10th July

Endless Adventure

God makes me strong … sure-footed as a deer … keeps me safe on the mountains … trains me for battle. Psalm 18:32-34

The endless adventure of the Desert Christians was described like this:

Not that they beggared be in mind, or brutes,
That they have chosen a dwelling place afar
In lonely places: but their eyes are turned
To the high stars, the very deep of Truth.
Freedom they seek, an emptiness apart
From worthless hopes: din of the market place
And all the noisy crowding up of things,
And whatever wars on the Divine,
At Christ’s command, and for his love, they hate.
By faith and hope they follow after God,
And know their quest shall not be desperate,
If but the Present conquer not their souls
With hollow things: that which they see they spurn,
That they may come at what they don’t see,
Their senses kindled like a torch that may
Blaze through the secrets of eternity.
Paulinus of Nola

Life is meant to be an adventure; change is a gift that we have to learn to use aright. In Celtic folk tales a curse that could happen to a person was to enter a field and not to be able to get back out of it. To be stuck in that place for ever. It was seen as a definite curse to be unable to venture or change … The open gate is the opposite to this. It is the invitation to venture and to grow, the call to be among the living and vital elements in the world. The open gate is the call to explore new areas of yourself and the world around you.
David Adam The Open Gate

True religion is betting your life that there is a God
Donald Hankey

You who are heroic Love
Have built adventure
Into each day and into every life.
Help me to explore, to overcome, and to step out
Towards this day’s horizons
In the spirit of Christ the Endless Adventurer

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9th July

Be Vulnerable

Foxes have holes; birds have nests, but the Child of Humanity has nowhere to lay his head. Luke 9:58

A young housewife cried. She felt so weak, needy, small. But then she thought of her baby. He was all those things, too. He was so dependent upon others, so vulnerable – yet that was precisely why she loved him so much!

When people are hard, prickly, proud, defensive, no feeling can flow. They cannot reach out and touch. Whereas when people are vulnerable it draws out our love for them. Is this why God made us with a capacity to be hurt, so that we can love and be loved more deeply? God needs us and wants us to be lovable. By being vulnerable we are being considerate to God, we are being human.

Celtic Christians were vulnerable. They had no riches stored up, no protected stone mansions – they were vulnerable to the elements, to predators, to visitors. And how they were loved – loved by the people and loved much by God. We know this because people saw special guards of honour sent from heaven to welcome them when they died. How lovely to be vulnerable!

Yet it is all too easy to adopt an ‘I’m all right Jack’ attitude. How can we overcome this? This is how members of the Northumbria Community try to do it:

We are called to intentional, deliberate VULNERABILITY.
We embrace the vulnerability of being teachable
expressed in a discipline of prayer
in exposure to Scripture
in a willingness to be accountable to others
in ordering our ways and our heart in order to effect change …
by making relationships the priority and not reputation …
living openly amongst unbelievers and other believers in a way that the life of God in ours can be seen, challenged or questioned.
The Rule of Life of the Northumbria Community

Take from me, O Lord:
Pride and prejudice
Hardness and hypocrisy
Selfishness and self-sufficiency
That I may be vulnerable, like you.

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8th July

Good And Faithful Servant

‘Well done, you good and faithful servant’, said his master … ‘Come on in and share my happiness.’ Matthew 25:21

In Wales Mungo was known by his formal name, Kentigern. He developed teamwork with a number of Wales’s vibrant Christian leaders, one of whom was Asaph. These two established the large Christian community at Llanelwy.

Six hundred years later Joceline of Furness wrote the story of its founding:
‘Kentigern had set his heart on building a monastery to which the scattered sons of God might come together like bees from East and West, from North and South’. Young men, scattered throughout a hostile countryside, heard by bush telegraph the news of the founding of the monastery. Many slipped quietly away from home to wend their way through the forests. Like the early Christians they were an underground movement. But they came by the hundreds, every sort of Briton, farm labourers and men of noble rank.

Joceline continued: ‘After prayer they manfully set to work. Some cleared and levelled land, others built foundations, carried timber, erected with skill a church of planed woodwork after British fashion, enclosing it all in a llan or rampart and named it Llanelwy’. Nine hundred and sixty five people moved in. One third laboured on the land. One third looked after the buildings, cooking and workshops. One third were responsible for worship, teaching, and scribing.

In 573 the pagans in the north suffered a mighty defeat, and the Christian Rhyderch received back his throne, though the Christian religion had been virtually wiped out. He asked his friend Mungo to lead a mission to his kingdom. Mungo spent eight years leading a mission from a half-way base at Hoddam, and then moved back to Glasgow.

He was to have heart to heart meetings with Columba from Iona, and with Bishop Gregory in Rome. These men perhaps discussed a common plan for the conversion of the English people. Mungo’s dying words were: ‘My children, love one another, … be hospitable … keep the laws of the church … she is the Mother of us all.’

Help me to be faithful in things both great or small
In setback or success
Faithful to the church, faithful to my call.

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7th July

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Use every opportunity you have, because these are evil days. Ephesians 5:16

We should never delude ourselves that the Christian way is all roses. There is much that is bad and ugly in the world, and there is no guarantee that Christians will not become victims of it. We can, however, learn to discover God in the ugliest of situations, and to use evil days as an opportunity for good.

Not long after Mungo’s consecration as a bishop an ugly crowd, headed by Morcant, arrived. ‘Your royal friend Rhydderch,’ he crowed, ‘has sailed away into exile, and now I am king of Strathclyde.’ Riding with him was a young man, a distant relative of Mungo, who was decidedly unfriendly. He lashed out with his stirruped foot and kicked Mungo in the chest, knocking him down. ‘You bastard bishop.’ he shouted as he rode away.

The writing was on the wall. It seems that Mungo set out to join David in Wales, so that a new mission might move north from a sound base in the south. But in order to get to Wales, he had to go on a difficult journey.

As Mungo and his companions trudged through the dales they found, not only a different, craggy landscape, but a hostile population. They reached the headquarters of the Christian Prince Urien, who conducted his government in exile near Penrith. The Prince was the most statesmanlike of the Christian leaders of that generation. They discussed the sad situation of the region. Perhaps Mungo had intended to pass quickly through on his way to Wales, but when he realised the swift growth of pagan influence in the mountain areas he turned aside, and with God helping him, won many from strange beliefs. As he journeyed from well to well, crowds gathered. Some jeered, but others were healed and some accepted Christ. The Christian Faith revived. At Crosthwaite, in 533, a crowd worshipped God as a large cross was erected opposite a pagan stronghold.

So once again we see that, in an ugly situation, God can bring good out of the bad.

Lord,
Help me to face the things
That are ugly in our situation today.
Show me how you want to bring good out of the bad.

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6th July

How Can I Blaspheme My King Who Saved Me?

They kept on stoning Stephen as he called out to the Lord ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’. Acts 7:59

Celtic Christians had heard of the beautiful martyr’s death of Polycarp, the disciple of the apostle John, who became a bishop in the east of the Roman Empire. Polycarp was led before the proconsul who urged him to change his mind saying ‘Have respect for your age. Swear by the genius of Caesar and say “Away with the atheists”.’ The proconsul thought of atheists as people who would not worship the Roman gods, including the Emperor. Then Polycarp looked sternly at the noisy mob in the stadium, and waving his hand at them said ‘Away with the atheists’. But the proconsul went on ‘Swear, and then I will release you; curse the Christ.’ Polycarp said ‘Eighty six years have I served him and he has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my king who saved me?’

Now it was the turn of Mungo’s generation to face persecution. Mungo had developed a close friendship with King Rhyderch of Strathclyde, but in the 540s Morcant, a pagan ruler, raided the farms of Christians in Rhyderch’s territory; then pagans threw out the Christian ruler and church leaders in the Carlisle area, and one disaster followed another. A violent mob swept through the town of Falkirk, and its Bishop, Nevydd, who may have ordained Mungo, died a martyr’s death, his place of worship being burnt over him. Mungo, deeply grieved, soon also suffered the death of his dear mother. Then he learned that the priceless library at Whithorn had gone up in flames, and the members of its Christian community had fled to Gaul. Worse, there was now no Christian bishop in the entire north, and no one to ordain new priests.

Rhyderch conferred with Mungo, and they agreed to ask an Irish bishop to come over and consecrate a bishop of the north. Then Rhyderch insisted that, although the minimum age for becoming a bishop was thirty, the twenty five year old Mungo was the man to be consecrated. This was not Mungo’s idea, but how could he, in this crisis, deny his King who saved him? ‘Be to the flock of Christ a shepherd. Hold up the weak, bind up the broken, bring again the outcast, seek the lost.’ was the charge to Mungo. With all his soul Mungo answered, ‘I will, with the help of God.’

Lord, do not lead me into a time of such trial
But in whatever trials I have to face
Help me to remain true to you,
My King who saves me.

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5th July

How Can I Know The Will Of God?

The God of our forbears has chosen you that you should know God’s will. Acts 22:14

So often we miss God’s will for us because we spend our lives like actors, acting out a script that others have written for us. This may consist of the expectations that parents or peers have put upon us, or perhaps, because of our insecurity, we ourselves are trying to copy others. We need to learn to follow, not our conditioning or our compulsions, but what our soul desires according to God.

Someone asked Abba Nisteros, a friend of Antony, ‘What good work shall I do?’ He replied ‘Not all works are alike. For Scripture says that Abraham was hospitable and God was with him. Elijah loved solitary prayer and God was with him. And David was humble before God and God was with him. Therefore, whatever you see your soul desire according to God, do that thing and you shall keep your heart safe.’

Sometimes God uses circumstances to draw out our true calling. Mungo grew to manhood and was ordained a priest in his home area. No doubt he had dreams of being called to some glorious, sacrificial task. Instead, he was called to visit an ailing old priest, Fergus, who lived seven miles upstream. He was shocked to find how the old man was failing; he stayed with him, cooked supper, and listened to the old man’s memories of his home on the river Clyde, where the great missionary Ninian had established a church. About midnight Fergus had a fatal seizure, and died in Mungo’s arms. His last words were ‘Promise you will bury me at the old church hallowed by Ninian.’

So Mungo, with the oxen pulling Fergus’ body, went a day’s journey to the little church by the Clyde. Neighbours gathered. They looked forlorn; they had not seen a priest for several years. Next day, at the funeral, as Mungo looked at these sad faces, and as he looked at the large Druid centre four miles away which threatened to replace the faith to which they had held, he knew that he could not return, as he had planned. For God’s plan was that he build up a community of faith here. Soon his mother joined him. She called the community ‘Eglais Cu’ (the loved church) meaning the people as a family. Today it is pronounced Glasgow.

Lord, we propose, but you dispose.
Teach me that your plan unfolds
As I follow the desire you put in my soul,
As I follow the way of unselfish service
And as I let one thing lead to another.

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4th July

More Sayings From The Desert

An honest answer is a sign of true friendship. Proverbs 24:26

If you have a chest full of clothing, and leave it for a long time, the clothing will rot inside it. It is the same with thoughts in our heart. If we do not carry them out by physical action, after a long while they will spoil and turn bad.
Abba Pastor

When someone wants to return evil for evil, they are able to hurt their neighbour’s conscience even by a single nod.
Abba Isaiah

As wax is melted before a fire, so is the soul enfeebled by praise, and loses the toughness of its virtues.
Amma Syncletica

Unless a person says in their heart, ‘I alone and God are in this world’ they shall not find quiet.
Abba Allois

Abba Arsenius was taking counsel with an old Egyptian man. Someone said to him  ‘Abba Arsenius, how is it that you, such a great scholar of Latin and Greek, should take counsel from this countryman?’ Arsenius answered, ‘It is true I have acquired the learning of the Greeks and the Latins, as this world goes; but the alphabet of this countryman I have not yet been able to learn.’

We do not go in to the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them.
Thomas Merton

Our prayers today are for the Aidan and Hilda Community of USA.

Infinite One of the wise heart
Saving One of the clear sight
Knowing One of the hidden deeps
May I learn from you as an eager pupil
May I learn from life as a humble child
May I learn from night, may I learn from day
May I learn from soul friends, may I learn from the stillness.

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3rd July

Sayings of Antony

In your sight my lifetime seems nothing… I am only your guest for a little while. Psalm 39:5,12

Once Antony was conversing with some brothers when a hunter came upon them. He saw Antony and the brothers enjoying themselves and disapproved. So Antony said to him ‘Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.’ The hunter did this. ‘Now shoot another’ said Antony, ‘and another, and another.’ Then the hunter said: ‘If I bend my bow all the time it will break.’ Abba Antony replied: ‘It is like that in the work of God. If we push ourselves beyond measure, the brothers will soon collapse. It is right therefore, from time to time, to relax.’

Someone once asked Antony ‘What shall I do?’ Antony replied ‘Do not presume your own righteousness; do not grieve over something that is past; control your tongue and your belly.’

Here are two other sayings of Antony:

The spaces of our human life set over against eternity are most brief and poor.

The time is coming when people will be insane, and when they see someone who is not insane, they will attack that person, saying ‘You are insane, because you are not like us.’

Finally, we recall the occasion when someone asked Antony ‘What shall I keep in order that I may please God?’ Antony advised this person to keep these three things: ‘Always keep God before your eyes; always keep the example of the holy Scriptures; and wherever you stay, keep yourself there long enough not to move on in a rush.’

Keeper of eternity
Help me keep you ever before me.
Help me to keep the example of your saints ever before me.
Help me keep sufficient sense of proportion to relax when needed,
To savour the blessings of hospitality
With ever grateful poise.

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2nd July

The Pleasure Of Unity

How wonderful it is, how pleasing, for God’s people to live together in unity. Psalm 133:1.

Barinthus, grandson of Ireland’s famed King Niall, loved to share his experience of how unity between a father and son can be restored. His son Mernoc rebelled and ran away from home. Mernoc back-packed until he found an island on which some monks had settled. Here he put things right with God, with himself, and with his fellows. In his heart he even forgave and grew to love his father. This released in him prophetic and healing gifts which God greatly used.

Barinthus heard about this, and set out to visit his son. Although there was no physical communication between them, God’s Spirit revealed to Mernoc in his prayers that his father was on his way to visit him. Mernoc did not just sit back, he took a step for unity. While his father was still three days’ journey away, Mernoc set out to meet him. They warmly embraced and Mernoc introduced his father to his island friends, the monks.

The monks lived separate lives in cells that were some distance from each other; from Night Prayer until dawn they neither saw nor spoke to one another. Yet, as Barinthus was later to recount to Brendan, he was greatly struck by their togetherness. ‘The brothers came to greet us out of their cells like a swarm of bees,’ he recounted. ‘Though their dwellings were divided from one another, there was no division in their conversation, their counsel or their affection.’ Barinthus and Mernoc left for a fortnight’s boating trip together, and it was clear to all that what was true of the monks was now true of them. Father and son were one – and it gave such pleasure.

Dear Father
What pleasure it gives you when we reflect in our relationships
The love you and Jesus and the Spirit have for one another and for us.
I know that I am as near to you, Father,
As I am to the person from whom I am most divided.
I pray for those persons I am furthest from.
In my heart I reach out to them.
And you are pleased
And I am pleased.

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1st July

One Choir

I pray that they all may be one, father! May they be in us, just as you are in me and I am in you. John 17:21

For all we Irish, inhabitants of the world’s edge, are disciples of Saints Peter and Paul and of all the disciples who wrote the sacred canon (of the New Testament) by the Holy Spirit. We accept nothing outside the evangelical and apostolic teaching. None of us was a heretic … no one a schismatic; but the Catholic Faith, as it was first transmitted by you, successors of the holy apostles, is maintained unbroken … For among us it is not who you are but how you make your case that counts. Love for the peace of the Gospel forces me to tell all in order to shame both of you who ought to have been one choir. Another reason is my great concern for your harmony and peace. ‘For if one member suffers all the members suffer with it’ …

Therefore, my dearest friends, come to an agreement quickly … I can’t understand how a Christian can quarrel with a Christian about the Faith. Whatever an Orthodox Christian who rightly glorifies the Lord will say, the other will answer Amen, because he also loves and believes alike. ‘Let you all therefore say and think the one thing’ so that both sides ‘may be one’ – all Christians.

Jesus has gathered us, is gathering us, and will gather us out of all regions, till he should make resurrection of our hearts from the earth, and teach us that we are all of one substance, and members of one another.
Columbanus’ letter to Pope Boniface 1V in 613, at a time when there were two power-hungry rivals for the ‘Chair of Peter’.

Thrice Holy God, eternal Three-in-One
Make your people holy, make your people one.
Stir up in us the flame that burns out pride and power
Restore in us the love that brings the servant heart to flower.
Thrice holy God, come as the morning dew;
Inflame in us your love
Which draws all lesser loves to you.

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