24th January

Moderation

Avoid extremes. If you have reverence for God things will work out anyway. Ecclesiastes 7: 18

Some people wear out their bodies by denying them food or rest; but because they have no discretion they are far from God.
Antony Sayings of the Desert Fathers
And so for several years he continued to live a solitary life cut off from the sight of people; and alone in all conditions he bore himself with unshaken balance… His conversation, seasoned with salt, consoled the sad, instructed the ignorant, appeased the angry, for he persuaded them all to put nothing before the love of Christ. And he placed before the eyes of all the greatness of future benefits and the mercy of God, and revealed the favours already bestowed, namely that God spared not his own Son but delivered him up for the salvation of us all.
Life of Cuthbert by an anonymous monk of Lindisfarne
In accordance with the example of Samson the strong, who was once a Nazarite, Cuthbert carefully abstained from all intoxicants; but he could not submit to this kind of abstinence in food, lest he became unfit for necessary hard labour.

Cuthbert wore ordinary garments and, keeping the middle path, he was not noteworthy either for their elegance or for their slovenliness. Hence his example is followed in the same monastery (Lindisfarne) even to this day, but they are fully satisfied with that kind of garment which the natural wool of the sheep provides
Bede’s Life of Cuthbert

Lord, today may the needs of my body and the needs of my mind,
the practical needs of work, and the social needs
each be given their rightful place and kept in balance.
May the needs for rest and fun, study and sleep,
household order and justifiable work all be completed

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23rd January

Cheer Up!

To the pure all things are pure. Titus 1: 15

Some years after the death of Kevin at Glendalough a very pious monk there named Moling used to miss meals in order to pray in the place of worship. Not only did he despise food, he never allowed himself the pleasure of listening to music. Until God sent someone to cheer him up.

One day a young man arrived and asked if he could play his harp to the brothers while they were in the refectory. They welcomed this. Since Moling, who was praying in church, missed this, the young man then went to the church to play. Moling, who was kneeling, did not lift his head, but took from his pocket two balls of wax and stuffed them in his ears.

The young man smiled and continued playing. To Moling’s amazement the wax in his ears began to melt. Try as he might to push it back into his hears, it just trickled down under his habit.

At that moment the young man took a stone and started to scrape the harp. Moling found this excruciating sound unbearable. Then the young man threw the stone away and played music so sweet that Moling was filled with a joy greater than he had ever known.

When the harpist had finished playing Moling asked him ‘Are you a devil sent to tempt me or an angel sent to bless me?’ ‘You must make your own judgement’ the young man replied. ‘When I scraped the harp it made the noise of the devil, and when I played it with my fingers it made the sound of an angel. Music, like food and drink, can be an agent of evil or a source of goodness’.

The young man then left. From that day Moling welcomed all musicians to play at the monastery, and he gave up undue fasting, abstaining from food only on those days when everybody fasted. His brothers could not help noticing that from that day onwards he became more gentle and kind, and even acquired a sense of humour.

O Son of God, change my heart.
Your spirit composes the songs of the birds and the buzz of the bees.
Your creation is a million wondrous miracles, beautiful to look upon.
I ask of you just one more miracle:
beautify my soul.
From a traditional Celtic prayer

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22nd January

The Church Is Our Mother

My dear children, just like a mother in childbirth, I feel the same kind of pain for you until Christ’s nature is formed in you … the heavenly Jerusalem is free and she is our mother. Galations 4: 19, 26

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One Sunday the ailing Mungo felt a keen desire for a hot bath. With loving care his Christian family lowered him in to the warm soothing water. After a time he rallied, and gave these, his final words to his friends: ‘My children … love one another … be hospitable … beware of heresy .. keep the laws of the church … she is the Mother of us all’. His jaw dropped and this dear soul, known as the Beloved by so many, was dead.

‘She is the Mother of us all’. The church is divine, though its members are all too human. Wheat and weeds grow together. Those who take their cue from the weeds become cynical about the church. Those who take their cue from the wheat become part of its divine work of fostering and mothering. Before Illtyd and Samson brought a renewal to the church in Wales most clergy were drunk. By the end of David’s life ‘everywhere are heard evidences of churches, everywhere voices are raised to heaven in prayers; everywhere the virtues are unwearedly brought back to the bosom of the church; everywhere charitable offerings are distributed to the needy with open arms’.

Lord, unlock the treasures of wisdom to me
but first give me a heart for humble learning

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21st January

God in Ordinary People

Now remember what you were when God called you. From the human point of view few of you were wise or powerful or of high social standing. God purposely chose … what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. 1 Corinthians 1: 26, 27

The Lord prefers common looking people. That is why he made so many of them.
Abraham Lincoln

We should never forget that, although only the words and deeds of the most notable Christians get handed down, Christianity was first spread by slaves, working soldiers and traders.  In Celtic times Christianity was the religion of the people, it took root in ordinary hearts and homes. This fact is reflected in the prayers of the Scottish highlanders and islanders recorded by Alexander Carmichael so many centuries later. Here we have a glimpse of an army of ordinary people who invited God to be in the warp and weft of their everyday lives.

These arrow prayers for ordinary days are inspired by the Carmina Gadelica:

As I wash, the love of Christ be in my breast
God protect the household
God consecrate the children
God encompass our assets

May I do my rounds under the shield of Michael chief of angels

May the ingredients for the meal be mixed together
in the name of God’s Son who gives growth

Circle all my business dealings,
keep out what is false, keep within what is good

In everything my hands do today I will keep my fingers as a cross
In my exercise may thankfulness pulse through my body
As I sleep may your right hand be under my head

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20th January

Signs and Wonders

The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. Acts 5: 12

Let him who will, laugh and insult, I will not be silent, nor will I hide the signs and wonders which were ministered to me by the Lord, many years before they came to pass, as he who knew all things before the world began.
Patrick of Ireland

God who judges the heart showed by signs and wonders what Aidan’s merits were.
Bede

Cuthbert became famous for his miracles. Through his persistent prayers he restored to health many who were sick, he cured some that were afflicted by unclean spirits, not only when present….praying, touching, commanding and exorcising, but also when absent either by prayer alone or even indeed by predicting their cure… Signs and wonders whereby he shone outwardly gave witness to the inward virtues of his mind.
Bede’s Life of Cuthbert

And after raising of dead men, healing lepers, blind, deaf, lame and all kinds of sick folk… after expelling demons and vices…. after performance of mighty works and miracles too numerous to mention, St. Brendan drew near to the day of his death.
The medieval Life of St. Brendan

Great Father of the blood-red moon
and of the falling stars;
Great Saviour of the miraculous birth
and of the rising from death;
Great Spirit of the creators and the seers;
Come in sovereign power
into our dreams
into our thoughts
into our mouths
into our bodies
into our actions
till we become your sign, and presence, and wonder.

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19th January

Deliver Us From Evil

Deliver us from evil. Matthew 6: 13

A dear friend of Cuthbert’s named Hildmer was responsible for the administration of law in his locality. His wife became demented. She was writhing, shrieking and salivating. Hildmer was not only deeply upset for her, he was also embarrassed that this should happen to a respected Christian couple. He came to tell Cuthbert she was ill and to ask him to send a priest from the Lindisfarne monastery to administer the prayers for the sick and dying, but he could not bring himself to tell Cuthbert the nature of the illness (‘Christians aren’t supposed to have demons or dementia’).

Cuthbert agreed to send a priest, and Hildmer was leaving, when the Holy Spirit stirred Cuthbert to call Hildmer back and tell him ‘It is my duty to come with you, not another’s’. So Cuthbert, with a group from the monastery, accompanied the weeping Hildmer to his dying wife.

Cuthbert sensed the true condition of the patient, without having to be told, and during the journey he revealed to Hildmer the things Hildmer had hidden from him. Cuthbert re-assured him ‘It is not only the wicked who are tormented like this, but sometimes God also allows the innocent to be taken over not only in body, but also in the mind. But don’t worry, for when we come to your house, your wife whom you think is dead will come to meet me. When she takes these reins of the horse which I have in my hand she will be restored to full health, and will look after our needs, and the demon will be driven away’.

That is exactly what happened.

Lord, save us from making judgments about people who are ill
Make us eager to encircle them with the prayer of loving friends
Help us discern what you wish to do in each situation
That a step towards wholeness may always be taken
Not in our way, but in yours.

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18th January

A Broad Mind

I will pray with the spirit, but I will also pray with the understanding. 1 Corinthians 14: 15

For eagerness of the truth, it is fitting that its proper nature should be reckoned: zeal without anger, humility without neglect…

What is best for the mind? Breadth and humility, for every good thing finds room in a broad, humble mind. What is worst for the mind? Narrowness and closedness, and constrictedness, for nothing good finds room in a narrow, closed, restricted mind.
Colman mac Beognae The Alphabet of Devotion

Pray attentively and you will soon straighten out your thoughts. Desert Sayings

I will not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand. William Blake

Always make a practice of provoking your mind to think out what it accepts easily. Our position is not ours until we make it ours by suffering. If you cannot express yourself on any subject, struggle until you can. If you do not, someone will be the poorer all the days of their life.
Oswald Chambers

If you aim at nothing, you hit it. Anon

Jesus, Son of Mary
Have mercy upon us
Jesus, Son of Mary
Be with us and for us where we shall longest be.
Be at the dawning of our life
Be at the darkening of our day.

Consecrate us –
All that we inherit, all that we acquire
Consecrate each mind and body
Each day to yourself
Each night also
King of kings
God of all.
Carmina Gadelica

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17th January

Abandonment of Power

Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one; we have ruined no one; nor tried to take advantage of anyone. 2 Corinthians 7: 2

A group of English people went on a week’s prayer walk along the length of the river Thames. The walk began with Celtic prayers in a church near the Thames’ source which is dedicated to St. Samson. It ended near a statue of Neptune, a symbol of the power of the city of London, and of the British Empire, epitomised by the song ‘Rule, Britannia!’.

The prayer walk led these Christians into repentance for the lust for power in the English people. Ask Irish, Scots or Welsh what they most dislike about the English, and they will tell you it is the lust for power that neither notices nor cherishes the other person or nation.

Yet the true birthright of the English lies in their gentle apostle Aidan who gave up his right to ride a horse, in order to be one with the ordinary people, armed only with the defencelessness of love.

The method of church building used by most Celts was to build small, provisional buildings – the church was the people growing in relationships of love. They built churches without walls.

The Celtic clerics dressed simply; without a note of triumphalism. Many bishops were monks, which meant that they renounced possessions, and did not try to extend the kingdom of God through collecting possessions ‘for the church’.

When Celtic bishops met with Augustine, Archbishop of Canterbury, perhaps on the site where that Thames Prayer Walk began, they sought advice from a holy hermit whose authority lay in his having renounced power. The hermit’s advice was: ‘If Augustine is a holy man you should take his advice. You will know if he is holy if he is humble enough to stand up to greet you. If he does not, you need not take his advice’. The result was a lost opportunity. Yet, despite ‘losing out’ in terms of worldly power, the Celtic witness, which lies in the abandonment of power, is the witness which speaks to millions today who reject a way of being church that is built upon worldly power or status.

Strip from us everything except integrity
Bring the servant heart to flower

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16th January

Serenity

I am content and at peace. As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arms, so my heart is quiet within me. Psalm 131: 2

Cuthbert kept throughout the same countenance, the same spirit. At all hours he was happy and joyful, neither wearing a sad expression at the remembrance of a sin nor being elated by the loud praises of those who marvelled at his manner of life….

After two years he resigned the bishopric and returned to the solitary way of life on the island…. He remained alone, satisfied with the converse and ministry of angels, full of hope and putting his trust wholly in God, though his body was now infirm and afflicted with a certain sickness.
Life of Cuthbert by an anonymous monk of Lindisfarne

(Following the imposition of Roman regulations at the Council of Whitby) there were certain brothers at the Lindisfarne monastery who preferred to conform to their old usage rather than to the monastic rule. Nevertheless Cuthbert overcame these by his modest virtue and his patience, and by daily effort he gradually converted them into a better state of mind. In fact very often during debates in the chapter concerning the rule, when he was assailed by the bitter insults of his opponents, he would rise up suddenly and with calm mind and countenance would go out, thus dissolving the chapter, but none the less, on the following day, as if he had suffered no repulse the day before, he would give the same instruction as before to the brothers…. For he was a man remarkable for the strength of his patience and unsurpassed in bravely bearing every burden whether of mind or body.
Bede’s Life of Cuthbert

The serenity of Christ
The serenity of kindly Cuthbert
The serenity of mild and loving Mary
The serenity of Christ, King of tenderness
Be upon each window and door
The four corners of this place
The four corners of my bed
Be upon each thing my eye takes in
Upon each thing my mouth takes in
Upon my body that is of the earth
Upon my spirit that came from on high.
Carmina Gadelica – adapted

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15th January

Prayer Changes Things

She answered ‘We will starve to death …’ The widow went and did as Elijah told her, and all of them had enough food for many days. 1 Kings 17: 12, 15

Christians believe that prayer can change anything. But experience shows that God is not in the business of the ‘quick fix’. Frequently we go away disappointed after our initial requests. The following story reminds us that prayer, like life itself, is a process. If at first we do not get through, re-evaluate and pray from a different perspective. We will find that the good God, who is full of surprises, will not fail us.

Mungo, from his base at Clathures, became a firm friend of Rhydderch, the Christian King of Strathclyde, whose headquarters was fifteen miles down river at Dunbarton. But Morcant, the local ruler and patron of the Druid altar at Craigmaddie Moor was a bitter enemy of them both. His mercenaries looted the local crops which they stored in Morcant’s barn. That winter real hunger struck Mungo’s people. He walked to Craigmaddie Moor and confronted Morcant, saying the people needed food. ‘You Christians teach that God will provide for those who serve him. Well, I don’t serve him and I have plenty; you serve him and have nothing, so your teaching must be false,’ Morcant mockingly told him.

Mungo returned to Clathures empty handed, but he was not defeated. He gathered the people to pray. Their prayers were answered in this way. After they prayed the rain came down in deluge after deluge. The rivers flooded their banks, and Morcant’s barn took off towards the river Clyde like an ark on a wild cruise. On the banks of the Molindar it went hard aground beside Mungo’s church!

Next morning Mungo gathered his flock to thank God and eat a good breakfast. Morcant did not find it at all funny!

Some have meat and cannot eat;
Some cannot eat that want it:
But we have meat and we can eat
Sae let the Lord be thankit!
Robert Burns

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