Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Psalm 107, the Navigato of St Brendan and keeping spiritual disciplines
they were merchants on the mighty waters.
24 They saw the works of the LORD,
his wonderful deeds in the deep.
25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
that lifted high the waves.
26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
in their peril their courage melted away.
27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
they were at their wits' end.
28 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
29 He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.
31 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for humankind.
32 Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people
and praise him in the council of the elders.
Psalm 107: 24-32
One of the oldest stories in our Christian European literary tradition is the ‘Navigato of St Brendan. It was used as a teaching tool in monasteries and towns from about the 5th or 6th century. It’s the story of an Irish Abbott Brendan who sets out on a sea journey across the north Atlantic in search of the kingdom of God. It just maybe that Brendan and his group of Irish monks in their leather hide coracle discovered America a thousand years before Columbus. They set off into the open sea and the Navigato tell of their amazing adventures.
They come close to a land of fire where Giants throw rocks at them. A place that they called the gates of hell, that sounds like a good description of the volcanic activity on the Icelandic coast.
They must have reach America because they come across a giant crystal cathedral although this one floats in the middle of the sea not California and if we are going to be scientific about it sounds like an ice berg.
They arrive at an Island to be welcomed by a large monk covered from head to foot in white fur, a polar bear perhaps, who knows them by name and has prepared a meal for them.
They encounter long period of being becalmed when they sit and swelter under the vicious unrelenting sun and they go through days and days of stormy seas.
They celebrate Easter on the back of a giant whale and the sea birds join in the harmonies of the psalms they sing. It’s a wonderful story, if you’ve read the voyage of the drawn treader by CS Lewis it is I believe where he got a lot of his inspiration.
Fanciful I here you say well Tim Severn a modern day explorer followed St Brendan’s voyage in a coracle in the early 1980’s and found that he came upon whales sleeping on the surface and that the traditional tools and foods that the Irish monks would have used actually stood up to the journey better than high tech stuff he had bough along with him as well.
But the whole story as I said before was used to teach: To teach that the thing that sustained the monks on their epic sea voyage through the storms was that they kept their monastic disciplines. They set aside time each day to sing psalms and pray and recite memorised scriptures. They observed the disciplines of the church calendar as the journey took them many years. The key to surviving the storms of life is the key that the psalmist tells us calling out to God and the “Navigato of St Brendan” shows us that this is best done not as an emergency measure but as a regular discipline for life.
The lifeboat crews along the same rugged coast line as the Irish monks or the IRB crews we see in shows like ‘Piha rescue’ don’t pull off life saving rescues by simply being there to respond to the call they regularly train and go through the routines that sustain them and save others in times when lives are not at risk. Peter Blake and other great sailers from our country don’t start with round the world adventures they grew up and spent many hours sailing the bays and harbours and foreshore of our island home. Likewise it is regularly keeping good spiritual health disciplines that will keep us through the storms of life. That will enable us to go into the deep to follow Jesus.
Here are a couple of prayers one from St Brendan and the other attributed to Sir Francis drake that I love and that sum up a willingness to venture out into the wild seas to encounter the wonderful deeds of the Lord.
Prayer of St Brendan
Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy, without silver, without a horse, without fame, without honour? Shall I throw myself wholly upon You, without sword and shield, without food and drink, without a bed to lie on? Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land, placing myself under Your yoke?
Shall I pour out my heart to You, confessing my manifold sins and begging forgiveness, tears streaming down my cheeks? Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach, a record of my final prayer in my native land?
Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict? Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean? O King of the Glorious Heaven, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?
O Christ, will You help me on the wild waves?
Sir Frances drake
Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,
When we arrive safely because we sail too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when in the abundance of thing we possess
we have lost our thirst for the water of life...
Having fallen in love with life we have ceased to dream,
We have allowed our vision of a new heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas where storms will show your mastery,
Where losing sight of land we find the stars,
we ask you to push back the horizon of our hopes
And to push us into the future of strength courage, hope, and love.
This we ask in the name of our captain, who is Jesus Christ.