Tag Archives: women

September 20: Guests of the house.

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I took advantage of a family holiday in North Wales to read ‘The Summer of the Danes’ by Ellis Peters in the area where the action takes place. Here Brothers Cadfael and Mark arrive at Saint Asaph to be greeted and shown to a room.

‘I’ll send someone with water,’ said their guide … and he was gone.

‘Water?’ said Mark, pondering this first and apparently essential courtesy. ‘Is that by way of taking salt, here in Wales?’

‘No, lad. A people that goes mostly afoot knows the value of feet and the dust and aches of travel. They bring water for us to bathe our feet. It is a graceful way of asking: Are you meaning to bide overnight? If we refuse it, we intend only a brief visit in courtesy. If we accept it, we are guests of the house from that moment.’

Helleth, who comes to do this service, is almost the only woman but a central character in the story of power and piracy, secular and ecclesiastical. Ellis Peters uses 13th Century Wales to explore the role of women in society, love and marriage; war- and peace-making; marriage of the clergy; feudal authority and loyalty; and Welsh identity, all within a page-turning mystery. As so often the book is better than the TV programme. You’ll find it for sale on-line.

The Welsh did not initiate this rite, of course, but I believe it was a Welshman, Archbishop Rowan Williams, who reintroduced the Maundy Thursday ceremony to Canterbury Cathedral. You can read about a participant’s experience of the washing of feet in Canterbury here. and about an updated response to this tradition here. This is Rev Jo Richards’ reflection on Holy Week. This reflection links the Station of Veronica to Jesus washing Peter’s feet.

One evening on holiday I ended up giving Abel a bit more than a foot wash after he slipped on slimy mud at the seashore, a service gladly given! There are many such little occasions to provide for each others needs.

 

 

 

 

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April 29: Sussex Folk Through a Poet’s Eyes.

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Edward Thomas, The man that loved this England well,1 wrote about The South Country before he became a poet. Wandering through Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, he recorded what he saw and felt along the way. Here he is in a Sussex village near where the poet Shelley was born; he has just been discussing the romantic poets.

Edward Thomas died this month in 1917, leaving a wife and family.

Note how he values the two villagers, Robert Page and his presumed descendant, as equally worthy of consideration as the poet.

In a churchyard behind I saw the tombstone of one Robert Page, born in the year 1792 here in Sussex, and dead in 1822 — not in the Bay of Spezia1 but in Sussex. He scared the crows, ploughed the clay, fought at Waterloo and lost an arm there, was well pleased with George the Fourth, and hoed the corn until he was dead. That is plain sense, and I wish I could write the life of this exact contemporary of Shelley.

That is quite probably his great granddaughter, black-haired, of ruddy complexion, full lips, large white teeth, black speechless eyes, dressed in a white print dress and stooping in the fresh wind to take clean white linen out of a basket, and then rising straight as a hazel wand, on tiptoe, her head held back and slightly oh one side while she pegs the clothes to the line and praises the weather to a passer-by. She is seventeen, and of such is the kingdom of earth.

And bearing in mind all those saintly women, Agnes, Agatha, Eanswythe, Tydfil, Mildred; we should perhaps affirm that ‘of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ Despite his melancholy, Edward Thomas can lead us to the gate thereof this Eastertide.

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So too could William Blake, who also lived in Sussex. Surely this little engraving shows the cliffs and downs of nearbyBeachy Head?

MMB

1 WH Davies’ description of his friend. The poet Percy Bysse Shelley was born in 1892 and died at the Bay of Spezia in 1822.

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11 April: Stations for Peter V: Veronica wipes Jesus’ face.

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You shall not wash my feet!

Scripture references: Washing Peter’s feet, John 13:1-11; Do you love me? John 21:15-17.

When Jesus washed the feet of his friends, Peter had protested.

I didn’t want you to wash my feet. Was I too proud? I know I did not understand what you were doing – but I wanted to be part of you.

Veronica washes your face with a cool damp towel. A few seconds’ relief, that’s all, but you know she loves you. She’s there.

I’m not.

But you know that I love you – why did you have to ask?

 

Lord, we remember everyone near death, and all those who care for them. May the dying, their carers, and all who are close to them know that you are indeed walking with them.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!

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10 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus IV: The Call.

 

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Zacchaeus would have watched as Jesus walks on, interacting warmly with the crowd. A blessing for this one, a prayer offered gravely with that one, a beaming smile to another, a lingering look of support directed into the eyes of a disabled person and his carer, a listening ear, a wise word; he clasps the hands of the elderly as he goes along; he lays his hands on the heads of the lame and the sick; he embraces a small child who runs up to him and laughs at the trenchant observation the child makes. This was a happy day for Jesus and his followers. Nothing untoward had happened in it – no impossible confrontations with scribes or Pharisees. Everyone in the crowd felt Jesus’ peace and his power. His deep goodness was palpable. No one was unaffected by it. Everyone felt a new surge of hope and life. They felt that their lives would change now for the better. They felt that they themselves were changing. Jesus’ holiness shone out. People simply loved him.

Suddenly, Matthew taps Jesus’ shoulder and points to the sycamore tree, “There’s Zacchaeus,” he may have said. And what of Zacchaeus? He is deeply stirred, in a way that he did not expect. He recognises power when he sees it, but he has never seen this kind of power before. It has none of the usual trappings. There is no display of wealth. There is no intimidating weaponry. There is no attitude of disdain and arrogance. This power of Jesus was like an irresistible dance, drawing even the clumsy to share in its exciting rhythms. The entire scene was characterised by complete freedom and joy.

Zacchaeus recognised some of the people in Jesus’ group. Matthew was there! As one of them. He seemed to belong! That blind beggar was there, his sight restored, telling everyone about what Jesus had done, as if they couldn’t see well enough for themselves. A few of the loose women of the town were right there among Jesus’ group, and some obviously respectable matrons were walking with them, smiling and talking easily to them! Some of the men Zacchaeus had all but ruined were there, looking more hopeful than they had in years. What was going on here? Zacchaeus was mesmerised, stunned. He stood on his thick tree branch, supporting himself with other branches. Friendless Zacchaeus. He was smiling as he watched, but he also felt a peculiar sensation he had not known is years: he has a lump in his throat. Usually he kept such feelings far away from his awareness. But today, longing surfaced with an intensity he had not experienced since he was a small boy. He watches Jesus and his group coming slowly down the street, sees the flow of good feeling and happiness. He thinks momentarily of his large home, filled with servants, and decorated with expensive objects, but hollow, too quiet, lonely. Suddenly, he wants desperately to be part of Jesus’ group.

Much to Zacchaeus’s surprise, he sees Jesus look around, then up to the tree; he makes eye-contact with Zacchaeus, and then, smiling, Jesus makes his way through the crowd – which, incidentally, parts to allow him through – and he stands at the bottom of Zacchaeus’s tree. I love to imagine this scene: can Jesus possibly have been in solemn mode here? This is not the Sermon on the Mount, nor is it an occasion when he must undertake a battle of wits with Pharisees who are trying to catch him out. This is Jesus the Friend and Brother, joyfully, even laughingly, calling up to Zacchaeus – who, in fact, looks a bit silly where he is. Jesus is enjoying this moment. He is giving himself fully. His strong voice rings out, “Zacchaeus!”

Let’s stop here, with the sound of Jesus’ voice, perhaps calling not Zacchaeus’s name, but our own.

SJC

Helping him down. MMB

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9 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus III: Personal History

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We all have a history, including Zacchaeus. We do not know what his history was, but it is probable that this friendless man had an unhappy one. Why choose a profession that guarantees the hatred of one’s fellow-man otherwise? Perhaps he was tossed out of the home at a young age by an abusive parent, or perhaps he ran away from a situation of poverty and violence, had to fend for himself, become street-wise, learn to manipulate situations to his advantage. Whatever happened, he became, for reasons we will never know, a rich man, but also a dishonest man in a despised profession. No doubt he was intelligent and competent – too competent, maybe, at getting money – but wealth and the power to ruin people does not attract friends. Sycophants, maybe, but not friends. And not even these were with him that day. He was alone, unsupported. No wife, no servant. No colleague. No one.

Let’s fill in some other details about this man. Working backwards from what the text tells us, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine Zacchaeus as a wiry little boy, able to run fast and scale obstacles easily as he escaped from the angry adults who wanted to thrash him for some misdemeanour – or none. I think he knew what hunger meant as a child, and although he survived by his wits, perhaps his nutrition was dubious, and bodily growth was affected. Now he is a well-to-do adult, but Zacchaeus is a small man. He is abundantly energetic, though, and is both crafty and agile enough to solve his current difficulty without reference to anyone else (it is the story of his life): he cannot see Jesus because he is too short and the crowd is too big and unyielding. Fine. He dashes ahead and swings easily into a sycamore tree, as the text tells us – a tree well furnished with thick branches radiating from a central crown. Here is a resourceful person with few inhibitions. Here is someone determined never to allow his desires to be thwarted. Here is a man who has never cared what people thought of him as he ruthlessly made his fortune – why start now? He climbs higher on the sturdy branches. Yes, excellent view, he thinks smugly. He can see Jesus perfectly now.

And what is happening with Jesus? What is Zacchaeus apt to be seeing? St Luke tells us in the immediately preceding passage that Jesus, on entering Jericho, had healed a blind man, and that ‘all who saw it gave praise to God.’ The formerly blind man then followed Jesus, we are told. He was probably now part of Jesus’ joyful entourage walking down the main road of Jericho. I expect this group might have included many of the people who had known the blind man all his life and had now witnessed his healing. They would have joined Jesus’ group, already consisting of the Twelve, without whom he rarely went anywhere. The gospels also report that there were women among Jesus’ constant supporters and followers, and I image that some of them would have been there now, too. Chances are, the collection of people coming down the road with Jesus was a large one.

As we have seen in our gospel passage, Jesus already seems to know Zacchaeus’ name when he starts the conversation with him. No one introduces them. We do not need to assume that this is a demonstration of Jesus’ divine omniscience. Zacchaeus was infamous. The apostle Matthew, reformed tax collector himself, probably knew him, even if Jesus didn’t. He would probably have warned Jesus about Zacchaeus as he approached the town: “Rich man, but the very devil for getting tax money from people – and then some. Ruthless,” Jesus might have been told. He was probably also told that Zacchaeus lived a big house. I can see Jesus listening quietly to such information, and forming his own plans. Jesus had nothing to fear from notorious individuals.

SJC

Favella image from CD.

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24 January, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Day 7 Woman, great is your faith!

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Woman, great is your faith! (Matthew 15:28)

  • 1 Samuel 1:13-17

  • Matthew 15:21-28

Starting point

The marginalization and dismissal of women’s voices continues in our own times and in our own culture. Within our own churches we are often complicit with attitudes and actions that devalue women. As we become more aware of the issues, so we begin to recognize the many ways in which women are subjected to violence and injustice. Human trafficking, exploitation of women and children, and sexual abuse continue to be the reality for many women. In the scripture readings both Hannah and the Canaanite woman are dismissed as ‘worthless’ nuisances. But they stand up for themselves, change the perceptions of Eli and Jesus, and achieve their deepest desire. Many women are unable to challenge marginalization and exploitation. As Christians unite in prayer and the study of the Scriptures, truly listening for God’s voice, we discover that God also speaks today through the cries of the most abused in society.

Reflection

Hannah

Weeping silently,

praying from the heart before the Lord,

why does Eli think she is drunk?

Quiet, dignified, refuting her accuser,

she is promised her heart’s desire.

The Canaanite woman

Nameless,

fierce and canny on behalf of her daughter,

turning insult to advantage,

rejection to praise resounding throughout centuries.

Great is your persistent faith!

The ‘worthless’ woman

Belittled, discounted, invisible,

why won’t you hear my story?

Why won’t you believe what they are doing to me?

Desperate worm turning,

speaking out, #MeToo,

a tsunami of testimony, standing strong together,

mountains pushed aside.

Nothing is impossible with God.

Prayer

Gracious God,

you are the source of human dignity.

By your grace and power

the words of Hannah, from the midst of her tears,

challenged and turned the heart of Eli the Priest.

By your grace and power

the Canaanite woman was emboldened to reject rejection

and move Jesus to heal her daughter.

As we strive for a Church which unites all humanity,

grant us the courage to reject all forms of violence against women

and to celebrate the gifts

that women bring to the Church.

This we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord,

in whom all may find their true worth and calling. Amen.

Questions

  • How would you describe a person of great faith? Think of someone you know.

  • Can you remember a time when you felt marginalized or dismissed?

  • What can we do to empower women, children and other marginalized people in our community?

Go and Do

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

Visit Go and Do to find out how the Side by Side faith movement for gender justice is making great progress across the world.

Organize a local event with the churches in your area to mark and celebrate International Women’s Day on Friday 8th March. Visit Go and Do for resources and ideas.

Wear black each Thursday in solidarity with all across the world who are working and longing for the day when there is an end to violence against women. Find out more at Go and Do.

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19 November: the Road to Emmaus, II.

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Continuing Sister Johanna’s reflections on Luke 24.

We are looking at the story of the Road to Emmaus, told in Luke’s gospel. Yesterday we began looking at the story’s context. It might be good to scroll back to it if you weren’t here yesterday.

The story starts out with the words, ‘That same day….’ What happened that day? First, early in the morning of the day the two disciples decide to go to Emmaus, Jesus’ tomb had been found empty by the women who went to it intending to anoint the body of Jesus (Luke. 24:3). Well, not quite empty. Two beings ‘in brilliant clothes’ were in the tomb, and they gave astonishing news to the women: ‘He is risen’, they said (Luke 24:7). But, secondly, the Eleven don’t believe the story when the women return and tell it. Then, thirdly, only Peter seems willing to suspend judgement. He visits the tomb himself (Luke 24:12), but from Luke’s account, it is hard to know what Peter is thinking, or whether this takes him any further forward. “That very same day” surprising things are happening, but still, the day can only be described as a day of deepest grief, perplexity, and fear for the Eleven.

I am there. I am Peter. Like him, I see, but do not know what to think. I am still attached to my plans – my plans, all seemingly based on a valid interpretation of God’s will for me, and which have all been rubbished by circumstances beyond my control. And a new understanding of his will is found neither easily nor immediately.

But, oh the relief that can come of talking about my perplexity and pain with someone who understands! That same day, two disciples are walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles away from Jerusalem, and are taking comfort in the emotional release of talking: ‘…and they were talking together about all that had happened’ (Luke.24:13).

Their walk is a long one, probably taking several hours, and giving them plenty of time to talk. I see them walking and talking, rehearsing, probably somewhat compulsively, what had happened to Jesus, to them, to their friends over the previous few days. I see them revisiting their feelings about those who decided that Jesus would be crucified. They are talking, probably, about his mother, the other disciples, about the story told by the women who went to the tomb. They are talking about Jesus himself, and about the hopes they had had. They are trying to work out why it all happened, trying to make sense of something that makes no sense to them at all. This talking and talking and talking seems to help on one level. Each time a new insight surfaces, the hope arises briefly that maybe from this angle they will somehow be able to make sense of the whole shattering thing. So the entire experience is gone through again, with this new idea in place. But, no. Nothing really helps. No insight makes the mess of their experience turn into something coherent and meaningful. They trudge onward down the road. They can barely hold their heads up. They are depressed, ‘downcast’, as the gospel tells us.

Readers familiar with this story know that the situation will soon improve for the disciples. But, for the moment, let’s not anticipate that. Let’s remember that these two disciples are like us: they don’t see into the future. They are wrestling with an intense sense of failure on many levels: their failure in courage, their failure to understand, the apparent failure of Jesus, whom they trusted. Like these two, I can sometimes feel that my discipleship has been a waste of time, a big mistake, and all I can do is to trudge on down whatever path I have taken.

 

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18 August: Mites.

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Father Andrew, the pioneering Anglican Franciscan, returned time and again to the story of the Widow’s mite.

” The man who counted the collection judged the widow by the mites and said to himself, ‘Two mites! What’s the good of that?”

“Our Lord understood all the widow’s brave life and humble sacrifice, and His judgement was, ‘She has given MORE than anyone else.’ Well now, there are ‘mites’ of penitence, and ‘mites’ of spiritual capacity. ‘She has done what she could,’ He said of another, who only cried and washed His feet. You see, he understood her, and he understands you and me.

“God bless and keep and guide you, my dear child.”

From The Life and Letters of Fr Andrew, London, Mowbray, 1948, p 210.

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June 5: Saint Boniface by Pope Benedict, 2.

Today is the Feast of Saint Boniface.

This great Bishop did not omit to encourage the foundation of various male and female monasteries so that they would become like beacons, so as to radiate human and Christian culture and the faith in the territory. He summoned monks and nuns from the Benedictine monastic communities in his homeland who gave him a most effective and invaluable help in proclaiming the Gospel and in disseminating the humanities and the arts among the population. Indeed, he rightly considered that work for the Gospel must also be work for a true human culture. Above all the Monastery of Fulda founded in about 743 was the heart and centre of outreach of religious spirituality and culture: there the monks, in prayer, work and penance, strove to achieve holiness; there they trained in the study of the sacred and profane disciplines and prepared themselves for the proclamation of the Gospel in order to be missionaries. Thus it was to the credit of Boniface, of his monks and nuns – for women too had a very important role in this work of evangelization – that human culture, which is inseparable from faith and reveals its beauty, flourished.

Although he was getting on in years (he was almost 80), he prepared himself for a new evangelizing mission: with about 50 monks he returned to Frisia where he had begun his work. Almost as a prediction of his imminent death, in alluding to the journey of life, he wrote to Bishop Lull, his disciple and successor in the see of Mainz: “I wish to bring to a conclusion the purpose of this journey; in no way can I renounce my desire to set out. The day of my end is near and the time of my death is approaching; having shed my mortal body, I shall rise to the eternal reward. May you, my dear son, ceaselessly call the people from the maze of error, complete the building of the Basilica of Fulda that has already been begun, and in it lay my body, worn out by the long years of life” (Willibald, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. cit., p. 46). While he was beginning the celebration of Mass at Dokkum (in what today is northern Holland) on 5 June 754, he was assaulted by a band of pagans. Advancing with a serene expression he “forbade his followers from fighting saying, “cease, my sons, from fighting, give up warfare, for the witness of Scripture recommends that we do not give an eye for an eye but rather good for evil. Here is the long awaited day, the time of our end has now come; courage in the Lord!'” (ibid., pp. 49-50). These were his last words before he fell under the blows of his aggressors. The mortal remains of the Martyr Bishop were then taken to the Monastery of Fulda where they received a fitting burial.

Centuries later, what message can we gather today from the teaching and marvelous activity of this great missionary and martyr? For those who approach Boniface, an initial fact stands out: the centrality of the word of God, lived and interpreted in the faith of the Church, a word that he lived, preached and witnessed to until he gave the supreme gift of himself in martyrdom. He was so passionate about the word of God that he felt the urgent need and duty to communicate it to others, even at his own personal risk.

The second most important proof that emerges from the life of Boniface is his faithful communion with the Apostolic See, which was a firm and central reference point of his missionary work; he always preserved this communion as a rule of his mission and left it, as it were, as his will.

Boniface also deserves our attention for a third characteristic: he encouraged the encounter between the Christian-Roman culture and the Germanic culture. Indeed, he knew that humanizing and evangelizing culture was an integral part of his mission as Bishop. In passing on the ancient patrimony of Christian values, he grafted on to the Germanic populations a new, more human lifestyle, thanks to which the inalienable rights of the person were more widely respected. As a true son of St Benedict, he was able to combine prayer and labour (manual and intellectual), pen and plough.

Boniface’s courageous witness is an invitation to us all to welcome God’s word into our lives as an essential reference point, to love the Church passionately, to feel co-responsible for her future, to seek her unity around the Successor of Peter. At the same time, he reminds us that Christianity, by encouraging the dissemination of culture, furthers human progress. It is now up to us to be equal to such a prestigious patrimony and to make it fructify for the benefit of the generations to come.

His ardent zeal for the Gospel never fails to impress me. At the age of 41 he left a beautiful and fruitful monastic life, the life of a monk and teacher, in order to proclaim the Gospel to the simple, to barbarians; once again, at the age of 80, he went to a region in which he foresaw his martyrdom.

By comparing his ardent faith, his zeal for the Gospel, with our own often lukewarm and bureaucratized faith, we see what we must do and how to renew our faith, in order to give the precious pearl of the Gospel as a gift to our time.

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June 3: Corpus Christi – what a waste!

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Janet had been watching a documentary about life in the Himalayas. Amid the fierce natural beauties the programme visited a Buddhist monastery, where the monks ground rock crystals into powder which they dyed into bright colours. They used the sand to create religious symbols which would be displayed for a while, then swept away. Life is passing was the truth they held before themselves in this exercise.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, I might have said, but didn’t. Instead my mind went back to school days, when preparations for Corpus Christi included the enjoyable task of dying sawdust to make pictures to decorate the route of the Blessed Sacrament procession. The top picture from 1956 shows students at Saint Augustine’s College in Blacklion, Ireland, decorating the drive. The other shows the culmination of the Corpus Christi procession at the Priory, my school in Hampshire, but before my time, in 1948. The first is by Anthony Whelan, the second by Robert Clyde, both come from the website of the friends of the Missionaries of Africa: the pelicans.

Anthony’s photograph shows how these designs will be trampled underfoot. Sic transit – so many labours of love, think of wedding cakes or fireworks, are made to serve for a moment in time. Think, too, of the woman anointing the Lord’s feet with precious oil (Luke7:36-50). Or the oil the other women took to the tomb: an extravagant waste of effort/time/money, says the utilitarian.

But isn’t all we have, see, touch, taste an extravagant gift? Let’s be grateful on this day of the Eucharist, of thanksgiving. If we no longer have processions, we can celebrate with a shared meal, or even eating alone, thank God for the food and raise a glass to absent friends.

And Laudato Si!

 

MMB

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