Three Life-Giving Principles
The international Community of Aidan and Hilda invites everyone to join them in following a holistic way of life.
It aims to reconnect us with the Spirit and the Scriptures, the saints and the streets, the seasons and the soil. The work of the Community is the work of each member and can be expressed individually and corporately in many different ways.
There are three life-giving values:
Simplicity: we remove excess baggage, and addictive attachments so that we can live out of God’s generosity. ‘Blest are the poor in spirit, their’s is God’s kingdom’ (Matthew 5:3)
Purity of motive: we are wholehearted, not divided, in relationships, work, and study. We accept and give God our whole being, including our sexuality. We respect every person as belonging to God, and we are available to them with generosity and openness.
Obedience: we joyfully abandon ourselves to God and to that which of God in each person and their role. The root of obedience is attentive listening. We foster a process of mutual discernment.. We respect each person and their role, and relate to them as an organ in a human body relates to every other organ (1 Corinthians 12).
We view our life as a journey which has ten waymarks. We invite a soul friend to accompany us and help us to apply these to our temperament and circumstances in a way which is life-giving.
1. Life-Long Learning
Jesus calls us to be disciples, that is learners, not once, but every day of our lives. The Old Testament also calls us to love the Lord our God with all our strength, all our heart and all our mind (Deut 6:5). It is essential that learning is not merely an academic exercise: all that we learn should be lived.
Learning can come through varied forms such as daily reflection on scripture, creation, people and experience. We encourage daily reflection on Scripture. We don’t treat Scripture as a mere recording but learn about the times and the issues when a particular biblical document was first written and about the strengths and weaknesses of the character portrayed. We accept what is called progressive revelation, but we always ask what new insight was God trying to communicate in that situation? So reading the Bible is like joining in on an on-going conversation with God.
Some people find the practice known as Lectio Divina helpful. This refers to a prayerful reading of a Scripture passage with openness to God speaking through it. You may choose any passage that speaks to your present condition; or go through a book in the Bible section by section; or you may follow a lectionary.
Jesus teaches us to learn by observation in Matthew 6 when he asks us to observe the birds of the air and the wild flowers. An ancient Celtic church catechism ends with the question: What is the fruit of study? Answer: To perceive the eternal Word of God reflected in every plant and insect, every bird and animal, and every man and woman. So we journey with the book of Scripture in one hand and the Book of Creation in the other and remember that we are co-creators with God.
‘Remember’ is God’s constant reminder to his people in the Old Testament: Remember what Abraham did, what lessons your forebears learned from Moses and from the many prophets. ‘Look at the cloud of people who witness your race of faith’ says the letter-writer to Hebrews. This cloud of witnesses is always growing. We may wish to draw desert fathers and mothers, Spanish mystics or radical social workers into our field of studies. We study the great Celtic saints, becoming familiar with Aidan, Brigid, Caedmon, Columba, Cuthbert, David, Hilda, Illtyd, Ninian, Oswald and Patrick. We remember their feast days and consider them as companions on our journey of faith.
‘I have learned…’ said the apostle Paul. Self-knowledge lies at the heart of wisdom. Even mistakes can become learning opportunities as we invite the Holy Spirit to teach us. A time honoured way of learning through experience is to reflect back on the day’s events before we sleep. Some call this the ‘examen’. Is there something for which to give thanks, something for which to say sorry, and some lesson we can learn?
2. Spiritual Journey
Just as Jesus’ mother Mary bared her soul to her cousin Elizabeth, so we need a wise person to consult on our spiritual journey. We commit to meet with a soul friend a minimum of twice a year, but most people meet more often. The community provides guidance for soul friends. We share with our soul friend our hopes and fears, our questions and challenges. The Soul Friend gives guidance on the two disciplines of ‘retreats’ and ‘pilgrimage’ which the Community considers to be important:
‘Come apart’ said Jesus. In order to advance we need, at times, to retreat. A human being is not a machine that can output without input. Jesus went into retreat. He spent forty days in a desert before he began his public campaign. Before he chose his team of twelve apostles he spent nights on mountains and made a habit of retiring to a garden. He taught his disciples to follow a similar pattern of retreat and advance. In Moses’ time God advised the people to spend one week a year living on the roof of their houses (Leviticus 23:29-43). This idea, which modern retreats help to fulfil, is to get us ‘away from it all’, to unclutter us, to free us from dependence upon inside comforts, and to connect us with God in creation.
‘Blest are those who have set their hearts on pilgrimage’ says the author of Psalm 84. Pilgrimage helps us to step off the treadmill, and move forward, intent on finding God. A life changing spiritual dynamic lies hidden in pilgrimage, for to do it we have let go of being in control. The purpose of pilgrimage is to tread in the steps of those who have had notable encounters with God so that we may be drawn closer to God and out into mission. We might pilgrimage to biblical sites, to ancient Christian sanctuaries in Britain such as Iona or Lindisfarne or general places of natural beauty. In Australia people will often pilgrimage to the desert and explore places like Uluru or walk the Jatbula Trail.
The central experience of the Old Testament believers, which they constantly recalled, was the Journey of the Israelite people for forty years through a desert towards a land promised by God. Deuteronomy 26 describes how they were to re-call this journey every year at their Passover Festival. The Hebrew word for pilgrim means ‘one who goes up’. The Psalms of Ascent (Numbers 120-134) were songs which pilgrims sang as they climbed the many steps leading up to the temple. Most of the first Christians were converted while they were taking part in the Pentecost Pilgrimage to Jerusalem to which they had journeyed from places far and wide (Acts 2).
3. Rhythm of Prayer, Work and Re-creation
Ancient bible believers kept a daily rhythm of prayer, work and rest. The circle in the Celtic cross reminds us of the rhythms of the sun. God has built rhythm into creation and we are meant to reflect this. There are rhythms of human, church and natural life. Summer is a time for being outgoing; winter is a time for storing. There is a time to be born and a time to grow; a time to explore and a time to build; a time to gather and a time to depart. Unless we sustain a good work-rest harmony and recover healthy rhythms of life – day and night, activity and stillness – we will gradually die.
Joshua called on the people to invoke God when they laid down and when they rose up (Joshua 1:6-9). When they settled in a new land it became good practice to pray morning, noon and night, as the writer of Psalm 55 tells us, and as Daniel demonstrated even when he lived in a prayer-less culture. Jesus would have kept these three hours of prayer, for they were universally observed among Jews of his time.
The early Christians continued this practice of daily prayer as we learn from Acts, and from records of the early church in the Roman Empire and Ireland. But then it was lost. We seek to restore it. The Community provides four prayer patterns for each day, each Christian and each natural season. Some fully use these, or their church’s liturgies; others are more spontaneous, but use these as a resource. Some memorise prayers, and say them as they drive, jog or wash-up.
We welcome work as a gift from God. All humans resemble God in certain ways. It is our nature, like God’s, to create. Work is a blessing of creation, not a result of human sin (Genesis 1:26-28). Even if we are too young, too old or unable to find paid work we all have a responsibility to contribute something. We all know that frequently work does not reflect good values, and work-place conditions can be degrading. We do what is in our power to improve values and conditions. We also avoid over-work because it robs ourselves, others and God of the time we should give to them.
The hours of rest and recreation are as valuable as the hours of prayer and work. Jesus reminds us that “the Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath;” (Mark 2:27). In the scriptures even the land was given a Sabbath in the seventh year (Leviticus 25: 3-5). The need for rest was built into creation (Genesis 2: 1-3). The heart of re-creation is the power of love to create something in love. To develop our creative capacities and to have fun is not indulgence if they are put at God’s service.
4. Spiritual Initiatives through Intercession
The Community affirms a world view that recognises the reality of the supernatural and of spiritual combat. Our faith journey is a struggle against evil. We believe that to be blind to the reality of evil, and the need to overcome it, spells trouble. We draw inspiration from the desert fathers and mothers who faced their ‘Shadow’ and overcame destructive inner demons.
We applaud human rights activists who intercede on behalf of the oppressed. The Bible commends people whom God calls to intercede on behalf of those who face a horrible fate. Abraham interceded with God for a city (Genesis 18). His grandson, Jacob, wrestled outdoors with God as with a man throughout a whole night. Eventually he overcame. God changed his name to Israel, which means ‘you have struggled with God and overcome’. From that time all Hebrews named themselves after, and took their cue from, Israel. Saint Hilda’s name also means Struggle. Their birthright, and ours, is to overcome.
Jesus calls us to pray ‘Your kingdom come on earth, as in heaven… deliver us from evil’. Paul calls us to ‘overcome all kinds of evils with good’. He, and the writer to the letter to Hebrews portrays Christ as the ceaseless divine intercessor (Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25). The apostle also pictures Christ as the head of a body of which each Christian is a part. As the head does, so we do. Because we are incorporated into Christ, we, like him, pour out our words, thoughts and lives in love that seeks to redeem.
5. Simple Life-style
We wish to ‘live simply that others may simply live’ and to avoid any sense of judging one another we recognise that God will make different demands of each of us. Our common responsibility is to regularly hold before God our income, our savings, our possessions, conscious that we are stewards, not possessors of these things, and making them available to Him as he requires. Jesus calls us to a simple life-style: ‘Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust corrode, but lay up treasure that will last for ever’.
Simplicity is about more than possessions. It is about being so detached from self-seeking that we become free to be poor or rich or anything. It is about how we order our rooms, our transactions and our time. Simplicity does not mean that we deny ourselves things of beauty or surround ourselves with what is second-rate. Quite the opposite: we might forego ten second-rate things in order to obtain one thing of longer lasting beauty. Simplicity is also about telling the truth in plain words. Jesus said ‘Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”’. We cultivate simplicity in the way we speak and communicate.
We are not seeking a life of denial for we thoroughly rejoice in the good things God gives us. Our clothes and furniture should reflect God-given features of our personalities. There is a time to feast and celebrate as well as to fast. We resist the temptation to be a consumption junkie. We watch our diet and exercise. We may fast from fast foods, car driving or the internet. But we resist a life-style of guilt. We may feel we are so far from perfect, what’s the use of trying? It’s the direction in which we are heading that is most important. We don’t compare ourselves to others. We enjoy the chance to relax and let our hair down. Our commitment is to openness.
Many people in the world are starving, homeless and without a livelihood. Jesus said ‘If you have given food or drink or clothing to one of these who are my brothers and sisters you have given it to me’. So we steward our resources. If we are given something, we give something away. We love to give money we could have spent on ourselves to someone who lacks basic necessities. We stand against the influence of mammon – the crazed addiction to money. We practice regular and generous giving. Those who can, save and invest in ethical companies. We can’t give what we do not have. But even if we are in debt, or have no wage, we still give what we do have – love, a drink of water, the widow’s mite.
6. Care for Creation
If people trample on the earth, the earth will trample on them.
According to David Attenborough’s TV series ‘The Frozen Planet’, earth’s temperature looks set to become warmer than it has been for three million years. The result would be vast new areas of drought, mass migrations, and flooding through rising sea levels. Similar warnings from the international scientific community are a wake-up call. Yet such calls fall on deaf ears because of the lust for short-term gain of multi-national companies and the political cycle. Unless a grassroots spirituality of creation spreads across the world the future is bleak.
We affirm God’s creation as essentially good, but spoilt by the effects of evil. We look upon creation as a sacrament, reflecting the glory of God, and seek to meet God through his creation, to bless it, and to celebrate it. The opening of John’s Gospel portrays creation as spoken into being by the One from whom all life comes. Creation springs from God’s heart. It is God’s heart-beat. If this is so, then how dare we disdain or wantonly destroy it?
We let the earth, the water, the elements touch us and nourish us. We let nature speak to us, for it is God’s mouthpiece. God spoke to Jeremiah through a tree (Jer. 1: 11-12), to Moses through a bush, and to the magi through a star. The Infinite Being who birthed the cosmos has not treated it as a clock-maker might treat a clock, leaving it to tick away somewhere on its own as theologians at the time of Charles Darwin taught. The Divine presence is within the great, groaning, evolving cosmos. When the Son of God was nailed to a tree there was an eclipse of the sun and darkness reigned for three hours. When a great cry from Jesus marked his earthly death there was an earthquake. Rocks and tombs split open, and in the words of an early Saxon poem ‘All creation wept’.
We are led to care for creation in different ways. Some buy locally grown food to avoid the pollution that accompanies food transport; others buy fairly traded goods to prevent the ousting of those who grow their own food in poor countries. Someone only buys cleaning products that do not pollute the drainage water that seeps into the earth; another conserves water. One person buys vehicles and fuel that are least polluting. We use energy saving light bulbs and switch off when we are not using them! We insulate our homes. We recycle our goods. We walk or cycle more, drive more mindfully and fly less.
7. Healing Fragmented People and Communities
Jesus healed people in all kinds of dis-ease, and asked his followers to do the same. He sensed the spiritual condition of places. He called the people of his capital city to come to the source of their well-being. Long before that, God promised the wise King Solomon: ‘If my people humble themselves … seek me and turn from their selfish ways … I will heal their land’ (2 Chronicles 7: 14).
Each person and community has wounds caused by abuse, neglect or selfishness. Healing is possible. Healing is a process. Those who follow this way of life can’t engage in every sort of healing, but each tries to engage in some kind of healing. To give four examples:
First, as we become more aware of the wholeness that Jesus wants for us all, we visit broken bits of our own lives that have lain buried and unattended: wounds inflicted by dominating or neglectful peers, low self-image and deep fears. We bring these into the light, perhaps with our soul friend. We invite Divine Love into our wounded parts.
Secondly, we pray for others to be healed, each in our own way. Some are members of their church’s healing team that lays hands on people as they pray. Others accompany another on their journey towards inner healing. We listen to, love, and pray for their wound. Whether praying for ourselves or others, we call this the journey from fragmentation towards wholeness. We journey from fear to faith, from being false to being real, from self to the other. We believe, with Bishop Irenaeus that the glory of God is seen through a human life lived to the full.
Thirdly, we seek, when and where this is appropriate, to heal fragmented communities. The world is full of nations in conflict because injustices or neglect have not been addressed. More subtle, but just as real, are simmering grievances within families, churches, neighbourhoods and cities. We use conflict resolution principles: Listen to the other side’s story without interruption or judgement; explain our own side’s story; describe the hurt you feel but without blame.
Finally we seek healing of the land, to which the Community of Aidan and Hilda calls us. This applies overlooked biblical insights, some of which First Nation peoples have retained, to contemporary un-whole communities and misused land .The Garden of Eden is an image of humans, the earth and God living in harmony. Cain’s spilling of his murdered brother’s blood into the earth is an image of possessive humans harming one another and the earth, which becomes less productive (Genesis chapters 2- 4). Ray’s book Healing the Land: Volume 3 of The Celtic Prayer Book (Kevin Mayhew) explores this more fully and provides examples of prayers and ceremonies.
8. Openness to God’s Spirit
The world around us is full of sound and fury signifying nothing. Everyone seems to be shouting – no one seems to be listening. This recalls the psychiatrist Carl Jung’s belief that western civilisation is at some deep level terrified of the way it is heading to disaster and that it drowns its angst in noise. At each turn we take, a thousand voices shout at us. We listen to the most urgent, or the most alluring – those that appeal to our pride or comfort – and we block out the rest. But sooner or later we spot the eighth waymark– it points us to a way of openness and listening to God’s Spirit.
We learn to cultivate stillness, because we cannot be open to what is here if we are always running off to what is there. Here, we may find a wildness that God has planted somewhere within us – for wildness is at the heart of our God-given creativity – but until we learn stillness we do not hear what it is saying. We practice entering into silence, waiting, listening to our bodies and to the body language of others. We practice listening to our common sense and our conscience, distinguishing deepest convictions from unexamined preferences. We listen to God in Scripture and songs, in sages and in the sounds of creation.
We allow God to take us where the Spirit wills, whether by gentle breeze or wild wind. The Celtic Christians had such faith in the leading of the Spirit that they gladly put to sea in small coracles, and went where the wind took them. We desire this kind of openness to the leading of the Spirit.
Essential to this is a proper affirmation of the gift of prophecy. St. Paul urges us all to prophesy (l Corinthians 14.1). We honour this gift and encourage its proper and appropriate use.
The Bible records that in the time of the boy Samuel ‘there was a famine of hearing the words of God’. Then Samuel learned to listen to God and this marked a turning point in his nation. In our time, too, the art of listening to God has almost been lost, and takes many years to acquire. For us to have a Samuel experience could mark a turning point for us, too. ‘God gave us two ears and one mouth – why don’t we listen twice as much as we talk?’
This waymark challenges those of us in the church to repent of the schisms that have torn it apart, such as the split between the eastern and western church in the eleventh century, the many splits during the Protestant Reformation in Europe, and all the splits since. It invites us to recall that on his last night on earth Jesus prayed that all believers would be one as he is one with God the Father (John 17:20) in order that that there would be one flock and one shepherd. Increasing numbers of spiritual people object to the idea that they should belong to any strand of Christianity, lest that should limit them or put a barrier between them and others.
We need to walk the Weavers Way – to start to weave threads in a divine tapestry that includes all human life. We make an act of unity with Jesus in Scripture (the Evangelical strand) and in Holy Communion (the Sacramental strand); in the poor (the Justice strand) and in the deep heart’s core (the Contemplative strand). We make an act of unity with Jesus in the spiritual shepherds (the Catholic strand) and in the Living Tradition (the Orthodox strand); in nature (the Creation strand) and in the group process (the Community strand). These acts of unity do not require us to be unfaithful to anything we have learned of Jesus.
How do we build community with those who are unlike us? Jesus said those who are not against us are for us (Luke 9: 50). He worked with people before they understood his identity. The apostle Paul urged us to focus on whatever is good, right and true (Philippians 4:8). So we seek to weave with those strands which are of God in people and in our local and wider communities. Early churches in Celtic lands honoured, trusted and went with the grain of the human communities they served. We seek to cultivate solidarity with all people in everything except sin, to value all that is truly human in them, and to shed attitudes and practices that put up barriers between the church and the people. We seek to weave together all that is good in peoples divided by class, colour or creed.
Our aim is that ‘the whole created order may be reconciled to God through Christ’ (Colossians 1.20). The goal of the way of life is to develop a disciplined spirituality that will make us effective in our witness to Christ in the world. We seek to share our faith wherever opportunity is given. We evangelise not simply out of a sense of duty, but because the Spirit of God is giving us a heart for those who have lost sight of God. We ask God to work through us in signs and wonders for his glory, not ours. Our mission also includes speaking out for the poor, the powerless and those unjustly treated in our society, and to minister to and with them as God directs.
We travel as hungry beggars who tell other hungry travellers where to find bread. In an inter-faith age we find the approach of Aidan, centuries ago, the most helpful. We make friends, establish trust, and invite one another to share honest convictions and be listened to with respect. Often people who promote their religion only want to tell their version of their own and the other’s religion; they are unwilling to listen to the other. Inter-faith dialogue, whether an organised meeting or an informal chat, allows the Spirit of truth to lead people into all truth.
Aidan crossed boundaries from his own Irish race, language and religion in order to bring to the Gospel to another people (the English-speaking Anglo-Saxons) in a gentle way through friendship and by modelling God’s Kingdom on earth. His name means Flame. We seek to model this incarnational, culture-friendly approach in every land, and to ‘pass on the flame’.
Hilda is a sign of a wise and merciful woman who nurtures fresh callings, is sought out by people from opposite church or political frameworks, and who ‘releases the song in every human heart’.
The Community provides inspiring information about them and about forebears of faith in our different lands.