On this day in 1773, James Boswell was conducting Dr Johnson around Scotland en route to the Western Isles. They have come as far as Nairn, some 20 miles East of Inverness, ‘a miserable place’, according to Boswell, but today ‘Scotland’s Highland playground’ according to the Tourist Board.
Here they came upon a Presbyterian response to a modern phenomenon: how to deal with scandalous behaviour among the Christian flock. Boswell and Johnson waited for hours while the minister, Mr Kenneth McAuley, was distributing tokens to parishioners.
Over to Boswell:
In Scotland, there is a great deal of preparation before administering the sacrament. The minister of the parish examines the people as to their fitness, and to those of whom he approves gives little pieces of tin, stamped with the name of the parish as tokens, which they must produce before receiving it. This is a species of priestly power, and sometimes may be abused. I remember a lawsuit brought by a person against his parish minister, for refusing him admission to that sacred ordinance.
(from Life of Johnson, Volume 5 Tour to the Hebrides (1773) by James Boswell)
This does not sound like the ministry of Alistair Maclean!
One might ask, is the Sacrament, the Eucharist, a reward for good behaviour or food for the journey? Can we ever eat and drink worthily? Not by our own efforts! Does the grace of the Sacrament reach in to where we hardly know ourselves, but God knows? Did the use of tokens enhance or debase the Sacrament? Does denying it to anyone serve to bring the sinner to repentance, or lead to split or unity in the church?
Stamped tokens from post Great War Germany, when the currency was greatly debased due to inflation.
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.
Here’s something to ponder on, today being the feast of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, two martyrs with Kentish connections: Cardinal Fisher, bishop of Rochester and More, chancellor of England, both fell foul of Henry VIII. The post is taken from a footnote to The Life of Johnson, Volume 5 by James Boswell.
Addison says:—’The end of a man’s life is often compared to the winding up of a well-written play, where the principal persons still act in character, whatever the fate is which they undergo…. That innocent mirth which had been so conspicuous in Sir Thomas More’s life did not forsake him to the last. His death was of a piece with his life. There was nothing in it new, forced, or affected.’ *
Young thought, or at least, wrote differently.
‘A death-bed’s a detector of the heart. Here tired dissimulation drops her mask.’+
More’s innocent mirth was able to bubble up at his execution in large part because he had been able to prepare himself for this moment, and to approach it fully conscious.
On the other hand, a deathbed may be a scene of agitation for the patient and distressing for witnesses because physical decay impacts upon thought processes and muscular self control. Scenes at the end of life do not necessarily reflect the true state of the principal character; those who lived with the dying person should and will remember many precious, shared moments. And it is to be hoped that the right medical care will make the patient as comfortable as possible, so that they can approach death with serenity.
But let us pray for the grace to be ready to die at any moment, accepting that we will always leave behind plenty of unfinished business.
It’s that in-between day. The day when fresh linen is spread over the stripped altar, when church dusting is done, the floor and brass polished, the flowers gathered in and arranged. Christina Rossetti invites us to Consider the lilies of the field; her message, one we have been reminded of more than once this week, is HOPE. Jesus found Mary in the garden, after all. Consider that one small seed that was laid in the garden tomb.
CONSIDER THE LILIES OF THE FIELD.
Flowers preach to us if we will hear:– The rose saith in the dewy morn, I am most fair; Yet all my loveliness is born Upon a thorn. The poppy saith amid the corn: Let but my scarlet head appear And I am held in scorn; Yet juice of subtle virtue lies Within my cup of curious dyes. The lilies say: Behold how we Preach without words of purity. The violets whisper from the shade Which their own leaves have made: Men scent our fragrance on the air, Yet take no heed Of humble lessons we would read.
But not alone the fairest flowers: The merest grass Along the roadside where we pass, Lichen and moss and sturdy weed, Tell of His love who sends the dew, The rain and sunshine too, To nourish one small seed.”
This extract from Mary Webb’s novel, The Golden Arrow, follows on well from Chesterton’s Donkey yesterday, and from the posts about Saints Augustine and Monica. Let’s pray that we may be alive to the silver flutes playing at the great moments of our lives, and when we are amid the encircling gloom, may we follow the kindly light.
As we begin reading, Stephen has come home to Deborah after a hard day at work. It is December and they are seated together before the fire.
He turned restlessly.
‘Stroke more!’ he said imperiously, ‘and sing! don’t talk.’
She began to sing in a hushed voice, while the firelight stole up and down the walls, and the wind lashed itself into the yelping fury of starved hounds.
‘We have sought it, we have sought the golden arrow!
(bright the sally-willows sway)
Two and two by paths low and narrow,
Arm in crook along the mountain way.
Break o’ frost and break o’ day!
Some were sobbing through the gloom
When we found it, when we found the golden arrow –
Wand of willow in the secret cwm.’
She looked down in the silence afterwards; he was asleep. She took up the small woollen boots. She would be doing them when he awoke, and he would ask what they were.
I know right well what he’ll say,’ she thought. ‘He’ll say, “What the devil are those doll’s leggings?” – for he calls all my stockings leggings and my nightgown a shirt, him being such a manly chap, and nothing of the ‘ooman in him, thank goodness!’
She crocheted in a maze of delight at this thought and at the prospect of telling him her news.
But when Stephen awoke, he oly wanted to go to bed, and never noticed the boots. It is the tragedy of the self-absorbed that when the great moments of their lives go by in royal raiment with a sound of silver flutes, they are so muffled in self and the present that they neither hear nor see.
+ + +
The next day Stephen left her, oblivious to her news.
Stiperstones and the Devil’s Chair, which stand over the village where The Golden Arrow takes place.
We will have prayers at the beginning and end of each day’s walk, and at least one station where we can pray in a church or open space on our way. (To make this happen means contacting churchwardens or priests: preparation, administration is a ministry in itself, so long as it keeps sight of the goal.)
Even spontaneous prayer requires some preparation! A choice of readings – excerpts from Luke’s account of the disciples on the way to Emmaus for morning and evening, while the two good dogs in the Bible, Tobias’s terrier and the one who snaffled snacks from Jesus’ table, will feature at the station prayers.
One of our stations, at Patrixbourne, has a window with a dog approaching the manger at Bethlehem. It so happened that before this station was confirmed I had chosen this verse for the day’s prayer.
It is not strange that one blest night Should shine a star exceedingly bright To lead three Kings upon their way To Bethlehem, where Jesu lay, All lowly, cradled in the hay – Their journey’s happy ending!
Father Andrew SDC
When Abel and I were checking out the third and fourth days’ walks by bike, we were glad to find the window just right for a photograph. We can recite this verse before the window as part of our prayer for the day: after we leave Saint Mary’s it will be a short walk to the sports pavilion where we will celebrate our journey’s happy ending, till tomorrow.