Destiny is an interesting thing. What makes it interesting is the way in which we pursue this destiny. In many ways, although I believe we are destined, God has given us agency and input into how that destiny is realized. I do believe destiny is something struggled with. Destiny is wrestled with as Jacob did with the Angel. Saint Cuthbert was no different and from an early age he knew he was destined. But what was he destined for? To see what one is destined for is to live life and experience the struggle with destiny. Cuthbert is one such character in Scottish church history.
Cuthbert was born, likely into a noble family, in Dunbar, then in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria, and now in East Lothian, Scotland, in the mid-630s. He was born about ten years after the conversion of King Edwin of Northumbria to Christianity in 627. Very slowly his conversion was followed by that of the rest of his people. The politics of the kingdom were violent, and there were later episodes of pagan rule, while spreading understanding of Christianity through the kingdom was a task that lasted throughout Cuthbert’s lifetime. Cuthbert grew up in a world of accepted violence.
From the Mouth of Babes
Cuthbert was known as an athletic youth. Oral history tells of this strong youth playing near the river Tweed when a three year old stated to him “Why do you make such a fool of yourself? Do you not realize your own nature calls you to serve God? It is said from then on Cuthbert began to exercise his mind in theology as much as his body in athletics. Cuthbert grew in spirit and body One night many years later as he was tending his sheep at night, Cuthbert is said to have seen a host of angels carrying a soul to heaven. It is also said that on that night, Saint Aiden had died and Cuthbert had seen him escorted to heaven. Cuthbert had vision.
It was this teenager who became a man and by 664 at the age of 30 was charged with the responsibility of helping monks in Lindisfarne come to terms with the hard reality that many Celtic ways were being superseded by the church in Rome. He is known as a responsible and sage manager and soul friend. Being kind to those struggling with faith. Cuthbert was a man of honor and humility.
Back into the Fray
He had attempted to live the life of a hermit after his time at Lindisfarne but in 684 he was begged by the clergy and the king to become Bishop. And for two years he went around helping establish churches and nurturing the young in the faith in Scotland. Cuthbert was a servant. Knowing his health was failing, in 686, Cuthbert returned to the Farne Islands.Even in his dying breaths, he continued to instruct the monks until he finally died in their arms. Cuthbert was loyal to the call of discipleship to the end.
5 Lessons from Cuthbert
The most fascinating thing about Cuthbert was that he knew he was destined. When we think of destiny we think of the child who pulls a sword from the stone and rules a nation with happily ever after. The reality about destiny is that it is messy, littered on both sides with mistakes and regrets. In the real world destiny is the urge to do something, even when it looks like it might kill you. As we seek our destiny in the journey with Christ, Celtic believers should remember the basic lessons of St. Cuthbert. These are:
- Regardless of the world you grow up in, you do not have to be a product of it. You are not destined to simply be like everyone else.
- We should be strengthening our spirit and our body. It is really not possible to separate the two worlds. If either is denied its exercise it can lead to unhealthy relationships or situations. Being health conscious should include being conscious of our spiritual health.
- We should serve to the maximum extent possible. There should be no half stepping with God.
- Even at our own peril, sometimes we must still serve. Being faithful to the gospel means to seriously put your life at risk. Doing the right thing could mean your life. Like Cuthbert, we should do it anyway.
- We should be loyal to our call in Jesus. We should never shy away from the hurting world because advocating and helping is difficult. Those are the times destiny is realized, in the midst of pain.
The Challenge of Cuthbert
Cuthbert reaches from history through his example and challenges us to make the hard decisions. He challenges us to be comfortable with getting in the dirt for our destiny. The Christian will not find their destiny in the throne but in the mud. Are you ready to do the difficult muddy work of service? I pray we are always preparing for our destiny in the mud!