Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Sharing the Lenten journey with St. David (3)

The little things of St. David which are informing and guiding my Lent are not so little after all.   Lent for me  has become intensely focused on power over these past few weeks.  David's way was in essence about realising that God's love is not about power over the world, so much as becoming aware of God's love  - as an energy  as Teilhard would have it - in all things.  The belief that power over God's creation - the capacity to rule and bend things and people  to our will - is perhaps the most dangerous of all  sins.  Power over the things of this world is never the answer: this is the logic that Jesus wholly rejects.  Lent is about re-asserting our power over ourselves rather than over others.  It is a time when we take a hard look at those aspects of our lives which have power over us.  We will inevitably as frail and fallible human beings become corrupted by the power we have over other human beings and over  what St. Francis reminds us are our brothers and sisters in the created world.  And we can also be corrupted by our urges and desires which have power to rule  over our hearts and minds.  A pure heart is formed by increasing our capacity to exercise self-control - power over ourselves.  Without this ability to harness our power of self-control we can never be fully open to the Holy Spirit and to the word of God.  We can never ( as Teilhard expressed it)  harness, for God,  the energy of love.   But we don't lose control of ourselves just like that: we lose control incrementally in little steps and in all the little things we do  and say, or in all the little things  we do not do and do not say.  We don't become bad with a bang, but with a whimper.  That is why St. David tells us that attending to the small things is so important: we lose power over ourselves bit by bit.  People with power become corrupted bit by bit.  We are not born with a heart of stone: but, bit by bit it can harden until it is impervious to living water.    Perhaps this is why simple devotions - such as centering ones life on the heart as a symbol of the person of Christ  and focusing on the spirituality of the heart -  can be so very powerful.  A simple devotion  - or attraction - to the spirituality of the Heart of Christ  keeps us mindful of the little things that serve to  pull us closer to  God. The Sacred Heart tells us everything Christ wants us to understand about God's love for us and the whole purpose of creation itself.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Sharing the Lenten journey with St. David (2)

This month, which began with the feast of St. David,  I have been reflecting on the life and teachings of the saint after whom I was named.  And, as always, in using the icon as a way  of focusing my reflections and prayer, I am drawn into the Sacred Heart as if in were a whirlpool in the waters of my life.

 We know so little about St. David, but what has come down to us is remarkably rich and revealing. It is almost like a kind of formula or algorithm : keep the faith, be joyful and remember the little things.  Amongst the things we remember is that his monks were required to drink only water and eat no meat and pull the plough themselves rather than use oxen.  David - 'Aquaticus ' - is a saint who, above all,  urges us to remember and explore water as a powerful symbol of the divine.  Water features in many of the stories about him. He must have preached many times on the theme of water and reflecting on water and lent we are reminded that Jesus, having been baptised by St John goes into the desert 'full of the Holy Spirit'.  In his teaching Jesus frequently refers to water or uses water, and describes himself as 'living water'.  In the Sacred Heart we remember that the heart of Jesus was pierced by a lance and that out came blood and water.  Without that living water we live in a desert and in a continual state of thirst.  David - the water man, Ddyfrwr - must have used the idea of water as a key metaphor in his preaching and no doubt he would have much to say about the water which flows  from Christ's heart.  Every time his monks drank their cold (black) water they must have been prompted to think of the living water from the heart of Jesus.  This was their joy and  the faith.

Mosaic by Ifor Davies, Westminster  Cathedral,
Blessed by Benedict XVI, September 18th 2010 **

David's teaching also prompts us to remember that lent is about POWER.  It culminates in Satan tempting the physically weakened Christ with power.  I think David's focus on water and his vegetarianism combined with his insistence that monks do the work of animals is also a  message relevant for  our lenten journey.  By insisting that his monks do the work of oxen he was getting them to understand humility and the humility of God.  His monks are asked to give up the power they have over the animal kingdom: they will not eat them and they will not exercise power over them. The kingdom of God was not about power over people and God's creation.  His followers must have  been taught to be 'meek and humble of heart' - like Jesus, who humbled himself to share our humanity: to be little, humble and close to the earth (humus) .   David wanted his monks to humble themselves by sharing in the sufferings of animals, as Christ shared our suffering.  And, just as they must not try to exercise power over animals, they must not allow anything to have power over them.  Hence, no alcohol and a simple life.  A pure, meek and humble heart could only be attained by humility and self-control.  This was the joy that doing the little things - and becoming little and close to the earth, like the oxen - would bring.  I think that   David must have taught that lent was  a period for empowerment through disempowerment and (what Teilhard called) diminishment : it was a time for us to travel into the inner desert, but also a time to drink  the living water.


**At the blessing of this mosaic by Ifor Davies, Pope Benedict had this to say about Dewi Sant: 

'Saint David was one of the greatest saints of the 6th century, that golden age of saints and missionaries in these isles, and he was thus a founder of the Christian culture which lies at the root of modern Europe. David’s preaching was simple yet profound: his dying words to his monks were, ‘Be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things’. It is the little things that reveal out love for the one who loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19) and that bind people into a community of faith, love and service. May Saint David’s message, in all its simplicity and richness, continue to resound in Wales today, drawing the hearts of its people to renewed love for Christ and his Church.'

The Pope ended his greeting with the words: 'Bendith Duw ar bobol Cymru! God bless the people of Wales!'

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Sharing the Lenten journey with St. David (1)

  St. Thérèse St David  and St. Bernadette                                    
As with everything in this blog, I have not tried to plan, but just allow things to happen: just letting the icon do its work.  Reflecting on St. David (1st March) and the place of water flowing from the Sacred Heart it seems as if I am being invited to explore the lenten desert with my patron saint, David 'Aquaticus'.   I was especially moved by the poem of Saunders Lewis where he compares the message of David to that of the message to the 'gentleness of a nun' or of St. Thérèse and St Bernadette. +   In the case of St. Bernadette her message is appropriate to this season: she called us to pray and repent.  But I am also reminded that she is recorded as drinking water from a spring and eating the plants that grew around it.  No doubt that is what the poet is asking us to think about when we reflect on the life of David who lived off water and herbs and preached repentance.   So yes, St. David of Wales prefigures the message of the Saint of Lourdes.  As for St. Thérèse and her 'Little Way' : like St. David her call is to remember the little things as ways of hearing God's word and doing His will.  We associate David with the daffodil and leeks and with hills and water: St David is a Saint closely associated with the landscape of Wales.  And St. Thérèse, of course, is associated with nature and flowers.  David's rule was very hard, but his message to us is very gentle.  Pay attention to the little things   which,  like streams of water,  can serve to irrigate our spiritual life and make our desert within bloom.  Reading the 'little flower's' writings I came across her poem to the Sacred Heart which had the effect of taking me back into the icon  and drawing my eye towards the great example of repentance , St Mary Magdalen,  who is located in the right hand corner. Here is an extract from the opening stanza of her poem to the Sacred Heart.

Beside the tomb wept Magdalen at dawn, — She sought to find the dead and buried Christ;
Nothing could fill the void now He was gone, No one to soothe her burning grief sufficed.
Not even you, Archangels heaven-assigned! To her could bring content that dreary day.
One day, my God! I, too, like Magdalen, Desired to find Thee, to draw near to Thee; So, over earth’s immense, wide-stretching plain,
I sought its Master and its King to see. Then cried I, though I saw the flowers bloom
In beauty ‘neath green trees and azure skies: O brilliant Nature! thou art one vast tomb,
Unless God’s Face shall greet my longing eyes.”

Lent is a time of searching for living water and little flowers and a time to learn from the Saint clothed in red who kneels in the corner of the icon. *

+ '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. '

*It is also interesting to note here that in her autobiography St Margaret Mary recounts that Jesus says that she, with Magdalen,   had 'chosen the better part' after she declares that she wished for nothing but Christ.  

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)