One of the wonderful things about out Anglican faith tradition is that it encourages us to remember faithful woman and men of God who have gone before us and learn from the example of their lives. The Church remembers St Aidan on August 31st the anniversary of his death in 651. Aidan was a missionary whose life was completely devoted to telling the Anglo Saxon people in the north of England about the good news of God. As I have been contemplating and considering the life of Aidan I think there are some things we can learn from his way of mission and devotion to telling others of Gods good news.
Firstly, he was passionate and totally focused on telling others the good news of God. His whole life was devoted to telling people about the good news of Gods Salvation through His Son Jesus Christ. He was commonly referred to as “little flame” and this hints at his being on fire for God and his total fixation on proclaiming and telling others of the love of God. Aidan was known to be gentle and kind in his approach to proclaiming the message. More significantly he was known to be authentic in his relationships and friendships with others. He genuinely wanted to be involved with the people he interacted with. He was willing to spend time with people and really get to know them well. This is perhaps best shown through his reputation for walking everywhere to be amongst the people. As he walked it gave him time to be with people and build relationships. It was out of this platform of genuine and authentic relationships that he earned the respect and trust of people and that he was then able to tell them the good news of God.
Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians writes, “I have become all things to all people, that I by all means might save some. I do it all for the sake of the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 9 v 23-24). This willingness to become all things to all people was also true of Aidan and his approach to telling people about the love of God. He would relate with ease to both the poor and the rich, the angry and the joyful, the weak and the strong, the slave and the landowner, the King and the pauper. Whether they be English or Scottish, Irish or Welsh, Pagan or Priest he could relate to them all and proclaim Gods good news to all. Perhaps a lesson and a challenge for us is are we also willing to be involved in people’s lives, and be all things to all people, genuinely getting to know them and trust that in doing so we are also taking the presence of Christ to them.
A second lesson from Aidans life was his willingness to tend and love people in practical ways. He was generous with his money and possessions and gave it all away to tend to the poor, the lost and the lonely and the sick. He was also willing to speak out when he saw issues of injustice. He spoke out against slavery and did all he could to buy people out of slavery and give them their freedom. He saw the needs of people and met them as he was able. In the words of Bede whose historical account of Aidans life has been the primary source of information on his life,
“He [Aidan] used his priestly ministry to check the proud and powerful; he tenderly comforted the sick; he relieved and protected the poor”. (Bede).
A third lesson from Aidan's life was that he placed a high priority on teaching others about God and encouraging people to grow in their faith. He was also one of the first to teach reading and writing to all people and not just the rich and wealthy. The monastery he founded on the Island of Lindisfarne was very much a centre for learning where people in the company of the monks studied the scriptures and psalms and encouraged each other in their walk with God. Where ever and whenever Aidan went people would know that inevitably he would engage them in some study and pondering on scriptures and psalms. Bede wrote this about Aidans approach to discipling others,
“This [the reading of scriptures and psalms, and meditation upon holy truths] was the daily employment of himself and all that were with him, wheresoever they went; and if it happened, which was but seldom, that he was invited to eat with the king, he went with one or two clerks, and having taken a small repast, made haste to be gone with them, either to read or write.” (Bede)
A fourth and final lesson from Aidans life was that he was a man of prayer. He valued solitude and time alone with God. His life was characterised by a rhythm of regular daily prayer and study. It was also characterised by a regular rhythm of retreating to the Monastery on Island of Lindisfarne to find solitude in prayer and contemplation and to simply be alone with God. Out of these times of retreat Aidan would then go forth on foot to be amongst the people and preach and proclaim the gospel to all who would listen. Aidan know that to be able to take the presence of God to others he first needed to spend time alone in the company of God.
This rhythm of pray and retreat to then go out and preach and proclaim the gospel is best encapsulated in this beautiful prayer that has been attributed to St Aidan;
Leave me alone with God as much as may be. As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore, make me an Island, set apart, alone with you, God, holy to you.
Then with the turning of the tide prepare me to carry your presence to the busy world beyond, the world that rushes in on me till the waters close again and fold me back to you.
Saint Aidan is considered by many to be the first missionary to bring the gospel to the English. His way of mission and devotion to telling others of the good news of Gods was considered by many to responsible for the spread of the gospel of Christ amongst the English. As we look to our own friendships and relationships in our community in 2020 there is much that we can learn for the life of Aidan about how we too can take Gods gospel and Gods presence to the busy world around us.