women

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


Let me Count the Ways

I think I've said it before but I love a bit of poetry.

And today I'm sharing with you probably one of the most well known love poems of all time. One I absolutely adore.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was an English poet who lived in the early to mid 19th century (she actually died on this day - June 29th - in 1861) and she was one of the most popular and celebrated poets of her time. At one point she was so popular that she was  considered a rival to Tennyson as a candidate for Poet Laureate when William Wordsworth died in 1850. These days, she is best known for her love poetry, but she is so much more.

Elizabeth Barrett wrote prolifically and was considered rather unconventional because she wasn't afraid to express views on the social and political issues of the day - industrialisation, slavery, religion, and the problems faced by women and what it was like to be a woman at that time. Her writings and poems are considered by some as among the earliest 'feminist' texts. She certainly didn't hold back on her opinion and she felt that through poetry she could affect the world. It's known that as a young girl she declared that she was a ‘great admirer’ of Mary Wollstonecraft, also an English writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights whose work A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) influenced Elizabeth's views on the position of women in society. 

Elizabeth had begun writing early on - some says she wrote her first poems around the age of four  - and by the time she was a young woman she was a successful published poet. But she wasn't a well person, suffering from a spinal condition and later in life, lung problems.

She was in her late 30s when, in 1844 she published her two-volume Poems, which made her one of the most popular writers in England and, more importantly for her future happiness, impressed another poet and playwright, Robert Browning.

They met and began corresponding and this led perhaps to one of the most famous courtships in literature and history. They married in secret, because Elizabeth knew her father would disapprove. In fact Mr Barrett disinherited Elizabeth when he discovered she had married ... he actually did this to all his children when they married. The couple moved to Italy where eventually they had a son ... that was in 1849 when Elizabeth was 43.

A year later she published the poem for which Elizabeth Barrett Browning is probably best known ... 'How do I love thee?' (Sonnet 43 in her Sonnets from the Portuguese). Robert encouraged her in her writing, including publishing some of her love poems.

Thank goodness he did ... otherwise we might not had the pleasure of reading such beautiful words as these ...

How do I love thee - Elizabeth Barrett Browning


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)

 


Mothering Sunday

New Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation (2)So today in the UK, the British Isles and many other English speaking nations is 'Mothering Sunday'.

Otherwise known as 'Mother's Day'.

If you go to any card shop you may be hard pushed to find a 'Mothering Sunday' card ... but sometimes they are there, if you are eagle eyed. I know because every year I rummage endlessly through the card racks to find one.

My Mum loves a Mothering Sunday card.

So given that not many people call it that, you might be wondering about the title of this blog and the picture.

Well, it's because the day was called 'Mothering Sunday' LONG before people started calling it 'Mother's Day'.

The history goes back to the Medieval times in Britain, to the Middle Ages. 

The fourth Sunday in Lent, 21 days before Easter Day, was also known as Laetare Sunday, or 'Mid-Lent Sunday' and it was a day when Christians could have a break from the fasting which was required during the Lenten season, the preparation for the holy festival of Easter. So it was a bit of a celebration day. The faithful were encouraged to make it even more special by attending services at their 'mother church', the place of worship where they were baptised. That might have involved travelling home for the day. 

In the Middle Ages, the Mass or church service on that fourth Sunday in Lent included several references to mothers, and so the day became one also to celebrate not just the 'mother church' but mothers in particular.

The tradition of coming 'home' to church on this day lasted for centuries. By the mid 17th century this annual journey had become known as 'mothering'. And traditions developed down the years. Mothering Sunday became a day when servants, especially those working in domestic service in big houses, were given this day off to go home to see their mothers and family members ... and attend church, of course.

From 1908 in the USA a 'Mother's Day' was introduced as a way of honouring motherhood, although this was being celebrated on the second Sunday in May. And in the UK, perhaps not coincidentally, something called the Mothering Sunday Movement was created in the UK in the early years of the 20th century, to try to revive the importance of the day.  

By the 1950s Mothering Sunday was being celebrated across the British Isles and the Commonwealth, still on the fourth Sunday in Lent, and that's where it remains to this day.

But increasingly, the day has lost it's spiritual context and the American influence means it's now almost exclusively called 'Mother's Day' ... hence my annual rummage in card shops.

And like in the USA, the day has become more and more commercialised. Cards, flowers, chocolates and other treats are bought in vast quantities. Lovely, but expensive.

Nowadays, including in the church, the day has also become a time not just to celebrate people who are actually  'mothers' but those who are mother figures and it's sometimes also a general celebration of women and their achievements.

While Mothering Sunday and Mother's Day is a lovely day, it can be hard for some people. Those who yearn to be a parent, to give birth to their own children but have been unable to do so can find the annual celebration of 'mummies' really difficult. For those who have lost babies, even many years ago, this can be a very sad day. It can be a very poignant and painful day for people who've lost their mothers, and those who didn't have a strong and loving mother figure in their lives.

It's a complex day and I try never to forget that.

But today, if you'll let me I will just take a moment to thank my own Mum ... the best mother in the world.

On this Mothering Sunday I thank God for her. I thank her for all her love and for the many sacrifices she made for me and my brothers, and for just being an inspiration to me.  And I just want to say ... 

I love you Mum!


Choose to Challenge

Today is International Women's Day. It's a day to support and celebrate women's rights. Not that we shouldn't do that EVERY day but it is a good thing to have ONE day at least when the world comes together to celebrate the achievements of those of the female gender and to think about what we all might do to help ensure girls and women gain the equality they deserve.

Iwd hillary clinton quoteIt's also a day to encourage girls and women to believe in themselves, to believe that they have as many rights in life as anyone else to follow their dreams no matter how big. I love this quote from Hillary Clinton ... it says it all I think! Even if the world around you is telling you that you are second class, all girls and women are deserving of the same chances as boys and men. And we all not only have the right to dream, but to make those dreams come true.

In 2021 this might sound a peculiar thing to say, because in many cultures women have equality with men across the board ... don't they?

Don't they?

Well, perhaps in many countries women do have equality, even in law, but that doesn't mean females get equal treatment and are considered equal by everyone. And we do know that there are many cultures still where women ARE treated as second-class citizens and girls still don't have the same chances as boys. There are still communities where girls are not allowed to go to school, where some are held back from school because they need to be at home to help the family - collecting water, looking after siblings. There are some cultures where girls are married off to older men even before they are teenagers, effectively ending their childhood. There are still places where women do much of the work in the community, as well as taking the lion's share of family responsibilities and child care, but are excluded from decision making and leadership.

And that's just for starters!

Today International Women's Day has become increasingly about standing up for women's equality and challenging the norms of society which keep women and girls subordinate.

And this is interesting because that's where IWD began back in the early 1900s, when women's inequality and oppression was beginning to result in more and more women fighting for change. 

The campaign for women's suffrage - the right of women to vote - had actually begun in the mid 19th century, with corresponding advocacy for economic and social as well as political equality. But by the early 20th century not much progress had been made and there was growing unrest and debate. Women still felt largely oppressed and they became more vocal.

In the USA in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights and the following year the Socialist Party of America declared February 28th as the first National Woman's Day (NWD).

In 1910 there was big conference in Copenhagen in Denmark -  the second International Conference of Working Women - and it was there that the idea of an International Women's Day was mooted. The conference was attended by over 100 women from 17 countries and the idea was approved.

Although the USA marked their National Women's Day on the last Sunday in February for another couple of years, in 1911 International Women's Day was marked for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, on March 19th. On that day, more than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women's rights to work, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. And the right to vote.

As the world stood on the brink of global conflict which we now know as World War I, Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on February 23rd in 1913 - again the last Sunday in February. At that time, Russia followed the Julian calendar while most of the rest of the world used the Gregorian calendar where that day equated to March 8th. Hope you're keeping up with this.

Anyway, it was at this point that discussions began to try to align everyone to celebrate on the same day and it was agreed to mark International Women's Day every year on March 8th.

In 1914, women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the impending war and to express solidarity with women across the world. In London a women's march resulted in the arrest of suffrage campaigner Sylvia Pankhurst as she made her way to speak to the large crowds in Trafalgar Square.

Although women remained passionate down the years, it was not until 1975 that the United Nations celebrated International Women's Day for the first time. Two years later, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by nation states, in accordance with their individual national and historical traditions.

Moving into the 21st century and by the year 2000 unfortunately there was little appetite for or activity in most countries for International Women's Day. The world had moved on from the years of 'feminism' and in fact that concept was now a bit of a dirty word. But still the world was not equal. Women were still being treated differently, including being paid less than men and given fewer opportunities in many areas of life. 

So it was that in 2001 a website called www.internationalwomensday.com was launched, with the aim of reinvigorating International Women's Day. Today the site provides help, resources and guidance to all those campaigning for better equality between the sexes, and more opportunities for women and girls across the world. Every year there are different themes which sum up some of the challenges facing women across the globe, and call us to action. Some of the themes have included #ChooseToChallenge #TheGenderAgenda #EachforEqual #PledgeforParity #PressforProgress #MakeItHappen ... you get it right?

In 2011 the centenary of International Women's Day was marked across the world, and in the USA, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 2011 to be "Women's History Month", calling on Americans to mark the day and to reflect on "the extraordinary accomplishments of women" in shaping the country's history. Which brings us to Hillary Clinton, who was then US Secretary of State. She launched the "100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges".

Down the years, there's been a substantial change in attitudes to International Women's Day. There has been sign up from many international groups working with girls and women, lots of charities and business organisations now organise events and many business leaders and celebrities actively support the day.

In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother's Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers, and the day is officially recognised and celebrated in many countries around the world, including some where gender equality is still not a given.

Because although many people, including from younger generations who didn't live through the years before Gender Equality legislation, might think that the battle is won, there is still much to be done. Women are often still not paid the same as men doing the same job. Women make up at least half the population of the world but we still don't have equal representation of females in politics and the business world. Many women choose to create their own businesses rather than enter the male dominated business world. Around the world, as I said at the start, girls are often disadvantaged for cultural reasons. They experience inferior health and education, and violence against women and girls is often worse than against men and boys.

Today we are encouraged to not just act locally but also to think on a global level and to try to make a difference, and not just on International Women's Day.

But what might that mean for us? Might it mean stepping out of our comfort zone? Not just accepting the treatment of others because it doesn't affect us personally?

This year's campaign theme on International Women's Day is #ChooseToChallenge

We might not march like those women in 1908 and in 1914. We might not get arrested as Sylvia Pankhurst did, just for deigning to speak up for the rights of women.

But we can CHOOSE to celebrate the achievements of women. We can CHOOSE to challenge inequality and unfairness when we see it and help create a more inclusive world.

And, as it says on the International Women's Day website,  today maybe we can all spend just a few minutes in reflecting how WE might be able to do our bit "to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding".

We might not feel we can make much of a difference on our own, but two voices are better than one. A thousand voices are better than a hundred, and a million voices, all challenging the status quo where women and girls are still not given the opportunities they deserve, could change the world.

And you don't have to be female to take up the challenge. It's something we can ALL do!
 

 


A Wave of Prayer

Happy Friday everyone!

Did you know ... today is the World Day of Prayer?

Now, if you're a female of the species you may be aware of this day ... previously it was known as the 'Women's World Day of Prayer' where millions and millions and millions of woman across the globe prayed on a specific theme, for 24 hours. I've been part of this day for a very long time, including attending special church services and gatherings. The best thing about this day is that it's all people, from so many different churches and traditions, coming together in one purpose.

People in more than 170 countries celebrate The Day of Prayer. It all begins in Samoa in the central South Pacific Ocean, and it moves eastwards, with prayers and services held in native languages throughout Australasia, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas before finishing in American Samoa (on the other side of the International Date Line from Samoa) 39 hours later.

It's a day-long Wave of Prayer across the world!

That's very special. Knowing that you are praying with others, on the same theme, is really powerful.

Although it was and is still mostly women who mark the day, men and boys were never excluded. And just a few years ago the name was changed, with the word 'Women's' taken off the start of the title to represent the inclusivity of the day for Christians internationally.

So what happens today?

Well, every year follows a theme, and a group of Christian women from somewhere in the world is selected to write resources  with prayers, songs, readings and stories on the chosen theme. It's always a culturally exciting time as people, for instance, in the UK will experience what has been prepared for them by fellow Christians maybe across the other side of the world.

Last year, for example, we all enjoyed a service prepared for us by people in Zimbabwe in Africa. Each nation brings its own culture to it's contribution, sharing their own stories and experiences, so this is not just about prayer and faith but it's also a bit of an education about other cultures.

Which brings me to this year - 2021.

Where is VanuatuBy the time this daily blog is published at 0800 GMT (London time) women will have been praying already for many hours on the theme of 'Build on a Strong Foundation', prepared for us by the Christian women of the island of Vanuatu in the south Pacific Ocean.

Of course this year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, the prayer resources which the Vanuatu faithful have prepared will not be used in many church buildings, but there will be thousands upon thousands of online services and 'gatherings'. Here in Jersey, the World Day of Prayer service is at 1.30pm lunchtime and it will be hosted online by St Paul's Church in St Helier. 

However, it's not all doom and gloom because in addition to resources produced for today, you can also enjoy a fabulous mix of music, readings, prayers and stories online from Vanuatu and other people across the world.

And it's all on Youtube ...

Today people around the world will be thinking about how to 'Build on a Strong Foundation' and in the press release from the UK WDP (World Day of Prayer) Committee, the thinking behind the day was explained...

Women of the Republic of Vanuatu (located in the South Pacific Ocean) have prepared this year’s service. The black and white sandy beaches, coral reefs with coloured fishes, lovely birds, fruits and nuts in the forest, all make the islands a pristine environment but they are vulnerable to frequent tropical storms, earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis and active volcanoes. Women, men and children of all ages are called to ‘Build on a strong foundation’ and live in unity, love and peace in the context of ethnic and cultural diversity like Vanuatu and so many other places around the world.

On this World Day of Prayer there will be opportunities to learn about the island nation of Vanuatu, and all the prayers will focus on creation and construction and the importance of building something solid, not just physically but also spiritually. 'Structures' that can stand against the trials and storms of life. And once again we will be encouraged to think about how we, as humanity, can learn to live together despite our many differences and circumstances.

But then, we'll be encouraged to continue praying, because although today is special, prayer is something we may do every day. And the learning can continue too because now you've heard about it,  you might want to check out the World Day of Prayer (UK) website, where among other things there are some great activities for children (and all of us) including making sand paintings, and cooking up a batch of coconut cake.

So I'm just off to the kitchen. I fancy a bit of that.

Have a happy, and prayerful day!


Spring is on the Way!

I was trying to find something to cheer us for the weekend and I found this quote.

Feburary patience strong

Don't you love that? 

We've started into Lent, as I've been saying all week, and although it's a time for reflection, it's also a time of 'anticipation' of Easter.

I love the optimism and simplicity of this thought. And if you're a bit fed up of February, take heart. Spring is on the way!

I have some daffodils in my garden already, and I've seen snowdrops and even some primroses in the hedgerows! I do live in the farthest south outreaches of the British Isles, in Jersey in the Channel Islands, where we do have milder winters than other places, so we are already on course for spring, despite the bitter cold and even snow of recent weeks!

But when I saw the quote it also got me thinking about the author - Patience Strong.

It's a name I've known well pretty much all my life. I remember my mum having several Patience Strong poetry books when I was young. It was quite spiritual poetry, the sort that was great for  church, or inspiring women's groups. Patience's poetry is traditional in that it rhymes and it's simple, often short verse, and yes, sometimes sentimental, with themes of nature, faith and strength.

So I did a bit of digging to find out more about the woman behind the verse.

The poet was actually born Winifred Emma May in June 1907 in England. Her poems, prose and thoughts have been collected in numerous anthologies, and they are often brought together to create a collection of 'daily'' inspirational thoughts. Some under the title of 'Friendship Book'.

What I didn't know was that Winnifred also wrote books, dealing with Christianity and practical psychology, and that she was an accomplished musician and lyricist. I read that in 1930, she even wrote a song for the 4th birthday of Princess Elizabeth - now Queen Elizabeth II.

She was much more than the seemingly sweet sentimental poetry I first knew her for.

Patience's popular poems were first featured in The Daily Mirror  newspaper in England in the 1930s and throughout the Second World War her daily poems appeared in a section called 'The Quiet Corner'. They brought comfort and inspiration to a generation of people living through terrible conflict.

But why 'Patience Strong'? Well apparently  the name  came from a book by an American poet and writer called Adeline Dutton Train Whitney. She published more than 20 books for girls in her lifetime, in the mid to late 19th century. ADT Whitney's books expressed a traditional view of women's roles and were popular throughout her life. One of them, published in 1868 was entitled 'Patience Strong's Outings'.

I wonder if that book made a deep impact on Winnifred? Maybe it was a book that had inspired her as a young girl? Who knows?

Whatever the reason for her choosing her pen name, I've always been a bit intrigued by it and I think it was a clever choice. It mixes two important emotions - Patience and Strength. To be truly patient with the world and with life, and with relationships takes really strength. And the name has certainly stood the test of time, because Patience aka Winnifred's poetry and words are still around, and enjoyed by millions of people every year.

Earlier I was chatting about spring flowers, so as we wait for Spring to appear  - here's one of her poems which is just in the moment ... 

Bulbs
by Patience Strong


I've put my bulbs in coloured bowls and hidden them away -
Inside my cupboard, where they cannot see the light of day -
I've put them in the soft black mould as cosy as can be -
And in the quiet darkness they will work their mystery . . .

And when all things lie lifeless locked in winter's frozen sleep -
Inside my cupboard one sweet day a pale green tip will peep.
I'll bring them out into the light and set them in my room -
And silently and secretly they'll grow and bud and bloom -
The grey old house will waken from its drowsy slumbering,
To find the rooms ablaze with flowers, as if it were the Spring! . . .

With daffodils and hyacinths, narcissi, tulips too -
A flaring mass of loveliness in gold and pink and blue -
And I shall smile, remembering my small part in the show -
For though we plant and tend the bulbs -
it's God that makes them grow.


(found on Bulbs, Patience Strong Poems (stresslesscountry.com)


From Silence to Peace

This week sees the start of Lent - the 40 days of preparation for the Christian festival of Easter, so be prepared for some spiritual thinking from me in the next few days.

Today, as I begin that journey to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I'll just share a prayer from a great woman of faith, Mother Teresa

What I love about this thought is the progression of words.

For me, it has a flow which is in itself spiritual and perfect for the coming season, as it takes us on a journey from silence to peace, via the 'busyness' of the everyday.

Be Blessed everyone!

Mother theresa prayer

*and if you're wondering, this picture is one of mine, taken from the cliffs above Swanage in Dorset on the south coast of England ... a really gorgeous place!


 


Take the first step

I'm starting today's thought with a picture and quote from an awesome woman

Quotation-Rosa-Parks-To-bring-about-change-you-must-not-be-afraid-to-84-42-21

The fantastic woman who is featured above is Rosa Parks and if you haven't heard of her before ... where have you been?

Rosa was an American activist and she was born on this day - February 4th - in 1913.

But it was around 6 p.m. on Thursday, December 1, 1955, that she did something that changed the course of history and human and civil rights in the USA.

She refused to move from her seat in a bus!

Rosa lived in the south of the USA in the state of Alabama where racial segregation was part of the system and the culture.

Since the turn of the 20th century, the former southern Confederate states, including Alabama, had adopted new electoral laws and constitutions that disenfranchised black voters, and even many poor white voters. The were called the 'Jim Crow laws', and they imposed racial segregation in shops, public facilities and public transportation. Under the law, bus and train companies introduced and enforced strict seating policies with separate sections for black people and whites. In fact, there was no school bus transportation available in any form for black schoolchildren in the South, and Rosa Parks herself remembered going to elementary school where school buses took white students to school, but black kids had to walk.

In December 1955 those rules were still in place in the city of Montgomery, where Rosa lived and worked. On the buses, individual conductors were allowed to assign seats to ensure the races stayed apart. The first four rows of seats on buses in Montgomery were reserved for whites. There were 'coloured' sections for black passengers, even though around three quarters of passengers on any bus were black people. The sections could be changed if the bus conductor saw fit, they had movable signs which meant that if a white person needed a seat, a row was re-assigned and black passengers had to move. People of different colours were not even allowed to sit in the same row of seats on the bus!

If the vehicle filled up with white people, basically black passengers were forced to move further and further to the back so that the whites could have their seats. If the bus got overcrowded, it was the black passengers who had to leave  - by a rear door. Black people could only enter and leave by the back door.

On that evening of December 1 1955 Rosa Parks was on her way home from work. She paid her bus fare, and sat in an empty seat in the first row of back seats reserved for blacks in the "coloured" section. She was sitting near the middle of the bus, and her row was directly behind the ten seats reserved for white passengers.

As the journey progressed, more and more white people got on the bus and soon all the 'whites only' rows were taken. The bus driver ordered Rosa and three other passengers to leave the row they were sitting in, to make way for white passengers.

The three other passengers in her row moved to seats behind. Rosa refused.

She argued with the bus driver but stayed in her seat. The police were called and Rosa was arrested.

Now just to explain, Rosa was already involved in the civil rights movement. She was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was a secretary in the local NAACP branch and had been involved in civil rights and other political activity for a couple of decades.  But her main job was as a seamstress at a local department store.

And, as she explained in an interview with National Public Radio  in 1992, Rosa remembered that she hadn't set out that day to cause a ruckus. Here's what she told NPR's Lynn Neary  

'I did not want to be mistreated, I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time ... there was opportunity for me to take a stand to express the way I felt about being treated in that manner. I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn't hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long. The more we gave in, the more we complied with that kind of treatment, the more oppressive it became.

The actions and orders of the bus driver James F. Blake that day was the straw that broke the camel's back for Rosa. Although hers was not the first arrest on a bus of a black passenger who refused to give up their seat for a white person, Rosa Parks' defiance was to be a turning point in the civil rights movement.

After her arrest for civil disobedience, with the backing of the NAACP, Rosa began a prolonged court battle. Other court cases were also underway and nearly a year after her arrest, the federal Montgomery bus lawsuit Browder v. Gayle, which was a court case separate to Rosa's, led to a ruling in the US Supreme Court that bus segregation is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

But what followed Rosa's arrest was the clincher in the whole saga, because it was the catalyst that sparked a boycott of the Montgomery public bus system for almost a year.

Remember, although they were treated badly, black passengers made up around 75% of the bus company's business. Black residents just refused to take the bus and eventually the bus company's finances were rock bottom, but it was only the repeal of the law following that Supreme Court ruling that forced the transit company to change its rule. On December 21, 1956, Montgomery's public transportation system was legally integrated and black people could ride the bus again, without segregation.

So Rosa has gone down in history as an icon of the American civil rights movement. She would became internationally famous and work alongside, among others, Martin Luther King Jr. In later life, the US Congress would call Rosa Parks "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement".

But life wasn't always kind to her. She was fired from her job and struggled to find work and she received death threat for years afterwards.

From 1965 to 1988 she also continued to be involved in civil rights and in politics, including the Black Power movement. This former seamstress who took a stand for right would go on to receive national and international honours including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

When she died on October 24, 2005 aged 92 she became the first woman to lie in state in the Rotunda at the Capitol building in Washington DC and a statue was posthumously erected in her honour in the United States Capitol's National Statuary Hall.

Today the States of  California and Missouri commemorate Rosa Parks Day on her birthday, February 4, while other states - Ohio and Oregon  - commemorate the anniversary of her arrest, December 1.

The quote from Rosa Parks which I've used at the top of this thought says it all I think.

'To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try'

I'm inspired by that idea.

So often when we know there are things that need changing, in our life, in our communities, in our world, we are scared by the prospect of getting involved. It'll be too hard, it'll take up too much time, it'll be beyond my ability.

Maybe I just need to take Rosa Parks' advice and take the first step. 

Who knows where that might take me?