Here in the SEC at least, Psalm 19 was set for Morning Prayer today. I always enjoy these lines (vv2-4), letting them roll on my tongue and in my mind many times over.
One day tells its tale to another,*
and one night imparts knowledge to another.
Although they have no words or language,*
and their voices are not heard,
Their sound has gone out into all lands,*
and their message to the ends of the world.
Whilst I was at theological college, we did a lot of work on hearing people into speech. We worked hard at listening attentively to silences and to the things that were left unsaid. We looked for the voiceless characters in the Bible and allowed them to tell their stories.
As a mother I have children who never stop chattering and one child who for the longest time had no words or language that most people would recognise. At 15, he is beginning to use a few words that are essential to him, like “paper” or “tape”. I’ve worked amongst others with similarly little language and I’ve watched each and every one communicate clearly with those who truly know them and care enough to pay attention. Those who will follow the gaze of an eye, allow themselves to be led, who will exchange reassuring (chaste) kisses and listen to the tone of unarticulated sounds.
In a world so shaped by words: those we hear; those we read; those reported to us; those caught unintentionally… sometimes it’s good to let one day tell its tale to another without framing it in words. Below I offer some pictures from the last week. I invite you to sit quietly before them in God’s presence and to offer whatever responses come to you in prayer.
Part of the brief here at the Astonishing Community is to see how people with all their quirks and vulnerabilities can turn our lives upside down and show us what it means to be a human made in the image of God.
This week on Twitter, I came across this amazing article, published as part of St Aldate’s Oxford Citizens and Exiles Journal. (Click through to see the whole thing.)
Collette Lloyd, writes beautifully about her daughter Katie and can be found on twitter (click on her name). For your convenience, here’s her article.
Today the Astonishing Community remembers Tabitha the Almsgiver. People are always quick to talk about how they give of their time and talents, but sometimes giving of our financial resources is necessary too.
Fausto Gomez OP describes the need to give alms as a pathway to mercy. How does this description make you feel?
Fausto Gomez OP
The paths of mercy are many, in particular the works of mercy (cf. CCC 2447). In his Bull of Proclamation of the Jubilee of Mercy Misericordiae Vultus, the Face of Mercy (no. 15) Pope Francis writes: “It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty. And let us enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy.”
The three classical exercises of penance are paths of mercy: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. “Prayer with fasting and alms with uprightness are better than riches with iniquity… Almsgiving saves from death and purges every kind of sin” (Tob 12:8-9; Dan 4:27; cf. Mt 6:2-4, 5-6, 16-18; cf. EG 193). Often, prayer is presented as directed to fasting and almsgiving – to virtuous living.
Fasting to be a good act must be accompanied by almsgiving. Fasting without almsgiving is not a saving act on the way to heaven. It is insufficient as John Chrysostom, Ambrose and Augustine tell us. St. Peter Chrysologus (406-450) writes: “He who does not fast for the poor fools God.” On the other hand, fasting with almsgiving is pleasing to God.
In the teaching of Sacred Scriptures, patristic and classical theology true almsgiving is a necessary expression of mercy. In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis writes: “The wisdom literature sees almsgiving as a concrete exercise of mercy towards those in need” (EG 193). For those who believe in God, almsgiving is an obligation (Tob 1:7-11; Sir 7:10). Why? Because, all need to practice charity as love of neighbor, as merciful love, which is the highest expression of love of neighbor. All the Fathers of the Church recommend strongly and persistently sharing of goods, almsgiving. St Cyprian, the first Father to give us a theological treatise on almsgiving, entitled On Almsgiving, speaks of almsgiving as an obligation of all Christians. He says that almsgiving is an act of mercy, an act of justice, and a means of penance for our sins and for obtaining forgiveness for them.
Almsgiving is an outward or external act of mercy. It is also an expression of justice in the sense that the poor are entitled to it. Almsgiving, however, is more than justice: it is merciful love, the love that gives value to almsgiving and everything in life (1 Cor 13:3). Without charity as merciful love of neighbor, almsgiving may be unjust, for in this case it does not make people involved equal; charity does (José María Cabodevilla).
Authentic almsgiving is what is called formal almsgiving. There is material almsgiving and formal almsgiving. Giving to others in need without love is merely material but not formal or authentic almsgiving: “Almsgiving can be materially without charity, but to give alms formally, that is for God’s sake, with delight and readiness, and altogether as one ought, is not possible without charity” as love of God and neighbor (St Thomas Aquinas).
Not giving alms when one can give (cf. Mt 25:41-43) is a source of condemnation. We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren” (CCC 1033; cf. Mt 25:31-46).
In case of real need, corporal need is more important than spiritual need, which is generally more important: “a man in hunger is to be fed rather than instructed, and for a needy man money is better than philosophy, although the latter is better.” Love of neighbor, St. Thomas adds, implies beneficence and almsgiving, “for love of neighbor requires not only that we should be our neighbors’ well-wishers, but also his well-doers.”
The classical theory of charity and mercy may appears as more concerned with the individual person than with the social order or disorder. Hence, almsgiving may be used as a cover up for injustice. Of course, true almsgiving as a pathway of mercy cannot be unjust for it necessarily presupposes justice. Today more than yesterday, we speak of almsgiving not only to a person but also to a needy poor people, an ethnic group, the poor, the refugees, and the excluded from the banquet of life. Corporate almsgiving – donations -, or the Church’ s Caritas are much needed, irreplaceable in our world; the rich nations are obliged to share with the poor ones as taught by the social doctrine of the Church (cf. Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, GS, 69; Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, PP, 23, 26, 43). In the midst of poverty and misery, excessive spending and squandering are sins (CCC, 2409). As Christians, we are called to practice a simple life style: “Let us live simply so that others may simply live” (Canadian Bishops).
Moreover, each one of us always needs to give something to the poor: to concrete individual poor person: “Sometime of real contact with the poor is necessary” (Pope Francis).
Merciful and compassionate love urges Christians and all humans to “loving the unlovely, the unlovable, the least, the lost, and the last.” Mercy is not only sharing with the materially poor, although this aspect is much underlined, but also with all others in need, especially those in urgent need.
The merciful Jesus hopes to be able to tell you and me after crossing the bridge that links this life and the afterlife: “Come…, take as your heritage the kingdom prepared for you… For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome, lacking clothes and you clothed me … “Why, Lord?” Because “In so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (Mt 25:34-40).
St Elizabeth of Hungary
*** Tips on Tuesday *** Tips on Tuesday ***
- Don’t wait for an apology.
Forgiveness is not something we earn from God, nor is it something that others earn from us. God chose not to be bound by like for like rules of justice, but to forgive abundantly. We can break the cycles of resentment pain and violence by following God’s example: absorbing the pain, forgiving the one(s) who caused it.
- Accept forgiveness when it is offered.
If someone forgives you, they are now free of the chains connecting them to the painful time or act. When they broke the chains, they freed you too. Many of us hang onto our chains, remembering the hurt we have caused, refusing to be free. If it’s because we never asked forgiveness of the person who forgave us, work that out with God, don’t try to draw the other person back in.
- Repeat as necessary.
*** Meditation Mondays *** Meditation Mondays ***
Today the Astonishing Community remembers Mary Salome, the Myrrh Bearer.
Salome was one of the women disciples of Jesus. According to Orthodox tradition, she was the daughter of St. Joseph the Betrothed and his first wife (who was also named Salome), making the Mary, mother of Jesus her step-mother. She married Zebedee and became the mother of the Apostles James and John. As one of the myrrh-bearing women who brought spices to Christ’s tomb and found it empty, she is celebrated as one who first brought tidings of the Resurrection to the world.
As I was looking at her bottle of Myrrh, I began to ponder what it means to be a Myrrh-bearer. I know that this is the title given to the three women who faithfully returned to Jesus’ tomb at first light following the Sabbath to embalm his body. But they were not the only bearers of Myrrh to Jesus. Within the Canonical Gospels, Jesus is first brought Myrrh by a king or wise man, we have come to know as Melchior. He brought Myrrh, which we are told from such a young age was to signify his death, to the infant Jesus. I wonder whether the gift was really that stark for Mary and Joseph to receive… So I looked into Myrrh.
Myrrh, like frankincense, was traditionally used as an ingredient in incense as it instills a deep sense of calm and tranquility. It was used as a perfume ingredient in Egypt and to prevent wrinkles, as well as for embalming. The most varied and numerous uses of myrrh, however, are by healers:
- When inhaled Myrrh makes a good expectorant and gargled as a tincture was believed to cure pharyngitis, even returning a lost voice.
- In women, Myrrh was used to treat uterine disorders and to bring on labour.
- In minute doses, Myrrh was used as an antispasmodic and to cure stomach problems.
- Most popularly Myrrh was applied to wounds and ulcers in order to prevent Gangrene.
- It also has anti-inflammatory pain-killing properties.
Myrrh might just as easily be a symbol of the healer that Jesus would become as the death he must die. This symbolism is even richer when we understand how Myrrh is produced in the first place.
Myrrh exudes as a resinous gum from the Myrrh Tree whenever the bush is wounded or naturally fissures. It is the way the tree is able to protect itself from infection and to prevent the loss of precious water travelling through its system. As humans found this gum to be so useful and so precious, we began to increase production by deliberately making incisions into the bark of the tree in order to increase production.
In my role as a priest, I wonder whether I am a myrrh-bearer? Is it my job to hold the myrrh that might be needed for healing, for the dying or in worship? And where does this myrrh come from?
Perhaps the church is like a Myrrh tree and each member one of its fissures. We emerge wounded, desperately trying to heal ourselves. Our excess overflows, is collected and offered where most needed at present. It’s a way of being we learnt from God, who made a great fissure in God-self to allow Jesus to walk amongst us; who allowed us to pierce him that the greatest healing might take place.
Over recent months you may have noticed a decided slump in activity here at the Astonishing Community. During that time I’ve moved house; taken up a new charge; had my husband go through two operations; helped my daughter start a new school and one son start college. Hopefully our other son will soon be living close-by too! With all the appropriate supports in place, I’ve finally had a chance to take a breath and look outwards again.
As I’ve done that I’ve realised that there’s a lot I’d like to be doing with the Astonishing Community. Over the next year, here in Banchory, I hope we will begin to see one of its physical forms emerge. We also have an Astonishing role to play in the Scottish Episcopal Church’s year of Pilgrimage (2021), where we will be providing a way to access the pilgrimage experience for people who, for many different reasons, are unable to engage in a physical pilgrimage.
In the meantime, I’d like to broaden the scope of this blog. It was always my intention to mix stories of honoured saints with stories of saints simply living today. I’m not sure how well I’ve been meeting my own brief. So, from this evening you can expect to see posts on the Astonishing Community Site, following this weekly pattern:
Tips on Tuesdays
Folk on Friday
Saints on Saturday
Naturally, Sunday is a day of rest. 🙂
I hope you enjoy the new format. Contributions are always welcome, should you feel so inclined.
I hadn’t heard of Triduana until I was asked to write the libretto for an opera about her life. Here are the “pictures” telling her story in poetry that are being worked into a musical masterpiece by the amazing Hannah Hayes.
Where wells run deep
And time rolls long,
Heaven and Earth meet
With tales to be told…
Beneath blue skies, behind white rocks, once
A child was born; a baby girl
With eyes coloured as the sea
And hair of ebony.
Cherished she played and
Prayed her girlhood
A nun’s life
Found beckoning, with
Ailing ones to tend as
Tenderly as the altar.
With Regulus and her sisters
Triduana walked her holy path.
Trailing her hand in the cool waters
Triduana prepared to leave
The waves in whose rise and fall
Prayers had been tossed with bones
Of the first-called saint,
Andrew, her charge
In the wild
Regulus dreamt of a land
Peopled with painted
Picts and Celtic clans whose
Lives, baptised in the Gospel
Were springing up like fresh flowing
Streams, eager to learn news of the sea.
In Forfar’s fertile fields, faithfully
Gathered sisters worked and prayed.
Growing neeps and tatties whilst
Saving souls by tending
To their sicknesses.
Tinctures, balm, Prayer
Daily round brought her paupers
And princes. Each in need of
Water’s healing grace. Baptism
The one true cure for all the world’s ills.
Enchanted by eyes deep as the sea
King Nechtan dedicated his
Lands to Peter and his heart
To Triduana. With
Marriage on his mind
Nechtan sent a
Page to ask
Wooed. Knowing that
Nechtan loved her eyes,
Them out. Mounted on wooden
Pins, they were his. Blind, no royal
Beauty but a simple nun to be.
With blindness Triduana received
Gifts of healing. Having laid
Down her own eyes, she restored
Sight to others and led
Still more into the
New light of faith.
The Picts of
Good news and new birth.
On Papa Westray, by
A loch whose waters remind
Us of those beautiful eyes, she
Healed sight, leaving grace on the waters.
Great in years Triduana settled
Into quiet prayer at Restalrig.
All journeying done, she now
Relished inner visions
Of heaven, where mercy
Her last in
This place where grace
Sits in welled water.
Inspired in dreams the blind
Still seek Triduana’s touch
In these waters, blessed by baptism
And the daily prayer of the faithful.
Where wells run deep
And time rolls long,
Heaven and Earth meet
With tales to be told…
Today’s intercessions come in the form of prayers for healing, which conclude the Triduana cycle:
us the darkness,
encircle our hearts,
bring stillness to our minds
as you are present with us now.
Let it be, let it be, Amen.
As the deer longs for running water
So, Lord, our souls long after you;
In you alone will we find
Healing and deep, true peace.
We pray your blessing
On these waters
The story of
T r i d u a n a,
We come in weakness;
We come in hope; we come
to receive living water …
In God alone our souls will find
Rest and peace, in God our peace and joy.
As we delight in water’s cool
Forgiving, grace-filled caress,
God, take all that limits
Our vision and by
Your mercy grant
that we may
God, reach out
to us in our
weakness, granting sight.
Without easy answers,
Without cheap grace, we may then
Bear witness to Your transforming
Energy, still working in Your world.