Thursday, June 9, 2016

For All the Saints: Columba

Here is a favorite saint of mine, honored across the Christian church calendars on this anniversary of his death in 597. I first learned about Columba (also known as Columcille, which means "Dove of the Church"), when a best friend was married in a Catholic church named for him. Columba was born in 521 near Donegal. He was a monk and then a priest. He was involved in an argument about the copying of a psalter, and unfortunately, the dispute lead to a full-scale battle, the Battle of Cul Dremhe, with many casualties. Talk about a church fight!  In penance for what happened, Columba left Ireland and embarked for Scotland. He landed on Iona. There he founded a monastery and conducted a renowned missionary effort to Scotland. Interestingly, he is said to have raised from the death a man killed by the Loch Ness Monster. He is revered in Scotland and is one of the three patron saints of Ireland (with St. Patrick and St. Brigid of Kildaire). He was long considered the traditional author of the Book of Kells.

Here is a photo in 2011 I took of the Columba window at Edinburgh Castle.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Landscape: Duncanson

Robert Scott Duncanson, "The Quarry," circa 1855-63. From: Duncanson (1821-1872) was an African-American artist, a "free colored person" of the Ohio River valley who was esteemed as an painter in both the U.S. and Canada. Although his paintings did not overtly touch upon racial issues, he was active in anti-slavery societies and associated with abolitionists.

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Sunday, June 5, 2016

For All the Saints: Boniface

Boniface (c. 675? – 754) is honored today in the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions on the anniversary of his death. He was an Anglo-Saxon Christian, originally named Wynfrith and from Wessex. He is known as a reformer of the Frankish church, the organizer of Christianity in Germania, and as fomenter of the alliance between the Carolingian royal family and the Roman papacy. The American Catholic site has a short essay about Boniface.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

First Weekend in June

Two years ago, I listened to Bach's 196 extant sacred cantatas, beginning with the first Sunday of Advent and ending with Christ the King Sunday. This is the John Eliot Gardiner "pilgrimage" set of 56 CDs, recorded in the Bach anniversary year of 2000. I wanted to listen to the cantatas on or near the Sunday (or festival day) for which they were written, and then write about them on this blog. It was a helpful spiritual discipline but also enjoyable musically! (Go to the "labels" column on the right side of this blog and click on "Bach (J.S.)" or "cantatas" or "Soli Deo Gloria label," and you'll find all those posts.)

I kept meaning to take out the set again and finally did so this week. Tomorrow is the Second Sunday after Trinity, so I'm listening to the disc with those cantatas: 2, 10, and 76. During this long stretch of Ordinary Time until Advent, I think I'll listen to the "Sundays after Trinity" cantatas again. That gives me twenty-three CDs to listen to through the summer and fall. :-)

Muhammad Ali's death yesterday reminded me of his hometown Louisville, KY, where we lived in the 1990s, which in turn reminded me of a little Gideon's Bible that I received in Louisville. I had stopped at an office supply store in the downtown area, just off I-65, and a cheerful young man stopped me and asked for money. These situations are always awkward and distressing, and honestly this fellow didn't look very down and out, but I had a $10 bill in my pocket and gave it to him. He thanked me and gave me this Bible! I went into the store but then looked back outside. There was no sight of him, reminding me of that verse in Hebrews, "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it" (NIV).

Back to Muhammad Ali: Here is an interesting article surveying his career: I like the stories of his charitable and humanitarian work, as when he wrote a huge check to save a home for Jewish elderly. I also like that his final public statement was to repeat the truth that Islam is a religion of peace.

In completely unrelated news…. comedian/author Russell Brand and actress/activist Angelina Jolie were both born on this day (June 4) in 1975.

Please pray for two sets of family members of mine who have lost loved ones this past week.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Landscape: Dufy

Raoul Dufy, "Le Champ de blé" (1929). From:

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A Prayer Idea

As a person who teaches and writes about religious subjects and the Bible, I think about God a lot and pray off and on through the day. But my prayer life often lacks structure. I've devotional quarterlies for day's end reading, a good small prayer book called "Hour by Hour" with scriptures and prayers for morning, noon, evening, and compline, and also the helpful "Shorter Christian Prayer" from the complete "Liturgy of the Hours". Like many people, though, I get going with my day, have my mind on a variety of things, or am not "feelin' it" when it's a possible prayer time. Sometimes I realize that a couple weeks have gone by since I've read those quarterlies.

Muslims are of course famous for their five prayer times a day, which has always inspired me. In March, I visited a former classmate who is now a Benedictine nun living in community, and she said they pray six times a day. I sat in on their 2 PM service, which was lovely. It inspired a simple, perhaps foolish and very phone-centered idea which has nevertheless worked well and helped me be more disciplined. I set my phone's alarm to ring at 6 AM, 9 AM, noon, 3 PM, and 6 PM. The 6 AM gets me up (if I didn't get up at 5:30 already) and reminds me to pray. The other four times signal times to pause and pray. Bedtime is just bedtime, and I'm used to praying then.

But what to pray? I've email files that I can access on my phone and select a prayer. Here is a wonderful site called "100 Prayers": I also copied some favorite prayers from prayer books and put those on email messages that I can also access on my phone---as well as messages from the prayer chain to which I belong. 

All this has worked well and, more often than not, I'm startled during the day when the alarm rings because, sure enough, I was occupied with something and would've forgotten to pray at that hour if not reminded. 

I throw these ideas out in case they're helpful to someone who, like me, aspires to frequent prayer but has busy days, things going on, and good intentions. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

For All the Saints: Justin Martyr

Across all Christian calendars, both Western and Eastern, Justin Martyr is honored today. The Orthodox Saints site has this:

"Born in 103, he was a philosopher from the Samaritan town of Shechem in Palestine, who had devoted his life to the search for truth, trying many philosophical schools and sources of human wisdom: the Stoics, the Peripatetics, the Pythagoreans and finally the Platonists. One day an old man (whose name and origin are unknown) appeared to him and spoke to him of the Prophets and Apostles who had learned of God not by their own wisdom, but by revelation of God Himself. He read the scriptures and was convinced of the truth of the Faith, but he would not be baptised or call himself a Christian until he had tested all the pagans' arguments against Christianity. To this end he traveled to Rome, where he engaged in debate at philosophical gatherings, impressing all with his wisdom. In Rome he also witnessed the martyrdom of Sts Ptolemy and Lucian; this moved him to write an Apologia for the Christian faith and the Christian people, which he gave to the Emperor Antoninus and the Senate. They were so moved by this document that the Emperor ordered that persecution of Christians should cease.

"For the remainder of his life, Justin devoted all his skills to the proclamation of the Gospel and the defense of Christians. To the end of his life, wherever he preached Christ, he always wore his philosopher's garb. In addition to his Apologia, he wrote a number of other learned defenses of the faith.

"Eventually he was imprisoned following the false accusations of Crescens, a jealous Cynic philosopher. He died (one source says by beheading, another by poison) in Rome in 167 under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, successor to Antoninus."