Last week I was on Lindisfarne or Holy Island, on retreat. I had earlier in the year read Alistair Moffat’s book To the Island of Tides and I want to quote from this book, where he is talking about the Heugh from where this picture is taken:
If Aidan chose this high, singular and apparently inhospitable places of winds and storms as the spiritual focus of the community he founded, then his reasons were not perverse or difficult to understand. In the tradition of the diseartan [small hermitage] places apart from the world, the Heugh seemed doubly blessed, a gift from God. Already cut off each day from the tidal island, the high rock was further set appart because three sides of it are steep and it is easily accessible only from the east, and there through a narrow path. But more than all of that, it was a place on the edge of yonder, a place where God could see clearly those who prayed to Him and praised Him. Cleansed by the sea spray and purified by the incessant wind, this elemental, even harsh, place was a rock of ages but not one where the faithful would hide themselves.
Archaeologists have now found the remains of an early chapel on the Heugh, the bigger priory was built in a more sheltered spot. It has got me thinking about how important the edge is. When I am on Holy Island, the most sacred place for me is Cuthbert’s Island, only accessible at particular points in the tide. It is a place of encounter with God and there are memories of particularly sacred moments where particularly I have had to grapple with loss. Being on the edge seems to be a better place for me to do that. I get too why the priory was built where it was, it would have been impossible to build all that was needed on the Heugh and sometimes we need a shelter to dwell in before we go back out to the edge.
Holy Island is a liminal space for me and a significant place in my annual spiritual rhythm. I feel very blessed that I had the opportunity to be there.
The memory of this walk will nourish and sustain me as we journey back home today.
The picture was taken at the end of walking the Pilgrims’ Way one evening this week. Many years ago as I walked this way praying about something specific I felt God saying Go the distance.
I went the distance and it resulted in a realignment of vocation. The journey back will involve taking away with me memories and insights that will shape and sustain me over the coming months. Conversations and companionship have bought wisdom as we have enjoyed temporary community with people we have known from between ten and forty years.
I go back wanting to adopt a different rhythm of prayer and punctuate the day more mindfully than I do. It is a wonderful rhythm on retreat but I have also been trying to work out how I best flourish mainly working from home. I have enjoyed offices at the church and with the Community of Aidan and Hilda connecting with new people and old friends, being blessed.
One month on will be interesting to see where I am…
Working in education means that I have often had to turn down invitations to events I would have loved to attended as time off wasn’t usually possible. Study leave has opened up a new world and I was delighted and blessed when a good friend, knowing my circumstances invited me to her institution and induction as Vicar of her new parishes. That the parishes had a view of Holy Island was an added bonus so I came north, attended the service and got a day on Holy Island and precious time with friends. This is restorative to my soul.
Lockdown means that many of us have missed being able to celebrate physically with people as events are cancelled, moves online or restricted to tiny numbers. Being physically present was a joy, blessing and privilege. Lack of being able to be present is causing a deep sense of loss to many. We have reluctantly had to postpone our first services back since March as local lockdown in Birmingham kicks in and we have decided that if everyone cannot take communion none of us will and we can’t take home communions now. There is a lone in Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi that says you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone – the capacity to be physically present is one of those things. I am learning not to take little things for granted.
Sometimes a phrase that I read sticks in my head. On our retreat last week I read Michael Mitton’s Seasoned by Seasons. In it he quotes Walter Brueggemann saying that ‘only grief permits newness’ and goes on to say ‘if we want springtime newness in our souls, we must learn to grieve well’ (p.17). The picture is of Cuthbert’s Island from the beach. Part of our worship was to ask if anyone wanted to pour out some wine on the earth to honour sacrifices made. This was something Paul had done in this place many years ago and for him was an act of grief too. But in engaging with ritual, offering things to God we become a little freer to enter into the newness God has for us.
Michael Mitton Seasoned by Season Abingdon BRF 2017.
I believe that there are thin places, where it is easier to encounter God and this was the week I got to visit one of ours, Holy Island or Lindisfarne. The photograph is from our final communion, where we were reading the psalm of gratitude we had created the day before with the refrain his love endures forever. Each year we use a liturgy which seems apt for the island and share prayers, bread, wine, the peace and words which have a deep meaning. I have returned home inspired to start a gratitude journal again by Rachel Hudson’s input to us – three things a day. And I will take it back next year and look back on what God has done. I recommend a retreat if it is at all possible to access one, it is a precious time that I draw on throughout the year and feel blessed that I can be a part of a very special group.
I love these reclaimed boats on Holy Island. I am becoming more aware of our responsibility towards the environment and the potential to reuse, or recycle or reclaim. I also like the notion that old does not have to equal obsolete, particularly as I age! It isn’t always easy to make the wise choices day in and day out and sometimes convenience or expedience over rules. But today I am wearing a tshirt that is probably 15 years old that I must have bought on one of my thinner phases! A friend was showing us a bag she had made out of recycled clothes – an idea I loved as fabric has memories for me and being able to create something useful out of something that otherwise has become unusable sounds great. I am writing this as an encouragement to me to be more mindful in my day to day life.
You can just spot Paul’s arm at the edge of this photograph – he was pointing out seals. They were amazing as we gathered for communion on Cuthbert’s island – some of them looking more like dolphins and them seeming to respond to our singing of gather around and be thou my vision. One of the precious things about being on retreat with a group was the shared noticing. In our times of walking, reflecting the insights of others helped me to see God more clearly. We paused on our pilgrims’ way walk, we shared each evening with wine and nibbles and in times of prayer, over meals… Seeing God through the eyes of others helps me to see God in a fuller, more rounded way. I am very grateful for each person who was with us on the retreat, I have come back a richer person.
Still drawing on the Holy Island Retreat. I have no idea who created this cross in the sea but am grateful for their creativity. Standing on the shore, unable to reach Cuthbert’s island, this flimsy cross which looked like it might not weather much of storm drew me to look at the much more robust cross on the island. Both spoke to me.
I am on Holy Island today, on our annual MCYM retreat. A place I first encountered twenty years ago and ever since it has had a very special place in my heart and mind. The picture is of North Shore – the destination of a walk round the island – big open spaces where the wind blows the sand across the beach in a way that reminds me of the work of the Holy Spirit. I am grateful for this oasis, this sacred place, seeped in prayer over many years, the hospitality of Marygate, the creativity of the Scriptorium, the memories of times at Open Gate, the 8am Eucharist that starts each day, the conversations, the friendships, the memories that give life and sustain.