by Linda Ryan
We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. — Romans 12:6-13
I’ve been working on a project for church that involves putting together a timeline of Anglican/Episcopal church history. It’s always a treat when one thing I’m doing suddenly gets a bit of light from an unexpected source — in this case, the Daily Office and the commemorations of the day. Aidan and Cuthbert both made their mark on Anglican church history, even though the Anglican church at that time was Celtic and later Roman Catholic. They had a hand in both, and added to the history of the church in England which became the Anglican Church.
Aidan was from the tradition of Celtic Catholicism as practiced at Iona, a center for mission activity off the western coast of Scotland. Oswald, king of Northumbria, sent to Iona with a request for a monk to establish a new mission on the eastern coast of northern England and so Aidan went and founded the monastery at Lindisfarne, an island like his former home. Aidan and his monks spread Christianity not only in the Northumbrian area but as far south as London. Aidan was a holy soul, inviting everyone he met, whether pagan or believers, to join the faith or strengthen the faith they already professed. He taught by invitation, not compulsion and met with great success. Aidan died in 651.
Legend tells us that Cuthbert had a vision that Aidan had died, a vision that prompted him to join the Celtic Catholic religious life Aidan had practiced. He became eventually the prior of Melrose Abbey before assuming the post of prior at Lindisfarne in 654. During his tenure at Lindisfarne, he guided the community to acceptance of the Roman form of Catholicism as established norm based on the decisions of the Synod of Whitby in 663. the main point being how Easter was calculated. Cuthbert was later Bishop of Hexham but remained at or on a small island near Lindisfarne until his death in 687.
In the reading for the Commemoration of Aidan and Cuthbert, Paul speaks of gifts and the results of those gifts. Everybody has at least one gift, and some have more than one. With Aidan and Cuthbert, it seemed they had most of the gifts on Paul’s list — compassion, diligence, exhortation, teaching, generosity, cheerfulness, ministry and faith. Invitation and persuasion “got” more people on board with Christianity than all the rules and rule-enforcement could muster. Theirs was true vocation for ministry. Frederick Buechner could have easily applied his definition of vocation to them — their greatest passion met the world’s needs.
It’s funny how many people don’t see the gifts they have within them. Sometimes it takes someone else to point it out to them, and, depending on how the information is received, they either find greater passion in that gift or they discount it and leave it unfulfilled. Sometimes folks just “follow their bliss,” to use Joseph Campbell’s notable phrase, not realizing they have found a vocation and a ministry in work that may be far outside the walls of any church or even any denomination. Feeding people at a homeless shelter might just seem like a good deed, but if one comes away with a feeling of having done something good for someone else who cannot possibly pay it back in kind, that is exercising a gift and getting a benefit far greater than any monetary reward or even profuse thanks can offer.
A 12-step program in which I was involved for a while had traditions, promises, slogans and exercises that we read at every meeting. The one that sticks in my mind the clearest goes, in part: “Just for today I will do somebody a good turn and not get found out. If anyone knows of it, it will not count.” It is a quiet kind of ministry statement and objective — but one that meets one need in a world with a billion billion needs. It sounds like a drop in the bucket, but what if every person on earth met just one need for someone else every day? A single raindrop doesn’t really do much, but a whole lot of raindrops can make an oasis out of a desert.
That “Just for today” slogan goes on, “I will do at least one thing I don’t want to do, and I will perform some small act of love for my neighbor.” I’m sure Aidan and Cuthbert would have recognized days in their own lives where that saying was totally applicable, but I have a feeling they welcomed the opportunity, unlike most of us who try to squirm out of doing what we don’t want to do and usually can’t see some small thing we could do for someone else. I know I have and I do. Perhaps this is the lesson I am supposed to learn — or re-learn– from both the readings and the autobiographies of today’s honorees. Being able to see a need and do my best to fill it (or help them fill it) is probably a gift I need to cultivate a bit more, not waiting for something to crack me on the head and say “Here. Now. Do it.” It’s easy to be oblivious and much harder to be awake and aware. I need to stop sleepwalking through life and maybe the stories of Aidan and Cuthbert plus the words of Paul are the alarm clarion I need.
And those most blessed words, “Just for today…” One day at a time, one hour or one minute at a time, that’s all. No great huge lifetime commitment, no permanent vows or even long-term contract, just one day at a time, one bit of time every day, practicing hospitality, compassion, patience, perseverance and letting hope and love light the road. It’s not an insurmountable task and it may help me discover where my passion meets the world’s needs. And I don’t have to go to a holy island or be sent from one to make it happen. I just have to wake up.
One day at a time.