November 18 — Odo of Cluny

Today’s Bible reading

The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure and full of quiet gentleness. Then it is peace-loving and courteous…It is wholehearted and straightforward and sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness.—James 3:17-18

Odo Cluny-11.jpg
11th Century miniature

More thoughts for meditation about Odo of Cluny

Odo (c. 880-942) was the great abbot of the Benedictine Monastery of Cluny, which started a huge program of monastic and clerical reform. He was the second abbot of Cluny but began his religious life as canon of St. Martin of Tours, to whom he always had a deep devotion.

When Odo, then a cleric at Tours, read The Rule of St. Benedict for himself, he was stunned. Judging that his Christian life did not measure up to Benedict’s standard, he determined to become a monk. In 909, Odo went to Beaume, a monastery (unlike many) where the rule was strictly observed, and Abbot Berno received him into the community.

That same year Berno started a new monastery at Cluny in Burgundy. He established it on the pattern of Beaume, insisting on a rigorous application of the Benedictine rule. In 927, St. Odo succeeded Berno as Cluny’s abbot and spread its influence to monasteries all over Europe. He encouraged lax monasteries to return to the original pattern of the Benedictine rule of prayer, manual labor, and community life under the direction of a spiritual father. Under his influence, monasteries chose more worthy abbots, cultivated a more committed spiritual life in the monks, and restored the solemnity of daily worship. Thus Odo helped lay the foundation for a renewal movement that in two centuries reformed more than a thousand monastic communities and transformed the religious and political life of Europe.

In the following passage, John of Salerno, Odo’s biographer, says he combined his power with wry humor to compel members of his entourage to behave charitably:

The blind and the lame, Odo said, would be the doorkeepers of heaven. Therefore no one ought to drive them away from his house, so that in the future they should not shut the doors of heaven against him. So if one of our servants, not being able to put up with their shameless begging, replied sharply to them or denied them access to the door of our tent, Odo at once rebuked him with threats. Then in the servant’s presence he used to call the poor man and command him, saying, “When this man comes to the gate of heaven, pay him back in the same way.” He said this to frighten the servants, so that they should not act in this way again, and that he might teach them to love charity.

At the pope’s request, Odo traveled to Rome three times to pacify relations between Hugh, king of Italy and Alberic, called the Patrician of the Romans. On each of these trips Odo took the opportunity to introduce the Cluniac reform to monasteries en route. On returning from Rome in 942, he became sick and stopped at the monastery of St. Julian in Tours for the celebration of the feast day of St. Martin. He took part in the celebrations on November 11 and after a lingering illness died on November 18. During his last illness, he composed a hymn in honor of Martin.

More?

Video on the Cluniac Reform Movement.

The Abbey of Cluny is ten minutes from the Taize Community. 

Video history of the Abbey.

Poem of Odo

The Odo Ensemble, based at Cluny.

Suggestions for action

Admiration for a saint can lead to sanctity. Odo of Cluny was deeply devoted to St. Martin of Tours and as a young student imitated Martin in his love of beggars. He always kept the example of Martin as his guide.

Perhaps the poor we refuse to care for or people we snub will be our greeters after death. Imagine that the person meeting us at heaven’s gate will be the person we have offended most, now empowered to welcome or to reject us. That thought might make us hurry to be reconciled with anyone we have hurt.

The church in the United States has a “lax rule” and is embroiled in corrupt politics and many scandals. Will you desert Jesus as a result? Or will you refocus our “rule” and transform the society?

November 17 – Hild

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Matthew 10:5-15

You received without having to pay. Therefore, give without demanding payment.

More thoughts for meditation about Hild

Today is the feast day of Hild of Whitby, who died on this day in 680.

She lived in the 7th Century and made her mark in the kingdom of Northumbria, now part of England. She took her first vows as a nun somewhat later in life, at the age of 33, but managed to help start several monasteries and became the founding Abbess at Whitby, a monastery where men and women had residence. Her reputation for wise counsel made her a coveted adviser to several kings and crucial to the conversion of much her territory to Christianity. She also is known for her great love and devotion to the ordinary people.

While her Celtic people were pushed further and further North by the pagan groups such as the Saxons, a vital mission to the invaders remained. The church in Rome often competed with the Celtic tradition, and Hild was known for helping to settle the big question of when Easter would be celebrated. This was just one example of the peacemaking she was known for in rather turbulent times.

Her relationship with the farmhand, Caedmon, is a good example of her devotion to developing regular people. She recognized Caedmon’s gifts for music and poetry and encouraged them. He became the first published poet in English.

Want more?

From an Anglican church named after her: [link]

Another church’s bio: [link]

Saint Hilda’s snakes

Three-minute bio

Suggestions for action

Hild was an unusual leader, mainly because she was a woman leading men in a time when that was almost unheard of. She was also a leader in difficult times when the church was challenged by antagonists and also divided from within. Her native Celtic church was being overrun by the legalists from Rome who desired to unite the church under the monarchy of the Pope.

The United States and the Church worldwide are changing. We see ourselves as an outpost, in some ways, where true, old and better ways provide and alternative to the turmoil and self-interest around us. Like Hild, look around our church, starting with your cell, and notice the gifts of the Spirit God is providing us in our ambition to make Jesus known and followed.

November 11 – Lucretia Mott

Mott in the foreground of the Portrait Monument in the Capitol Rotunda. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/suffragist-statue-trapped-broom-closet-75-years-180963274/

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Jude 1:20-23

Have mercy on those who doubt. Save some by snatching them from the fire.

More thoughts for meditation about Lucretia Mott

Lucretia Mott (January 3, 1793 – November 11, 1880) was a Quaker minister and activist in church reform, women’s rights, and the abolitionist movement. Considering slavery an evil to be opposed, she and others refused to use cotton cloth, cane sugar, and other slavery-produced goods as part of their protest. Her Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad. By the end of her life, Lucretia saw the legal end to slavery in the US but it would be forty years before the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution gave women the right to vote.

Mott’s fight for women’s rights included education. Her most famous work: Discourse on Woman, was published in 1849. Her leadership led to the founding of Moore College of Art and the Medical College of Pennsylvania, both in Philadelphia. She was one of the founders of Swarthmore College.

It is hard to imagine an equivalent to the battles Lucretia Mott was fighting and the tools she had. Her convictions led to more than a critique of society, more than personal changes, but to a Spirit-led mass movement that resulted in much fruit.

Quotes:

  • We too often bind ourselves by authorities rather than by the truth.
  • It is not Christianity, but priestcraft that has subjected woman as we find her.
  • The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation because in the degradation of woman the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source.
  • Any great change must expect opposition, because it shakes the very foundation of privilege.
  • I have no idea of submitting tamely to injustice inflicted either on me or on the slave. I will oppose it with all the moral powers with which I am endowed. I am no advocate of passivity.
  • It is time that Christians were judged more by their likeness to Christ than their notions of Christ. Were this sentiment generally admitted we should not see such tenacious adherence to what men deem the opinions and doctrines of Christ while at the same time in every day practice is exhibited anything but a likeness to Christ.

Want more?

Historical marker background [link]

Bio from the Unitarians [link]

A note from Penn Press [link]

Video from series on Philadelphia Women:

Suggestions for action

Lucretia Mott is such an inspiring example. What movement is God starting with us? Will we have the faith and courage to follow through?

November 3 — Sundar Singh

Today’s Bible reading

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. — 1 John 2:27

More thoughts for meditation about Sundar Singh

Sadhu Sundar Singh was born on September 3, 1889 into a rich Sikh family in Punjab. His mother was a pious woman who had a strong influence in his life. Her prayer was that her youngest son Sundar would renounce the world and become a Sadhu (or saintly wise man). She nurtured Sundar Singh in the Sikh and Hindu holy books. Her death when Sundar was only fourteen dealt her son a severe blow. He desperately searched for peace and began reading all sorts of religious books and practicing Yoga. His father put him in a Christian mission school in his village where Sundar developed a profound hatred for Christians. He went to the extent of tearing the Bible and burning it into pieces.

Sundar made a despairing resolve to commit suicide if he failed to get a revelation of the living God. Early in the morning on Dec 18, 1904, he begged God to show him the way of salvation and determined to end his life on the railway track if his prayers were unanswered. At half past four a bright light shone in his room and he had a vision of Christ. Sundar heard Christ speaking to him, “How long will you persecute me? I died for you, I gave my life for you.” Sundar Singh fell at His feet in worship and surrendered his life to Christ. This vision forever convinced him that he had seen the true God and it sustained him during the coming persecution. When he cut his long hair to renounce his religion, it was considered as a shame on the whole Sikh race and an unforgivable disobedience. His family poisoned the food he ate and sent him out of the house. He was miraculously saved by the grace of God and timely treatment given by nearby Christian villagers.

Thirty-three days after his baptism at sixteen years old, Sundar Singh began his life as a Christian sadhu. He was distressed to see the Indian church inculcating Western culture, imitating its customs and failing to present the gospel in Indian terms. Sundar Singh knew that a life of a sadhu was the best way to present the gospel message of Christ to Indians. His yellow robe won him admission into many villages and people listened to him. He wandered barefoot, without any possessions except his thin linen garment, a blanket and a New Testament in Urdu. He preached the Gospel in his native and surrounding villages and he traveled through Punjab to Afghanistan and Kashmir, lands where Christian mission work had hardly begun. At this time, Sundar Singh met Samuel Stokes, a wealthy American who came to India for missionary work and joined with him for some time in ministry. He learned from him the ideals of Francis of Assisi and his life as a preaching friar inspired him.

Sundar Singh was always convinced that the water of life should be offered in the Indian cup. His short stint to equip himself with theological training at St. John’s Divinity College in Lahore in 1909 was largely unfruitful. Sundar considered that religious knowledge of the highest kind is acquired not by intellectual study but by direct contact with Christ. He even surrendered his preaching license from the Anglican church as he did not want to be restrained to a diocese. His call was to be a free agent without holding any office and take the message of Jesus Christ to all churches and people of all faiths.

Tibet had always been a closed land for Christian missionaries as it is a strong Buddhist nation. Sundar Singh had a special burden for ministry in Tibet. It became his mission field and between 1908-1920 when he reportedly made up to twenty risky trips to this country. In spite of stubborn opposition from the Lamas, his message was received in the important town of Tashigang. It was during his travel to Tibet he met members of the Sanyasi Mission who were a secret Christian brotherhood numbering around 24,000.

By 1918 Singh’s fame had spread far and wide and he was flooded with offers to preach all over South India. Thousands of people flocked for his meetings with a keen desire to hear him. He went on to Ceylon and conducted spiritual meetings of great power for six weeks. He was greatly disturbed by the caste system prevailing in these regions and condemned it severely. His ministry extended to Burma, Malaya, Penang, Singapore, China and Japan.

Sundar Singh had the joy of leading his father to Christ in the year 1919. His father sponsored him for his first journey to Europe. Sundar Singh was eager to find out the truth of the accusation that Christianity in the West had lost its splendor. He set off on a tour to England in January, 1920. He stayed in England for three months and went to America and Australia. He addressed huge gatherings everywhere to crowds of all denominations. Sundar Singh found the West to be indifferent to spiritual values and materialistic in their world view. While some sections criticized him for his frank judgments, many were challenged and converted by his preaching. Sundar Singh made a second trip to Europe and visited Palestine to satisfy his long cherished dream of seeing the Holy Land. He preached in most of the European countries to big audiences. It is indeed noteworthy to see an Indian presenting the message of the gospel to the Western world. However, Sundar Singh was disillusioned by the nominal Christianity and immorality of large sections of people in Europe. The Sadhu preferred the hardships of Tibet to the adulation of the Christian countries of the Western world.

Sadhu Sundar Singh experienced numerous miracles in his life saving him from grave dangers. Once when he was in Tibet in a place called Risar, he was arrested for preaching a foreign religion and ordered to be cast into a dry well outside the village. The well-pit was foul with rotten bodies and the top cover was locked. For two nights he was in such a despairing situation without any hope of survival. But the third night he saw the cover open and rope being let down and he was pulled up. The Sadhu was convinced that it was an angel of the Lord who helped him. Similarly, he experienced divine help many times when he was beaten up and persecuted.

Sundar Singh also experienced the visions of the spirit world. His spiritual life was in constant communion with Christ. He received ecstatic gifts from God when he saw visions as frequently as eight to ten times a month and it lasted an hour or two. They were not in a dream state and the Sadhu was conscious of what was happening. His spiritual eyes were opened to see the glory of the heavenly sphere and walk there with Christ and converse with angels and spirits. This resulted in severe criticism and he was even called as an impostor and his imaginations as product of a deceased mind. But those who knew the Sadhu personally and witnessed his spiritual life never doubted his sincerity.

In 1923, Sundar Singh bought his own house in Subathu where he rested for almost three years because of heart attacks, trouble in eyesight, ulcers and several other complications which confined him to his home. The busy tours abroad and constant travel and preaching engagements had its toll on him. The Sadhu started contributing to articles in magazine and also writing his own books which amounted to seven thin volumes written in Urdu and translated into English with the assistance of his friends. The bulk of his writings contained messages that he received through visions. His writings were influential and touched the lives of many people.

The Sadhu had a burning desire in his heart to visit Tibet again. He was strongly advised not to do so because of his ill health. When he attempted to go to Tibet in 1927, he suffered from severe hemorrhage of the stomach and had to be brought back. In April 1929, at the age of 39, Sundar determined to make another attempt to reach Tibet. He left instructions about his will and bid farewell to his friends. It was his last journey to Tibet and he was never to be seen again. Anxious friends made the efforts to trace him but to no avail. His death added one more mystery to a life which few people completely understood. We remember him on this day, although no one knows when he died.

Quotes

“The Indian Seer lost God in Nature; the Christian mystic, on the other hand, finds God in Nature. The Hindu mystic believes that God and Nature are one and the same; the Christian mystic knows that there must be a Creator to account for the universe.”

One day after a long journey, I rested in front of a house. Suddenly a sparrow came towards me blown helplessly by a strong wind. From another direction, an eagle dived to catch the panicky sparrow. Threatened from different directions, the sparrow flew into my lap. By choice, it would not normally do that. However, the little bird was seeking for a refuge from a great danger. Likewise, the violent winds of suffering and trouble blow us into the Lord’s protective hands.

Should I worship Him from fear of hell, may I be cast into it. Should I serve Him from desire of gaining heaven, may He keep me out. But should I worship Him from love alone, He reveals Himself to me, that my whole heart may be filled with His love and presence

From my many years experience I can unhesitatingly say that the cross bears those who bear the cross.

“In a Tibetan village I noticed a crowd of people standing under a burning tree and looking up into the branches. I came near and discovered in the branches a bird which was anxiously flying round a nest full of young ones. The mother bird wanted to save her little ones, but she could not. When the fire reached the nest the people waited breathlessly to see what she would do. No one could climb the tree, no one could help her. Now she could easily have saved her own life by flight, but instead of fleeing she sat down on the nest, covering the little ones carefully with her wings. The fire seized her and burnt her to ashes. She showed her love to her little ones by giving her life for them. If then, this little insignificant creature had such love, how much more must our Heavenly Father love His children, the Creator love His creatures!”

More?

An old but nicely done bio pic.

Biography by Phyllis Thompson

Nine minutes of reading with nice music.

Suggestions for action

Sundar Singh is still misunderstood. Westerners have combed his writings for flaws and syncretism. He may have veered toward Swedenborgian ideas and back. He may have turned the gospel in Hindu and Buddhist directions. He was an evangelist in Sadhu clothing. You’ll have to decide what orthodoxy means to you. Singh was less interested in orthodoxy than in getting the gospel to Indians, who knew more about Western culture than they did about Jesus.

What is your evangelism like? Do you have a strategy (or just a criticism about the strategies of others)?

Ask God for a vision of his presence and a call that is worth giving your life to completely.

October 31-November 2 – All Saints Day

Today’s Bible reading

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. — Hebrews 11-12:3

More thoughts for meditation about All Saints Days

All Saints Day is one of the major festivals of the Christian Year. When we say “saint” we mean Bible-based designation of anyone who is a faithful believer. So this feast serves as a commemoration of all God’s servants who have departed this life in faith. In Revelation 2:10 John says, “Be faithful unto death, and will give you the crown of life.” So the symbols of the crown of thorns and a crown of victory often mark the day and remind us of our own victory over death.

On November 1 we honor all the saints who have gone before us—as in this transhistorical blog! All Saints Day is central to a three-day observance that used to commonly be called “Hallowmas,” (the short form of All Hallows Mass). It is preceded by Hallowe’en (short for All Hallows Eve) and is followed by All Souls Day. The whole triduum is mainly a “memorial day” for remembering the people of faith who have gone before us. Not only are we inspired by them to triumph over our own troubles, we use the day to encourage one another to keep faith in the face of death.

Commemorating the martyrs of the faith with a regular holy-day began as early as the 4th Century. All Hallows Day, the feast of All Saints, on the first of November, used to be celebrated in the spring. But in the eighth century it was transferred to November (in places connected to Rome), where it became the climax of the autumn season, a harvest festival celebrating everyone planted with faith and now gone to seed. With this move, the church attempted to override the European traditions of communing with the dead. As Christians expanded from their original territories, the church confronted pagan rites that appeased the “gods” of death and evil spirits. They did not simply speak out; they instituted alternatives. All Saints Day was placed on November 1 in 835; All Souls Day on November 2 in 998.

Over the centuries this celebration has been overlaid with the church’s imagination about the “immortality of the soul” and how a person satisfies the requirements for “going to heaven.” It has also been overlaid with all sorts of pre-Christian and non-Christian observances of death and the afterlife. In the United States, there is, at present, a renewed interest in Hallowe’en and the Day of the Dead, which are the days of the three-day observance that are most prone to abuse. They have become major holidays filled with lights and parades. So the whole holiday is worth studying, so we don’t fall into nonsense (or just swallow it whole) and don’t allow the church to lose honor because it is tied to nonsense we can’t explain.

Here are some of the problems:

  • All Saints Day (Nov. 1): Some people considered this celebration of all the saints, known and unknown, to be a very powerful day against the forces of evil, since all the intercession of the company of heroes could be called upon at once. The concept of All Saints Day is connected to the doctrine of The Communion of Saints. This is the Catholic teaching that all of God’s people, on heaven, earth, and in the state of purification (Purgatory), are spiritually connected and united. They are just as alive as those on earth (their body dead, but their immortal souls alive), and are constantly interceding on our behalf.

Jesus has introduced his followers into an eternal now, but our full experience of that awaits the final day when the dead are raised. We will always be embodied spirits, as we were created to be.

  • Hallowe’en (October 31): Many customs of Hallowe’en reflect the Christian belief that on vigil before the feast of all saints we mock evil, because as Christians, it has no real power over us. Various customs developed related to Hallowe’en in the Middle Ages. For instance, poor people in the community begged for “soul cakes,” and upon receiving these doughnuts, they would agree to pray for departed souls. Some say this is the root of our modern day “trick-or-treat.” The custom of masks and costumes developed to mock evil and perhaps confuse the evil spirits by dressing as one of their own.
Witch costumes 1910

Hallowe’en features many characteristics of the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain, for which All Saints Day is the alternative. The festival of Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest season, and is sometimes regarded as the “Celtic New Year.” Traditionally, the festival was a time used to take stock of supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. People believed that on October 31, the boundary between the alive (summer) and the deceased (winter) was so thin it dissolved, and the dead became dangerous to the living by causing problems such as sickness or damaged crops. The observances would frequently involve bonfires, into which bones of slaughtered livestock were thrown. Costumes and masks were also worn at the festivals in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or placate them. For the Druids, October 31 was New Year’s Eve, a night of evil and terror when all hell broke lose. Goblins and ghosts were abroad that night, while witches celebrated their black rites as the spirits and souls of the dead roamed the earth, especially dead children and babies. To frighten the evil spirits and to bolster their own sagging spirits, people created a din with bells, horns, pots and pans (just as many still do at midnight on December 31st) and kept the bonfires burning to frighten the witches or perhaps burn them if they were caught. On the afternoon of October 31st, village boys would go from house to house collecting fuel for the midnight fires. Everyone was expected to contribute some peat or “coal pieces” to help burn the witches. Those who did not received dire warnings of the evil consequences that might follow.

In 2 Corinthians 5:8 Paul says, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” This at least implies that there is no interim place where disembodied souls are left waiting to enter heaven or hell. The Bible says many times that our death is like falling asleep and our resurrection is like waking up. The interim is is of no matter to our timeless God, it is like an instant, even if, according to our earthbound understanding, it is a thousand years.

  • All Souls Day (November 2): This day is also called the Day of the Dead, or Día de Muertos. Most people use it as a day to remember and offer prayers up on behalf of all of the faithful departed, as in creating an “altar” with a picture of your sainted mother. People may go to the cemetery for a picnic or have a party featuring the favorite foods of the departed, placed as offerings on the altar. Mexico has an especially rich tradition for this day, so you may be familiar with pan de muerto (traditional pastries), and cempasuchitl (marigold flowers: used for the vibrant color that can guide the dead to the right place and their traditional uses for healing in Aztec medicine). Officially, this is a day to pray for the departed who haven’t made it to Paradise, who are awaiting their purification in purgatory, which, in itself, is a problem.

Unofficially, people think the Day of the Dead is the day when adult ghosts are loosened to roam the earth. People take to the streets to mock them. The fiesta is full of humor calling death la calaca (skeleton) or la flaca (skinny). Paintings and figurines depict skeletons in everyday life. Stories and cartoons show how humans have cheated or defeated death. The Aztecs and other Meso-American civilizations kept skulls as trophies and brought them out during a month long ritual associated with today’s observance. The skulls were used to symbolize death and rebirth and to honor the dead, whom the Aztecs and other Meso-American civilizations believed came back to visit during this part of the year. Unlike the Spaniards, who viewed death as the end of life, the natives viewed it as the continuation of life. Instead of fearing death, they embraced it. To them, life was a dream and only in death did they become truly awake.

In the Bible we are warned us not to go to spirits and soothsayers in Isaiah 8:19: “Should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” The Bible warns us not to consult with (or make inquiries of) the dead, as is often done on the Day of the Dead.

Want more?

Share Faith sums it up with another description.

Eddie G explains the Day of the Dead.

Suggestions for action

Ralph Vaughn Williams hymn For All the Saints is the classic hymn for All Saints Day. Spend a few minutes meditating with it and praising Jesus giving us life and courage to face death, especially for our faith.

We have a chance on All Saints Day, not only to remember those heroes of the faith (like in Hebrews 11), but to remember beloved saints we have lost personally. It is a good day to look back and show honor and respect as well as to mourn. We remember all the saints who don’t have a specific feast day. We remember the spiritual ancestors who inspire us on our journey. We remember the partners in our church as well as members of our extended Christian family who have died. What’s more, we can ponder our own deaths and what spiritual legacy we would like to leave. We are one of all the saints, too!

Many groups, especially Asian Americans, use All Saints Day as an opportunity to remember and respect family members who are elderly or who have lived in other generations. This might be the occasion for telling about where our families have come from and lived, what their lives were like, and what values that we honor they have passed on to us.

October 24 — Rosa Parks

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Exodus 9:13-35

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.” They do, just like you.

October 15 – Teresa of Avila

Today’s Bible reading

Read Romans  13:8-10 

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.

Want more?

More bio.

Teresa’s famous prayer.

You can read the Interior Castle for free.

Recommended biography.

A Catholic bio:

Suggestions for action

Meditate on Teresa’s wisdom:

  • Christ has no body now but mine. He prays in me, works in me, looks through my eyes, speaks through my words, works through my hands, walks with my feet and loves with my heart.
  • We may speak of love and humility as the true flowers of spiritual growth; and they give off a wonderful scent, which benefits all those who come near.
  • After you die, you wear what you are.

October 12 — Elizabeth Fry

Today’s Bible reading

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

Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) 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 Quaker; she was a Quaker Minister and didn’t engage in any 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.

newgate
The infamous Newgate prison before demolition

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 she found the prisoners in. The prisons were overcrowded and dirty, and 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 even 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 would suggest rules that they would 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, he 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 fore-runner 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.

More?

From Biography online

Geared for High School people

From Christian History magazine

Nice extra facts.

One minute video

Book: Betsy: The Dramatic Biography of Prison Reformer Elizabeth Fry

On the 5 Pound note.

Suggestions for action

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?

October 4 – Francis of Assisi

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read 1 Kings 17:2-6

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

St. Francis Renouncing his Worldly Goods by Giotto, c.1320, Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence, Italy

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.

S.Francesco speco.jpg
The oldest surviving depiction of Saint Francis is a fresco near the entrance of the Benedictine abbey of Subiaco, painted between March 1228 and March 1229.

Here is part of the biography of his early years from the Catholic Encyclopedia

“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.”

Want more?

A detailed biography from the Franciscans and a shorter one.

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 recent Italian TV movie.

The newest of many favorite books about Francis: Francis of Assisi and His World, by Mark Galli, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, by Richard Rohr

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?

September 28 – William J. Seymour

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Acts 2:14-21

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.

Seymour quotes

  • 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

Much more [here].

Azusa St. documentary:

Suggestions for action

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?