Religion

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


All that You Do

Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if we were all just a bit nicer and a bit kinder to each other? 

A little less self centred, a little more considerate of others?

If you've been reading this blog for the past few days you'll know that I'm a bit thoughtful at the moment ... and I've been thinking about the world we create.

Kindness is a big thing for me and in fact I'm beginning to work on a project about that with a friend - more about that later.

But today, as I continue to think about my impact on the world, my influence and the world I want to live in and to leave for others, I turn to the Bible for ultimate wisdom.

In the New Testament in one of Paul's letter to the Corinthians he says this ... 

Do everything in love ! Love without stopping!

Those words come from different translations of 1 Corinthians Chapter 16 verse 14, respectively the New International Version and The Message.

In the old King James Version it's put like this ...

Let all that you do be done with love.

Imagine what the world would be like if we all did even a little bit of that. 

What a perfect thought for a Sunday especially.

 

In love


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

 

 

 

 


Trust the Author

If you've been following this daily blog, you'll know that I talk quite a lot about books and writing. That's because writing and books are my passion.

Yesterday I was going on about children's literature ... Whether it's writing, or reading, or even reviewing (yes I do review books from time to time as well) I do spend rather a lot of time with books and immersed in stories.

On this Sunday I'm thinking about my own story. As a person of faith, I believe God is involved in my life, and is in effect, involved in writing my story.

It's so tempting to just grab that pen and do my own thing, crossing out what might have been planned and scribbling in other stuff that may or may not be good for me or where I'm meant to be.

So this is a reminder to me that God has it all in control.

I just need to trust!

Have a great day everyone!

God is still writing the story quote


A June Wedding

Mid June is a popular time for weddings. The prospect of  fine weather always helps of course although in Great Britain and the UK one can never count on a good day, even in summer. But I guess there's more chance of sunshine in June than at other times and these days, of course, the photographs of the day will be the lasting memories for many couples so a bit of sun goes a long way to making a happy Wedding Day!

In the past year, a few of my friends have had to postpone or scale down their wedding day plans because of the coronavirus pandemic restrictions, and I know for some that has been rather traumatic. 

But I also know for many couples who've had to change their plans it has meant they have focussed more on the day and the commitment they are making rather than the 'party'. And that has to be a good thing, doesn't it? 

Why am I thinking about weddings? Well ... it's because it was on this day - June 16th - in 1855 that a couple called William Booth and Catherine Mumford were married in a very scaled down simple ceremony in London. 

Stand by for a blatant plug for the first book I wrote!

William and Catherine BoothWilliam and Catherine Booth were the founders of The Salvation Army, which is now a global Christian church and charity movement working in more than 130 countries, but on their wedding day they were still 'seeking' their future. William was a struggling Christian evangelist and his travels across England had kept him and his fiancée apart for many months.  

There are no photos of the day itself, although the couple did get photographs taken across the years so we know what they looked like when they were young.

Their marriage would be the start not just of a busy family life (eventually they produced eight children) but also of their shared Christian service which would take them around the country, working first in the Methodist Church and finally in their own evangelistic ministry which would lead them back to London a decade later. It was in 1865 that they would create The East London Christian Mission which in 1878 became The Salvation Army.

Since their first meeting in 1852 William Booth and Catherine Mumford had regularly written letters and notes to each other and that correspondence continued throughout their marriage, as they were often separated by work and circumstances. And it was those letters, which are held in the British Library in London, which inspired me to write my first book.

WIlliam and Catherine front cover Sept 2013 Monarch books

'William and Catherine, the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters' was published by Monarch (Lion Hudson) books in 2013 and it draws not just on that personal correspondence but also on my imagination.

Included in the book are extracts from the letters, with kind permission of the Booth Family and the British Library. As I read their notes and letters I learned, I think, a little about Catherine and William's characters and so, in addition to extracts from many of the couple's letters and the historical narrative, my story also includes some 'imaginative' excerpts - my 'storytelling', my ideas on how they would have reacted to certain circumstances and events in their lives, some insignificant but others which are important in the history of The Salvation Army.

Which brings me to June 16 1855 and that quiet wedding in London. This excerpt, this little 'story', is in Chapter 7 of my book and is my imagining, based on what I know happened on the day and my understanding of the couple involved, of what transpired on that rather chilly day in mid June.

The sun emerged from behind the early summer clouds as Catherine and William stepped over the threshold of the Stockwell Green Congregational Church.
Catherine clutched her new husband’s hand, feeling small yet secure. William looked down at Catherine’s sweet face and smiled. He could feel her shaking ever so slightly and a rush of protectiveness towards this woman overwhelmed him. He could hardly believe that, after all this time and so many obstacles, they were at last man and wife.
It had been a short and solemn service and blessing. Perfect. Catherine had been pale and had spoken quietly, her voice quivering as she repeated her vows of love and obedience. In contrast, William had found that his voice, which he was accustomed to using to rather larger congregations, had rung loudly around the church. As his “I do!” echoed around the building it had provoked a little giggle from his beloved. Then, in the cavernous chapel, William and Catherine had knelt at the altar and pledged themselves to God and to each other.
Behind Catherine, William noticed that his father-in-law, John Mumford, and his sister Emma, the only witnesses to the solemn ceremony, were now exiting the building and squinting in the watery sunshine. For a moment he regretted the absence of the rest of his family. Of course, it was unlikely that Ann would attend, but he had hoped that his mother and her namesake, his sister Mary, all those miles away in Nottingham, might have been able to make it, even at such short notice. However, he and Catherine had been thrilled when Emma had sent word that they would be able to afford for her, at any rate, to attend. He knew Catherine’s day was also slightly saddened by the fact that her own mother had been disinclined to attend the ceremony, but, as he held Catherine’s little gloved hand in his, he felt a rush of love and appreciation for her commitment to him.
Catherine pulled her shawl closer around her neck and shoulders. She shivered again. Even with layers of petticoats under her skirts she still felt the chill of the day. Maybe she should, after all, have worn her coat. The few days of milder weather in May hadn’t lasted and it was still chilly, even for mid-June.
Catherine turned to the Revd David Thomas, who had so kindly agreed to preside over this most sacred of ceremonies.
“Mr Thomas, thank you!” she announced, grasping his hand and shaking it wholeheartedly. No simpering little handshake for this gentleman. She remembered their previous debates and discussions about the place of women in church and society, and she knew he would expect this forwardness from her, even on this day.
Father Mumford was calling from the street. The Stockwell New Chapel was tucked away from the main thoroughfare and he had a cab waiting. William, Catherine, and Emma took their leave of the minister and made their way to the horse drawn vehicle. It was but a short drive back home to Russell Street in Brixton, where, regardless of her unwillingness to attend the actual service, William was sure that Mrs Mumford would be waiting with some light refreshments. Whatever her views on the marriage, and he still wasn’t quite sure of her, she loved her daughter unconditionally and would, he was sure, come around.
William reached out his hand to Catherine. She grasped it and he helped her into the carriage. Whatever the future held now, they were one. The Lord would determine their way, and, whatever happened, they would face it together.

If you fancy reading more, my book is still available all over the place, including from the usual online sites as well as the Lion Hudson website. 

Thanks!

*image The Salvation Army Heritage Centre


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


Send the Fire!

Today is Pentecost in the Christian church!

Happy birthday 1Which means it's quite appropriate for me to shout to the rooftops ...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

... especially to all those Christians out there! 

I know what some of you are asking - Why 'Happy Birthday'? 

Well it's because this is the day that we recognise the 'birth' of the church, that movement which started when the handful of  followers of Jesus Christ way back 2,000 years ago received the courage and momentum to take His message to the world. It's a BIT more complicated and theological than that ... but that's the gist of it. Please feel free to do more reading if you want!

Pentecost is celebrated on the 50th day, the seventh Sunday, after Easter, when Christians believe that Jesus came back to life, even though his followers and many many more people had seen him die, hung on a cross outside of the city of Jerusalem on the day we now call 'Good Friday'.

After that first Easter Day when Jesus was resurrected, his disciples, his 'Apostles', saw him many times over a period of weeks, not as a ghost but as a real life walking around breathing human being. He appeared to them among other things to encourage them that even though he would not physically be with them in the future, God would still be with them through his Holy Spirit. This meant that even though Jesus was no longer on earth, his message of love and compassion and reconciliation with God and our fellow human beings, would continue.

Jesus finally 'ascended' back to heaven - that momentous occasion is marked on Ascension Day - and ten days later, the disciples were back in Jerusalem celebrating the Jewish Feast of Weeks (Shavout), when they experienced something extraordinary, supernatural and empowering.

The fire of the Holy Spirit fell on them ... this is described in the New Testament of the Bible in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1–31).

This is what the Bible says happened...

Pentecost fireWhen the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit ... 

This coming of the Holy Spirit gave Jesus' followers not just the encouragement and courage, but also the power, and some of the skills they would need to take his message out, beyond what we now call The Holy Land, and into the wider world. It really was the moment when the 'Church' as we know it began.

THAT'S why Pentecost ... the coming of the Holy Spirit ... marks the Birthday of the Church!

Down the centuries, the Holy Spirit has inspired many many many millions of followers of Jesus to share his Gospel of love and compassion, and to make a difference in the world.

The events of Pentecost have also inspired many songs and hymns which not only tell of the coming of the Holy Spirit to our world, but also celebrate the changes that can happen in individual lives and communities when the Spirit of God moves among us. Those songs include one penned by the co-founder of The Salvation Army, William Booth,  who was a bit of a poet apart from anything else, which is a favourite for Salvation Army worship meetings, and not just on Pentecost.

The song was originally set to a different tune which is still sung in The Salvation Army but it was re-worked by a composer/song writer called Lex Loizides and has become a popular hymn across the wider Christian church and is sung especially on this Sunday.

So, to celebrate Pentecost, let's just enjoy this fabulous song ... here it is sung by the masses of people attending a Stoneleigh Christian Conference.

If you know it please do sing along.

Enjoy! and Be Blessed!

 


The Angel of Prisons

Are you someone who makes lists of 'Things to Do'?

And do you ever actually ever tick off all the points on the list before more are added?

No - me neither!

No sooner have you got through all the things you need to do in a particular timescale then something else crops up and you're back to Square One with MORE needing to be done.

I came across a quote which I've been saving for a relevant day to share with you. 

And today is THE day!

Elizabeth fry may 21 quote 2

It's a wise thought from a very wise woman - Elizabeth Fry.

You may have guessed that she's was a Christian person because this quote is actually a prayer

'Oh Lord, may I be directed what to do and what to leave undone'.

I think it's a good mantra to live by, because sometimes we just have to accept that we will NEVER get everything done in the time we set ourselves.

But we do need to prioritise what we do. Sometimes when we make our list we may (even subconsciously) put at the top the things we know will be easy to achieve. So if we start from the top of our list and work downwards, we MAY get some challenges completed, but some of the BIG issues we need to address may never be achieved.

So perhaps a little guidance, even if not from Almighty God, might be helpful. 

I don't know the context of this quote but I do know a bit about the author and I'm guessing not just from this prayer, but also because of what she's famous for, she was a woman with a rather long daily 'To Do List'.

Elizabeth Fry is best known for being a social and prison reformer - and she was born on this day (May 21st) in the year 1780 in the city of Norwich in the county of Norfolk in East Anglia in England.

She was a Christian philanthropist and a Quaker, a member of the Religious Society of Friends - sometimes also known simply as 'Friends' - who among other things believe that there is something of God in everybody and that each human being is of unique worth.

Valuing all people equally and opposing anything that may harm or threaten them is part of the Quaker 'theology' and from the beginnings of the Quaker movement in the mid 17th century, 'Friends' got involved in many social movements and philanthropy.  Quakers were among some of the first settlers in the USA where they got involved, among other things, in the abolition of slavery. Across the world they were involved in social justice projects, including prison reform.

In addition, as many started as craftspeople and artisans, they also grew businesses which not only made profit but improved the lot of the workers and their families. This was particularly significant because as the movement matured it coincided with the Industrial Revolution, which saw huge growth in manufacturing and industry, not all of which was beneficial to those who made it possible and put in the hard graft.

Some of the well known business and brands we know today have Quaker roots -  banks and financial institutions like  BarclaysLloyds, and Friends Provident and chocolate and confectionery brands like CadburyRowntree and Fry.

Which brings me back to Elizabeth Fry. The Fry family was a big Quaker clan whose influence was felt far and wide and not just in busines..

Looking into her life I discover that she was from a leading Norwich family. Her father, John Gurney, was a partner in Gurney's Bank, which would one day merge with Barclays. Elizabeth's mother, Catherine, was a member of the Barclay family who were among the founders of Barclays Bank.

Aged 20, Elizabeth married Joseph Fry, who was also in the banking business, and they moved to London. Within a year of marriage the first child arrived - between 1801 and 1822 she produced eleven (yes you heard right) children but Elizabeth was not just a 'stay at home Mom'. 

She was a recorded as a minister of the Religious Society of Friends in 1811 - remember this was at a time when women preachers were VERY VERY rare and the concept of women in Christian ministry was radical. Just two years later she was invited to visit Newgate Prison where she encountered deplorable conditions. Particularly horrifying for Elizabeth were the conditions in the women's section of the jail, which was was overcrowded with women and children.

Long story short, she set her mind and heart to reforming the prison system in Great Britain and as a result has earned the reputation as the "angel of prisons". From setting up a school for prisoners' children to campaigning for the rights of those transported to far off lands like Australia, sometimes for what we would now call quite petty crimes, Elizabeth was a woman on a mission. Her work helped to start a movement for the abolition of transportation.

Elizabeth Fry promoted the idea of rehabilitation instead of harsh punishment and encouraged the learning of skills while people, especially women, were incarcerated so that they could support themselves and their families when they were released. She was a major force behind new legislation to make the treatment of prisoners more humane, and she received support from the highest authority in the land, being granted meetings with and support from a young Queen Victoria

Her humanitarian work extended to helping homeless people and even after her death in 1845 her reputation inspired many social reformers. From 2001 to 2016, Elizabeth Fry was depicted on the reverse of £5 notes issued by the Bank of England, where she was shown reading to prisoners at Newgate Prison. 

So although we may not know much about her and her life, many of us will have carried her in our purses and pockets for years.

And today, as we remember Elizabeth Fry and all the things she managed to do in her relatively short life, I for one am pleased she prioritised what she did. There may have been times when, with her many family commitments, visiting prisoners and challenging some of the conventions of the day might not have been on the top of her 'to do' list, but thank goodness she somehow received the inspiration she needed to achieve all that she had to do. For without that, the world could have a very different place especially for those without a voice at a time when the world was changing so rapidly.


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)

 


Happy St George's Day!

Today is St George's Day!

St George is the Patron Saint on England and so, actually, today could be considered the country's 'national day', except for a lot of people it will just pass them by. Some do 'celebrate' but it's not great partying like, for instance, St Patrick's Day in Ireland. 

Flag of st georgeToday, though, the flags will be out boldly displaying the red cross of St George which has been an emblem of England since the late Middle Ages. Of course, it's also part of the Union Jack which brings together emblems from all the British nations which were designed in when that flag was created in around the year 1606.  

But the story of St George goes back a lot further than that.

Down the centuries we've heard the story of George and the Dragon.  St George slayed ... well, a dragon. That's how he became famous. Right?

Well no  ... sorry to burst your bubble ... but it's a bit of legend!

We actually know little about George, the real man. Tradition says he was born around the year 280AD in a place called Cappadocia, an area that is now part of Turkey. He was born into a Christian family and George followed his father's profession and became a soldier in the Roman army.

He rose in the ranks to eventually become a member of the elite Praetorian Guard.  This was a highly esteemed unit of the Imperial Roman Army whose members served as personal bodyguards and intelligence for Roman emperors. George served under the Emperor Diocletian.

Over a couple of centuries since the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Christian faith had grown and although persecuted especially in the very early days, believers had begun to gain some legal rights. But during the reign of Diocletian and other emperors who served concurrently and around the same time  -  MaximianGalerius, and Constantius - a series of edicts were issued which rescinded those rights. This Diocletian Persecution has gone down in history as one of the most severe periods of oppression. One of the central features was that Christians were forced to comply with Roman, pagan, religious practices, including sacrificing to the Roman gods, and it was death for those who refused.

George was among the leading Christians who protested this persecution of his people and he did refuse to deny his faith, so Emperor Diocletian ordered his execution. He was was to death, allegedly beheaded, around April 23 in the year 303 AD, in Palestine, in a place called Lydda, now the town of Lod in Israel. His bones are buried in his tomb in the Church of Saint George, in Lod.

George was first written about a couple of decades later, around 322 by the historian Eusebius of Caesarea, and over the following centuries he became of of the most venerated saints and martyrs in Christianity. His story apparently made it to England in the early 700s and he was made patron saint of England in the year 1098, after soldiers at the Battle of Antioch claimed they saw him and he came to their aid. That battle was one of the early conflicts in what became known as the 'Crusades'  - a period of nearly 200 years when the medieval Christians fought Muslim rulers for control of what we now know as the Holy Land.

To mark his life, Saint George's Day is traditionally celebrated on 23 April, but it's interesting to note that it's not just in England that he's venerated. He's also the patron saint of Ethiopia, the country of Georgia, Catalonia and Aragon in Spain, the city of Moscow in Russia, and in several other states, regions, cities, universities, professions and organizations. 

And what about that dragon story?

Well the legend of Saint George and the Dragon was first recorded in the 11th century. It reached Catholic Europe by the 12th century. And one version goes something like this. 

A fierce dragon was causing panic at the city of Silene in Libya, and every day the people gave two sheep to the dragon to stop the creature killing the whole population. But when the sheep were not enough, or ran out, they turned to human sacrifice to satisfy the demands of that dragon. The person to be sacrificed was chosen by the people themselves, and eventually the king's daughter was selected. The monarch hoped someone else would step forward, but no one was prepared to stand in the place of the princess. 

Brave George was in the city and he saved the girl by slaying the dragon with a lance. The king was so grateful that he offered him treasures as a reward for saving his daughter's life, but George refused the gifts and instead he gave it all to the poor. People were so amazed by his bravery and kindness that many of them converted and became Christians.

It's a story which takes several forms and is actually attributed to different people and saints across time, including in the pre-Christian era. It's a legend known in many parts of the world and is familiar as being part of folklore called the Golden Legend. By the 15th century it was a popular story in England, thanks to a translation by William Caxton.  Among other things Caxton was a writer, He's credited with introducing the printing press into England in 1476 and he became the first person to sell printed books.

But was it true?

Well, maybe, but only if you believe in dragons...!

However, in Medieval England the tale of an heroic Christian soldier coming to the rescue of a beautiful princess suited the whole idea of courtly love, chivalry and the creation of social order. Think the mythical legends of King Arthur and his knights. It's similar stuff. 

There are, of course, many notions and theories of what it all means but the one I like is that the tale of George and the Dragon epitomises the enduring story of the fight between Good and Evil, Light and Darkness.

Fables such as these go back many many thousands of years and can be found in numerous ancient cultures. Many of our relatively modern 'fairy' tales often contain these deeply moral and philosophical lessons.

The legend may also have more of a solid foundation in the Christian faith which the  real George followed. The story may also reflect his fight against the evil of the persecution of early Christians and the execution and martyrdom of faithful ones like George himself, and the power of Jesus Christ to overcome evil and death.

Whatever the case, it's a great story.

So - Happy St George's Day!