months this involves a procession from the church to sites overlooking Cuthbert's cell and Aidan's statue. Lindisfarne is a very holy place and it is obvious not only that prayer has been continuously offered there in the past, but that there is still a constant stream of prayer being offered daily by God's diverse people - pilgrims and tourists, natives of the island, of the mainland and people from all parts of the world, Christians and people of other faiths and none. 

St Aidan

Holy Island is a wonderful place to go for a day's pilgrimage, a retreat or a holiday. I have benefitted enormously from going on my own or with family for holidays or with church and student groups for retreats. The history of the island both sacred and secular is varied and interesting, there is space to walk and explore quietly to your heart's content, expecially when the tide is in and most of the visitors depart. Last week we stayed for a few days and saw and heard seals and a great variety of birds. The Lindisfarne Scriptorium and the Christian Centre run by St Mary's Retreat House offer the visitor sources of inspirational artwork and Celtic texts.   and  

Cross and Monastery
From Adnabod (Knowing) by Waldo Williams, transl. Noel Davies
You are our breath. You are the flight
Of our longing to the depths of Heaven.
You are the water which flees from
 The wilderness of our anxiety and fear.
You are the salt which purifies.
You are the piercing wind of our pomposity.
You are the traveller who knocks.
You are the prince who dwells within us.
I always enjoy this poem which, like so many Celtic prayers, surrounds us with the mystery God, without and within. This is the God who is infinitely great and beyond us, to whom our soul reaches out and the same God whose Spirit dwells within us, as close to us as our own breath and more understanding of us than our own minds.
Beyond the Harbour and out to the Farne Islands

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