Tag Archives: hermit

10 March. Desert XIII: Wilderness.

City dweller Robert MacFarlane wondered if there were any wild places left in the British Isles, and he set out to find them. Often enough early Christian monks and hermits had been there before him; to islands and other inaccessible spots.

But what did he mean by wildness? Early in the book he discusses the idea:

Wildness … is an expression of independence from human direction, and wild land can be said to be self-willed land.  Land that proceeds according to its own laws and principles, land whose habits — the growth of its trees, the free descent of its streams through its rocks — are of its own devising and own execution. Land that … acts or moves freely without restraint; is unconfined, unrestricted.’*

Town and city dwellers live in human directed lands, concrete, brick and glass, but also most of the British countryside is farmed, drained, controlled. Can we find wilderness, to use the old Biblical world, without travelling to distant places?

We have to look for it nearer to home, in pockets and cracks. There are the weeds that devise and execute their own growth and spread, like traveller’s joy rooted on railway land. Or there are remnants of countryside, like the plum tree that Abel likes to hide behind; it is surely a sucker from a rootstock left behind when the orchard was grubbed up for housing in the 1960s, since its fruit is insignificant and unpalatable. There are overgrown cemeteries, like that in Mile End, full of life that is quite unexpected in London’s East End.

The wild tries to return, perhaps we should salute it and follow its example to revisit the corner of our heart that moves freely, without restraint: that is open to love, growth and renewal.

*Robert MacFarlane, The Wild Places, London, Granta, 2007, p30.

 

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1 January. The Franciscans come to Alvernia, VIII: a New Start and a Second Welcome.

.assisi.clouds.hill

Back in October, we left Francis and his companions newly arrived at Mount Alvernia, where they were welcomed by the birds. News of their coming son reached Orlando, the landowner who gave them leave to live there. Although we might think how idyllic this life might be, the picture shows what weather can do in the area. Not great for comfortable camping!

Orlando, hearing that Saint Francis with three companions had climbed up the mount of Alvernia, for to dwell there, rejoiced with exceeding great joy, and on the following day set out with many of the folk of his castle, and came to visit Saint Francis, bringing with him bread and wine and other victuals for him and his companions; and being come there, he found them at prayer, and drawing near unto them, saluted them. Then Saint Francis arose, and with great love and gladness gave welcome to Orlando and his company; and this done, they sat them down to have speech of each other. And after they had somewhat spoken together, and Saint Francis had given him thanks for the holy mountain that he had given him, and for his coming thither, he besought him that he would let build a poor little cell at the foot of a fair beech tree, the which was a stone’s throw from the place where the brothers lived, for that place seemed to him very fit and hallowed for prayer. And straightway Orlando let build it.

And as it was drawing near unto evening and it was time for them to depart, Saint Francis preached unto them a little, before they took leave of him; and when he had preached unto them and given them his blessing, Orlando, finding he must needs depart, called Saint Francis and his companions aside, and said unto them: “My brothers most dear, I would not have you suffer any bodily want in this wild mountain, whereby you might the less be able to give heed to spiritual things: and therefore I desire, and this I say to you for once, for all, that ye send to my house for whatsoe’er ye need, and if ye do otherwise, I shall take it ill of you.” And this said, he departed with his company and returned to his castle.

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17 December: Looking up.

francis stargazing

One of our friends urged me to share my experience of Assisi in September. Well, it will filter through as the weeks go by. This reflection is based on an extraordinary statue of Francis at the Hermitages where he and his and companions lived in caves in the rock face – caves that have since been enhanced, over the years, with walls and windows and more or less even stairways. But it was very much the outdoor life when Francis came here.

The hermitage was difficult to get to, a stiff uphill walk on an uneven track even to this day. The wooded hillside around it is a sanctuary, and certainly respected as a quiet place when we were there. And here we found Francis, lying on the rocky ground, looking skywards. I forget whether he was watching stars or clouds.

Not long ago I had a few hours with my new grandson, who was just getting used to having eyes; he was fascinated by the passing clouds, and somehow conveyed to me that he wanted to go outside and watch them without the intermediary of a window. So we went outside and his eyes opened ever wider.

Let’s pray for the grace to become as a little child and open our eyes to God’s beauty, even where humans have tried to tame it to suit our ideas rather than his. And let’s look out every day for the coming week: there will be a bright new shining star of some sort that will shine a light on our pilgrimage towards the Manger:

Laudato Si!

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30 September, the Franciscans come to Mount Alvernia III: by divine decree made ready for us

firtrees.sky (800x672)

When Saint Francis had returned to Saint Mary of the Angels, he sent two of his companions to the said Orlando; who when they were come to him, were received of him with exceeding great joy and charity. And desiring to show them the mount of Alvernia, he sent with them full fifty men-at-arms to defend them from the wild beasts of. the wood, and thus accompanied these brothers climbed up the mountain and searched diligently and at last they came to a part of the mountain that was well fitted for devotion and contemplation; for in that part there was some level ground; and this place they chose out for them and for Saint Francis to dwell therein; and with the help of the men-at-arms that bore them company, they made a little cell of branches of trees: and so they accepted in the name of God, and took possession of the Mount of Alvernia and of the dwelling-place of the brothers on the mountain, and departed, and returned to Saint Francis.

And when they were come unto him, they told him how and in what maimer they had taken a place on the mount of Alvernia, most fitted for prayer and meditation. Hearing these tidings, Saint Francis was right glad, and praising and giving thanks to God, he spake to those brothers with joyful countenance, and said, “My sons, our forty days’ fast of Saint Michael the Archangel draweth near; I firmly believe that it is the will of God that we keep this fast on the mount of Alvernia, which by divine decree hath been made ready for us, to the end that to the honour and glory of God and of His Mother, the glorious Virgin Mary, and of the holy Angels, we may, through penance, merit at the hands of Christ the consolation of consecrating this blessed mountain.”

Today is the Feast of Saint Michael.

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29 April: Saint Endellion.

St.Endelyon

I wonder, dare I introduce yet another Celtic Princess and Saint?

Endellion was a sister to Tydfil, the South Wales Martyr; their father was King Brychan of South Wales. It seems there was a family-run mission from Wales to Cornwall – the royal family was as busy then as their descendants are today, but more directly evangelising rather than fostering good works.

Even so, Endellion felt the call to a quieter life, spending more time in prayer as a hermit both in Cornwall near the village which bears her name today, and more remote from humanity, on Lundy Island. She had a cow, whose milk was her principal source of nourishment. I like to think of her making cheese as well as drinking the liquid milk, and sharing cheeses with her sister and brother, Saints Dilic and Nectan, who lived nearby.

Quite a family!

The story is that Endellion was martyred by Saxon pirates and buried on a hill-top, where a church in her name stands to this day. The icon was made by John Coleman in 2005; we were glad to see such a peaceful figure in the church. Her cow is there and the symbol of themartyr’s palm, in view of her death at the hands of heathen men.

The Church hosts many concerts and arts events as well as its regular Anglican worship.

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January 15th – Places for Praising God

hionahill

It is significant that, as Christians rather suddenly came to be in charge of aspects of society, rather than being oppressed, early in the fourth century, some saw that power would corrupt their church life. As rulers supervised the gatherings of bishops, many saw their clergy growing rich and comfortable. Monasticism grew fast at that time, in reaction against distortions of the gospel focus on the weak and the outcasts. Withdrawing from the corrupt close dealings with politicians seemed like the only path to integrity for hermits like Anthony of Egypt and the communities of Pachomius. Living is remote settings was not needed in order to define how the Trinity acts, but to make praise and wonder the core Christian experience.

Syrian monks also withdrew from political careerism. At the same time they looked for occasions to preach about the need for social improvement across their neighbourhood. Closeness to God increased their ability to see problems clearly and speak prophetically.

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A third version of monastic community was developed in the Latin West of the Mediterranean. St. Augustine realised that, while breaking free from powerful ambitions was crucial for authentic Christianity, this could be achieved by a community based within the circumstances of city life. Praise and wonder should be made real and available to the lay Christians of a busy town setting.

Thus the European Middle Ages had two versions of religious life. Benedictines and Cistercians modified the Egyptian pattern. Friars were closer to Augustinian engagement with the laity.

CD.

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