The Holy Island
Updated: Sep 17, 2020
Lindisfarne at sun rise
Lately, I have been learning to face myself. We all suffer from what Eugene Peterson calls "an obsessive avoidance of emptiness". I must be constantly distracted. There must always be music playing or a TV on and don't you ever keep me too far from my phone. I don't want to come to a point where I actually have to look at what might be going on underneath the polished exterior which I present.
Yet in pursuit of fullness, I must. Jesus, the one who has promised me fullness, spent lots of time in solitude. Therefore I thought I'd have a go at it.
The craggy rocks on the east coast of the island
Herni Nouwen says that solitude (being away from everyone/thing for a bit) "is the furnace of transformation". It is a place where all our scaffolding is stripped away and we are left vulnerable before God. We are who we truly are.
I have spent the last year or so seeing a counsellor. I mention this because he helped me to face and process the initial chaos of all that was going on in me (I didn't want to 'obsessively avoid emptiness' anymore). I have been on a journey of solitude and transformation and he has popped up as my guide along the way. Because of this 'furnace' process my interior life was no longer as much like the craggy and dry rocks you see above. I was softening. Something was changing. Could it be fullness beginning to dawn upon my soul? I knew I was ready for time on my own. I was ready to really face myself. This led me to book a three day personal retreat on Lindisfarne, Holy Island.
Sunrise at Lindisfarne Castle
Upon arrival I had a plan. The plan was to have no plan. I would turn up and find a spot to sit down and there I would wait. The initial idea of solitude was slightly scuppered however as it seemed the whole world had thought Lindisfarne might be the perfect spot to travel to and ruin my retreat. With this my reality I stole away to St Cuthbert's island (an island off the island). I found a little crag and hid away behind it out of sight. And there I bathed in sunlight and endless ocean. Seals came and went and the birds skimmed in their numbers across the surface of the water. It was truly beautiful. I was looking at beauty that was in front of me and yet some how included me. I was being drawn into it. Perhaps interacting with creation is a key part of our growing experience of fullness? I was certainly breathing slower and more deeply.
I read John chapter 10 there. In this chapter Jesus talks lots about sheep. He's the Good Shepherd and we are the sheep. It is also in this chapter that Jesus promises us fullness of life. Did I need to be more 'sheepy'? A sheep lives and grazes where it is placed by the shepherd. He munches away. He trusts he is safe. He waits to be moved on. He is dependent. He is humble. I decided I did indeed need to be more 'sheepy' in my pursuit of fullness.
Note to self: be more sheep
Evening came. This is where the magic of Lindisfarne is revealed. Everyone left! You have to by a certain time or you get stuck on the island as the tide comes in. I had the beach to myself. I sang out a worship song or two and then knelt down and did Compline (Church of England end of the day prayer) on the beach as the sun set before me. I was surrounded by beauty which sung of a higher Source. It was like everything was spiritual in that moment not just my prayer. It was food and water for the soul, but it wasn't impersonal. It came from a Host. Jesus the gracious Host was filling my soul with his promised gift. This was a moment of fullness that I could not lose. This was not about to slip like sand through my fingers. The sun could go down and all could go dark but I had seen something beyond what my senses had experienced. Something lodged in the memory of my soul that was sacred and mine.
Sunset on St Cuthbert's beach
My next two days were spent enjoying my own company. I was becoming friends with myself. My real self. I was holding nothing back.
Prior to my trip I had let Jesus see it all. I think we spend lots of time battling ourselves and pushing away the parts of us we don't like, are ashamed of, or think are too much. I had. Yet to stand completely 'naked' before God and say "this is me, I'm a bit broken and messy, I swear a bit and am often too loud at the wrong moments, and sometimes I'm quite intense," and hear him say in return, "I know, I created you, I love you," that is the start of a great healing journey. A path which leads to fullness.
On this remote Island in the North-East I was starting to live in the fruit of being loved by God just the way I am. Another deposit of fullness of life was nestling in my soul.
Lindisfarne castle at first light (5:30am)
The truth is friend, you and I were created for fullness. I don't have the answers and neither am I claiming to be somehow fixed, but I'm starting to learn the way. It starts with facing ourselves. My Holy Island experience is simply a moment which allowed me to do this, not for the first time, and because I had done so before I could begin to tase the fullness I was created to enjoy whilst there.
My ambling about. My picture taking. My prayers, which to God must have seemed like I was picking random post-its off a wall of 'things it might be good to pray about whilst I'm here.' All of it felt held. It felt like regardless of what I did or didn't do, God was just holding the whole experience in his hands. Like it was all sacred and special to him, similar to how we snap endless pictures of our children just because, well, they're our children.
Whether you believe in God or not solitude is a precious gift to give your soul. I implore you to try it. You don't have to go as far as I did, but ask yourself when you were last alone, away from everyone else, able to gather your thoughts, or face yourself? It is something that I am going to continue to build into my life in order to enjoy more of the fullness I have been promised. Lindisfarne was beautiful, peaceful, a thin place. I don't however want you to get the wrong idea. It didn't deliver me fullness. It did however fuel my pursuit of it, like wind on the sails of a great ship, I was blown closer to the One who is fullness.