Monthly Archives: March 2022

Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 30

Day 30 31st March David Sheppard

O come on, I’m a Yorkshireman, it is only right that one of my saints should be a Test Match cricketer! Sadly, not a Yorkshireman himself; David Sheppard was born in Reigate in 1929 and played his cricket for Sussex and England. His highest Test Match score was 119 against India in 1952; and in 1956, now also a Church of England priest, he scored 113 in the fourth test at Old Trafford; the match in which Jim Laker famously took 19 wickets in an England victory. After dropping two catches in another game, Freddie Trueman (a proper Yorkshireman) told him that the only time he could keep his hands together was in church on a Sunday! He remains the only ordained priest to play Test Cricket.
His early years as a priest were in Islington and Canning Town. He was made Bishop of Woolwich in 1969, and then Bishop of Liverpool in 1975. He was not only a famous Bishop in these places, due to his cricketing career, but also a very popular one as well. He was a tireless campaigner against poverty and the social reform of Inner Cities; and also a staunch opponent of apartheid, refusing to play against the touring South Africans in 1960. He formed a strong bond with the Roman Catholic Bishop of Liverpool, David Worlock, and they worked closely together to support the poorer areas of Liverpool, especially after the Toxteth riots in 1982.
In 1983 he wrote a very forthright book, ‘Bias to the Poor’, which challenged the church to remember its roots and to recommit its time and resources to the inner cities and the poorer areas that it was called to serve. He reminded us that Jesus had a very strong bias to the poor, the outcast, the outsider, and the forgotten in his own life and ministry. He pointed out the Biblical message was very clear that societies are judged on how they treat and support the most vulnerable in the midst of them.
The Church of England has regularly been called the Tory Party at prayer; which while it may not be a very fair summary of the church, it is reminder that the church is not merely an institution for the rich and powerful but should be a community that embraces all parts of our society. David Sheppard reminds us that we must always have a bias towards the poor and the vulnerable in our communities, and they should always have a priority in our mission and care. A church community should always be a place where everyone feels comfortable and that they truly belong. That is the Gospel message that Jesus preached and lived.

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From Bias to the Poor by David Sheppard

Bias to the poor sounds like a statement of political preference. My experience has been that some of the most central teachings of orthodox Christianity lead me to this position. Jesus’ theme of the Kingdom of God, the calling of the church to be Catholic, reaching across all human divisions and the doctrine of the Incarnation; all lead me to the claim that there is a divine bias to the poor, which should be reflected both in the Church and in the secular world.

For many years it was assumed that society is shaped like a pyramid, with the majority at the base of the pyramid being poor. The logic then argued that one man-one vote would enable the interests of the poor to mobilise decisive political power. But for a long time society in a developed country like Britain has been shaped not like a pyramid, but like a diamond. In other words the majority and their votes are to be found somewhere in the middle, with a stake in keeping things just as they are.

We must look hard at the difference between a kind of development which offers a higher cash standard of living but keeps large groups of people dependant and without a voice, a genuine effort to create what the World Council of Churches have called “a just, participatory and sustainable society.”

The church is called to commit itself to action on behalf of the poor…many of us have a nagging sense that the urban poor do not see enough evidence of this kind. I believe there is a divine bias to the disadvantaged, and that the church needs to be more faithful in reflecting it.

Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 29

Day 29 30th March Etty Hillesum

Etty Hillesum was a young Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz concentration camp at the age of 29. Little was known of her until the publication of her diaries and letters in 1981. The diaries reveal a remarkable young woman who had a profound faith in, and relationship with, God; also an immense love for her suffering compatriots, and a determination to serve them as best she could. She was born in Middelburg, Holland, in January 1914; and lived in Amsterdam in the early 1940’s during the German occupation. In a very short time life became intolerable for its Jewish residents and the deportation began. Etty took on an administrative role that led her to be a go between to the occupying forces and the Jewish council, doing her best to support and care for those who were most threatened. She ignored advice to try and flee to safety, as she felt her place was with her own people. Eventually the inevitable consequences of that decision came to be realised; in July 1943 Etty’s personal status was revoked and she became a camp internee at Westerbork transit camp, and two months later she was deported to Auschwitz where she died on 30th November 1943.
What we know of her is mainly from her diaries and letters and they reveal an extraordinary woman who, though having no particular affiliation to any religious group, had a deep relationship with God. Etty understood God to be a part of her deepest self, a divine energy that needs to be nurtured and trusted. She did not deny the horror or evil of the Nazi terror or the concentration camps, but refused to be a victim, and held on tightly to the small windows of light and love. In one prayer she wrote in her diary she says to God: “I do not hold you responsible for this, You cannot help us but we must help You, and defend Your dwelling place inside us.” Her attitude was not one of self-preservation, but standing side by side with her people, sharing their fate.
Two particular things that I have learned from Etty Hillesum is that any suffering and pain that I may go through is not merely an individual thing, but a shared experience with others. I, like Christ, can allow God to use it to give strength to others. Secondly, nothing can separate us from God’s love – as St Paul said: “neither death, nor life, things present, nor things to come , nor anything in all creation, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Etty tells us that nothing can extinguish that light.

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From The Letters and Diaries of Hetty Hillesum 1941-1943

The surface of the earth is gradually turning into one great prison camp, and soon there will be nobody left outside. I don’t fool myself about the real state of affairs, and I’ve even dropped the pretence that I’m out to help others. I shall merely try to help God as best I can, and if I succeed in doing that, then I shall be of use to others as well. But I mustn’t have and heroic illusions about that either.

There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there, too. But more often stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath. Then He must be dug out again.

I am ready for everything, for anywhere on this earth, wherever God may send me, and I am ready to bear witness in any situation and unto death that life is beautiful and meaningful and that it is not God’s fault that things are as they are at present, but our own.

Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.

Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths, or the turning inwards in prayer for five short minutes.

Become simple and live simply, not only within yourself but also in your everyday dealings. Don’t make ripples all around you, don’t try to be interesting, keep your distance, be honest, fight the desire to be thought fascinating by the outside world.

Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 28

Day 28 29th March Evelyn Underhill

When I was in my early 20’s I was looking through a second hand bookshop, as is my wont, and came across a book called Mystics of the Church which looked really interesting; it was only £2 so I bought it. I loved it. It opened my eyes to many women and men of prayer throughout the ages who I had so far not heard of. The book was by Evelyn Underhill and I soon picked up more books by her, which I also enjoyed, and so began to research more about the author herself.
Evelyn Underhill was born in 1875 and, unlike Howard Thurman (see yesterday), she was born into a wealthy family in Wolverhampton, England. She was the only child of Arthur and Lucy Underhill, her father being a barrister. She was educated at home, save for three years at private school in Folkestone, and later at Kings college for Women in London. She also married a barrister.
Due to her background Evelyn was able to indulge her love for writing. During her first year of marriage she became a practising Christian and found a natural affinity to the life of prayer. Her leanings were towards the Catholic church but she discovered that she could express herself more freely in the Anglican church, and that is the church she committed herself to. She became a prolific writer on the spiritual life and especially upon the mystical side of spirituality after a series of spiritual experiences.
She lived a disciplined life, committing mornings to writing and prayer, and the afternoons to voluntary work, helping the poor. She based her spiritual life around the gospel story of Mary and Martha, and felt that a full Christian life should be a mixture of the active life of Martha and the contemplative life of Mary.
Evelyn’s great contribution to Christian literature was to write about the great saints and mystics of the church, and make them accessible to the general public. She wrote with simplicity and enthusiasm, and was completely convinced that you did not have to be shut away in a monastery to live a life of prayer. We can each, in our own circumstances, live a prayerful life. We can be inspired by the great souls of prayer but we do not have to be intimidated by them. Often we read about the great saints and are made to feel inadequate by comparison. Evelyn reminds us that we are called to be saints in our own right, and while we can be inspired by the great saints we can only be ourselves. It is all God asks.

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At the heart of Evelyn Underhill’s spiritual teaching and practice was balance. She knew that if we did not have the right balance between work, rest, and doing the leisurely activities that we enjoy, that it is extremely hard to build a life of prayer.
One of the reasons that we struggle with prayer in our modern age is because we are too busy. Too much emphasis is put upon work, achievement, the need to be successful or useful. We make ourselves constantly busy, always rushing, always active. To get back in touch with our prayerful centre, our communion with God, we need to learn to stop, to slow down, to not be constantly busy. That doesn’t mean we have to do nothing, but allow more space for activities that slow us down: Walking, reading, painting, photography, gardening, enjoying nature, knitting, sewing, flower arranging, baking, cycling, writing, reflecting – the things we love to do. We need to make time for the things we count as leisure, the things we often neglect in our lives because we are too busy. All these things are conducive to prayer because they create space for God to enter our stillness, and commune with our hearts. Prayer does not have to be all formal and rigid, it can be about doing the things we love to do with God. An important part of my communion with God is my daily walk, watching birds, reading poetry – and occasionally trying to write some. For others it will be other leisurely or creative activities. The important thing is to make space in our day for such times, and to off them to God.
Evelyn Underhill new the importance of balance. She gave time to her voluntary and charity work, but she also made space to read and write, and do the slower quieter things that helped her to pray and commune deeply with God. It was in the moments of stillness and leisure that she found energy and creativity to do her writing and to serve the poor in her community.

Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 27

Day 27 28th March Howard Thurman

When we think about 20th century civil rights activists we immediately think of the likes of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, or Nelson Mandela who all did some amazing things. One name that often goes unnoticed is Howard Thurman, an American Baptist minister who spent time with Gandhi, and had a great influence upon Martin Luther King Jr. Thurman was born in Florida in 1899 and his grandmother, who lived in the family home, was an ex slave. That fact, and her general influence, inspired him and drove him to work for those who are marginalised in society. Although born into poverty he worked hard to attend college and get a good education, and along with becoming a Baptist pastor, he was also a prolific author, philosopher and civil rights leader. He became a mentor to many others, including Martin Luther King.
A story his grandmother told him had a profound effect upon him. She told him that when she was a slave they would often have secret religious gatherings and a pastor would constantly say to them: “You are not slaves, you are not what they think you are – you are children of God.” He established within them a sense of personal dignity and worth. It was this dignity and worth that she instilled into her grandson; and he made it is mission to pass it on to others.
In the 1930’s he and his wife visited and spent time with Mahatma Gandhi in India, and from him he learned to truly value the concept of non-violent protest. He learned that responding to abuse with force of any kind only fed that abuse more, and you also run the risk of becoming no better than the abuser. Gandhi knew that you never created lasting peace and justice through violence, and Howard Thurman came to believe the same.
When we hear the term ‘nonviolent protest’ we immediately think of avoiding physical violence, but it goes much further than that. It is not just about avoiding physical violence, but also aggressive speech and thoughts. How easy it is when any of us find ourselves in confrontation of any kind that we react by fighting back and saying things without thinking. Thus we feed and add to a difficult situation by our own response to it. Thurman believed we should always stand up against what is wrong and unjust, but in a way that follows Jesus’ teaching to “love our enemy”, and treat them with dignity and respect. We can only do that if we first have a sense of our own dignity and worth, which we then extend to others.

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Some quotes of Howard Thurman

Don’t ask your self what the world needs;
ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go and do that.
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

There is something in every one of you
that waits and listens
for the sound of the genuine in yourself.

In the stillness of the quiet, if we listen,
we can hear the whisper of the heart
giving strength to weakness,
courage to fear,
hope to despair.

There must be always remaining in every life,
some place for the singing of angels,
someplace for that which in itself
is breathless and beautiful.

Listen to the long stillness:
New life is stirring
New dreams are on the wing
New hopes are being readied.
Humankind is fashioning a new heart;
Humankind is forging a new mind.
God is at work!
This is the season of promise.

Twilight.
A time of pause when nature changes her guard.
All living things would fade and die
from too much light
or too much dark,
if twilight were not.

Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 26

Day 26 27th March Mary Sumner

With St Augustine’s strong history of Mothers’ Union it is very appropriate that one of the saints in these Lenten reflections should be Mary Sumner, who was a real pioneer and visionary. She was very aware of the importance of family life, and the stresses this responsibility placed upon mothers, and she sought to build a support network to enrich family life.
She was born in Swinton, Greater Manchester, in 1828. She married an Anglican priest in 1948, and in 1951 they moved to Old Alresford, near Winchester, where her husband George became vicar. They had three children. It was when the eldest of those children, Margaret, gave birth to her own child in 1876, that Mary Sumner began to explore ways in which young mothers could be supported, and be organised into being able to share mutual support with each other. She organised the first meeting of mothers at Old Alresford and it was very much a local organisation for its initial years. It was in 1885 when the Bishop asked her to speak at a diocesan meeting about her vision that things began to take off. A number of others began to do the same thing in their own parishes, and the Mothers’ Union soon became a diocesan organisation. From there it quickly took root in other dioceses. By 1882 the Mothers’ Union was established also in India, the West Indies, South Africa, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Mary Sumner died in 1921 aged 92.
In the time that has followed, the Mothers’ Union has continued to develop and adapt to differing social circumstances and needs. It has adapted without losing the original vision of Mary Sumner, to keep prayer as central to family life, and to live lives that teach children by example. The question has often arisen of what Mary Sumner would have made of modern family life, which has changed drastically from the time she set up the organisation. The modern family often has a single parent, or parents of the same sex, or children are brought up by parents who live in separate households, which is very different from family life in her day.
I would say in response that one of her first goals was that it would be a meeting of people from different classes and backgrounds who would join together in support of each other. I am sure that she would say that the same still holds true, and that whatever the family circumstances we have a responsibility to support and encourage each other in the best way we can. May her vision hold true in all the variations of family life today.

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Remember, to be yourselves what you would have your children be.

The above is a quote from Mary Sumner which I think is one of the most important things that she ever said. It is very easy to put our biggest efforts into teaching our children by words – trying to give sound wisdom and advice; trying to guide them with sound principles which we hope they will embrace and abide by. But Mary Sumner saw that there is something even bigger to place our energies in, and that is by the example that we set with the way that we live our lives. Our words count for nothing, if they are at odds with the things that we actually do. St Francis of Assisi said something very similar when he said:
“There is no point in walking to preach if we do not preach as we walk.”
Sadly, we live in a world where we are all too busy and rushed, work far too many hours, have far too little time for recreation, creativity, enjoyment and rest. We live lives that are stressed, that cause us to live with anxiety and tension, and give us little time to give the younger generation what they need from us the most – our attention, a listening ear, approval, encouragement, space; and genuine interest in their lives, opinions, thoughts and ideas.
I remember some years ago when my children where young teenagers. I was on sabbatical leave and therefore had more time. One of my children asked me to take a look at something they were doing, which I did. They looked up at me and said “I like it when you are on sabbatical and I can show you things.” I defensively said that they could show me things anytime they liked. “I know”, said my teenager, “but usually you say ‘give me a few minutes’ or ‘I just have to make a phone call first’”. That brought me up short, and made me realise that there was a gap between what I said and did, and how I thought I was and how I really was. I like to think I was a quite good dad, but I wish I had given my children more of my attention and time when they were younger.
But I am not just talking about parents and, to be fair, parents do have to work hard to provide a home, food and clothing for their family. We are all parents to the younger generation. We all have responsibility “to be ourselves what we want our children to be”, the younger generation to be. If life continues to go on becoming increasingly busy and stressful then we will pass that on to the next generation. We have to begin to model for them a healthier attitude to living.
The modern day Mothers’ Union is very aware that the whole community does play a part in the care and development of children. May we be willing to learn to be ourselves what we would wish our children to learn, and to walk what we preach.

Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 25

Day 25 26th March Caedmon

I love the story of Caedmon, who was a lay brother at the Abbey of Whitby in the 7th century. As a lay brother he was responsible for looking after the cattle and performing other jobs that contributed to the upkeep of the monastery, so the monks and nuns ( yes, it was a mixed monastery) could devote their time to prayer, choir, copying texts, teaching and study. There are numerous versions of his story, I recall here my favourite.
Caedmon was a bit of a loner, he didn’t fit in. He was the type that people often ridiculed and made fun of and so he kept to himself as much as possible and quietly got on with his tasks. One of the things he was teased about was his voice and his singing. Among the lay brothers they would often socialise through sharing tales in song. They would sit in a circle and each would take a turn to offer a song. Whenever it was Caedmon’s turn there was laughter, for his voice was not a singing voice, and his embarrassment and lack of confidence always made it sound worse than it was. He used to get called crow-throat and he avoided such gatherings as much as he could. The story goes that one night there was a feast in the Abbey, and the lay brothers were allowed mead and rich food in their residence. As always the evening turned to song. Caedmon sat there hating each moment because he knew it would get to his turn. When it did they all encouraged him to sing his tale, and out of embarrassment he got up and left the feast telling them he had work to do in the cow sheds.
They laughed as he left. But that night while he sat in the cowshed feeling sorry for himself, he had a vision of an angel who told him to sing. Caedmon protested, but the angel was insistent. “Sing me a song of creation” his holy visitor insisted. Caedmon knew he could not refuse, so he sang and the voice he heard singing was tuneful and lovely; and the song he sung was beautiful. The next day he discovered he could still sing and compose, and he became well known for his talents.
Caedmon’s story tells me not to worry what others may think of my voice. That singing, music, composing, is a holy gift. I have often been self-conscious about my singing, especially in a church setting, I am sure many others are as well. One thing this last year or so has taught me, when we could not sing in church, is that we should not take our voices or our music for granted. God has blessed us with a voice, lets sing, rejoice and not worry about what others think. Our voice is a holy gift.

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When I wrote about Hildegard of Bingen (Day 14) I was torn on what to focus upon in her life. She was a poet, a healer, a lover of nature, a writer and teacher, an artist, and also a composer of some of the most sublime music that I have listened to. If you have not heard her music give yourself a treat, look her up and have a listen. There are some beautiful renditions of her works by groups such as Sequentia or Anonymous 4. Caedmon was a composer that we know so little about, and so this gives me an opportunity to return to Hildegard and her music.
She wrote at a time (12th century) when church music expected to be simple, unadorned, and as plain as possible. Hildegard, as she did with most other things in her life, broke all the rules of convention! In fact, at one stage, her convent was banned from singing altogether because Hildegard pushed all the boundaries. I have a sneaky feeling that Hildegard will have ignored the ban!
Her music expressed her love of God’s world and creation. Hildegard saw the world and nature as a hymn of praise to God, and she aimed to set it to music, and express it through instrument and voice. She used imagery that was imaginative and sensual: fecundity, jewels, femininity, the elements, and erotic imagery of God as a lover, were themes she returned to again and again. She stretched her singers voices to their limits in their praise of the Creator.
Whenever I listen to recordings like Hildegard, and many others like her, I am always transported into wonderment of the ability and range of the human voice. When did humanity first have that moment of enlightenment that the voice could be used so beautifully and creatively? When did we first realise the beauty of putting two voices together in harmony, and then adding a third and a fourth and so on? I don’t know the answer but I am grateful that we discovered this extraordinary gift and I give thanks for the likes of Caedmon, Hildegard and so many others that have blessed us with such bliss and encouraged us to find our voice and sing.

I wrote the following after listening one evening to the vocal group Stile Antico:

Am listening to choral music
From the renaissance
Beautiful. Rich. Prayerful.
Gorgeous blend of voices:
Alto, soprano, tenor, baritone, bass –
Descending the surface
To somewhere deeper.

How did it all begin?
Who sang the first note?
Who had the great epiphany:
That blended voices in unison
Could create the sound of heaven,
Take us deeper in to the mystery of our soul
And unite us with
The Divine Presence?

Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 24

Day 24 25th March Thomas Merton

If I had to pick one person who has influenced my spiritual life more than any other, it would have to be the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. I first came across his books when I was in my early 20’s and have never stopped reading him since. He was a wonderful writer and a most fascinating character. He became one of life’s most famous monks due to his autobiography “The Seven Story Mountain” published in 1948, seven years after he had become a monk in a strict silent order. It is one of the most popular spiritual autobiographies ever. Merton went on to become a bestselling author, a political activist, a hermit, poet, photographer, artist an explorer of all religious traditions, a lover of nature, a lover of jazz, a lover of whisky! He died at an interfaith conference in Thailand at the age of 53 in 1968, after being electrocuted by a faulty fan.
Someone once wrote of Merton that he would have been at his happiest in a hermitage in Times Square! There is a certain amount of truth in that, because although he longed for silence and solitude, he could not stop himself getting involved in life at all its levels. The more time he spent in solitude and prayer, the more involved in life’s issues he seemed to become. His times of solitude helped him to live life at a deeper level.
There is much I love about him but for this short page I would like to focus on his solitude. As I said, the more time he seemed to spend in solitude the more active in the world he seemed to become, which often frustrated him (as well as his superiors!). But it was that strange balance in his life that made him such a powerful spiritual influence, which continues today.
What Thomas Merton teaches us is that life should be a balance between solitude and involvement. How much solitude we need will be different for everyone, but some degree of solitude is important for all of us. It does not mean spending time in a monastery, but simply finding times in each day, each week, to be alone and to step back. Merton once wrote that we can never truly be with another person if we do not know how to be with ourselves. Solitude does not have to be for great amounts of time, even snatching a little bit here and there is of great value. It helps us to step back from the world’s busy rhythms that so easily carry us along and exhaust us. Solitude reconnects us with God’s rhythm and gives us an inner stillness in the midst of life’s hustle and bustle. Thomas Merton knew its value and invited us to discover it too.

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Some thoughts on Solitude by Thomas Merton

Let me seek, then, the gift of silence and solitude,
where everything I touch is turned to prayer.
Where the sky is prayer, the birds are my prayer,
the wind and the trees are my prayer –
for God is in all.

The silence of the forest,
the peace of the early morning wind moving in the branches of the trees, the solitude and isolation of the house of God –
these are good because it is in silence, and not in commotion;
in solitude, and not in crowds,
that God likes to reveal Himself most intimately to us.

We live in the fullness of time.
Every moment is God’s own good time, his Kairos.
The whole thing boils down to giving ourselves in prayer
a chance to realise that we have what we seek.
We don’t have to rush after it, it is there all the time;
and if we give it time and space,
it will make itself known to us.

If you seek a heavenly light I, solitude, am your professor!
I go before you into emptiness,
and open the windows of your innermost self.

When I, solitude, give my signal, follow my silence,
follow where I beckon!
Fear not, I solitude, am an angel and have prayed your name.
Look at the empty, wealthy night, the pilgrim moon!
I am the appointed hour, the “now” that cuts time like a blade.
Follow my ways and I will lead you to golden suns, music, and joys.
For I, solitude, am thine own self; I am thine all.
I, silence, am thy Amen!

It is a most happy evening, could not be more perfect.
I have some bourbon
and am playing an ancient Django Reinhardt record.
Perhaps in a little while I shall go out and stroll under the trees.

The great joy of the solitary life is not found simply in quiet,
in the beauty and peace of nature,
nor in the peace of one’s own heart;
but in the awakening and the tuning of the heart
to the voice of God.

The further I advance in solitude
the more clearly I see the goodness in things.
The great work of the solitary life is gratitude.

Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 23

Day 23 24th March Ellen Craft

Ellen Craft was born in slavery in Macon, Georgia in the year 1826. Her mother, a slave of mixed race, was raped by her slave owner which resulted in her giving birth to Ellen. This remarkable woman plotted, and pulled off, one of the great escapes in slave history. She secretly married William Craft when she was 20 years old and they determined to not have a family until they had freedom. Ellen came up with a daring plan to help them escape from their slave owners.
Ellen resembled her father and was very pale skinned. As a way of escaping she dressed as a man, and William accompanied her as her male servant. They travelled by train and boat, and Ellen acted her part so well that they rarely raised any suspicion, and most of their journey went smoothly. They travelled a 1000 miles from Georgia to Philadelphia, and were helped by abolitionists to get to Massachusetts. The law still allowed for them to be recaptured and sent back to their enslavers, so they were helped to make the journey to England to make their escape complete. They settled first of all in Ockham, Surrey, and later moved to West London. They went on to have 5 children and lived in England for two decades before moving back to the United States.
Ellen and William Craft set up committees and campaigns which called for reform and the abolition of slavery, and Ellen was a regular speaker telling their story and giving lectures about abolition, racial and justice issues. She was also a campaigner of womens right to vote, and set up support organisations for former slaves who had won their freedom. Both Ellen and William devoted their lives and their freedom to support others in need and to fight injustice of all kinds. Ellen died in 1891. The house that Ellen and William Craft lived in at Hammersmith now bears a plaque placed there by English Heritage, that states they were “Refugees from slavery and campaigners for its abolition.”
In a time when the focus has been on statues and plaques of those who have had involvement in the slave trade, and whether they should be removed, it is good to focus on the heroic lives of those who challenged it and suffered through it. Slavery, injustice, prejudice, racism and intolerance of any kind is an evil that needs to be constantly challenged; as do we in our own unconscious attitudes. Creating more opportunities to celebrate the likes of Ellen Craft is an important step forward.

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From Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom
by Ellen and William Craft

MY wife and myself were born in different towns in the State of Georgia, which is one of the principal slave States. It is true, our condition as slaves was not by any means the worst; but the mere idea that we were held as chattels, and deprived of all legal rights – the thought that we had to give up our hard earnings to a tyrant, to enable him to live in idleness and luxury – the thought that we could not call the bones and sinews that God gave us our own: but above all, the fact that another man had the power to tear from our cradle the new-born babe and sell it in the shambles like a brute, and then scourge us if we dared to lift a finger to save it from such a fate, haunted us for years.

My old master had the reputation of being a very humane and Christian man, but he thought nothing of selling my poor old father, and dear aged mother, at separate times, to different persons, to be dragged off never to behold each other again, till summoned to appear before the great tribunal of heaven. But, oh! what a happy meeting it will be on that day for those faithful souls. I say a happy meeting, because I never saw persons more devoted to the service of God than they.

We were married, and prayed and toiled on till December, 1848, at which time a plan suggested itself that proved quite successful, and in eight days after it was first thought of we were free from the horrible trammels of slavery, and glorifying God who had brought us safely out of a land of bondage.

A Quote on Ellen and William Craft by Joy Hakim

When William Johnson and slave walked down that long, winding American road toward freedom and justice, they didn’t realize they would be speaking out for all those left behind. They learned that it would take hard work to make the words of the Declaration of Independence mean what they said. Ellen and William Craft were willing to do their part.

Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 22

Day 22 23rd March Jean Pierre de Caussade

Very little is known about Jean Pierre de Caussade except that he was born in Cahors, France, on the 7th March in 1675, and died in December 1751. He became a Jesuit priest and is particularly known for his work as spiritual director to nuns at Nancy from 1733-1740. During this time, and through later letters, he taught them about what he called, the Sacrament of the Present Moment; and how Christian life is about surrendering ourselves to each moment that comes along, because it is a gift from God. What we know of his teaching comes from the book “Abandonment to the Divine Providence”, a collection of his teachings and letters of direction that he wrote. Although little is known of his life, this book is one of the most important documents on the spiritual life.
“Sanctity can be reduced to one single practice” he writes “living in full acceptance of what God sends in every moment. There is not one moment in which God does not present Himself under the cover of some pain to be endured, some consolation to be enjoyed, or some duty to be performed. The present moment is filled with infinite treasure, more treasure than you have the capacity to hold. The present moment is the entrance into the divine.”
De Caussade writes of the present moment as being a sacrament and encourages us to receive each moment as we would receive holy communion, as food from heaven. He is well aware that some moments in life bring pain and distress, but he encourages us to recognise that God is a part of them and that no matter how difficult the moment may be we do not live it alone but with God. So he encourages us to trust God with the each moment, and in each moment, and look for the treasure there.
What I love about Jean Pierre de Caussade is that for him there is no moment in life that is not a divine moment, a moment of contact with the Presence of God. Very often in life we associate special spiritual moments with the wonder and joys of life. For example we may look across a beautiful view and exclaim “Wow! God is present here!” We may feel a sense of joy in an experience and immediately thank God, because God has blessed us. Jean Pierre teaches us that when things go wrong it does not mean that God is absent or has deserted us, but is intimately present in that situation; as close to us as in those moments of Joy. Every moment in life truly is a holy moment, he calls us to trust God in each one.

………………….

From the writings of Jean-Pierre de Caussade

The present moment is the ambassador of God; the one thing necessary can always be found within it – in all that each moment presents. We can no longer consider our moments as trifles, since in them is the whole kingdom of God and food for angels.
Moment so precious! How insignificant in the eyes of the ignorant, but how great in those enlightened by faith. Great also in the eyes of God, so how can I regard any moment as insignificant?

Every moment is a divine action, be satisfied with it. No longer single out some moments greater than others, but welcome God’s presence in each and every one. All that happens is a channel for grace if we did but know it – just make full use of whatever God sends you or allows.

There is nothing so small, or so apparently indifferent, which God does not ordain or permit, even to a fall of a leaf. Never lose sight of the great and consoling truth that nothing happens in this world but by the divine permission of God. Even that which disturbs all our plans, if we trust God in it, will turn into something better for us. Keep firmly by this great principle and the greatest tempests will not be able to trouble the depth of your soul; even if it may ruffle the surface by disquieting the feelings.

The books the Holy Spirit is writing are living, and every soul a volume in which the divine author makes a true revelation of his word, explaining it to every heart, unfolding it in every moment.

If we could just be attentive and watchful, God would be continually revealed to us, and we would recognise the divine in every experience of life. At each successive occurrence we would exclaim: “It is the Lord!” and accept every fresh circumstance as a gift from God.

……………………..
A poem inspired by Jean-Pierre de Caussade

It is the Lord!
They exclaimed
at the sight of the Risen Christ.
Not that they recognised Him
at first glance,
they had to look twice.
He appeared to them in numerous disguises;
a gardener, a traveller, a ghost
that walked through walls
or across waters.
But by faith their eyes
were opened, they saw,
they recognised, they marvelled.
He appeared to them
In numerous guises
and then disappeared –
But has never been too far away
for those with eyes to see.
Look around you at creation,
look deeply into life’s experiences,
in this moments circumstances.
Open your eyes, recognise,
marvel, exclaim:
It is the Lord!

Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 21

Day 21 22nd March Mary Oliver

A Modern day poet who knew exactly what Hildegard meant about the “greening power of nature” (see day 14) was Mary Oliver, who was born in 1935 and died quite recently in January 2019. I am sure Mary Oliver would laugh at the idea of me classing her as a saint but I believe in years to come she will be remembered by many in this way. Like Hildegard from the 12th century, she was a mystical visionary that saw the hand of the divine in the whole of nature, she often spoke of the God of the dirt. Mary Oliver recognised the power of the holy flowing through all created things from dirt, to weeds, to exotic flowers; from a humble toad to a majestic eagle. She was not just a nature poet who saw the loveliness of nature; she saw and wrote about it in all its harshness as well its beauty. It all, for her, portrayed the hand of the creator, contained angels and messengers, and called us to enter its realm. If you want to give yourself a Lenten treat look her up on YouTube and listen to her recite her poetry.
Mary Oliver was born in Ohio, USA, and in her early years worked as personal assistant to a collector of poetry. She had her first collection of poems published in 1963 and from then on regularly had books on poems and essays published, winning many awards and much acclaim. In the 1950’s she met the photographer Molly Malone Cook and she became her devoted partner for over 40 years until Molly Cook’s death. For her work Mary Oliver needed solitude and space to observe and become absorbed in nature in a very profound way. For her there was no distinction between being absorbed in nature and being absorbed in God, it was all prayer.
What Mary Oliver has taught me, and a gift I believe she leaves for the world, is to look at the ordinary, everyday, aspects of nature with an attitude of amazement and wonder. To take time and look deeply and see beyond what we initially perceive. If we look long enough with openness and attentiveness, she tells us, we will see beyond the surface of things and we will discover the holy at the centre of them. Hildegard of Bingen would have agreed entirely. Let me allow Mary Oliver herself to sum up in her own words.

“My work is loving the world….it was what I was born for –
to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this great soft world –
to instruct myself over and over in joy and acclamation”.

……………

Some Poems by Mary Oliver

The Sun

Have you ever seen
anything
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats towards the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone –
and how it glides again

out of the blackness
every morning
on the other side of the world
like a red flower

streaming upwards on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance –
and have you felt for anything

such wild love –
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you
as the sun
reaches out
as it warms you

as you stand there,
empty handed –
or have you too
turned from this world

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

From One Or Two Things

The god of dirt
came up to me many times and said
so many wise and delectable things, I lay
on the grass listening
to his dog voice
crow voice
frog voice; now
he said, and now,
and never once mentioned forever.

Mindful

Every day
I see or hear
something
that more or less
kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle
in a haystack
of light.
It is what I was born for –
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world –
to instruct myself
over and over
in joy and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant –
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these –
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the oceans shrine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?