23rd May

Stand Firm

…people will stumble and fall, but we will rise and stand firm. Psalm 20:8

Columbanus and his monks made their weary way to the courts of several kings as they travelled north, stopping for a time by the shores of Lake Zurich, which was under the jurisdiction of their friend, King Theodobert. There they established a community. which was to grow into the Swiss town of Bregenz.

Columbanus made a long journey south to pass on some prophetic words to King Theodobert: ‘You will lose your life and your soul unless you become a monk now’ he told him; ‘if you do not do this voluntarily you will be made to do it against your will’. Sadly, Theodobert disregarded Columbanus’ advice His army was completely destroyed in battle; he was taken captive and forced to wear a monk’s habit as a sign of submission. This defeat meant that Theodobert’s lands returned to the jurisdiction of relatives who were hostile to Columbanus, so he said farewell to his monks, and moved on to Italy accompanied by just a small band of brothers, one of whom, Gall, they left behind on the way. The Lombard King and Queen welcomed him, and they built their last monastery at Bobbio. There he died on 23 November, 615.

After his death the sternness of Columbanus’ original Rule gave way to the gentler system of Benedict. This may have been what was needed over the long term, but tough times call for tough measures, and the Celtic monks had been called to a task tougher even than breaking virgin ground – they had to win back lost territory. Only people with an overmastering faith could have seen why it was worth doing. Only men who trained their bodies to stand up to unbelievable physical hardships, and their souls to battle through seemingly impossible situations, could have survived.

We can learn this key lesson from Columbanus: he trained his team to depend upon God alone. They were not put off their calling by the way other people treated them, however harsh. They used the spiritual armoury of prophetic direction, and faith directed mission so that they overcame all things in Christ’s power, and stood firm in all circumstances.

Toughen me , Lord.
Give me a heart of love
but a backbone of steel

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22nd May

God First

Jesus said: Whoever loves their father or mother more than me is not fitted to be my disciple. Matthew 10:37

Columbanus was born in the south of Ireland. He grew to be tall, fair, and handsome, a darling of a close and loving family. He received a superb education, and he dressed, like others of his rank, in a fine silk tunic bordered with gold. He had, in fact, everything the world could offer. But Columbanus wanted something more than the world could offer, he wanted to give his whole life to God. Since he did not know how to do this, he consulted a wise old hermit. She told him there was only one way for him: he had to leave all forms of human security behind – even his beloved family – and make life-long vows of service to God. In those days that meant becoming a monk.

His mother was against this, so much so, that on the day Columbanus was due to leave home she lay down across the doorway to try to prevent him leaving. It was to no avail. Columbanus was clear; perhaps he had reflected upon those words of Jesus quoted above; he knew that, though we are to honour our mothers, we are never to put them first, for that place belongs to Jesus alone. So Columbanus joined the monastery at Bangor, and went on to become its most famous pupil.

A friend of mine once returned to live with her mother in order to help her recover from alcoholism. She did this because God told her to. But after a time, she realised that her mother was becoming as dependent upon her as once she had been dependent upon alcohol. As she prayed about this, she felt God was telling her it was time to move on, though she was to maintain caring contact. Mature Christian friends agreed this was right.

However, on the day she was to leave, her mother went berserk, and threatened to commit suicide if her daughter left. The younger woman wondered if she should stay after all, and went aside to pray. God clearly said: ‘Go now, I will look after your mother’. So she did leave, and God did look after her mother, who became creative, at times vigorous, and even radiant.

O Mighty One, may I put no one on a pedestal.
Help me to honour my parents
but never to put them in the place
that only you should have.

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21st May

Reconciliation

If you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, first be reconciled to them. Matthew 5:23, 24

Hilda stands as a symbol of reconciliation. She was host to the deeply divided Roman and Celtic parties who gathered at Whitby for the Synod of 664. Some of the Irish monks resigned from their monastery and departed to Ireland after the synod agreed to impose Roman regulations upon the Celtic churches. They were devastated. Other Celtic monks stayed, but were hostile. Hilda maintained friendships with people on both sides. Even on her deathbed, as we have seen, she urged her sisters and brothers to maintain peace and unity with all people, not just with those of their own party.

This is not an easy peace I would give you, my children. It cost me the cross to reconcile you to my Father. You must humble yourselves before each other, listen to each other’s pain, share your brother’s burden, seek his forgiveness, if you would really be reconciled in my love and my way.
A prophecy received by Myrtle Kerr of Rostrevor Christian Renewal Centre, Northern Island

God give to me by grace what you give to my dog by nature.
Mechthild of Magdeburg

It is not our differences that really matter; it is the meanness behind that is ugly.
Mahatma Gandhi

Peace between parties,
Peace between neighbours
Peace between lovers
In love of the King of life.
Peace between peoples
Peace between traditions
Peace between generations
In love of the Lord of all.

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20th May

Homily Of St. Hilda

For like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land. Zechariah 9:16.

All who knew Hilda used to call her mother because of her outstanding devotion and grace. She was not only an example of holy life to all who were in the monastery but she also provided an opportunity for salvation and repentance to many who lived far away and who heard the happy story of her industry and virtue. This was bound to happen in fulfilment of the dream which her mother had when Hilda was an infant. She dreamed that her husband was taken away and, though she searched, no trace of him could be found (he was, in fact killed by poisoning). Suddenly in the midst of her search she found a most precious necklace under her garment and, as she gazed closely at it, it seemed to spread such a blaze of light that it filled all Britain with its gracious splendour. This dream was truly fulfilled in her daughter Hilda; for her life was an example of the words of light, blessed not only to herself, but to many who desired to live uprightly.
Bede

Hilda trained a stream of leaders who went out to establish Christ’s way in places far and near; five of these became bishops.

Trade with the gifts God has given you.
Bend your minds to holy learning that you may escape the fretting moth of littleness of mind that would wear out your souls.
Brace your wills to actions that they may not be the spoils of weak desires.
Train your hearts and lips to song which gives courage to the soul.
Being buffeted by trials, learn to laugh.
Being reproved, give thanks.
Having failed, determine to succeed.
Homily of St. Hilda Anon.

Sacred Three, as we thank you for the life of Hilda,
a jewel in your church who lit up a dark land
release the hidden treasures in the lives of women
and in the lives of all your people today
that we too may come to shine for you.

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19th May

Contemplate Your Death

We brought nothing into the world, and we take nothing out. 1 Timothy 6:7

Remembrance of the dead is given importance in the Sayings of the Desert Christians:

If there are graves in the area where you live, go to them constantly, and meditate on those lying there… And when you hear that a brother or sister is about to leave this world to go to the Lord, go and stay with them in order to contemplate how a soul leaves the body. A truly philosophical work (says an Abba to visiting philosophers) is to meditate constantly on death.

The Desert Christians referred to death as ‘The Great Passage’. Like the Celtic Christians after them, they knew that death was, in some cases, very painful; yet even then, they experienced it fundamentally as a celebration, as the following story illustrates:

The brothers said to Abba Moses (the former brigand): ‘Let us escape since the barbarians are coming’. ‘I’ll stay here’, Moses replied, ‘I have been waiting so long for this day so that the word of my Lord Jesus Christ may be fulfilled: “All those who have used the sword will die by the sword”’. There were seven brothers there. Before any of them could escape, the barbarians arrived and slew them all.
However, a brother who was not with them in that hut hid under some palm fronds and saw everything. He saw seven crowns coming down to rest on the heads of Abba Moses and the six brothers killed with him.

Lord of the Great Passage,
You hold a crown ready in your hand.
If I trust in my own will
I cannot receive it.
I trust in you alone
and I am eager to come to you.

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18th May

Martin Of Tours

Who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions…. won strength out of weakness. Hebrews 11:33, 34

When the Emperor released Martin from the army, he had to walk all the way home. It took him weeks. His mother joyfully became a Christian, but his father, whose pride was hurt, turned him out. So Martin walked all the way back to France. There, he offered his help to Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers, who ordained him a deacon.

Martin wanted to live in solitude, so after a time he went to the quiet village of Liguge and built himself a little cell – the first in Europe. He was not alone for long. He would rise from prayer to respond to human needs. One day he tended a leper; another day he prayed for hours over a man who had hanged himself, whose life returned; a madman was cured. God’s power was mightily at work in him, so it was not surprising that, when the local Bishop of Tours died in 572 all the people were determined to make Martin their next bishop.

As Bishop Martin made evangelistic visits to pagan villages. One pagan priest challenged him to be bound to a tree as it was felled, to test whether His God could save him. The tree turned away from Martin as it fell and the whole population turned towards Christ. Martin used his privilege of being a guest at the Emperor’s table to ask for the release, before he ate anything, of innocent prisoners in Tours. The Emperor deeply respected Martin’s Christian example.

Martin did not live in a comfortable palace, he lived like a monk. He inspired many young men to live like this, and they built a large monastery, with individual cells cut into the rock, large gardens, fields stables and chapel. They only spoke when necessary .

Martin has an honoured place in the Celtic calendar for two reasons. He pioneered an informal monasticism which, following the Eastern model, combined individual freedom of movement with a framework of common fellowship. The second reason is that Martin did not stay in the towns only; he healed and evangelised even in moors and mountains all over France until he died at the age of eighty.

Great God, thank you for Martin, soldier, servant and soul- winner.
Inspire us by his example
to live lives of discipline and compassion
and to have an eye for building others up.

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17th May

Dull Days

For everything there is a season, and a time for everything that happens in this world. … I can see that there is nothing better than that a person should enjoy their lot. Ecclesiastes 3:1, 22.

Do not too easily escape from a dull day.
It is natural to turn from the cold to the heat of indoors.
It is natural to turn from the dusk to the electric light.
It is natural to turn from the damp to a dry house.
There is a time to do these things
but there is also a time to shake the hand of a November day.
November days are a necessary part of life.
They correspond to something in the ‘shadow’ side of my being.
Part of me is damp, or wet, or grey.
Learn to accept this.
Accept that life is a journey that passes through the seasons.
Do not renege on the journey.
Drabness in nature is not boring, it is different.
It is a post-mortem on a fruitful season, a prelude to a spring-time,
a pause for taking stock, a time to reflect.
It also has its special charisms.
For example, the rows of bare trees become a salute
Once they are uncluttered by green foliage.

God before me, God behind me
God above me, God below me.
I on the path of God
God upon my track.
Who is there on land?
Who is there on wave?
Who is there on billow?
Who is there by door-post?
Who is along with us?
God and Lord.

I am here abroad
I am here in need
I am here in pain
I am here in straits
I am here alone.
O God, aid me.
Carmina Gadelica

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16th May

Set Sail (BRENDAN)

When they pass through their sea of trouble I, the Lord, will strike the waves. Zechariah 10:11

Shall I abandon, O King of Mysteries, the soft comforts of home? Shall I turn my back on my native land, and my face towards the sea?

Shall I put myself wholly at the mercy of God, without silver, without a horse, without fame and honour? Shall I throw myself wholly on the King of kings, without a sword and shield, without food and drink, without a bed to lie on?

Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land, placing myself under Christ’s yoke? Shall I pour out my heart to him, confessing my manifold sins and begging forgiveness, tears running down my cheeks?

Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach, a record of my final prayer in my native land? Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict?

Shall I take my tiny coracle across the wide, sparkling ocean? O King of the Glorious heaven, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?

O Christ, will you help me on the wild waves?
Early Irish – sometimes attributed to voyagers such as St. Brendan

Jesus who stopped the wind and stilled the waves
grant you calm in the storm times;
Jesus Victor over death and destruction
bring safety on your voyage;
Jesus of the purest love, perfect companion
bring guarding ones around you;
Jesus of the miraculous catching of fish,
and the perfect lakeside meal
guide you finally ashore.
From The First Voyage of the Coracle, Community of Aidan and Hilda

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15th May

The Shadow

Even though I walk through the valley of deepest shadow I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Psalm 23:4

May is a time of advancing shadows. Celtic Christians did not run away from these, they went alone into places of shadow, and there they faced the shadows inside themselves. They learned the importance of doing this from the desert Christians.

Just as it is impossible for a person to see their reflection in a pool whose water is disturbed, so, too, the soul, unless it is cleansed from alien thoughts, cannot pray to God in contemplation.
Desert Sayings

The psychiatrist Carl Jung gave the name ‘Shadow’ to that part of our inner life that is unacceptable to us. Jesus drew the distinction between the surface life and the shadow life when he likened some proud church people to sepulchres that were painted white outside but full of rot inside.

In his book Why do Christians break down? William Miller admits: ‘I break down because I am afraid to admit that evil, unacceptable, inappropriate tendencies still exist within me, even though I have committed myself to the way of Christ, and I cannot accept them as being truly part of me’.

The qualities that we bring to the surface when we inter-act with the outer world are subtly adapted in order to get the approval of others. The opposite qualities to these get buried in our subconscious, and lie there unattended. Subconsciously we don’t want to know these parts of ourselves for fear that they will damage ourselves or others.

Take time to get in touch with your shadow. Make a list of the things that most often make you angry with other people. That may give clues as to your shadow. Once you have become real about your vices, make a conscious effort to replace each vice with its opposite virtue; that was how Celtic Christians approached this matter. And then invite in God’s light.

Holy Three, help me to stay with you
while I stay with the darkness in myself.
Throw your light upon this darkness.
Give me strength to know, to bear pain
and to journey through into a greater wholeness.

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14th May

Carried In Angel Arms

You have come to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, with its thousands of angels. You have come to the joyful gathering of God’s first-born children, whose names are written in heaven. Hebrews 12:22,23

The day came when Ninian, full of years, was himself stricken with a wasting disease, and racked by pain. yet even while he was beset with illness, his mind soared above the sky. The revered lover of justice spoke as follows: ‘The potter’s kiln shakes the pots with the force of the flame, but cruel burdens are the trials of just people. I should like to suffer dissolution and see Christ face to face.’ When he had uttered these words, his spirit departed his pure body and passed through the clear heights of the star-studded heavens.

Then when the breath of life had left his dying limbs, he was immediately surrounded by the shining host, and now blazing bright in snow-white vestment, like Phosphorus in the sky, he was carried in angel arms beyond the stars of heaven. Passing through the companies of the saints and the everlasting hosts, he rejoiced to visit the innermost shrine of the King throned on high. he clearly perceived, united as he was with the celestial hosts in the halls of heaven, the glory of the Trinity, the hymns of gladness, together with the supreme denizens of the Holy City on high…
From the Miracles of Bishop Nynia translated by Winifred MacQueen.

O being of brightness, friend of light
From the blessed realms of grace
Gently encircle me, sweetly enclosing me
Guarding my soul-shrine from harm this day.
Keep me from anguish
Keep me from danger
Encircle my voyage over the seas.
A light will you lend me
To keep and defend me
O beautiful being, O guardian this night.
Be a guiding star above me
Illuminate each rock and tide
Guide my ship across the waters
To the waveless harbour side.
Collected by Caitlin Matthews

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