Guthlac

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I am a collector of obscure saints. Every now and again I unearth a new one and bring it like a bright eyed labrador to the attention of my wife. A little while back I became fascinated by the Anglo-Saxon St. Guthlac. I do feel slightly nervous about writing about Guthlac here in the context of Wales because he spent much of his early manhood fighting and killing Welshmen... but he did grow tired of this 'cymrucidal' life and went to a monastery. Yet even here he was not at peace, the other monks didn't like him, finding him rather too keen and zealous especially because he refused to drink alcohol. Now, he lived in the middle of England so he didn't have mountains to escape to, but instead found an island in the middle of the fen lands where he lived the life of a hermit, obscure and remote and many people even until modern times, considered him slightly mad. But in the obscure wilderness of the Fens he learned wisdom and insight and became a counselor of Kings and advisor of bishops. Now he is remembered in a few churches in the surrounding counties but is largely forgotten.

Pilgrimage

Out of North Walsham on a gray day
Over the streaming traffic of the A149
Past Aylsham, the road windy, turning slow corners
Stuck for a while behind a skip.
We travel across Norfolk on a B road
Through villages and small towns straddling the way
To South Elham where there are signs to a Saxon Cathedral
We motor past
But turn off to Castle Acre and the Cluniac Priory
The sky heavy, low, gray as if it were dusk already
We stop
The place is deserted but for a solitary man walking his dog
Scrabbling over the gate we wander past chestnut trees to the old flint walls
Here is the Abbey Church
Here the Prior's house
Here the Infirmary
Hear the Latrine with stream adroitly redirected
In the distance dog walkers stroll through the marsh
Returning to the car we set off for the Fens, the sky still heavy as death.
Guthlac stayed two years in a monastery before entering the Fens, for us 20 minutes must suffice.
We drive north to Great Massingham to see the old house of grandparents
The garden is overgrown. The carport needs painting
So on past Kings Lynn
Around Wisbech
All the time the light dying
At Guy Hirn we pass an Adult Superstore.
Now the land ceases to roll and is entirely flat
In the distance lines of trees, orange lights
We drive over what was once all water
Through the straight street of Thorney
Then turn onto the road for Crowland.
The earth is black
The ditches deep
And when we turn to cross the car swings on a sharp bend
This flatness is unnerving
How could you live here?
Then out of the grayness a new road roars
And crossing its river of lights we enter the town
Turn left. Turn right. Round a corner
And the church, floodlit, startles us
It looms over the flat land like a beached angel
To the right the climbing ruins of the Old Nave
The church now inhabits the North Aisle
It is a warm place the Church of Mary, Bartholomew and St. Guthlac.
At the altar, after Communion, I linger
And then, seeking toilets, we find display boards telling Guthlac's story
And we talk with the vicar
An American from Georgia via Turkey.
Outside it is dark
I pause before the edifice where Guthlac's prayers grew
And we return home, into the black night.

Waterlands

-- a meditation for St. Guthlac's day
 
Now we live in waterlands
in uncertain places
where change is always changing
and sea coming, going
and river falling, rising
 
We would prefer
Dyke
Wall
Sea defences set in concrete
Boundary
Clean lines
 
But earth advances and retrenches
Leaves slime of mud
Detritus of sand
The Borderland
Where time lives in unsolid earth
 
And so, also, is Spirit and Flesh
Here in the
Thin
Damp place
They merge, kiss, embrace
Become one
And bring life
 
Just as sandpipers prod mud,
And crabs grab rock pools

St. Guthlac Prayer

St. Guthlac pray for me
Holy Melangell pray for me
Pega, Godric, Cuthbert pray for me
 
All holy hermits pray for me
All holy men
All holy women
Saints of the Saxons
Saints of the Welsh pray for me
 
For I am alone and I need the help of the Holy One
Be with me in my distress
Oh holy saints of God
Oh holy hermits of swamp and fen, forest and mountain, sea and islands, be with me
Help me, comfort me
Lift me to the throne of God that I may see him face to face and receive His love, His grace, His healing touch
 
St. Guthlac pray for me
Holy Melangell pray for me
Pega, Godric, Cuthbert pray for me

A prayer for St. Guthlac‘s day

St. Guthlac April 14 (also the anniversary of Evening Prayer for Stoke Newington)
 
This Guthlac‘s day we remember:
 
all seekers after freedom
all who abandon violence for faith
all who commit themselves entirely to the hunger for God
 
And we pray to the God of the wild places, and of the street, and of the park, and of the church:
 
that we may overcome the dark forces within or without which seek destruction
that we may find our own 'wild place' in which to encounter the living God
and that we may receive that same Spirit which Guthlac received to strengthen us and make the world whole
 
And we thank God
 
for the fenlands and wetlands of this world, praying for their flourishing as havens for the wild and free
for the example of spiritual warriors like Guthlac who inspire us and share their wisdom with all who seek it
and we thank you for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes!
 
So God preserve to us the memory of Guthlac as we walk through the wilderness of this world with questions seeking and heart's longing, that we, like him, may live the promise of your wild peace.