Sacred Places Journal
9 October, 2001: Holy Island of Lindisfarne: More about Being than Doing
I waken with a deep desire to call home. I want to talk with my husband and be assured that the world is still there. As it is the middle of the night in Idaho, however, I shall have to be patient.
Pushing against the wind I make my way to the parish church on the grounds of the ancient priory. I meet a jaunty man at the village square. "Good morning," he greets me, then grins. "'Tisn't really, of course. But then, one can't say 'bad morning' can one?"
Although the wind persists, we rejoice at the brilliant sunshine as we walk around the island. Wildfowl abound, clumps of tall grasses blow in the wind looking like the sheep grazing near them, and birri-birri burrs stick to socks and pants.
Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin, on Lindisfarne
At the back of the island we stop at the vast white sand beach where in 793 Vikings made their very first raid on Christian Europe. Now all is beauty and peace-until, like on Iona, this bucolic ramble is puncutated by RAF fighter planes roaring overhead. We sit on rocks watching the blue sea roll in and eat Kendal Mintcake-the very same as recorded by Sir Edmund Hilary on the summit of Mount Everest on 29 May, 1953, "We sat on the snow and looked at the country far below us . . . we nibbled Kendal Mintcake." (It's something like a hard peppermint patty.)
Sandham Cove on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne
It gives us sufficient energy to continue around the island to the castle, once a defensive bastion of Henry VIII later the home of an Edwardian gentleman, now a National Trust property. From the battlements we look across at Bamburgh Castle from whence King Oswald set out on his missionary journeys with Aiden.
After Evensong we explore further in the exceedingly well-kept parish church, delighting in the numerous examples of beautiful present-day needlework, calligraphy, embroidery and painting, all carrying on in the tradition of the Lindisfarne Gospels.
Restored castle on Lindisfarne
Then we walk down to the beach across from tiny Cuthbert's Island where the reluctant bishop went to retreat to be alone with God. On hands and knees we search for "Cuthbert's prayer beads," tiny, perfect circles of bone, the vertebrae of sea creatures. It is said that Cuthbert strung them for devotional use-so we also threaded the five we find.
Before Compline there is time to watch a video on the making of the Lindisfarne Gospels, accompanied by Penny, the arthritic dog who must be carried upstairs to bed every night. And I read the Community of Aiden and Hilda's statement:
"The purpose of pilgrimage is to tread in the shoes of Christ or his saints in order to make contact with the many rich experiences which are to do with being a pilgrim. Such pilgrimages draw us into deeper devotion to our Lord Jesus and will inspire us to mission."
And so I am finding it. Sitting on a grassy hill overlooking the ruined priory this afternoon, I had remarked to Elizabeth how I was spending far less time in libraries and with books on pilgrimage than I always had done on research trips, and far more time in churches and at prayers. It seems a pilgrimage is more about being than about doing.