Monthly Archives: April 2022

Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 34

Day 34 4th April The Desert Fathers and Mothers

I am cheating slightly here because I am picking a group of saints rather than an individual one, but it is a group that I think deserve to be in this booklet. The Desert Fathers and Mothers are those who, in the 3rd and 4th centuries, left the hustle and bustle of life in the growing larger cities and towns and headed off to the deserts of Egypt. They felt that life in general, and the church as part of it, was becoming too materialistic and too concerned with success and power. So they gave away everything and sought a life of simplicity, solitude and prayer. The men became known as Abba and the women as Amma. Among the most famous were Abbas Anthony, Poemen, Macarius, Athanasius, and Cassian. Also Ammas Syncletica, Alexandria, Sarah, and Melania.
Soon after they arrived and began their simple lives, others began to follow their example and join them; soon small communities were set up which became the beginning of the monasticism that we know today. Others would visit for times of respite and for spiritual guidance. All in all, those who made the break and committed themselves to a life of simplicity and prayer, made an enormous impact upon our world. They have taught us a great deal about taking a step back from the pressures of life, even if just for a short time, and giving God the opportunity to commune with us in the stillness of our hearts.
Monks and nuns, in monasteries and convents today, often get accused of opting out of life and spending time naval gazing, rather than ministering to others in the heart of life; and I am sure the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 3rd Century were accused of the same. The simple truth is they often provide for this world places of refuge and solitude that many others turn to when life becomes too much, or when we need a place to renew. Even those who go into extreme silence and solitude, seemingly cut off from the world, contribute greatly to its health and renewal. They pray on our behalf, on the world’s behalf, and sustain us in our lives. They do not leave the world behind, they take it with them and place it in a new dimension which is desperately needed.
What they teach us is that our own spiritual practice is important, not only for ourselves but for others as well. When we take time to pray, to worship in church, to spend time in solitude or silence, we give something to our world. We do it also on behalf of others, and they benefit in unseen ways.

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Some sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

Prayer is hard work, and a great struggle till one’s last breath – Abba Agatho

My rule is to refresh you and to send you on your way in peace – Anon

Restrain the belly, the tongue, and anger, my dear brethren
And your feet shall not stumble over a rock – Amma Theodora

When asked what it meant to be humble one of the Mothers replied:
It is when you forgive someone who has wronged you,
even before they have asked for forgiveness.

Whatever you find in your heart to do in following God, that do,
and remain within yourself in Him – Abba Anthony

Teach your heart to guard, that which the tongue recites – Abba Poemen

Make your heart a chapel. Stay there and let it teach you.
For there God is next to you – Anon

Be solitary. Be silent. And you will be at peace – Abba Arsenius

Breathe humility just as ceaselessly as you breathe the air – Abba Pastor

Sermon for Lent 5 – Passion Sunday

Today’s Gospel passage of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with expensive perfumed oil is one of my favourite stories in the Bible. There is so much to this beautiful scene that grabs attention. You can picture the reaction of those present when she not only anoints his feet, but then begins to wipe them with her hair – In Luke’s version she even begins caressing and kissing his feet. You can imagine the embarrassment that some of them felt, maybe the anger of others, and the absolute bewilderment of the rest.
It seems that the one person who totally unperturbed by it all was Jesus, he just carried on as if it was a normal everyday occurrence. When objections were raised he defended Mary; Mark’s Gospel records Jesus saying: “What’s all the fuss about? She has done a beautiful thing for me.”
Through her anointing she was showering Jesus with love and comfort. She was serving Jesus as he had served others, she was giving something back; she was letting him know he mattered, that he was appreciated. She was showing him that she recognised that he, too, needed to be loved. She may have got a little carried away with the process, but it was indeed a beautiful thing she did for him, and Jesus accepted that.
Mary set an example for us to follow, an example of how we should treat one another. We might not feel the need to kiss each other’s feet and pour expensive oil on them, but we can anoint each other generously in different ways. We can anoint each other by being willing to give time and listen. We can anoint one another with words of kindness and encouragement. We can anoint one another by not being quick to take offense at a misjudged word. We can anoint each other with forgiveness and acceptance, We can anoint one another by holding back judgement and criticism, and giving each other the benefit of the doubt.
Mary was lavish with her kisses, her perfumed oil, and her public show of affection; we can be lavish with our praise, our care, our willingness to reach out; we can be lavish with our willingness to hold our tongue, and carefully choose the words we use, our tone of voice, and the looks we give. Mary challenges us to be generous and lavish in our dealings with others.
Also in this passage, Jesus teaches us to be generous receivers of what others give to us. Some of us are willing to give out, but are far more reticent to receive back. By allowing Mary to kiss him, anoint him, and potentially embarrass him with her love, Jesus also did a beautiful thing for Mary.
Sometimes our reluctance to allow others to help, and to show they care,
can make people feel small and inadequate. Jesus knew how to give, but he also knew how to receive. Jesus knew how to give out love in an extraordinary way, but he also willing to allow others to love him – in whatever way they were capable of expressing it. He knew that to be truly open to love others, we have to open enough to allow others to love us.
Sometimes we need to show our gratitude to people and life, simply by humbly accepting what we are given, as a gift, and by not being embarrassed by the generosity of others. It is easy when someone gives us a gift to immediately begin to think of what we can do in return. Have we ever thought that we might actually give more to the other person by simply graciously accepting their kindness and generosity?
This wonderful little story teaches us so much about generosity and gratitude. Mary was willing to risk the hostile stare by lavishly expressing to Jesus her love and thankfulness for all he had given to her and others like her. Jesus was willing to receive people’s criticism, ridicule, and anger in order to receive her gift graciously, and allow her to serve him. May we too be willing to give lavishly of ourselves, but just as importantly, may we be willing to allow others to lavish us with generosity and kindness.

Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 33

Day 33 3rd April Marguerite Porete

One of the most remarkable things about the medieval women I mention in this series of reflections is the fact that they achieved their prominence and respect in a very male dominated world. The church as an institution was completely stacked in the favour of men; the best women could hope for was to be locked away in a nunnery and to live quiet lives. The likes of Hildegard of Bingen, Teresa of Avila, and Julian of Norwich refused to be kept silent and, against all the odds, became great influencers in the church. They took a great risk in doing this. Many were imprisoned, or worse, for daring to make their views known. Even the likes of Hildegard, Teresa, and Julian would often play down their gifts and repeatedly say things like “I realise I am a weak and uneducated woman” which certainly was not true. Marguerite Porete lived in Belgian in the 13th century and she received the full consequences of daring to write and teach what she felt God had revealed to her.
The main cause of contention was a book she wrote called the “Mirror of Simple Souls”. In the book she dared to say that that humans can become so infused with the love of God that it can be hard to know where one begins and the other ends. She said this not to praise humanity, but to draw attention to the immense grace and love of God which can overcome every obstacle. Her book was condemned as heretical by her Bishop, who ordered it to be publicly burned. Marguerite was arrested and handed over to the Inquisitors; she was imprisoned and put on trial for heresy. She refused to speak to any of her inquisitors, or recant her book or beliefs. She was found guilty and burnt at the stake.
Funnily enough when a version of the book was mistakenly taken to have been written by a man, who was a priest and a monk, it was very popular and highly praised!
Marguerite Porete was an amazingly brave woman who refused to turn her back on what she believed to have been revealed to her by God, in order to encourage the faith of others. She stood up to the church authorities and refused to accept the role assigned to women and was willing to sacrifice her life for what she believed to be the truth. She highlights the amazing courage of all the women at that time who were obedient to God and not to men. We all owe a great deal to the likes of Marguerite who paid the cost to open the doors for others in the future..

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Quotes by Marguerite Porete

We should love God with our whole heart – that is to say that our thoughts should always be truly directed towards him: and with our whole soul, that is that we should say nothing but what is true, even though we die for it: and with our whole strength, that is that we should perform all our works solely for him; and that we should love ourselves as we ought, and that we should love our neighbours as ourselves; that is that we should not do or think or say towards our neighbours anything we would not wish them to do to us. These precepts are necessary to all for our salvation: for by no lesser manner of life can anyone have grace.

I am God, says Love,
for Love is God and God is Love,
and this Soul is God by the condition of Love.

I find Him everywhere.
He is one Deity, one sole God in three persons,
and this God is all, everywhere.
And that is where I find Him.

Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 32

Day 32 2nd April Margery Kempe

Mad woman or holy woman? Fool or saint? Such was Margery Kempe that she could be seen as any of these, or perhaps all of them. She was a contemporary of Julian of Norwich (see Day 7) and indeed went on several occasions to see her for counsel. Margery was born in Bishops Lynn (now Kings Lynn) in 1373 into a wealthy family, her father was mayor of the town. Women then had limited options in life, either they got married and cared for their husband and children or they became nuns and spent their life enclosed in a nunnery. Margery was pushed into marriage at 20 years old to a man some years older than her, but her dream was to travel, particularly on pilgrimage to the holy sites around the world. She hoped her husband would take her on pilgrimage, but the furthest she got was a trip to nearby Walsingham. Soon after her marriage she fell pregnant and almost died from a very difficult pregnancy and birth. She was mentally unwell afterwards, and heard voices condemning her and threatening her. This went on for some time until one day she had a profound spiritual experience, where she had a vision of Christ telling her that he was always with her, and this was the beginning of her healing.
This further bolstered her desire to be a pilgrim and visit holy places, as an offering of prayer for the world. Her husband would not hear of it and she went on to have 14 children. This did not deter her from her religious calling and she went on to have many visions and to cause mayhem around Bishops Lynn with her religious devotion. People saw her as mad, as a fool, and ridiculed her constantly. Finally even her husband became exasperated and agreed to let her go on pilgrimage. Margery travelled alone, which was very dangerous for a woman at that time and made her very vulnerable. But she was not deterred and went to Rome, Assisi, the Holy Land, Spain and other shrines around Britain. She continued to have visions and was very emotional, which did not make her popular with other pilgrims; she continued to be ridiculed and laughed at. She also was constantly in trouble with church authorities and on numerous occasions put on trial for heresy which could have resulted in her being burned at the stake. (So much for God’s love!) But she was also kind, loving, prayerful and devoted to serving God and others.
Often God uses what the world classes as fools to be the means of love and grace. We have much to learn from the likes of Margery Kemp.

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Holy Fools

Margery Kempe was of the line of many who were considered to be holy fools – people often scorned, ridiculed and laughed at who, nevertheless were used by God in incredible ways. God regularly uses the foolish, the weak, the vulnerable, those on the edge, because they do seem to be much more open to God’s presence and call.
Of course the original Holy Fool was Jesus himself. The Pharisees, the scribes, the religious authorities of the time, could not believe the things he said and did. His teachings were madness, still are, but instead of being shocked by them today, we just ignore the one’s we think are foolish, or find a way to explain them away.
Love those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. If someone takes your coat give them you shirt as well. Seek the lowest place. Don’t think about tomorrow. Don’t worry about your life. Bring down this temple and God will raise it in three days. Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who are persecuted. This is my body. This is my blood. Your sins are forgiven you. And so on.
Without faith, these are the words of a fool, a madman. In the Gospels Jesus draws attention to how they called John the Baptist a madman, because of the way he dressed and acted; also how he himself was called a glutton, a drunkard – basically a clown! Jesus was not afraid of this. He knew the things he said went against the thinking of normal society. He knew that his life and the path he chose would be seen as that of a fool or madman.
The cross, saint Paul said, is pure foolishness in the eyes of many. It is a symbol of defeat, weakness, failure, disaster. It is only to those with the eyes of faith that it is a symbol of victory, strength, salvation and hope. God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, Paul went on to say, God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world, and the despised things To make his wisdom known known.
Our Faith stands out in a world that boasts of strength and power. Our faith seeks an alternate route, a route that seems foolish to many. Our faith says, you have seen what happens in a world where humankind thinks too highly of itself, of its strength its power and its wisdom. We are called to live a different story, to walk a different path.
It is the so called fools of this world that so often point the way. May we never be afraid of our foolishness, weakness, and naivety. The likes of Margery Kempe remind us of what a gift such foolishness can be in the hands of God.

Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 31

Day 31 1st April John Muir

There is a wonderful photograph I saw of John Muir from 1902, where he is sat on a rock at the water’s edge, his hat laid beside him, his beard long, and a look of peace and contentedness on his face. I knew nothing about him when I first saw the photograph, but there was something about this photo that made me want to discover more, and I am glad that I did. This was some years ago and I now have that same photograph in a book that he wrote, and I still love to look at it. When the photo was taken John Muir was 64 years old and had spent most of his life exploring the wilderness.
He was born in Dunbar Scotland in 1838 and died in California, USA, in 1914. In a biography written about him he was described as the patron saint of the wilderness, which I would not argue with. As a boy in Scotland he loved its nature and environment and soon was wandering around exploring on his own. His family emigrated to America in 1849 and John soon fell in love with the wild American landscape. Nature was his great love and he was never more content than when he was out in the wild exploring. After visiting the Yosemite valley, and later living simply there in an old log cabin for three years, he became an avid campaigner for wild places to be left wild and to be protected from destructive development. His campaigning led to the introduction of America’s National Parks, protected places of natural beauty and wonder. They were the world’s first National Parks.
John Muir’s philosophy was that nature should be valued for its own wonder and not simply because of the benefits it can give to human beings, or for the profits that can be made from its resources. He saw nature as something to be loved, respected, and appreciated in its own right, and said that it should be protected from human exploitation. He became a writer of journals on his travels in places of natural beauty. He advocated the importance of spending time in places of wildness and of the spiritual benefits of doing so. He was one of the inspirations for my last year’s Lent course on Nature.
He wrote that nature was God’s first church, a place full of God’s thoughts; a place of sermons, a place of prayer and holiness; a place where God is most intimately found. Take a short walk today, or look at a flower, a tree, a bird; and treat yourself to a beautiful sermon without words.

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Some Quotes from John Muir

I was baptised this morning
in the balmy sunshine that penetrated to my very soul,
warming all the faculties of the spirit,
as well as the joints and marrow of the body.

Every purely natural creation is a conductor of divinity,
and we have to expose ourselves to these conductors
to be fed and nourished by them.
Only in this way can we procure our daily spirit bread;
only thus may we be filled with the Holy Spirit.

The sermon of Jesus on the mount is on every mount,
and in every valley besides,
full of unmistakable joy and confidence.
Loudly chanted by winds and rushing water,
whispered by a thousand small voices of birds and plants.
It is in the fresh winds and pure spangle-filled lakes,
and in every meadow and grove.

Just as Jesus was an Incarnation of the Divine in human flesh,
so are rocks an “instonation” of the same God.
Rocks have a life perhaps not so different from ours as we imagine.
Anyhow, their material beauty is only a veil covering spiritual beauty –
A Divine incarnation – instonation.

All the wild world is beautiful,
and it matters but little where we go,
to highlands or lowlands, woods or plains,
on the sea or land, or high in a balloon in the sky.
Everywhere and always we are in
God’s eternal beauty and love.
So universally true is this,
that the spot where we chance to be
always seems the best.

Whatever we can read in all the world
is contained in that sentence of boundless meaning:
“God is Love”.
All Creation is a manifestation of that one utterance:
“God is Love”.