Reflection: St Aidan for 31st August 2020
Today we are remembering and celebrating the feast day of St Aidan, the first bishop of Lindisfarne or Holy Island. He was born around 590 in Ireland. Little is known of his early life until we hear of him as a monk on the Isle of Iona at the monastery St Columba founded. Sometime later he was sent to Lindisfarne and was consecrated as bishop in 635. Lindisfarne was a place well positioned for evangelising and from there he made endless missionary journeys on foot around Northumbria and beyond to found monasteries, churches, and a school for the training of ministers.
Wherever Aidan went, often far from Lindisfarne, his outreach ministry involved caring for the sick and needy, educating Saxons , and freeing Saxon slaves by bringing them into the fold of the Church. By all accounts he was warmly welcomed wherever he went. He was highly respected for his humility, peacefulness and prayerfulness and praised for his teaching, charity and simplicity of life, so much so that many regarded him as the apostle of Northumbria. Also, wherever he went he was able to politely converse with people, often Anglo Saxon pagans, in their own tongue and to slowly and gently interest people in Christianity following the model of apostolic conversion into the fold of Christ.
He died in on August 31st 651 leaning against the church he founded at Bamburgh which was later dedicated to him. But the most enduring monument to him is the monastery he founded at Lindisfarne which became a centre of learning and a storehouse of scholarly knowledge that reflected Aidan’s Celtic roots and spirituality. Later, Lindisfarne came to be known as ‘The English Iona’ which played such an important role in Christianity in the North of England and beyond.
I know some in our parish have been to Lindisfarne. I have been several times and also, as a regular visitor, to the island of Iona on retreat where Aidan’s ministry initially started after leaving Ireland. Iona is such a beautiful island and I was invited on one occasion to lead a retreat by the Iona Community and to officiate and preside as a priest on the same patch of ground where Aidan would have lived, prayed, worshipped and celebrated.
Both Iona and Lindisfarne are small islands cut off from the mainland by a few hundred yards of sea that gives a very real sense of a welcome distance from the hustle and bustle of the world. They are places full of history where one can roam free and feel a deep sense of peace and spiritual connectedness with the past. These are also islands where one can sit by the edge of the sea, watching the tide go in and out, as Aidan did, and even reflect on one of his own prayers.
‘As the tide draws the waters close upon the shore,
make me an island, set apart, alone with you, God,
holy to you. Then with the turning of the tide prepare
me to carry your presence to the busy world beyond,
the world that rushes in on me till the waters come
again, and fold me back to you’.
St Aidan’s willingness and readiness to leave his comfort zone, austere as it was, in order to reach out, befriend, and support others, in practical and spiritual ways, and gently point them to God, is a saintly pastoral ministry that God calls all to embrace, lay and ordained alike.