It is early morning on the banks of Ireland’s wild river—the mighty Shannon. The rising sun is just beginning to light up the water. The earth is awakening.
Peace rests over these quiet waters, broken only by the gentle splash of a paddle in the water. Locally-born naturalist and cameraman Colin Stafford- Johnson is paddling his canoe through the river rushes. In the background are the first few sounds of a new day—’this wonderful happy time of early morning’—as Colin calls it when the birds and other wildlife start to go about their daily business.
A heron flies off from a bank. A Redshank gives a warning call as the canoe strays too near its young on the river bank. Life is beginning to return to the river. But sadly even here in this remote spot there are missing sounds. The haunting call of Curlew, Lapwing and Golden Plovers used to be here, sadly now they are a rarity.
This beautiful BBC documentary on the Shannon and its wildlife through the seasons is one of our favourites. Colin knows how to watch and listen to the natural world of his local river though the seasons and in all weathers.
Sheep peacefully graze as a gentle breeze blows in across the surrounding landscape in Ireland’s wild west. This is a good place for listening and thinking deep thoughts. Was it on some wild hillside like this that Patrick’s eyes were opened to see what is beyond the natural world, and to catch a glimpse of the distant horizons of heaven? If so it was to change his life and make such a difference to these islands.
In his ‘Confessions’ he tells how as a young man he had been taken captive as a slave and brought to Ireland. While there keeping sheep on the hillsides he had time to remember and rediscover the Christian faith of his parents back home (probably in SW Scotland). Later he managed to escape to his homeland where he trained for Christian ministry. Some years later in a vision he saw:
“… a man coming, as it were from Ireland … he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish”. As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”
Amazingly Patrick, now a true ‘Listener’, responded to the call to return to face and forgive his former persecutors, this time to ‘walk among them’ as an ambassador for God.
Standing on a shore like this it’s not hard to see how the Creation meant so much to these early Christian pioneers, of whom Patrick was but one. Here at Lindisfarne in Northumbria it was Aidan, followed by Cuthbert. Back on Iona it had been Columba. At Othona, among the East Saxons, it was Cedd. The rugged faith of men and women like these matched the scenery of rocky coasts, stormy seas and ever-turning tides. The monastic centres they established became beacons of Christian faith, prayer and learning in those ‘dark ages’.
An ‘Everyday’ Christ
From a distance we admire the strong faith and courage of these men and women. Theirs was an ‘every day’ Christ standing with them on the sea shore, sailing with them in their boats, even through storms, as he did in Galilee. Also visiting them unawares in the form of guests who were always welcomed.
They were aware of an ever-present Christ, all around them like the continuous, unbroken designs of their Celtic crosses.
Christ in quiet and in danger. Christ in hearts of those that loved them and in word of friend and stranger.
Though I suppose it was inevitable, it was sad when the Christian church left the way of simple lifestyle losing much of the spontaneous charisma of the early days. Those early Celtic Christians set an example of a more New Testament-style of living that appeals to me and challenges me. Am I still listening like them? I want to know their ‘every day’ Christ better and serve him as they did in their generation, bringing the Christian faith to these shores.