May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
In a time of peril, it is very helpful to think of a creation and a world, that is essentially friendly and good. It is also very reassuring to pass a blessing to each other. I wish I had done it more often in more settled times. It is one of those holy habits that add to life’s richness.
So, my friend, may the road rise to meet you. May your life’s journey be aided by good things and good people. In times of darkness, may the sunshine of God’s beautiful presence light up your life. May the things you have planted and hope for in your life, grow and flourish against all odds. And, one day, may we be together again and appreciate all the ordinary things we used to take for granted.
God loves us and holds us. The Spring is sprung. I pray that I am blessing to others today and every day. What more is there to life?
I remember once, when I ran a business, staying overnight in Edinburgh. I was in a lovely hotel near the castle. However, I had a wretched night’s sleep because a person, who I fear may have too much to drink, decided to sing just outside. His song of choice was Talking Heads’ classic Road to Nowhere. Looking back it seems oddly appropriate, even prophetic.
My friend and church warden, Lionel, has been on an altogether more purposeful road. One day, while on his daily walk, he had a thought. Pray for the Churches, the thought told him. And so every day he now does a walk that is punctuated by stopping at all the churches on his route and saying a prayer for each of them. It is a pilgrimage, a holy walk, that is beautiful in its simplicity. I think that the prompting to pray for churches came direct from the Holy Spirit and I admire my friend Lionel that he listened and followed divine advice.
So this morning, friends, can I urge you to include churches in your prayers. Pray for the congregation and the minister. Pray that they are in good heart.
Here is a lovely Celtic pilgrimage prayer.
Bless to me, O God,
The earth beneath my foot.
Bless me, O God,
The path whereon I go…
Thou ever more of evermore,
Bless Thou to me my rest.
It is easy to characterise the Celtic Christians as fluffy nature-lovers. But they had a strong strong desire for social justice. They realised that as a society we need to look after each other and the weak should not be abandoned.
One of the accusations launched at people of faith is that we are do-gooders. It is meant as an insult, but like many insults, it is in fact a simple statement of truth. Doing good flows from being close to God. It comes naturally. It is the outworking of our faith in a God who is all goodness and all love.
Like many people, I need to keep a look-out that I am not becoming too selfish or greedy. Add some pride into the mix and we get something that is not a recipe for anyone’s good.
The great, and much-maligned, theologian of the Celtic Christians has it perfectly.
A society in which people only avoided certain actions, but never did anything good, would be utterly dead; it would be like the valley of dry bones which the Prophet describes.
I pray that this day I will be a force for good.
Thanks to Thee, O God, that I have risen today,
To the rising of this life itself;
May it be to Thine own glory, O god of the gift,
And to the glory of my soul likewise.
Yes, we all know it; but sometimes something happens to really bring it home. Yesterday a friend sent me a video of hospital staff clapping as a person is released from ICU after 5 weeks under their care. That person was a family friend of my friend and had been very very ill with Covid-19.
At times it looked as though there was no hope. However, the family kept on praying and the staff never gave up. The video is one of the most moving things I have ever seen. It shows the beautiful care the staff have for the patients. it shows the joy on the face of the patient that he is still with us. It shows that love and hope and faith are at the heart of everything.
This morning I am thankful that I am alive and I have people around me who I love. I need nothing other than this and the love of God. That is it.
I love this beautiful little Celtic prayer which is about the sheer joy of being alive and if waking u in the morning with a new day ahead of us.
Bless to me, O God
Each thing mine eye sees;
Each note that goes to my song,
Each ray that guides my way.
I am hatching plans for a pilgrimage when this is all over. There are so many places I could journey to. Perhaps I might take one of the UK’s holy paths or go to Lindisfarne. I have made a list of the places I want to go to when we are free to travel again. I am assuming that we can’t travel abroad. So, here are my five.
4. North Dalton
5. Newton Ferrers.
What would your five be?
I find it quite therapeutic to imagine being on a pilgrimage. The Celtic Christians had some lovely prayers for people on a pilgrimage. Here is one.
God be with thee in every pass,
Jesus be with thee on every hill,
Spirit be with thee on every stream,
Headland and ridge and lawn;
Each sea and land, each moor and meadow,
Each lying down, each rising up,
In the trough of waves, on the crest of the billows,
Each step of the journey thou goest.
Just before lockdown, we headed out to a board game cafe in Watford. We had a totally brilliant evening with family and friends taking part in a Lord of the Rings quiz. It was good honest harmless fun.
I have always loved subcultures and self-contained worlds, and this was one of the best of them. There were an abundance of beards and Middle Earth t-shirts. One person was wearing elf ears. That evening feels as though it happened in a different reality. None of us saw this pandemic coming.
I have found myself longing for the simple things – good company, good cheer, sitting around and telling stories. Who would have thought that the world would completely change? Things may not ever be the same, but I have a feeling that simplicity and focusing on what matters might come out of all this. The world was speeding up and now we have had to slow down.
May you have –
Walls for the wind
And a roof for the rain,
And drinks bedside the fire
Laughter to cheer you
And those you love near you,
And all that your heart may desire.
I had a good friend from South Africa who used to say, go well, as a kind of blessing whenever we parted. I always found it very comforting and often use the same blessing myself these days. Go well. It seems particularly appropriate in times when the world is uncertain, and we all need a bit of encouragement. When we are stuck at home, going anywhere seems full of peril.
It will, then, be of no surprise that the Celtic Christians had dozens of short prayers full of good wishes for others. One of the things this crisis has taught us is to be thankful for other people and to bless them just because we can. This morning, I wish you well. I wish your families and all those who you love, well. I wish for nothing other than good things for you.
This little Celtic beauty paints a picture of us being arm-in-arm with the saints and angels and the trinity. I have been praying it myself today. As is often the case, I need the love of God and others to fuel my hope today.
The arm of Mary Mother be thine,
The arm of Bridget of flocks be thine
The arm of Michael victorious be thine,
To save thee from all sorrow.
The arm of the God of life be thine,
The arm of Christ the loving be thine,
The arm of the Spirit Holy be thine,
To shield thee and surround thee.
Some people find it hard to believe in miracles. But what about everyday miracle that can lead to a complete change in the way that we see and experience the world? That is the kind of miracle that happened to me.
It was the greatest surprise of my life when I realised how close he is and how wonderful. However, my ‘conversion’ was only the very beginning of my journey. As C S Lewis said, when God moves in, we think he might just make a few small changes to the house. Instead, he begins knocking down walls and changing the whole building.
This little Celtic gem traces the journey from despair to hope and faith. It begins with a place where most of us are at present; deep winter. The writer reassures themself that the banners of spring will blow through the land.
But the real hope and the real transformation is one of power worldview and thinking. Christianity is a faith of the heart and head. It has never been about blind faith. It is something that we can assent to in full intellectual confidence.
And so friends hear other words from the ancient past to sustain us in this uncertain and grim present.
I say to myself each night, ‘The dawn will come, and all this dark will be gone.’ I watch the tide’s far ebb and whisper, ‘It will flow.’ In the middle of Winter I cry to my heart, ‘soon the green banners of the Spring will blow through the land.’ Yet surer still am I that Thou art my friend. For thou hast wrote a miracle in my thought. Thou hast changed faith to knowledge and hope to sight.
I have long been interested in the lives and works of the desert fathers and mothers. These were early Christian hermits, ascetics, and monks who lived mainly in the Scetes desert of Egypt beginning around the third century AD. We sometimes look suspiciously on this kind of isolated life and wonder if the people who embrace it are innocent of the world and wishing to escape it. Instead, their wisdom is profound and very helpful.
Abbot Anthony was speaking with some of the brothers and he met a hunter who was shooting game in the wilderness. The hunter saw the Abbot and the brothers enjoying themselves and was not impressed at all. I can imagine the sour disapproving look. We’ve probably all been on the end of one of these. Joy can be a terrible affront to some. Abbot Anthony said: ‘Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.’ This the hunter did.
‘Now shoot another,’ said the monk. He encouraged him to shoot one arrow after another and eventually the hunter said: ‘If I bend my bow all the time it will break.’
The Abbot replied; ‘So it is also in the work of God. If we push ourselves beyond measure, the brethren will soon collapse. It is right therefore, from time to time to relax.’ I have found myself working just about every day of this crisis. So, today, I am preaching to myself and will take some time off.
I have always wrestled with the idea that travel broadens the mind. I remember many funny conversations with my boss when I was in my early-20s and working as a press officer at a regional theatre. We used to tease each other. She loved travelling and hunting for new experiences. I used to say that I could generate all the adventure I needed through imagination and staying at home. I think that I am still of that opinion.
Sedulius Scottus was a 9th Century Irish teacher who lived in France. He was approached by many who wanted advice of pilgrimage and going on spiritual adventures. This was his response.
Who to Rome goes
Much labour, little profit knows;
For God, on earth though long you’ve sought him,
You’ll miss at Rome unless you’ve brought him.
We are stuck at home. We cannot go on bold pilgrimages – at least not at the moment. But we have a great comfort – we don’t need to journey anywhere to find God. He is with us at all times, even when we feel distant from Him. As we all stay put, and Rome or any other destination seems like a million miles away, we can take some comfort in knowing that God is close.