Day 39 9th April Cuthbert
I feel a strong affinity to this Celtic saint. My childhood village church bore his name and he is held in great esteem in the North where he is affectionally known as Cuddy, the gentle saint. He was one of the great Saints of Lindisfarne in the 7th century. Cuthbert was a monk, a reluctant bishop, and a much less reluctant hermit for periods of his life. He was born in Dunbar, which was then in Northumberland, now in Scotland. There are numerous stories of events that took place in Cuthbert’s childhood that marked him out as one who had a particular calling from God. For example, at the age of eight Cuthbert was playing a rough boisterous game with friends. Suddenly a three year old child who was watching them began to cry, which at first they all ignored, until the cry became great howls of distress. Cuthbert went over to him to find out what was wrong. “You are what is wrong” wailed the young boy. And then in a strange and eerie voice the boy continued: “O holy priest and bishop Cuthbert, these games are not becoming of one of such high calling.” The boy would not stop crying until Cuthbert stopped playing and went back home. After that the young Cuthbert had encounters with angels, and also many experiences of his prayers being answered. On one occasion Cuthbert was again out playing with friends by the sea shore, when a group of monks got into danger as the tide changed and a violent wind arose pulling their flimsy rafts out to sea. The boys all jeered and laughed at their distress, but Cuthbert fell to his knees and prayed. Suddenly the wind changed direction and blew their rafts back to shore and safety. Cuthbert was stunned by what had happened.
As a child, and into adult life, Cuthbert had a strong affinity with animals, especially the sea otters around the Northumbrian coast. Cuthbert went on to become a monk, and later a bishop; though throughout his life he spent time in solitude and prayer out in the wild. He was popular among the poor and needy, and was known for his generosity, kindness and love.
Cuthbert, for me, has always been a reminder that we should treat all children with respect and reverence. We never know what we have in our mist and, as Cuthbert’s early life attested, children seem have a special relationship with God that we so easily lose as an adult. Out of the mouths of children often come wise and innocent words that we need to hear. Children bring a unique holiness to every church and community.
St Cuthbert has always held a special place for me in that my home church, in the village I was born in, is dedicated to St Cuthbert. St Cuthbert was always remembered on his feast day, March 20th, in our village school and I grew up on the stories of this wonderful Celtic saint. I have always felt that my calling to ministry was inspired by the stories that I heard and loved. Like one of the saints we remembered earlier in Lent, Gilbert White, Cuthbert’s ministry was not merely to the human aspect of God’s creation but also to the natural world – and this has drawn me to both of them. They felt that the whole of God’s creation should be served, honoured and ministered to, and that the whole of God’s creation ministers also to us.
There is a lovely story of him visiting a monastery while on a preaching journey, and sneaking out in the middle of the night to be alone. One particular monk from the monastery saw him leave and out of pure curiosity followed. He watched as Cuthbert walked to the water’s edge, and then into the cold icy Northern Sea up to his neck and raised his arms in prayer. He prayed there for some time while the spying monk watched hidden close by on the shore. After a long time Cuthbert came out of the water and knelt on the dry ground shivering. Then the spying monk watched amazed as two otters followed him out of the water and wrapped themselves around him breathing hot breath on to him to warm him. The next day the monk sought Cuthbert out to confess to him that he had followed him and had witnessed his prayer, and the otters later ministering to him. Cuthbert told him that he would forgive his indiscretion on the condition that he told no one what he had seen until after his death. The monk promised he would keep the secret and did so until Cuthbert died, when he seems to have told anyone who would listen!
The longer my ministry goes on I have come to believe more and more that my parishioners are far more than the people who live in Grove Park; that they include animals, birds, insects, plants, trees and every other aspect of God’s creation. I am also called to serve them and recognise their presence, as I believe they serve me by their presence and, on my daily morning walks, help equip me for all that lies ahead each day.