St Aidan Story: TEACHING BALANCE
The singing of the seals late in the evenings and early in the mornings seemed to complement the prayers and singing in church. As the seals sat upon the banks and let the tide rise around them, so each of the brothers immersed himself in the presence of God. Aidan was forever reminding them that they could not talk about God if they did not talk to Him. Much of the schooling had to be directed to the Presence and not to theories about Him. They had to deal with the reality of God in His world, and not in fantasy. This could come in no other way than by immersing oneself in God. As the chattering terns soared and dived, so the devotions in the little church rose and fell. They were a part of the life around them.
The flow, standing, and ebb of the tide became a rhythm in their way of living. Aidan was concerned that there was proper input, rest and outpouring of each life. Some were in danger of thinking they could pour themselves out forever. They were outgoing, ready for action, wanting to get on. He had seen too many become drained in this way. We cannot give out forever unless we are also looking in. Too many lives, and too many statements, become trivialized by too much action. There is need to be renewed, refreshed and restored.
Like many Celtic monks before him, Aidan had sought his desert in the ocean. Most of the world was looking for an ocean in the desert, never satisfied, always searching for more and more. They were always in need. Here on the island, in a strange way, were all the riches of the world. Here was beauty, here was the power of the Presence. These were not things to search after but to accept, to become aware of, to enjoy. There had to be input for this to happen, times of quiet, times of prayer, times of meditation. This had not to be output, though it was often work; it had to become the incoming tide of the love of God. Students and brothers had to wait in expectant silence, like a man waiting to see a bird. . .
There were other students and brothers who liked to rest all day, calling it prayer or meditation. But Aidan knew that a man could only absorb so much if he did not also pour it out. He knew it could be poured out in prayer for others, but, he felt in his heart, it had also to be expressed in loving action for others. Real rest was the balance between the two, prayer and action, as the tide rests for an hour between ebb and flow. . .
The school grew gradually. First, each of the brothers took on an anamchara – a cell mate. The young man would learn from his elder, by rote, the Psalms, all 150 of them, and a Gospel. He would learn these also in church through their regular repetition. . . He would also learn how to approach people on the road and in their farm steadings, to talk to them naturally about the living God. They would share their faith and their food. Slowly but surely the junior would be allowed to take part, even if it was just reciting a psalm to start with. As the junior grew in knowledge and in prayer he would do more until at last he would be trusted to so it all. Now the junior would become a senior and have a junior to teach. Because this process took a long time, more monks had to brought in from Iona and Ireland to teach the ever-increasing numbers of students.. .
The life of the monks expressed the rhythm of the life around them. They would balance their lives between prayer, study, manual labour and rest.
This extract is taken from 'Flame of the Heart' by David Adam and is reproduced by kind permission of SPCK. You can find the book here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Flame-Heart-St-Aidan-Today/dp/0281050333.
Photo from www.lindisfarnebaycottages.co.uk website.