13th December

Turn, Then, And Live

I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and Live. Ezekiel 18:32

Abba Paul the simple, a disciple of Abba Anthony, visited a monastery to help the brethren. After a conversation, the brothers began to gather in the chapel for their customary worship. Paul observed them individually as they entered, noting their degree of piety. As we see faces, Paul could see souls.

As they approached the chapel, Paul observed that while most had a beautiful aura and angels hovered over them, demons darkened one. Temptation led him by the nose, and his angel followed some distance behind, grieving. This moved Paul deeply. He sat down tearfully outside the front of the chapel.

The brothers noticed Paul’s unusual behavior and asked him what was wrong. They were concerned that he might be weeping for them all. They invited him to join them inside for worship, but he declined. He remained outside, lamenting over the one he had seen.

After worship, as the brothers were exiting, Paul studied them again, wanting to know their spiritual condition. The individual who concerned him had radically changed, with an angel close by and the demon at a distance. Paul jumped with joy and shouted aloud, “Come see what a merciful God can do!”

Everyone gathered around Paul. He told them what he has seen. The man Paul had singled out came forward and confessed his sin. He said that while he was inside, someone read from Isaiah about scarlet sins becoming white as snow. He accepted it as God’s word directly to him and promised that he would renounce sin and serve God with a clean conscience. Everyone rejoiced together.

Turn, then, and live!
Bernard Bangley, By Way Of The Desert, page 91/92

Heavenly Father, may I trip over my sins and graze my knees in pain.
May this pain, bring to my attention, the need of your loving salve on my wounds, as I bring them to you with a repentant heart.
Heal my soul with your love, that it may be at peace, and pain free

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12th December

Spiritual Women

Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. Proverbs 31:30

The following report was recorded on the death of Saint Hilda of Whitby.
“One of her nuns perceived how angels brought her spirit to heaven and it glittered in the midst of the angels like the shining sun or a glossy new gown. The same nun heard at the same time as she departed the sound of a wonderful bell in the air and she also saw that angels raised against her spirit a very large and wonderful cross of Christ and it shone like a star of heaven. With such joy was St. Hilda’s spirit brought to the heavenly glory, where she now sees our Lord without end, whose will she did before as long as she was alive in the flesh.”
Old English Martyrology

Mercy is a compassionate quality. Grace is worthy of praise, too, because it is a quality that belongs to god’s magnificent power in that same love.
Mercy protects, endures, energizes, and heals, and is every tenderness of love.
Grace is mercy’s helper. It raises, rewards, and always exceeds what our love and labor deserve.
Julian of Norwich, Revelations

The Lord asked me to make His feet my hallway, His hands my workshop, His mouth my living room, His eyes my library for sitting and reading, and his ears my confessional.
Gertrude the Great, The Herald of Divine Love

Hope so fills us with holy and humble devotion that the impotence of the heart
rings in song beautifully before God, and God loves the notes that sing in the heart.
whoever sings along with Hope will share her success in celestial love.
Mechthild of Magdeburg, The Flowering Light of the Godhead

Lord, let Your love enlighten the eye of my understanding with the light of trusting in You. Help me see Your truth as You reveal it to me. Make my memory big enough to hold Your kindness. Set my will on fire in Your Love
Catherine of Siena, Dialogue

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11th December

Angelic Watchers

“This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers and the decision is a command of the holy ones, in order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men.” Daniel 4:17

The Old Testament spoke of “angelic watchers” as an angel that was a guardian which carried out God’s direction. Celtic Chrisitianity followed on in the Biblical traditions and also had spiritual insights about angels.

Angels reveal to men and women the small messages that they are commanded to tell, and with them are placed those who know a little of divine things and who teach this with love and mercy to others.
“The Food for the Soul”, Book Three – Holy Sanctuary of Life.

God only knows the times my life was threatened just today
A reckless car ran out of gas before it ran my way
Near misses all around me, accidents unknown
Though I never see with human eyes the hands that lead me home
God, I know they’re all around me all day and through the night
When the enemy is closing in I know sometimes they fight
To keep my feet from falling I’ll never turn away
If you’re asking what’s protecting me then you’re gonna hear me say,
Angels watching over me every step I take
Angels watching over me
2nd verse from “Angels” sung by Amy Grant, “Straight Ahead” album 1984

Angel of God, sent from the Fragrant Father of Mercy,
the Encompassing Sacred Heart,
the Spirit of the Deeps,
make whole our souls this day.
Ward off all that would harm.
Pilot us safely across the ocean of life.
Lift us above the tempests that would break us
(184) Ray Simpson – His Complete Celtic Prayers

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10th December

Angels Speed To Help Us

Jesus said: Be careful that you never despise a single one of these little ones – for I tell you that they have angels who see my Father’s face continually in heaven. Matthew 18: 10

Columba sat transcribing the Scriptures in his little cell at Iona. Two brothers who were near the open door were alarmed when his countenance suddenly changed and he shouted ‘Help! help!’

‘What is the matter?’ they asked with consternation. Columba told them: ‘A brother at our monastery at Oakwood Plain in Derry was working at the very top of the large house they are building there, and he slipped and began to fall. I ordered the angel of the Lord who was standing just there among you two to go immediately to save this brother.’

Later they learned that a man had indeed fallen from that great height, but nothing was broken, and he did not even feel any bruise. As they discussed this Columba said: ‘How wonderful beyond words is the swift motion of an angel, it is as swift as lightning. For the heavenly spirit who flew from us when that man began to fall was there to support him in a twinkling of an eye before his body reached the ground. How wonderful that God gives such help through his angels, even when much land and sea lies between.’

O angel guardian of my right hand
Attend to me this night
Rescue me in the battling floods
Array me in your linen, for I am naked
Succour me, for I am feeble and forlorn
Steer my coracle in the crooked eddies
Guide my step in gap and in pit
Guard me in the treacherous turnings
And save me from the harm of the wicked
Save me from the harm this night
Drive me from the taint of pollution
Encompass me till Doom from evil
O kindly angel of my right hand
Deliver me from the wicked this night
O deliver me this night
Carmina Gadelica (adapted)

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9th December

Enter A World Of Angels

Again I looked, and I heard angels, thousands and millions of them! They stood round the throne. Revelation 5: 11

I am weary and forlorn
Lead me to the land of angels
I think it is time I went for a space
To the court of Christ
To the peace of heaven
Carmina Gadelica

In the Celtic as in the Orthodox understanding of life we are never alone, and God is never alone. God likes company. And that is just as true of the non-earthly realm as it is of earth. God has peopled the unseen world with the bodiless beings we know as angels. They always delight to do God’s will, they are not weighed down with worldly baggage.

Unlike the fanciful portrayals of angels in medieval times, there is an earthy reality about angel encounters in the Bible. Six roles for these bodiless servants of God can be discerned. They shield (e.g. Daniel 3.28; 12.1); they reveal God’s message of salvation (e.g. Matthew 1.20); they heal (Tobit 3.17 apocrypha); they carry out God’s judgements (Rev. 15. 7, 8) they escort souls at death (Luke 16.22); and they praise God (Luke 2.13).

On this eve of St. Michael and All Angels Day it is good to turn our thoughts towards angels. Michaelmas should be a significant time for us as it was for Celtic Christians, who offer us a feast of angel stories. Bede’s writings brim with stories of encounters with angels, and one third of Adamnan’s Life of Columba consists of angel experiences.

Have mercy on little ones abused
may tender angels draw them to your presence.
Have mercy on those in black trial
may healing angels lift them into your presence.
Have mercy on souls at death’s door
may holy angels escort them to your presence.
Have mercy on we who remain
may smiling angels radiate to us your presence

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8th December

Borderlands

The kingdom of heaven is right here, so turn away from your sins. Mark 1: 15

The safety first mentality which pervades most organised life today, is stifling the frontier mentality which is part of the nature God has given us. As David Adam reminds us in his book Borderlands, we are in danger of becoming safe people who have never been all at sea or experienced ‘the cliffs of fall’ (as the poet Gerard Hopkins described the mind’s mountain of grief). We avoid crossing frontiers in case we are shot at. Yet in reality life is ever taking us into the edge of things. Frontiers are exciting places and everyone should be encouraged to explore them.

Jesus was often in the border lands: between countries, between heaven and earth; he was on the fringes of society, with lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, as well as with top people.

Columbanus described his fellow Irish people as ‘inhabitants of the world’s edge’. Celtic Christians were good at crossing borders, by foot or by coracle. Like St. Brendan, some ventured into the great unknown, and possibly reached America. Others, like Patrick and Aidan, went out to a foreign people and became one with them for the love of God. Missionaries such as Columbanus founded Christian communities in the most unlikely locations, and hermits found their place of resurrection in the wildest of places.

Celtic Christians have also been able to keep an awareness of the ‘other’ more easily than many peoples. This was expressed in a beautifully simple way by a woman from Kerry in the south west of Ireland. When she was asked where heaven was, she replied: ‘about a foot and a half above a person’. Such an awareness has us always treading exciting border lands

Great Spirit, Wild Goose of the Almighty
Be my eye in the dark places
Be my flight in the trapped places
Be my host in the wild places
Be my brood in the barren places
Be my formation in the lost places

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7th December

Foiling A Plot To Kill

Haman, the enemy of the Jewish people, had cast lots (or purim as they are called) to determine the day for destroying the Jews; he had planned to wipe them out. But Queen Esther went to the king, and the king issued orders with the result that Haman suffered the fate he had planned for the Jews… The Queen wrote a letter directing the Jews and their descendants to always observe the days of Purim. Esther 9: 24, 25, 31.

Have you ever had that awful feeling that somebody has got it in for you, and that there is nothing you can do about it? If so, take heart from the experience of Queen Esther, in the Bible, and of Samson of Dol.

Samson learned that a region of Britanny was in dire distress because an alien king, urged on by his evil wife, had killed the hereditary head of the estates, put his son Judual under sentence of death, and alienated the fearful population. Samson stayed at the palace in order to negotiate Judual’s release, to the fury of the Queen, who tried one ploy after another to kill him. First, she pressed him to eat a meal before departing, and instructed her servant to take him a poisoned drink. As the servant gave him the glass, Samson made the sign of the cross over it and spilt it, saying calmly, ‘this is not an appropriate cup for someone to drink’.

The King, softening after Samson had healed one of his staff, arranged for Samson to visit Judual: the Queen arranged for an unbroken, angry horse to be brought for his use. Samson made the sign of the cross again, this time on the horse, and calmly sat astride it. The horse, perhaps sensing the deep peace within Samson, became as timid as a mouse!

The Queen was determined that Samson should never return, so even when he was leaving to journey on by boat, she arranged for a hungry lion to be let loose at the port. Samson’s biographer observed that the indomitable man of God invoked the name of Christ and discharged after the beast ‘his customary missiles as if from a catapult’, saying: ‘I charge you in the name of Jesus Christ who has given us power to tread under foot you and things like you, that your terrible power against the human race may from this day never rise again, but that you die quickly in the presence of all these people so that the people of this region may know that God has sent me here as a servant of Christ’. The lion died that hour, and everyone present, even the Queen herself, pledged to support both Judual’s release and Samson’s mission.

Lord, help me always to believe that all things work together for good to those who love you

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6th December

Advice To A Young Man

Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep. Have the same concern for everyone. Do not be proud but accept humble duties. Romans 12: 15, 16

Be helpful when you are at the bottom of the ladder and be the lowest when you are in authority. Be simple in faith but well trained in manners; demanding in your own affairs but unconcerned in those of others. Be guileless in friendship, astute in the face of deceit, tough in time of ease, tender in hard times. Keep your options open when there’s no problem, but dig in when you must choose. Be pleasant when things are unpleasant, and sorrowful when they are pleasant. Disagree where necessary, but be in agreement about the truth. Be serious in pleasures but kindly when things are bitter. Be strong in trials, weak in dissensions…

Be friendly with people of honour, stiff with rascals, gentle to the weak, firm to the stubborn, steadfast to the proud, humble to the lowly. Always be sober, chaste, modest. Be discreet in duty, persistent in study, unshaken in turmoil, valiant in the cause of truth, cautious in time of strife. Be submissive to good, unbending to evil, gentle in curiosity, untiring in love, just in all things. Be respectful to the worthy, merciful to the poor. Be mindful of favours, unmindful of wrongs. Love ordinary people, and don’t crave for riches, but cool down excitement and speak your mind.

Obey your seniors, keep up with your juniors, equal your equals, emulate the perfect. Don’t envy your betters, or grieve at those who surpass you, or censure those who fall behind, but agree with those who urge you on. Though weary, don’t give up. Weep and rejoice at the same time out of zeal and hope. Advance with determination, but always fear for the end.
Columbanus Letter to a young disciple

For my shield this day I call
Heaven’s might, Son’s brightness
Moon’s whiteness
Fire’s glory
Lightning’s swiftness
Wind’s wildness
Ocean’s depth
Earth’s solidity
Rock’s immobility
From Patrick’s Breastplate

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5th December

In A Hard Place

O Lord, don’t stay away from me!. Come quickly to my rescue! Psalm 22: 19

I am hated. What shall I do, Lord? I am most despised. Look, your sheep around me are torn to pieces and driven away by those robbers on the orders of the hostile Coroticus. Ravening wolves have devoured the flock of the Lord which, in Ireland, was indeed growing splendidly with the greatest care – I cannot count their number.

They have filled their houses with the spoils of dead Christians, they live on plunder. They do not know, the wretches, that what they offer their friends and sons as food is deadly poison, just as Eve did not understand that it was death she gave her husband. So are all that do evil: they work death as their eternal punishment.
Patrick of Ireland’s letter to Coroticus.

I stand in the troughs of life’s hard seas
The Saviour from ill stands up to his knees.
I stand and look at the wrecks of my time
The Father of Time puts his hand in mine.
I stand and behold a heart that is grim
The gentle Spirit puts a smile within.
I kneel before the fates above
And I find the One whose name is Love.
We weep for the hungry without any bread
For children who need to be fed
We weep for mistreated ones, strangers to love
The oppressed by force from above.
We pray against cruelty, hatred and pain
Inhumanity and greed for gain
We pray for hostages, may they go free.
And forgive the sinners, starting with me.
Andrew Dick

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4th December

Weaned From Idols

Do not abandon me and worship idols. Leviticus 9: 4

An idol is any thing which I put before God. It may be a car or a custom, a person or a passion, a lottery or a horoscope. In Cuthbert’s day an idol often took the form of a power of nature that it was thought could create a windfall or good luck.

After Boisil died Cuthbert was made prior of the Melrose monastery:
He not only taught those in the monastery how to live … he also sought to convert the neighbouring people far and wide from a life of foolish customs to a love of heavenly joys. For many of them profaned the creed they held by wicked deeds and some of them, too, in times of plague, would forget the sacred mysteries of the faith into which they had been initiated and take to the false remedies of idolatry, as though they could ward off a blow inflicted by God the Creator by means of incantations or amulets or any other mysteries of devilish art. So he frequently went forth from the monastery to correct the errors of those who had sinned in both these ways, sometimes on horseback but more often on foot; he came to the neighbouring villages and preached the way of truth to those who had gone astray …

None of those present would presume to hide from him the secrets of their hearts, but they all made open confession of their sins because they realised that these things could never be hidden from him; and they cleansed themselves from the sins they had confessed by fruits of repentance. He used especially to make for those places that were far away in steep and rugged mountains, which others dreaded to visit and whose poverty and ignorance kept other teachers away. Giving himself up gladly to this devoted labour, he instructed them with such devotion that he would often leave the monastery for a week, and sometimes for up to a month.

Now robed in stillness
in this quiet place
emptied of all I was
I bring all that I am
your gift of shepherding
to use and bless.
Cuthbert’s Prayer, St. Aidan’s Chapel, Bradford Cathedral

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