26th April

Idols

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. 1 John 5: 21

The first thing that comes to mind when idols are mentioned are the carved figures of pagan faiths. Bear in mind, however, as you read the following story, that an idol is an expression of a universal tendency – to substitute some thing in the place of God. Behind all idolatry is the desire to control, to make God in our own image, to chase after illusions.

As Samson passed through the Hundred of Twigg, in Cornwall, he heard a group of people acting out a ritual in honour of a god. He stilled the brothers, and as he silently watched. In order not to appear threatening Samson took just two brothers with him and greeted their leader, Guedianus. Gently, he explained that it was not good to forsake the one God who created all things in order to worship one created thing. This brought varied reactions. Some jeered, some were angry, some argued that since it was tradition it surely could not be wrong, others simply told him to go away.

Circumstances, however, intervened, and Samson believed that God, unlike the idol, could use these circumstances. A lad who had been driving some horses far too fast, fell headlong from his horse, and twisted his head badly as he fell. He lay on the ground like a lifeless corpse; everyone gathered round, and as they realised they could do nothing, they began to weep. Samson took an initiative.  ‘You can see that your idol can do nothing for this fellow’, he said, ‘ if you promise you will destroy and cease to worship this idol, I, with God’s assistance, will restore him to life’. The pagans agreed. Samson asked them to withdraw and prayed over the lad for two hours. At the end of that time he delivered him safe and sound. The pagans destroyed their idol, and gave their allegiance to Samson. He instructed and baptised them as Christians. On the hill, in place of the idol, Samson carved a cross on a standing stone in his own hand.

The dearest idol I have known
What’ere that idol be
Help me to tear it from thy throne
And worship only Thee
William Cowper

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25th April

Anzac Day

‘No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends,’ says the Lord, ‘if you do what I command you.’ John 15:13-14

The word “Anzac” has been a part of Australian thought, language, and life since 25 April 1915. Devised by a signaler in Egypt as a useful acronym for “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps”, (as they wanted something simple instead of writing, typing or sending via Morse Code the full text), it quickly became a word with many uses and meanings.

Many have spoken about traditions about Anzac, but what is the underlying ‘spirit’ that Anzac represents. Since the first settlement, there was always a dogged determination to push on regardless. Whether prisoner, settler, soldier, free man or woman, the Australian ‘spirit’ of achieving their best was born in adversity.

This determination is seen in the Boer War, Boxer Rebellion and into the many other Wars Australians and New Zealands have fought in. This year marks the 100th anniversary of World War 1, and we remember not only for those who died, the grieving families who lost so much, but also we remember the ANZAC spirit of those soldiers and nurses. The ‘spirit’ of doing your best for your mates. Regardless of the circumstances.

God of love and liberty,
We bring our thanks today for the peace and security we enjoy,
We remember those who in time of war faithfully service their country.
We pray for their families, and for ourselves whose freedom was won at such a cost.
Make us a people zealous for peace, and hasten that day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation neither learn war any more.
This we pray in the name of the one who gave his life for the sake of the world:
Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Amen.
The Anglican Prayer Book of Australia, Shorter Edition, page 204

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24th April

Knowing What Is Appropriate

You know who your teachers were, and you remember that ever since you were a child you have known the Holy Scriptures … All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good work. 2 Timothy 3: 14 -17

When we are adolescent, it seems as if a thousand little ways of behaving are second nature to adults, but we ourselves are unsure and self conscious about how to react in different situations: how to converse, how to eat things, when and how to arrive and leave.

We need the freedom not to have to prove we know things, that it is OK to ask what is the appropriate thing to do, to take time to observe how others behave, to gradually get a sense of what is appropriate, yet to remain open to inspirations that are unique to us.

Once a group of brothers were enjoying a picnic by a riverside in Ireland, when a bard strolled by. He joined the brothers and they enjoyed conversation for some time, before he said it was time to go, and went on his way. It would have been considered appropriate for the brothers to have invited the bard to sing some of his songs, composed by himself, before he left them, so later the brothers asked Columba why he had not, on this occasion, given such an invitation. ‘Because’, said Columba, ‘that poor man has been killed; and since I sensed that this would happen, how could I have requested a fun song from someone who is abut to meet such an unhappy end?’

Lord of the shadows, Lord of the day
Lord of the elements, Lord of the grey
Lord of creation, Lord of the journey.
I am unsure, weak and frail.
Grant me sureness in the nearness of your clasp
Father keep me in every steep
Saviour reach me in every slip
Spirit teach me in every fall.

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23rd April

This Autumn Day

You crown the year with your goodness. Psalm 65: 11

O sacred season of autumn, be my teacher
For I wish to learn the virtue of contentment
As I gaze upon your full-coloured beauty
I sense all about you an at-home-ness with your amber riches.
You are the season of retirement
of full barns and harvested fields.
The cycle of growth has ceased
and the busy work of giving life
is now completed.
I sense in you no regrets;
you’ve lived a full life.
I live in a society that is ever restless
always eager for more mountains to climb
seeking happiness through more and more possessions.
As a child of my culture
I am seldom truly at peace with what I have.
Teach me to take stock of what I have given and received;
may I know that it’s enough,
that my striving can cease
in the abundance of God’s grace.
May I know the contentment
that allows the totality of my energies
to come to full flower.
May I know that like you I am rich beyond measure.
Edward Hays

I thank you for the wind
that clears the fog and clog of life,
for chimneys that allow air and warmth to move through our lives,
for the texture of the bricks and tiles.
I thank you for house tops and street lights
and for the sound of traffic moving.
I thank you for TV and satellite dishes.
These open the world up to people in their little dwellings.
So much energy, so much enterprise –
the friendly smiles of Sister Earth.

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22nd April

Mutual Dependence

When you please the Lord you can make your enemies into friends. Proverbs 16: 7

Gall learned the hard way that he needed other people. When a hostile ruler came to power the monks had to leave the region. But Gall became too ill to travel with Columbanus, who left him behind, believing that his illness was in some way connected with a weakness in his character. After the others had left, Gall managed to get his fishing nets and his few possessions on to a boat and get himself to a priest who nursed him back to health.

It seems that Gall now realised he had made so many mistakes, in the way he related both to brothers and to local people. He had destroyed their objects of worship before he had made friends with them. Now he thought that the best thing he could was to serve God alone in a life of prayer, and prepare for heaven.

Gall asked the priest to recommend a place where he could live as a hermit. The priest replied that the mountains and valleys were too full of wild beasts for this to be viable. ‘If God be for us, who shall be against us?’, Gall replied.

So they came to a place by a river where Gall settled, and the wild beasts became his friends. Other hermits joined him, for had now learned to be humble, to be like like the humus, the earth. Columbanus may have sensed this, and wanted to heal of the divide that had come between them, for before he died he sent Gall his Abbot’s staff as a sign that the past was over and that he believed in Gall’s God-given calling.

Gall was in fact pressed to become Abbot of the monastery at Luxeuil, but he had now no worldly ambitions, and refused. However, the world flocked to his cell. The monastery which took the place of his hermits’ settlement became a centre of life and learning for Europe. The town which grew up around, St. Gallen, is now one of the great industrial cities of Switzerland.

Humble me Lord.
May I be sensitive to other people whatever their background.
May I be led, not by my self-opinionated will, but by you alone.
And may this result in friendships.

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21st April

Dependency

It is better to trust in the Lord than to depend upon human leaders. Psalm 118: 9

One of the curses of our society is a condition the has been described as ‘the cycle of dependency’. Proud and false independence is wrong, but dependency (as distinct from mutual inter-dependence) and failure to take responsibility is also wrong; it is a subtle form of idolatry. We can so easily put leaders on to pedestals, and expect them to do for us what we can only do for ourselves. Certainly, we can only do these things in the strength God gives, but God is as available to us as he is to them. In fact there should never be a ‘them’.

Celtic Christianity spawned close fellowships and delightful friendships, but it did not spawn dependency. If someone wanted to enter a monastery (and sometimes these became the only safe and decent places around) they had to wait outside for days. They had to show that they could take responsibility for their food, sleep and time, that they could take their own decisions and that they could work hard.

Maedoc and Molaise were bosom friends. But they were open to the possibility that they might be called to travel independent paths. ‘Ah Jesus’, they prayed one day at the foot of two trees, ‘is it your will that we should part, or that we should remain together to the end?’ Then one of the trees fell to the south, and the other to the north. They knew then that it had been revealed to them that they must part. Maedoc went south and built a monastery at Ferns. Molaise went north and built a monastery in Devenish.

During a gathering of a large religious movement, someone begged the leader: ‘Our children are being murdered in the streets. Come and help us.’ The leader was thoughtfully silent. ‘Brother’, he simply said, ‘you are hurting, and I feel for you. Let me give you my address and phone number. I’ll do what I can to help you. But please – do not look to me as a leader. I may be dead tomorrow. God wants to raise up a leader in you.’

Moment by moment you give me choices, O Lord.
Help me to make those choices.

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20th April

Pride Before A Fall

‘Master’, Simon answered, ‘we worked hard all night long and caught no fish. Nevertheless, if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ Simon let them down and caught such a large number of fish that the nets were about to break. Luke 5: 5, 6

Simon Peter knew more about fishing than did Jesus, who had a background in carpentry. He knew where the fish were, and he knew that night was the right time to catch them. So it must have seemed daft when Jesus told him that if he pushed the boat out in the morning he would make a catch. But Simon was learning that Jesus was a channel of a wisdom higher than his own know-how. Each of us has to learn this lesson in our own way. This is how St. Gall learned it:

Gall is the best known of Columbanus’ followers, and accompanied him to Annegray and Luxeuil where they founded some of the first Celtic Christian communities on the continent of Europe. Gall was very bright, but he was also hot-headed, and needed to learn lessons of humility.

One day at Luxeuil Columbanus, who was the Abbot, asked Gall, who was a keen fisherman, to go to a particular river to catch fish. Gall took this as an opportunity to show his independence and his better knowledge of fishing; he went to a different river where he knew there were more fish.

It was true the fish were plentiful, for he could see them swimming all around his net. But for some reason, though he tried all day, not a single one would swim into the net! Rather sheepishly Gall returned to Columbanus. All Columbanus said, in a mild manner, was ‘Why not try doing what I told you?’

Next day Gall swallowed his pride and followed Columbanus’ instruction. Sure enough, the moment he threw his net into the river the fish came in so fast that he could hardly pull them out. Gall got the point that although he was more clever than others, he was also more conceited, and that pride comes before a fall.

Lord take pride and false independence from my spirit.

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19th April

Go With The Flow

When working with the Jews I live like a Jew in order to win them … when working with Gentiles, I live like a Gentile in order to win Gentiles …Among the weak in faith I become weak like one of them, in order to win them. 1 Corinthians 9: 20, 21, 22 …

Someone asks ‘Surely a Christian should stand against current trends in order to uphold the values of the Gospel rather than to go with the flow?’ Wherever contemporary values conflict with those of Jesus, that is certainly true. But have we examined how much in our church ethos is a matter, not of values, but of cultural taste? St. Paul was the first person to confront evil boldly, yet it was also he who gave a mission model of becoming one with different groups and cultures (in all things except sin) in order to win them to a relationship with Christ.

Celtic Christians, too, were clear about sin, but unlike Christians in other parts, they sat loose to churchy culture if it was alien to their people. They had their meetings at the places where the people normally met; they built their places of worship on the places where people had previously worshipped as non-Christians; they carried on customs such as circling farms and homes, but now they did this in the name of the One True God. In the years following Patrick in Ireland the shape of church organisation reflected that of the clan. Instead of organisation being imposed from outside, it was like a wheel, in which the clan welcomed a Christian community as its hub.

Celtic Christians resisted the idea that Christians should cut off the long, flowing hair which Celts felt was their glory, and for which Celtic Christians could give glory to God. Evangelists such as Aidan and Chad resisted pressure to use the form of transport that top people used but which would have distanced them from ordinary people. They used their feet, not a horse, to make visits. Aidan resisted pressure to impose all the Christian laws on unchurched people before they had come to know and love Jesus and the milk of his teaching. When groups of Christians gathered at natural meeting places, they would often play folk music, and would join in with other folk singers whether they were Christian or not.

Creator of diverse cultures
Brother to all peoples,
Flowing Spirit
help me to go with the flow
of all that is good and human around me.

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18th April

Wisdom Is For Passing On

Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, but do it with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3: 15

You have a deep desire to appear wise, but you have no confidence in yourself: you do not regard yourself as wise. So in the company of others you remain silent; even when the conversation turns to spiritual matters, where words of wisdom are most necessary, you remain silent. You hope that people will interpret your silence as a sign of the depth of your wisdom – so deep that mere words cannot communicate it. Some people try to deceive others with dishonest words; you are trying to deceive others with dishonest silence.

If you possess wisdom on particular matters, it is your duty under God to express this wisdom to others, so they can benefit from it. If you do not possess wisdom on matters of importance, it is your duty under God to ask questions of those who do possess wisdom so you can learn from it. In either case you must speak.

This does not mean that words must flow ceaselessly from your mouth like a river. Use words sparingly, so that they express exactly what you mean. But without words you will remain ignorant and stupid.
Pelagius To a young friend.

In Sophia, the highest wisdom-principle, all the greatness and majesty of the unknown that is in God and all that is rich and maternal in his creation are united inseparably, as paternal and maternal principles, the uncreated Father and created Mother-Wisdom.
Thomas Merton

Lord help me
never to pretend
to know more than I do know,
always to be ready to speak out of my experience,
up to my experience
but not to speak beyond it.

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17th April

What’s Good About A Rule Of Life?

I chose some of your people to be prophets, and some to be Nazirites … but you made the Nazirites drink wine, and ordered the prophets not to speak my message. Amos 2: 11, 12

Certain Christians, not just monks and nuns, follow what they call a Rule or a Way of Life. This sets out the values and goals they choose to make their priority, and a check-list, suited to their circumstances, of practices which help them to live these. Some Christians argue that they want to be rid of rules and regulations, and, since no two situations are alike, all they need is the Holy Spirit to guide them. Here is some advice to consider:

In a single day we make so many decisions we cannot possibly weigh up the good and evil consequences of each decision. We are liable to make foolish and wrong decisions. For this reason we need a rule, a simple set of moral principles that we can apply to each decision we make. This will not be foolproof, but with a good rule, our decision will far more often be right than wrong.

Another reason for a rule is this: Jesus tells us to pray always; yet sometimes we love to devote much time to prayer whereas at other times we are dry or feel far too busy to pray. A rule prevents us from making excuses; it spurs us to pray at a particular time even when our heart is cold towards God.

The teaching of Jesus must be the primary general guide for any disciple, but Jesus himself did not give rules. The source of a rule is inside your own heart. What we call conscience is a kind of rule which God has written in your heart. If you wish to formulate a rule you must listen to your conscience and write down on paper what God has written on the heart.
Pelagius

Eternal God
our beginning and our end
accompany us through the rest of our journey.
Open our eyes to praise you for your creation,
and to see the work you set before us.
Based on St. Finbarr’s Cathedral Midday Prayer, Cork

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