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Surprised by a stone

Today – as you perhaps know – is St Ninian’s Day. The primary sources for what we know of Ninian is Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, as well as St Aelred’sVita Sancti Niniani. It’s hard to know how much of what they wrote is factually correct, but tradition holds that Ninian (a Briton) was educated in Rome, and established an important mission in the west of what is now Scotland, with Whithorn as his base.

Some years ago, I was on retreat very near to Whithorn. It was a spiritually difficult time, and I was discerning whether or not I was right to be leaving my beloved parish in the Black Country to move to work at Coventry Cathedral. Walking along the shore, I found a sign pointing to St Ninian’s Cave. Interested in what I might find there, I went off to explore.

The cave has been a site of historic importance for a long time and I enjoyed seeing the carved crosses on the wall. But somehow nothing was reaching me, nothing was touching me. I turned to leave – and as I did so, my foot kicked something. I bent down to see what it was and found this:

Taking this stone in my hand was an extraordinary experience. It felt warm to the touch, not cold; it felt as though it was somehow alive, not inanimate. It made connections for me, a modern, bewildered pilgrim, to those who trod these paths centuries earlier, fellow explorers of faith, separated by centuries.

This stone has stayed with me ever since. I have no idea who incised the cross into it, or how long it had been there. I do know that, somehow, it was left for me. So I am thankful today for Ninian, and for the unknown friend who left a sign for me. Without it - or them- I might have taken a different route.

What will you leave behind so that others may be strengthened – and surprised – on the journey of faith?

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