Here′s an interview that appeared originally in Woman Alive with Ray Simpson, the founding guardian of the international Community of Aidan and Hilda. He lives in Lindisfarne and has written over 30 books.
The Community of Aidan and Hilda is a dispersed new monastic community which includes Anglicans, Catholics, Orthodox and Evangelicals in four continents. These follow a holistic Way of Life which includes a rhythm of prayer, work and re-creation, simplicity, purity, and creation-care, healing, unity and service. We seek to reconnect with the Spirit and the Scriptures, the saints and the streets, the seasons and the soil.
I wrote Hilda of Witby because we can unearth from her life a much-needed spirituality for now – a spirituality of warmth in hard places and exile, of wholeness, unity in diversity and ‘releasing the song in every human heart’. Hilda may be the greatest first-millennium Christian woman in the English-speaking world; she is becoming a contemporary icon of holistic leadership. As we come to the end of two thousand years of patriarchal Christendom, we need models of God’s wisdom and mothering dimensions from within our own submerged cultural memory.
I have ‘lived’ with Aidan for twenty years. My historical novel Aidan of Lindisfarne: Irish Flame Warms a New World has just been published; it describes Aidan in what is now Ireland, Scotland and England.
Here in Lindisfarne I walk in the steps of Aidan who kept a rhythm of retreat and outreach, love of God and people. Some decades ago I realized something was missing in my own and the church’s life. Prayer had been separated from work, mind from body, religion from science, Jesus from creation and the church from being real. So I immersed myself in the best of early Celtic and other expressions of Christianity in order to discover passion, presence, pilgrimage, roots, rhythms and relationships, the Body of Christ as Christ’s heart in me and in community.
In common with early Celtic Christians, we can see ourselves as life-long learners and pilgrims of the love of God, leaving behind addictive relationships and work patterns, being open to the Spirit, and travelling light. We can hone godly intuition and keep alive an imagination which ‘sees’ Jesus building God’s kingdom among us now. We can sustain a natural fellowship with all human beings in whom is something of the light of Christ (John 1:4). A passion for social care and evangelism can flow from the single heart of compassion in Christ.
My first book, Exploring Celtic Spirituality, has been re-published many times and translated into two other languages. I continue to receive letters or emails that say it has changed the writer’s life. A pagan who had never read the Bible rang me after reading this book and said ‘I had a dream in which a white hand came from above into my heart, and I could not stop crying for three days; can I come to your retreat?’ He asked Jesus into his life.
Etched in my heart is a letter from a family I have never met. As they encircled a dying loved one they had in their hands my book about dying well, Before We Say Goodbye. They used some of its suggested prayers, rituals and poems – and told me of a beautiful soul-encompassing at death.