The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

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The small tidal island off the northeast coast of England, speaks of a history where truth and myth coalesce into the misty past.  Much like Atlantis, the Garden of Hesperides and Camelot, Lindisfarne is recognized as sacred, set apart from the mundanity of life.

The monastery of Lindisfarne, known as the Lindisfarne Priory, was founded by Irish monk Saint Aidan (590-651). Saint Aidan came from the Island of Iona, the centre of Gaelic monasticism, located off the west Coast of Scotland.

The pious Christian King Oswald, who became king is 634, had a problem. Anglo-Saxon paganism was replacing Christianity.  He reached out to his friends in Iona, at a time when he considered all was lost.

The first Ionian to respond was Bishop Cormán, an austere man, with a severe message. The people of Northumbria did not accept him.  The feeling was mutual. Bishop Cormán’s opinion on the matter was that people of Northumbria were too stubborn to accept his message.  It was very doubtful that their hardened hearts would embrace Christianity.

King Oswald was tenacious.  And his persistence was rewarded in the personage of Saint Aidan.

Saint Aidan’s influence was felt throughout Northumbria.  He ministered to all, whether slave or noble.  The people accepted him and his message.  To this day, he is known as a Monk holding a flaming torch so it comes as no surprise that he is the patron saint of firefighters.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne's modest population of less than 200 people welcomes over 650,000 visitors a year.  For many, it is a pilgrimage to one of the most significant centres of Celtic Christianity.

We designate special times and places in our lives as being separate from the ordinary. It is a way to seek order in a seemingly chaotic world that challenges our survival instincts.  We need a place that embodies a peaceful existence, a gentle retreat from the busyness of life.

Even so, there is a caveat.

If you find your way to The Holy Island, take heed, for a land causeway that links Lindisfarne to the mainland is covered by ocean tides twice in every 24-hour period. In the most sacred of places, we are still very much a part of a complex world that runs on time.

Saying Yes to the Adventure

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“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”
Joseph Campbell

Washing Machine

The problem with the word “adventure” is definition.  No one can be certain of the exact description because it depends on the unique characteristics of an individual.  Most like the idea of an adventure, but when the call to the adventure comes, it may slip by unnoticed, or be considered an uninvited guest.    Saying a “hearty yes” is accepting both the good and bad of a journey, exploit or deed.

Joseph Campbell breaks down the Hero’s Journey into three acts with several stages.  Act one begins with the ordinary world, the safe place where we feel comfortable and fully in control of the situation.  We are unaware of what is to come.  Then comes the call, which is a demand for action to counteract a direct threat to ourselves or the well-being of family and friends.  But when we realize the difficulty that lies ahead, we refuse the call, doubting our ability to tackle the task.

I received “my call” the other night when I heard a dreadful clanging coming from my washing machine that resonated through our home.  It must be an anomaly, I reasoned as I added another load to my once-reliable washer.  The washer would not budge.  Herein lies the problem: I do not consider washing clothes by hand an adventure, nor do I think that I have a special talent in this area.   Besides, the idea of being on a Hero’s journey is incompatible within our world of the ordinary.

And then the unexpected happened.  Wringing out towels and feeling the ache in my arms, I came to understand my adventure.  I looked backward. I felt a kinship and respect for my grandmothers and great-grandmothers who washed for large families, hanging out their wash on clotheslines in the heat of summer and the cold of mid-winter.  I felt the deep need of the present.  I was washing my clothes with drinking water that many in our world lacked.   And finally, I felt a responsibility for the future.  Water conservation begins in small ways.

Adventures end with enlightenment, with a new-found understanding.   The repetitive nature of washing gave me a fresh perspective about the hero’s quest.   It is seeing the greater journey in the daily tasks that seem ordinary and inconsequential, even mundane.  There is meaning and consequences in everything we do.

May we always be able to say a “hearty yes.”

The Hero Journey

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“Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have one before us, the labyrinth is fully known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”

Joseph Campbell

The Orkney Islands

These words were on my mind as I felt the plane lift off the runway heading towards Scotland to follow the bagpipes.  I am not an easy traveller as some who have no fear of flying, missing train schedules, or unexpected detours.   I want a plan with timetables and reservation numbers to confirm that there will be food and shelter at the other end of the journey.  In other words, I want security every step of the way.  There is safety in believing that somehow I remain fully in control of my circumstances and surroundings.

That is not the hero journey.  To travel that road, security and comfort must be set aside for something grander to occur.  The important thing, I reminded myself, is that I have taken a first step.

 

The Orkney Islands

Finding the Ocean

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Water seeks its own level. Look at them. The Tigris, the Euphrates, the Mississippi, the Amazon, the Yangtze. The world’s great rivers. And every one of them finds its way to the ocean.” 
Alison McGhee, All Rivers Flow To The Sea

  South Wales

I found my way to the ocean, just as Vikings did many centuries ago.  Swansea, a coastal city and county in Wales, was once a thriving Viking trading post.  It is positioned on the sandy South West Wales coast. Some believe that Swansea’s name came from the Old Norse, Sveinsey, signifying a bank at the mouth of the river Tawe.

It was the start of our journey organized by our son, which we named our “Industrial Revolution” tour that covered Wales and the Midlands of England. For seventeen days, we were on the go from morning to night without respite.  One day, we clocked six hours of walking.  We visited cotton mills, travelled on steam trains, plumbed the depths of a coal mine and saw the Newcomen engine at work.

The Industrial Revolution was an extraordinary time of growth and prosperity.  It was a pivotal point in history; the dramatic shift from hand production and cottage industry to machines and manufacturing efficiency. It will come as no surprise that rivers played a fundamental role during this time. Progress was enormous, but it came at a cost.

Have you ever noticed that when you go away and then come back, you are never in the same position as you were when you first started out?  New thoughts, experiences, ideas challenge our closely held values.  So we really can’t go back to where we were…at the beginning.

Somehow that gives me great comfort.

Kites

“Every traveler has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering.” 

 Charles Dickens

Going on an Adventure

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“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone. I should think so – in these parts!  We are plain, quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things!  Make you late for dinner.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Adventure

There are many more rivers to explore and many miles to wander in this beautiful world.  We have not finished our river journeys. There is Julius Caesar’s Rubicon, the Mekong River, one of the great rivers of SE Asia, and the legendary Amazon River that carries more water than any other river in the world.

For now, I am taking a couple of weeks to share an adventure with my husband and son.   I am uncertain whether I will be able to access the internet on a regular basis, even though I am equipped with a new iPhone that I know very little about.  I confess that I have not attained the level of proficiency to access WordPress.  I am going to use this time to stretch my knowledge of technology.

We are all on a remarkable adventure, we call life.  Over the past months, I have come to realize that we may be on opposite sides of the world, yet we are travelling the same path.

Safe travels….and remember….

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.  You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings


The Game is Afoot

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“It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but that you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle

 

We never tire of Sherlock Holmes.  I paid a visit to 221 B Street when I was in London and found the great detective in residence, looking out the window, waiting for Dr. Watson to appear.  He turned and said, “The game is afoot.”

And so began our adventure….