Treading Borderlands by Ray Simpson

People from four countries made their way to a Michaelmas Retreat on Borderland Spirituality at our Retreat House on UK’s Holy Island of Lindisfarne. By some divine synchronicity this coincided with my imminent move to a new house at Berwick Upon Tweed which is on the border between England and Scotland.

We explored borders between places of conflict and between heaven and earth. We explored liminal experiences of Celtic saints who went to the edges of a place or of self-giving. When they reached the limits of where they had to be or what they had to give ‘the other side’ filled the gap.

We explored seasons of life. The borderland can be a twilight space between the summer and autumn of life, but it can also be the space between a young, macho go-getter in the spring of life who speeds to the top of a ladder and a minute later falls flat on the ground.

We entered into the journey that begins when this world starts to fade away and the next world draws near. We learned how even a debilitating medical weakness can be turned into a pilgrimage. We imagined a Departure Lounge at an airport and decided what parlours and people and symbols we would like around us as we traverse the final borderland. We accompanied a soul through what the Orthodox call The Great Passage.

We also explored angel experiences—visions of angels that healed a young man’s knee, chose a candidate for king, averted the plague, converted a pagan ruler, restored a marriage, averted a fatal car accident and so on. In the reading for September 30 in my The Celtic Book of Days I recall this angel story:

Columba sat transcribing the Scriptures in his little cell at Iona. Two brothers who were near the open door were alarmed when his countenance suddenly changed and he shouted ‘Help! help!’ ‘What is the matter?’ they asked with consternation. Columba told them: ‘A brother at our monastery at Oakwood Plain in Derry was working at the very top of the large house they are building there, and he slipped and began to fall. I ordered the angel of the Lord who was standing just there among you two to go immediately to save this brother.’

Later they learned that a man had indeed fallen from that great height, but nothing was broken, and he did not even feel any bruise. As they discussed this Columba  said: ‘How wonderful beyond words is the swift motion of an angel, it is as swift as lightning. For the heavenly spirit who flew from us when that man began to fall was there to support him in a twinkling of an eye before his body reached the ground. How wonderful that God gives such help through his angels, even when much land and sea lies between.’

What can we learn from these rich experiences? Go to the edge. Let go of the past. Embrace the Love that beckons, the love that delights to bring deep transformation to us in the soil of brokenness and vulnerability. And keep on walking.

Ray Simpson is the author of several books on Celtic spirituality, including Celtic Christianity: Deep Roots for a Modern Faith and The Celtic Book of Days: Ancient Wisdom for Each Day of the Year from the Celtic Followers of Christ