'Life is an ocean'- Following St. Brendan the Navigator

St. Brendan heads on his voyage
Today the Church in Ireland celebrates the memorial of St Brendan the Navigator. St. Brendan travelled tirelessly to evangelise and establish monasteries following his ordination to the priesthood at age 28. The sixth-century monk frequently sailed the high seas to spread the Gospel throughout Ireland as well as to Scotland, Wales and Brittany in the north of France. According to a 1,500-year-old Irish tale, however, St. Brendan embarked on one particularly epic journey in the winter of his 93-year-old life. Here, he is said to have set out onto the Atlantic Ocean with sixty pilgrims searching for the Garden of Eden! Regardless of what we think or believe about St. Brendan's voyages, they have a lot to teach us!

As a symbol for life’s pilgrimage, I return to my roots. I think of those Celtic monks who sailed out to sea in coracles, little boats, without a rudder for steering. The coracle was not just a boat, it speaks of much more–of journey and pilgrimage, risk and wonder, fear and peace, prayer and praise, wild storms and quiet sunsets, the discovery of many things unknown. Over the past week I had the opportunity to spend time in Galway where my accommodation looked out over the sea, friend and foe of man. I was struck by the force and the peace of this immense body of water. I was mesmerized by how the sunlight fell gently on the waves making them glisten and reminding me that the same Creator God who knows how many drops are in the ocean, knows how many grains of sand are on the shore and how many times our heart beats each day. This was both awesome and humbling at the same time.

The coracle also speaks of a way that people can travel together. But the coracle, the boat, is not the point, it’s merely the vessel, it only exists so that other things can happen. Though  the monks affirmed human freedom, they also trusted God to guide them to their place of resurrection, the place of wholeness and fulfillment, where they would experience God’s vision for their lives. They experienced divine guidance in the wind and waves that propelled their skiffs to surprising places. That's not to say that they weren't afraid. They assumed providence and synchronicity everywhere.

I am that Celtic pilgrim. I allow the Lord (though not always without resistance) to steer my boat and guide it. We are all pilgrims on an uncertain, but holy adventure and the most important thing we can do is embrace the adventure and remember that by our choices we are creating new adventures for ourselves and others.
While the world becomes more routine and predictable, or so we think, as we grow older, our lives are still an adventure in which we – like the Celtic peregrines – pilgrim from day to day.

The Celtic Christians recognized that life involves change. God was not only our companion amid change, but the inspiration to growth and change. The God of Israel never stands still but is immersed in history, shaping and being shaped by the flow of human experience and decision-making. Jesus is always on the move, never settling down, but venturing to new places to fulfill his mission. Every turn of the road brought Jesus a surprising encounter and opportunity to share God’s hospitality, healing, mercy and love. He puts many people upon our path to journey with us and open our eyes to the wonders of each day, the beauty of loving and being loved, of family, of community, of friendship, of unconditional giving.

We are all pilgrims. We can, in the spirit of the Celtic adventurers, join openness to each moment with the intentionality necessary for personal and professional excellence. Many of you reading this know me well...I'm a perfectionist and a micromanager, I make mistakes, I fall down but I get up often with your help and above all because the Lord raises me up.

There is a Christy Moore song which has the following words and the chorus often returns to my heart:

"With no maps to guide us we steered our own course
 Rode out the storms when the winds were gale force
 Sat out the doldrums in patience and hope
  Working together we learned how to cope.

 Life is an ocean and love is a boat
 In troubled water that keeps us afloat
 When we started the voyage,there was just me and you
 Now gathered round us we have our own crew

The more I reflect the more I see that this is our life in our little coracle but we do not stay on our own. We start out with one or two companions along the way, working through the winds of change and the troubles which can accompany these. In the boat, just like in the Scriptures, Jesus is with us, albeit that he may be appear to be sleeping as the  waves slosh over the side. As our faith grows, often in the midst of those whispered prayers as the boat quakes from side to side: "Jesus, I believe, help my unbelief." As life goes on, we gather other pilgrims along the way and we develop a strong bond with the communion of saints too who form the 'crew' in our boat.
As a pilgrim, this is my challenge...to welcome the God of surprises in the unexpected and the interruptions! We may, like the magi, go home by another way, traveling a pathway we had not expected. This is not the way I planned but the peace in my heart tells me it is the right way. So I  keep travelling! 


  1. Hey Louise
    I just found the blog. What a wonderful piece. It rhymes very well with I feel is God is speaking to me about. The people I meet along the way are my mission. Sometimes I think they are 'in the way' of my mission, my grand plans. Thanks for the reminder!


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