Thursday, 1 March 2012

St David's Day: Dydd gŵyl dewi hapus!

St. David written by Aiden Hart +
'Be joyful and keep the faith.' Visit his site here
Celebrating the life of St. David in Lent is appropriate - especially if you happen to be  Welsh - or have Welsh ancestry.   When I look at the icon I imagine him - or sense his presence -  whenever I reflect on the significance of water in the our icon.   David or Dewi is closely associated with water: indeed, in Welsh he was known as 'Dewi Ddyfrwr' -  David the Water Drinker. In  Latin he was  called 'Aquaticus'  - the waterman !  His followers were required to abstain from meat and only drink water.  So I am not sure he would be too happy with people raising their glasses of beer and wine  today saying ' Dydd gŵyl dewi hapus!' - 'Happy St. David's Day!'  He was also given to standing in cold water to pray and read scripture  - which was a very Celtic thing to do. So his title of 'Aquaticus'  also related to this practice as well as his advocacy of abstinence from beer and wine. 
Life under his rule was harsh and tough, but he nonetheless attracted many followers eager to learn from him.  That was back in the 6th century AD but  St David's message is still relevant to us in the 21st century AD - especially at a time when - as in his day- Christianity in Britain and Ireland is under attack from within and without.  In fact, I  see him as having more  relevance to the modern world nowadays, and not less.  The details of his life can be read elsewhere, but his message for our times is much easier to summarize.  It is recorded that his last words were 'be joyful , keep the faith  and do the little things that you heard from me.'  Do  the little things: 'Gwnewch y pethau bychain'.

Although David lived a hard life -  living mainly on the word of God rather than bread - he lived it with joy.  And he calls us to live a life in faith which is mainly fed by the word of God - the food of our hearts - and not the food for our body.  To drink living water and not look to other beverages to quench our thirst for meaning and happiness.   Most of us are not called to live the austere life of David and his monks, but we are called to live simply and attend  to the purity our hearts and not to the fullness of  our physical bodies.   We must keep the faith joyfully - despite all the challenges this inevitably involves.  And we must remember that keeping the faith joyfully involves 'doing the little things': that is sanctifying all aspects of our lives, however small they appear.  Ian Bradley expresses this nicely in his book The Celtic Way,  (Darton, Longman and Todd, 1993) :

'For the Celts, God was to be found, and worshipped, as much as the little everyday tasks of life as in the great cosmic dramas  like the dance of the sun at Easter time.  St David is said to have told his followers on his deathbed, "Keep the faith and do the little things that you heard and see me do' .  This sense of the importance  of the little things parallels the Celts' identification  with the little people, the marginalised and the oppressed'.  p39

In St David's last sermon so much of what Celtic Christianity is about is captured - I might even say distilled.  As Bradley argues, Dewi Sant's  final sermon expresses the way in which the Celts had found :

'that great gift  which George Herbert  asks for in his famous poem which begins:' Teach me my God and King in all things thee to see, and what I do anything to do for thee'..... [For] they knew what sociologists and psychologists are increasingly telling us  - that ritual and ceremony, investing even  the simplest and most commonplace tasks and events with a sense of worth and a measure of transcendence, is vital to the health  of both societies and individuals. ' p39

St. David left his followers and his dear little country (Wales) with a message  that our God is indeed a God of small things.  Our lives are, in truth,  full of little things.  But we must remember that when we see Christ in 'all things great and small' we sanctify our world: we 'salt' the earth and preserve its holiness.  Our lent can be a time of small things which we invest with meaning and significance because all things can serve to reveal God in our lives and in his creation. Saunders Lewis - who was a famous Welsh convert to  Catholicism - says  this beautifully in a poem entitled ( in English) ' The Last Sermon of  Saint David'. I quote the last few lines. ( using Gwyn Thomas's translation.)  He observes that David's rule was  a 'heavy yoke', but that his last few words on 'the little things' are very feminine:

'They are the words of a maid, the gentleness of a nun,
The 'little way' of Teresa towards the purification  and the union,
And the way of the poor maid who saw Mary at Lourdes. ' *

In this light  we can say the prayer after communion at today's mass:

We pray, almighty God...that we..may learn through the example of your Bishop Saint David to seek you always above all things and to bear in this world the likeness of New Man.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen

+ Aiden Hart has written a number of icons of  St. David and may be viewed on his site. HERE.  Ian studied iconography under Aiden.
*in A.R. Jones and G. Thomas (eds)  Presenting Saunders Lewis, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1973: 184)

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