Tuesday, 2 March 2010

In Strange Lands.

Given that there were probably more people in the train carriage I travelled back to London in than I had seen on most days of the pilgrimage, arriving at King's Cross itself was always likely to be something of a shock to the system. London seemed overwhelming and I did not feel happy.
Trying to find the links between the Celtic Saints I've been seeking to walk behind and the urban context I'm called to serve in, I've been thinking increasingly about the experience of exile, of being removed from that which is known and understood.
It was visiting St Aidan's, Bamburgh on Saturday morning which started me thinking about exile. It was there that St Aidan is supposed to have died, able to see his island home of Lindisfarne but cut off from it. Separate.
The experience of exile runs through the stories of the Saints I've been studying. St Columba was exiled from Ireland for his part in the Battle of CĂșl Dreimhe. St Aidan undertook a life of exile in Northumbria for the sake of the Gospel. St Cuthbert sought out the exile of the solitary life in his hermitage.
Cities are full of exiles. They are the places where those who are fleeing persecution or fierce poverty seek to make new beginnings. For those who seek the exile of the solitary life, cities perhaps offer greater opportunities to live apart from your neighbour than many smaller communities do. The speed and frequency with which urban communities change and change again, can make those who stay put feel like exiles from their own pasts as the world around them is perpetually transformed. Although I've lived in London for most of the past twenty years, it was a village I grew up in, and for all the great joys of round the clock shopping and late night pizza delivery, there are still times when I could happily trade those in for a night sky with more stars and fewer sirens.
A story of exile and return is central to the Biblical narrative, it was something the Celtic Saints sought out, and it is an experience shared by many people in urban communities, communities like Edmonton. There is a thread to be followed, but I'm not sure where it goes.

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