It is the year 625 A.D. In northern Britain the Kingdom of Northumbria is experiencing great change. A huge westward migration is taking place across the North Sea. Oswy, the king of Northumbria has been brought up in the old Celtic tradition of Christianity centred in Iona off the coast of Scotland. He wishes, if all possible, to offer that tradition to the newcomers, so he sends to Iona for teachers. One if those teachers will make a huge difference. His name is Aiden.
One day Aiden and his companion monks would have arrived at Banborough, Oswy's massive fortress palace that dominated the North Sea coast. When they met, Oswy welcomed the monks from Iona and offered them every assistance. He even invited them to settle near Banborough. While the king was chatting, Aiden was gazing from one of the fortress battlements. To the north he could see a small island. He noticed how the North Sea tide was sweeping around it, severing it from the mainland. When he asked about it the king told him it was called Lindisfarne. Twice a day the tide prevented any approach to the island. Aiden made his choice. Oswy agreed. Neither was to know that fifteen hundred years later the island would have become a world spiritual destination for pilgrims.
Today, when the tide goes out, a paved causeway is revealed to make traffic possible for a few hours. It can be used by visitors or by those who live on the island. But life must be lived by the rhythm of the tides. I recall seeing a young woman with a child in her car. She stopped in the villiage, got out to consult the timetable of the tides so that she knew when she had to be ready to return from her trip off island. All such movement on and off island is dictated by the daily tides.
Some pilgrims choose to walk across the sands if the weather permits. Some groups make a pilgrimage of that short journey, following a cross bearer as they go, in memory of Aiden's long-ago journey.
Over the century many expressions of Christian worship have been composed. Not surprisingly the eternal - dare we say that word in a changing world? - rhythm of the tides figures greatly in the pilgrim prayer life of Lindisfarne. One such prayer comes down through the centuries as the prayer of Saint Aiden.
O God, as the tide draws the waters close upon the shore,
Make me an island set apart, alone with you, my God.
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.
The exact words of the prayer have probably changed over the centuries. The human need to have a rhythm of involvement and detachment in one's life has not changed, and never will.