A Sermon from St. Umilta of Faenza

28 September 17 | Posted in Arts and Letters, Saints, Spirituality

“I’m like a fish resting in the ocean. The waves rush over the little fish, and the great storms buffet; but this fish goes on swimming, knowing capture is impossible, and the storms just make this fish leap with more agility.”

“That’s what I do in this world that is a troubled sea. The great currents arrive, and I sail below them. I take shelter in You, God, and let them pass by. Then my soul finds wings in the arms of Christ on the cross, and I rush up, Jesus, into Your protection and saving grace.”

“When I stop and remember that I’m with You, I don’t fear the currents. I conquer them by navigating through them to Your peace, and I come out of all the storms unharmed.”

St. Umilta of Faenza (1226-1310) is known for her mystical writings, including her sermons. She is considered to be the founder of the Vallumbrosan nuns. 

An excellent biography of this strong, versatile woman can be found on the Monastic Matrix website.

 

Treasure Offerings

6 December 09 | Posted in Events, Spirituality

A mystery is gripping Britain’s religious community: Just how did a treasure-trove of rare medallions and coins collected by a former archbishop of Canterbury end up at the bottom of the River Wear?

Many of the artifacts are linked to the late Michael Ramsey, a former archbishop of Canterbury with long-time ties to Durham, where he served as bishop and spent some of his retirement years before his death in 1988. Archbishop_Michael_Ramsey

The coins, medals, goblets and other religious items, some solid gold, have been discovered by amateur divers Trevor Bankhead, 40, and his brother, Gary, 44, a fire service watch officer, over the past two and a half years in the frigid, murky waters that loop Durham Cathedral. The brothers have retrieved over 30 items linked to Ramsey, along with hundreds of medieval and ancient Saxon artifacts.

Among them are gold, silver and bronze medals struck to commemorate the second Vatican council, which must have been presented to Ramsey, who was the most senior cleric in the Church of England from 1961 to 1974, when he met Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in 1966.

Trevor Bankhead, a former soldier, said: “We believe the Archbishop threw them into the river in 1983 or 1984, by which time he would have had limited mobility. So we chose places which were easily accessible by the water’s edge and threw silver washers in the river to try and trace the trajectory the objects could have taken.”

“It’s my belief that he did this as a votive offering to the river and to the people of Durham, who he loved,” said Bankhead. “They weren’t just chucked by a burglar–they had clearly gone into the water at different times and different places.”

Archbishop Ramsey’s old friend, the Very Rev Victor Stock, dean of Guildford, commented on Bankhead’s assertion: “He used to go for a walk by the river every day, whatever the weather. I think it’s entirely plausible to imagine him making up a little packet, and quietly dropping it into the water.”

The archbishop’s offerings are keeping up a tradition that is at least 3,000 years old and possibly much older.

In 1998 an archaelogical survey of the Thames found the remains of a huge bridge built 3500 years ago not far from the present Vauxhall Bridge. The confluence of the three rivers, where the Tyburn enters the Thames from the north and the Effra from the south, would have made this a sacred site for Bronze Age tribes.

Around the bridge were votive offerings of valuable goods to appease the spirits of the river. The Celts regarded rivers as bestowers of life, health, and plenty, and offered them rich gifts and sacrifices often at the same spots used by pre-Celtic British tribes.

At one time rivers were thought of as deities with powers to cure all kinds of ailments. Ways of appeasing water courses were devised in an attempt to stop them from claiming lives.

In May 1825 the Duke of Sussex led an elaborate ceremony to mark the start of work on Hammersmith Bridge. In front of a large crowd he performed a ritual that involved the fixing of a brass plate (praising the builders and designer) over one of the coffer dams into which had been placed gold coins and a silver trowel. As this was put in place the Duke poured corn over it saying: “I have poured the corn, the oil and the wine, emblems of wealth, plenty and comfort, so may the bridge tend to communicate prosperity and wealth.”

Water Buffalo Theology

26 April 09 | Posted in Animals, Arts and Letters, Friends, Spirituality

The Rev. Dr. Kosuke Koyama, a Japanese Christian theologian who was a proponent of contextual theologies rooted in the experiences of everyday people, died March 25, 2009 in Springfield, Mass. Koyama, 79, taught at the Union Theological Seminary in New York.

His 1974 book, Water Buffalo Theology, was “one of the first books truly to do theology out of the setting of Asian villages,” said Donald Shriver, president emeritus. kosuke-koyama-2

As a missionary in northern Thailand, Koyama said he was inspired to write the book as he listened to the “fugue of the bullfrogs” while watching farmers working with water buffaloes in the rice fields.

“The water buffaloes tell me that I must preach to these farmers in the simplest sentence structure,” he wrote. “They remind me to discard all the abstract ideas and to use exclusively objects that are immediately tangible. ‘Sticky rice,’ ‘banana,’ ‘pepper,’ ‘dog,’ ‘cat,’ ‘bicycle,”rainy season,”leaking house,’ ‘fishing,’ ‘cockfighting,’ ‘lottery,’ ‘stomachache’–these are meaningful words for them.”  water-buff-3

Directed at the concerns of peasants, the book points out that Christianity and Buddhism do not communicate; rather Christians and Buddhists do. Rev. Dr. Koyama advocated seeing God “in the faces of people” to achieve good neighborliness among religions.  He spoke of trying to “season” the Aristotelian roots of Western theology with Buddhist “salt.”

Besides Water Buffalo Theology, Dr. Koyama wrote 12 other books including Three Mile an Hour God (1980) which reflects his thought that God moves at walking speed through the countryside.

Kosuke Koyama was born on December 10, 1929 in Tokyo.  In 1945, as American bombs rained down on Tokyo, he was baptised as a Christian. He was struck by the courageous words of the presiding pastor, who told him that God called on him to love everybody, “even the Americans.”

Once, in discussing death, Rev. Dr. Koyama recalled the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. He said Jesus would be with others the same way: “Looking into our eyes and heart, Jesus would say: ‘You’ve had a difficult journey. You must be tired, and dirty.  Let me wash your feet. The banquet’s ready.'”

Sacred Epiphany Dip

8 February 09 | Posted in Events, Friends, Spirituality

In the snowy silence of a Moscow park, a 26-year-0ld businessman, Aleksandr Pushkov, stood naked except for his bathing suit, a column of steam rising from his body. His clothes were piled up under a tree, and he had just climbed out of a hole in the ice.

It was the 7th time he took part in an Epiphany ritual: the trance-like preparation, the electric shock of the ice-cold water and and 20 0r 30 second wait for a feeling he described as “nirvana.” As cross-country skiers picked their way through the woods, Mr. Pushkov stood by himself in the snow, barefoot and steaming.

On Russian Orthodox Epiphany, roughly 30,000 Moscovites lined up to dunk themselves in icy rivers and ponds, city officials said. The annual ritual baptism, which is believed to wash away sins, is enjoying a boisterous revival after being banished to villages during the Soviet era, said Boris F. Dubin, a sociologist with Moscow’s Levada Center. The immersion ritual satisfies a public hunger, he said, for “something that is truly Russian, ancient, real. For what distinguishes us from other people.” russian-ritual.jpg

“Each country has something that is instrinsic to it,” said Aleksandr Gorlopan, 43, who was warming himself with a combination of hot tea and Captain Morgan rum. Mr. Gorlopan, who gave his profession as “traveler,” said the tradition dated back to the tiny Slavic tribes that scattered south from Scandinavia–nomads, he said, with “wild souls.” “We are made of water,” he said. “Without water we cannot survive.”

Galina Burasvetova, a 50-year-old hairdresser in a red bikini, said she had first taken part in the ritual during an agonizing period in her life, when she was raising three children on a vanishing income. Afterward, she felt she had the moral strength to go on.

Mr. Dubin, the sociologist, said the practice’s popularity had less to do with religious revival than with enthusiastic coverage by Russian television. By others said it proved that 74 years of Communist rule were unable to stamp out the tradition, which holds that a priest’s blessing temporarily transforms water into the River Jordan, where Jesus was baptised.  Even at the height of state atheism, said Father Vsevolod Chaplin, a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, “the lines for holy water were longer than the lines at Lenin’s mausoleum.” russian-ritual-2.jpg

The Story of the Pelican

2 November 08 | Posted in Animals, Friends, Spirituality

 I found “The Story of the Pelican” on the insightful blog, Ad Dominum

The post appeared on September 21, 2008 shortly after Hurricane Ike. It wove the story of the pelican victims of the hurricane with Catholic religious symbols, including a stiking image on a priest’s chasuble of a pelican feeding it young. pel2.jpg

“Many people are surprised to learn that the pelican is a very ancient Christian symbol. It is a symbol of our Redeemer and of the atonement. In those days, people believed that the pelican would wound itself to feed its babies when it could not find food elsewhere.” pelprime.jpg

“Thomas Aquinas even mentioned pelicans in his Adoro Te: ‘Pelican of mercy, cleanse me in thy precious blood.’”

“We now know that this myth that developed around the pelican is not factually true. Pelicans do not feed bits of themselves to their babies, but there are good reasons for people to even mistakenly have believed that they did. One reason for this belief is that sometimes pelicans can suffer from a disease that leaves a red mark on their chests. Also, it may look as if a pelican is stabbing at itself when it puts its beak to its chest to fully empty its pouch.”

“Our Pelican was born, lived, and died with all of us in mind, even us two thousand years later. He showed us how to live in love, and he showed us love in death. And like a mother pelican, he will stay with us even when the sky is dark and the wind is blowing, because that is his love for us.”

Thanks to Thom for this wonderful post.