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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17th March

Lust

Live by the Spirit and you will not give in to the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature and the Spirit are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery … Galations 5: 16, 17

Most of us have times when a wave of sexual desire threatens to overwhelm us. Everything else in our life, however fruitful and of God it may be, seems as nothing compared with this. And we justify the idea of indulging our lust on the grounds that we will never have lived if we do not experience what we desire. This is a delusion, and the experience is always that of let-down, barriers, disappointment, guilt.

Is there anything we can do to avoid such a defeat? Celtic Christians offer us one drastic remedy: They stood in a cold bath or river in order to cool their passions!  And from the Desert Christians comes this intriguing example of a remedy:

A young disciple was so constantly tempted that he eventually announced to his soul friend: ’I cannot go on unless I actually commit the deed’. The wise old abba replied: ‘I want to do it too, so let me come with you to the prostitute’s house and then we’ll return together to our cell’. The abba took the money with which to pay the prostitute. When they got to her house, he asked that he should have the first session, while the younger man stayed outside. He won the trust of the prostitute, explained that his friend was at heart a holy monk, and that what he needed was not a one night stand, but for his fantasy to dissolve. She agreed to co-operate.

When the young man came in for sexual intercourse she told him: ‘I,too have a Rule. It requires my clients to make repeated obscene oaths with me before we lie together’. The young man started to do this, but became so sickened by all the filth, that he realised he wanted to live a life of prayer more than anything else, and left the room. The two men returned, chaste in body and heart, to continue their desert calling.

Lord, when waves of lust roll over me,
Remind me that my true destiny lies
In being clean in body and mind.
Cool me, calm me, and protect me I pray.

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16th March

Where God Guides – God Provides

Jesus said: “If you believe you will be able to say to this hill, ‘Get up and throw yourself in the sea’, and it will. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask in prayer”. Matthew 21: 21,22

Do you sometimes feel that something is unsatisfactory about the path you are on, but since everyone assumes there is nothing anyone can do about it, faith is pigeon-holed and you ‘make the best of a bad job’ with a resigned spirit? The following story of a little known Irish saint reminds us that there is nothing about which we cannot pray.

A wandering Irish monk named Molaise was on a difficult mission journey in a remote part of Ireland. It was easy to get lost and it was dangerous. Then he met a group of monks who had a rare possession – a good map. Molaise would have given his right arm to make a copy of this, but no one had the necessary instruments with them with which to do this. It would have been easy for Molaise to have shrugged his shoulders and continued his unsatisfactory journey, but he decided to go aside and make this a matter of prayer. Before long a loose feather from a goose that was flying overhead fluttered down. Molaise caught it and was able to use his new quill as a pen with which to copy the valuable map!

May the hills lie low
May the sloughs fill up
in your way.
May all evil sleep
May all good awake
In your way
Collected by Kenneth Macleod

Dear Jesus, you guide your straying sheep along lush and fragrant valleys, where the grass is rich and deep.
You guard them from the attacks of wolves, and from the bites of snakes.
You heal their diseases, and teach them always to walk in the ways of God.
When we stray, lead us back; when temptation besets us, give us strength; when our souls are sick, pour upon us your love.
Ancient Celtic song

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15th March

Christ Hands

There are different ways of serving, but the same Lord is served … All of you are Christ’s body, and each one is a part of it. Romans 12: 5, 27

Ultari, a friend of Brigid, is said to have fed with his own hands every child in Erin who had no support, and he provided particular care for the children whose mothers had died of the plague.

King Oswald used to pray with his hands open, easier to receive good things from God. He would then raise his hands to bless people with good things, and his prayers were put into practice.

For evil to triumph it is only necessary for good people to do nothing.
Edmund Burke

Christ has no body on earth but yours
No hands but yours
No feet but yours
Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out for the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now
Teresa of Avila

Forgive us for the good we ought to have done which we have left undone
And for the things we have left undone which we ought to have done
Book of Common Prayer (adapted)

With these hands I bless the lonely,the forgotten
and the lost;
With these hands I shield your messengers
from attacks within, without;
With these hands I dispel darkness and rebuke
the evil forces;
With these hands I pray your victory for those who fight for right.

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14th March

Pouring Oil On Troubled Waters

The wind died down and there was a great calm. Mark 4: 39

We know nothing of Aidan’s childhood, but we may assume that his faith was built up with stories of fellow Irish people who had wrought great things by prayer. One of these was Mac Nissi of Connor, who passed into heaven on 3 September about 510. As a result of his intercessions a woman who had been infertile for fifteen years was able to give birth to a child. Aidan certainly learned to have faith for all sorts of situations.

A delegation from Lindisfarne had to travel far south by boat, and bring back Princess Eanflaed who was to become Queen to Northumbria’s King. Its leader, Utta, begged Aidan to pray for their safe keeping during this hazardous and significant journey. As he was praying for them God revealed things to Aidan. He gave them a jar of blessed oil to take with them, and told them that they would encounter storms, but that the winds would drop as soon as they poured the oil on the troubled waters.

The crew forgot about this. A storm did blow up, so fierce that the boat began to sink and they thought they would perish. Only then did someone remember Aidan’s words and the oil. They poured the oil over the surrounding waves, and the wind immediately receded.

This is an example of prophetic prayer, whereby a person foresees trouble for others, and is guided by God to give them direction. It is also the origin of the well-known phrase ‘pouring oil on troubled waters’. Why not pray for people you know who seem about to be engulfed in a sea of troubles? You never know, God may give you a word to pass on to them that proves to be as calming as Aidan’s oil.

Protecting Father, stalwart Steersman, guiding Spirit
I pray for friends in a sea of troubles
I pray for households in a sea of troubles
I pray for work places in a sea of troubles
I pray for communities in a sea of troubles.
May your inspiration flow to them
and come to them like oil on troubled waters.

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