Fursa In Lent

FURSA IN LENT: Day Forty by Paul Wallis

March 29, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate And let this person belong entirely to God.  (Fursa’s Breastplate) Over the past 40 days we have learned that Fursa was a person who belonged entirely to God in a very specific way.  He belonged entirely, because the shape and course of his whole adult life was determined by his purpose as a missionary and monk.  But Fursa is the exception that proves the rule, because even such a specialized and dedicated life as his still embraced going out to manual labor and farm work.  His pattern of life included feeding and nurturing those in his households, giving time to others, taking time for rest, and, at times, even engaging in trade.  Even as a monk, Fursa’s vision of the godly life was not a [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Thirty-Nine by Paul Wallis

March 29, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate And let this person belong entirely to God.  (Fursa’s Breastplate) To the contemporary mind,  praying Fursa’s Breastplate may seem like a symbolic act.  But although there is that level to it, we can pray it at a quite literal level.  If I am to speak holy words it will be my mouth that does the speaking.  If I am to visit the sick or sorrowing, it will be my feet that carry me.  If I consider the needs of another person, it will be my head that has done some thinking. The dedication of my body is no add-on to my service of God, because it is with my body that I will serve him.  Without it, I am dead.  In short, my act of worship must be physical because I am physical.  That is why the [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Thirty-Eight by Paul Wallis

March 28, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate And let this person belong entirely to God. (Fursa’s Breastplate) In the one who prays this lorica sincerely, Fursa does not want to present God with a monk, or a priest, or deacon, or a worker.  This prayer offers God a person.  Not half a person. How often I have offered God little bits of myself.  “Lord, I give you my Sunday mornings, Tuesday and Friday evenings.  I would really like to give you more time but, Lord, I really do need the rest of the week for going to work, quality time with my wife and family, or with friends, doing the shopping, and keeping and maintaining the house.  Plus I do need just a little time for sleep and rest.  Sorry, Lord!” Such a prayer offers God some parcels [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Thirty-Seven by Paul Wallis

March 27, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate And let this person belong entirely to God.  (Fursa’s Breastplate) Fursa belonged entirely to God in a monastic kind of way.  He lived a celibate life in the close community of monastery farms.  His days were given over to reclusion with God and frugal living, to farming and the apostolic ministry: preaching, teaching, bringing spiritual relief, and healing.  All these avenues of service are still available to believers today.  When those elements are combined we call them “monastic.”  Today new generations of Christians are appropriating those elements of service in fresh ways and new combinations. Monastic or not, all of us live days that are marked by a sequence of parts; a liturgy of [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Thirty-Six by Paul Wallis

March 26, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate And let this person belong entirely to God.  (Fursa’s Breastplate) In the time before the first Christian missionaries came, the religion of the people of Britain was, like that of many other ancient peoples, dominated by the fear endemic to leading a mortal life.  In those ages before modern medicine, fire brigades, police forces, pesticides, and flood control, and when a “ripe old age” was 50, perhaps people had fewer illusions about their mortality.  The Celts knew well that life was uncertain.  A season could yield a harvest or a crop failure.  A woman’s labor could augur a decrease as easily as an increase in the family number.  A fever could end in health or in death. In the [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Thirty-Five by Paul Wallis

March 25, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate May the Holy Spirit dwell in this heart.  (Fursa’s Breastplate) The heart is the seat of our emotions.  At least we conceive of it that way.  In this line of his prayer, Fursa echoes the prayer of the Apostle Paul as he intercedes for the Christians in all his churches.  He asks that the “Holy Spirit might dwell in our hearts through faith.” In the Gospel of John the Beloved, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit once imparted to me will be a companion-counselor, convicting me of sin and guilt, reminding me of the words of Christ, and guiding me into all truth.  The Apostle Paul adds that the divine Spirit will work in me to do and to desire the things that God desires.  He will alter my [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Thirty-Four by Paul Wallis

March 23, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate May the Holy Spirit dwell in this heart.  (Fursa’s Breastplate) The son of God taught us saying: “If you love me, keep my commandments and I will pray the father that he may give you another comforter, the Spirit of truth, who will remain with you forever.” From these words it follows that, when I pray for the Holy Spirit to dwell in my heart, I am joining my prayer with that of Christ himself.  The Lord gives just one condition for my part: that I love him and keep his commandments.  This may sound like two conditions but, as the Gospels make clear, the two conditions are truly one and the same. How then can I know if this prayer has been answered?  What evidence can I expect?  Holy [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Thirty-Three by Paul Wallis

March 22, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate May the Holy Spirit dwell in this heart. (Fursa’s Breastplate) The ancient Celts loved the Psalms.  They resonated with the earthly emotionality of the Psalms, their sense of poetry and the broad scope of them, embracing every human hope and fear.  The Psalms were often the first literature that Celtic children learned to read, for the Psalter was always the text the brothers used when teaching the people of their hamlets and villages to read for the first time. Many of the Hebrew Psalms were forged in times of conflict and battle, producing words of prayer with a deep resonance for the Celtic peoples who lived through the turbulent and violent centuries of the Dark Ages.  The Celts also loved [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Thirty-Two by Paul Wallis

March 21, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate Let the good of God and of neighbor be in these feet.  (Fursa’s Breastplate) Today, as in Fursa’s day, it is often the moving and going of our brothers and sisters that we celebrate as signs of great faith.  “What faith,” we say, “of Fursa to journey in those days all those miles from Ireland to England and from England to France.”  To be sure, travel was an uncertain and dangerous affair in those dark ages.  Indeed, it was on a journey in France that Fursa took his final steps on Earth.  Journeying truly did take some faith. However, it is often in the not going; the staying and persisting that faith most strongly proves its mettle.  God has given us feet to go and feet [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Thirty-One by Paul Wallis

March 20, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate Let the good of God and of neighbor be in these feet.  (Fursa’s Breastplate) Jesus Christ referred to his own teaching as the “narrow way.”  It is often the harder path because it calls us to live in a way that looks beyond ourselves.  The Gospel stretches us beyond a life wrapped up in self; beyond what is familiar, easy, and comfortable.  For Fursa this stretching meant a journey from home and kindred to a whole new world of challenges. For the good of God and of neighbor, in AD 633 Fursa’s feet took him from the furthest west of Ireland to the furthest east of Britain, where he was to build a community of monastic workers among the Saxon and Anglian peoples of that region.  The [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Thirty by Paul Wallis

March 19, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate 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 [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Twenty-Nine by Paul Wallis

March 18, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate Let the work of the church of God be in these hands.  (Fursa’s Breastplate) Fursa’s prayer directs me to make myself relevant to the work of God.  Today I am to ask God to entrust me with the church-building work of God’s choosing. This was Fursa’s prayer, and, in time, he was to gather pledged communities of soul-friends, working together to spread the knowledge of Christ’s gospel and to build the tribe of God.  This was what happened wherever Fursa went – Ireland, England, France.  These things happened because God repeatedly answered Fursa’s prayer.  In this we must be sure to note that it was God of whom Fursa asked this holy privilege.  And it was God who gave [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Twenty-Eight by Paul Wallis

March 16, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate Let the work of the church of God be in these hands.  (Fursa’s Breastplate) Fursa does not say “on these lips.”  How often Christians have seen themselves as heralds of God’s kingdom only, announcing its presence, rather than as workers of God’s kingdom bringing it into our world by God-given works.  The Apostle Paul reminds us “The kingdom of God is not a matter of words.”  What then is this work for our hands? Hands speak of helping others; helping the least in order to help Christ.  This is Jesus’s call in Matthew 25.  Hands speak also of hospitality and healing.  Saint Luke the Physician shows us in his Gospel (the tenth chapter) that it is when we have [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Twenty-Seven by Paul Wallis

March 15, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate,  Let the work of the church of God be in these hands.  (Fursa’s Breastplate) The Apostle Paul wrote, “He who desires to be an elder desires a noble thing.”  Perhaps it is for that kind of nobility that Fursa directs  us to pray.  Fursa was certainly an elder; a leader in the church of  his day.  Perhaps the phrase invokes the idea of Fursa’s special contributions as evangelist, monk, and pioneer of Christian communities in the England, Ireland, and France of the Dark Ages.  Perhaps the “work of the church of God” referred to the holy service of those who perform the liturgical functions of priest, deacon, acolyte, thurifer, Gospel-bearer in the community’s act [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Twenty-Six by Paul Wallis

March 14, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate Let the work of the church of God be in these hands.  (Fursa’s Breastplate) Fursa’s adopted country felt isolated in its haven between the warm North Atlantic and the cold North Sea.  One-and-a-half centuries earlier, the withdrawal of the Roman Empire to Europe’s east had ushered in for Britain an age of fragmentary invasions and tribal feuding.  Now, in Fursa’s day, a new generation of missionaries was arriving to reconnect Britain’s isolated Christians with the wider world of the church.  In the intervening years, however, the landscape of this wider world had become strangely altered.  Now the call of fealty was not to the Emperor, firmly established in his Byzantine [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Twenty-Five by Paul Wallis

March 13, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate Let the work of the church of God be in these hands. (Fursa’s Breastplate) The impact of the work of Fursa’s hands proved so enduring that after his death many tales began to be spun concerning Fursa’s various achievements.  Soon the stories grew well beyond the limits of Fursa’s actual history so that today the scholar must carefully pan fact from the fiction as it were gold from silt. Our Celtic brother was even reinvented by one ancient writer in the role of a diocesan bishop, adding great weight no doubt to his initiatives in ministry.  To be fair, this may have been a simple error, on that writer’s part, for the word “bishop” was not used in Fursa’s time [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Twenty-Four by Paul Wallis

March 12, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate Let the work of the church of God be in these hands. (Fursa’s Breastplate) As we read these inspiring words, we must be careful not to miss the obvious but important point: it is his own hands that Fursa now dedicates.  How often we prefer to offer other people’s hands, or the imaginary hands of the church corporate.  We hear the call of Christ to serve the needs of others and declare, “Yes, here is something ‘the church’ should be doing.”  We condescend to agree with Jesus and say, “If ‘the church’ would do something about this, I would support it.”  Thus we let the responsibility for obeying the words of Jesus rest upon the church corporate.  So [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Twenty-Three by Paul Wallis

March 11, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate,  Let the speech of the people of Heaven be in this mouth. (Fursa’s Breastplate) Which people of Heaven might Fursa have hoped to emulate in his own speaking as he offered up this request? Perhaps the great Apostle Paul: in every town, in prison, and on trial, Paul’s speech was always full of Christ’s coming and dying and rising again; of his own journey of conversion — his forgiveness and healing and receiving of the Spirit. Perhaps the great Apostle Peter: full of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, Peter’s bold speech told of Christ’s coming and dying and rising again.  It affirmed the need for conversion, forgiveness, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  On trial he asserted [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Twenty-Two by Paul Wallis

March 9, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate Let the speech of the people of Heaven be in this mouth. (Fursa’s Breastplate) John the Beloved in his island reclusion on Patmos was treated to a sequence of heavenly visions, which he recorded as the book of Revelation.  In these reports we hear the speech of martyrs and confessors, elders, and angels, along with the voice of the ascended son of God.  The heavenly speech that John reports is prophetic: it calls us to “hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” The heavenly speech the apostle describes is full of encouragement too, reassuring the believer that “those who endure will not be hurt by the second death.”  This heavenly speech is also pastoral, calling the [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Twenty-One by Paul Wallis

March 8, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate Let the speech of the people of Heaven be in this mouth. (Fursa’s Breastplate) Jesus taught us to pray this way: with few words but forceful ones.  The prayer that Christ taught comprises words and phrases so memorable and full of meaning that his prayer has spoken for men, women, boys, and girls in every generation since. The Lord’s own prayer is a model of the power of brevity, leaving us with seven simple sentences to express the heart of whatever we may need to say.  If our prayers are to follow its divine example then perhaps we might not want our words of prayer to be too much like the words of our everyday conversation, lest we fall into a way of praying which, rather than gather meaning, [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Twenty by Paul Wallis

March 7, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate Let the speech of the people of Heaven be in this mouth. (Fursa’s Breastplate) As a Celtic monk, Fursa took no vow of silence.  Yet he stood in a tradition that placed a high value on the taming of the tongue.  The tongue, we are told, is an organ that can be harnessed either for good or for ill.  In his epistle James reminds us that out of our mouth can come either blessing or cursing, with the tongue – like a rudder – guiding the very course of our life. In close community the power of the tongue to bind or fragment relationships becomes quickly apparent.  This is why, from the very earliest times, monastic Christians learned to heed the wisdom of Ecclesiastes: “Say no more than you have [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Nineteen by Paul Wallis

March 6, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate Let the vision that the people of Heaven have be in these eyes.  (Fursa’s Breastplate) This line of Fursa’s prayer has me approach God with a bold request indeed.  Today I am to ask God to enable me to see all things – my own life, the lives of others, the life of the world – differently.  It is surely impossible that I should pray these words without expecting God’s answer to do far more than merely alter my perspectives in some academic kind of way.  If God answers he will surely upset my very understanding of things, overturning my own order of priorities and values. In the letter to the Romans, I am told that it is through seeing things differently – having a “new [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Eighteen by Paul Wallis

March 5, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate Let the vision that the people of Heaven have be in these eyes. (Fursa’s Breastplate) Today we know a little of what it was that Fursa saw in the visions that God granted him.  Bede recounts the details of one in which Fursa perceived his countrymen to be in danger from four great fires which threatened to devour them.  These were the fires of falsehood, covetousness, discord, and injustice. But what was Fursa to do with this image once he had seen it with his own eyes?  Was it sufficient that he had seen the danger of these behaviors in order to be forewarned against them?  Was this insight given simply to guide the saint in his teaching?  What response could he make to this knowledge? For four [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Seventeen by Paul Wallis

March 4, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate Let the vision that the people of Heaven have be in these eyes. (Fursa’s Breastplate) A thousand years after Fursa’s time, in a town southwest of Fursa’s English domain, another great pastor, Richard Baxter, would memorably say, “Heaven will more than compensate any loss we suffer to gain it.  But nothing could ever compensate the loss of Heaven.”  Such vision brought that man the courage to endure slander, danger, and imprisonment in exchange for the freedom to cling to faith in Christ alone as his hope of Heaven.  This he believed and this he preached.  And he did so fearlessly because of that perspective. Fursa’s world was also one in which the missionary might pay a [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Sixteen by Paul Wallis

March 2, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate Let the vision that the people of Heaven have be in these eyes. (Fursa’s Breastplate) Fursa can see with his physical eyes and reason with his natural mind.  Today he prays for something on an altogether different level – but with what consequence in mind?  What is the difference he believes such a vision will make? A nineteenth-century Russian monk once said: If you knew the sweetness that awaits all the souls of the just in Heaven, you would be resolved to endure all the sorrows of this passing life with gratitude.  Even if your very cell were full of worms which gnawed at your flesh throughout your entire life, you would endure it all in order not to lose that heavenly joy which God has prepared [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Fifteen by Paul Wallis

March 1, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate Let the smelling of the Holy Spirit be in this nose. (Fursa’s Breastplate) Today Fursa invites me to dedicate to God this  most subjective of my physical senses.  A smell is a hard thing to quantify yet we know how powerful and precise a sense it can be.  The perfume worn by my mother when I was a nursing infant; the smell of the soap in my primary school washroom; the aroma of the vapor lamp that comforted my cold-ridden childhood head: all powerfully evoke a feeling or memory. In Fursa’s day, men and women understood that, as well as preserving feelings and memories, smells could carry important information.  Your nose might tell you if this was safe land to walk on or to build on.  Smell [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Fourteen by Paul Wallis

February 28, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate Let the smelling of the Holy Spirit be in this nose.  (Fursa’s Breastplate) How close must you be to a person before you can smell them?  In Fursa’s day perhaps a few paces – downwind, you might smell them before you could see them! It is for closeness to the Divine Presence that Fursa now prays.  In later times saints were to write of a wonderful aroma and sweetness sometimes sensed in special moments of mystical union with God.  Such experiences would be remembered for a lifetime.  Fursa now prays for just such a fragrant sense of fellowship. Here we are reminded once more that our Celtic forbears believed that God’s presence impinged directly on the material world of their senses; [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Thirteen by Paul Wallis

February 27, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate Let the hearing of the Holy Spirit be in these ears. (Fursa’s Breastplate) The lyre has been used since the most ancient times in the praise of God.  A lyre can produce a single note or a chord.  It can also sound any number of chords. The resonance of the instrument is such that, if one lyre is fingered to sound an E major chord and strummed, every other lyre near it will respond.  Every string that matches a note in that first lyre’s chord will begin to resound – untouched by human hand.  Thus something of that first chord passes on invisibly from instrument to instrument. If a player fingers a second lyre for an E major chord, he need not strum the chord at all.  The sound of the chord [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Twelve by Paul Wallis

February 26, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate Let the hearing of the Holy Spirit be in these ears. (Fursa’s Breastplate) Fursa lived in a world where the presence and voice of God were believed to be experienced within this physical world.  We have noted that Fursa does not pray for the hearing of God to be in his mind or in his imagination but rather in his ears.  His thinking does not separate alertness to spiritual realities from alertness to the physical world of his senses. Fursa is remembered by history partly because of the impact among Christians of the stories of Fursa’s heavenly visions and revelations.  Christians across Europe became aware of them and some of his biographers made much of them, just as in centuries to come curious [...]

FURSA IN LENT: Day Eleven by Paul Wallis

February 25, 2013

From Be Thou My Breastplate Let the hearing of the Holy Spirit be in these ears.  (Fursa’s Breastplate) In our time we might think of listening to God as being something we do at a level that is internal.  We conceive of it as a mental, intuitive, or imaginative exercise.  Not our older brother Fursa.  He offers his ears.  It will be through the physical work of hearing and listening that Fursa expects to discern the words of God.  This must mean that in the sounds of nature and technology, in the speech of others, in the reading of the Bible or the reciting of memorized verses, Fursa expects somehow to hear the very voice of God.  From amid the mixture of this world of sound, Fursa seeks the alertness to recognize those [...]