It was a Sunday night. We were all snugly wrapped up within the walls of our church. Happily we celebrated the accomplishment of our student minister who had recently graduated to “Reverend”. Funny stories were told and fond memories shared. Then the guest speaker rose to preach.
It was Michael Frost, a lecturer at the college where our student minister had studied. He was a lively speaker who quickly warmed to his themes of current and historical Christian mission. Never having studied much history myself, I listened with increasing interest as Mike described the historical lifestyle of the Scottish Monastic Celts.
According to Mike, these Celts were a tribe of wild, adventurous, bold, hard-talking, at times drunk, people with a crazy reputation. They were not known for their meditational or social skills, to say the least. But God started calling them to salvation. And when they became Christians, they entered monasteries and devoted themselves to two phases of spiritual devotion.
Phase One consisted of deep and prolonged meditation and study. Everyday they would enter a circular room called “the cell”, where they would study the Bible and pray. I don’t know how long they did this for but it was an all-day, rigorous discipline. Eventually, when they were ready, the head monk would walk up to them, tap them on the shoulder and say, “Now you must add the rhythm of the coracle to your life.”
Enter Phase Two. The head monk would lead the monks outside where they would collect a coracle, put it on their back, and carry it down to the river bank.
At this point we require a brief explanation. A coracle is a small rounded thatched boat, almost circular, handmade and usually big enough for 2-4 people. The roundedness meant that the boat was impossible to steer. In most boats, the point at one end gives the boat direction and means by which to cut through the water. In a coracle, however, there is literally no way to direct the boat. If you use a paddle, you end up spinning in a circle. The coracle is guided by the waters.
So in Phase Two these monks would carry two-man coracles down to the river and put them in the water. But before casting off, they would stand on the shore and pray together. The prayer would be something to this effect:
“Lord God – Lord of the winds and the waves and the tides and the oceans – take these men to those whom You would have hear the gospel.”
Then the monks would get in the boats, two to a coracle, and off they would go. Countless numbers of monks headed off in this manner. They went in the belief that wherever they landed, that was the place God had sent them.
The waters took them all over Europe. They were responsible for many salvations and, over a period of about 400 years, re-Christianised several countries in Europe including Italy and Portugal. But many also drowned along the way.
As I listened to Mike’s enthusiastic sermon, the words of the monk’s prayers caught my ears. They seemed to swirl around in my head like water, bubbling to a melody of their own. “Lord of the oceans and Lord of the waves. . .”
The words called to me, as I pray they do you. May God send you to people who need His grace and salvation. Whether you live or die, I pray you trust Him enough to answer His call – a trust born out of much prayer and intimacy with God.
For the full sermon by Mike Frost, listen here.