prayer

Bow the Knee

A few weeks ago I was privileged to take part in a very special online 'gathering'.

The senior choir - the Songsters - at The Salvation Army church in Felixstowe in Suffolk in England meet every week online ... they can't meet in person because of the coronavirus, so they meet 'viritually' to stay in touch, be inspired and occasionally to hear from someone different.

So, I had the honour to speak to them, actually about my books, and then to lead them in a prayer 'devotion'. It was, I hope, 'different'.

Bow the kneeFor months a certain song has been travelling with me and has meant so much especially during the lockdowns and the uncertainty of the pandemic, so I chose this song to share with them.

This week especially it kept popping up all over the place, including on the random selection on my music library on my I-Phone. Like someone is trying to tell me something!

It's sometimes hard to pray and trust when life seems out of your control. But these words encourage me to keep trusting God however uncertain life may be. And to keep 'talking' to God and praying and believing.

So this Sunday I simply share it with you and hope it encourages you too.

The full lyrics are beneath the music video... but  the words of the chorus are worth repeating, and repeating, and repeating ...

Be blessed!

Bow the knee
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see
Bow the knee
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity
And when you don't understand the purpose of His plan
In the presence of the King, bow the knee

 

Bow the Knee

There are moments on our journey following the Lord
Where God illumines ev'ry step we take
There are times when circumstances make perfect sense to us
As we try to understand each move He makes
When the path grows dim and our questions have no answers, turn to Him

Bow the knee
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see
Bow the knee
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity
And when you don't understand the purpose of His plan
In the presence of the King, bow the knee

Bow the Knee

There are moments on our journey following the Lord
Where God illumines ev'ry step we take
There are times when circumstances make perfect sense to us
As we try to understand each move He makes
When the path grows dim and our questions have no answers, turn to Him

Bow the knee
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see
Bow the knee
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity
And when you don't understand the purpose of His plan
In the presence of the King, bow the knee

Bow the knee
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see
Bow the knee
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity
And when you don't understand the purpose of His plan
In the presence of the King, bow the knee

 

(words and music by Michael Harland and Christopher Machen)

 


What we Love ...

Most of us, even if we're not religious, may have heard of St Francis of Assisi.

You know who I'm talking about ... the 12/13th century Italian Catholic friar, mystic and preacher who is best known these days for being the Patron Saint of Animals because of his close association with nature and the natural environment and animals. 

In addition,  his 'Prayer of St Francis' ... Make Me a Channel of your Peace ...  is now widely known as a Christian prayer for peace.

It was on this day - July 16th - in 1228, just two years after his death, that Francis was canonized by Pope Gregory IX

But did you know that one of  the first followers of Francis was a young woman called Clare, who was actually born on this day in 1194?

Clare, like Francis, hailed from the town of Assisi in central Italy and was from a rich and ancient Roman family whose homes included a palace in Assisi. Clare would have been brought up in the Roman Catholic faith and apparently was very devout even as a child. Although undoubtedly she would have been destined for a rich marriage, instead when she was what we would now call a 'teenager', Clare decided on a religious life.

She apparently heard Francis speak at a church service during Lent, the period running up to Easter, and was inspired to give her life completely to God. She was just 17 but on the evening of Palm Sunday, 20 March 1212, she left her father's house and, accompanied by her aunt Bianca and another companion, went to the chapel of the Porziuncula in Assisi to meet Francis.

There, so history tells us, Clare's hair was cut, she removed her rich clothing and instead took on a plain robe and veil, indicating that she was turning her back on her previous life of luxury and was committing herself to a life of poverty and service to humanity.

Her father was furious. He tracked her down at a convent in San Paulo near Bastia where she had been placed in the care of Benedictine nuns ... but she refused to return home, and continued to profess that she would have no other 'husband' but Jesus Christ. She implored Francis to send her to an even more secluded religious community  - Sant' Angelo in Panzo - where she was soon joined by her sister Catarina, who changed her name to 'Agnes'. Both Clare and Agnes would eventually be canonized!

They remained with the Benedictines until a small dwelling was built for them next to the church of San Damiano near their hometown of Assisi.  Here Clare and Agnes gathered other religious women around them, they lived a life of poverty and seclusion from the world and they became known as the "Poor Ladies of San Damiano". Later, ten years after Clare's death in August 1253, it would become known as the Order of Saint Clare. These days the contemplative order of nuns is in 75 countries across the world but it began with just one woman and a vision from God.

While the Franciscan friars travelled around the country to preach, Saint Clare's 'sisters' existed in isolation from the world, where they lived a life of manual labour and prayer. They were barefoot, slept on the ground, ate no meat and observed almost complete silence. At one point the Pope of the day,  Gregory IX, offered Clare a 'dispensation' from the vow of strict poverty. She declined, and eventually the Pope instead granted them something called the 'Privilegium Pauperitatis' — a ruling that nobody could oblige the Clares to accept any possession. 

It's hard to imagine these days, when we're so wrapped up in belongings and 'stuff' and 'freewill', that a live of solitude and austerity could be appealing ...  but in fact Clare and her followers inspired many to join them, including more members of her own family.

Another sister, Beatrix, also joined the order and after their father's death, their mother Ortolana also entered the convent at San Damiano which followed the Franciscan monastic religious order. It was here that Clare would write their  Rule of Life, which are believed to be the first set of monastic guidelines known to have been written by a woman. 

Many words of wisdom have passed down the centuries from St Clare but I think one of my favourite thoughts from this wise Woman of God are those below.

It's such a profound thought, and could have been written for the 21st century. 

I invite you today to read these words, and reflect, as I am doing.

What is it that I 'love'? What is shaping me?

Is it 'things', possessions, power, status, money?

Is that what is shaping our lives?

Or is it just simply ... love? Compassion for others? And maybe God? 

It's a tough one ... and although it might not necessarily mean a life of seclusion and poverty, it might help us to think about what is important in our lives and what we hold dear!

 

St Clare of Assisi


A blessing

So, we've reached another Sunday.

And today I just want to share an ancient blessing with you which I found online.

It comes from the Apache Native American spirituality, culture and tradition.

I love it for it's seeming simplicity, but also for the depth of its meaning.

Read it a few times over and over, and you'll see what I mean.

It inspired me and I hope it does the same for you!

Enjoy your day everyone!

 

Apache blessing


Before ...

As I write my daily blog every day, sometimes I struggle to find time and ideas to bring you. 

That's when I give thanks for the internet and all the ideas and images, words and pictures - fun, profound, quirky, spiritual, superficial, challenging - that people have shared through websites and images. Sometimes when I have a bit of time I spend a few moments and 'store' stuff for later use. I've found so much that is interesting and thought provoking in my internet travels!

Today I'm bringing you one of those thoughts that, when I first read it, really made me stop and think.

Sometimes in life, we expect things to be handed to us on a plate. We want our dreams and wishes 'now'... we can't wait for our new lives, new loves, new possessions, success, riches and wealth. I could go on. You know what I'm talking about.

But this thought reminds me that actually sometimes we need to do more than just hope, dream, wish, even pray.

We need to be ready for what might lie ahead, perhaps to prepare ourselves before we can appreciate what we long for.

I love the idea of not just speaking, but being a listener as well. As a writer, I'm encouraged that thinking time might be important, even vital, before putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. As a person of faith, it's easy to pray words, but REALLY  believing is a different and more challenging matter. 

This raises questions in my heart and mind. When I pray, is it just words or do I really believe that God will answer my prayer? Do I speak too quickly, selfishly, and not listen to others? Do I give up too easily, did I work hard enough in this or that endeavour? Am I really living life to the fullest?

SO many questions ... and the answers are still to come.

Anyway, hope you find this helpful.

I certainly did!



Before


Summer Prayer

About this time of the year in the northern hemisphere of our planet, it's the longest day of the year.

Between about June 20 and 22nd there is more daylight than darkness, more days of sunshine hopefully because it's the moment when the path of the sun is farthest north. For those of us north of equator, it's the beginning of what is called 'astronomical summer'! Otherwise known as 'Summer Solstice'.

And this year the beginning of that season ... midsummer ... is today -  June 21 - when give or take the UK will enjoy around 16 hours and 38 minutes of daylight, with the sun rising before 5am and setting around 9.30pm.

Summer Solstice (and actually Winter Solstice which here falls on or around December 21st) has always had cultural,  spiritual and even religious significance for humankind. Many cultures assign importance to the elements and the seasons and so this is a time for celebration, holidays, festivals and rituals. In many countries and regions this is associated with religion and even fertility as the Summer Solstice marks the time when crops are growing, nature is thriving and people are enjoying the goodness of life and are optimistic for the future. 

At places like Stonehenge - the circle of prehistoric Standing Stones on Salisbury Plain in the county of Wiltshire in England - ceremonies to mark the rising of the sun on this day have been held for thousands of years, as people recognised the religious significance of the mysticism of creation.

The Summer Solstice was and still is a marker for the year and the rolling out of the seasons. Neolithic humans may initially have started to observe the summer solstice as a way to figure out when to plant and harvest crops. We know that in Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice corresponded with the rise of the Nile River so it helped people to predict the annual flooding, and that was obviously related to the viability of their crops along the banks of the river, and the potential harvests later in the year. If you fancy reading more about this time of year there is loads online, including a great website hosted by the History Channel.

But the significance of days like today transcends nature. Before humans understood how the earth interacts with our sun and why the days of light and darkness differ according to the seasons, this period of long days of daylight would have been connected with mysticism and powerful messages about the universe. The word Solstice is derived from the Latin words sol (Sun) and sistere (to stand still) ... this day it would have felt as if the sun was motionless in the heavens and so it would have had some spiritual significance and traditions and behaviours developed around the day.

According to pagan folklore, evil spirits would appear on the Summer Solstice so in order to ward these off, people would wear protective garlands of herbs and flowers. Some midsummer traditions involve dancing around the 'maypole'. Bonfires were lit, also to help banish those demons and evil spirits. Ancient 'magic' was thought to be strongest at this time of year and those bonfires were also thought to lead girls to their future husbands - again linked to that sign of fertility. 

The Summer Solstice is often associated with the ancient religions which pre-date Christianity and were closely aligned to nature and the seasons. And regardless of whether we are people of 'faith' or not, the Summer Solstice is a time when we can appreciate the warmth of the sun and the potential in our world, and be inspired for the future.

I could have given you all kinds of quotes about Summer Solstice today ... there are masses online ... but I found this prayer which, as a person of faith, says it all for me.

Enjoy this long day everyone!

And if you're in the southern hemisphere ... be assured that as you are now halfway through your 'winter', summer is on its way!

Summer Prayer

 

 

 

 


May God give you .....

This past week I was having a conversation with a friend and in usual fashion, we chatted about anything and everything. Work, frustrations, our health (physical and mental health) ... and along the way the subject of Celtic Christianity came up.

Rather random, I grant you, but it's once again made me think about the ancient faith of many of our British forefathers and mothers, a spiritual tradition and theology which is connected not just to God but also to the earth and nature, the elements and the natural environment around us. 

I love this tradition and the sentiments and prayers which come out of it. These days you might often see these defined and described as 'Irish' blessings and prayers, but many of these come if not directly, then indirectly from the Celtic tradition. The fact that many of these blessings are based on very old spiritual traditions inspires me as I realise these prayers have been spoken silently and out loud for many hundreds of years by the faithful. They have brought inspiration and comfort, challenge and affirmation in equal measure.

I don't know anything about you, dear reader, or how you are feeling right now. But what I've learned down the years is that God sometimes gives us a thought which, without knowing it, will help someone else if passed on.

So today I bring you one of those blessings and trust it will bring you whatever YOU need.

Be Blessed Today!

 

Sunday blessing


June Blessings

It's the first day of June and it's the chance to head into a new month.

So all I want to say today is 'Be blessed!'

 

June 1 blessings


It's so Easy

It's Sunday and today I just want to share an inspiring thought with you. Pray sunday

It's so easy to go through life with our eyes closed to the beauty around us, to the great people who surround us and who help us in so many unseen ways.

It's so easy to focus on the negative rather than enjoy the positive.

It's so easy to fail to nurture our souls. For me, as a Christian, that's through prayer and meditation and Bible and other reading, but for you it might be something else.

It's so easy to forget to make the most of every day, forgetting that life is a gift.

It's so easy to fill our lives with superficiality and to forget to look deeper, beyond what we want and what we think we need to look good, live comfortable lives, be popular, find success.

However, while it's easy to do all this, it's also not that difficult to turn our lives around. It might take a little effort to get out of one mindset and embrace a new way of thinking and believing, but it is possible.

For many of us it could be a matter of trust and belief, perhaps in a Higher Being - I call that person God - or maybe even in ourselves. It could mean turning our faces away from some of the things, and even people, who distract us from being the person we long to be. That calmer, less stressed out, less materialistic, kinder person?

We might have to change our perspectives on many things, and it might be a life's work, but I'm sure it will be worth it.

Have a great Sunday everyone!

Let's set our hearts on the positive ahead of a fantastic week!

 


All Shall be Well

There's a great quote which has over the years given me great comfort, especially during difficult times and periods of 'trial' in my life.

Julian of norwich quote May 13

The quote, as you may see. is attributed to a Christian mystic and theologian called Julian of Norwich and it wasn't until I actually moved to the 'Fair City' of Norwich in the county of Norfolk in England that I took the time to find out more about her.

Julian lived in the 14th century and resided for most of her life in the city, which has a history as a commercial centre as well as a place with a vibrant religious life. 

So the story goes, it was when Julian - possibly not her real name although we don't really know much about her - was aged around 32 when she became seriously ill. It was the year 1373 and on her deathbed when she received a series of visions of Jesus, or what was described as "shewings" of the Passion of Christ - visions relating to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

And actually it's on May 13th in 1373 that it's reckoned she received those visions which is why I'm thinking about this especially today.

Miraculously Julian recovered and wrote two versions of her experiences, one which we think was completed very soon after her illness and another written years later. The book was entitled Revelations of Divine Love. It contains a series of Christian devotions and thoughts.

Although she was probably religious before all this, it's thought the experiences eventually led Julian to become what is called an 'anchorite', or 'anchoress' living in permanent seclusion in a cell which was attached to a chapel known as St Julian's Church, Norwich.

Julian was not unique in her Christian calling and not the only person who chose this lifestyle. The anchorite was and is someone who withdraws from secular society to devote their life to intense prayer and the ascetic lifestyle where they choose a frugal life without possessions and 'sensual pleasures' in favour of spiritual pursuit and enlightenment. 

This choice to separate from ordinary life is not just a Christian concept, we find it in many religions but in the case of Julian and other Christians, becoming an anchorite ... a kind of hermit who stays one place ... was about a focus on the Christian Eucharist as well as prayer and devotion. Often these people became considered a kind of living saint. The earliest anchorites are recorded in the 11th century but by the 13th century when Julian was living, it's reckoned there could have been as many as 200 anchorites in England alone. The anchoritic life is considered to be one of the earliest forms of Christian monasticism and in fact some still exist today ... in the Roman Catholic Church it's described as one of the "Other Forms of Consecrated Life".

Regardless of the fact that she was separate from society, Julian did make an impact. Although she apparently preferred to write anonymously even in her own lifetime she was influential. There are surviving records of four wills in which she was named and there's an account by another celebrated mystic called Margery Kempe who writes about the advice and counsel she received from Julian.

While Julian remained separate, her 'anchorage' was attached to the side of the chapel so she was still able to play a part in the life of the church - she could receive communion and hear Mass. By the time she died, sometime after 1416, she had been in her cell for about 25 years!  

Although little known outside of Norwich and East Anglia in her lifetime and for many centuries,  Julian of Norwich's Revelations, including her second 'Long Text' in which she revealed a few personal details as well, have fortunately been handed down to this generation.  In the 17th century she became popular and loads of people translated her work. She did disappear from view for a while in the mid to late 19th century but was 're-discovered' in 1901 when a manuscript in the British Museum was transcribed and published with notes by an editor and translator called Grace Warrack.

Since then many more translations of Revelations of Divine Love  (which is also known under other titles) have been produced and Julian is now very popular. Her spirituality and thoughts and reflections appear to ring true with 21st century seekers after truth.   

Since 1980, Julian has been remembered in the Calendar of Saints in the Church of England with a Lesser Festival on May 8th, and she is also commemorated on that day in the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the USA. While she has not been formally beatified or canonised in the Roman Catholic Church,  she is venerated by Catholics as a holy woman of God, and is sometimes referred to as "Saint", "Blessed", or "Mother" Julian.. In the Roman Catholic tradition her feast day is today - May 13th. And if you visit the magnificent Anglican cathedral in Norwich, at the West Porch you'll find a statue of Julian created by the local sculptor David Holgate and commissioned to commemorate the new millennium. 

There are many quotes from Julian of Norwich from her Revelations that have made it online but I still love this one more than others. 

Julian chose a hard, prayerful and thoughtful life but she was still a human being, a woman, and it must have been tough at times. Detached from the world, sitting in a cold cell in the perishing Norfolk winter and sweltering in the summer. Not following her own will, but that of God. 

Although I'm sure her resolve and faith were strong, she maybe at times did feel isolated and perhaps even, occasionally, wondered if she was spending her life usefully.

Most of us can recognise and perhaps empathise with those emotions.

So today I imagine Julian receiving this message and finding the comfort and peace and courage to move forward in life.

"In my folly, afore this time often I wondered why by the great foreseeing wisdom of God the beginning of sin was not letted: for then, methought, all should have been well. This stirring was much to be forsaken, but nevertheless mourning and sorrow I made therefor, without reason and discretion. But Jesus, who in this Vision informed me of all that is needful to me, answered by this word and said: It behoved that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." (The Thirteenth Revelation, Chapter 27)

 


Celebrating Earth Day

Today is Earth Day.

Every year since 1970 this has been annual event designed for us all to demonstrate support for environmental protection. It's grown over the decades and lots of important environmental events have happened on Earth Day.

This year on Earth Day, today, there will be a Global Climate Summit, convened by the US President Joe Biden and held virtually I'm guessing because of coronavirus. Among other things it is designed to be a 'critical stepping stone for the U.S. to re-join the world in combating the climate crisis', having agreed to re-sign the Paris Agreement.  It's just one of the events being planned today and just one example of how Earth Day continues to be a momentous and unifying day every year.  These days it's reckoned that 1 billion people in more than 193 countries will mark Earth Day in some way.

And so to MY contribution.

A couple of years ago, I recorded a series for BBC Radio Jersey with the Jersey artist and iconographer Karen Blampied.

She has created something called The Earthday Icon ... inspired by the ancient nature embedded in the Eastern Orthodox Church Calendar, which each September celebrates Creation and which has a three year cycle, ending every year with the feast of St Francis of Assisi and the Blessing of the Animals. During this liturgical time of Creation, each Sunday is dedicated to a specific aspect of creation and the Earthday icons depicts forests, land, wilderness, rivers, skies, mountains, the universe, animals, storms, oceans and more, all with spiritual significance.

Karen's inspiration is to 'highlight the need of all people to be stewards of the Earth' and this really inspires ME.

I loved working with Karen on this series and the audio we produced is still on the BBC Radio Jersey website.

So today, to mark Earth Day, I'm including the links to the programme features.

You will have to click on each link to listen ... hope you don't mind doing that. But it's really interesting!

Enjoy! And be inspired and blessed!


Earthday icon KBlampiedEarthday Icon #1 - Ocean - Karen chats to me about the role of the sea in the Creation story

Earthday Icon #2 - Flora & Fauna - Karen in conversation with me about her icon

Earthday Icon #3 Storm - Karen chats to me about depicting weather & climate in her icon

Earthday Icon #4 Cosmos - Karen talks to me about depicting God and the heavens in her icon

Earthday Icon #5 Blessing of the Animals - Discovering Karen's inspiration for the animals in her icon

 

*Earthday icon image copyright - Karen Blampied