© Noel Harrower 2018
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To participate in a Christian pilgrimage can be a wonderful experience. You meet with strangers, but people with whom you share a faith and a common interest, to discover together the stories of early Christians. In the case of this Celtic Pilgrimage, those early people were a group of monks who had come from the Hebridean island of Iona to teach the story of Christianity to the heathen English people of Northumbria. Their Anglo Saxon king, Oswald, had invited the monks to come. As a young man, he had been educated by the monks of Iona, had accepted their teaching and wanted it to become the faith of his people. But Aiden, who led them, was a was a humble and holy man, who had lived a simple life of prayer on Iona, and he did not feel it possible to do the work that was asked of him based at the powerful royal castle on the cliffs at Bamborough, so he asked the king, if he and his monks could escape from the court to a quiet place, where they could commune with God and be guided how best to move the hearts of the people.  The king agreed and so the monks founded their simple monastery in a circle of wooden huts on the windswept island of Lindisfarne, where at night they were alone with the elements, and were free to seek the mind of Christ. They brought with them their own style of prayer, and their own form of Irish music, and they captured the hearts of the simple peasants living near them. On our pilgrimage, we used modern forms of these prayers and this type of music. Our tutor was James Stewart, a professor of Celtic Studies at Newcastle University and a church organist. He was a quiet, gentle man, who gathered together his sixteen pilgrims in a circle each morning and each evening, told us the stories of Aiden, King Oswald and the early saints. We learned forms of some of the songs and prayers, and gradually, as the days went by, we were all encouraged to contribute, and if we wished to tell the story of our own spiritual journey through life. We pilgrims journeyed together for seven days, not on horseback, but in a mini-bus. And as we travelled we talked. Starting at Durham Cathedral, visiting holy places and saying prayers in ancient churches. Finally we crossed the causeway to Lindisfarne for three nights on the island. It’s only an island really, when it’s high tide. At low tide, you can walk across by the Pilgrim’s Way. We stayed at St. Mary’s House, by the ruins of the Priory, where the Lindisfarne Gospels had been written, and the Christian stories interpreted into the vernacular of the Anglo-Saxon people and by the time we arrived there, most of us, like Caedmon, had shared some secret stories. John confided how he had been adopted, and told us of the joy of tracing and meeting his birth- mother and then the disappointment when he found that his adopted mother could not share his happiness. Susan shared her pain, when she was told by her husband that he was leaving her for a younger woman, and Andrew, who had recovered wonderfully from a mental illness told us of his grief after a marriage break-up and how his missed his two young boys. These sharings gave release to those who spoke, created close bonds and proved a blessing for us all. It made us realise that every life is a journey, and buffets and blows can be stumbling blocks for a time, but can sometimes help to build an inner strength and give a greater understanding of the plight of others. Lindisfarne, itself, has two personalities. When the tide is low, the day-trippers come in the coaches from the mainland, the gift shops are busy and the village is alert. When the tide is at the flood, it is an island again, and everything is still. In the day-time, you can watch the wild geese flying across the sand dunes, and in the evening, if you are quiet and lucky, you can hear the seals calling to each other, through the fading light. As shadows fall on Lindisfarne, it’s easier to feel closer to the mind of God. Let us pray, in the Celtic tradition: As gulls in hunger’s flight keep to the boat’s track, may we follow faithfully in Christ’s wake. Our closing Hymn is number 39. All creatures of our God and King May the road rise with you. May the wind always be at your back, May the sun shine warm upon your fields, Until we met again, May God hold you In the hollow of His hand. And may the blessing of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be with you. Now and Always.  Amen.
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