13th May

Death Song

Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so will it be for those who have died: God will bring them to life with Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 4:14

A certain brother one night, hearing that Fintan was keeping vigil in prayer, desired to know in what place he prayed. He searched for him on this side and that, until at last he came to the Christian burial ground. It was a night of darkness. This brother gazed at Fintan face to face, and witnessed an extra-ordinary light spreading far and wide. This light was so bright that his eyes were almost blinded, but God preserved him through that same grace that was upon Fintan.

Before he leaves on his fated journey
No one will be so wise that he need not
Reflect while time still remains
Whether his soul will win delight
Or darkness after his death-day.
Bede’s Death Song

Lord of the sunrise, source and ground of my being
you know me in my mother’s womb.
As my first day begins, heal me of the pain and hurt I receive.
Lord of the dawn, you see me grow strong as I learn to walk and talk, heal me of tears of separation and loss.
Lord of the high noon, you accompany me along life’s journey,
guide me in choice and strengthen me in adversity.
Lord of the dusk, as my life declines,
help me to surrender all that I have and all that I am into your hand.
Lord of the sunset, as I go to my eternal home
strengthen me on my last journey with you
that I may entrust my soul into your hands in faith and hope.
Michael Halliwell

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12th May

A Home In Heaven

For we know that if the ‘ earthly tent’ we live in is destroyed, we have a ‘building’ from God, an eternal home not made with hands. 2 Corinthians 5:1

I have not many friends of influence upon earth; they have journeyed on
from the joys of this world to find the King of Glory;
they live in heaven with the High Father, they dwell in splendour.
Now I look day by day for that time when the cross of the Lord
which once I saw in a dream here on earth
will fetch me away from this fleeting life
and lift me to the home of joy and happiness
where the people of God are seated at the feast in eternal bliss,
and set me down where I may live in glory unending
and share the joy of the saints.
May the Lord be a friend to me,
He who suffered once for the sins of all
here on earth on the gallows tree.
He has redeemed us; He has given life to us and a home in heaven.
From The Dream of the Rood Trans. Kevin Crossley-Holland

Saviour and Friend, how wonderful art Thou,
My companion upon the changeful way,
The comforter of its weariness,
My guide to the Eternal Town,
The welcome at its gate.
Hebridean Altars

I am going home with you, to your home, to your home;
I am going home with you, to your home of mercy.
I am going home with you, to your home, to your home;
I am going home with you, to the place of all the blessings.
Carmina Gadelica, adapted

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11th May

Soul Friends At Death

Saul and Jonathan – in life they were loved and gracious, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. 2 Samuel 1: 23

Ciaran was young, handsome, and had been much used of God to establish many churches in Ireland, when he became a sudden victim of plague. Knowing that he was soon to die, Ciaran asked to be carried to a small mound where he looked at the vast open sky. His monks then carried him to the little church where he blessed them; he then asked that he should be shut in and left there alone until his soul friend, Kevin, arrived from Glendalough.

Ciaran, however, died before Kevin arrived, though the brothers kept his corpse in the church until Kevin arrived.

As soon as Kevin entered the church Ciaran’s spirit re-entered his body, so that he could have fellowship with Kevin.

After a day together Ciaran blessed Kevin, and Kevin blessed water and gave Holy Communion to Ciaran. Ciaran gave his bell to Kevin as a sign of their lasting unity, and then he finally went to heaven.

When the soul separates
From the perverse body
And goes in bursts of light
Up from out its human frame
O holy God of eternity
Come to seek me and to find me.
May God and Jesus aid me
May God and Jesus protect me
May God and Jesus eternally
Seek and find me.
Carmina Gadelica

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10th May

A Door In Paradise

Jesus said to the robber: This day you will be with me in paradise. Luke 23:43

How often have we known Christians pray mutually exclusive things for a person who is near death? This happened with Columba.

Columba prayed that the Lord would release him into heaven on the thirtieth anniversary of his ministry in Britain. On that day he saw two shining beings approach, on route to escort him to heaven and his face was wreathed in smiles. Two monks then observed Columba’s expression suddenly darken. They drew out of him the reason: although these angels had come in answer to his prayers, Christians in other places had been praying too – that God would spare Columba more years yet. Columba told the monks that, though he was disappointed, God would grant him four more years in answer to the prayers of the churches. The result was that Columba saw these angels withdraw beyond Iona.

Four years later, Columba knew the time of his departure had surely now come, and carefully prepared his farewells. He went round the island on a cart blessing the people and crops. He issued this statement from the store barn: ‘I heartily congratulate the monks of my community because although I have to depart from you, you have enough bread for the year.’

He sat on a seat as he returned to the monastery. His pack horse, sensing he was to leave earth, laid its head on Columba’s lap and began to weep like a human being. Columba told an attendant who wanted to shoo it away: ‘No. My fellow humans would have known nothing about my dying if I had not revealed this to them, yet God has clearly revealed to this dumb animal that its master is about to depart’.

Later, in a final spurt of energy Columba ran into the church. His attendant lifted his arm and Columba left this world blessing his brothers with the sign of the cross.

Almighty God, Father, Son, and `Holy Spirit,
to me the least of saints, to me allow that I may keep a door in Paradise. That I may keep even the small door that is least used, the stiffest door. If it be in your house, O God, that I can see the glory even afar,
and hear your voice, and know that I am with you, O God.

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9th May


Build houses and settle down. Jeremiah 29: 5

This is the time of year when the cold and the dark seem set to take over, a time when our instinct is to withdraw. It is the Celtic season of Samhain, when those cattle which had to be brought down from the hills, and which could not be accommodated, were slaughtered. The bonfires which we associate with this season get their name from the ‘bone fires’, in which the inedible parts of the carcasses were destroyed. The fires are also associated with the idea of clearing the decks for winter; the leaves and the excess things of summer are swept up and burned.. Something in the human psyche, too, needs to clear the decks, and to accept a reduction in the number of choices that are available to us, and to settle down.

Our ego resists the idea of accepting limits. Some people get depression at this time of year. Others flout what God is saying through nature by indulging in a reckless life-style throughout the winter. Yet think of the animals who hibernate. Think of the wonders of spring flowers – they would not be able to burst forth if they had not first lain still in the wintry earth.

So how should a Christian respond to this time of year? In two ways. First, by fighting against the darkness of fear, despair, self-concern and evil spirits. We expel these in the name of Christ and receive his strength, faith, and self-less love. Second, by not fighting against the God-given rhythm of the season, but by going with its flow. November’s grey days, dark nights, cold rains, thick fog help me to accept that I am mortal. This means that I will take more time to be inside, alone, still with God; I will take more time for study and the inner life. I will spend less time dashing around, purchasing, starting schemes.

Father, Saviour, Sustainer
As this cold, dark month encroaches
Give to us the stability of the deep earth
And the hope of heaven

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8th May

Praise In Icy Conditions

Lord, you raised me up from the gates of death so that I may recount your praises before your people. and tell of your deliverance. Psalm 9: 13,14.

The radical new lifestyle that Drithelm adopted after his near death experience had twin peaks.

The first peak was voluntary poverty. Following a day of prayerafter his recovery he divided his estate into three. The first third he gave to his wife, the second third to his children, and the last third to himself. That third he promptly distributed to people in the neighbourhood who were in greatest need. Is that a model worth considering when we make our wills?

The second peak was the singing of God’s praises in and out of season. His hut was on the edge of the monastery grounds, by the river Tweed. He frequently, as a penance, stood in the water, sometimes up to his waist and at other times up to his neck, reciting scriptures or singing psalms for as long as he could endure it. He did this even in winter, standing in the river with bits of ice floating about him! Bystanders would say ‘Its wonderful that you can stand such cold’ and Drithelm would reply: ‘I have seen it colder.’ And when they asked ‘How can you endure such austerity?’ Drithelm dryly replied ‘I have seen more austerity’.

This man of Melrose became a talking point in the region, and many people were influenced for God by his example.

November is a ‘no’ month. It is easy to allow ourselves to be pulled down.
So I decided to make it a ‘yes’ month. Each day I make sure there is something for which I can say ‘yes’ to God.
Margaret Burns of Northumberland

Champion, save me from being a fair-weather Christian.
When I get cold feet
remind me of the example of people such as Drithelm.
May the praises of God be in my mouth
whatever I feel like
today and every day.

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7th May

Life After Death

I know a man who was snatched up to Paradise (I do not know whether this actually happened or whether it was a vision), and there he heard things that cannot be put into words…. I will boast about this man. 2 Corinthians 12: 2,3,5.

In 696, Drithelm died one evening in Northumbria, but came back to life early in the morning, causing panic amongst his grieving family. He gave away his estate and joined a monastery at Melrose. When people asked him what had caused him to make such a dramatic change of lifestyle this is what he told them: ‘A shining figure led me north east to a valley. On one side there was a gale, and on the other a great fire. Both sides were full of souls which seemed to be tossed from one side to the other. The wretches could never find rest. I began to believe this must be hell. But my guide told me it was not that. He took me slowly to the farther end of the valley, which was gradually filled with thick darkness.

Huge black flames suddenly arose and subsided into a a pit. Each time this happened I noticed that the flames were filled with human souls, and there was a revolting stench. Then a gang of spirits dragged these howling souls laughingly first into the darkness, and then into the burning pit. Some of them threatened to drag me there, too. In my extremity a bright star drew near behind me, which caused these spirits to run away. The bright star turned out to be my heavenly guide, who brought me back into the light. However, in front of us was a seemingly infinite wall. I wondered why we approached it, since there was no way through, but somehow, we found ourselves inside it, in a large and fragrant garden. Here were innumerable souls in white, all rejoicing. I wondered if this was the kingdom of heaven, but my guide said that it was not.

We passed on towards a place of exquisite scents and singing and brightness. I was eager to enter, but just then my guide led me back the way we had come. The guide explained that we had been to the place of trial and discipline. Though their purging was terrible, they were to repent before their final death and heaven was to be opened to them. Many people are spared their torment through the prayers of God’s people. The delightful place is where souls who have led lives full of good works go; though they are not yet ready to see Christ face to face. At the day of judgement they shall all see Christ. As for you who are about to go back to the earth, if you live a life that is simple and right with God, you will be able to join those joyful troops of the Lord.’

Lord, have mercy upon me

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6th May

All Souls Are Loved

They are yours, O Lord, you lover of souls. Wisdom 2:26

God has put within us a need to recollect, from time to time, those people who, though now dead, have loved or influenced us: to remember them, to savour them, to talk to God about them, and perhaps to complete a grieving process. Today, why not remember these in a few moments of silence, thank God for them, and keep them in mind throughout the day?

What a comfort it is if we know that these dear ones died united to Christ. But what of those who gave no sure sign of this, whose faith at the moment of death was known to God alone? Celtic Christians believed, as the Bible teaches, that God’s attitude towards all dead people is like the attitude an earthly mother takes to all her children – she longs to draw them close to her. This still leaves the decision whether to reject or respond to that love to the person concerned, but it means that when we think about the dead in our prayers we picture God wooing them.

Hail, sister! May you live in God.
On a 4th. century tombstone at York.

Since it was you, O Christ, who bought this soul –
At the time it gave up its life
At the time of pouring sweat
At the time of returning to clay
At the time of the shedding of blood
At the time of severing the breath
At the time you delivered judgement –
May your peace be on your ingathering of souls
Jesus Christ, Son of gentle Mary
Your peace be upon your own ingathering.
High king of the holy angels
Take possession of the beloved soul
And guide it home to the Three of limitless love
Yes, to the Three of limitless love.
Carmina Gadelica, adapted

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5th May

Forgive Their Iniquity

Yet he, because he is full of compassion, forgave their sin and did not destroy; many times he turned away his anger and didn’t rouse all his wrath. So he remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that blows past and does not return. How often they rebelled against him in the desert and grieved him in the wastelands! Psalm 78:38-40

Desert Abba Isaac said, “I never permit any ill feelings against a brother to enter my cell. I have also worked to make sure no brother could return to his cell with any ill feelings towards me.

Father, in a world with so much hatred and anger, allow your Holy Spirit to show me my weaknesses with lack of compassion and forgiveness to others. Illuminate the dark areas of my soul that hide any thought, feeling or emotion that harbors a lack of purity towards your creation. May I not grieve you, but seek to put off that which is not of You. Jesus, have mercy on me. Amen.

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4th May

The Fear Of Death

Death is swallowed up in victory. l Corinthians 15: 54.

Soon you and I will die. We do not know the day or the hour of death; God alone has such knowledge. But we can be certain that many more years have elapsed since birth than will pass between now and death. You say that you have no fear of death. I fear death because I fear having to account for my evil deeds before God. You say that you fear the process of dying. I do not fear dying because I know that God will not force me to suffer pain beyond my capacity to endure it. Elderly people like ourselves frequently make attempts to amend their behaviour, hoping that God will forgive them past sins and judge them on present goodness. God will not be swayed by that kind of calculation. It is the heart, not the mind, that needs to change: we must learn to love God more fully. And love coming from the heart makes no calculation. If a person loves God with his whole heart, he will entrust himself to God’s love, without seeking to sway God’s judgement by displays of good behaviour. If my heart could change in such a way, my fear of death would disappear.
Pelagius’ letter to an elderly friend

Alone with none but you, my God,
I journey on my way.
What need I fear, when you are near,
O King of night and day?
More safe am I within your hand
Than if a host did round me stand.
My life I yield to your command,
And bow to your control,
In peaceful calm, for from your arm
No power can snatch my soul.
Could earthly foes ever appal
A soul that heeds the heavenly call!
(Attributed to St. Columba)

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