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Journey: St Brendan
The content section could be given as a straightforward presentation. Alternatively, you could begin by dramatising the story of St Brendan and the whale, with older children acting. Or you could dramatise the opening section, with a child spinning a plastic bottle and moving off in whatever direction it points.
The section on Moses could also be developed as a subsequent or previous act of worship, still leading onto pilgrimages.
Begin by asking the children to tell you about their home. What's their address? What kind of house do they live in? Do they like their house?
Everyone needs a home. We feel sorry that some people are refugees - people who have been driven out of their homes and have nowhere to call their own. No one would abandon their house freely - would they? Can you imagine spinning a Coca-Cola bottle on the pavement and then simply walking in the direction it pointed? When it got dark you lay down and slept. Next day you span the bottle again and wandered where i pointed. For food you would beg from the people you happened to meet. You would do this day after day - and never go home. Would you like that kind of life?
There have been people who really did seem to like it. In the year 891 three Irish monks turned up at the court of King Alfred the Great. They had set out from Ireland in a boat and hadn't bothered to take any oars with them; they simply drifted. They said that they were on a pilgrimage, but 'that they cared not where they went'.
The most famous person to have lived like this was called Saint Brendan. Over a thousand years ago, he set off from Ireland, with some friends, in a boat made from skins and twigs. Have any of you ever travelled on a ferry to go on holiday? Modern ships are so big that the decks are many feet above the sea. Brendan's boat was only a few inches above the dark, cold seawater. Not that he was going anywhere in particular - he simply drifted from place to place. But he did have many adventures. Demons, gryphons and sea monsters attacked him. He found an island covered with birds, but the birds turned out to be angels that had disobeyed God and had been thrown out of Heaven. His most famous adventure happened when he and his friends landed on a low island, which had only a few trees growing on it. His friends got out the raw meat and fish that they had brought, lit a fire and began to cook their supper. Fish stew - lovely! It was just about ready when the ground began to shake. The cooking pot fell out of the fire. The monks started to tumble as the ground began to thrash up and down. What was happening? An earthquake? The ground began to plunge and the icy waters of the sea poured over them. It was like the sinking of the Titanic. The monks struggled back into their flimsy boat - and it was only then that they realized that it wasn't an island they had landed on: it was a whale.
Do you think this story is true? Who knows! But Brendan did exist and he did go on voyages that lasted years and which must have involved many adventures. We know that some monks drifted in their boats as far north as the Faroe Islands and even Iceland. These monks lived on these cold, treeless (though very beautiful) islands long before the Vikings discovered them. Some people think they even reached America.
This is the really hard question - why did people like Brendan go on long journeys without knowing where they going? What do you think?
There's a passage in the Bible which seeks to explain why so many people in the Bible -
Abraham and Moses and others - spent their lives wandering about in the burning deserts rather
than living comfortably in a nice house. Abraham 'made his home in the promised land
like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents... For he was looking forward to
the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God... they were aliens and strangers
on the earth... If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had
opportunity to return. Instead they were longing for a better country - a heavenly one.'
(Hebrews 11. 8-16. NIV).
The person who wrote this is trying to remind us that we have another home, not just in 15 Smith Street or 27 Green Avenue, or wherever we live, but also in Heaven. That is where we belong.
Brendan and his friends left their home and went on long journeys to constantly remind themselves of that. Some vowed that they would never return to the place where they were born and where their families lived, so that by being always a refugee they would always remember that their real home is with God in Heaven.
Brendan, in fact, did return home to Ireland where he died a white-haired and venerable old man. And most of us would go back to our family and friends when we had been travelling about. Still, it is good - sometimes - to think about another place, one we cannot see but where we really belong too. A place where we are surrounded by God's love. We call it Heaven.
Let's listen to some music now. This piece was written by a modern composer from Finland. It starts with a flute playing and then gradually it adds recordings of birdsong. Close your eyes and listen to it and try and imagine Brendan's little boat drifting among the cold, beautiful islands of the far north. When the music finishes let's stay quiet and think about the meaning of Brendan's story.
First, let's think about the beautiful world that God has given us to live in. Think of somewhere special to you - maybe it's your own house and garden, maybe it's the house of your grandparents, or of friends, maybe it's somewhere you've been for a holiday or a day out. Picture that place in your mind and remember how glad you are for such a place.
Let's take a moment to think about the many people around the world who have been chased out of their home - the place where they feel comfortable. Ask God to be with them. Is there anything we could do to help them?
Lastly, let's remember that wherever we live, wherever we go to, wherever we may end up in our old age, God loves us and has promised us a home with Him in Heaven.
The first 2 ½ minutes of Einojuhani Rautavaara's Cantus Arcticus. This is readily and cheaply available on the Naxos label.