27th March

Persevere

I have done my best in the race, I have run the full distance, I have kept the Faith. And now the prize of victory is waiting for me. 2 Timothy 4: 7, 8

Why were the saints saints? Because they were cheerful when it was difficult to be cheerful, patient when it was difficult to be patient; and because they pushed on when they wanted to stand still, and kept silent when they wanted to talk, and were agreeable when they wanted to be disagreeable. That was all. It was quite simple and always will be.
Anon

Wales’ saint David is a fine example of somebody who persevered in and out of season. The wife of the local chief tried to get rid of his monastery, then to corrupt his monks, who pressed David to move it elsewhere even though God had clearly led them to that site. As we have seen, David stood firm, and in the end, due to this promiscuous woman over-reaching herself, she herself had to flee. David’s biographer observed that his purpose ‘was neither dissolved nor softened by prosperity, nor terrified when weakened by adversity’.

The four securities of the children of Life: the wearing away of the passions, fear of the pains, love of the sufferings, belief in the rewards. If the passions were not worn away, they would not be left behind. If the pains were not feared, they would not be guarded against. If the sufferings were not loved, they would not be endured. If the rewards were not believed in, they would not be attained.
Colman mac Beognae The Alphabet of Devotion

Never give up. Never never give up. Never, never, never give up.
The entire speech Winston Churchill gave at a school prize-giving.

O God
when we your servants are called upon
to undertake any task
whether it be small or great
help us to know that
it is not the beginning of the task
but the continuing of it to the end
which yields the true glory.
Inspired by words of Sir Francis Drake

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26th March

The Apple Of God’s Eye

The Lord said to his people ‘I scattered you in all directions … But now anyone who strikes you strikes the apple of my eye’. Zechariah 2: 6, 8

I did not go to Ireland of my own accord; not, that is, until I had nearly perished. This was for my good, for in this way the Lord purged me, and made me fit to be what I am now, but which once I was far from being – someone who cares and labours for the salvation of others. In those days I did not care for anyone, not even for myself.

On the occasion when several of my seniors rejected me God spoke to me personally. He did not say ‘you have seen’ but ‘we have seen’, as if he included himself. It was as if God was saying ‘Whoever touches you touches the apple of my eye’.

Therefore I thank God who has strengthened me in everything … After this experience I felt not a little strength, and my trust was proved right before God and people.

And so I say boldly, my conscience does not blame me now or in the future: God is my witness that I have not lied in the account I have given you.

Enough of this. I must not, however, hide the gift God gave me in the land of my captivity, because there I earnestly sought him, and there I found him, and he saved me from all evil because – so I believe – of his Spirit who lives in me.
Patrick of Ireland

Father, you affirmed your Son at his baptism
before he entered a time of testing.
Father, you affirmed your servant Patrick
in the midst of his time of trial.
Father, affirm me in my time of need.
May I rest in the assurance
that I am the apple of your eye.

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25th March

The True Cross

God forbid that I should glory in anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Galations 6: 14

The phrase ‘the true Cross’ has passed into the English language. What does this mean, and what should it mean for us today?

The Emperor Diocletian divided the government of the expanding Roman Empire between himself and Constantius, the Governor of Britain, who had a Christian wife named Helena. But owing to unforeseen circumstances, their son Constantine became Emperor of both east and west. Before a major battle against the last of his rivals Constantine had a vision of a cross in the sky, with the words “In this sign conquer” above it. Ever afterwards, Constantine encouraged the church as an ally of a united Empire and the Cross became a popular symbol, though it is doubtful whether Constantine knew what the Cross meant in his own experience.

His mother Helena, however, became ever more devoted to Christ. Christians had as yet no written Gospels and they no longer had the test of persecution as a focus for their devotion. Helena went on journeys to the Holy Land to find, as a focus for devotion, a fragment of the Cross on which Christ had been crucified. The fragment she believed she found did indeed excite the devotion of many.

The story of Helena and her discovery of the True Cross became the subject of an epic medieval English poem. Some have attributed this to Cynewulf, the eighth century Bishop of Lindisfarne. But Celtic Christians realised that the ‘true’ Cross does not consist in the externals, but in the the experience of total self-giving and sacrifice: that is what Christians have to prize and adopt as their own way. Millions are confused about this. Muslims, for example, think that the Cross stands for the sword, which Christians used in the Crusades in order to re-capture the site of ‘the True Cross’.

The Celts loved another poem about the Cross, The Dream of the Rood. In this poem (which some also attribute to Cynewulf) the poet imagines that the cross-beam on which Christ was nailed (the Rood) could express its feelings. When the Rood has finished speaking the poet dreamer concludes: ‘This is my heart’s desire, all my hope waits on the Cross’. That is ‘the true Cross’.

Lord, make this my heart’s desire also.

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24th March

Be Content

Contentment with godliness is great gain. 1 Timothy 6: 6

So I must accept with equanimity whatever befalls me, whether it be good or bad, and always give thanks to God, who taught me to trust in him always without hesitation. God must have heard my prayer… Daily I expect murder, fraud or captivity, or whatever it may be; but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God Almighty, who rules everywhere. As the prophet says: ‘Cast your cares upon the Lord, and the Lord will care for you’.

And if I have done any good for my God whom I love, I beg him that I may shed blood with those exiles and captives for his name, even though I should be denied a grave, or my body be torn to pieces. I am convinced that if this should happen to me, I would have gained my soul together with my body, because on that day we shall rise in the brightness of the sun, that is, in the glory of Christ Jesus our Redeemer, as children of the living God and joint heirs with Christ, to be conformed to his image; for of him, and by him, and in him we shall reign……..
Patrick of Ireland

To live content with small means
To seek elegance rather than luxury
And refinement rather than fashion
To be worthy, not respectable
And wealthy, not rich
To study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly
To listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart
To bear all cheerfully
Do all bravely
Await occasions, hurry never
In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious
Grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony.
William Ellery Channing

Grant me, Lord, the serenity of knowing that I do your will
and contentment with my lot.
Grant me the courage to change what I can change,
the grace to accept what I cannot change
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Adapted from Reinhold Niebuhr

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23rd March

Laughter

Being cheerful keeps you healthy. It is slow death to be gloomy all the time. Proverbs 17: 22

A frail old desert Christian had reached about ninety years of age, and he acutely felt the devils tempting him to fall into despair. So he used the weapon of humour to get rid of them. ‘What will you do, old man, for you might live like this for another fifty years?’ the tempters asked him one day. In reply he said to them ‘You have distressed me greatly, for I had been prepared to live for two hundred years!’ That did it. With great cries the devils left him.

At all hours Cuthbert was happy and joyful, neither wearing a sad expression at the memory of a sin nor being elated by the loud acclaim of those who were impressed by his way of life.
Life of Cuthbert by an anonymous monk of Lindisfarne

Caedmon, who lived at Whitby monastery, moved into the house for those who were dying. He and his nurse talked and joked in good spirits with each of the other occupants in turn until after midnight. Caedmon asked if they had the Sacrament in the house. ‘Why do you need Holy Communion now?’ they asked. ‘You are not due to die yet for you talk with us as cheerfully as if you were in good health’. He died with a smile on his face.
Bede

A well-known writer once pointed out that God must have a sense of humour, otherwise why did God make the duck with such a funny looking bill?

It is the heart that is not yet sure of God that is afraid to laugh in God’s presence.
George Macdonald

Teach us good Lord
to enjoy the fun of your creation
not to take ourselves too seriously
and to allow the sense of humour
which is your gift to us
to bubble over as it should.

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22nd March

Rest

It is all too plain that it was refusal to trust God that prevented these people from entering into God’s Rest. Hebrews 3: 19

Those who followed the rule of Columba would keep the Jewish sabbath and rest from work on Saturday as well as on Sunday. The emphasis of Sunday would be renewal and resurrection

The hours of rest and recreation are as valuable as the hours of prayer and work. The Lord Jesus reminds us that ‘the Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath’ (Mark 2.27). In the Scriptures, even the land was given a sabbath in the seventh year (Leviticus 15. 3-5). The need for rest was built into creation (Genesis 2. 1-3). A provision for this kind of rest, which is both holy and creative, should be part of each member’s personal Way of Life.
The Way of Life of the Community of Aidan and Hilda

Use the Rest.
Notice in a billiards room

We who have lost our sense and our senses – our touch, our smell, our vision of who we are; we who frantically force and press all things, without rest for body or spirit, hurting our earth and injuring ourselves: we call a halt.

We want to rest. We need to rest and allow the earth to rest. We need to reflect and to rediscover the mystery that lives in us, that is the ground of every unique expression of life, the source of the fascination that calls all things to communion.

We declare a sabbath, a space of quiet: for simply being and letting be; for recovering the great, forgotten truths; for learning how to live again.
U.N. Environmental Sabbath Programme

God is the one quiet unhurried Worker in the universe. He has eternity in which to do things.
J. Paterson Smyth

I cast off the works that spring from a restless spirit.
I rest in you, my Maker and Redeemer.
Help me to order my life according to your rhythms.

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21st March

Balance

Keep your head in all situations, endure hardship … discharge all the duties of your ministry. 2 Timothy 4: 5

Today is the autumnal equinox, when the hours of light and dark are in equal balance. This is a good day to take stock of our lives in order to make sure that we have a God-given balance, and a deportment that reflects this.

This may seem a forlorn task, until we realise that Christ who is the perfect specimen of a balanced human being, can calm our agitated or overworked parts, heal our sick parts, and strengthen our weak parts.

Gildas, who has been nicknamed the Jeremiah of the early British church, because he was so critical of its lax members, believed in fasting and prayer; yet he was equally aware of the danger of going overboard, and losing balance:

There is no point in abstaining from bodily food if you do not have love in your heart. Those who do not fast much but who take great care to keep their heart pure (on which, as they know, their life ultimately depends) are better off than those who are vegetarian, or travel in carriages, and think they are therefore superior to everyone else. To these people death has entered through the window of their pride.
Gildas

Grant me the serenity
that comes from placing the different parts of my being
under your harmonising sway.
Today may I grow in balance

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20th March

Purity

Blest are the pure in heart; for they shall see God. Matthew 5: 5

It is not only that these (Celtic) scribes and anchorites lived by the destiny of their dedication in an environment of wood and sea; it was because they brought into that environment an eye washed miraculously clear by continuous spiritual exercise that they, the first in Europe, had that strange vision of natural things in an almost unnatural purity.
Robin Flower in Irish Tradition

As the eye is a sense faculty of the body, so is the healthy imagination a sense organ of the spiritual mind. It can receive spiritual truths from the material world But purity of heart is required for such a healthy functioning of the imagination. Without this purity, the ever active mind and imagination construct disjointed thoughts and representations that bear little resemblance to reality. Such images debase rather than dignify.
Brother Aidan, an Orthodox monk and iconographer

Alas that no stream reaching every part flows over my breast to be a cleansing tonight for my heart and body.
Early Irish Lyrics

Mary beloved! Mother of the White Lamb
pure virgin of nobleness.
Carmina Gadelica

My strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure.
Alfred Lord Tennyson

Make and keep me pure within.
Charles Wesley

From the unreal, lead me to the real
from the impure lead me to the pure
From darkness, lead me to light
And from what passes away
lead me to what is eternal.

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19th March

Bitter Into Sweet

After Moses had led the escaping people across the sea they journeyed three days through the desert without finding water. When they did come to water at Marah it was too bitter to drink (that is why it was named Marah, which means ‘bitter’). When the people complained Moses pleaded with the Lord, who directed him to a piece of wood. Moses threw this in the water, and the water became sweet. Exodus 15: 22 – 26

For the one who has left behind the pleasures of Egypt which he served before crossing the sea, life removed from these pleasures seems at first difficult and disagreeable. But if the wood be thrown into the water, that is, if one receives the mystery of the resurrection which had its beginning with the wood (you of course understand ‘the cross’ when you hear ‘wood’) then the virtuous life, being sweetened by the hope of things to come, becomes sweeter and more pleasant than all the sweetness that tickles the senses with pleasure.
Gregory of Nyssa in The Life of Moses Book 2

In the grounds of the monastery at Durrow there was a tree that provided local people with a prolific supply of apples; however, these tasted so bitter that the people complained. One autumn day, Columba went up to it, and seeing it laden with fruit that was going to give more displeasure than pleasure to the people, he raised his hand and spoke to the tree: ‘In the name of almighty God, bitter tree, may all your bitterness depart from you, and from now on may your apples be really sweet’. Columba’s biographer commented: ‘Wonderful to tell, more swiftly than words all the apples on that tree lost their bitterness and became wonderfully sweet’.

Sweet Jesus, I lay before you now
things that are needlessly bitter –
relationships, circumstances.
May your sweetness turn
food into pleasure
tragedy into triumph
and ugliness into beauty.

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18th March

Washing Feet

Jesus got up from the meal, took off his top garments, and wrapped a towel around his waist. He poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him … John 13: 4, 5

One of the desert fathers used to say: There are three things we honour – the fellowship of holy communion, the hospitality of meals, and the washing of one another’s feet.

The example of Jesus in washing others’ feet was not only followed in hot and dusty lands, for this practice was followed in Celtic lands too.

It was said that when Cuthbert was put in charge of guests at Ripon monastery, God sent him a visitor to test how Christ-like was Cuthbert’s guest care. One day he found a youth waiting in the guest room and gave him his usual kindly welcome. He fetched water so his guest could wash his hands; then Cuthbert washed his feet himself, tenderly dried them, and held them against his chest while he gave them a warm massage.

The reason people wondered whether this youth had been an angel in disguise is that, just before a warm evening meal was brought to him, he vanished into thin air. There was snow outside, but not a footprint could be seen.

In a society which has heated bathrooms washing feet may be an artificial way to reflect Jesus’ example, but there are other ways to do this. Can you think of any? Remember, the next person you meet may be a test case!

Lord, take my hands.
May your compassion always flow though them.
May they offer tender touch
to people who are deprived of touch or tenderness.
May they offer human warmth
to people who are cold or dispirited.
May they offer practical care
to people who are weary and overworked.

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