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.
Columba

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9th May

Bonfires

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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3rd May

Freed From Fate

You are set free from the ruling spirits of the universe. Colossians 2: 20

The belief is common in some country areas that there are people who can cast an evil eye on anything they please; for example, if they cast an evil eye on you, you may miscarry a baby or have a miscarriage of justice. There are modern forms of this belief which have an almost universal and a malign influence. Many of us go through life conditioned by what someone has said about us. Perhaps a parent told us that we would never be any good at something; maybe we are into ‘channelling’ or we are always reading horoscopes. We accept an image of ourselves that is distorted by other people’s perceptions; we act out the false information that has been fed to us. We live a lie. We are not free to rise to our God-given destiny.

The Christian discovers that no one need be the prisoner of fate. The eyes of Jesus’ mother Mary were able to look upon the awful agony of her son, and share something of his sacrificial love. This spurs us to believe that we can ask Jesus to cast his eyes, with those of his mother, upon us. Their eyes of love, which want only what is true and best for us, have power to override any spell that a lesser and evil eye has cast upon us.

When Mary saw him, as she stood,
High on the cross, all torn and rent,
Rained from her eyes three showers of blood
And at its foot she made lament.

An Evil eye has me undone
Paling my face in dule and dree
I cry to Mary and her Son
Take the ill eye away from me.
From the Religious Songs of Connacht collected by Douglas Hyde

Lord, I want to name those of my reflex actions
that spring from what others have put upon me
through their looks or their words.
I give these to you.
Help me to see myself as you see me.
Set me free to be your child, your adult,
moving freely as a person under the influence of your Spirit.

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2nd May

Sunset

At sunset Jacob came to a holy place and camped there. He lay down to to sleep … and dreamed. Genesis 28: 11

A sunset speaks of an ordinary day’s work completed well, of a year moving towards its climax, transfigured by glory. It is a gift. It cannot be won by restless striving. It is a glory; it makes the body tingle and the spirit serenely soar. The tiresome or clashing features of the day become silhouettes – beautiful, harmonious. Their darkness speaks of a mysterious but deep meaning.

The evening of our years is meant to be lived in such a dimension. Hear God saying to us: ‘Let me have my way among you. Do not strive, and I will crown your life with glory’.

On that night when St. Columba, by a happy and blessed death passed from earth to heaven, while I and others with me were fishing in the valley of the river Find, we saw the whole vault of heaven become suddenly illuminated. Towards the east there appeared something like an immense pillar of fire, which seemed to illuminate the whole earth like the summer sun at noon. After that the column penetrated the heavens, darkness followed, as if the sun had just set.
Adamnan

We welcome the Sun of suns who dispels the shades of sin.
The sun rises daily only because you command it;
Its splendour will not last, created things all perish.
Christ the true Sun nothing can destroy;
The Splendour of God, he shall reign for ever!
From the author’s Celtic Worship Through the Year

I praise you for the sun
The face of the God of life
As the sun sets in peace
May I settle in with you

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1st May

All Things Live In God

All things that exist were made by God the Word; … and the Word is life.  John 1: 3, 4

As we approach the close of the three months’ harvest period which the Celts felt it important to mark, it is customary to dwell on the theme of creation once again. Let us meditate on these reflections by the Celts’ great mystical theologian, John Scotus Eriugena:

All things, even what seems to us to be without vital movement, live in the Word. If you want to know how all things subsist in God-the-Word, choose some examples from created nature and think about them… Consider the infinite, multiple power of the seed – how many grasses, fruits, and animals are contained in each kind of seed; and how there surges forth from each a beautiful, innumerable multiplicity of forms. Contemplate with your inner eye how in a master the many laws of an art or science are one; how they live in the spirit that disposes them. Contemplate how an infinite number of lines may subsist in a single point, and other similar examples drawn from nature. ‘For in Him’, as the Scripture says, ‘we live and move and have our being’.

But… human nature, even if it had not sinned, would not have been able to shine by its own strength. Although human nature is capable of wisdom, it is not itself wisdom. Just as the air does not shine by itself, yet is able to receive the light of the sun, so the Word wishes to teach us: ‘It is not you who shine; but the Spirit of your Father shines in you’. You are not a light in yourselves, you are only able to participate in the divine light.
John Scotus Eriugena, Homily on the Prologue to the Gospel of St. John (abridged)

Creator, we are contained in you,
and we are connected to all else that is contained in you.
Help us not to rebel against our connectedness.
Light-giver, we are reflectors for you,
and, as we connect with others, we become rays of light.
Help us not to shut out your light.
Shine, Jesus, shine in us today.

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