Pilgrimage Revival Talk

Over the first two week-ends of July churches celebrated a major revival  of pilgrimage to Norway'western fjord village of Selje. They included the Lutheran Church of Norway, Catholics, Orthodox and Pentecostals.  I gave two talks to a hotel conference organised by the commune's new Pilgrim Centre, attended by a colourful cross-section of residents including commune officers, archeologists, clergy and orthodox monks.

Because of rain, and the band's instruments etc,, the service planned for the island of Selja was controversially moved to the Church of Norway opposite on the mainland.  This was packed. I gave the following short homily:

'Epistle: 1 Thess.2: We were gentle towards you; we lived among you as a mother.

Gospel: Mt.9:35-38: Jesus had compassion for the people because they were helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

The world has been affected by two kinds of Christianity’s Cross: 1) In this sign conquer. 2) Defenceless Love when, like God’s eternal Lamb, we allow ourselves, our egos, to die in order that the Merciful Heart may reach all people and all creation. Here is my Community’s Cross. The Cross alone is like a sword. The Cross with a circle is like Jesus’ encircling love.

Your vicar said yesterday: ‘Holy Islands can show the way for the world’. I come from Britain’s Holy Island of Lindisfarne. I come to Selje’s holy island, the birthplace of Norway’s church. The Irish Princess  Sunniva of Selja chose to die a beautiful death of starvation, rather than be raped by lustful men. The lovely scent of her purity – the scent of her bones -would inspire many hearts in Norway to love God – to be married to God.

The Irish saint Aidan was sent to Lindisfarne by the monks of Iona, in a foreign land far away (although both in today’s Britain). But before him they sent someone else. His mission was a failure. The mission leader did not learn the language, or the culture, of the local people. He expected them to leave their farms and come to foreign royal centres, to learn of this new religion of Christianity in a foreign language. But Aidan said ‘You should have been more gentle and not forced our Irish ways upon them. You should have been like a mother who feeds her hungry baby with milk from her own breast.’ As a result, Iona monastery replaced the first mission and sent Aidan, with twelve brothers, instead. The king who invited the mission gave Aidan a royal horse so he could travel quickly and far. Perhaps he was like some modern mega missions, he wanted to reach the greatest number of people in the shortest time possible. But Aidan said ‘No, thank you’. Why? Poor people could not afford to buy a horse, and Aidan did not want to be above them. So he and his brothers walked everywhere. He made friends with everyone he met, invited them to tell them their pagan stories. Only if invited did they tell them Gospel stories. These they had memorized so they did not read them, they told them what they had stored in their hearts. If rich people gave him money for the church he gave it to the poor, or purchased slaves their freedom. He did not build expensive church buildings.

Aidan thought prayer could transform creation. He told a friend who feared his boat, which was escorting a future queen, would capsize in a storm, to pour oil he had blessed on to the troubled waters. The storm did come, and the seas did become calm in answer to this prayer action. School children spent a whole morning telling me how they could pray in this way, and pour oil on the troubles in their families’ lives.  Aidan also taught his brothers to pray over a piece of land where they planned to build a monastery or church for 40 days before they started to build, in order to heal it of bad influences.

Many pilgrims come to both Lindisfarne and Selje now you have your new Pilgrim Centre. A bishop said to me ‘Teach us how to turn tourists into pilgrims’. For every tourist there needs to be a local person who will just pray. Then the smell of prayer and purity will be stronger than the smell of tourism. Then Selje will be a place Jesus calls truly blest.'

Later half of us went by boat to the cave where Sunniva and her spiritual sisters died. A You Tube of a prayer conversation there may shortly be available.


Posted at 21:17pm on 13th July 2022
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