I wish I prayed more. And I am glad that holiday can be an opportunity to do so.
This year – as so often – the family’s summer break took us to Northumberland. Atop a rock on Bamburgh’s beach I was caught up in a silence that was broken only by soaring gulls, crashing waves and children playing in the distance. And gradually it became prayerful – not because I was saying anything, but perhaps precisely because I wasn’t. A question visited me in that noisy silence, ‘what does it mean to be a Christian today?
As that swirled around my mind and through my tousled locks, I was peering up the coast, barely looking at anything. Gradually Holy Island came into focus, though far off in the distance. I recalled the haunting sound of the seals that are sometimes so close to the shore there.
My mind turned to St Aidan with the ancient abbey community, and then to the URC’s contemporary Mission Project, the St Cuthbert’s Centre, which this summer hosted a fascinating exhibition of work by Lindisfarne Scriptorium’s Mary Fleeson – Quiet in the Midst. And a wordless prayer formed; it was as if I was being reminded that to be a Christian today is as it always has been, to make space for God in our lives. We might do it by stirring worship or by absorbing reading, but that day I was inadvertently doing it in the silence. All I could murmur was that ancient Irish poem, ‘Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me, save that thou art.’ It was ever so peaceful, and I was grateful for the oasis that the holiday was bringing, for, in truth, it had been a demanding few weeks and gradually I was sensing refreshment.
Even as I was basking in the idyll, welded to the same rock, my eyes turned south, and there were the Farne Islands and their Longstone Lighthouse.
Still my thoughts ranged far and wide, until the story of Grace Darling came to mind. In 1838, when 22 years of age, she was crucial to rescuing some people shipwrecked during a storm so severe that neither the Seahouses nor the Bamburgh lifeboats could put to sea. From their home at the lighthouse, Mary and her father risked all and in two trips in a small fishing boat rescued a dozen victims who otherwise would have perished. She believed it was God who gave her the strength for such selfless action. As I rehearsed the well-known tale, Derek Estill’s Moderatorial Address came to mind. Grace Darling was a fine example of ‘faith in action’. Seeing others in need she felt compelled to respond.
And there was the other half of my question’s answer: the Christian life today is about making space for God and for one another. That is what it always has been, and always will be. It seemed so simple, yet that was what the beach-bound prayer time said to me. And as I protested that I wanted something more sophisticated, the gulls squawked and the waves persisted their simple refrain, ‘Love God with all you are, and love your neighbour as yourself.’ And I gave in, gratefully.