It was September. The sea on the North East Coast of England was choppy and the wind chill bit into the bones. In the harbour fishermen competed with the cry of hungry seagulls, in a bid to be heard.
“Book your trip to the historic Holy Island of Lindisfarne. See the place where St. Aiden chose to found his monastery in 635AD. Visit the picturesque 16th century castle.”
The island is tidal and access by way of the paved causeway is covered by the North Sea twice in 24hours. The fishermen must work with the tides.
I was returning to this delightful, unspoiled haven of peace and tranquillity alone. I’d been given a sick note for seven days.
“There’s nothing wrong with you,” the doctor had said. “Just stress. That’s all.”
So there I was, alone and down, stretched to breaking point with the stressors and pace of modern life; yet journeying to the most spiritually enchanting and scenically beautiful little island you could imagine.
I dumped my bag on the bed at the retreat and promptly turned tail. I needed to be outside where the air was crisp and salty. Climbing the gentle incline beyond the charming old church of St Mary, I looked out over the magnificent Northumbria coastline dotted with castles and steeped in history; before slumping onto the first bench on my path.
The wind had dropped and the sun was warm and comforting on my face. Closing my eyes, I struggled to shut out the intrusive thoughts that threatened to disturb my peace. I was so very weary. I longed so much for release from my nervous imaginings.
“The bloodthirsty, murderous Vikings landed here and plundered the monastery in 793AD.” I didn’t turn around. I didn’t care what the Vikings got up to. I had no energy to feign interest in conversation with a total stranger.
The tide was coming in fast, creeping surreptitiously to devour latecomers as they accelerated towards dry land. Lindisfarne would be cut off from the mainland within minutes.
Below me, the tiny islet just off the island was already taking a lashing from the North Sea as it crashed onto its rocky promontory. A wooden cross marked the spot where Cuthbert sought solitude in prayer. I walked there once when the tide was just right.
I held my breath. I hadn’t spoken my thoughts out loud … Had I?
I turned, hesitantly... Just some old sheep that had wandered from the farms. I settled down again.
My eyes came to rest on the inner, ‘Farnes,’ where Cuthbert became a hermit in order to fight the spiritual forces of evil.
“The peasants loved Cuthbert.” I froze!
“Where are you?”
“Right here, beside you. You’re sitting on my bench.” I freaked!
“See the plaque.” I looked.
‘In memory of Anna, who chose to leave the bright lights and chaos of the city, in order to spend time in getting to know her Creator.’
I fumbled for medication in my pocket.
“What frightens you Jane?”
“Nothing … Everything … You … I really don’t know. I’m not well.”
“Fear Jane. Just a feeling … called fear.” I glanced around to check that my insanity wasn’t being observed.
“Jane, your pills won’t make me leave.”
“Who are you?”
“Have you forgotten me Jane? We used to be friends. I’d hoped that you’d come back and look me up again.”
“But I’m so busy! No one understands. I have responsibilities, targets to meet, deadlines.”
“I understand! There’s no time for friendships, relationships. The only companion you have is me.”
“You? A voice in my head? Here to torment me!” I couldn’t take any more. I beat my head with both fists and began to bawl like a baby.
I had to get back. I jumped up and began to run like the mad woman that I was. I headed for the causeway. No one would ever know. They’d think I’d misjudged the tide.
The voice ran with me. I was distraught. I fell to my knees, gasping for breath. I couldn’t take another step.
“Come on in Jane.”
I crawled on my hands and knees into the ancient church of St Mary, along the exquisite handmade carpet depicting the ‘Lindisfarne Gospels,’ all the way down to the alter.
I looked up to see the brilliant Ascension window above the high alter and heard His voice.
“Welcome home Jane. The lengths I have to go to, to get you back on your knees!”
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