Tag Archives: Benedictines

23 November: Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness.

Our third and – for the present – final borrowing from Eddie’s blog at the London Irish Chaplaincy. Thank you Eddie! Readers may like to visit the chaplaincy’s Prayer Room, see the invitation at the end of the post.

Eddie’s book, Looking ahead with Hope, is now on sale, price £9.99. See his account of a launch event here. WT.

We’re blessed in the UK and Ireland to have four distinct seasons, even occasionally being able to see all of them in a single day, and the transition from Summer to Autumn can be especially evocative.

Each year at the end of August I go through a little period of mourning for the Summer. The holidays have been and gone, the flowers are fading, the long trousers and long sleeves need to be got out, and our Wednesday evening cycling group has to cease due to the rapidly encroaching dark. And yet there are precious treats in store. I always await with eager anticipation the re-appearance of Orion, the constellation visible in the Northern hemisphere only over the winter months. I was at the monastery when the big day came. I happened to have a room on the East side of the Guest Wing and I’d initially been disappointed to be so placed. The West Wing, where I’d been before, overlooks the woods and the lovely old monastery buildings and is especially peaceful. The East side contains a school and a road and consequently a bit of noise. However, waking up in the dark on the first morning of my retreat at 5.40 a.m. to attend the 6 a.m. Vigils service I drew back the curtains to reveal the incredible sight in the sky of Orion and the Winter Triangle. It was like the return of an old and faithful friend. There was also a bright, full Harvest moon in all its glory, and a little later the deepest of red skies as the sun began to rise. Had I been in a room on the West side I would have missed it all!

Autumn is often a time of new beginnings. Another academic year commences, and many people might be embarking on a new course or hobby. The next level of my Korean class has got going and I’ve been enjoying both the study, the interaction with a very nice and very international group of people, and practising some of my new expressions on Yim Soon! The lessons have been quite fun so far and that’s how I like my language learning to be. And then at the start of September there was a much-anticipated event: the meeting of my choir for the first time in over a year and a half. There were fewer people than there used to be. Mansel, who I often sit next to, remarked to me at the start, “You do realise, don’t you, that the reason some people haven’t returned is because they’ve died!” It was a sobering reflection. Nonetheless it has been a great joy to drive off to Whitstable again on a Tuesday evening for rehearsals, a fixed point in my life for many years and much missed during COVID, and it will no doubt be a great joy to perform again.

I relish the first hints of coolness in the air in the early morning or late evening, and being able to give proper observance to those key transition periods in the day, dawn and dusk. I gather and prepare the wood for the winter fires. The garden as well needs to be got ready for its winter slumber and regeneration. There will be a final mowing of the grass; the remains of the summer flowers will be added to the compost heap; the soil will be dug over, taking care not to disturb the Spring bulbs. Perhaps new daffodils or tulips will be planted. Then the garden will be left; the worms will be allowed to do their hidden work of restoration; and the spiders will weave their beautiful webs that glisten so radiantly in the fresh dew of the morning.

October will bring the first frost, and how I marvel on my early morning walk to see the intricate patterns it makes on the car windscreens. That might coincide with another seasonal treat, the first fire. It will be the first of many and how I love to listen to the crackling of the logs and to watch the flames leap and dance. It will be time for the cooking apples to be harvested from the old tree by the shed. There will be the ceremonial first baking of apple crumble; and with a bumper crop, which seems to be every other year, the bulk will be made into chutney. Meanwhile the leaves on that and on the other trees will give their annual display of golden beauty, before they fall and wither.

The cycles of the seasons, the cycles of our lives. And, to paraphrase Keats as the days shorten on another year, may all our fruit be filled with ripeness to the core.

Eddie Gilmore

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May God bless you.

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22 November: On Glastonbury Tor

More inspired curiosity from Eddie Gilmore at The Irish Chaplaincy.

There are always interesting characters to be found on Glastonbury Tor and my latest visit was no exception.

I was having a few days of retreat at Downside Abbey, the Benedictine monastery in Somerset not far from Glastonbury. On my previous stay at Downside I’d also climbed the Tor, on which occasion there was a large group of women performing some kind of ritual which included a circle dance and various incantations, as well as them laughing a lot and breaking out into the singing of old pop songs in the tower. There had been a nice energy about the group and I’d wished I could be part of it.

On this occasion I’d seized the opportunity of a sunny day on which to drive over and make the steep ascent. The Tor stands at about 180m and commands spectacular views in every direction, even, on such a clear day, all the way across the Bristol Channel to a point on the Welsh coast forty-five miles away. St Michael’s Tower is perched right on the top and I especially love to look through the archways on each side. They provide a pleasant framing of the view beyond. It has been a site of pilgrimage for centuries and the following day, it was explained to me later, it would be especially busy because of the Autumn equinox. The site is said to be on a certain ‘ley line’, believed to be routes of particular sacred energy going in a straight line across the country and linking particular holy places.

On my previous visit to the Tor I’d been reminded of a place on the Camino to Santiago with similarly vast and commanding views from a high point over the surrounding flat countryside and a sense that it was somewhere the ancient Celts might have described as being a ‘thin place’ i.e. there being a thin veil between earth and heaven. This time I was mainly relishing the uncommonly warm day and, like many of those who had made the climb, lying down in the sun. I was also, as I like to do, observing those around me! Of particular interest was a woman who appeared through the archway of the tower with an ivy chain around her head. She was closely followed by a second and then a third woman who were each of them similarly adorned, also carrying armfuls of ivy and other bits and pieces. ‘What’s going on here, then?’ I wondered. They proceeded to set up shop on the grass, creating a circle of ivy and other things and with a vase of flowers at the centre. And one of them was lighting some kind of incense. One or two similarly curious onlookers asked what they were doing and one of the three explained that they were performing a little ceremony for Mother Earth and getting rid of bad things from their lives and welcoming the new. A woman who until then had been sunbathing asked to join them and she was welcomed and crowned with an ivy chain. And then the ritual began, which included the ringing of a bell, the beating of a drum and one of the women moving round the circle spreading the sweet-melling incense. It was a little bit wacky but I suppose to many people these days the liturgies I’d been attending in the Abbey church might seem equally wacky. At any rate, seeing a ritual performed by women was a nice counterpoint to the exclusive maleness of that morning’s monastic Mass. I reflected as well that some of what the women were doing wasn’t too far from what the monks had been doing on the Sunday in their High Mass, at least in terms of the incense, with a deacon having gone round the altar with the thurible; except that the men didn’t have a bunch of pretty flowers in the middle!

It was then that I heard a guitar and singing coming from inside the tower and went to explore. A man was there and he had a lovely, gentle voice which was pleasantly amplified by the acoustics of the tower, and when he finished I clapped in appreciation, along with a couple who were listening as well. He was explaining to the couple in answer to them asking where he came from that he lived in Spain, although I could hear the unmistakable sound of a Dublin accent. After the couple made their leave I got chatting with him and he was interested to hear about my background and about the work of the Irish Chaplaincy. I asked him his name. He replied that he’d been born Denis (and a Roman Catholic) but had changed his name twenty years ago to Ananda. When I later checked the spelling with him he said, “It’s like Amanda but you just change the ‘m’ to an ‘n’!” He told me that the word in Hinduism, as in Buddhism and Jainism, denotes extreme happiness and is one of the highest states of being. He believed in the unity in all religions and as if to demonstrate that he sang to me a self-composed mantra which began, conventionally enough, with the words that had been sung that morning in the monastic Mass, ‘Kyrie eleison’, Lord have mercy. Ananda’s version continued, ‘Maria eleison, Mama eleison, Allah eleison, Buddha eleison’ before ending with another verse of ‘Kyrie eleison’.

He went on to tell me that he’d lived in Glastonbury for four year and had walked up the Tor every single day, rain or shine, with his guitar and it was his personal ministry to sing in the tower and chat to people. He also pointed out to me the Celtic connections with the area. An old legend has it that Patrick came back to Britain as an old man and gathered together some hermits in Glastonbury and became the first Abbot. What’s more, the carved figure of Brigid, patron saint of the Irish Chaplaincy as I explained to Ananda, is carved right there in St Michael’s Tower where we were speaking. Legend has it that she spent two years in Glastonbury in prayer before founding in Kildare her dual monastery, one for women and one for and men and over both of which she ruled as abbess.

Ananda was summoned to go and meet his wife, his ring tone being a nice bit of violin music! As he invited me to “go well” I decided it was time to be brave and engage with the ivy-clad women. I went over and asked if I could take a photo of their circle and one of them said with a smile, “Do you want the models in the picture?” I asked what the incense had been and was told it had been sage and myrrh. “Oh” I said, “sage was used by the native Americans to purify the atmosphere of bad vibes.” I happened to know that because when I’d been in a role at L’Arche that seemed to involve having a lot of tricky 1 to 1 meetings, my counterpart in L’Arche London, an American called Keith, used to tell me about the sprig of sage he kept hanging in his office for such meetings. We’d call one another sometimes and say, “So how much sage did you need to burn today?”

Later I went for a stroll in the town which is a truly fascinating place. On the residential street leading to the centre almost every other house has a statue of the Buddha in the window. Then there is the main street, which is a veritable hot-potch of what used to be called ‘New age mysticism’: tarot card reading, crystals, hypnotherapy, ‘Saturday morning yoga with Andrew’, the ‘Zen Music Shop’. Outside the C of E parish church a wizard had set up a stall, next to a man playing reggae music, and was waving cheerfully to passers-by. Ananda had told me that Glastonbury is home to seventy-three different religions and beliefs, the highest such concentration anywhere on the planet. There was even an RC church. How, I wondered, did they get on in the midst of the seventy-three?

I was kind of relieved to get back to the peace, and monotheism, of the monastery. Interestingly, the book being read that evening in the monastic refectory was by a Benedictine who made the observation that the professed religious life as we know it in the West is in terminal decline. The Downside community is typical in that most of the eight members are in their seventies or older and they are currently planning to leave their home of the last 150 years and move in with another, similarly diminishing, community. I agree with the prognosis of terminal decline and think we, the ever dwindling faithful in the Church need to be honest about that rather than hold our heads in the sand. I think there might not be more than a couple of decades left, in the West at any rate, of a tradition that goes back over 1600 years and which has had such a profoundly positive impact on civilisation, in such areas as healthcare and education, even in the development of champagne, thanks to Dom Pérignon, a French Benedictine monk.

What will take its place? The innate human yearning for meaning will still be there, and a need for ritual. Many of us will continue to seek places of stillness; and a sense of the sacred will be as strong as ever, however that finds its expression. My guess is that things could get even more eclectic and a whole lot more wacky! But I take comfort in the words of one of the spiritual greats (I’m afraid I can’t remember which one): “The good will out.”

Eddie Gilmore

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2 November, All Souls: Anyone who is not against us is for us, Part II.

Rose Lane, winter’s morning, Rev Jo Richards.

Here is the second instalment of Sister Johanna’s reflections on who is with Jesus – according to His infallible opinion.

We are looking at the saying of Jesus, Anyone who is not against us is for us, from Mark 9:40. Yesterday we began our considerations, and if you go back to that post, you will be in a better position to understand today’s reflection. This beautiful saying is typical of the generosity with which Jesus interprets everyone’s actions. It shows that he is emphatically not interested in condemning us; on the contrary, he is ever ready to place the best interpretation on our actions that can be found. Think about it. There are many, many ways of being “not against” Jesus. Perhaps at the top of the list you have those who are wildly enthusiastic, fully committed, paragons of dedication, saints. And that is well and good.

But there are others also who are much less stellar, who fit into this category of being not against Jesus. How about those who are, say, open to him but uncertain, who need more time; they’re “not against” him. To these, Jesus seems to say, ‘You’re in.’ What about the mildly interested? What about those who say, ‘I wonder what’s in it for me?’ Or how about those who are too busy and preoccupied but are sincerely intending to get around to Jesus one day? Or those who are penniless and find that they can get a free meal and kind companionship once a week from the Christians who volunteer at St. Jude’s Centre? Or how about those who find that religion makes them feel good but they haven’t quite figured out why? Such a list could go on and on – because, I realise now that most Christians are ordinary people whose spiritual life is a work in progress; they are “not against” Jesus, but they have their agenda, and their relationship to Jesus is incomplete and probably rather immature.

I admit it: I have my own agenda. But, although I admit this, the details and deep roots of my selfishness go beyond what I have full access to in my conscious mind. Looking back at my life, I see that the Holy Spirit has gradually been enlightening me, helping me to know myself and showing me more of the unconscious self-interest that drives my actions and infects my discipleship.

So this remark of Jesus, “Whoever is not against us is for us,” almost a throw-away line and so easy to miss, is actually one that can give great encouragement to an imperfect disciple of Jesus. Jesus sees my imperfections, but he also sees that I am not against him. Indeed, he already counts me as being among those who are for him. He has no intention of sending me away, and would reprimand anyone who tries. This, when I ponder it, gives me peace and makes me grateful for Jesus’ generous gaze of love and acceptance.

SJC

*Lectio divina is a latin term referring to the slow and prayerful reading of Holy Scripture.

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20 October: Luke, a Nervous Evangelist, Part III

This is the third part of Sister Johanna’s reflection on Luke 18:1-8. In my mental picture of this story, the widow gathers her friends and neighbours to mount a demo outside the Judge’s house – or maybe he was sipping a hot chocolate in the Hard Rock Cafe when the widow’s entourage came by with their loudspeakers blaring and chanting their slogans. Embarrassing enough to make him give up. What next? What indeed: read on!

If you are just joining this daily reflections blog, I invite you to scroll back two days to find out what we are thinking about. Today, Jesus, in Luke 18: 1-8, gives us his third surprise. He seems to be saying that we must play the role of the feisty widow in relation not to a sinful human being, but in relation to God himself. No wonder St Luke was a bit nervous about this parable. For Jesus is saying to us here, “You’ve got to be like her with God. God’s not trying to make you a victim, but it might feel like that sometimes. And so you’ve just got to stay with it. Keep praying. No matter what happens or doesn’t happen. Just stay with God. Some things take time. God sees the big picture. Don’t give up and don’t switch off with God.” While we’re still taking this in Jesus gives us our fourth surprise.

Here comes Jesus’ curmudgeonly judge-God again. Jesus paints him as someone who can actually be intimidated by us and our persistence. Pace, St Luke. This is not systematic theology, it is a parable – something more like a poem or a song that tells us what it “feels” like, how things “seem” to be in our relationship with God. And the point is important enough for Jesus to take the risk of being misunderstood. He’s saying, with maybe a twitch of a smile, if you stick with God, God will eventually seem to cave in and to say, “Oh, for the love of Mike. This lady will slap me if I don’t give her what she wants. Looks like I’d better do something for her.”

This perhaps becomes clearer when we consider Jesus’ final words. At the end of this passage, Jesus resumes the gravitas that we usually associate with him, but his words seem enigmatic at first, and even self-contradictory:

And the Lord said, ‘You notice what the unjust judge has to say? Now, will not God see justice done to his elect if they keep calling to him day and night even though he still delays to help them? I promise you, he will see justice done to them, and done speedily. But when the Son of man comes, will he find any faith on earth?’

Jesus ends with a very un-playful plea for faith. A superficial reading of this passage might make its final words seem out of place. But we have been trying to go in deep over the last three days, and I think we can begin to see what Jesus is saying. He first says, in effect, that if such an unjust creature as this judge will eventually come round, will not God do so also? Seems clear enough. Yet, then, Jesus returns to the theme of God’s apparent delay, and seems to be trying to say two opposing things at once. In line eight, we are told to expect that God will seem to delay to help us. But immediately following those words, he seems to promise the opposite, that God will ‘see justice done, and done speedily.’ What does he mean?

I think Jesus is handing us a paradox – for this is the only way of describing God’s grace. On one hand, God’s help seems to be forever in coming, as we pray and wait in agony for a specific outcome to our prayer that never arrives. And then, time passes, and if we stay with our prayer and our hope in God, we begin to realize a few things. We see that as we have waited and prayed, we have changed. We see that as we have waited and prayed, other circumstances around us have changed – in ways that are surprising and that we had not asked for. It gradually becomes clear that we have been given the answer to our prayer – an answer that is not what we expected, but that blesses us more deeply than we could have imagined. And then we look back and see that God has, in fact, been answering our prayer all along, invisibly, yet speedily and unwaveringly guiding us to this particular moment when we discover his grace and healing.

‘When the Son of man comes, will he find any faith on earth?’ Jesus asks. What kind of faith is that? The widow shows us. It’s faith that, with feisty determination, clings to God as our helper; faith that refuses to take no for an answer. For, God is our helper, Jesus wants us to know in this parable. Just wait and see. That is reason for Jesus to smile, and even play a bit. He invites us to do so, also.

Thank you, Sister Johanna. There is a link between faith and a sense of humour that seems to start from infancy: babies and toddlers often seem to see the ridiculous side of life. And what, after all, is more ridiculous than the idea of the Creator of all becoming a human baby?

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This was a crowd of pilgrims in Krakow for the World Youth Days, 2016. Follow the link for Ignatius’ impressions of this event at the time.


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18 October: Luke, a Nervous Evangelist, Part I.

Jesuit Chapel, Hales Place, Canterbury.

We can tip our hats to Saint Luke, whose feast day it is, as we enjoy Sister Johanna’s three part reflection on one of the parables: down below the surface are riches not at first apparent.

Then Jesus told them a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. ‘There was a judge in a certain town,’ he said, ‘who had neither fear of God nor respect for anyone. In the same town there was also a widow who kept on coming to him and saying, “I want justice from you against my enemy!” For a long time he refused, but at last he said to himself, “Even though I have neither fear of God nor respect for any human person, I must give this widow her just rights since she keeps pestering me, or she will come and slap me in the face.”’

And the Lord said, ‘You notice what the unjust judge has to say? Now, will not God see justice done to his elect if they keep calling to him day and night even though he still delays to help them? I promise you, he will see justice done to them, and done speedily. But when the Son of man comes, will he find any faith on earth?’

[Luke 18: 1-8; The New Jerusalem Bible, Study Edition.]

I don’t often detect one of the evangelists in a moment of editorial nervousness, but St Luke seems to be having one here. Jesus is clearly having a bit of fun with his audience – something that doesn’t often happen, considering the wariness of the religious establishment as they struggled with Jesus’ unusual teachings and personality. But in this passage, Jesus is probably talking to his disciples rather than the scribes and Pharisees (cf. Lk 17: 22), and he seems relaxed and ready to tease a group of people who, he sensed, were receptive to his teachings. St Luke steps in, however, with a pre-emptive strike, and tells us what Jesus’ parable means before we have a chance to read it and get the wrong impression. No giggling allowed here, St. Luke seems to say. Well, wait a minute, I want to say to Luke. Surely, all great orators know that occasionally it is good to make your point by surprising your audience with humour – make them laugh and they’re yours. Jesus was no stranger to rhetorical techniques. Can we not admit a smiling Jesus into the series of images we have of him? For this brief parable is a remarkably playful one. I imagine Jesus not only smiling at times as he tells his story, but even acting out the parts of the judge and the widow with subtle comedic skill. For the first surprise is this: Jesus hauls a curmudgeon out of his hat and calls him the judge. Second surprise: who does the judge-curmudgeon represent? None other than God himself. What a daring move on Jesus’ part. God, whose holy Name, Yahweh, is so sacred that the Jews were forbidden even to say it aloud, is likened here to a crusty old judge, crabby and somewhat calculating.

It’s possible, of course, that Jesus plays this very straight. But whatever the case: Jesus’ caricature of the Most High God presupposes at least two things in his listeners. One, Jesus assumes that they have a pretty sophisticated sense of humour about religion itself. And two, he takes it for granted that he is talking to people who have an ongoing prayer-life. As such, they will inevitably have come up with some searing questions about God and the way he answers – or doesn’t seem to answer – our prayer. Jesus is playful here, but in no sense is he dismissive. Rather, he uses his playfulness tenderly in order to address what he knows is a very serious matter.

We will continue our reflection tomorrow.

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September 12, 1775: A most pleasing effect on my mind. Season of Creation XIV.

An Island ferry docked at Mallaig.

Two Hundred and forty six years ago, Dr Johnson and James Boswell were on the Isle of Raasay in the Hebrides, making for Skye and thence for home. No regular Calmac ferry then! Indeed they had waited in the islands for clement weather to allow the rowing boats to set out. Now the conversation grew serious; can one die contented? Johnson’s answer is comprehensive, and reminds me of the old catechism answer: God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next. We rely on his mercy for the latter.

More of Boswell’s idiosyncratick spelling!

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 12. It was a beautiful day, and although we did not approve of travelling on Sunday, we resolved to set out, as we were in an island from whence one must take occasion as it serves. Macleod and Talisker sailed in a boat of Rasay’s for Sconser, to take the shortest way to Dunvegan. M’Cruslick went with them to Sconser, from whence he was to go to Slate, and so to the main land. We were resolved to pay a visit at Kingsburgh, and see the celebrated Miss Flora Macdonald, who is married to the present Mr. Macdonald of Kingsburgh; so took that road, though not so near.

All the family, but Lady Rasay, walked down to the shore to see us depart. Rasay himself went with us in a large boat, with eight oars, built in his island; as did Mr. Malcolm M’Cleod, Mr. Donald M’Queen, Dr. Macleod, and some others. We had a most pleasant sail between Rasay and Sky; and passed by a cave, where Martin says fowls were caught by lighting fire in the mouth of it. Malcolm remembers this. But it is not now practised, as few fowls come into it.

We spoke of Death. Dr. Johnson on this subject observed, that the boastings of some men, as to dying easily, were idle talk, proceeding from partial views. I mentioned Hawthornden’s Cypress-grove, where it is said that the world is a mere show; and that it is unreasonable for a man to wish to continue in the show-room, after he has seen it. Let him go cheerfully out, and give place to other spectators.

JOHNSON. ‘Yes, Sir, if he is sure he is to be well, after he goes out of it. But if he is to grow blind after he goes out of the show-room, and never to see any thing again; or if he does not know whither he is to go next, a man will not go cheerfully out of a show-room. No wise man will be contented to die, if he thinks he is to go into a state of punishment. Nay, no wise man will be contented to die, if he thinks he is to fall into annihilation: for however unhappy any man’s existence may be, he yet would rather have it, than not exist at all. No; there is no rational principle by which a man can die contented, but a trust in the mercy of GOD, through the merits of Jesus Christ.’

This short sermon, delivered with an earnest tone, in a boat upon the sea, which was perfectly calm, on a day appropriated to religious worship, while every one listened with an air of satisfaction, had a most pleasing effect upon my mind.

From “Life of Johnson, Vol 5 Tour to the Hebrides (1773)” by James Boswell.

Keeley Psalms devotions_30
Follow this link for Sister Johanna’s Psalm reflection for today, again bearing out CS Lewis and Thomas Merton:

‘In the psalms we have theology expressed poetically.’ 

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11 September: Vague religion versus Theology, Season of Creation XIII.

Times were hard in 1944. A religion that could not attempt some sort of explanation of the war that was still ongoing was no use to CS Lewis. In this extract he makes clear why. Much as Pope Francis did with Laudato Si’. There are good Christian reasons for studying the ways we are invited to prepare for the future without burning carbon, it’s not an add-on, it’s part of our share in creation, and it’s serious hard work.

A vague religion – all about feeling God in nature and so on – is so attractive. It’s all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach. But you won’t get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you won’t get to eternal life by just feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. And you won’t be very safe if you go to sea without a map.

In other words, Theology is practical … if you don’t listen to theology, that won’t mean you have no ideas about God. It’ll mean that you’ll have a lot of wrong ones.

C.S. Lewis, Beyond Personality, Geoffrey Bles, 1944.

Thomas Merton felt that more listening to Scripture was also part of the picture. He congratulated Ernesto Cardenal on his translation of the Psalms into Spanish, at a time when the Divine Office was recited in Latin: ‘These are the versions we should really be chanting in choir. How few monks think of the real meaning of the Psalms. If priests knew what they are reciting every day.’

Thomas Merton & Ernesto Cardenal, From the Monastery to the World, Berkeley, Counterpoint, 2017

Here is the link to Sister Johanna’s Psalm reflection for today.

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Psalms

What is it like to use the psalms for prayer every day and many times a day?  By God’s grace, my experience of praying the psalms daily now stretches over nearly four decades.  I shall try to say a little about what I have learned during this time.

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7 July: The translation of Saint Thomas

The Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral.

In 1120, Thomas Becket was born in London; in 1170, he was murdered in his Cathedral. By the time his remains were translated (moved) to a new shrine in the cathedral, Canterbury had become a major pilgrimage destination and a place of healing. Perhaps relatively few of the healings recorded by the Benedictine custodians would be recognised as miracles today but those who were healed, whether by divine intervention or the workings of human psychology – mind over matter, if you will – went home rejoicing. Even King Henry II, whose tempestuous outburst spurred the four knights to confront and kill the Archbishop, came as a penitent pilgrim.

But in 1538 another king was angry. Henry VIII wanted a divorce from Catharine of Aragon, who had borne a daughter but no son. Unable to attack militarily the Pope who had refused the divorce, he divorced the Church of England from the Catholic church. Thomas, the low-born bishop who had stood up to the king was now, not a martyred saint but a traitor, whose name was to be forgotten, written out of history, even out of prayer books.

This Link is to a post from Magdalene College, Cambridge. It tells how this was done, using actual books in their libraries; a good read.

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1 July: Power can be a danger, Even the Demons Submit II.

Photo from CD: After a bombing in Brussels.

Continuing Sister Johanna’s reflection from yesterday.

Yesterday, we left the seventy-two missionary disciples when they were feeling wonderful in the knowledge that they would be powerful in Jesus’ name. Jesus himself had just assured them of it (Luke 10:19). Which brings me to the next point in this reflection. It is a joy beyond all joys to work for the Lord and to be an instrument of his power and love. Jesus appreciates that the disciples are experiencing something they’ve never experienced before – and they can barely contain themselves. Perhaps they have even been slightly unbalanced by this experience. Who wouldn’t be? For, in addition to their joy, the entire experience – the journey, their success in preaching the Kingdom and in healing the sick, and, to cap all, their power over the demons – must have given this group of seventy-two men an enormous sense of power. And power can be a danger for those who wield it. No one was ever more astute than Jesus about the dangers of power. He wants the disciples to begin to understand this danger. He now has some sobering words for his missionaries.

The gospels are completely honest in recounting the instances when the disciples reveal that they are preoccupied by issues of power – their own power as a group against the Roman occupation, the apparent power of particular individuals within their group, Jesus’ power in relation to the religious establishment were just a few of the power-issues that distracted them. Jesus has repeatedly tried to lead them away from this preoccupation with power (cf. Luke 9:46-50). But now, here they go again. They have suddenly experienced a new kind of power – spiritual power. This is the most dangerous power of all. And they like it. They like it a lot.

Their words to Jesus when they arrive seem to indicate that they have seen that their spiritual power over the demons depends on their use of Jesus’ name. So that’s something. At least they have a vague notion that they are not the authors of the power they have exercised. Good, but not great, seems to be the judgement of Jesus about this. His words of warning come quickly: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you.”

Now’s the time for the newly minted missionaries to feel like the novices they are, to shuffle their feet and look down at the ground. Jesus’ words make them see that they’ve been gloating rather a lot, and feeling a bit smug and self-congratulatory – precisely because the spirits submitted to them. Jesus wants it to be very clear to them that only by his election are they themselves safe from the demonic. They must keep their attention focused not on who or what has submitted to them, but on where they themselves need to be – and who they need to submit to in order to get there. In case they weren’t sure, Jesus tells them: “Rejoice instead that your names are written in heaven.”

Their names are written in heaven – that is their reason to rejoice. They must keep their focus on heaven – because their names might not have been written there. They, of themselves, are nothing special. They are safe, they are heading for heaven, because Jesus is leading and protecting them; they are strong over Satan because of Jesus’ strength working through them. They bear a power in their hands, but it is not intrinsic to them, and without Jesus, they have no power at all. Jesus is the one to be thinking about. His love is their reason to rejoice.

They began their missionary journey taking nothing with them, at Jesus’ instructions. In this way, through the extreme vulnerability that their physical poverty would have awakened, Jesus meant to wake them up to the fact that everything good that happened to them between the beginning and the end of their journey was due to his gift to them. Luke’s gospel leaves us there, ending the account of the missionaries’ return rather abruptly, and not elaborating further on the episode. We, the readers, suddenly find ourselves alone, and left to consider how this story challenges us. Where is our focus? Are we preoccupied by power-issues? Do we keep our eyes on Jesus? Does Jesus have something to say to us?

*The Bible translation used throughout this reflection is The New Jerusalem Bible.

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30 June: Even the Demons Submit, Part I.

The mediaeval masons tried to cut the demons down to size on churches like St Nicholas at Barfrestone, Kent. They knew the stories of how Jesus confronted them and sent them packing – and so did his disciples.

Today and tomorrow we are glad to share two posts from Sister Johanna that follow on nicely from Emily yesterday.

Lord, even the devils submit to us when we use your name (Luke 10:17). The disciples were elated. Seventy-two men had been appointed missionaries by the Lord and had been given their first assignment: to visit towns in the area where the Lord himself would soon be visiting (Luke 10:1f). They were meant to prepare the people for Jesus himself. Jesus gave them explicit instructions about what to wear for this, their first official engagement: normal clothes – nothing to distinguish them from anyone else, and what to pack: nothing. Indeed, they were to bring no food, no money, not even a change of clothing. No place had been arranged for them to stay when they arrived in a town: they would have to work that out when they got there. They were not to equip themselves ahead of time with anything that would allow them to feel self-reliant.

We know this story so well that we can forget how this must have sounded to the seventy-two when they listened to Jesus telling them what to do. Perhaps it seemed exciting – but I should think, too, that when they actually set out, without food supplies and with their pockets empty, they must have felt vulnerable in the extreme. It was their very first journey for Jesus, after all. They had no experience of past successes to give them confidence. They were only told by Jesus to heal the sick and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” Some must have secretly worried that they’d become tongue-tied when they started to preach, or would fail miserably in their first attempt at healing. Maybe they’d even be laughed out of town.

But instead, the gospel tells us that their missionary journey was a smashing success. The actual stories of their successes are just a few of the many untold tales that lie hidden behind what is recounted in the gospels. The evangelist skips them all in this instance, and zeroes in on something else – something of greater depth and importance. Luke tells us what happens after their triumph, when they return to Jesus like conquering heroes. For, when they see him, the first thing out of their mouths seems to have been that “even the devils” submitted to them.

Now, this is truly success on a spectacular scale. Perhaps the hopes of the missionaries had been much more modest: maybe they felt that they’d be doing well if they could make the child with the tummy-ache feel better, and manage to interest a small audience in stories of Jesus’ healings and sayings. But to tangle with devils and come up trumps – would they even have imagined this ahead of time? They must have said to each other as they journeyed home, “Won’t the Lord be overjoyed when he hears! I can’t wait to see his face when we tell him!”

And Jesus is overjoyed, just as they had hoped. He affirms them. It seems that he already knew what had happened – this kind of sensational news must have spread from village to village like wildfire. He declares: ‘I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven.’ Hearing these words of Jesus must have felt good, very good to the disciples. And Jesus is generous, not only with his praise, but with his promises. He has more to say here about what they will be able to do. “Look, I have given you power to tread down serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you.” I like to think of the disciples’ silence as they bask for a few minutes in Jesus’ assurances – their sense of wonder and gratitude must have been profound. They would be taken care of by the Lord whenever they were doing his work. They have just had their first experience of this. They would be powerful in his name. This was an important moment for the seventy-two. Let us leave them for twenty-four hours in this state of glowing wonder, and come back tomorrow to continue our reflections.

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