27th February

Cuthbert And The Otters

Human beings have been able to tame wild animals and birds, reptiles and fish, but no human being can tame the tongue. James 3: 7,8.

Ebba, who was King Oswy’s sister, kept inviting Cuthbert to stay at her monastery at Coldingham. Eventually he came for a few days, but he continued his life-style exactly as usual. This included going out alone at night to pray while the other members of the community slept, returning just before the Community’s early morning prayer.

One night one of the brothers saw him slip out, and curiosity got the better of him. He wanted to know where Cuthbert was going and what he was going to do, so he secretly followed him. This benevolent spy saw Cuthbert walk to the shore below the monastery and wade in to the sea until the waves were above his neck and outstretched arms. He spent all the hours of dark like this in silent vigil or in singing God’s praises, accompanied by the sound of the waves.

When dawn approached the brother spied Cuthbert go on to the beach and kneel in prayer as he was drying out. Two sea otters came out of the sea at the same time. They stretched themselves out on the sand in front of Cuthbert, began to warm his feet with their breath, and even tried to dry him with their fur. Having performed these services, Cuthbert blessed the otters and they slid back into the sea. Cuthbert soon returned to the monastery and sang the Morning Prayer on time with everyone else.

However, the brother who had watched all this from the cliff top was stricken with panic that he had behaved with such deceit towards such a holy man, he got himself into a complete myther. Knowing that God’s word teaches Christians to walk in the light with one another, next morning he flung himself before Cuthbert and asked him to forgive him for what he had done, without saying what that was. Cuthbert guessed, and assured this brother that he would forgive him on one condition, that he told no one what he had seen until after Cuthbert’s death. The brother kept his promise not to tell anyone while Cuthbert was alive, but once Cuthbert died, he told absolutely everybody!

Holy are you, O Lord
When we are one with you, your creatures become one with us.
Help me to be so truly at one with you
that even my most unruly member the tongue becomes at one too.