***Folk on Friday***

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.




Almsgiving and Mercy

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?

Mercy Pathways

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

2 ways to forgiveness.

*** Tips on Tuesday *** Tips on Tuesday ***

(Nadia Bolz-Weber)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Repeat as necessary.

On being a myrrh-bearer…

*** 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.


Refreshing the Astonishing Community

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:

Meditation Mondays

Tips on Tuesdays

Wednesday Wonders

Theology Thursdays

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.


Saint Triduana – 8th October

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
Away. No
Tempt her.
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.

The Sea

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
Wet weeks
Sea. Where
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
The hard
And lonely
Journeying life
Brings. Triduana’s
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
For her
She was
Not easily
Wooed. Knowing that
Nechtan loved her eyes,
Triduana gouged
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.
Took her
To bring
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
And righteousness
Embrace. Drop
She breathed
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:

God who
lightens for
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

Here by
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.

St John the Baptist

Today the Church remembers the beheading of St John the Baptist, one of the world’s quirkier saints. I love using this video to introduce him to school children.

John was a watcher and holy one who spent a lot of time alone in the desert, praying. He did not dress to impress the society he lived in. When people started to see that he had important things to say; that the he was offering a chance to be washed clean and repent, powerful people began to fear him. We often fear what is other and what makes us face the truth we don’t want to see in ourselves. Fortunately, not many of us share John’s fate.


On this day let us pray for:

  • Esra al Ghamgam, an activist and activist for women’s rights, beheaded in public in Saudi Arabia on the morning of 20 August 2018.
  • All whose sensory needs make them seem odd to others.
  • All who speak the truth, even when it is dangerous to do so.
  • All preparing for baptism.
  • All with a longing for forgiveness.

Saint Pandwyna

The hagiographer Leland (in “Itinerary” v. 218) records that Pandwyna was a daughter of a king of the Scots, who fled from those who would deflower her to a kinswoman who was prioress of Eltisley. She became a nun there until her death in 904AD. She was buried near a well named after her in Eltisley and was translated into the church there in 1344.

Although much about Pandwyna’s life is uncertain, the original vita having been lost, we know that she was invoked as patron against headaches, accidents and loneliness.


On this day let us pray for:

  • All whose lives are quiet and may not be remembered in years to come.
  • All who seek a simple, holy existence.
  • All who suffer with headaches.
  • All who are lonely.
  • Those beset by accidents however big or small.

Little Saint Hugh

Hugh of Lincoln, sometimes known as Little Saint Hugh (sometimes “Little Sir Hugh”) to distinguish him from Saint Hugh of Lincolnwas an English boy whose death was falsely attributed to Jews. Hugh is sometimes known as Little Saint Hugh (sometimes “Little Sir Hugh”) to distinguish him from Saint Hugh of Lincoln, an adult saint. Hugh became one of the best known of the blood libel saints (generally children whose deaths were interpreted as Jewish sacrifices). 

It is likely that the Bishop and Dean of Lincoln steered events in order to establish a profitable flow of pilgrims to the shrine of a martyr and saint. The event is particularly significant because it was the first time that the Crown gave credence to ritual child murder allegations, through the direct intervention of King Henry III.

The nine-year-old Hugh disappeared on 31 July, and his body was discovered in a well on 29 August. It was claimed that Jews had imprisoned Hugh, during which time they tortured and eventually crucified him. It was said that the body had been thrown into the well after attempts to bury it failed, when the earth had expelled it.

The chronicler Matthew Paris described the supposed murder, implicating all the Jews in England:

Shortly after news was spread of his death, miracles were attributed to Hugh; and he was rushed toward sainthood. Hugh became one of the youngest individual candidates for sainthood, with 27 July unofficially made his feast day. However, over time, the issue of the rush to sainthood was raised, and Hugh was never canonized. He never appeared in Butler’s Lives of the Saints(1756–1759). The Vatican never included the child Hugh in Catholic martyrology. His traditional English feast day is not celebrated.

The shrine dated to the period immediately after the expulsion of the Jews. The shrine itself was destroyed in the Reformation, or possibly the Civil War.

The story was remembered into the twentieth century. A well in the former Jewish neighborhood of Jews’ Court was advertised as the well in which Hugh’s body was found, however this was found to be have been constructed some time prior to 1928 to increase the attraction of the property

The myth of the ritual child murder became well-known and long-standing in English culture. The Hugh story is refenced by Geoffrey Chaucer‘s Canterbury Tales in The Prioress’s Tale. Marlowe also refers to the events, again probably knowing the story through Paris’ account. The story is retold as fact in Thomas Fuller‘s 1662 Worthies of England.[21][d]

Ballads referring to the incidentcirculated in England, Scotland and France.[22] The earliest English and French versions appear to have been composed near the time. The Hugh myth continued to find resonance into the nineteenth century, when European antisemitic polemicists attempted to “prove” the veracity of the story. Langmuir describes the “fantasy” concocted by Lexington as contributing to some of the darkest strands of anti-Jewish prejudice. Lexington:

In 1955, the Anglican Church placed a plaque at the site of Little Hugh’s former shrine at Lincoln Cathedral, bearing these words:

Trumped up stories of “ritual murders” of Christian boys by Jewish communities were common throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and even much later. These fictions cost many innocent Jews their lives. Lincoln had its own legend and the alleged victim was buried in the Cathedral in the year 1255.

Such stories do not redound to the credit of Christendom, and so we pray:

Lord, forgive what we have been, amend what we are, and direct what we shall be.



On this day, let us pray for:

  • All whose lives end in mystery and tragedy.
  • All who stand falsely accused.
  • People who are feared through ignorance, intolerance and for political ends.
  • People who are brave enough to confess their wrongdoings and to amend their lives.
  • All with the grace to forgive.