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.
In old age Johnson observed: I hope GOD will yet grant me a little longer life, and make me less unfit to appear before him.
Life of Johnson by James Boswell.
Amen to both these prayers!
When Johnson visited Skye in the late XVIII Century, the crossing from the mainland was by boat – rowing boat – the bridge would have been unimaginable. The rain, and the rainbow, were facts of everyday life. And still are.
Fr Richard Rohr published this meditation on the day the Franciscan International Study Centre held its closing ceremony, prior to selling the building and leaving Canterbury. Bishop Paul Mason said, ‘You can always change your mind.’ I, too, and many others associated with FISC think we need a revolution and were working tentatively towards it, but it will not now come via FISC.
Grace is given unawares and unearned and everywhere.
Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation
Image credit: La Franceschina (detail), c. 1474, Biblioteca Augusta, Perugia, Italy. artist unknown.
A Franciscan Revolution
“. . . A man like St. Francis of Assisi, for instance. What does he really mean? . . . A complete break with the pattern of history. . . . A man born out of due time. A sudden, unexplained revival of the primitive spirit of Christianity. The work he began still continues. . . . But it is not the same. The revolution is over. The revolutionaries have become conformists. The little brothers of the Little Poor Man are rattling alms boxes in the railway square or dealing in real estate to the profit of the order. [. . .] Of course, that isn’t the whole story. They teach, they preach, they do the work of God as best they know, but it is no longer a revolution, and I think we need one now.” —Morris West 
I hope these meditations can help reignite the Franciscan revolution, for that is what it was—and will be again. We are extremely blessed to be living in the time of a pope who most beautifully exemplifies Franciscan life (even though he is officially a Jesuit), because it is so much harder to do in our time. Pope Francis shows us that the Franciscan vision is possible at every level and in every age. Not only did he take the name Francis, but he seems so eager to proclaim both the “foolishness” and the wisdom of the Gospel to every level of society. He has the passion, love, and urgency of St. Francis himself and has moved the papacy from the palace to the streets.
I hope these reflections will help us recognize one helpful truth: There is a universal accessibility, invitation, and inclusivity in an authentic Franciscan spirituality. It surpasses the boundaries of religion, culture, gender, ethnicity, era, class, or any measure of worthiness or education. Like the Incarnation itself, the Franciscan reading of the Gospel “brings everything together, in the heavens and on the earth, behind Christ who is leading the way and in whom we are all claimed as God’s own” (Ephesians 1:10-11).
This is not an elitist journey, not a separatist or clerical journey. It is not based in asceticism or superiority but in the elements that are universally available to all humans: nature, embodiment, solidarity with the necessary cycle of both life (“attachment”) and death (“detachment”), the democracy of love, and most especially with a God “who is very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart” (Deuteronomy 30:14). This is what divine grace is—always given unawares and unearned and everywhere.
 Morris West, The Shoes of the Fisherman (William Morrow: 1963), 270. The ellipses without brackets are from original text.
Rebuilding Christianity “From the Bottom Up”
Drawing from his own Franciscan heritage and other wisdom traditions, Richard Rohr reframes neglected or misunderstood teachings to reveal the foundations of contemplative Christianity and the universe itself: God as loving relationship.
Each week of meditations builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time! Watch a short introduction to the theme “From the Bottom Up” (8-minute video)—click here. If you’ve missed earlier messages, explore the online archive.
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“Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),
“And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come.”
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”
When I told Anne (see August 14 2016) I was sharing Francis Thompson on the blog, she said, ‘Francis Thompson, my father’s favourite writer.’ I hope you can see why. Maurice.