the english church differs slightly from the roman church in having a novena before the nativity, as it were, instead of an octave. so the first of the great "o" antiphons, "o sapientia," is sung on the evening of the 16th rather than on the 17th. i love this idea of a "sapientia tide," as it is titled in some of the old prayer books. of course those of us who do not even follow the office know the great o's from the the advent hymn, "o come, o come emmanual."
if northwest arkansas had been settled by (east) indian replacements of the (american) indians rather than by calvinists, then the boston mountains would be another mount kailas. from the heights of boston flow four sacred rivers of the ozarks, the buffalo, the white, the war eagle, and the kings. it is likely that the american indians would have found this a place of great sacredness, but there is, to my knowledge, no record of their feelings about the place from which they were displaced after thousands of years to make room for "settlers." some of my own ancestors were among those settlers, and i still have cousins there. but none of them seem to have any concept of the earth as holy, as the creation revealing the creator. they were protestants, for whom the holy was the printed word. but when i visit the cemetery where their bodies have returned to the earth, i can feel a connection to this place, a connection which makes the veneration of relics understandable without rationality.
if i ever leave my little apartment in eureka springs, it will be to go back to the center of the world, at least of the ozarks. it's much closer than tibet, but to me at least just as awe full. surely this is none other than the house of god, and this is the gate of heaven. and perhaps that unavoidable realization is why so many of my ancestors called their settlements and little methodist churches bethel.
there is no end to what could be said about the evangelist luke. i liked this icon because of the sandals. i who walk a bit, have been wondering what it must have been like for luke as he wandered around, mostly on foot, seeking the sources for his gospel.
but i am most thankful, i think, for the wonderful poetry that is preserved in the gospel according to luke alone. i found this recording of a very traditional english singing of the benedictus, for instance. but luke's writings have continued to inspire musicians and writers long after st. jerome and the scholars of the douay-rheims bible. i also found a very contemporary guitar song inspired by the same poem.
it has been very popular since the beginnings of "the enlightenment"--you remember, the time when frenchmen invented the guillotine and began to make human sacrifices to reason--to suggest that all religions are basically the same, and that they can be reduced to simple moral principals. there are, and were, some of who try to live religious lives who disagree to some or all of that statement. whether religions are basically the same or not, they are not reduceable to simple moral principals. indeed, morality is not the most important goal of religion at all, at least not in the christian tradition, nor in the tradition of celtic monasticism.
this is often either confusing or ignored, especially in our time of "separation of church and state." s. peter's admonition in his first epistle, "submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishemnt of evil-doers, or for the praise of them that do well," is either found confusing or over-rated. yet throughout most of history since constantine, there has been some sort of understanding that the the state, however it is organized, has a role in promoting morality. we often hear today that "morality cannot be legislated." of course it can. all legitimate laws, whether they are prohibiting murder, and setting sentances for the murderer, or controlling traffic, so one is less likely to commit vehicular homicide, are legislating morality.
but morality is not, despite what one hears so often these days, is not the ultimate goal, the essence, of christianity. if religion is, as i suggest, what ties all the different parts of one's life together--the literal meaning of the word--then it might be the goal of some religions: both islam and many protestant sects seem close to that understanding.
religion as it is revealed in the person of jesus christ has a different goal, however. morality is of course required. one can almost say it is assumed. but the purpose is to know god the father, as he is revealed by jesus christ his son. and that is the amazing thing about celtic monasticism, if kathleen hughes and ann hamlin are right in their slender book, celtic monasticism: the modern traveler to the early irish church (new york: the seabury press, 1981). they suggest that celtic monasteries were founded to make that goal easier for all the members of the society.
"there is," they say, "no complete philosophy of the monatic life in early irish records, but if the sermons attributed to columbanus are really by him they provide the fullest early statement. . . . the monastic life as he sees it is for contemplating and practising the presence of god. for him jesus is the joy of man's desiring, and to long for god is greater bliss than any worldly pleasure, any earthly fulfilment: 'taste and see,' he says, 'how lovely, how pleasant is the lord. . . . may no one and nothing separate us from the love of christ . . . that we may abide in him here' and for ever." (p.1)
i need hardly mention how different this way of organizing society is from what is most common in the time of our "contemporary psychosis," as thomas merton calls it. but that life is always available, even if it means turning off the television, turning away from the call of the mall and the gladiatorial fights of monday night football. indeed, as our lord says, it is at hand.
i've been away from my little cell amongst the pines for a long time. not too long to do the things i went west to do, but too long for my little hermit soul to really enjoy. so it is very good to be back, to sit outside my door and listen to the chanting of the pines at evensong.
it has been a week of catching up, so to speak: visiting my favourite springs and caves; pulling the strange plants that i probably seeded myself in my little garden but which seem much too tall for such a small place; waking early to hear the blackbird speak that morning has broken; and reading about saints and seasons that i missed while wandering in the northwest.
this morning i read tess ward's bookthe celtic wheel of the year, and i was intrigued that she mentioned something about this time of the year that i always notice, but have never known whether was shared by others. august always brings a feeling to me of deep nostalgia. this strikes me as a bit strange, because it is the time of high summer and bright, varied greens. but it is also the beginning of the harvest. lammas/lughnasadh starts us on the cycle of feasts which climax at the day of the dead/samhain. as the prayer book burial service begins, "in the middle of life we are in death." ward has the insight that demeter not only goes looking for persephone, her daughter, but also for the person she once was herself (p. 161-162). i have come back to my little cell in the pines to find again the same self that wandered for three months, now at home.
although i am happy to have finally accepted that self, the old grey-headed hermit/scholar, it is also the time of the fall ember days, when i must consider how that old hermit is doing. i find, in the words of what is perhaps the most-quoted poem of the twentieth century, that ". . .the end of all our exploring/will be to arrive where we started/and know the place for the first time."* always we begin again.
september is the beginning of the orthodox church year. the gospel readings are stories of our lord's resurrection. how wonderful to consider that in the midst of death, there is resurrection. i will spend this afternoon, i think, planting seeds.
my posts have been few lately, because i really have been peregrinating (wandering around): port angeles and the olympic peninsula; victoria, british columbia; seattle; and now bellingham and its environs. last week a few good friends and i celebrated the feast of the transfiguration on sehome hill, our own little local mt. tabor.
it was a wonderful celebration, with glory from generation to generation in the church, (ages 10 months to 64 years), a chrismation, the liturgy, first fruits of several delicious sorts. we reflected on how appropriate a time this feast is for a chrismation, in which each christian is actually christed and sent into the world to show the glory of christ to all she or he meets. and we wondered what we would meet when we came back down onto the plain below.
the dark satanic mills in the picture above are being dismantled now, not because we are really creating jerusalem on whatcom's green and pleasant land, but because it's cheaper to make toilet paper in china.
perhaps we did not meet individually the son tormented by daemons at the bottom of the hill, although he lives there, sleeping in apartments with windows covered with posters for rock bands whose names seem to be compounded from words chosen for their hopeful offensiveness, "hanging" on the corners of railroad avenue, waiting for his next fix. we do not meet him, that son (or her, that daughter) because they are legion and we no longer see them. they have become the wallpaper of our modern madness.
before we went up sehome hill, i spent an hour on the campus of western washington university trying to see each of the hundreds of people who walked by as the icon of god they have been created to be. i confess, it was very hard. now, in some cases i suspect that is because their icon is pretty dirty, covered with the garbage of the sin of the world. but it is also hard because i walk around in my sleep most of the time. i do not see christ in my sisters and brothers or anywhere. i need to wake up to see christ only. pray my peregrinations will not be sleep walking.
i looked early this morning at my e-mails to see if there were a report on the health of archbishop richard gundrey. there was, and it was good: he is home from the hospital and recovering well.
there was also this question: "what's your assessment of c.s. lewis these days, on his own merits and also in light of what's happened with fantasy literature since then . . . ? and george macdonald?"
i found it a helpful question, and i'm sharing my reply with whomever reads this blog:
ah, lewis & macdonald. your question comes at an appropriate time. my beach book is the once and future king. i only a few months ago read the inklings, which i found quite fascinating, and a good background for that hideous strength and perelandria, which i read soon thereafter. (i confess i have never read any of macdonald's works, but have been very impressed with charles williams; i read two of his novels from interlibrary loan, and want very much to find his poetry. if you have read that hideous strength then you know it's (and very much the inkling's) understanding that there is always a battle between england and albion--much like gurdjieff's wolf and lamb.
what most impresses me about lewis and the others of inklings is the quality of their dialogue, and that they most successfully expressed it in narrative. (lewis' four loves, for instance, although a wonderfully eradite (sp?) exposition, is wrong insofar as how greeks actually used their four words for love; but his descriptions of the ways of loving in perelandria is insightful anyway.) and of course central to their discussion was a consideration of the nature of the good and the existence and substance, if any, of evil. i was very disappointed but not surprised while being a fly on the wall yesterday at the adult forum at st. andrew's here in port angeles to hear adult churchmen who had no vocabulary to discuss this problem except that of the tabloids.
but fantasy literature also provides a vocabulary. evil does not go away if we ignore it. perhaps the screwtape letters is lewis' book which we most need. even if evil and our role to oppose it never comes up in today's pulpits in any way except that perhaps we should choose a good emperor, we know in our bowels that we are in a struggle. enter dowling, with whom you are much more familiar than i, who have only seen a few of the movies made from her books.
these books seem almost an affirmation of jung's collective unconscious, and a suggestion that if the church does not address such issues, or if the church is excluded from the public discussion of such issues, then they will be discussed without the church.
my question to you, . . . is why you are asking this question now, and whether the fantasy literature tends to portray magic in the way it is used by simon magus in the acts of the apostles and in the acts of peter?
one might suspect the current understanding of evil and our role in opposing it is probably well represented in the baptism and confirmation rites of the bcp 1979. still included are the traditional renunciations in the baptismal office, left there probably because the old fogies, bless their hearts, would not let them be removed; but the real center of it is the wonderfully pelagian baptismal covenant, which as . . . . a visitor from england [to eureka springs] . . . a few years ago noticed, is quite new. in the confirmation office and in the reaffirmation of baptismal vows, evil is hardly spoken of--not i think in the way that lord voltimor (sp?) in the harry potter books is not spoken of, but as a sort of anachronistic remnant from medievalism --while our vows are center stage again.
well. you've provoked me to write an essay before breakfast again. it's good to be provoked in such a way, one suspects. whatever lewis' faults, one cannot accuse him of not taking his baptism seriously, even though his self-identity as a christian first probably kept him from promotion at oxford.
the main reason for this post is to recommend a new-to-me blog of carl mccolman. i found his discussion of the differences between cataphatic and apophatic spirituality and the occasional struggles between those who practice either path helpful to me in my own attempt to find a balance within these practices, an attempt i mentioned in my pre post, "wild christianity."
during my sojourn in the pacific northwest, i am spending as much time as i can find sitting with creeks, usually whatcome creek, pictured above, or padden creek, which has little sand-bottomed swimming holes near its estuary. i like to think that this sitting is in the tradition of anthony of the desert, who said his scriptures were all of the holy one's creatins. and i find that my desire to see the unseeable has a even longer history. consider psalm 42:
"as a doe longs for running streams, so longs my soul for you, my god.
my soul thirsts for god, the god of life; when shall i go to see the face of god?"
i had a bonfire for pentecost. actually, i had two bonfires for pentecost: on the first eve, as i was enjoying the smoke that reminded me of the cloud on the mountain, i thought that perhaps the better time for a fire would be on the second eve. so i had one on the second eve as well.
now, i know that pentecost, despite the cloven tongues of flame, is not primarily a fire festival. the fires of pentecost, like the fires of all hallow's, are about purifying us so that we can properly receive the holy spirit and become saints.
i need all the purification i can get. and i also need the sort of concrete presentation of how the holy one works that bon fires and other catholic superstitions provide. i am not just a rational person. on the other hand, i know better than to follow my emotions. so i thought the representation of christ on the high cross of muiredach at monasterboice is fascinating. on the left side of christ is the great god pan, with his pipes, while king david plays harp on his right. the tension between the two is resolved in christ, the perfect man.
i just started to move back to the pacific northwest, again, and then decided to stay in arkansas and just visit the majestic fjords of washington.
i also just finished reading shirley toulson's the celtic alternative, which is a book one wishes were true. one must also admit that much of what she writes is speculation, especially about the sources of celtic christianity, although she does seem to be on quite solid ground when she writes about celtic monasticism. and since yesterday was the feast of st. brendan, i read his navagatio during the long early summer twilight. there was too much lightning around to go out in my little boat.
but amidst the various bits of wisdom and historical improbabilities of toulan's book was this passage i found quite fascinating:
"the celts of the early church were travelers of an especial sort. occasional journeys could be interpreted as planned missionary projects; but often the instinct that motivated them to follow the example of abraham and leave a settled homestead at god's command was even more compelling than the urge to spread the gospel. yet unlike the true itinerant who knows no other home than his boat or his tent [,which was true for me for several years], they had an intense nostalgic yearning (the hiraeth of the welsh) for their homeland whenever they were away from it [,which has become true for me since coming to the ozarks]. this yearning was of an intensity matched by the desire to be on their travels again once they were at home. it was a desperate sort of restlessness, not unknown to many people today, although they acted it out in a more extreme fashion than most of us are able to do. they had no refuge in save tourism." (p. 80)
although i met st. chad as the bishop of litchfield, who had been the humble bishop of york, his life at lastingham has come to be more meaningful to me. it is not really a hidden life, but it was much less public than his work as a bishop. he became abbot of lastingham on the death of his brother, cedd, and it would be at lastingham that he, too, would die.
it was at lastingham that chad was able to spend time in prayer and study, something almost as rare in today's world as walking. but if in today's world walking is very noticeable--i am know in eureka springs as "that walking guy," except by the younger folks who call me "that walking dude"--but no one knows what i do in my private life. st. chad provides a good example for me to pray and study.
but his prayer and his study were different from what comes so easily. his prayer was almost reflexive, and responded to the needs he saw around him as automatically as cnn responds to whatever is the news of today's moment. but prayer is probably a more effective response, sometimes a more compassionate response, than dispatching a person to tell us what is happening with no way to respond. and chad's study was what we would call medittion, or contemplation.
it is that example that makes me realize how much of my study is about god, rather than actually seeking to know the holy one. i need that example, each day.
when i "founded" the order of st. chad,i knew very little about him. in truth, it was much more that st. chad "found" me. it had been his cross that led me to him: a greek cross with barred arms and a square at the center. if the jerusalem cross, with its little crosses in the four directions, suggests taking the gospel to the four corners of the world, it seemed to me that st. chad's cross, with its square, suggested living the gospel where one found oneself.
i had of course read bede's mention of chad (books iii, chapters 23, 24 & 28, and iv, chapters 2&3; chad's student trumhere was bede's tutor in scriptures). later i would read r. hyett warner's life and legends of saint chad, bishop of litchfield, (669-972) (wisbech: leach & son [,1871]), which has many more stories of chad at lastingham, where he followed his brother cedd as abbot. warner is concerned about the relation of the church in england to the roman church from almost the direct opposite perspective of the romanist bede. but at first there were but a few things that caught my attention from reading bede.
first, chad walked. i love walking, and find it convenient to use chad as an excuse. second, chad was humble. i'm far from humble and constantly find chad an encouraging example. third, chad lived in a time of considerable conflict about religius authority. i live in a similar time, and find chad an insightful guide.
the fascinating part has been how my casual adoption of st. chad has led to more and more discoveries about him and his times and myself and my times. the prayers of the saints are not to be scoffed at.
i have mentioned the snowy morning in march of 1991 when then bishop richard gundrey received my provisional vows to poverty, obedience, and stability, an act which would lead to the founding of a little group of seven spiritual pilgrims called the order of st. chad, of which i was given the exalted-sounding title of director general.
the idea behind the order, as i found as i learned more about the traditions of monasticism, was not at all unusual: that there should be some support and encouragement for someone leading a life searching for intimacy with the holy one, while living in "the world."
of that seven, most of us have continued in the sort of path related to, at least, what we would grandly call "the rule of st. chad." two men became benedictines; one woman founded an orphanage in rural new mexico. i have lost touch with one of the original members, who was last heard from headed for the wilds of arizona, although i suspect he continues his rule there. one young man became more and more involved in his american indian ancestry. i have ended up in a very comfortable "disert" in eureka springs.
and i have come to a place in my life when i want to "re-boot" the order of st. chad. the original rule, although copies are stored safely in an archbishop's file cabinet somewhere, was lost to me in a hurricane in south carolina. but from my experience living with those vows over the past years, i am ready to issue a revised set of vows and rules for the order.
i am struck by the different behaviours of peter,john, and mary magdalene at the tomb that morning early on the first day of the week.
mary seems to be that part of each of us and of the church that is seeking truly to see god. her seeking, her catechumenate, even if it be unconscious to us, prompts peter, our active body, and john, our soul which the holy one loves, to join the search. the soul may be urgent, outrunning the body, but unless the body also enters into the mystery, it is limited. baptism preceeds mystagogy; then the soul believes. then usually we go back to our home.
but sometimes that truly seeking part of us, that womb within us which is the ark for the spirit, lingers, takes a second, and sees the lord who calls us by name.
the celtic church at the council of whitby claimed to be the church of john, and some contemporary folks seeking to recover celtic traditions make the same claim. but let us not dismiss too quickly the role of peter's church. urged on by the holy desires of mary, peter also has seen the lord, and has preserved the possibility of that vision and methods for of achieving it and sharing it (think of the sacraments and the vatican library), even if peter has not always seen the vision clearly himself. for the salvation of the world, for the understanding of the vision, peter and john must remain friends. they "went away again," remember, "unto their own home." (john 20:10) and they would be together in the iconic healing of the "man lame from his mother's womb" in the third chapter of acts (a story worthy of very careful reading).
"but mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping; and as she wept, she stooped down into the sepulchre and seeth two angels in white." then, "she turneth herself back, and saw jesus." most of us, i suspect, would feel pretty good about ourselves if we saw two angels. but mary--the true contemplative--turns herself away because she wants to see jesus, not some messenger no matter how well attired.
now obviously this text is rich with much more meaning than this feeble discussion, but even this cursory reading is, i think, useful as an indication of the function and values of different parts of our persons and of the church, parts we often hold in competition (consider the foolish popular discussion of the assumedly gnostic gospel of mary) or to rank. all are necessary. without the desire to see the lord, which is one of the major themes of john's gospel, then the organized church, with st. peter's basilica and st. john lateran, would be no more than a religious disneyland. but that part of us affirms that there is more to life than the emptiness of the tomb. st. john lateran is outside the walls--a very important image, because to understand the mystery we must always go outisde the walls. then supported by the church active and meditative life, the seed of holy desire flowers in contemplation.
by the way, one of the aspects of st. chad's life that makes him so remarkable was the way he held these three aspects of his person together. but that is a tale for another night.
walking this morning through the sunlight and the jonquil blooms and the birdsongs to the library this, where i use the computer, i saw a headline in the arkansas democrat gazette: "consumers' mood sunnier." am i the only one who finds living in a society which encourages us to define ourselves as "consumers" very unfortunate? once again that old serpent, the deceiver, tries to beguile us: "you will not die. we have the consumers' protection act."
of course central to our civilization's mythology is the story of the tree of good and evil and our first ancester's eating of it. they (we) have already everything we need, but there is one other thing, the forbidden thing, which we just must consume as well. it is not enough to know the good; we want to know good and evil.
this story, however one understands it, is compelling. we discuss it often. i have often remarked on a saturday about ten years ago when during the course of the day i was at four gatherings, of very various "religious persuasions," where the discussion turned to eve and adam and the apple.
not often in those discussions, however, is the role of obedience discussed. the gospel according to john is in many ways a commentary--a midrash if one wants to use a fancy word--on the first chapters of genesis. if that is a correct reading of john's work, then the tree of knowledge may not be an apple, as it is in so many paintings, but a vine. i think there are many benefits of considering the tree this way. think, for instance, of the story of noah and its outcome.
so, jesus has washed his disciples feet and told them a good many things about his leaving and the coming of the comforter, and they begin to walk to gesthemani. they pass the front of the temple, with its great golden carving of the vine. "i am the true vine," he says, "and my father is the husbandman. every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh it away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he cleanseth it, that it may bear more fruit. . . . if ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you. herein is my father glorified, that ye bear much fruits; and so shall ye be my disciples. even as the father hath loved me, i also have loved you: abide ye in my love. if ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as i have kept my father's commandments, and abide in his love." (john 15:1 ff., rv)
there are great problems for people and nations when one ceases to be a producer and begins to be only a consumer. (need i mention the american economic demise?) william temple, in his wonderful little book, readings in st. john's gospel, discusses how one may be a producer (london: st. martin's, 1961, pp. 246-247):
"we are in the vine. are we bearing fruit? no amount of ascetic discipline or devotional fervour is a substitute for the practical obedience which alone is 'fruit.' that obedience however is not a matter of 'works,' though these will follow from it, and if they are lacking, there is no 'fruit.' obedience is to god's command; 'and this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his son jesus christ, and love one another even as he gave us commandment' (,i>i john iii, 23)."
so simple. but so unlike what i so often want to do.
through the pine trees, i watched the paschal moon rise last night. it was a very poignant time. i kept thinking about jesus' last week before his crucifixion, with the moon becoming full over the mount of olives, the moon which is the lesser light, to rule the night, flooding jerusalem across the valley with it's pale light, the jerusalem that killed the prophets. i could not but think of the line in john's gospel (13:20), when judas iscariot had just gone out: "it was night."
for the past few years my lenten discipline has included a "word," as the desert fathers would say, a "koan" was our buddhist brothers and sisters say. my friend michael carroccino reminded me that i had put my musings on line in the past, and that he had found them helpful. i have not mentioned them so far this year, because another part of my discipline has been to try to blather less. but now that lent is turning into easter, it's time to consider some of my discoveries.
my word for the season has been from genesis:
"and the lord god planted a garden eastward in eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. and out of the ground made the lord god to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (2:8-9)
it is one of the most commented-upon pieces of writing in all the world. over the next few days i will share some of them. but for now i want to remark that almost all of the writers, from the first to the twentieth centuries, agree that eventually, the man would be granted the food of the tree of life. but, he should wait until the time was full. there is a bit of reflection of this in the collect for palm sunday:
"almighty and everliving god, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy son our savior jesus christ to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility: mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same jesus christ our lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the holy spirit, one god, for ever and ever. amen."
"grant that we . . . may follow the example of his patience . . ."
within that context, the idea that now, at the full mooon, jesus' hour had come, becomes even more important. and it is not just our lord's hour, but the hour of the whole world. it is the hour, as s. matthew's gospel calls it, of the regeneration (19:28). there is a haunting scene in the movie, "the passion of the christ," in which jesus, carrying his cross, our tree of life, falls; mary his mother meets him, and he says to her, "look, mother. i am making all things new." allthough we sometimes forget it, that is what we are remembering this week.
st. chad's feast was the second of march, but chad has quite a following. one of his followers, owen, has a feast just two days later. owen was a monk at lastingham where chad had a cell and oratory. continuing the tradition of the celtic saints, chad often prayed all night while standing in the water. the well where he prayed is still at lastingham, although rather more decorous now. probably one would be discouraged from standing in it naked to pray.
we know of owen primarily because he was outside of chad's oratory, probably on st. matthias' day, and heard wonderful singing. when he asked chad, he was told that angels had joined the older saint in prayer, and told him that what he had heard were angels who had told him thatin one week they would return to escort his soul to heaven.
indeed, that was what happened: chad died seven days later after a short bout of what was probably yellow fever.
this is not an unusual story in the lives of orthodox saints. many of them are told when their day of repose will be, both in the celtic lands and in the east. modern "historians" of course discount these stories, saying that they are part of the necessary lore of hagiography. what i find distressing is that not only do modern historians discount these stories, but much of the "church" does as well. not only is the idea of angelic visitation considered impossible, but the belief in life that survives death is becoming less and less acceptable.
of course, if there is no afterlife, and no judgment, then whatever we can get away with is acceptable. we seldom say it so bluntly, but it is certainly how we live. consider haiti, whichi choose because it has received so much publicity lately. americans are busy contratulating ourselves because we are so generous in "aid" to haiti--although not so generous as we are in care of our pets, for instance. but we do not much consider that the present conditions in haiti are largely the result of american policy since haiti won its independence from france.
yes, of course, the problems of a place like haiti are complex and huge, and you or i cannot easily "fix" them quickly. it is always easier to knock humpty dumpty off the wall than it is to put him back together again. but to ignore the results of our everyday actions in the lives of those whom jesus called "the least of these" is not acceptable, either.
the feast of st. chad is also complex, too. chad has been my patron now for 18 years, and only this year did i learn that he is the patron of healing springs. how wonderful a concidence now that i live in eureka springs, and visit at least two healing springs almost every day.
it is difficult to know where to start with brigid, or where to end. she is a wonderful and fascinating person in her own right: patron of milkmaids--i used that as an excuse for extra milk in my oatmeal this morning, and wished i had thought about her in time to have bought cream; the only woman bishop consecrated by st. mel(notice the crosier in her hand in her icon); dweller as much in eternity as in time, being claimed as a wet nurse to christ. but brigid is also an example of the continuity of celtic beliefs and practices as the celts came into christianity. her monastery, killdare, is the church of the oak, continuing the celtic appreciation of trees (which of course is but a continuation of the old testament appreciation of trees: think of the appearance of the holy one to abraham under the oak of mamre). the holy fire at killdare was tended until the monastery was destroyed by the neo-heathen puritans; it has lately been rekindled.
oddly enough, it has only very lately that there have been propers for st. brigid's feast. st. ignatius of antioch has tended to bump her from the altar. but i find that the common of a monastic seems to have been chosen with st. brigid in mind:
the epistle: philippians 3:7-15.
howbeit what things were gain to me, these have i counted loss for christ. yea doubtless, and i count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of christ jesus my lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of christ, the righteousness which is of god by faith: that i may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means i might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. not as though i had already attained, either were already perfect: but i follow after, if that i may apprehend that for which also i am apprehended of christ jesus. brethren, i count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing i do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, i press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of god in christ jesus. let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, god shall reveal even this unto you.
the gospel: st. luke 12:22-37
jesus he said unto his disciples, herefore i say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. the life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and god feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls? and which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? if ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. if then god so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith? and seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. for all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your father knoweth that ye have need of these things. but rather seek ye the kingdom of god; and all these things shall be added unto you.
fear not, little flock; for it is your fathers good pleasure to give you the kingdom. sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.
so, i will end with the collect:
oh god, by whose grace the blessed abbess brigid of kildare, enkindled with the fire of thy love, became a burning and a shining light in thy church: grant that we may be inflamed with the same spirit of discipline and love, and ever walk before thee as children of light; through jesus christ our lord.
one of the many celtic celebrations we've pretty much lost is plough monday. since fewer and fewer of us are farmers these days, and more and more of us "celebrate" christmas by working more and more during advent and "the holidays," it makes sense that we would not celebrate the resumption of work after a period of time off. most of us did not make our advent wreath by taking a wheel off the wagon, so we don't need to put it back. we are more likely to look at today as another "blue monday" than as a holiday.
but there is, i think, a way we who do not live in the scilly islands can still benefit from this day, the monday after the first sunday after the epiphany. remember the reading from the gospel for christmas day, when we were told that "mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart"? there is a refrain of that idea in the gospel for the first sunday after the epiphany, when we are told that "his mother kept all these sayings in her heart." we should follow mary's lead and keep these sayings [from the christmas season] and ponder them in our hearts as well. it is very easy quickly to get caught up in the next rush, which i guess in the year of the church of "it's-the-economy-stupid" is valentine's day, when we are supposed to buy diamonds, and if not diamonds, then at least very expensive candy.
we can keep something from the season just ending quietly within our hearts through each of the days ahead. it may be a particular reading, or carol, or something we have heard a friend say. it can be something as simple as the words from a child's carol. but it can be for us as a mantra, so that we might live somewhat as we are told every year by someone announcing a holiday parade or a news story about a soup kitchen, who tells us how wonderful it would be if every day were christmas. my choice for a child's carol was probably sung by each of us. here are some of its words, to keep in my heart on plough monday:
"how silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given! so god imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. no ear may his his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still, the dear christ enters in.
o holy child of bethlehem descend to us, we pray cast out our sin and enter in be born to us today."