FURSA IN LENT: Day Thirty

From Be Thou My Breastplate, by Paul Wallis

Let the good of God and of neighbor be in these feet. (Fursa’s Breastplate)

In this phrase, Fursa binds together the divine good and the common good.  His vision of goodness, here, is profoundly rooted in the teaching of the savior, who, when asked for the most important command in the Jewish law, replied, “You must love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus was asked for one but answered with two commands, because neither command is truly fulfilled unless both are fulfilled.  Because of this, the letter of James refuses to  honor with the name, “faith,” any spirituality that fails to express itself in works of love towards one’s neighbor.  With the same understanding, the Apostle John declares anyone claiming “love for God” while failing to love his brethren to be a liar.  So Fursa is in good company in binding these two “goods” together.  Through history, the name of Christ has been too often injured by Christians who try and separate out these two “goods.”

And Fursa is very practical.  His implication is that whether I am to bless family, friends, colleagues, or strangers will depend entirely on where my feet take me.  Will my feet take me to the hospital to comfort the suffering friend or acquaintance?  Might my feet take me to the charity shop, to the post office, or to the railway arches to give clothes to the naked? Will my feet walk me to my neighbor who might otherwise spend another day without company?  Will they take me to a meeting place where relationships can build and conversations deepen?

In Fursa’s day, men and women noted the habits of the Celtic evangelists.  It was said of Aidan, Fursa’s brother in the ministry, that he never traveled by horse, preferring always to journey by foot.  He was provided with horses but gave them away because he so valued the opportunities created by traveling by foot.  This was the way of the Celtic apostles.  It is as relevant in this century as it was in the seventh.

For myself, I can testify that, even in the noise and rush of the crowded streets of London, I have found myself in conversation, evangelistic, pastoral, and hopefully prophetic, with strangers who have stopped me to ask for prayer or a blessing, having seen me in priestly or monastic-looking garb.  This treasuring of the face-to-face encounter made possible by a journey on foot was a mark of the evangelists of Fursa’s day.

With this frame of mind, Fursa would let his feet stop him at times in order to slow that spontaneous greeting or contact with a friend or stranger, noble or poor man; to slow it right down to the point where a longer or deeper conversation could happen, with all the possibilities that might flow out of that.

At times Fursa’s feet would take a detour in order to prolong the opportunity for words of gospel truth, brotherly encouragement or admonition, or of priestly absolution to flow into a chance encounter.  Consider: where do your feet take you from day-to-day and from week-to-week, and at what speed do they carry you?

Both factors will be altered if you truly “let the good of God and of neighbor be in these feet.”

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