Saint Brendan's Day
He lived close to ten centuries ago so I never met him. He, however, I suspect helped Lainie and I sail home safely from our challenging sail into the Bahamas. Today is May 16, a day commemorating the Feast of St. Brendan; so it is a day of gratitude.
How he helped I don't actually know for certain, but he may have appeared as fellow sailors: Maikel, Monica, Gilbert, Leo and Ben; BASRA's Chris L., fishermen: Dave M., TJ and John B; mechanics: Alex , Manfred and Roger; Chub Cay Marina front desk Ally and Britannia; Hotel Manager Tito; Marina Dock Master Tito; TowboatUS skippers Adrian, P. , Kevin C., Ben, Charlie, Ian, Noah, crew of Richard L. Becker; Just Catamaran reps: Kent and Lorant; Moorings rep Michelle, friends and family Linda, Pat, Barbara, Chris and Jason as well as all the people who prayed for us.
Also thanks to BASRA, Stuart Divers, Chub Cay Marina's staff, TowboatUS. Certainly, there were countless unnamed others as we eventually discovered when we arrived home. All these people assisted us in one capacity or another to help us make it back. Either fellow sailors, mechanics, fishermen, towing services and friends - all came to our rescue at various times. All showed up when we most needed them. And lest I not overlook St. Brendan, the Navigator.
A few days after American Mother's day another day commentaries an individual few have heard about. In the realm of human history his contribution may seem limited, but that impulse to compare is a shallow way to assess a person's worth. Over the ages certainly many great individuals have contributed to the advancement of civilization.
Stories abound of sailors wanting all the protection from the elements as well as one's limitations courage, strength and endurance. Will power does not voayage alone. One certainly needs many other powerful traits and skills to survive and succeed.
Sometime between AD 512–530 a priest named Saint Brendan, the Navigator set out on the Atlantic Ocean with 14-16 monks plus 3 unbelievers who joined in the last minute to search for the Garden of Eden, before his voyage to the island of Great Britain.
The “Navigator” or “Voyager” is his more commonly known title because his life was defined by his seven year long journey across the sea to find the Island Promised to the Saints. He would have visited the island of Inismor off the coast of County Galway to receive a blessing from St. Enda before embarking on his journey, so I relish knowing I have walked and sailed on some of the same landscape as he.
He hears the call to search for this mythical island and it is revealed in a dream, an angel says he will be with him and guide him there. He brings along a group of fellow monks for community, and searches for seven years sailing in circles, visiting many of the islands again and again. Each year he celebrates Easter Mass on the back of a whale. Each year he visits the island of the birds, where white-feathered creatures sing the Psalms with his monks. Only when his eyes are opened, does he see that this paradise he seeks is right with him.
There is, of course, the actual narrative of a physical voyage. Tim Severin, a modern sailor in the 1970’s, re-created the voyage Brendan took, rebuilding the same boat, and landed in places like Iceland and Greenland. There have been suggestions that Brendan was perhaps the first to land in North America. This is the outward geography of the journey.
There is also a deeper, archetypal layer to this journey, which resonates with our own inner pilgrim – the part of ourselves drawn to make long voyages in search of something for which we long. This is the inward geography of the journey, and one where we may physically only travel a few feet or miles but the soul moves in astronomical measure.
The Navigatio, as the text of Brendan’s voyage is known in Latin, is a story of a soul rooted deeply in a monastic tradition and culture, as well as the liturgical cycles and rhythms, in early medieval Ireland. Each of the various parts of their journey take place in 40 and 50 day increments to reflect the liturgical seasons and the rhythms of fasting. They arrive to landfall to celebrate the major feasts and always accompanied by the singing of the Divine Office and chanting of the psalms. Time is not linear on this journey. Brendan and his monks move in circles, spiraling again and again to familiar places from new perspectives.
This journey is an allegory of spiritual transformation and the soul’s seeking to live and respond to the world from an experience of inner transfiguration with themes of Brendan’s waiting, anticipation, striving, searching, and seeing from a deeper perspective. The heart of the voyage asks us, what needs to change for the Land Promised to the Saints to be recognized? What is the way required through both illuminated and shadowy interior landscapes? Are we able to stay present through moments of solace, ease, and joy, as well as the anxiety, fear, and sometimes terror that comes when we let go of all that is familiar to follow our heart’s calling? Can we see the difficult journey as a passage of initiation?
There is a great deal of waiting in this journey, so much unknowing. There are whole seasons when they feel impatient and confused about why they can’t find the place they are seeking so diligently. Yet it is the very journey through the shadows that is required to make the desired discovery. Brendan doesn’t arrive to the promised land he seeks until he has made the arduous journey within.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE