Have you ever seen a cairn? Have you ever had need of one?
I first saw cairns when hiking the Lake Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota. On top of the glacial hills, the trail gets a bit uncertain sometimes. There are no trees which could be blazed with a swatch of paint to point the way. So more experienced hikers pile up rocks to show where the trail continues. Some of these cairns are quite creative, with large rocks precariously balancing on smaller rocks or upright rocks supporting horizontal flat stones. They look quite imaginative but serve a practical purpose — to show the way to go.
Here on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, the eastern beach near the castle is covered with smooth, flat rocks of all sizes that visitors use to create towers that remind me of Dr. Suess landscapes.
Hundreds of yards of shore are covered with these diverse cairns.
Not every visitor picks up stones to add his or her own creative element to the island. But each visitor to the Island contributes something to the atmosphere of this place. It’s been so since Aidan founded his monastery here in the 7th century.
Aidan and Cuthbert, who came after him, were both remarkably humble, gentle, courageous followers of Jesus. They travelled extensively around this area, spreading the Good News in such a way that people truly believed it was GOOD news! Many who visit the Holy Island today would say the influence of these saints can still be felt. Certainly the Christians who gather here to worship, serve and provide hospitality seek to extend the influence of Aidan and show the way to Jesus.
For a thousand years, people have been visiting the Holy Island. Some come as pilgrims and some, even as they did back in Aidan or Cuthbert’s time, come as curious tourists. As we leave tomorrow, I ask myself what I leave behind. I have not built a literal cairn but have I helped point the way to others?
“Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all the day long” (Psalm 25.4-5).
Happy St. Aidan’s Day 2017!