Take a look at the logo at the top of the page. In the background is Mt. Manaslu, the eighth highest mountain in the world. We’ll talk about Manaslu in future posts. In the foreground is St Brendan The Navigator. Brendan is my saint. While I do not pray to saints, Brendan has been one of my primary sources of inspiration for over 30 years. There is good evidence that Brendan and a crew of fourteen monks sailed from Ireland to North America in the early 6th century. While the rest of Europe feared sailing off the edge of the earth, Brendan and his companions were not flatearthers. He was 80 years old when they set sail.
Brendan had a great heart for adventure but that is not the primary reason he moves me so. Listen to this story.
A traveling monk told Brendan of a land far away that was populated with saints. Perhaps it was heaven? Brendan’s heart was so moved that he decided on the spot that he would strike out in search of this land. After forty days of fasting and prayer he knew he must go see Brigid, his spiritual advisor before he left.
As he traveled to her, Malo, a monk who despised Brendan, followed. Malo camped just outside Brendan’s camp at night intending to make his journey as miserable as he could. He would steal food, put out the fire, and make noise refusing to allow Brendan and his companions to sleep. After arriving at his destination Brendan spent a few days with Brigid, praying. As he prepared to leave, seeking her blessing for the trip, they embraced and she said, “You know you must take Malo with you.” Brendan was dismayed, and protested vigorously. Brigid said, “He is Jesus to you. No one could be that miserable on their own and without a purpose.” So out of respect for her wisdom Brendan took Malo with them in their small oxhide boat. She advised him to interact with Malo like this:
Each time Malo spoke Brendan was to listen to him as if it was Jesus speaking.
Each time Brendan spoke to Malo he was to speak with the same kindness and respect as if he were speaking to Jesus.
Many years later, after they returned from their journey, Brendan died. The monks in his monastery, had to decide who would be the new abbott. Brendan had been the founding monk and its only Abbot. They prepared for an election but never had one. The body of monks, by unanimous exclamation, said that Malo, must be the new abbott. They knew of no one who was more clearly like Jesus except for Brendan himself.
Malo, transformed by the spirit, the image of God resurrected in him, the possibility of the spirit brought back to life by the way Brendan treated him. Not a re-creation of an old Malo but the creation of someone and something brand new.
Each time I consider this story I am moved once again. I recognize Brendan’s radical way of praying and loving that came to life as he moved. As I move through life I want to love that deeply. I also want to imagine that I can be loved that deeply. So right now I am headed outside for a run. Who knows who I might encounter on the trail? Whoever it is, I hope to join Brendan in the prayer that comes alive as we move, “Help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown.”