Sunday, October 21, 2012

Calming Storms with the Oil of Christ

Cross at Lindesfarne
This story from the mission of St. Aiden of the Celts and can be found in Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England (St. Bede, 673-735). In 563, St. Columba, ‘dove of the church’ (521-597) founded the monastery on the island of Iona. The monastery of Lindisfarne was the major missional influence in Northumbria, and was founded by Aidan of Iona in 635.
Utta, one of Aidan’s priests, was sent to Kent to bring back Eanfled to marry King Oswry and further his kingdom. Riding through enemy territory, he would have to return with Eanfled by treacherous sea. 

Aidan knew Utta was terrified of the ocean and its storms. So Aidan, blessing some oil, marked Utta on the brow with the sign of the cross: “The cross of Christ defend you from all evil.” Then he gave to Utta the phial of oil, saying, “Keep this close to you and let it be a sign of peace and calm. If a great storm arises, then pour the oil on the troubled waters. Remember that Christ is in your ship, and call on him. Speak to him who stilled the waves and calmed the wind. God be with you in your going out and in your returning. I can see that you will bring the princess and her retinue safely back to Bamburgh. Do not be afraid, my brother; trust in God.”

Utta traveled with great speed to the palace of the Kentish king. A ship was prepared and all boarded safely. Utta clutched the phial of oil that hung around his belt and it seemed all was going to plan, that his prayers were answered. Suddenly, it all changed. A great storm broke upon them; their sails had to be lowered. Planks were creaking and straining. Waves crashed over the ship. As the day darkened, there was no sign of the storm weakening. There was no harbor- they would have to ride out the storm in the open sea. As the boat rose high and plunged to the depths, all wondered how long they could survive the horrendous waves.

Utta decided this must be the moment to use the oil. He asked one crewman to tie a rope to his waist and to tie the other end to the mast. Then, with great struggle, he moved to side of the ship. A great wave nearly swept him overboard. As the ship dipped, Utta poured the oil on the sea and immediately the wind stopped and the waves eased; it all became calm. After the journey, Utta told Aidan. “You have to believe me father! The moment I poured oil on the troubled waters there was a calm, a peace. It was a miracle. No one on board knew what to say, except to thank God for their deliverance.”

We are often caught in stormy waters. Jesus is the One who stilled the wind and the calmed the waters. How could we learn to cast the oil of Christ over our lives? What is the oil that God gives us to pour calm and peace over our troubled spirits, tense relationships and whatever troubles us?

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