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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”.

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.

……………………
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.