What do you know about St Brendan the Navigator?
I never heard of Brendan, but learned last week, May 16, was his feast day and his story is an example of a journey towards transformation. Since transformation is this month’s theme, I wanted to know more about him. I choose St Brendan as our person of the month here on Healthy Spirituality. Each month on my Thursday posts, I pick one theme (or person of faith) to explore deeper. I call this series Tending the Holy Thursdays. The first post on spiritual transformation is found here.
Don’t forget to download the free worksheet called “Transformation Reflection Guide: Questions and Quotes to Quicken Change.” Each quote and/or bible verse is followed by a question to prompt my prayers, journaling and thoughts. I have left space after each one for you to add notes too. You can get this free worksheet by clicking the button at the end of the post. It is my hope and prayer that this series and the download will enhance your walk with God.
The Story of St. Brendan
St Brendan also is known by the name St. Brendan of Clonfert and he was born in 484 AD to Christian parents in Ireland. Legend tells that while she was pregnant with Brendan, his mother was filled with the Holy Spirit so much that on the day of his birth, the local Bishop observed his home surrounded by angels.
This bishop would teach Brendan lessons in Latin and Hebrew. His parents also took him for formation to an Abbess, called Ita, of a convent in Kileedy. I loved this story from a post on the Godspace blog, as it gives us a glimpse of what he learned there:
“Like the Druids, St. Ita taught in triads. Brendan is believed to have asked her what three things God loved best and she answered: ‘Faith in God with a pure heart, a simple life with a religious spirit, and generosity with love.’
She also told him the three things God most detested were a scowling face, obstinacy in wrongdoing, and too great a confidence in the power of money.”
As an adult, Brendan became a monk and founded a monastery in Clonfert. A Celtic at heart, Brendan wanted to travel, finding the lands where the saints lived. Thus, he is known as the patron saint of sailors.
Various opinions exist about where all Brendan traveled on his journey on the seas; some even think he may have visited America.
Brendan’s early voyage brought him to the Arran Islands, where he founded a monastery. He also visited Argyll, an island close to Scotland where he is said to have met St. Columba. After that he traveled to Wales and the north of France.
St Brendan’s Big Adventure
In Celtic literature, especially from the 7th and 8th centuries, tales of sea-faring adventures were spun for both the telling the stories from ancient wisdom and for allegorical lessons.
The Voyage of St Brendan is such a legend written around 900 AD. Versions of this tale existed across Europe. The story tells that after a 40 day fast, St Brendan and a small group of monks embarked on their adventure in the name of the Trinity.
Brendan is called the Navigator due to this 7-year journey to find the Promised Island. He often revisited places until he finally realized that the paradise he is seeking is found within his own heart. His journey reflects our own journey for meaning and belonging in life.
The band of monks visit various islands, encountering strange demons, sea creatures, and animals, and finding nourishment. The travelers shared stories about floating palaces and monsters with catlike heads and horns.
They experience times of waiting and isolation.
One island described is full of birds who sing the psalms and praise the Lord all the time. Another place they find monks who never age and live in silence. They celebrate Christmas on this island and return each year there for that holiday.
For Easter, they land on an island, celebrate Mass, and then the island begins to sink. They soon learn they are standing on a whale. They visited this “island” every year for Easter.
Each part of his journey occurs in 40 or 50-day increments, mirroring the church’s liturgical calendar. They move in circles of time arriving once again to the familiar places, but seeing with new perspectives. They experience risks and dangers while always under God’s protection.
Brendan’s journey becomes our own story of transformation. We hunger and search for just the right answer or job or food or busyness when the answer is within our souls – God is within us all the time, waiting and wanting to be with us.
Our life journey is a discovery of God and all his creative delights in the world around us. Brendan’s and our own story is an adventure of trust and surrender to God.
Brendan’s return to the same places over again reflects the spiral journey of our lives where we revisited our own stories learning the same lessons repeatedly, but with new insights and wisdom. God forming us in his image continually.
Transformation is a journey as we seek to live and figure out this thing called life. We travel into unknown territories, full of risk and adventure and beauty and terror. We try to control time learning that we have no control. We feel lost and confused, but God continues to lead us one step at a time. The inward journey brings us home.
St. Brendan Surprises
Three discoveries I found while exploring St Brendan:
- The writer Frederick Buechner told his story in the 1987 novel Brendan.
- J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a poem called “The Voyage of Saint Brendan.”
- There is a cream liqueur called “St.Brendan’s.”
St Brendan’s Prayer
Help me to journey beyond the familiar
and into the unknown.
Give me the faith to leave old ways
and break fresh ground with You.
Christ of the mysteries, I trust You
to be stronger than each storm within me.
I will trust in the darkness and know
that my times, even now, are in Your hand.
Tune my spirit to the music of heaven,
and somehow, make my obedience count for You.
Brendan’s story reminded me of the following quote contributed, though not documented, to Mark Twain:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do
than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover.
Don’t forget to click on the button before to get your free guide: “Transformation Reflection Guide: Questions and Quotes to Quicken Change.” In this resource, I share 45 quotes and questions to prompt your self-reflection about transformation.
Transformation involves trust, surrender, adventure, and allowing God to determine the direction of your sail.
How is God leading you on a transformational adventure right now?
Dolly @ Soulstops.com says
We are kindred heart sisters as you pointed out as we journey from joy to transformation. Maybe joy is a prerequisite as the Holy Spirit guides us along a journey with its smooth paths and also its rocky ones. Yet God is always with us. Wish we could talk in person. Lots has been going on and continues….love and hugs, dear friend <3
Jean Wise says
joy and the Holy Spirit guide – love that combo especially in light of Pentecost this week. A great reason to be joy filled Sunday!
Nancy Ruegg says
I, too, especially appreciated St. Brendan’s prayer, especially in the context of his life and legend. It may have been written hundreds of years ago but is still highly relevant for today. I’m going to copy it into my journal. Thank you, Jean!
Jean Wise says
You’re welcome, Nancy. I too loved this prayer. We learn so much from the wise people who go before us. So much wisdom around us if we only pay attention. Have a great weekend.
Martha Orlando says
I so enjoyed learning about St. Brendan, Jean, as before now, I really knew nothing of him. His story is the perfect tale of transformation, and I sure did like his prayer you shared here.
Jean Wise says
I know, I know, Martha he was a new person for me too and I loved the story. I think I will try to get Buechner’s book about him to read more about the adventure, especially since I understand more of the symbolism now too. Happy weekend!