I have been reading a book about St. Cuthbert called “Fire of the North” by David Adam. St. Cuthbert was a very significant monk and pastor in Northern England in the 7th century who has an enduring legacy in Northumbria still today. I am also reading a book about the Lindisfarne Gospels – a beautiful illuminated (illustrated) document containing one of the most authentic versions of the Vulgate (Latin) Gospels and the oldest surviving English translation of the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It was created at Lindisfarne (Holy Island) shortly after St. Cuthbert died on the Island. I hope to write more about him as the thoughts from these books have a chance to percolate in my head.
But today I came across an account about St. Cuthbert that fits well my experience on sabbatical so far. David Adam writes that the monk Cuthbert took to befriending eider ducks that would visit him while he lived in solitude out in the North Sea off the eastern coast on Inner Farne Island; a few miles from Lindisfarne and the priory. Younger members of the monastery community took to calling them Cuddy’s (Cuthbert’s) Ducks. Cuthbert explained his interest in the ducks by saying,
“We lose our relationship with creation because we have lost sight of the creator. If only we loved the creator we would learn to love his creation. How can you say you love the creator if you do not enjoy his creation? I fear those who can divide their religion from the rest of their work or lives. If you cannot understand that deep [of the sea], how can you understand the deep that you say is God?”
A number of people when they hear we are on sabbatical in England ask if we are studying anything or writing a book. We usually respond: “Not formally, we are really just living.” And yet, even though we aren’t studying anything in the traditional sense like taking a class or writing a book, I have found myself learning a great deal.
I have been learning the roads of Northumberland and the North Pennines on my bike. Each ride I do is quite an experience as I encounter cows that have escaped from their fields, pheasant and grouse warbling at me to move along from their feeding grounds, roads that suddenly end when they appear to go further on a map, rain that pours from the heavens and sprays up from the road, and all manner of other adventures.
I have just started learning how to ring a bell at Hexham Abbey. It is MUCH harder than it looks! Much! It is also a great deal of fun and a totally new experience that engages all my concentration, and to a surprising extent, my muscles.
I have been hanging around the Bike Shop here in Hexham. Though I haven’t done a lot of work on bikes, I have built up one bike from out of the box and have been observing all manner of random repairs on every conceivable type of bike from kids bikes to brand new $4500 custom-made mountain bikes. I’ve been around when the owner places orders with distributors and have observed him juggle the everyday mixture of answering phone calls, helping customers who stop in, making repairs, and shelving inventory, all while trying to find a moment for a cup of soup for lunch.
I have surprised myself with my interest in the depth of history that exists in this country. This past weekend we enjoyed having Hannah, a student member at Pres House, with us for a couple of nights. We visited Housesteads Roman Fort and walked along Hadrian’s Wall, envisioning what life would have been like in the 2nd-4th centuries when the wall was built and just as Christianity began spreading throughout the Roman Empire.
So, no I am not studying anything in the traditional sense. But I am learning a great deal from my “Cuddy’s Ducks”. And I am finding it very refreshing and invigorating. It is in the midst of this varied living that I am experiencing God’s presence anew. I resonate with St. Cuthbert and hope that as I come to understand the depth of life around me in new ways I will further come to understand the depth that is God.