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God is a verb

To consider St Aidan’s life and witness, which changed the lives of the people of Northumbria in the seventh century.

by Janice Ross

Suitable for Key Stage 3


To consider St Aidan’s life and witness, which changed the lives of the people of Northumbria in the seventh century.

Preparation and materials

  • Two quotes from R. Buckminster Fuller:
    –  ‘You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete’ (from No More Secondhand God).
    –  ‘God, to me, it seems, is a verb not a noun, proper or improper’ (from Critical Love).
  • Three pupils to take the speaking parts of Corman, the Abbot and Aidan.


  1. Show the first quote. This was written by an American philosopher, architect and inventor. The quote could therefore be applied to any of these fields of learning. It comes from a book called No More Secondhand God. Today we will be thinking about how these words apply in the realm of faith.

    Ask the pupils to think about this quote for a few moments.

    Check that all understand the meaning of ‘obsolete’.
  2.  Aidan and the monks of Iona

    Leader  Some of the first Christian missionaries to our lands learned this lesson that to change something a new model is needed.

    Corman was a young Christian monk in the first half of the seventh century. He lived on the island of Iona, one of a chain of islands to the west of Scotland. Here he, together with a group of other monks, devoted his life to prayer and to learning and teaching God’s truths.

    Sometimes monks from Iona travelled east in little boats, across dangerous waters, to Scotland, where they walked in pairs for hundreds of miles, sharing God’s message of love with anyone who would listen.

    Many visitors came to the island to be taught the Christian faith. One visitor was a king, King Oswald of Northumbria, a kingdom in the north of England (in those days, England, as we now call it, was divided up into different kingdoms). Oswald came to the island as a refugee, fleeing there for safety when Northumbria was invaded. While living on Iona, King Oswald became a Christian.

    Later, Oswald regained the throne of his kingdom. Then he invited the monks to come to Northumbria to teach his subjects about the Christian God.

    This was a wonderful opportunity, and Corman and some friends were chosen for the task. Corman was a devout Christian, disciplined and obedient to all God’s teachings, a warrior of the faith, a real fighting man.

    You can therefore imagine the surprise of the Iona community when only a couple of months later the same monks returned. Usually a homecoming was a time of great celebration but not that day.

    Corman  It was just an impossible task. These Anglo-Saxons in Northumbria are real heathens. All they want to do is drink mead, fight and use foul language. There’s no way they will listen to us.

    Abbot  But brother Corman, this was such a great opportunity. King Oswald gave us a royal invitation to go and spread the good news in his kingdom.

    Corman  That may be so, Father Abbot, and he was indeed very kind towards us and most hospitable, but his people, that’s a different matter. They are so uncouth. We told them about God and instructed them in lives of faith, discipline and obedience, but we were ridiculed. No one was interested. It’s a very evil place.

    Leader  Aidan, a young monk who was listening to all this, was stunned. He just couldn’t help himself. Out the words came:

    Aidan  But brother Corman, perhaps you expected too much of them too soon. Perhaps they weren’t ready for the hard lessons of discipleship which you were preaching. Perhaps it is love they need to experience and a simple faith. We cannot fight what they believe. We just have to offer them a more attractive way to live their lives.

    Leader  There was stunned silence all around! If Corman had not been such a godly man, he might have been tempted to think, ‘What a young upstart!’

    The Abbot also was quiet for a while and then turned to Aidan.

    Abbot  Brother Aidan, perhaps God is calling you to go to Northumbria and to preach the message.

    Leader  If the Abbot had not been such a godly man, he might have been tempted to put it in this way: ‘Well, Aidan, you can just put your money where your mouth is and have a go yourself!’

    And that is exactly what God seemed to confirm to Aidan. He left Iona with a group of monks and went to Northumbria. There he served the king and the people with great love and humility, and as a result many believed in God.

    Unlike Corman, Aidan felt it right to leave the comfortable lodgings of Bamburgh Castle, and the king’s delicious food, and to begin from scratch. He built a home and place to worship on the small, flat island of Lindisfarne. He walked everywhere and spoke to everyone he met.

    ‘Do you know God?’ he would ask them. If the answer was ‘yes’ they would pray together, if ‘no’ then Aidan would explain how much God loved people everywhere.

    Later in Aidan’s life, the new king of Northumbria, King Oswin, was concerned because Aidan was getting older and all the walking couldn’t be good for him. Oswin surprised Aidan one day with a gift, the best horse in the stables, complete with the finest leather saddle.

    ‘That will be much more comfortable for you, my friend,’ the king said.

    And indeed it was. Aidan’s bottom sank beautifully into this fine saddle! Strangely, though, Aidan’s heart didn’t feel so comfortable. There was no peace about this gift. He would pass people by: they, down on the road; he, up high on his fine horse. There was something just not right about it.

    One day he saw a poor man coming towards him, begging. Aidan got down off the horse and listened to his story.

    ‘Friend, I have no money but what I do have is this horse and saddle. You can sell them and get money for your family.’

    At first the poor man was suspicious. This had to be a trick. But as he listened to what Aidan said about Jesus’ love and humility, he began to understand. He hugged Aidan and went off with the best horse and saddle in the kingdom. Aidan felt as though a great weight had been lifted from him. He was on foot again and it felt right.

    Of course, it wasn’t long before news of this reached King Oswin. The next time Aidan visited the castle the king looked rather cross, to say the least, and found it difficult even to speak to Aidan. Then he blurted out, ‘How could you do this? I gave you a gift of my finest horse and saddle and you thought so lightly of it that you just gave it away!’

    Aidan replied very gently, ‘Dear friend, what is more important, a horse or a poor man’s soul?’

    Surprising all those around him, the king came and actually knelt before Aidan. ‘I am sorry, Aidan,’ he said, ‘you are so right. People matter far more than horses and wealth.’
  3. Aidan’s way of love and humility in Northumbria was indeed ‘a new model which made the existing model obsolete’.

Time for reflection

R. Buckminster Fuller also wrote the following: ‘God, to me, it seems, is a verb not a noun, proper or improper.’

Reflect for a few minutes on how Aidan’s life mirrored this. (Pause)

Consider ways in which you can be love as a verb at home and in school today.


God, we thank you for these early missionaries to our shores.

Thank you that they indeed built new models of love and humility

of which we are still recipients today.



‘A new commandment’ (Hymns Old and New, 4 (Kevin Mayhew))

Publication date: September 2012   (Vol.14 No.9)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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