May 26 – Bede

Today’s Bible reading

Read Philemon 1:4-7

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.

More thoughts for meditation about the Venerable Bede

bede“The Venerable Bede” died on this day in 735. He is widely recognized as one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon scholars. When he was seven, Bede was sent to Benedict Biscop at the monastery of St. Peter at Wearmouth for his education; when he was nine he moved to Jarrow, Northumbria, where he would live out the rest of his days. Saint Bede became a deacon at age 19 and priest at 30.

Eventually, Bede was the first native of the British Isles to be named by the Pope as Doctor of the church (in 1899). His most famous work, which is a key source for understanding early British history and the arrival of Christianity, is Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum or The Ecclesiastical History of the English People which was completed in 731 AD. It is the first work of history in which the AD system of dating is used.

Much of Bede’s observations and writings were focused on the natural world. His scholarship is notably advanced because of his ability to weave together fragments into coherent works with very limited resources.

Here is a bit from his most famous work: “The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.”

Try on this quote: “Better a stupid and unlettered brother who, working the good things he knows, merits life in Heaven than one who though being distinguished for his learning in the Scriptures, or even holding the place of a doctor, lacks the bread of love.”

This is also a good image: “Jesus opened the tavern of heaven and poured out the wine of the Holy Ghost.”

More about Bede

Want to read Bede’s groundbreaking book? [link]

More from English people who love him? [link] 

Additions from Orthodox Wiki: [link]

A Channel 4 take in less than 2 minutes. [link]

Suggestions for action

Bede was a writer and researcher. He was a preserver of good things and true things. If you are a writer, too, take your art seriously and tell the truth. Maybe you should write a little history of your cell, or of a person you admire. Bede’s work has made a difference for 1300 years!

May 16 – Brendan

Today’s Bible reading 

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:14-15

More thoughts for meditation about Brendan the Navigator

Brendan (c. 484 – c. 577) was an Irish monastic called “the Navigator”, “the Voyager”, and “the Bold,” a man who understood his calling to walk in extreme vulnerability. He and some companions went out onto the Atlantic Ocean in search of the Island of Paradise. They searched for 7 years and had many adventures along the way. The chronicle of Brendan’s journey [Navigatio Brendani] became a medieval blockbuster. Much later, some historians decided that Brendan actually made it to the America’s in his leather bound boat (a “coracle”). Brendan put himself at the mercy of God as a spiritual adventurer. He quested.

Brendan was born in Tralee in southwest of Ireland. His parents were Finnlug and Cara. He was baptized by Saint Erc, and was originally named “Mobhí.” But the signs and portents attending his birth and baptism led to be christened Broen-finn, meaning fair-drop. For five years he was educated under Saint Ita. When he was six he was sent to Saint Jarlath’s monastery school to further his education. Brendan is one of the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland”, one of those  tutored by the great teacher, Finnian of Clonard.

At the age of twenty-six, Brendan was ordained a priest by Saint Erc. Afterwards, he founded a number of monasteries. Brendan’s first voyage took him to the Arran Islands, where he founded a community. He also visited Hinba (Argyll), an island off Scotland where he is said to have met Columba. On the same voyage he traveled to Wales, and finally to Brittany, on the northern coast of France. Between the years 512 and 530 Brendan built monastic cells at Ardfert, and, at the foot of Mount Brandon. From there he set out on his famous seven-year voyage looking for Paradise.

St. Brendan’s Prayer

Shall I abandon, O King of mysteries, the soft comforts of home? Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?

Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy, without silver, without a horse, without fame, without honour? Shall I throw myself wholly upon You, without sword or shield, without food and drink, without a bed to lie on?Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land, placing myself under Your yoke?

Shall I pour out my heart to You, confessing my manifold sins and begging forgiveness, tears streaming down my cheeks? Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach, a record of my final prayer in my native land?

Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict? Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean? O King of the Glorious Heaven, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?

O Christ, will You help on the wild waves?

Want more?

Launch on St. Brendan’s Day [link to Development]. Memorial to Brendan [poem]

From St. Brendan’s monastery in Maine [link]

Poem: The Death of St. Brendan by J.R.R. Tolkien. [link]

Frederick Buechner’s Brendan: A Novel.

Revisioning the inspiration for one of the most popular and enduring medieval legends, Frederick Buechner tells the tale of the colorful sixth-century Irish saint Brendan through the eyes of his loyal friend and follower, Finn. This animated vision of Brendan’s dynamic path chronicles the Celtic world of fifteen hundred years ago and contains all the complex moral messages that abound in the best mythology. 

Brendan’s life illustrated by Irish children:

Suggestions for action

May we quest so boldly toward new waters with God. May we face the fears of the deep and unknown so faithfully. See if you can pray Brendan’s prayer for yourself. Maybe you can even envision you and your friends in a coracle, testing your trust on the sea. What kind of “sea” is it for you. How are you called to voyage?

Here is another rendition of his prayer for you to pray:

Help me to journey beyond the familiar
and into the unknown.
Give me the faith to leave old ways
and break fresh ground with You.
Christ of the mysteries, I trust You
to be stronger than each storm within me.
I will trust in the darkness and know
that my times, even now, are in Your hand.
Tune my spirit to the music of heaven,
and somehow, make my obedience count for You.

May 9 – Nicholaus Zinzendorf

Today’s Bible reading

Read Isaiah 58

Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
 Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

More thoughts for meditation about Nicolaus Zinzendorf

Nicolaus Zinzendorf died on this day in 1760.

Nicholas Ludwig, Count Zinzendorf, was born in Dresden in 1700. He was very much a part of the Pietist movement in Germany, which emphasized personal piety and an emotional component to the religious life. This was in contrast to the state Lutheran Church of the day, which had grown to symbolize a largely intellectual faith centered on belief in specific doctrines. He believed in “heart religion,” a personal salvation built on the individual’s spiritual relationship with Christ.

Zinzendorf was born into one of the most noble families of Europe. His father died when he was an infant, and he was raised at Gros Hennersdorf, the castle of his influential Pitetistic grandmother. Stories abound of his deep faith during childhood. As a young man he struggled with his desire to study for the ministry and the expectation that he would fulfill his hereditary role as a Count. As a teenager at Halle Academy, he and several other young nobles formed a secret society, The Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed. The stated purpose of this order was that the members would use their position and influence to spread the Gospel. As an adult, Zinzendorf later reactivated this adolescent society, and many influential leaders of Europe ended up joining the group. Their number included the King of Denmark, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Archbishop of Paris.

Zinzendorf was one of the most controversial figures of the early eighteenth century. The crowned heads of Europe and religious leaders of both Europe and America all knew him — and either loved him or hated him.

Although born to an aristocratic family, Zinzendorf decided to use his wealth to shelter a group of Christian radicals later called the Moravian Brethren on his land during a tumultuous time in Europe when it was unsafe to not be part of an established state church.  In 1722 a small band of Jesus-followers who chose not to be a part crossed the border from Moravia to settle in a town they called Herrnhut, or “the Lord’s Watch.”

During its first five years of existence the Herrnhut settlement showed few signs of spiritual power. By the beginning of 1727 the community of about three hundred people was wracked by dissension and bickering. So the village was an unlikely site for a revival! Zinzendorf and others, however, covenanted to prayer and labor for the Holy Spirit to move among them. Largely due to Zinzendorf’s leadership in daily Bible studies, the group came to formulate a unique document, known as the Brotherly Agreement, which set forth basic tenets of Christian behavior. Residents of Herrnhut were required to sign a pledge to abide by these Biblical principals. There followed an intense and powerful experience of renewal, often described as the “Moravian Pentecost.”

On May 12 during a communion service, the entire congregation felt a powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, and felt their previous differences swept away. This experience began the Moravian renewal which led to remarkable ministry. Christians were aglow with new life and power, dissension vanished and unbelievers were converted. Looking back to that day and the four glorious months that followed, Zinzendorf later recalled: “The whole place represented truly a visible habitation of God among men.” A spirit of prayer was immediately evident in the fellowship and continued throughout that “golden summer of 1727,” as the Moravians came to designate the period. On August 27 of that year twenty-four men and twenty-four women covenanted to spend one hour each day in scheduled prayer. Some others enlisted in the “hourly intercession.” For over a hundred years members of the Moravian Church maintained this continual prayer. “At home and abroad, on land and sea, this prayer watch ascended unceasingly to the Lord,” stated historian A. J. Lewis.

In 1731, while attending the coronation of Christian VI in Copenhagen, the young Count met a converted slave from the West Indies, Anthony Ulrich. Anthony’s tale of his people’s plight moved Zinzendorf, who brought him back to Herrnhut. As a result, two young men, Leonard Dober and David Nitchmann, were sent to St. Thomas to live among the slaves and preach the Gospel. This was the first organized Protestant mission work, and grew rapidly to Africa, America, Russia, and other parts of the world. By 1791, 65 years after commencement of their hourly intercession, the small Moravian community had placed 300 missionaries from Greenland to South Africa, literally from one end of the earth to the other.

Members of the Mo­ra­vi­an Church helped populate the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. as are the Brethren in Christ, they are known as an historic Peace Church.

More on Zinzendorf and the Moravians

Suggestions for action

Pray: May our whole church be a truly visible habitation of God.

The Pietists wanted heart religion. They used Bible study, prayer and intentional community to grow it. They shared resources and went on mission to show it. What do you want? What yearning in your spirit meets the passion of God’s Spirit?

 

May 8 — Julian of Norwich

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Today’s Bible reading

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. — Ephesians 3:14-19

More thoughts for meditation about Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich (1342-c.1416) is known to us almost only through her book, The Revelations of Divine Love, which is widely acknowledged as one of the great classics of the spiritual life. She is thought to have been the first woman to write a book in English which has survived.

We do not know Julian’s actual name but her name is taken from St. Julian’s Church in Norwich where she lived as an anchoress for most of her life. We know from the medieval literary work, The Book of Margery Kempe,  that Julian was known as a spiritual counselor. People would come to her cell in Norwich  to seek advice. Considering that, at the time, the citizens of Norwich suffered from plague and poverty, as well as a famine, she must have counseled a lot of people in pain. Yet, her writings are suffused with hope and trust in God’s goodness.

Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love is based on a series of sixteen visions she received on the 8th of May 1373. Julian was lying on, what was thought at the time, to be her deathbed when suddenly she saw Christ bleeding in front of her. She received  insight into his sufferings and his love for us. Julian’s message remains one of hope and trust in  God, whose compassionate love is always given to us. In this all-gracious God there can be no element of wrath. The wrath — “all that is contrary to peace and love — is in us and not in God. God’s saving work in Jesus of Nazareth and in the gift of God’s Spirit, is to slake our wrath in the power of his merciful and compassionate love.” Julian did not perceive God as blaming or judging us, but as enfolding us in love. Famously, Julian  used women’s experience of motherhood to explore how God loves us, referring to Jesus as our Mother.

The Revelations of Divine Love comes to us in two versions; the first  (the short text) written shortly after the revelation given to Julian , the second  (the long text) written twenty years later.  The long text is greatly expanded to include her meditations on what she had been shown. Today, only seventeenth century copies of earlier manuscripts of the long text, and  fragments from the fifteenth century survive.

Julian recounts that she was thirty and a half years old when she received her visions and this is how we know she was born in 1342. (An editor to one of the surviving manuscripts speaks of her as a “devout woman, who is a recluse at Norwich, and still alive, A.D. 1413”).  There is further evidence to be found in a contemporary will that she was alive in 1416, and that she had a maid who lived in a room next to the cell.   Apart from that, we know  nothing else about Julian’s life. However, reading Revelations of Divine Love, reveals  an intelligent, sensitive and very down-to-earth woman who maintains her trust in God’s goodness while addressing doubt, fear and deep theological questions.

St Julian's Church, Norwich, 2009.jpg
The church building where she lived.

Interest in Julian’s writings has grown over recent decades  This has been as more and more people have discovered the significance of her book. Her lyrical language and positive image of God  speak to the modern reader. Her work is well-respected by theologians, historians and literary scholars, and there are now dozens of translations of her Revelations, together with countless commentaries. Modern poets and writers as diverse as T.S. Eliot, Denise Levertov, and Iris Murdoch reference Julian in their writing.

Julian’s Shrine, off Rouen Rd. in Norwich (above), is visited by pilgrims from all over the world.

Quotes:

If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.

And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceeding well.

God, of thy goodness, give me Thyself;
for Thou art enough for me,
and I can ask for nothing less
that can be full honor to Thee.
And if I ask anything that is less,
ever Shall I be in want,
for only in Thee have I all.

Our Savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.

Truth sees God, and wisdom contemplates God, and from these two comes a third, a holy and wonderful delight in God, who is love.

More?

Revelations of Divine Love [audio book]

Robert Fruehwirth’s book that puts Julian into action [Amazon] [lecture]

Suggestions for action

Julian’s revelations are not unattainable to any person who is seeking. maybe we all have some kind of early experience that informs much of our lifelong walk with Jesus. Spend some time seeking. Let God clarify for you just what you should be hearing. If you really want to take Julian’s example, you will dare to write it all down and meditate on it another day.

May 2 — Athanasius of Alexandria

Today’s Bible reading

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it. — Colossians 2:8-15

More thoughts for meditation about Athanasius of Alexandria

“Those who maintain ‘There was a time when the Son was not’ rob God of his Word, like plunderers.”

Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296–298 – May 2, 373), became the 20th bishop of Alexandria. His on-again-off-again service in that role spanned 45 years. 17 of those years were served in exile, when he was replaced on the order of four different Roman emperors. Athanasius was a Christian theologian, a Church Father, the chief defender of Trinitarianism against Arianism, and a noted Egyptian leader of the fourth century.

Conflict with Arius and Arianism, as well as successive Roman emperors, shaped Athanasius’ career. In 325, at the age of 27, Athanasius began his leading role against the Arians as a deacon and assistant to Bishop Alexander of Alexandria during the First Council of Nicaea. Roman emperor Constantine the Great had convened the council to address the Arian position that the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, is of a distinct substance from the Father. Three years after that council, Athanasius succeeded his mentor as archbishop of Alexandria. In addition to the conflict with the Arians, he struggled against the Emperors Constantine, Constantius II, Julian the Apostate and Valens. He was known as Athanasius Contra Mundum (Latin for Athanasius Against the World). “Black Dwarf” was the tag his enemies gave him — and the short, dark-skinned Egyptian bishop had plenty of enemies. In the end, his theological enemies were “exiled” from the church’s teaching, and it is Athanasius’ writings that shaped the future of the church. Within a few years after his death, Gregory of Nazianzus called him the “Pillar of the Church.”

Most his enemies were earned by his stubborn insistence that Arianism, the reigning “orthodoxy” of the day, was in fact a heresy. The dispute began when Athanasius was the chief deacon in Alexandria. While his mentor, Alexander preached with philosophical exactitude on the Trinity, Arius, a presbyter from Libya announced, “If the Father begat the Son, then he who was begotten had a beginning in existence, and from this it follows there was a time when the Son was not.” The argument caught on, but Alexander and Athanasius fought against Arius, arguing that it denied the Trinity. Christ is not of a like substance to God, they argued, but the same substance.

To Athanasius this was no splitting of theological hairs. Salvation was at issue: only one who was fully human could atone for human sin; only one who was fully divine could have the power to save us. To Athanasius, the logic of New Testament doctrine of salvation assumed the dual nature of Christ.  Alexander’s encyclical letter, signed by Athanasius (and possibly written by him), attacked the consequences of the Arian heresy: “The Son [then,] is a creature and a work; neither is he like in essence to the Father; neither is he the true and natural Word of the Father; neither is he his true wisdom; but he is one of the things made and created and is called the Word and Wisdom by an abuse of terms… Wherefore he is by nature subject to change and variation, as are all rational creatures.”

The controversy spread, and all over the empire, Christians could be heard singing a catchy tune that championed the Arian view: “There was a time when the Son was not.” In every city, wrote a historian, “bishop was contending against bishop, and the people were contending against one another, like swarms of gnats fighting in the air.”

Word of the dispute made it to the newly converted Emperor Constantine the Great, who was more concerned with seeing church unity than theological truth. “Division in the church,” he told the bishops, “is worse than war.” To settle the matter, he called a council of bishops.

Of the 1,800 bishops invited to Nicea, about 300 came—and argued, fought, and eventually fleshed out an early version of the Nicene Creed. The council, led by Alexander, condemned Arius as a heretic, exiled him, and made it a capital offense to possess his writings. Constantine was pleased that peace had been restored to the church. Athanasius, whose treatise On the Incarnation laid the foundation for the orthodox party at Nicea, was hailed as “the noble champion of Christ.”

But the Arian heresy did not die out. Within a few months, supporters of Arius talked Constantine into ending Arius’ exile. With a few private additions, Arius even signed the Nicene Creed, and the emperor ordered Athanasius, who had recently succeeded Alexander as bishop, to restore the heretic to fellowship. When Athanasius refused, his enemies spread false charges against him. He was accused of murder, illegal taxation, sorcery, and treason—the last of which led Constantine to exile him to Trier, now a German city near Luxembourg.

Constantine died two years later, and Athanasius returned to Alexandria. But in his absence, Arianism had gained the upper hand. Now church leaders were against him, and they banished him again. Athanasius fled to Pope Julius I in Rome. He returned in 346, but in the mercurial politics of the day, was banished three more times before he came home to stay in 366. By then he was about 70 years old.

While in exile, Athanasius spent most of his time writing, mostly to defend orthodoxy, but he took on pagan and Jewish opposition as well. One of his most lasting contributions is his Life of St. Antony, which helped to shape the Christian ideal of monasticism. The book is filled with tales of Antony’s encounters with the devil, yet Athanasius wrote, “Do not be incredulous about what you hear of him… Consider, rather that from them only a few of his feats have been learned.” In fact, the bishop knew the monk personally, and this saint’s biography is one of the most historically reliable. It became an early “bestseller” and made a deep impression on many people, even helping lead pagans to conversion: Augustine is the most famous example.

During Athanasius’s first year permanently back in Alexandria, he sent his annual letter to the churches in his diocese, called a festal letter. Such letters were used to fix the dates of festivals such as Lent and Easter, and to discuss matters of general interest. In this letter, Athanasius listed what he believed were the books that should constitute the New Testament: “In these [27 writings] alone the teaching of godliness is proclaimed,” he wrote. “No one may add to them, and nothing may be taken away from them.” Though other such lists had been and would still be proposed, it is Athanasius’ list that the church eventually adopted, and the writings he listed make up the New Testament.

Quotes:

  • “Christians, instead of arming themselves with swords, extend their hands in prayer.”
  • “The holy and inspired Scriptures are sufficient of themselves for the preaching of the truth.”
  • “Jesus became what we are that he might make us what he is.”
  • “You cannot put straight in others what is warped in yourself.”
  • “Similarly, anyone who wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must first cleanse his own life, and approach the saints by copying their deeds.”
  • “For, indeed, everything about is marvelous, and wherever a man turns his gaze he sees the Godhead of the Word and is smitten with awe.”
  • “The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good.”
  • “For of what use is existence to the creature if it cannot know its Maker?”
  • “The Greek philosophers have compiled many works with persuasiveness and much skill in words; but what fruit have they to show for this such as has the cross of Christ? Their wise thoughts were persuasive enough until they died.”
  • “Even on the cross he did not hide himself from sight; rather, he made all creation witness to the presence of its Maker.”

More?

Development of New Testament canon

The Incarnation from the Coptics.

Catholic history 

Controversy about “deification

Suggestions for action

Athanasius is also known as the “father of orthodoxy.” He helped refine doctrines that set the baseline for true faith and set the final parameters on the New Testament. He was fighting for the church’s life in a time when the government wanted to exploit it and society was absorbing it according to its own image. Nothing is new under the sun.

What do you think the Lord would like you to fight for in this era? What truth is threatened? What necessity is being watered down or lost? If we want to leave a coherent faith for the next generation, what  should we do?

 

April 23 — Cesar Chavez

Today’s Bible reading

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    For they shall be filled. — Matthew 5:3-6

cesar_chavez

More thoughts for meditation about Cesar Chavez

Cesar Estrada Chavez was born on March 31, 1927 near Yuma, Arizona. At 35 years old, he founded the National Farm Workers Association (later known as the United Farm Workers; UFW),

He employed nonviolent means to bring attention to the plight of farmworkers. As a labor leader, Chavez led marches, called for boycotts and went on several hunger strikes. It is believed that Chavez’s hunger strikes contributed to his death on April 23, 1993, in San Luis, Arizona.

Chavez dedicated his life to improving the treatment, pay and working conditions for farm workers. He knew all too well the hardships farm workers faced. When he was young, Chavez and his family toiled in the fields as migrant farm workers.

After working as a community and labor organizer in the 1950s, Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962. This union joined with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee in its first strike against grape growers in California in 1965. A year later, the two unions merged, and the resulting union was renamed the United Farm Workers in 1972. In early 1968, Chavez called for a national boycott of California table grape growers. Chavez’s battle with the grape growers for improved compensation and labor conditions would last for years. At the end, Chavez and his union won several victories for the workers when many growers signed contracts with the union. He faced more challenges through the years from other growers and the Teamsters Union. All the while, he continued to oversee the union and work to advance his cause. As a labor leader, Chavez employed nonviolent means to bring attention to the plight of farm workers: marches, boycotts and his notorious fasts. He also brought the national awareness to the dangers of pesticides to workers’ health. His dedication to his work earned him numerous friends and supporters, including Robert Kennedy and Jesse Jackson.

In a speech entitled Jesus’s Friendship Chavez asserts that “the love for justice that is in us is not only the best part of our being but it is also the most true to our nature.” In that same speech he goes on to say “I have met many, many farm workers and friends who love justice and who are willing to sacrifice for what is right. They have a quality about them that reminds me of the beatitudes. They are living examples that Jesus’ promise is true: they have been hungry and thirsty for righteousness and they have been satisfied.”

About his fasts Chavez wrote, “a fast is first and foremost personal. It is a fast for the purification of my own body, mind, and soul. The fast is also a heartfelt prayer for purification and strengthening for all those who work beside me in the farm worker movement. The fast is also an act of penance for those in positions of moral authority and for all men and women activists who know what is right and just, who know that they could and should do more. The fast is finally a declaration of non-cooperation with supermarkets who promote and sell and profit from California table grapes…I pray to God that this fast will be a preparation for a multitude of simple deeds for justice.”

Chavez encourages us in this work saying “it is possible to become discouraged about the injustice we see everywhere. But God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. He gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on earth. It is an awesome opportunity.”

Cesar Chavez quotes:
  • What do we want the church to do? We ask for its presence with us, beside us, as Christ among us. We ask the church to sacrifice with the people for social change, for justice and for love of brother and sister. We don’t ask for words. We ask for deeds. We don’t ask for paternalism. We ask for servanthood.
  • We can choose to use our lives for others to bring about a better and more just world for our children. People who make that choice will know hardship and sacrifice. But if you give yourself totally to the non-violence struggle for peace and justice you also find that people give you their hearts and you will never go hungry and never be alone. And in giving of yourself you will discover a whole new life full of meaning and love.
  • Every time we sit at a table at night or in the morning to enjoy the fruits and grain and vegetables from our good earth, remember that they come from the work of men and women and children who have been exploited for generations…
  • When the man who feeds the world by toiling in the fields is himself deprived of the basic rights of feeding, sheltering and caring for his own family, the whole community of man is sick.
  • We shall strike. We shall organize boycotts. We shall demonstrate and have political campaigns. We shall pursue the revolution we have proposed. We are sons and daughters of the farm workers’ revolution, a revolution of the poor seeking bread and justice.
  • Non violence is not inaction. It is not discussion. It is not for the timid or weak…Nonviolence is hard work. It is the willingness to sacrifice. It is the patience to win.
  • We’re going to pray a lot and picket a lot.
  • Jesus’ life and words are a challenge at the same time that they are Good News. They are a challenge to those of us who are poor and oppressed. By His life He is calling us to give ourselves to other, to sacrifice for those who suffer, to share our lives with our brothers and sisters who are also oppressed. He is calling us to ‘hunger and thirst after justice’ in the same way that we hunger and thirst after food and water: that is, by putting our yearning into practice.
  • It is clearly evident that our path travels through a valley of tears well known to all farm workers, because in all valleys the way of the farm workers has been one of sacrifice for generations. Our sweat and our blood have fallen on this land to make other men rich. This pilgrimage is a witness to the suffering we have seen for generations.

More on Cesar Chavez

United Farm Workers Biography [link]

Suggestions for action

Pray the Cesar Chavez prayer:

Free me to pray for others,
for You are present in every person.
Help me take responsibility for my life
so that I can be free at last.
Grant me courage to serve others
for in service there is true life.
Let the Spirit flourish and grow,
so that we will never tire of the struggle.
Help us love even those who hate us
so we can change the world. Amen.

April 21 — Anselm

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Psalm 14

The fool says in his heart,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
    there is no one who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven
    on all humankind
to see if there are any who understand,
    any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
    there is no one who does good,
    not even one.
Do all these evildoers know nothing?
The illuminated beginning of an 11th-century manuscript of the Monologion.

More thoughts for meditation about Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm (1033-1109) was a Benedictine monk, Christian philosopher, and scholar who is recognized for many intellectual accomplishments, including his application of reason in exploring the mysteries of faith and for his definition of theology as “faith seeking understanding.”

The brilliance of Anselm’s thinking and writing about the nature of faith and of God has intrigued and influenced scholars since the Middle Ages. His highly respected work, Monologium, rationalizes a proof of God’s existence. His Proslogium, advances the idea that God exists according to the human notion of a perfect being in whom nothing is lacking. Since they were first written, both works have been studied and praised by many of the world’s greatest theologians and philosophers. In our set of explanations, Circle of Hope recognizes Anselm’s contribution to the meaning of the atonement with his work Cur Deus Homo (Why the God-Man?). In it he suggests a concept of satisfaction that seems to relate to the way feudal society honored their betters.

Born near Aosta in Italy in 1033, Anselm began his education under the tutelage of the monks of a local Benedictine monastery. After his mother passed away, Anselm observed a period of grief and mourning and then traveled throughout Europe. At that time, the spiritual and intellectual reputation of the monk Lanfranc, who belonged to the monastery of Bec in Normandy, was widespread. Anselm was drawn to Lanfranc, and in 1060 attached himself to Lanfranc’s abbey. The community immediately recognized Anselm’s unique abilities and he was soon teaching in the abbey school. He was made prior of the monastery in 1063.

It was during his days at Bec that Anselm composed his innovative works on the existence and nature of God. Indeed, it was only out of a sense of obligation and submission to the will of the community that he undertook the duties and burdens of administration.

His election to the position of abbot of the community in 1078 speaks to the love and regard in which he was held by his confreres. But Bec was not to be the end of his journey. In 1093 he was summoned to England to become the archbishop of Canterbury, succeeding his master and spiritual director, Lanfranc. Anselm’s years at Canterbury were not lacking in political controversy. He showed great courage in disputing with William II and Henry I in regard to ecclesiastical abuses visited upon the church by those kings. Twice he was banished while making appeals in Rome. Twice he returned to Canterbury, his abilities as an extraordinary theologian, negotiator, and statesman having added luster and authority to the cause of the church.

Throughout his years, Anselm maintained a strong allegiance to his monastic lifestyle and to his intellectual pursuits. He composed several philosophical and theological treatises, as well as a series of beautiful prayers and meditations in addition to his often inspirational correspondence. Anselm held the position of archbishop until his death in 1109. A biography by his contemporary Eadmer provides many insights into the life of this remarkably saintly and scholarly man.

Anselm quotes:

From the Preface to the Proslogion:

I have written the little work that follows… in the role of one who strives to raise his mind to the contemplation of God and one who seeks to understand what he believes.

I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that you have created your image in me, so that I may remember you, think of you, love you. But this image is so obliterated and worn away by wickedness, it is so obscured by the smoke of sins, that it cannot do what it was created to do, unless you renew and reform it. I am not attempting, O Lord, to penetrate your loftiness, for I cannot begin to match my understanding with it, but I desire in some measure to understand your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this too I believe, that “unless I believe, I shall not understand.” (Isa. 7:9)

A prayer of Anselm

My God,
I pray that I may so know you and love you
that I may rejoice in you.
And if I may not do so fully in this life
let me go steadily on
to the day when I come to that fullness …
Let me receive
That which you promised through your truth,
that my joy may be full.

A song of Anselm

Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you:
You are gentle with us as a mother with her children;
Often you weep over our sins and our pride:
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement.
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds:
in sickness you nurse us, and with pure milk you feed us.
Jesus, by your dying we are born to new life:
by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy.
Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness:
through your gentleness we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead:
your touch makes sinners righteous.
Lord Jesus, in your mercy heal us:
in your love and tenderness remake us.
In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness:
for the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us.

Want more?

Here is another more detailed bio. [link]

Lecture that tells you everything [link]

Suggestions for action

Anselm did administrative work because he was asked to do it. He would have preferred meditating, studying, writing and mentoring to having conflicts with the kings of England. Doing what he did not prefer did not diminish his influence, however. Living with an attitude of obedience grates on most people we know. We don’t always know what we want, but it is often not what we are supposed to be doing! How are you working that out?

Rest in the Lord for a moment and settle down. What is the best thing you can do today despite distracting or detracting circumstances? For now, you can pray and worship, that is something good we can do no matter who is trying to get us to do something  else.

April 21 — Easter Sunday

Was Easter Borrowed from a Pagan Holiday?

Today’s Bible reading

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. — Romans 6:3-5

More thoughts for meditation about the origin of Easter

Was Easter actually borrowed (or rather usurped) from a pagan celebration? Some Muslims claim that Christians compromised with paganism to dilute the original faith of Jesus.

Their argument largely rests on the supposed pagan associations of the English and German names for the celebration (Easter in English and Ostern in German). It is important to note, however, that in most other European languages, the name for the Christian celebration is derived from the Greek word Pascha, which comes from pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover. Easter is associated with the Jewish Passover festival by virtue of the historical record (Jesus was killed during the Passover festival) and symbolism (Jesus is the ultimate passover sacrifice).

Christians always contextualize their faith in one way or another — we express our message and worship in the language or forms of our culture. But that does not mean we compromise our doctrine. Christians around the world have sought to redeem the local culture for Christ while purging it of practices antithetical to the way of Jesus. After all, Christians speak of “Good Friday,” but they are in no way honoring the worship of the Norse/Germanic queen of the gods Freya (for whom Friday is named) by doing so.

In fact, in the case of Easter, the evidence suggests otherwise: that neither the commemoration of Christ’s death and resurrection nor its name are derived from paganism. The opposite is true, the so-called “pagans” came to see their springtime festival as an expression of new life in Christ.

Easter is a celebration with ancient roots

The usual argument for the pagan origins of Easter is based on a comment made by the Venerable Bede (673-735), an English monk who wrote the first history of Christianity in England, and who is one of our main sources of knowledge about early Anglo-Saxon culture. In De temporum ratione (On the Reckoning of Time, c. 730), Bede wrote this:

In olden times the English people—for it did not seem fitting that I should speak of other nations’ observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s—calculated their months according to the course of the Moon. Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans, [the months] take their name from the Moon, for the Moon is called mona and the month monath. The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath … Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month” and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.

The first question is whether the actual Christian celebration of Easter is derived from a pagan festival. This is easily answered. The Nordic/Germanic peoples (including the Anglo-Saxons) were comparative latecomers to Christianity. Pope Gregory I sent a missionary enterprise led by Augustine of Canterbury to the Anglo-Saxons in 596/7. The forcible conversion of the Saxons in Europe began under Charlemagne in 772. So if “Easter” (i.e. the Christian Passover festival) was celebrated prior to those dates, any supposed pagan Anglo-Saxon festival of “Eostre” can have no significance. And there is, in fact, clear evidence that Christians celebrated an Easter/Passover festival by the second century, if not earlier. It follows that the Christian Easter/Passover celebration, which originated in the Mediterranean basin, was not influenced by any Germanic pagan festival.

Why the name Easter is not “pagan” 

The second question is whether the name of the holiday “Easter” comes from the blurring of the Christian celebration with the worship of a purported pagan fertility goddess named “Eostre” in English and Germanic cultures. There are several problems with the passage in Bede. He has a sketchy knowledge of pagan festivals, which he freely admitted.

As it turns out, there is no evidence outside of Bede for the existence of this Anglo-Saxon goddess. There is no equivalent goddess in the Norse Eddas or in ancient Germanic paganism from continental Europe. Scholars suggest that the Anglo-Saxon Estor-monath simply means “the month of opening” or “the month of beginnings.” There is no evidence for a pre-Christian festival in the British Isles in March or April.

There is another objection to the claim that Eosturmonath has anything to do with a pagan goddess. Anglo-Saxon days were usually named after gods, such as Wednesday (“Woden’s day”), the names of their months were either calendrical, such as Giuli, meaning “wheel,” referring to the turn of the year; metereological-environmental, such as Solmónath (roughly February), meaning “Mud-Month”; or referred to actions taken in that period, such as Blótmónath (roughly November), meaning “Blood Month,” when animals were slaughtered. No other month was dedicated to a deity, with the exception (according to Bede) of Hrethmonath (roughly March), which he claims was named after the goddess Hrethe. But like Eostre, there is no other evidence for Hrethe, nor any equivalent in Germanic/Norse mythology.

Another problem with Bede’s explanation concerns the Saxons in continental Europe. Einhard (c. 775-840), the courtier and biographer of Charlemagne, tells us that among Charlemagne’s reforms was the renaming of the months. April was renamed Ostarmanoth. Charlemagne spoke a Germanic dialect, as did the Anglo-Saxons in Britain, although their vernacular was distinct. But why would Charlemagne change the old Roman title for the spring month to Ostarmanoth? Charlemagne was the scourge of Germanic paganism. He attacked the pagan Saxons and felled their great pillar Irminsul (after their god Irmin) in 772. He forcibly converted them to Christianity and savagely repressed them when they revolted because of this. It seems very unlikely, therefore, that Charlemagne would name a month after a Germanic goddess.

The name is basically “spring holiday”

One theory for the origin of the name Easter is that the Latin phrase in albis (“in white”), which Christians used in reference to Easter week, found its way into Old High German as eostarum, or “dawn.” There is some evidence of early Germanic borrowing of Latin despite that fact that the Germanic peoples lived outside the Roman Empire. This theory presumes that the word only became current after the introduction of either Roman influence or the Christian faith, which is uncertain. But if accurate, it would demonstrate that the festival is not named after a pagan goddess.

Alternatively, some suggest Eosturmonath simply meant “the month of opening,” which is comparable to the meaning of “April” in Latin. The names of both the Saxon and Latin months (which are calendrically similar) were related to spring, the season when the buds open.

So Christians in ancient Anglo-Saxon and Germanic areas called their Passover holiday what they did—doubtless colloquially at first—simply because it occurred around the time of Eosturmonath/Ostarmanoth. A contemporary analogy can be found in the way Americans refer to December as “the holidays,” or the way people sometimes speak about something happening “around Christmas,” usually referring to the time at the turn of the year. The Christian title “Easter,” then, essentially reflects its general date in the calendar, rather than the Paschal festival having been re-named in honor of a supposed pagan deity.

[Thanks to Anthony McCroy, Christian History, 2009]

Suggestions for action

The Christian commemoration of the Paschal festival rests not on the title of the celebration but on its content—namely, the remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection. It is Christ’s conquest of sin, death, and Satan that gives us the right to wish everyone “Happy Easter!”

Sometimes we have renamed the day “Resurrection Sunday” so people can get some separation from chicks, bunnies and other fertility symbols. Resurrection Sunday makes candy hidden in baskets full of fake grass seems as innocuous as it should be. Like Jesus followers in the past, we also make our own decisions about how we want to live in our culture and present Jesus to it.

Our general mentality is generosity. We are not only transhistorical (thus, this blog) we are genuinely interested in the genius behind most expressions of life in Christ. Having a joyful celebration of new life budding from the cold earth seems like a good way for people in the northern hemisphere to celebrate resurrection! On the other end of the spectrum, keeping faithless imagery and thinking away from the most important and spiritually-potent day of the year could be a sincere way to commemorate the Lord’s resurrection. The resurrection is the constant that spans the spectrum.

April 15 – Corrie ten Boom

Related image

Today’s Bible reading

You are my hiding place;
    you will protect me from trouble
    and surround me with songs of deliverance. Psalm 32:7

More thoughts for meditation about Corrie ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom (April 15, 1892 – April 15, 1983) and her family helped Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II and, by all accounts, saved nearly 800 lives.

Cornelia “Corrie” ten Boom was born in Haarlem, Netherlands, and grew up in a devout Protestant family. During World War II, she and her family harbored hundreds of Jews to protect them from arrest by Nazi authorities. Betrayed by a fellow Dutch citizen, the entire family was imprisoned. Corrie survived the concentration camp and started a worldwide ministry. She later told her story in a book entitled The Hiding Place.

The ten Boom family lived in the Beje house in Haarlem (short for Barteljorisstraat, the street where the house was located) in rooms above Casper’s watch shop. Family members were strict Calvinists in the Dutch Reformed Church. Faith inspired them to serve society, offering shelter, food and money to those in need. In this tradition, the family held a deep respect for the Jewish community in Amsterdam, considering them “God’s ancient people.”

After the death of her mother and a disappointing romance, Corrie trained to be a watchmaker and in 1922 became the first woman licensed as a watchmaker in Holland. Over the next decade, in addition to working in her father’s shop, she established a youth club for teenage girls, which provided religious instruction as well as classes in the performing arts, sewing and handicrafts.

In May 1940, the German Blitzkrieg ran though the Netherlands and the other Low Countries. Within months, the “Nazification” of the Dutch people began and the quiet life of the ten Boom family was changed forever. During the war, their house became a refuge for Jews, students and intellectuals. The façade of the watch shop made the house an ideal front for these activities. A secret room, no larger than a small wardrobe closet, was built into Corrie’s bedroom behind a false wall. The space could hold up to six people, all of whom had to stand quiet and still. A crude ventilation system was installed to provide air for the occupants. When security sweeps came through the neighborhood, a buzzer in the house would signal danger, allowing the refugees a little over a minute to seek sanctuary in the hiding place.

The entire ten Boom family became active in the Dutch resistance, risking their lives harboring those hunted by the Gestapo. Some fugitives would stay only a few hours, while others would stay several days until another “safe house” could be located. Corrie ten Boom became a leader in the movement, overseeing a network of “safe houses” in the country. Through these activities, it was estimated that 800 Jews’ lives were saved.

On February 28, 1944, a Dutch informant told the Nazis of the ten Booms’ activities and the Gestapo raided the home. They kept the house under surveillance, and by the end of the day 35 people, including the entire ten Boom family, were arrested, Although German soldiers thoroughly searched the house, they didn’t find the half-dozen Jews safely concealed in the hiding place. The six stayed in the cramped space for nearly three days before being rescued by the Dutch underground.

All ten Boom family members were incarcerated, including Corrie’s 84-year-old father, who soon died in the Scheveningen prison, located near The Hague. Corrie and her sister Betsie were remanded to the notorious Ravensbrück concentration camp, near Berlin. Betsie died there on December 16, 1944. Twelve days later, Corrie was released for reasons not completely known.

Corrie ten Boom returned to the Netherlands after the war and set up a rehabilitation center for concentration camp survivors. In the Christian spirit to which she was so devoted, she also took in those who had cooperated with the Germans during the occupation. In 1946, she began a worldwide ministry that took her to more than 60 countries. She received many tributes, including being knighted by the queen of the Netherlands. In 1971, she wrote a best-selling book of her experiences during World War II, entitled The Hiding Place. In 1975, the book was made into a movie starring Jeannette Clift as Corrie and Julie Harris as her sister Betsie.

In 1977, at age 85, Corrie ten Boom moved to Placentia, California. The next year, she suffered a series of strokes that left her paralyzed and unable to speak. She died on her 91st birthday, April 15, 1983. Her passing on this date evokes the Jewish traditional belief that states that only specially blessed people are granted the privilege of dying on the date they were born.

Quotes

  • Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.
  • Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.
  • When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.
  • Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
  • The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation.
  • Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.
  • Let God’s promises shine on your problems.
  • Memories are the key not to the past, but to the future.
  • Faith is like radar that sees through the fog.
  • Discernment is God’s call to intercession, never to faultfinding.

More?

The movie: The Hiding Place

The Maranatha song associated: [link]

The Corrie ten Boom museum [link]

Suggestions for action

Corrie ten Boom overcame her trauma and proved God’s faithfulness. It propelled her to tell her story and made her world famous. You don’t need to be famous, but don’t you need to tell your story? How do you know Jesus is faithful? Or have you yet to trust Him?

April 10 – Howard Thurman

Today’s Bible reading

Read Isaiah 5:1-7

I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines.

More thoughts for meditation about Howard Thurman

Born in Florida in 1899, Howard Thurman was raised primarily by his grandmother – a former slave.  He showed signs of a vibrant spiritual life early, and would read the Bible to his grandmother.  Thurman tells the story in his most famous work: Jesus and the Disinherited, how his mother would not permit him to read anything by the Apostle Paul (besides 1 Corinthians 13) because of the abusive theology that the white preachers would perpetrate on her and other enslaved people — biblical mandates to be “good slaves.”

Thurman grew as a pastor and academic, and became a man many people call a mystic. He had a significant bond with Quaker leader and pacifist Rufas Jones of Haverford College (the key leader of the organization that became the American Friends Service Committee). That connection moved him to lead a delegation to meet with Mohandas Gandhi.

As a theologian, Thurman was a pioneer in articulating Jesus’ mission of liberation for oppressed people. He taught that “if you ever developed a cultivated will with spiritual discipline the flame of freedom would never perish.”  He served as one of the pastors of the first intentionally interracial church in the US — The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco.  As a friend of Martin King, Thurman became a spiritual adviser and mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr.  Howard Thurman is usually credited with developing the nonviolence theories and tactics that were central to the Civil Rights Movement. He wrote over twenty books besides speeches and articles before he died on this day in 1981.

Listening to Howard Thurman

  • Whatever may be the tensions and the stresses of a particular day, there is always lurking close at hand the trailing beauty of forgotten joy or unremembered peace. — from Meditations of the Heart
  • Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
  • Community cannot for long feed on itself; it can only flourish with the coming of others from beyond, their unknown and undiscovered brothers.
  • During times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism.

Suggestions for action

Listen. Thurman was a good listener to God and others, and to his own genius. You have all those resources today, as well. Listen to them and see if you are en-couraged and directed.