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The Gift of the Present Moment

So .. this One Day @ a Time blog is my attempt to do a thought for every day of the year. 

So far, I've managed it, but 21 days does not a year make!

As I hope people will enjoy and maybe even be inspired by a daily thought, reading, poem and more, I also want to share some of the readings and people who have inspired me on a day-to-day basis.

As a Christian, I find daily inspiration in reading scripture and prayers, but there are also other publications and people to whom I also turn from time to time. 

Have you ever heard of Marcus Aurelius?  He was a first century Roman Emperor but in his lifetime he also acquired a reputation for being a philosopher, in the Stoic tradition. His renown continued after his death and even some early Christians admired him not just as a philosophic but also as a philanthropic leader. 

Today he is still known, for some 'Meditations' that he authored. Marcus book cover 2

While on a war campaign (between 170 and 180AD), Marcus wrote his Meditations in Greek, firstly as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement. Although it's not known how widely these writings were circulated during his own lifetime, they have been handed down the centuries and today they are still very popular. Just check out the internet ... there are loads of sites which include his sayings and epigrams.

Some I find difficult and even challenging, mostly because of the two thousand years or thereabouts between the authoring and my reading of them, and the contexts of the times Marcus and I were/are living through.

But some of his 'Meditations' are surprisingly 'modern' and completely up to date and perfect for the early 21st century. I bet Marcus didn't expect to be so relevant for so long when he scribbled his thoughts all those years ago!

Take this one from Book 8 of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus quote1 (2)

This could really have been written for today, couldn't it?

We know there are lots of people who are obsessed with leaving their mark on the world, and spend every living moment thinking about the future, trying to ensure people will remember them.

Being ambitious is not a bad thing, of course, but if it is all consuming and we are always reaching for the 'next thing' and believe that the grass is always greener in the next field, maybe this prevents us from just enjoying the life we have - right now.

Even back in the first century, Marcus Aurelius seems to have recognised this trait of human nature.

And his advice is as sound today as it was all those years ago.

'Give yourself a gift: the present moment'

Today I'm going to try to do that. Moment by moment. To appreciate what I have, not worry about the things I do not have. Not being concerned about what people might think of me, or say about me. 

Just to breathe in the joy of life. Right now! 

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Surviving Celebrity

We live in a celebrity culture, there’s no doubt about that.

Reality TV stars, ‘influencers’ on social media, icons of fashion and music and self-proclaimed ‘experts’ in everything from keep fit and nutrition to commenting on other people’s lifestyles and television programmes. It seems we can’t move for ‘celebrities’ and, of course, through the media – TV, the online world and particularly social media – their fame spreads fast and wide. Although some reputations last down the years, invariably the fame and celebrity of many of those in the public eye doesn’t last that long - adoring fans are prone to move on to other ‘celebrity crushes’, seemingly on a whim.

But this ‘celebrity culture’ is not just a phenomenon of the 21st century.

Almost from the beginning of time, I would suggest, humans have wanted to have ‘celebrities’ in their lives. People they can look up to, people they can aspire to be, people who they can copy, people who they can ‘adore’, if you like. 

Of course, the reasons why individuals are favoured and admired change with the times and it's interesting to note that in the past many of the ‘celebrities’ were religious people – alive and dead!

Today is January 19th and in the church it’s the now little-known Feast of St Wulfstan.

Never heard of him ? No,  me neither.

But back in Anglo Saxon times he was HUGE!

And part of the reason for that is that he was a survivor!

If you know your English history, you’ll know that something big happened in 1066. The Normans under William the Conqueror invaded the country and took over. The Anglo Saxons were out. Many or most of the kings and leaders lost their lives, or at least their positions, lands and power. And that included the church men.

Ok – so that’s a very simplistic telling of history, but it’s the basic story.

But remember what I said about this chap Wulfstan? He was an ‘Anglo Saxon’ and, much against the odds, he survived the transition.

Wulfstan had been appointed Bishop of Worcester in England in 1062 so he was one of the leaders of the Anglo Saxon church at the time of the Norman conquest just four years later.

Very unusually, he was the only Anglo Saxon churchman to keep his position under the new regime and he continued to serve for another 30 years until his death, actually on Jan 20 1095.

The new King William himself had noted Wulfstan’s importance in his diocese and during his lifetime the Bishop was much admired especially within the church and by the new regime. At one point he even managed to help prevent an high level insurrection against William the  Conqueror.

Wulfstan was buried in Worcester Cathedral … one of his big projects was the rebuilding of the site, demolishing the old Anglo Saxon church and building the new Norman cathedral. But Wulfstan also help to re-build Hereford CathedralTewkesbury Abbey, and many other churches in the Worcester,  Hereford and Gloucester areas. 

And if you think Wulfstan was popular in his lifetime, that was nothing compared to his reputation once he was dead. People started reporting that when they visited his tomb, there were miraculous cures. And these supernatural and spiritual experiences led, in 1203, to his canonisation. He was made ‘Saint Wulfstan’

During the Middle Ages especially, Wulfstan was a very popular saint and King John, who ruled  from 1199 until his death in 1216, thought so much of him that he asked to be buried close to Wulfstan -  he was buried in Worcester Cathedral in front of the altar of St Wulfstan.

The saint's reputation persisted across the decades and in fact, he continued to be a popular saint for many centuries. Pilgrimages in his name to Worcester continued until the turn of the 18th century. HIS celebrity was far from fleeting!

These days few of us, especially outside the church, have heard of him, and his ‘Feast Day’ on January 19th every year is almost completely ignored today, apart from at Worcester.

Wulfstan was a lowly monk who rose through the ranks to the top job and managed to hang on, despite the cultural and political turmoil than came with the Norman Conquest.

His reputation survived strongly for at least 700 years, and … well I’m talking about him today … so he is still remembered. Perhaps it was because he was known for more than his personal achievements (like the rebuilding of Cathedrals) and it was his spiritual legacy that persisted.

Question – I wonder where the ‘celebrities’ of today will stand in the history of mankind? I wonder if those who today are applauded, and rewarded, for their antics on reality tv, their wealth, appearance and fashion sense, even those who are known for ‘helping’ the world through online ‘self-help’ videos, will be remembered even into the next decade? Let alone the next millennium?

I think I know the answer!

British Saints Days, 19th of January - St Wulfstans Day (information-britain.co.uk)

 


Blessed are the Peacemakers



We live in a tumultuous world, don’t we?

Even as we’ve entered this new year, and so lately have been wishing each other ‘Peace and Goodwill’, we only have to switch on the news to see so much that is not peaceful. PEACE

In homes, it stands to reason and human nature, that there are bound to be arguments even today over trivialities, siblings bickering, relationships disintegrating. Between friends there are quarrels over meaningless nothings, petty jealousies.

Nationally, politics is often an excuse for perceived contrary views on just about every issue. Media's job is to tell us what is happening in the world but some outlets do unfortunately feed on divisions, like vultures over a decaying corpse on the savannah, making what might have been inconsequential disagreements into bigger disputes. 

Riots, insurgency, unruly behaviour - that's just the start of it. On an international scale we face some of the least peaceful times in the history of the world, with terror and fear being fed by megalomania and warped interpretation of religion.

We're living through a global pandemic, and that's certainly not peaceful. It's a source not just for community effort, but also for division as people have varying opinions on where the virus came from, how bad it is, and the efforts being taken to keep the world as safe as it can be. I do believe the majority of people do understand the seriousness of what the world is facing and are working hard to keep ourselves and loved ones and others healthy. Staying isolated, wearing masks and keeping our distance. There are some, I'm sorry to say, who have contrary views resulting in behaviour which others feel put us all at risk. It's a source of discontent, there's no doubt about that. 

And let's not forget social media, which in my experience can be such a power for good, but invariably is also an opportunity for people to express hateful ideas, and a chance for people to vehemently express their opinion in the strongest possible language. And often being the source of further division where they might not have been disagreement before.

Yet in the midst of all this there will be those who strive for peace, however hopeless it may seem. These are the people who dream of a world where people, although different, coming from different perspectives and even with different beliefs and opinions, can learn to live in harmony.

On this day, in 1920, a group of men sat down in Paris as part of the first ever Council Assembly of the League of Nations, an organization born out of the horror of the Great War of 1914 to 1918, a congregation of people, and countries, who wished to ensure that the world would never again be embroiled in global conflict. The League had been officially founded just the week before on January 10 1920, but this was the culmination of years of negotiations, primarily between the allies who had won what is now known as the First World War. The first full meeting of The Assembly of the League of Nations wouldn't happen until November 1920 but today in that year was a significant moment in the march towards anticipated peace.

Of course, in hindsight, we know that aim was thwarted. There would be another world war in 1939 and plenty more wars and conflicts to follows.

And today, although it's certainly not perfect, the United Nations, which grew out of that League of Nations after the Second World War, still works to find ways of bringing peoples together and trying to ensure that peace which I think, I hope, we all crave. Among other things, UN agencies exist to help people out of poverty and ensure good health and education, often some of the causes of conflict. 

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke to his world, and to ours.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’ (Matthew 5:9) he said.

Not all of us can be part of an international summit on peace. We can’t all sit in a parliament or be part of an advocacy group encouraging people to see the things on which they can agree rather than always to be looking for the negative in others’ policies.

But we can be ‘peacemakers’ where we are. In our families, in our communities, in our churches, at work and in the world where we might have some influence. In our relationships, in our behaviour and in our conversations in person and even virtually via social media. 

So, today, I don't know about you, but I want to be one of those ‘peacemakers’ which Jesus so highly regards.

It might start small, but who knows where it could lead, if we all give it a go.

http://www.onthisday.com/day/january/16


A Red Letter Day

Are you on social media? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok ? The options, it seems, are endless.  

But once upon a time, even before the invention of the telephone, if people wanted to contact their business contacts, friends, or family when they were apart, the best way was to write a letter.

I love letters. I love handling them, thinking of the person who has taken the time to pick up a pen and write down their thoughts.  Cards also work for me and it’s about this time of year we file away or recycle last year’s Christmas cards.

The letters people have written to each other in the past are also accounts of history, of facts and feelings handed down to us from people who have long since departed our world.

A few years back I even wrote a book based on the love letters exchanged over nearly 40 years in the 19th century between the founders of The Salvation Army - William and Catherine Booth. I have to say, reading their letters, which are held in the British Library in London, and writing 'William and Catherine' not only helped me to understand their personalities and motivations in life, but also to get an insight into their deep Christian faith and how that helped to create what is now a global church and charity movement!

But back to the point of today's 'thought'.

It was on January 10th 1840 that the Penny Post was introduced in Great Britain. This meant that mail was delivered at a standard charge. Until that point every letter was paid for individually by the recipient and it was a cumbersome system.  It was at the end of the 1830s that a chap called Rowland Hill published a pamphlet entitled ‘Post Office Reform’, which proposed a uniform postage rate of one penny, wherever in the country the letter was posted or received.  To prevent postage fraud, he came up with the idea of an adhesive label to pre-pay the postage. So the postage stamp was born.  

The 'Penny Black' was that first ever stamp and its inventor was eventually knighted by Queen Victoria and became SIR Rowland Hill.

Red post box (edit)

Today we can still find old red postage boxes dotted about, and whenever I spot one it draws me right back into history. It's a link with the past!

Not so many people use ‘snail mail’ today, but every time we place a postage stamp on an envelope perhaps we can think again of those who have left  their impact on the world through letters.

In the New Testament we hear accounts of the life of Jesus Christ, and the early church through epistles, or letters.  Letters which contain wisdom which is as true today as when it was conceived and written down a couple of thousand years ago.

Like St Paul’s words to the early church in Corinth - ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love!’ (1Corinthians 13:13)

If that’s not a great blast from the past handed down to us in a letter, what is?

Note - http://www.victorianweb.org/history/pennypos.html