Caedmon loved to listen. Music thrilled him, and other people’s stories and songs carried him along as helplessly as a small boat on a rising tide. But he couldn’t play a note on the harp. Nor could he sing a note in tune. Besides, he could never remember any words. He couldn’t even tell a joke and get it right. So a night where everyone shared a song, a story or a joke was torture for him. Heaven and hell, that’s what it was. To hear a song, to listen to the music of the harp as it was strummed by one, touched gently by another – nothing could be sweeter. But the nearer it came to Caedmon’s turn, the more a sickness rose from his stomach and his bowels stirred uneasily. At the last possible moment he ran out of the hall.
All this took place at the monastery in Whitby, ruled over by the kindly Hild (see November 17th). On one occasion he ran straight to the cattle shed to check on his beasts and then threw himself down there and passed into fitful sleep. He began to dream, and a man asked him to sing for him. Caedmon protested that he was in the cattle shed precisely because he could not sing. But the man encouraged him, and when Caedmon asked what he should sing about, the man suggested the creation. In that dream Caedmon sang a song so beautiful it almost made him cry.
When he awoke, the song was still with him, and he sang it for God and for himself. He sang it for the steward of the abbey lands, and when the steward told Abbess Hild about it, he sang for her as well. She persuaded him to sing the song for all the people in the abbey, and then for the people of Whitby and those in the countryside around. Now Caedmon had a new calling and someone else tended the cattle. Those who could read aloud translated the Scriptures for Caedmon and each night he sang aloud the things he had heard. Then a new song was prepared, explaining the Bible to his people in their own language. And for the rest of his life his mouth spoke out the truths that filled his heart. These were songs not to delight people, but to be useful to their souls.
He seemed to know when he was about to die. At the beginning of his illness he asked for his bed to be made in the part of the hospital assigned to the dying. On the day, he and the attendant, and the brothers who came to join them, talked and joked until after midnight. Then Caedmon asked for Communion, and as he took it into his hands he asked if the hearts of all present were at peace with him. They all replied that they were, with no anger towards him, and they asked him to be at peace with them. He replied, ‘My heart is at peace, little children, with all God’s servants.’ Then he received the bread and wine and asked the brothers how long it was until Matins. When they told him he said, ‘Good, then let us wait for that hour.’ He signed himself with the cross, laid down his head, slept for a while, and so ended his life happily, at peace and in silence.
Father God, show us how we may use the talents You have given us to reveal Your praise and Your love. Reveal to us talents we do not know we already have. Teach us, too, how to live in peace with all people and with Your creation, that, when the time comes for us to pass into Your eternal presence, we may do so happily and in peace. Amen.