Sauntering with Sts. Aidan and Cuthbert

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Readings for the Feast Day of Sts. Aidan and Cuthbert

This reflection was shared at Sacred Saunter Outdoor Eucharist on Saturday August 31, 2019 at Sequoia Park in Eureka. 
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About five months ago, our dear friend Mother Lesley preached a sermon at Christ Church Eureka about the part of England in which she grew up called Northumberland, which is an area in North East England that used to be called the kingdom of Northumbria. In that sermon, she preached about today’s saints who brought Christianity to Northumbria way back in the seventh century: St. Aidan and St. Cuthbert.

Most of what we know about these saints comes from the writings of the great English Church Historian known as the Venerable Bede, whom Mother Lesley often read as a young girl in elementary school. And as a young girl, Lesley used to think that “Venerable” was not a title but rather his first name. (So following that line of thinking, she said, our beloved Archdeacon’s first name would be “Venerable” and her last name would be “Pam.”) But according to the Venerable Bede, St. Aidan was an Irish monk who lived on an island in the Scottish Hebrides that I can’t stop talking about: the island of Iona, which I recently visited. (In fact, the stone I’m wearing around my neck is from Iona).

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The monks of Iona initially sent a missionary to Northumbria who quickly became convinced that the English people were hopeless and stubborn barbarians who were unable to understand and receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When Aidan heard this, he said, “It seems to me, brother, that you have been unreasonably harsh towards the English people. You did not first offer them the milk of simpler teaching, as the apostle recommends, until little by little, they become able to receive more elaborate instruction.”[1] When others heard this, they knew that Aidan was the perfect person for the job so they sent him as a missionary bishop to Northumbria, where he quickly became known for his gentleness, patience, humility, and love for the poor.

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St. Aidan, who was trained on the island of Iona, set up his own monastery and missionary outpost on another island on the northeast coast of England called Lindisfarne. Lindisfarne is now called “Holy Island” because it was the home of two great saints: St. Aidan and one of his successors St. Cuthbert who was also known for his gentleness and humility. The Venerable Bede said that St. Aidan had no interest in worldly possessions and status. Whenever he was given something, he would give it away to the poor. He also preferred travelling on foot rather than traveling on horseback so when King Oswald gave him a horse to help him with his travels, he quickly gave it away to the first poor person he saw. St. Aidan preferred to saunter and to walk simply and gently upon the land.

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St. Cuthbert was also known for his gentleness. He would often pray outdoors in the elements for hours. On very cold days, he would pray for hours on the beach until his peaceful presence would attract sea otters who snuggled up beside him to keep him warm.

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As we continue our saunter today, I invite us try to emulate Aidan and Cuthbert by walking gently, peacefully and prayerfully upon the land. Although it is not likely that we will be snuggling up with any sea otters here at Sequoia Park, we may—if we listen closely—be able to hear the mountains and the hills burst into song and the trees of the field clap their hands, as the prophet Isaiah proclaimed. And if we listen prayerfully, we may be able to hear in the gentle sounds of these great ancient trees the still small voice of the Good Shepherd, who promises to lead us with St. Aidan and St. Cuthbert into abundant and everlasting life.

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[1] Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People III. 5, trans. Bertram Colgrave (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), 118.

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