Now when the Lamb opened the seventh seal there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. — Revelation 8:1 (NET)
More thoughts for meditation about Thomas Keating (March 7, 1923 – October 25, 2018)
Thomas Keating, was an American Catholic monk and priest of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. He was born into affluence and privilege in Manhattan, walked away from it all when he entered an austere monastic community in Rhode Island, and was rewarded with spiritual riches.
As he told the story: “At 5, I had a serious illness. I heard adults in the next room wondering whether I’d live. I took this very seriously, and at my first Mass bargained with God: ‘If you’ll let me live to 21, I’ll become a priest.’ After that, I’d skip out early in the morning before school and go to Mass. I knew my parents wouldn’t approve, so I never told them.”
Keating was known as one of the principal developers of Centering Prayer, a contemporary method of contemplative prayer called centering prayer that emerged from St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. Over the years, his thoughts crystallized into what friends said became one of his favorite sayings: “Silence is God’s first language. Everything else is a poor translation.”
Keating went to the Buckley School, a private school on the Upper East Side, and Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts before entering Yale. As he studied Christianity, he was drawn to the mystics and came to believe that the Scriptures call people into a personal relationship with God. Eager to explore his spirituality, he transferred from Yale to an accelerated program at the Jesuit-run Fordham University in the Bronx. He graduated in 1943. He expected to be drafted in World War II but received a deferment to enter the seminary. In 1944, at the age of 20, he entered the strict Cistercian Monastery Our Lady of the Valley in Valley Falls, R.I. He was ordained a priest in 1949.
“I felt the more austere the life, the sooner I would achieve the contemplative life I sought,” he continued. “I spent the next five to six years observing almost total silence.” In 1950, while Father Keating was in Rhode Island, the monastery burned down and the monks moved to St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, in central Massachusetts. He left Spencer in 1958 to help start a new monastic community, St. Benedict’s, in Snowmass, Colo., not far from Aspen. In 1961 he was elected abbot at St. Joseph’s and returned to Massachusetts, where he served in that capacity for the next two decades.
In 1971, after the Second Vatican Council, at which Pope Paul VI encouraged priests and religious scholars to renew the Christian contemplative tradition, Father Keating was invited to Rome. This led him, along with William Meninger and Basil Pennington, to develop the practice of centering prayer.
But his enthusiasm for this approach led to tensions within the abbey, and a vote on whether he should remain as abbot was evenly split. He decided he did not want to remain in a house so divided and moved back to Snowmass. It was a liberating move for him. He began organizing conferences with representatives of other religions, including the Dalai Lama, imams and rabbis.
During this period he focused more on centering prayer, holding workshops and retreats to promote it to clergy and lay people. He helped found Contemplative Outreach, a network of people who practice centering prayer, in 1984 and was its president from 1985 to 1999.
“Centering prayer is all about heartfulness, which is a little different from mindfulness,” the Rev. Carl Arico, a co-founder of Contemplative Outreach. “It goes to the relationship with God, who is already there. It’s not sitting in a void.”
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also….
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. — Matthew 5:38-9, 43-45 (KJV)
More thoughts for meditation on Jackie Robinson (1919-1972)
The movie 42and celebrations of the centennial of Jackie Robinson’s birth allowed Americans remember his great achievements on the baseball diamond — including helping the Dodgers win the 1955 World Series and having his number retired by every Major League Baseball team in 1997. But mostly it helped everyone focus on the impact he had on ending segregation and helping to spur the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s.
Robinson died of a heart attack in 1972 at the age of 53. His famous quote is etched on his tombstone at his Brooklyn gravesite: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
Robinson’s impact on others continues to this day. His .311 lifetime batting average and 1962 induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame rank him among the best ballplayers in history. But of even greater impact was his historic integration of the American pastime. His courageous, faith-driven acceptance of this role made him the target of racist taunts from spectators and by many unwilling to accept that an African-American man should play alongside white players.
While growing up in Pasadena, California, Robinson was influenced by a minister named Karl Everitt Downs, of Scott Methodist Church where Robinson’s mother, Mallie, attended. Mallie believed in God, and she instilled in Jackie the importance of faith. She also taught him to be proud of his God-given blackness. When telling the Genesis creation story to her children, Mallie depicted Adam and Eve as black-skinned, explaining that their skin turned pale after they sinned. “Karl was the father that Jack didn’t have,” Rachel Robinson (Jackie’s wife) said. “Jack was so close to him. He kept saying that Karl changed his life.” We know that Robinson’s passionate sense of justice had gotten him into trouble earlier in life. But the patient mentoring of Karl Downs convinced him that Christ’s command to “resist not evil” wasn’t a cowardly way out but a profoundly heroic stance.Those relationships led him to Christ and made him a believer.
Historians and academics have pointed out how pop culture, sports journalism and Hollywood have often left Robinson’s religion out of his life story. For example, the movie 42 spends very little time exploring it. A four-hour Robinson documentary directed by Ken Burns barely mentioned faith. Here’s the main mention in 42:
The Brooklyn Dodgers owner, Branch Rickey, was a “Bible-thumping Methodist” who refused to attend games on Sunday. Robinson was also a Methodist. They relied on their respective faith to overcome threats in return for the promise of ending racial segregation. Rickey sincerely believed it was God’s will that he integrate baseball and saw it as an opportunity to intervene in the moral history of the nation, as Lincoln had done. A deep-rooted bond formed between the men. Robinson and Rickey were genuine Christians, muscular Christians certainly, but Christians in their concern for their fellow human beings. It was no act when Rickey read the passage from Giovanni Papini’s The Life of Christ to a skeptical Robinson at their historic first meeting in Brooklyn on August 28, 1945 (see today’s Bible reading).
“When I came to believe that God was working with and guiding Mr. Rickey,” Robinson wrote, “I began to also believe that he was guiding me.” And Rickey chose Robinson because of the young man’s faith and moral character. There were numerous other Negro Leagues players to consider, but Rickey knew integrating the racist world of professional sports would take more than athletic ability. The attacks would be ugly, and the press would fuel the fire. If the player chosen were goaded into retaliating, the grand experiment would be set back a decade or more.
Following his retirement, Robinson became more public about his faith. In 1962, during a speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Robinson said, “As the first Negro in the majors, I needed the support and backing of my own people. I’ll never forget what ministers like you who lead [the] SCLC did for me.” There’s little doubt that faith played a significant role in this success.
Jackie Robinson had a habit of kneeling for nightly prayers. The self-discipline he maintained changed the world in significant ways. Check your own.
Robinson grew up with a personal moral code taught by most white and black Protestants in the early 20th century—no smoking, no drinking, no premarital sex. But he was also shaped by the social witness distinct to the black church, believing that Christians had a responsibility to combat racism in American society, that anti-racism was a mark of true Christianity, and that many white Christians were failing to practice what they preached. How do you relate to those elements of his faith?
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go. Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now.
More thoughts for meditation about Rosa Parks
Civil rights activist Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. She died on October 24, 2005, at the age of 92 in Detroit, Michigan. Her death was marked by several memorial services, among them lying in state at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C., where an estimated 50,000 people viewed her casket.
Most people know the story of the seamstress who helped ignite the civil-rights movement, but many people don’t know that Rosa Parks was a devout Christian, and that it was her faith that gave her the strength to do what she did that day in 1955.
In her book, Quiet Strength, Parks says her belief in God developed early in life. “Every day before supper and before we went to services on Sundays,” Parks says, “my grandmother would read the Bible to me, and my grandfather would pray. We even had devotions before going to pick cotton in the fields. Prayer and the Bible became a part of my everyday thoughts and beliefs. I learned to put my trust in God and to seek Him as my strength.”
Parks’s husband, Raymond, had been an early activist in the fight for civil rights, and Rosa joined him in his work. But she says she never planned to be arrested for breaking a racist law. On December 1, 1955, Parks was sitting on a bus in the front row of the section reserved for blacks. But when a white man got on, there were no more seats in the white section, so the bus driver told Parks to move back.
Parks was convinced that to move would be wrong—and she refused to get up. “Since I have always been a strong believer in God,” she says, “I knew that He was with me, and only He could get me through that next step.”
Parks was not the first black person to refuse to move to the back of the bus. Earlier that year, a woman had been carried off the bus clawing and kicking. Another woman had used profanity during her arrest. But the local NAACP declined to rally behind these women.
Parks’ behavior throughout her arrest was above reproach. Because of this, and because of her well-known exemplary character, Alabama civil-rights leaders thought Park’s arrest signaled the right time to act. They launched the famous yearlong Montgomery bus boycott, and the rest is history.
Rosa Parks is another example of how faith in Jesus played a major role in the civil-rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. turned the other cheek in the face of violence. Jackie Robinson’s Christian faith was what led Branch Rickey—another devout Christian—to choose him as the man to break the color barrier in baseball.
Although she had become a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks suffered hardship in the months following her arrest in Montgomery and the subsequent boycott. She lost her department store job and her husband was fired after his boss forbade him to talk about his wife or their legal case. Unable to find work, they eventually left Montgomery and moved to Detroit, Michigan. There, Rosa made a new life for herself, working as a secretary and receptionist in U.S. Representative John Conyer’s congressional office. She also served on the board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
In 1987, with longtime friend Elaine Eason Steele, Rosa founded the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. The organization runs “Pathways to Freedom” bus tours, introducing young people to important civil rights and Underground Railroad sites throughout the country.
In 1992, Rosa published Rosa Parks: My Story, an autobiography recounting her life in the segregated South. In 1995, she published Quiet Strength which includes her memoirs and focuses on the role that religious faith played throughout her life.
“From my upbringing and the Bible,” Parks wrote, “I learned people should stand up for rights just as the children of Israel stood up to the Pharaoh.”
Despite all she endured at the hands of some whites, Rosa Parks never fell to judging the whole race by the behavior of a few of its members, however appalling. In later years she would tell of the kindness of an old woman near her grandparents farm who used to take her bass fishing with crawfish tails as bait—an old white woman who treated her grandparents as equals. Even as a girl she appreciated that it was northern white industrialists with names like Carnegie, Huntington, and Rockefeller who were responsible for financing many of the Tuskegee Institute’s exquisite redbrick buildings. And she never forgot the white World War I Yankee doughboy who came to town and patted her kindly on the head in passing, an unheard-of gesture in the South. Her Christian faith only made her feel sorry for the white tormentors who called her “nigger” or threw rocks at her as she walked to school. Reading Psalms 23 and 27 early on had given Rosa McCauley the strength to love her enemy.
Rosa Parks received many accolades during her lifetime, including the Spingarn Medal, the NAACP’s highest award, and the prestigious Martin Luther King Jr. Award. On September 9, 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded Parks the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given by the United States’ executive branch. The following year, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given by the U.S. legislative branch. In 1999, TIME magazine named Rosa Parks on its list of “The 20 most influential People of the 20th Century.”
Suggestions for action
There is always a new Pharaoh clawing for dominance, isn’t there? Consider the oppressors of today and how Jesus might be calling you, or us, to respond.
Pray, in particular, for all the people simply saying, “black lives matter.” In a world so deformed by racism this obvious truth has become a rallying cry and a hope, a way to oppose the powers that be.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
More thoughts for meditation about Teresa of Avila
Teresa of Avila was a Spanish contemplative, mystic, and theologian who lived from 1515-1582.
Here is a story about her: Teresa learned as a small child that one had to die in order to see God. She wanted to see God. Being practical and courageous by temperament, she devised a scheme. She planned to go to the land of the Moors with her brother, Rodrigo. There they would surely be martyred and go to heaven. Very early one morning the two children stole away from their home and crossed the bridge leading out of Avila. But the plan soon ran into trouble. An uncle who happened to be entering Avila at the time, met the children, heard their fantastic plan and unceremoniously returned them to their parents.
Later on in life, Teresa realized that one does not have to die to see God. “We need no wings to go in search of Him,” she wrote, “but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us.” These words contain three essential steps for what she named ”mental prayer.” First, we must be searching for God; second, we must be willing to be alone with Him, and third, we need but look upon our Lord who is present within us.
“The important thing in mental prayer,” she says, “is not to think much but to love much.” Mental prayer becomes fruitful when we realize the gift of God dwelling within us. Referring to her earlier years in the convent, Teresa wrote these regretful words, “I think that if I had understood then as I do now that this great King really dwells within a little palace of my soul, I should not have left Him alone so often and never allowed his dwelling place to get so dirty.” Mental prayer, you see, is nothing but our side of friendship with God—our “yes” to God’s call and invitation.
“Beginners,” she says, “do well to form an appealing image of Christ in His Sacred Humanity. They should picture Him within themselves in some mystery of His life, for example, the Christ of the agony or the Risen Savior in His glorified Body. Once they are conscious of Our Lord’s presence within their souls they need only look upon Him and conversation will follow. This friendly conversation will not be much thinking but much loving, not a torrent of words, much less a strained prepared speech, but rather a relaxed conversation with moments of silence as there must be between friends.”
One of the profound things that she is known to have said matches our scripture today, “It is love alone that gives worth to all things.”
Paul also reminds us that love is the only thing we owe each other. It’s a continuing debt. It is a debt that gives worth to our lives. We are compelled to love each other regardless of the circumstances. For some of us, that seems like a lot. But the fact remains that each one of us is loved and as loved ones in the world we have the capacity to love others. When we go ahead and make payments toward that debt, we fulfill God’s vision for the world.
Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” — Exodus 3:7-12
More thoughts for meditation about Simon Kimbangu (September 12, 1887 – October 12, 1951)
Simon Kimbangu was an infant when he received a blessing from a Protestant missionary to the Congo and was nearly 30 when he heard the divine call: “I am Christ. My servants are unfaithful. I have chosen you to bear witness before your brethren and to convert them. Tend my flock.” Like Moses, he argued, “I am not trained.” And like Jonah he fled his village to work in distant oil fields.
But the call hounded him. He finally returned home to preach the Word. The results were striking. Women gave up their pagan fetishes. Men gave up all but one of their wives. Then in 1921 the healings began. A sick woman got out of her bed and walked. A dead child was reportedly raised to life. And a blind man named Ngoma regained his sight after the prophet daubed his eyes with paste made of soil and saliva.
Soon thousands of people left their jobs and flocked to N’Kamba in Central Africa to see the Holy Spirit’s power and hear the prophet. European missionaries resisted his efforts. One charged the prophet with unforgivable sins against Caucasian Christianity: “Kimbangu wants to found a religion which is in accord with the mentality of the African.” Government officials were also alarmed. They punished the prophet with 120 lashes and packed him off to a solitary cell in a far-off prison, 1200 miles away in what is now called Lubumbashi. They hoped that would take care of the “crackbrained” Simon Kimbangu and the gullible fanatics who followed him. But they were mistaken.
Portuguese explorer Diogo Cao was looking for a route to India when he sailed into the Kongo River in 1482. Catholic missionaries arrived a decade later, and while they baptized kings and chieftains who imposed Christianity on their people, their success was superficial—the gods of ancient ancestors continued to reign supreme. When Protestant missionaries began to arrive in the 1870s, they found a popular pagan piety lightly embellished with Christian touches, including a belief that crosses conveyed magical powers.
British Baptists, energized by England’s evangelical revival, came to Africa to save souls and fight the slave trade. But they nurtured a paternalistic and patronizing attitude toward the native people, viewing them as depraved children who needed the white man’s correctives. Kimbangu’s aunt sent him to a school run by these Baptists when his parents died. He stayed for many years. He and his wife were baptized there in 1915 and became a lay preacher and evangelist there in 1918. It was also at the mission that he began experiencing the visions that would change his life.
The Kimbanguist church traces its beginnings to April 6, 1921, the day Kimbangu healed a sick woman. His fame frightened white religious leaders and colonial government officials who suspected unorthodox theology, feared competition, economic disruption and rebellion. Kimbangu’s message seems, however, to have been both orthodox and apolitical. None of his sermons survive, but followers described him as a humble and sober man who taught submission to authorities and racial reconciliation. Nevertheless, the first attempt to capture Kimbangu came on June 6, 1921, but the prophet escaped in an episode followers describe as a miracle. Three months later, however, he voluntarily gave himself up. Charged with sedition and hostility to whites, he was sentenced to death. Concerned Protestants had the sentence reduced to life in prison, and Kimbangu languished in the Elizabethville prison for decades, where he died.
“Just as the work of Jesus was carried on by the apostles after His death, the same was true of the prophet Simon Kimbangu,” said Solomon Dialungana, one of three sons who guided their father’s movement through heretical schisms and government persecution. Officials clamped down on Kimbangu’s rapidly expanding following. They forbade them from holding public meetings, deported as many as 100,000 to distant areas of Africa, and killed as many as 150,000. “We have been forsaken by both Catholics and Protestants,” said one distraught follower. But the Kimbanguist movement kept growing. The forced deportations only spread the movement throughout the continent.
Persecuted followers poured their sorrow into hymns that were collected by the Belgian authorities: “Jesus was a prisoner,/ Jesus was smitten./ They are smiting us, too./ We, the blacks, are prisoners./ The whites are free.” Another hymn describing the armor of God was misinterpreted by colonial officials as a call for armed rebellion: “We who are carrying on our cause/ Let us be clothed and armed!/ Jesus will protect us./ Let us clothe and arm ourselves!”
Diangienda describes his father’s role in the booklet “The Beloved City”:
“Our fathers cried for a ‘chief,’ a saviour, but no saviour came, until they said in resignation that God did not know us black people. He only knew the whites. . . . The people hid from the missionaries and remained in the grasp of fetishism, of witchcraft, and of other evil practices. Then on 6 April 1921, the first miracle occurred. . . .
“Through Simon Kimbangu, who was obedient to God, the promises of Jesus have been fulfilled and the Name of the Father and the Son has been glorified. Through him the Congolese realized that God and Jesus had turned to us in mercy. The sorrow and suffering of our fathers had been heard by God the Father, and our tears were wiped away.”
Eventually, on Christmas Eve 1959, the Kimbanguist Church was recognized by the Belgian government, equal to Catholic and Protestant and could then could conduct themselves freely. In 1969 Eglise de Jésus Christ sur la Terre par Son Envoyé Spécial Simon Kimbangu was included in the Wolrd Council of Churches.
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. — Hebrews 13:3
More thoughts for meditation about Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845)
Elizabeth Fry was a pioneering campaigner for better conditions in prisons during the Victorian Period. She was born Elizabeth Gurney in 1780, in Norwich, England to a prominent Quaker family. Her father was a partner in Gurney bank, and her mother was a relative of the Barclays, who founded Barclays Bank. After her mother died when she was 12, she took an active role in bringing up her other siblings. When Elizabeth was 18, she was influenced by the humanitarian message of William Savery, an American Quaker who spoke of the importance of tackling poverty and injustice. She became inspired to be involved in helping local charities and at a local Sunday School, which taught children to read. When she was 20, she married Joseph Fry, who was also a banker and Quaker. They moved to London where they had eleven children.
Elizabeth was a strict observant; as a Quaker Minister she didn’t engage in activities like dancing and singing. However, she was well connected in London society and often met influential members of the upper-middle classes of London.
Around 1812, she made her first visit to Newgate prison, which housed both men and women prisoners, some of who were awaiting trial. Fry was shocked at the squalid and unsanitary conditions in which she found the prisoners. Fry felt this fermented both bad health and fighting. In 1813, she wrote:
“All I tell thee is a faint picture of reality; the filth, the closeness of the rooms, the furious manner and expressions of the women towards each other, and the abandoned wickedness, which everything bespoke are really indescribable.”
She spent the night in prison to get a better idea of what conditions were like. She sought to improve conditions by bringing in clean clothes and food. She also encouraged prisoners to look after themselves better; for example, she suggested rules that they could vote on themselves. She felt her mission was:
” … to form in them, as much as possible, those habits of sobriety, order, and industry, which may render them docile and peaceable while in prison, and respectable when they leave it.”
She would put a better-educated prisoner in charge and encourage them to cooperate in keeping their cells cleaner and more hygienic. Fry felt one of the most important things was to give prisoners a sense of self-respect which would help them to reform, rather than fall into bad habits and become re-offenders.
She wrote a book Prisons in Scotland and the North of England (1819) and encouraged her fellow society friends to go and visit the prison to see conditions for themselves.
“It must indeed be acknowledged, that many of our own penal provisions, as they produce no other effect, appear to have no other end, than the punishment of the guilty.
In 1817, she founded the Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate; this later became the British Ladies’ Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners. It was one of the first nationwide women’s organizations in Britain. The aims of the organization were:
“to provide for the clothing, the instruction, and the employment of these females, to introduce them to knowledge of the holy scriptures, and to form in them as much as lies in our power, those habits of order, sobriety, and industry which may render them docile and perceptible whilst in prison, and respectable when they leave it.”
In 1818, Fry became the first women to give evidence at a House of Commons committee, during an inquiry into British prisons. In 1825, she published an influential book. “Observations of the Siting, Superintendence and Government of Female Prisoners.” – which gave detail for improving penal reforms. Fry’s unique contribution was the willingness to raise an unpopular topic, others would rather leave untouched; she also sought to take practical steps to improve conditions in prisons.
As well as campaigning for better prisons, Fry also established a night shelter for the homeless, giving the homeless a place to stay. This was motivated by seeing a young boy dead on the street. In 1824, she instituted the Brighton District Visiting Society, which arranged for volunteers to visit the homes of the poor to offer education and material aid. She was supported in her work by her husband, but after he went bankrupt in 1828, her brother, also a banker stepped in to provide funds and support.
Fry became well known in society; she was granted a few audiences with Queen Victoria who was a strong supporter of her work. Another royal admirer was Frederick William IV of Prussia; in an unusual move for a visiting monarch, went to see Fry in Newgate prison and was deeply impressed by her work. The Home Office Minister Robert Peel was also an admirer. In 1823, he passed the Gaol Act which sought to legislate for minimum standards in prisons. This went some way to improve conditions in prison in London but was not enforced in debtors prisons or local gaols (jails) around the country.
At the time, it was unusual for a woman to have an active public profile and move out of the confines of the home. Particularly in the early years, Fry was criticized for neglecting her role as mother and housewife. Lord Sidmouth, the home secretary preceding Peel, rejected her criticisms of the prisons. In this regard, she can be seen as an important figure in giving women a higher profile in public affairs. She could be seen as an early feminist and forerunner of the later suffragists, who campaigned for women to be given the vote.
She also established a nursing school, which later inspired Florence Nightingale to take a team of nurses, trained by Fry’s school, to the Crimea.
Conviction causes us to take risks. Maybe you don’t have the intelligence, imagination and courage of Elizabeth Fry, but what do you have? What is a need you can enter today? Who can you comfort? Who is in “jail” in some way and you can remember them and suffer with them?
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.”
So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.
More thoughts for meditation about Francis of Assisi
Francis of Assisi was born around 1181 and died in his forties on October 3, 1226 (but his feast day is Oct. 4 for various reasons). He was born as John Francis Bernard (Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone) to a wealthy cloth merchant. He enjoyed a luxurious and wordly lifestyle in his youth.
He fought as a soldier for Assisi. But while at war, he had the first of many experiences that called him to a life of poverty, community and restoration of the church. Shortly after he returned to Assisi after a war, he began witnessing in the streets and gained followers. His influence generated the Franciscan order, the Order of St. Clare and the Third Order Franciscans.
He influenced many and was often seen as a beacon of light during a period of corruption and darkness in the church. He’s still highly regarded and influential today.
“Not long after his return to Assisi, whilst Francis was praying before an ancient crucifix in the forsaken wayside chapel of St. Damian’s below the town, he heard a voice saying: “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.” Taking this behest literally, as referring to the ruinous church wherein he knelt, Francis went to his father’s shop, impulsively bundled together a load of coloured drapery, and mounting his horse hastened to Foligno, then a mart of some importance, and there sold both horse and stuff to procure the money needful for the restoration of St. Damian’s. When, however, the poor priest who officiated there refused to receive the gold thus gotten, Francis flung it from him disdainfully. The elder Bernardone, a most niggardly man, was incensed beyond measure at his son’s conduct, and Francis, to avert his father’s wrath, hid himself in a cave near St. Damian’s for a whole month. When he emerged from this place of concealment and returned to the town, emaciated with hunger and squalid with dirt, Francis was followed by a hooting rabble, pelted with mud and stones, and otherwise mocked as a madman. Finally, he was dragged home by his father, beaten, bound, and locked in a dark closet.
Freed by his mother during Bernardone’s absence, Francis returned at once to St. Damian’s, where he found a shelter with the officiating priest, but he was soon cited before the city consuls by his father. The latter, not content with having recovered the scattered gold from St. Damian’s, sought also to force his son to forego his inheritance. This Francis was only too eager to do; he declared, however, that since he had entered the service of God he was no longer under civil jurisdiction. Having therefore been taken before the bishop, Francis stripped himself of the very clothes he wore, and gave them to his father, saying: “Hitherto I have called you my father on earth; henceforth I desire to say only ‘Our Father who art in Heaven’.” Then and there, as Dante sings, were solemnized Francis’s nuptials with his beloved spouse, the Lady Poverty, under which name, in the mystical language afterwards so familiar to him, he comprehended the total surrender of all worldly goods, honours, and privileges. And now Francis wandered forth into the hills behind Assisi, improvising hymns of praise as he went. “I am the herald of the great King”, he declared in answer to some robbers, who thereupon despoiled him of all he had and threw him scornfully in a snow drift. Naked and half frozen, Francis crawled to a neighbouring monastery and there worked for a time as a scullion. At Gubbio, whither he went next, Francis obtained from a friend the cloak, girdle, and staff of a pilgrim as an alms. Returning to Assisi, he traversed the city begging stones for the restoration of St. Damian’s. These he carried to the old chapel, set in place himself, and so at length rebuilt it.”
The movie: Brother Sun, Sister Moon. [Amazon]. Francis is pictured as a representative of the spirit of the 70’s and the desire of young people for something greater than the corrupt institutions of church and state were offering.
Another movie: The Flowers of St. Francis, a 1950 film directed by Roberto Rossellini and co-written by Federico Fellini. This captures the spontaneous and joyful spirit that St Francis embodied. Another more recent Italian TV movie.
Hans Kung, the great Catholic theologian, writes a great post about the first pope to take the name Francis.
Suggestions for action
“Francis’ all-night prayer, “Who are you, O God, and who am I?” is probably a perfect prayer, because it is the most honest prayer we can offer.”—Richard Rohr in Eager to Love
Francis has become so well known for relating to animals that most people think of him as a birdbath. But he was a wild and creative radical. He took the way of monasticism and added joy to it and a restoration of loving relationships and connection to the earth. Consider his example of simplicity, submission, community, and his mission of building the church. How can you and we find our own version of a radical restoration of a deteriorating church?
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. — Matthew 5:10
More thoughts for meditation about Candida
The Sassanian Empire lasted from 224-637, mainly in present-day Iraq and Iran. Ctesiphon, its capital, is about 20 miles south of Baghdad. Its leaders generally championed Zoroastrianism. Nevertheless, Christianity steadily grew, partly due to deportation of several hundred thousand Christian inhabitants of Roman Syria, Cilicia and Cappadocia by Shapur I (240-270 AD), the king who famously captured the Roman Emperor Valerian in 260.
New cities and settlements were built in fertile but sparsely populated regions such as Khuzistan (east of the Tigris/Euphrates delta in Iran) and Meshan (the delta area in Iraq). Many Christians were employed in big construction projects. The city of Ahvaz (now an Iranian city of over a million people) soon became a significant cultural and educational center with its famous library and University of Gundishapur, home to scholars from all over including many Christians and Jews. The university is still operating — it is about a 3-hour drive east from Basra in Iraq. The area also became the center of silk production with many Christians involved in every aspect of production.
During the reign of Vahran II (276-293AD) persecution against Christians erupted, including one of Vahran’s Christian concubines, Candida (Qndyr’), one of the first Persian Martyrs. The persecutions were supported and even promoted by the powerful high priest Kirdir who in one inscription declares how Ahriman and the idols suffered great blows and continues as follows: “and the Jews (Yahud), Buddists (Shaman), Hindus (Brahman), Nazarenes (Nasara), Christians (Kristiyan), Baptists (Makdag) and Manicheans (Zandik) were smashed in the empire, their idols destroyed, and the habitations of the idols annihilated and turned into abodes and seats of the gods”.
The following excerpt is from the translation of Sebastian P. Brock in “A Martyr at the Sasanid Court under Vahran II: Candida” Analecta Bollandiana 96 (1978), 167-181. According to Brock, Candida’s dialogue with the king is embellished, but he does not doubt the basic historicity of the record. Regardless, the account is a reminder that Christian faithfulness entails persecution, and that love for Jesus will endure trouble.
Here are excerpts from The Martyrdom of Candida that give you the gist of her story:
Because of her astonishing beauty the king, on seeing [Candida], became enamored of her and gave orders that she should enter his bed-chamber; and he took her as a wife . . .
The blessed girl held on to her faith because she had been brought up by her parents as a Christian, and so she preserved her modesty and her faith intact. Even when she had the title of a king’s wife she demonstrated her true faith in God all the more, and she used to preach her Lord, our Lord Jesus Christ, openly to her companions and maids.
It was then that a pretext for her enemies was found, and they plotted to lay an accusation against her on the grounds of her faith, – for all her companions conformed to the king’s will and religion. And because they could find nothing else against her, apart from the pretext of her faith in God, they found an opening against her (in this), and spoke against her to the king, telling him: The one whom you love more than all the rest of us does not conform to your way of thinking but serves her own god and invokes him. Her companions accused her with these words, and when the king learnt this, he gave orders that she should enter his bed-chamber. Because of his love for her, he asked the believing girl in a wheedling way: What is your religion?
She told him: I learnt the truth and the faith from my parents; for I am a Christian, and I serve my Lord Jesus Christ, and I confess God his Father. I have nothing else beside his holy name. The king said to her in answer: You see how I love you above all my other wives, and you have honor in my kingdom, be obedient to me and abandon your religion in favor of mine; worship the Sun and the Fire, and honor the Water, so that my love for you may increase and I shall add to the honor you receive and make you chief queen in my realm.
The blessed girl…courageously and with joy told him: “Keep your honors, and give your position of authority to your wives who conform to your religion; for I believe in the true God, and I will not abandon Jesus Christ, or forsake his religion . . . I will not do your will in this, because the God whom I serve is the God of gods and Lord of lords who made heaven and earth and everything that is in them. In this I shall not be led astray, for all things created are guided by his decree.
Because the king’s love for Candida was so great, he was patient at her words, and kept on asking her many times in cases she might conform to his will. The more he used blandishments on her, the greater courage did she acquire, astonishing the king with the living words of the scriptures.
When he saw that all his blandishments were unsuccessful and that he could not turn her from her faith (in this way), he turned to terrible threats against her, hoping that she might abandon her firm position (or the truth), and swore by his gods that if she did not do his will he would destroy her in a horrible way.
On hearing these words from the king, she put on against him the armor of the strength of Christ and told the king: “Just as your blandishments were unable to bring me down from the truth of my faith, neither will your threats lessen my intent. Do with me whatever you like; don’t hold back, for I believe in my Lord Jesus Christ; he give me endurance against all your threats, and bring me to the kingdom of heaven.”
Then the wicked man gave orders that she be put in irons, and he had her hands and feet upon in fetters: a collar was put round her neck, and he gave orders that she should be given just enough bread and water to keep her alive, in case she might be frightened and do the king’s will . . . He learnt, however, that she was increasing all the more in her service of Christ and in the firmness of her faith, with the result that she was not even eating the food that was sent to her, but was serving (God) in prison in prayer and fasting.
When the king heard this . . . he said to her: “Aren’t you ashamed to prefer irons to gold, to seek ill-treatment in place of luxury, and to desire prison rather than the palace?” But the handmaid of Christ told the king in a loud voice: “These irons that you see me in are more desirable than a necklace of your pearls, because I have been thrown into them for the sake of Christ. Ill-treatment of (my) love for him is preferable to me than (all) your luxuries, and prison for his name’s sake is much better than your palace.”
With these words she inflamed the king’s anger. He gave orders that she be stretched out. They removed the irons and stripped the clothes from her body, and stood her stretched out naked in front of him, while four men flayed her. When they had struck her so many times that her blood ran, the king gave orders that she be put in the collar and taken around the city in chains, in case she might feel shame over the disgrace of her nakedness . . . When they had taken her around the city during the whole day, her courage increased all the more.
The king then ordered (one of) her breasts to be cut off . . . When they did this to her and made her go round the city streets, the blessed girl still gave thanks and praise to her Lord . . . When he saw her he said “Aren’t you ashamed at all this? Give in to me and I will give orders for you to be healed, and you shall have your (old) position of honor.” But the blessed girl told him: “You have no greater honor than this to give me, for you have already honored me with two different honors: first you have stripped me naked and flayed me, and secondly you have given me this gift from my own body into the palm of my hand.”
The king said to her: “If you rejoice in these gifts, I will give you another. At which he gave orders that her other breast be cut off . . . .
Here the manuscript begins to deteriorate
But the face of this disciple of Christ was radiant with joy, and her mouth was full of laughter and praise. She said with a loud voice: “I am going to (my) wedding feast [ ] sing for me with songs of thanksgiving [ ] and with hymns [ ] today, but in the world which does not pass away I have been betrothed . . .
Nicomedia (an area in Turkey east of what is now Istanbul) is often held to be the place of origin for Syriac martyrology. The Martyrdom of Candida is part of a manuscript with two other Nicomedian martyr accounts. Nicomedia was a central area for the early development of the church. The Chronicle of Seert (ninth century) preserves the only other narrative recollection of her story.
The story of Candida follows the the general structure of the new genre of martyrdom stories developing in Nicomedia. 1) the Christian is brought to the attention of the authorities. 2) They are tempted to abandon their faith. 3) They are charged, often because they refuse to worship the empire’s deity. In the case of women, their refusal to marry is often the crime (as a threat to the economy and family, and to the subjugation of women). 4) The interrogation results in vehement refusal to comply. 5) The martyr is tortured and eventually killed. The narrative is sprinkled with miracles.
Candida does not have a saints day in the church, nor do we know her death day, so we place her on Jashan of Mihr, also known as Mehregan, the celebration of Mithra on October 2. This was originally a feast honoring the Zoroastrian yazataMithra. By the 4th century AD, it was observed as one of the name-day feasts, a form it retains today. In a predominantly Muslim Iran, it is one of the two pre-Islamic festivals that continue to be celebrated by the public at large. Mithra was Roman Emperor Constantine’s (272-337) god until he added on Christianity.
Let your mind wander to Iraq and Iran. The territory where the two nations meet has always been a battle ground. Rome, then Europe, then the U.S. have been successive invaders from the “west.” In the middle of the turmoil, Christianity took root and survives. One of the reasons it became attractive was because women of faith, like Candida, violated oppressive societal norms from the highest status to the lowest. Their innate freedom to be their true selves inspired faith in the Savior who freed them.
Consider how you look at the Middle East. Are all your thoughts clouded by the politics of empire or seeded with the inspiration of faith?
As with all the martyrs who are part of our transhistorical body, Candida’s death begs the question, “How do I resist the worship of the state’s gods?”
In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
More thoughts for meditation about William J. Seymour
William Seymour died of a heart attack on September 28, 1922. He is widely considered the Father of Pentecostalism. He followed the Holy Spirit and developed a belief in the charismatic gifts (entire sanctification that manifests in prophesy, speaking in tongues, and other expressions), even before he was gifted. He needed to preach what he learned.
He was first locked out of the California building to which he had been invited to speak. He eventually found another place and soon developed a following that outgrew that building after a remarkable evening of God’s presence. He proceeded to find a larger place to preach and worship in L.A. It was on the dirt floor in what became the famous building on Azusa St. that the Pentecostal revival began.
“In a short time God began to manifest His power and soon the building could not contain the people. Now the meetings continue all day and into the night and the fire is kindling all over the city and surrounding towns. Proud, well-dressed preachers come in to “investigate.” Soon their high looks are replaced with wonder, then conviction comes, and very often you will find them in a short time wallowing on the dirty floor, asking God to forgive them and make them as little children.” ― William Seymour, The Azusa Papers
To Seymour, tongues was not the only message of Azusa Street: “Don’t go out of here talking about tongues: talk about Jesus,” he admonished. What’s more, he rejected racial barriers that plagued the Church at that time. Blacks and whites worked together in apparent harmony under the direction of a black pastor, a marvel in the days of Jim Crow segregation. One commentator said: “At Azusa Street, the color line was washed away in the Blood.” Plus, he installed women as leaders, which was almost universally opposed at the time. Seymour dreamed that Azusa Street was creating a new kind of church, one where a common experience in the Holy Spirit tore down old walls of racial, ethnic, and denominational differences.
I can say, through the power of the Spirit that wherever God can get a people that will come together in one accord and one mind in the Word of God, the baptism of the Holy Ghost will fall upon them, like as at Cornelius’ house.
So many today are worshiping in the mountains, big churches, stone and frame buildings. But Jesus teaches that salvation is not in these stone structures–not in the mountains—not in the hills, but in God.
The Pentecostal power, when you sum it all up, is just more of God’s love. If it does not bring more love, it is simply a counterfeit.
Many people today are sanctified, cleansed from all sin and perfectly consecrated to God, but they have never obeyed the Lord according to Acts 1, 4, 5, 8 and Luke 24: 39, for their real personal Pentecost, the enduement of power for service and work and for sealing unto the day of redemption. The baptism with the Holy Ghost is a free gift without repentance upon the sanctified, cleansed vessel. “Now He which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God, who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (2 Cor. 1: 21-22). I praise our God for the sealing of the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption
Seymour would probably simply ask us to consider his observation: “Many people today are sanctified, cleansed from all sin and perfectly consecrated to God, but they have never obeyed the Lord according to Acts 1, 4, 5, 8 and Luke 24: 39, for their real personal Pentecost, the enduement of power for service and work and for sealing unto the day of redemption.” What would you say about yourself?
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
More thoughts for meditation about Henri Nouwen (1932-1996)
On this day in 1996, Father Henri Nouwen died at age 64. Henri is a favorite author of many of us at Circle of Hope. Born in the Netherlands, he taught in universities abroad and at Yale, Harvard and Notre Dame. The last decade of his life, he spent in the L’Arche community of Toronto, sharing his life with community members with severe disabilities. Henri’s transparency, intelligence and faith brought him many readers. He has led many of us to deeply value solitude and contemplative practices.
In this excerpt from The Way of the Heart Henri reflects on the call to solitude that led the Desert Fathers and Mothers (and us, still today) to understand their gifts by fleeing the shipwreck of the society of their day:
“Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people’s fatal state and have lost the power and motivation to swim for our lives.”
Other Nouwen quotes:
“As soon as we are alone…inner chaos opens up in us. This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again. Entering a private room and shutting the door, therefore, does not mean that we immediately shut out all our inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings and impulsive desires. On the contrary, when we have removed our outer distraction, we often find that our inner distraction manifest themselves to us in full force. We often use the outer distractions to shield ourselves from the interior noises. This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Making All Things New and Other Classics
“Aren’t you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire? Don’t you often hope: ‘May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.’ But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burn-out. This is the way to spiritual death.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World
“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life
“For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures—and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.
Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming
The Henri Nouwen Society can tell you everything: [link]
On Nouwen’s struggles with celibacy and orientation: [link]
Suggestions for action
Nouwen is famous for encouraging self-reliant and denial-ridden Christians to accept their neediness and self-delusion. He taught that healers are wounded, like Jesus.
Are you avoiding solitude because your outer distractions are helping you avoid your inner turmoil and the struggle of spiritual development? Probably. We, as a community, are devoted to going deep with God, but we know that many of us are trying to stay shallow. Let God pull you under. Be receptive to being loved, not just avoiding the realization that you don’t love or are not loved well.