Thursday, January 27, 2011

Prayer for Grace

I am bending my knee
In the eye of the Father who created me,
In the eye of the Son who died for me,
In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me,
In love and desire.
Pour down upon us from heaven
The rich blessing of Thy forgiveness;
Thou who art uppermost in the City,
Be Thou patient with us.
Grant to us, Thou Saviour of Glory,
The fear of God, the love of God, and His affection,
And the will of God to do on earth at all times
As angels and saints do in heaven;
Each day and night give us Thy peace.
Each day and night give us Thy peace.

Ancient Celtic prayer collected by Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912), published in Carmina Gadelica (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1992). These are prayers, hymns, and incantations collected in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland in the 18th century.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Early Church Teaching: the Incarnation (6)

Life itself appeared in human form

 ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes and touche with our hands, concerning the Word of Life'.  Who could touch the Word with his hands, were it not that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us?

 This Word, who became flesh in order that he could be touched by hands, began to be flesh in the Virgin Mary's womb.  But he did not then begin to be the Word; for St John says, ‘That which was from the beginning'.  See how his letter corroborates his gospel, from which you heard a short time ago, ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God'.

Possibly some may understand ‘concerning the Word of life' as a vague expression referring to Christ, not meaning that very body of Christ which was touched by hands.  But you must take into account what follow, ‘And life itself was made manifest'.  It is Christ, therefore, who is the Word of life.
 And how was life manifested?  It was from the beginning, but it had not been manifested to men; yet it had been revealed to the angels, as they saw it and were nourished by it as if it were their bread.  What does scripture say?  ‘Man has eaten bread of angels'.

 So the life itself was made manifest in the flesh, because it depended on ‘manifestation', that a reality only perceptible to the heart might also be visible to our eyes, and thus heal our hearts.  For the Word is seen only by the heart, but the flesh is seen also by bodily eyes.  There was in fact flesh which we could see, in order to heal the heart, the means by which we could see the Word.

‘And we are witnesses', he says, ‘and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest among us'; to make the text clearer it is permissible to read ‘was made manifest to us'.
‘That which we have seen and heard therefore we proclaim to you'.  My dear brethren in Christ, take note of this: ‘that which we have seen and heard therefore we proclaim to you'.  They - namely the writers - saw the Lord himself, present in the flesh and heard the words from the Lord's own lips, and proclaimed them to us.  So we also have heard, but we have not seen.

Is it to be concluded that we are less blessed than those who heard and also saw?  How then does the writer add, ‘that you say have fellowship with us'?  They saw, we have not seen; and yet we are in fellowship with them, for we hold a common faith.

‘And our fellowship is with God the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.  And', he adds, ‘we are writing this that you joy may be complete'.  This complete joy of which he speaks is in that very fellowship itself, in that very love, in that very unity.

from St Augustine's commentary on the first letter of St John

graphic: Incarnation,  acrylic on canvas

Monday, January 17, 2011

Anthony of Egypt (251–356)

The Temptation of St. Anthony

Famously, Anthony is said to have faced a series of supernatural temptations during his pilgrimage in  the desert. The first to report these temptations was his contemporary Athunasis of Alexnaderia.  Some of the stories included in Saint Anthony's biography are perpetuated now mostly in paintings, where they give an opportunity for artists to depict their more lurid or bizarre interpretations. It is possible these events, like the paintings, are full of rich metaphor.  In paintings Dali, Ernst, Bosch, have depicted these incidents from the life of Anthony ; in prose, the tale was retold and embellished by Gustav Flambire in The Temptation of St Anthony.

The Satyr and the Gold

Saint Anthony was on a journey in the desert to find Saint Paul. Saint Anthony had been under the impression that he was the first person to ever dwell in the desert; however, due to a vision, Saint Anthony was called into the desert to find his predecessor, Saint Paul. On his way there he ran into two demons in the forms of a centaur and a satyr. Many works of art depict Saint Anthony meeting with this centaur and satyr. Western theology considers these demons to have been temptations. At any rate, he was stopped by these demons and asked, "Who are you?" To that the satyr replied, "I am a corpse, one of those whom the heathen calls satyrs, and by them were snared into idolatry." The satyr then tried to terrify the saint while the centaur acknowledged the overthrow of the gods. In the end, the centaur tried to show Saint Anthony the way to his destination while the satyr ended up asking for Saint Anthony's blessing.

Silver and Gold  

Another time Saint Anthony was traveling in the desert he found a plate of silver coins in his path. He pondered for a moment as to why a plate of silver coins would be out in the desert where no one else travels. Then he realized the devil must have laid it out there to tempt him. To that he said, "Ha! Devil, thou weenest to tempt me and deceive me, but it shall not be in thy power." Once he said this, the plate of silver vanished. Saint Anthony continued walking along and saw a pile of gold in his way which the devil had laid there to deceive him. Saint Anthony cast the pile of gold into a fire, and it vanished just like the silver coins did. After these events, Saint Anthony had a vision where the whole world was full of snares and traps. He cried to the Lord, "Oh good Lord, who may escape from these snares?" A voice said back to him, "humility shall escape them without more."

Demons in the cave

One time Saint Anthony tried hiding in a cave to escape the demons that plagued him. There were so many little demons in the cave though that Saint Anthony's servant had to carry him out because they had beaten him to death. When the hermits were gathered to Saint Anthony's corpse to mourn his death, Saint Anthony was revived. He demanded that his servants take him back to that cave where the demons had beaten him. When he got there he called out to the demons, and they came back as wild beasts to rip him to shreds. All of a sudden a bright light flashed, and the demons ran away. Saint Anthony knew that the light must have come from God, and he asked God where was He before when the demons attacked him. God replied, "I was here but I would see and abide to see thy battle, and because thou hast manly fought and well maintained thy battle, I shall make thy name to be spread through all the world."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ita (470- 580)

 Ita (Ite, Ide, Meda, Mita, Ytha) was born in 480 in county Waterford Her father Cennfoelad was descended from Felim the lawgiver, and her mother was called Necta. Her family was part of the noble and influential Déisí clan. . The word Ita is Latin for "likewise, or thus".

As a small child, Ita showed an unusual inclination to prayer and holiness. She has a remarkable spiritual presence, and everyone around her takes note of her purity and grace. She was said to embody the six virtues of Irish womanhood -- wisdom, purity, beauty, musical ability, gentle speech and needle skills. She was also described as sweet and winning in her address, prudent in word and work, constant in mind, and firm of purpose.

Her femininity is not merely compliant or submissive. A strongly individualistic character is glimpsed in the legends of Ita. From girlhood, Ita believed she had a calling from God and wanted to become a nun. But Ita's father didn't share her faith, and was reluctant to allow her to dedicate her whole life to it. Her father  arranged a marriage for Ita to a young nobleman. She i resists this and turns to God for deliverance, spending three days fasting and praying. On the third night, God gave a message to her father in his sleep, saying that Ita will serve God in another part of the country, and that many people will find salvation through her.

At the age of sixteen, Ita then moves west, accompanied by her sister Fiona, She and her sister were welcomed by the local chieftain of the Ui Conaill Gabhra tribe. He wanted to give them a large tract to establish her convent. Once again Ita contradicts the wishes of a powerful man, insisting that she will only accept four acres of land, enough for gardens to provision the community. The settlement later became known as Cill Ide (Killeedy) and prospered as a center of learning and spiritual formation.

The many miracles attributed to St Ita show her great kindness. It is claimed that Ita brought her brother-in-law back to life after he was killed in battle. It is also written that St Ita cured a blind man.

Her spiritual gifts are beyond question and many women come to join her, to dedicate their lives to God. In her instruction of the novices, Ita promotes the concept of  'soul-friends' or anam cara, an old concept which came to Ireland via Egypt and North Africa. A soul-friend is a confidante and confessor, and in the case of the saints, such friendship bridges this world with the next.

The community also became known as a training school for little boys, many of whom later became famous churchmen. One of these was St. Brendan the Navigator, whom Ita accepted in fosterage when he was a year old and kept until he was six. Brendan revisited her between his voyages and always deferred to her counsel. One day, Brendan asks her what are the three things which most please and displease God. Ita tells him: a pure heart with faith in God, a simple spiritual life, and generous acts of charity are most pleasing to God, and the three things most offensive to God are a mouth full of hate, a heart full of resentment, and worship of material things.

 Second only to Saint Brigid among the most beloved of the Irish women saints, St. Ita is sometimes called the 'Brigid of Munster', but actually the differences were more striking than the resemblances between these two towering saints of the Celtic church. Brigid's effective life as a nun was spent in continual movement. When she successfully established  of one settlement, she moved off to found another. Ita did just the opposite, She established a single foundation in a district where there was none, and there she remained all her life. There is an emphasis on austerity in Ita's life not found in Brigid's. Ita's dedication to the ascetic lifestyle was unswerving throughout her life, and at times, almost dangerous. An angel came to warn her about her excessive fasting, which sometimes continued into four days.

As with many of the great saints, Ita foresees and predicts her own death. As she felt her end approaching she sent for her community of nuns, and invoked the blessing of heaven on the clergy and laity of the district around Killeedy. Then messengers came from Clonmacnoise, wanting her to bless water for their abbot, Aengus, who was very ill. She duly obliges, but after the messengers have left, she tells her sisters that both she and Aengus will die before the emissaries return to Clonmacnoise. Ita proves to be correct on both counts.

Ita died on January 15, 570.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

blessing of the elements

Blessing of the Elements

Grace of the love of the skies be thine,
Grace of the love of the stars be thine,
Grace of the love of the moon be thine,
Grace of the love of the sun be thine,
Grace of the love and the crown of heaven be thine.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Bangur Ban'

Pangur Bán

I and Pangur Bán my cat,
'Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night,
Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.
Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur's way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.
'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.
When a mouse darts from its den
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!
So in peace our tasks we ply,
Pangur Bán, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.
Practice everyday has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

The humanity and the earthiness of the celtic monastics is seen in "Pangur Bán an old english poem, written about the 9th century at or around Reichenau abbey. Written by an Irish Monk, about his cat Pangur Bán, "white fuller" is both witty and whimsical. The poem is preserved in the Reichenau Primer and now kept in St paul's abbey in Lavanttal.

graphic: The page of the reichenaeu primer on which Pangur Bán is written

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Epiphany (4))

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
Dawn on our darkness and lend us Thine aid;
Star of the East, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

Cold on His cradle the dewdrops are shining;
Low lies His head with the beasts of the stall;
Angels adore Him in slumber reclining,
Maker and Monarch and Savior of all!

Say, shall we yield Him, in costly devotion,
Odors of Edom and offerings divine?
Gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean,
Myrrh from the forest, or gold from the mine?

Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
Vainly with gifts would His favor secure;
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration,
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

Words: Re­gi­nald He­ber, 1811. Heber orig­in­al­ly wrote this hymn for the Feast of the Epi­pha­ny. It was first pub­lished in the Christ­ian Ob­serv­er in 1811, but did not ap­pear in hym­nals un­til af­ter He­ber’s death.

graphic: adoration of the Magi 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Willam Cowper Olney Hymns (4)

Jehovah Jesus
by William Cowper
My song shall bless the Lord of all,
My praise shall climb to His abode;
Thee, Saviour, by that name I call,
The great Supreme, the mighty God.

Without beginning or decline,
Object of faith and not of sense;
Eternal ages saw Him shine,
He shines eternal ages hence.

As much when in the manger laid,
Almighty Ruler of the sky,
As when the six days' work He made,
Fill'd all the morning stars with joy.

Of all the crowns Jehovah bears,
Salvation is His dearest claim;
That gracious sound well pleased He hears
And owns Emmanuel for His name.

A cheerful confidence I feel,
My well placed hopes with joy I see;
My bosom glows with heavenly zeal,
To worship Him who died for me.

As man He pities my complaint,
His power and truth are all divine;
He will not fail, He cannot faint;
Salvation's sure, and must be mine.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year Day ( 4)

God, bless to me the new day,
Never vouchsafed to me before;
It is to bless your own presence
You have given me this time, O God.

Bless to my eye,
May my eye bless all it sees;
I will bless my neighbor,
May my neighbor bless me.

God, give me a clean heart,
Let me not from sight of your eye;
Bless to me my family,
And bless to me my means.

This blessing  was to be repeated the first thing on the first day of the year. Ancient Celtic prayer collected by Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912), published in Carmina Gadelica (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1992).