Wednesday, November 5, 2014

November 2nd Reading

St Aidan Story: Oswin and the Horse

Some time after the death of Oswald, Aidan was at the palace of King Oswin who succeeded him in Deira. Oswin was truly a noble king . . . known for his generosity in giving to the rich and poor alike. He was also respected for his humility, which was a characteristic often missing in the royal court. Oswin gave Aidan a very fine horse. The king felt that it was not right that Aidan should walk such great distances. . .  It was costly in time  . .  [and] was beneath the dignity of a bishop to be walking like a peasant. . .

Aidan did not see it this way. . . ‘If you are to meet people you need to have your feet on the ground.’ This was something Aidan was always instilling into his students. . . ‘Remember that you are here to serve them and not to lord it over them.’ . . . Simplicity of prayer and simplicity of life helped Aidan and his followers to reach out throughout the kingdom. Wherever any priest or monk visited, he was made welcome. Whilst on the road people would run up to the brothers and seek a blessing.  . . People gathered by streams to be baptised and to sing praises to God. They gathered in cottages and bothies to hear with joy the word of God and to pray. The sick were tended and prayed for, the oppressed were brought relief. Whatever the need, Aidan and his  men sought to meet it. More and more people recognised that these men lived as they taught, their lives were their teaching. They continued to give away any riches they received and to minister to the poor. . .

However, to please the king he agreed to take a horse. Yes, it would be quicker and he would arrive at his destination earlier. There were indeed great advantages in being able to travel quickly. Oswin himself took Aidan to the stables and selected one of the finest horses. . . . Aidan was grateful . . . yet, the minute he left Oswin’s palace Aidan was uncomfortable.  . . . As he passed people at the palace gate some bowed in deference to him. He already felt that he was high above them. There was a little group of peasants going in the same direction, but . . . he could hardly walk with them and lead his horse.  . . . Once into the forest, robbers would be very interested in all his wealth . . . he would not be able to stop, the saddle alone was worth a small farm. A sadness crept into his heart; he was already allowing himself to become possessed, to be separated from people by material things and by position. Being on horseback is a very exalted position.

But God had already solved his dilemma. . . down the road in front of him was a beggar. . . Again all sorts of thoughts passed through Aidan’s mind. What if this was a trick and the man wanted to rob him? ‘Life is not just; here I am with all these riches and here is a man with nothing. How can I ignore him? To ride past him is to ride past the Christ. “As much as you did it to the least of these you did it to me.” What was happening to him? Already his heart was hardening. . . . Was he going to allow himself to become hardened to the needs of others? . . . What if he met him on judgement day and he said, ‘I was hungry, but you did not feed me, I was thirsty and you did not give me drink, I was naked and you did not clothe me, I needed friendship and you ignored me’?

St Aidan gives his horse to a beggar 

drawing from The Little Lives of the Saints
Told by Percy Dearmer
Illustrated by Charles Robinson.
London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1904.

The beggar was startled as this important person suddenly reined in his fine horse.  . .  The man was amazed when the rider got off his horse. He expected this great man to spea in the language of the Angles but he spoke in his own language, the language of the common people.  . . . [Aidan gave the horse and saddle to the beggar to sell, and to make a new life with the money he would receive.]
 Aidan’s journey would now take longer, but he would meet more people.  He would sleep easy at nights for he would not need to worry about the horse, he had nothing a robber would want. His only worry was what he would say to Oswin the next time he went to the palace.

As it happened it was not long before he returned to Oswin’s court. He could see by the king’s looks that he knew what Aidan had done with the horse. . . .the king was hurt by the slight that had been put on his friendship and generosity, though he knew in his heart that if a man is truly given a gift, he is then free to do what he will with it. The time for them to dine was approaching when the king said, ‘Aidan, what did you mean by giving away the horse that I gave you for very own? I have been told that you gave it to a beggar. That horse was fit for a king, not for some vagabond. I could have found you an old nag if you wanted to give it away to the first person you met.’ Aidan’s quick reply stunned the hall to silence: ‘What do you think, O King? Is the son of a mare worth more in your eyes than a son of God?’ No one dared to speak; even the king was silent.

As the king went into the hall everyone followed, awaiting the reaction. Aidan took his seat.  . . . It looked for awhile as if [Oswin] would not come to the table. His loyal thanes stood by him. He seemed lost in thought. Suddenly he loosed his sword and gave it to a thane who was near. The king knelt at Aidan’s feet and asked forgiveness. ‘Never again will I mention this, or pass judgement on how much of your money you are giving to the ‘sons of God’.’  

Aidan trated al alike as his brothers. He loved all as children of God. He did not fear the mighty or see himself above the lowliest. He instilled into the brethren that we meet God in the other. We cannot love either God OR our neighbour. We love both or neither. 

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:

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