post-modern monk on island of
Ray Simpson, author on Celtic Christianity, inspired our theme, Rootedness and Mobility.
We are the most mobile generation ever, thanks to the travel and communications revolution,
yet mere gadabouts do nothing for the world. We (in the Western world, at least) may be the most rootless generation ever, due to the fragmentation of community and family life. How can we sustain mobility with roots?
Columbanus, the Irish monk who restored vibrant faith communities across the continent of Europe at the turn of the 7th Century, said, ‘I am always moving from the day of birth to the day of death’. He urged all Christians to ‘travel in perpetual pilgrimage as guests of the world until the day of death’. A leading church historian, David Edwards, says, ‘Europe was changed by the pilgrims for the love of God’.
Yet these wanderers were rooted in six ways.
First, they were grounded in a tested spiritual tradition, which connected them to God, to the earth, and to the everyday world. My own calling, through the network of Christians called ‘The Community of Aidan and Hilda’, offers grounding in such a tradition through printed resources, retreats and training courses.
Second, they shared a common set of values with their fellow travellers. These they called a ‘Rule of Life’.
Columbanus’ Rule included these values:
Third, they were accountable to a wise senior mentor whom they called a soul friend. They were taught to beware of proud independence which secretly nourished their own desires, and not to make decisions which should first have been considered with their soul friend. They would be transparent with their soul friend about money, sex and power. Today, Celtic Christians follow a common set of values called ‘A Way of Life’. With a soul friend, we work out how to apply this to the changing conditions of our life’s journey.
Fourth, they invited creation itself to nourish them. Columbanus taught that, ‘If you would know the Creator, study the creation’. They practised perceiving God’s presence beckoning to them through creation, and used nature as material for prayer throughout the day. We are creatures of rhythm, in our breathing, walking, sleeping and rising. Learning to walk in the rhythms of creation brings harmony into our movements.
Fifth, they used their Scriptures as a memory pack. As they constantly repeated the Psalms and Gospels they internalised and fed upon them wherever they were, whatever they were doing. In an age of print and the Internet we have no physical need to do this. However, we choose to do so to avoid being destroyed by information overload. As we memorise eternal truths, and these are lodged centrally within, the myriad other data which invade us take their appropriate secondary place.
Sixth, deep bonds with their extended families sustained them even when they went into lifelong exile as pilgrims. Because these early Celtic Christians were so firmly rooted in their familial communities, they had the inner stability and confidence to leave behind comfort zones for the totally unknown. In our dysfunctional family networks this dynamic is weaker. However, we are called—and have the means—to repair, heal, and build up family relationships even at a distance.
For many years I did not know how to be mobile without leaving behind a trail of accidents—I did not have healthy roots. I asked people who seemed to have both to pray for my inner healing. This required me to know and embrace the story and emotions of my life’s journey, rather than to block these out.
I became aware that God was telling me to put down roots. This meant learning to live with myself and with those people I was called to have primary relationships with; and most of all, to live in love with God. By a strange paradox this freed me to follow the advice of the Irish proverb: ‘Let your feet follow your heart until you find your place of resurrection’.
I began to draw inspiration from Celtic saints such as Aidan and Hilda. I left my salaried post as a vicar, and went to live on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne as a post-modern monk. This is a tidal island. When the tide is in, the encircling sea makes it a place of contemplation; when the tide is out, the flow of people makes it a place of outreach. As I learned to be deeply still, I found others were drawn to come; I did not need to rush around. However, during the times of reflection, concerns grew in my heart for the world out there, and I had time to disentangle these from mere reactions to human pressures. So I venture out for initiatives of change which have been born of deep roots.
I believe God is calling us again to give up the ambitions, possessions and fears that we are chained to, and to walk the world with love in our hearts. We can be modern ‘martyrs’ by leaving everything that comes between us and God, by laying down our lives for the people and inspirations God gives us.
Celtic Christians have retained the ability to sit loose to the ties that bind, and to follow their inspirations. Jesus told us to pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation’. What are the places we should steer clear of? Places where the spirit of fear rules, or of lust, or of artificiality, or of unbelief, or of the power of one ego over another, or of the shoddy? To know where we should not be led is an exploration in itself.
But far bigger is to tread the way of the true journey; to pray, ‘lead us into your way, lead us to the kingdom of God, lead us into our place of resurrection’. Each of us needs to identify in our own lives any place where we have given up thinking that change can come. Frequently we do not leave the past behind. We clasp onto it. We dissect it and let fears for the future, tempered by the past, unconsciously prevent us from taking up the task eternal. We are tempted to go the known ways, the safe ways, basking in previous achievements, not replenishing spiritually or materially the capital our forefathers left us. This is my prayer:
Lead me from that which binds to that which frees;
Lead me from that which cramps to that which creates;
Lead me from that which blights to that which ennobles;
Lead me from that which hides to that which celebrates;
Lead me from that which fades to that which is eternal.
Ray Simpson’s books on Celtic Christianity include, Exploring Celtic Spirituality, Celtic Blessings, and Soul Friendship: Celtic Insights Into Spiritual Mentoring. If you would like to know more please contact ‘The Community of Aidan and Hilda’