A pilgrim way for Australians?

Earlier this year I was in Newcastle as part of a four-month pilgrimage through five Australian states. I live on the UK’s Holy Island of Lindisfarne – the Cradle of Christianity to English speaking people. From that island Saint Aidan, helped by women on the mainland such as Saint Hilda, introduced the brutal seventh century Anglo-Saxons to the gentle ways of Christ, and allowed Jesus to emerge in the natural patterns of the people.

Usually, pilgrims come to us, so why make a pilgrimage in reverse? I am Founding Guardian of the international ecumenical Community of Aidan and Hilda. On my previous visit to Australia three followers of our Way of Life, in different places, said, “Come and walk among us.” Those are the words the Irish people long ago spoke to Saint Patrick in a dream. Patrick, having escaped from slave labour in Ireland, was set to become a priest in a comfortable valley near his parents in Britain, but he heeded the voice of the people. Pagan Ireland became a land of saints and scholars.

The people who said those words to me felt that in Australia, religion is not always ‘of the people’, and that we need to restore Christianity as a way of life, as it was for the first Christians who were called ‘followers of the Way’. One said that Aboriginal people draw their spirituality from the artesian basin that never runs dry, but churches draw theirs from over-ground reservoirs that run dry. He felt that deeply buried in the Australian soul, like the artesian waters, is the Celtic Christian spirituality that we must now tap into. People from Melbourne and Newcastle came to Lindisfarne and tapped into this. One of them, Brent Lyons Lee, was encouraged to write a book with me, Celtic Spirituality in the Australian Landscape.

The book explores our Way of Life, which some believe may have long-term significance for this millennium, as St Benedict’s Rule has had in the previous millennium. In a meeting with Bishop Bill we explored two themes: unity in diversity and how to replace the consumer society with real community. Our Way of Life calls us to weave together again the God-given strands in Christianity that have become separated. This grass roots weaving may prove to be more effective than top-down commissions. A former chairman of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission told me that if Catholics and Protestants draw up a Rule of Life that requires each to be loyal to their church, that could be the way forward. We can fall into a trap. Because we already have the teachings, the church and the sacraments, we can delude ourselves that there is nothing more to learn. These, however, form the essential base from which we may launch out on an endless pilgrimage with “the God of surprises” (Gerard Hughes) and into life-long learning; or, in the words of Pope Francis, move out of our comfort zones. Bishop Bill has noted (April Aurora) that next year is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. Our members in Lutheran Norway are re-discovering pilgrimage, the desert fathers and monastic disciplines. Perhaps as we all re-discover our early but neglected roots we will find that ‘deep calls to deep’.

What about ‘the commodification of society and churches’? In another state I visited an educational museum run by a Christian institution. It jumped from ‘Pagan Britain’ to ‘the Victory of the Church’ with its products. People no longer wish to be associated with churches that think in terms of empire and victory. The process by which pagans were transformed through the gentle, Celtic, culture-friendly, incarnational approach was not communicated. Bishop Aidan of Ireland walked among the people, gave donations to the poor, dressed in their simple clothes and told Gospel stories only after they had become friends. He modelled the kingdom of God for the English by establishing simple ‘villages of God’ where all were welcome to the rhythm of daily prayer, work, study and hospitality.

Our Way of Life helps us to de-clutter our lives with the help of a soul friend. We are so bombarded with products that we become stressed and disconnected from the deeper things of the heart. As we practise ‘Blessed Simplicity’ we make relationships of the heart. The heart of the Way of Life is to establish a daily rhythm of prayer, work and re-creation which restores mindfulness and sustains a good body/mind and work/life balance. We quote Bishop Irenaeus: ‘the glory of God is seen through a life lived to the full’. Celtic Spirituality in the Australian Landscape explores ways in which churches, schools, spiritual and social enterprises can work together with people of goodwill until ‘villages of God’ emerge. Our communities will then have soul and people will not just be products.

Celtic Spirituality in the Australian Landscape is published by St Aidan Press, order online at www.aidanandhilda.org. The website includes prayers and information about resources and courses.

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