Thank you for signing up to join us for a series of 15-20 minute times of morning prayer each day throughout Lent. My hope and prayer is that, as we undertake this journey through Lent, in the company of St Luke and St Cuthbert, we do so in the knowledge that, while we may listen and pray on our own, we are actually doing this together, bound by the Holy Spirit, in the presence of the hosts of angels, the great crowd of witnesses who have gone before us, including Luke and Cuthbert, each other, and, of course, Christ himself. We are, therefore, never alone, even in the stillness and the silence. This post is by way of an introduction, and a little background on Cuthbert.
Beginning on Ash Wednesday, we start the day with readings from the psalms, the Gospel of Luke, a chapter from Bede’s Life of Cuthbert, and some prayers. At various points we remember some of the pre-Norman saints whose ‘days’ take place during Lent. The pace is deliberately slow, to allow for contemplation, reflection, and supplication. If you are looking for something quick and amusing, you won’t find it here…
St Cuthbert is the Anglo-Saxon saint of northern England who lived in the 7th Century and died in 687AD. He is renowned for his love of God, and his care for, and kindness towards, people and creation, especially animals, and wandered across the north of England from Lindisfarne and Jarrow to Carlisle and the Lakes as monk, abbot, and then bishop, before returning to his life of solitude on the island of Inner Farne, where he died at the age of 53.
Bede wrote his ‘Life’ (or ‘Vita’) of Cuthbert, not as a biography, but as a hagiography, firstly to show us why we should revere Cuthbert as a saint, and secondly, more prosaically, to show us what a life in Christ’s footsteps looks like in his time and place, and to encourage others, especially monks, to follow where Cuthbert had led. There are 46 chapters in Bede’s story of his life and so there are 46 morning prayers in the series. Bede was a master of numerology and there is no coincidence in the fact that his hagiography is written in 46 chapters and that is the same as the number of days in Lent, which had recently been extended to this length (40 days of fasting, excluding the Sundays). He almost certainly wrote it as an early form of ‘Lectio Divina‘, that is, for monastic contemplation each day through Lent. In other words, exactly the way we are using it in these times of morning prayer.
There is no record of Bede ever having met Cuthbert. He was about 15 when Cuthbert died, but Bede was placed by his parents into Jarrow monastery at the age of seven, Cuthbert was his bishop, and the latter made it his business to visit every monastic house in his see when Bede was already a teenager, so it is highly likely he did. However, Bede did know many monks who knew Cuthbert well, and his stories are drawn from their recollections of him, as we discover through the course of the Vita. Both Cuthbert and Bede are buried in Durham Cathedral (where I was ordained, both as deacon and priest), one at either end.
There is much we can learn from our pre-Norman Christian ancestors on this island – they had an immense respect for creation (not fear, as some claim). They saw themselves as part of the whole, but with a special responsibility to care for creation. This shines through in Cuthbert’s life. For example, when Cuthbert was hungry, he shared his food with the animals around him; when he was cold they warmed him; and when they were a nuisance he reprimanded them! In fact, the way in which animals and nature responded to the Anglo-Saxon saints, such as Cuthbert and Guthlac, was one of the main ways of telling that this was a true follower of Christ and blessed by God. But the saints also understood that the animals were equal inheritors of Christ’s work on the Cross. We see the same idea on the carved faces (iconography) of the Anglo-Saxon stone crosses of Bewcastle and Ruthwell on what is called ‘inhabited vinescroll’, where the beasts and birds share in the fruit of the vine (which is, of course, Christ, the Church, and the Eucharist – remember Jesus saying ‘I am divine, you are de branches…’?).
Remember, if you would like to share your thoughts and reflections at any point with others on the same journey, this page is available to do so. Please check up on it occasionally to join in any conversation that may be taking place.
Follow Cuthbert’s story here, and allow it’s slow pace to sink into your spirit…