Back in 2016, I spent three months on sabbatical in Edinburgh. One of the highpoints for us was the week we spent on the island of Lindisfarne, about an hour south by train from Edinburgh. What makes Lindisfarne unique is the fact that when the tide goes out, you can drive across to the island, but when it comes back in, it becomes an island again. Even to this day, you’ve got to be aware of the tides to get onto the island and to leave it again. People have been caught driving as the water comes in, and more than one person has lost their car and had to be rescued! Lindisfarne is a ruggedly beautiful and “thin place”, where heaven and earth are very close to one another.
Lindisfarne is also known as “the Holy Isle.” It’s called that because of the ministry of Aidan and his band of missionary monks. Aidan was living as a monk on Iona but was commissioned by Columba to go and found another monastic community on the island of Lindisfarne, after King Oswald, the reigning monarch in those parts, became a Christian and wanted the monks to evangelize his people. He wasn’t the first missionary to go there.
King Oswald asked missionaries to preach to his pagan people, but the ﬁrst missionary to go soon came back complaining that the English were rude. stubborn and wild. “It seems to me,” St. Aidan said, “that you have been too harsh with those people.” He then explained that, as St. Paul says, easy teachings are given first. Then when the people have grown stronger on the Word of God, they can start to do the perfect things of God’s holy law. The monks turned to Aidan. “You should be the one to go to North England to preach the Gospel,” they said. Aidan went willingly.
Aidan arrived with 12 other monks and chose to settle on Lindisfarne. After learning the English language, they went out using Aidan’s only method as a missionary, which was to walk the lanes. talk to all the people he met, and interest them in the faith if he could. One story recalls King Oswald worrying that Bishop Aidan would walk around like a peasant. So he gave him a horse. But a few days later, Aidan gave it away to a beggar. He wanted to walk, to be on the same level as the people he met. He would go out to the mainland on active missionary preaching trips around Northumbria, and than retreat back to Lindisfarne for worship, prayer, and renewal.
The monastery he founded grew and helped found churches and other monasteries throughout the area. It also became a center of learning and a storehouse of scholarly knowledge. (Aidan’s lovely prayer that captures both dimensions of his life follows.)
Leave me alone with you, God, as much as may be. As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore, make me an island, set apart, alone with you, God, holy to you. Then with the turning of the tide, prepare me to carry your presence to the busy world beyond, the world that rushes in on me till the waters come again and fold me back to you. Amen.
Here’s the lesson in all this. Some of us are by temperament ISLAND people – contemplative, focused inward, treasuring solitude and spiritual depth and living in quietness. Others of us are by temperament busy MAINLAND people – activists, doers, focused outward. treasuring service and active, engaged ministry with people. As people doing ministry, we need both dimensions, of course. That was certainly the example Jesus set for us.
But the real wisdom is to become TIDE people – to live with the rhythm of the spiritual tides and foster BOTH dimensions, with sensitivity to the Holy Spirit as to which way God’s “tide” is moving, and then to act accordingly.
We are called to be sensitive to the rhythms of God’s movement – and not push against it! If we do, we’re pushing against God! Come, Holy Spirit, and grant us your wisdom and discernment to live faithfully in the moment!
Rev. Dr. Kevin Livingston is minister at Clairlea Presbyterian Church in Toronto, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Tyndale Seminary.