Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas is Here!

Happy Christmas

Christmas is Here!

Kings travel from afar
Christmas is coming...
Guided by the brightest star
Christmas is coming...
Bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh
Christmas is coming... 
To the Son of Man born on earth
Christmas is here!
Liz Babbs

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Power of Silence

“Progress in intimacy with God means progress towards silence.” (Richard J Foster).

How can we make space for God during this busy Advent season? One way is be silent! In ‘The Big Silence’ - a three part BBC documentary broadcast recently, a group of five busy professionals (only one of them a Christian) found God in incredibly deep ways through spending time in silence at a monastery. But the hardest challenge they faced, was making space for silence once they were back home.  
St Beuno’s, the monastery where part two of ‘The Big Silence’ was filmed, was the home of the famous poet and Jesuit priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Many of my books grow out of the soil of silence written either at home or while staying at my local Anglican convent. But you don’t have to visit a monastery or convent to find some silence. Here are some suggestions:
  • Switch off the radio, TV, cell phone and computer etc.
  • Go for a walk. 
  • Sit in the garden. (Even better build a shed or poustina in your garden)
  • Wear ear plugs!
  • Put on your headphones but don’t switch on your iPod. Folk then leave you alone because they think you’re listening to music! 
  • Use your car as a sacred bubble. I often travel for hours on the motorway in silence as preparation for an event I’m about to lead. If you travel by public transport, then the ‘pretend headphones’ technique works well!
Let’s try a few minutes silence now:
In order to find the pathway that leads to intimacy with God, we need to discover the gift of silence, for it is in the silence of the heart that God speaks.  
So let’s spend a few minutes just enjoying the silence… You might like to close your eyes…Don’t worry if thoughts or distractions pop into your mind – that’s quite normal… Simply visualise yourself placing them to one side like piles of papers (you can always pick them up later if you choose to)… Now try to ‘tune out’ the noise and clutter of life and ‘tune in’ to the stillness and peace...

Silence is...             
A space in time to retreat.
A place to grow, to be watered and fed.
To learn only those things 
that flourish
 in its soil.
from ‘The Pilgrim Heart’ Liz Babbs 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Solitude and Community

Solitude and community can seem a bit of a contradiction, but Celtic spirituality was earthed in solitude as well as community. The Celts did not see one way of living out their faith as separate from another, but wove them together.  Monks lived alone in cells, which were basic stone huts where they could pray. Here's a photo of Skellig Michael, one of the most ancient examples of a Celtic monastic community. It is 9 miles off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland and is the place I'd most like to visit.
Solitude in the monastic tradition, did not cut a person off from the real world, it made them more in tune with it. In fact, a contemporary definition of the word 'monk' described by Ray Simpson is ‘one who separates from everybody in order to be reunited to everyone’. 
i love visiting St Cuthbert’s Island, the secluded tidal island alongside the Lindisfarne Priory, where Cuthbert used to retreat to pray. I wrote this prayer whilst standing where his cell is meant to have been:
Lord, make me and island
set apart for you.
Where the rocks of ages
ring out with praise.
Where the waters of your spirit
saturate my soul
and the fire of your presence
burns deep within.
(Liz Babbs) 

(Taken from p.38 Celtic Treasure - Liz Babbs)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Do you need space?

Okay, I have to admit that the space in yesterday's post really annoyed me. Blogger just simply doesn't behave when I use it. Everyone else seems to have perfected blog layout except me. No matter how I changed and re-posted my blog yesterday, that space appeared under the title. And what was worse, every time I changed it, it grew!

But it was a timely reminder, though, of one of things that most of us need most in our daily lives - SPACE. So it's great to be reminded of it visually. I once heard performance poet Jude Simpson say, "The space between the letters is spelt GRACE." And she is right. We need God's grace to live our lives at his pace and that requires that we put an extra letter in front of that word PACE and become more aware of our need for SPACE. Jesus took time and space to be with his dad, so how much more do we need time with our heavenly Father. 

A friend of mine calls her time out with God her 'cave time' after the prophet Elijah. During her 'cave time' she finds a way to have some 'alone time' away from work and a busy family life. Often she has to leave the house and go for a walk to get that 'cave time', but once she's had it, she's able to face life again.

Do you need some SPACE or 'cave-time'? 

Click to hear my 20 second poem SoulSpace

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Celtic Morning Prayer

The Celtic scholar, Alexander Carmichael, spent his life collecting prayers, songs and poetry of the Celts, which resulted in the 6 volume Carmina Gadelica - a treasury of Celtic spirituality.

I love the simplicity of this Morning Prayer and so thought I'd share it with you. In fact, I'm planning on personalising it and writing my own version. You might like to do the same adding particular activities or names of family members etc. Maybe we could share our prayers with each other.
God's Aid
God to enfold me, 
God to surround me,
God in my speaking,
God in my thinking.
God in my sleeping,
God in my waking,
God in my watching, 
God in my hoping.
God in my life,
God in my lips,
God in my soul,
God in my heart.
God in my sufficing,
God in my slumber,
God in mine ever-living soul,
God in mine eternity.
(Carmina Gadelica III, 53)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

O Christ, will You help me on the wild waves?

I've been meditating on various scriptures relating to water recently, including Noah building the Arc and Peter walking on water. Trusting God can sometimes seem as scary as walking on water or sailing across the ocean in a flimsy coracle! Saint Brendan the Navigator is famous for his courage at sea - his trust, determination and obedience were so strong, that he is said to have been the first person to sail across the Atlantic! I love the faith and humility expressed in this emotive prayer which is attributed to St Brendan:

Shall I abandon, O King of mysteries, the soft comforts of home? 
Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?
Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy, without silver, without a horse, without fame, without honor? 
Shall I throw myself wholly upon You, without sword and shield, without food and drink, without a bed to lie on? 
Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land, placing myself under Your yoke?
Shall I pour out my heart to You, confessing my manifold sins and begging forgiveness, tears streaming down my cheeks? 
Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach, a record of my final prayer in my native land?
Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict? 
Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean? 
O King of the Glorious Heaven, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea? 
O Christ, will You help me on the wild waves?
(Ascribed to Saint Brendan the Navigator before sailing across the Atlantic.)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A prayer for these uncertain times.

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Deuteronomy 33:27)

I love this beautiful Celtic encircling prayer from Iona. It reminds me of the prayer for protection and safety in Ephesians 6 - The Armour of God. It's a really moving one to pray during these uncertain times.

My Christ, 
My shield,
My encircler,
each day,
each night,
each light,
each dark,
be near me,
uphold me,
my treasure,
my triumph.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Should St Aidan be new patron saint of UK?

Today is Saint George's Day and I'm reminded of leading theologian Ian Bradley's suggestion that St Aidan would make a better patron saint of the UK than St Goerge. What are your thoughts? Here are some of his reasons:

"St George had nothing to do with Britain and his legend was brought back here with the Crusades. St Andrew similarly had no links with Scotland and St Patrick was born in Scotland or England and put into slavery by the Irish. On the other hand, St Aidan unites three of the countries by having lived there and is, I believe, a better symbol for Britishness.

"Aidan was the sort of hybrid Briton that sums up the overlapping spiritual identities of Britain.

"He also makes a good patron saint of Britain because of his character. He was particularly humble and believed in talking directly to people. When he was given a horse by King Oswald of Northumbria, he immediately gave it away because he was worried that he would not be able to communicate properly.

"He was also not shy of reprimanding the mighty and powerful about their failings. He saw it as part of his job to remind secular rulers not to get above themselves.... he had a sense of openness and diversity for his time that I think makes him a good candidate as the patron saint of Britain."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ashes to ashes

 The Celts were great storytellers and poets. We need our contemporary storytellers to help us understand the times. 
Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, has written a poem called 'Silver Linings' inspired by the volcanic eruption in Iceland.
You an hear Carol reading this poem by clicking on the link 
Five miles up the hush and shush of ash,
Yet the sky is as clean as a white slate -
I could write my childhood there.
Selfish to sit in this garden, listening to the past
(A gentleman bee wooing its flower, a lawnmower)
When the grounded planes mean ruined plans,
Holidays on hold, sore absences at weddings, funerals ... wingless commerce.
But Britain's birds sing in this spring
From Inverness to Liverpool, from Crieff to Cardiff,
Oxford, Londontown, Land's End to John O' Groats.
The music's silent summons,
That Shakespeare heard and Edward Thomas and, briefly, us.

Carol Ann Duffy

Sunday, April 4, 2010

He is risen!

Today on this Easter Sunday, and after a wonderful week of fasting from Internet communication, I want to share with you a very personal message that I've written as love poem to God:

Stone upon stone
upon river 
upon stream
my Lover is calling
He is beckoning to me.
A love consummated on a cross
and sealed in a tomb.
we rise to new life
                                  Bride and Bridegroom.
                                   (Liz Babbs)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

So who was St Patrick?

We have much to learn from those who have gone before us in the faith and so I thought I'd give you a brief overview of St Patrick. 

Saint Patrick (387-461) is the most famous Irishman of all time and yet he wasn’t born in Ireland but at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton in Scotland. He was the son of a deacon and worked on his father’s farm as a young boy, but at the age of sixteen, he was captured by Irish raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland. He escaped six years later when it is said God appeared to him in a vision and showed him how to escape. Patrick embraced the monastic way of life and became a priest, but God called him back to Ireland and he later became Bishop of Ireland. Many stories have been told of Patrick’s travels across Ireland, preaching and converting people as he went.  Irish people all around the world will be celebrating his achievements tomorrow, March 17th, which is said to be the anniversary of his death. This extract from St Patrick’s Declaration gives a wonderful insight into his life: 
After coming to Ireland I was put to work tending cattle, sheep and hogs, and many times during that day I would pray. More and more the love of God and the fear of God came to me, so that my faith was strengthened and my spirit moved. In a single day I would pray as often as a hundred times, and nearly as often at night, when I was staying in the woods and the mountains, I would rouse myself before daylight to pray, whether in snow, frost, or rain; it made no difference, and I felt no bad effects. Because the Spirit in me was fervent, I knew no sluggishness. St Patrick

(Quoted from p.26 Celtic Treasure - Liz Babbs)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Why are Americans interested in St Patrick?

I'm fascinated by the lengths Americans will go to in order to celebrate St Patrick's Day, so I thought I'd ask American author Cindy Thompson why she was is interested in St Patrick.

"Oh, my goodness! St. Patrick’s Day is huge in America. But for Americans the saint means green stuff: green beer, green carnations, shamrocks, cupcakes with green icing…and it’s also a time for celebrating Irish America, which is a good thing. However, my experience has been that Americans know little about the saint himself. The stories we hear is that he drove the snakes out of Ireland, that he brought Christianity to Ireland, and that he explained the Triune God by using the three-leafed shamrock as an example. None of these things, by the way, is supported by historical evidence. There is so much more to St. Patrick than that!
Most people know that there were no snakes in Irelandthere still aren’t. It’s generally accepted that the reference to snakes was symbolic, either as evil or as the old religion. However, none of St. Patrick’s writings refer to snakes. He did spread Christianity throughout Ireland, however what most people don’t know is that there were Christians in Ireland before St. Patrick came to convert it. What a lot of Americans don’t realize is that St. Patrick was not Irish. He was kidnapped and brought to the island as a slave, and was born somewhere in Wales or Scotland or northern England."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Top 10 things you might not know about St Patrick!

We're heading towards St Patrick's Day, so I thought I'd ask fellow author Cindy Thompson who is American and knows a lot about St Patrick to give our St Patrick's top 10.

Top Ten Things You might not know About St. Patrick

1.  He wasn't Irish. He was a British Roman, possibly born in Wales.
2.  He did not drive the snakes from Ireland (not literally).
3.  He first came to Ireland as a slave.
4.  He returned to Ireland years after escaping because of a dream.
5.  He was not the first Christian in Ireland.
6.  He was not the first bishop sent to Ireland.
7.  His traditional burial place is in Downpatrick with St. Brigid and St. Columba.
8.  There are two original writings that survive: Confession and Letter to Coroticus.
9.  St. Patrick's Breastplate, attributed to him, was written in a later time period.
10. There is no proof that he used the shamrock to explain the Trinity, but no proof that he didn't.

Many thanks to Cindy Thompson who wrote 'Celtic Wisdom' (Lion Hudson 2009).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Celtic Treasure in Concert!

Time is marching on. In just 2 days until the premiere of Celtic Treasure as a meditative concert. I can't wait. But I'm also nervous. Will folk think I've included enough detail, the right visuals, music etc? You can't overload a concert presentation with too many words. In fact, the art is to include the minimum of words - just enough to set the context for each theme and then weave the right prayers and poems across the music. The words and instrumental music need to work seamlessly together like a sacred dance. The concert as a whole needs space to breathe, opportunities to reflect, as well as times to join in the sense of celebration that so characterises Celtic Christianity. 

As part of that celebration I've been learning how to play the Bodrum drum to accompany one of the concert jigs. I only managed to borrow one the other day days and so I'm not particularly skilled at it yet, in fact, I'm still learning how to keep hold of the beater so that it doesn't fly out of my hand! But then, Celtic spirituality is all about joining in, you don't need any qualifications, you just need to let go and enjoy being fully alive! 

Simeon Wood will be playing music from his composition 'Across the Blue Sea' which was inspired by St Columba and his missionary travels to Iona and beyond, and he'll be playing a whole range of instruments (plus his bass flute, which American Airlines have just returned)! We hope that folk will catch our passion for Jesus, too, and see how our Celtic journey has both enriched and deepened our faith.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday Reflection

I have just been to a very moving Anglican Choral Eucharist service which was a wonderful way to begin Lent. I thought I'd share with you a prayer from the liturgy which I found particularly helpful: 

For these forty days
you lead us to into the desert of repentance
that through a pilgrimage of prayer and discipline 
we may grow in grace
and learn to be your people once again. 
Though fasting, prayer and acts of service
you bring us back to your generous heart. 
Through study of your holy word
you open our eyes to your presence in the world 
and free our hands to welcome others
into the radiant splendour of your love.
(Eucharistic Prayer)

When we are marked with ashes, it is a sign of the spirit of penitence which we retain throughout the season of Lent. Ashes are also a symbol of our own mortality and remind us that we are but dust, and to dust we shall return.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The real nature of Love

Yesterday was Valentine's Day, which can leave many of us feeling excluded. I must say that I much prefer the more inclusive tradition in the US, because any of your friends, male of female can wish you a happy Valentine's Day and send you cards. I still have a lovely rose which doubles as a pen, which my Texan friend and her husband gave me some years ago. And that is the nature of God's love, too - it is totally inclusive and binds us together through each other. 

When I was writing Celtic Treasure, the poem that most moved me was this personal reflection on the nature of God's love:

For love is of God.
It's the life force shaping all creation.
The very essence we breathe.
For love removes boundaries
eradicates prejudice
crosses divides
builds community
and moulds 
Liz Babbs 

Our life is characterised by love: We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4 :19

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Rediscovering the Joys of Simplicity

Many years ago now, I gave up my well paid job as a secondary school teacher so that I could focus on the ministry I believed God was calling me into. I've had to trust in God to provide for all my needs, financial and otherwise, which has been a challenging but life-changing journey. Like the Celtic Christians, I've learned to appreciate the simple things: the beauty of a sunrise, the gift of light, water, heat and health. And I've repeatedly seen God's love and care in the small - the detail of life. 

In our consumerist world, I was encouraged to read an amazing article about a millionaire, Karl Rebedeer, who has given away his whole fortune to charity, because it was making him miserable. He has sold his luxury houses, gliders etc and is moving into a small wooden hut in the mountains and says he feels "free, the opposite of heavy." I've printed the link below. It makes interesting reading. To quote him:

"My idea is to have nothing left. Absolutely nothingMoney is counterproductive - it prevents happiness to come." 
"More and more I heard the words: 'Stop what you are doing now - all this luxury and consumerism - and start living your real life. I had the feeling I was working as a slave for things that I did not wish for or need.'"
I was just listening to the voice of my heart and soul.
The entire proceeds are going to charities he set up in Central and Latin America. "I increasingly got the sensation that there is a connection between our wealth and their poverty." (The Daily Telegraph) 
Millionaire gives away fortune which made him miserable

How have you rediscovered the joy of simplicity?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thin Places

Those of you who read my personal blog 'Holy Smoke' or connect with me on Facebook will know that I'm on a diet. Well it's not that sort of 'thin place' I'm talking about today, but it does tie the two blogs in rather nicely! 

I describe a 'thin place’ as somewhere where the veil between heaven and earth is thin. A place heavy with the presence of God, where it is easier to pray, talk and to listen to God. When I visit such places, it’s like stepping into a warm bath. It’s as though all my worries and the heaviness of living in this world, falls off. I can relax and begin to breathe again. Often, in these places, there is little or no cell phone reception or Internet access -  a blessing in itself! Suddenly I become unchained, unshackled.

Novelist, Mary DeMuth in her memoir 'Thin Places' (Zondervan 2010) describes thin places as, '..snatches of holy ground, tucked into the corners of our world, where, if we pay very close attention, we might just catch a glimpse of eternity.....They are aha moment, beautiful, realizations, when the Son of God burst through the hazy fog of our monotony and shines on us afresh.'

Many of the thin places I love to visit, like Lindisfarne, have monastic roots, where there has been a daily rhythm of daily taking place across maybe sixteen centuries or more. What an awesome thought. No wonder these places are special! 

What is your experience of 'thin places' and how do they affect you?

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Celtic Heritage of Armagh, Northern Ireland

The Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Reverend Alan Harper, OBE, delivered a lecture on the Celtic Heritage of Armagh in St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh on Monday 1st February, St Brigid's Day, organised through the Centre for Celtic Spirituality, Armagh. Archbishop Harper was previously an archaeologist and worked on the last excavation of Navan Fort.
You can read a transcript of this lecture (which is quite complicated & involved) by clicking on the link below:
I especially like this quote from his closing statement:
'Celtic Ireland was never accomplished as the Romans would have said “by force of arms”. It was accomplished in the name of God through the apostolic ministry of men like Patrick.'

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Remembering St Brigid (450 - 523AD)

Yesterday was St Brigid's Day. St Brigid is an inspiring women and one mentioned in Celtic Treasure. So I thought I'd share with you a brief description of St Brigid taken from the Northumbria Community's wonderful new website:
St Brigid was inspired by the teaching and preaching of St Patrick from an early age. In her late teens she decided that she wanted to give her life to Christ and to become a nun, much to her father's disapproval. Whatever her father's thoughts of her, Brigid was a generous and deeply faithful woman who could never refuse the poor. She freely gave away her father's possessions, milk and flour to anyone in need. Eventually Brigid's father became so frustrated with her that he decided to sell her to the King. They journeyed to the castle, and while Brigid waited at the castle gates for her father to negotiate with the King, a beggar came along asking for alms. Brigid at once gave him her father's jewel-encrusted sword. On hearing of this the King declared that he could never buy Brigid. 'She's too good for me' he said, 'I could never win her obedience'. Her father realised that the place for Brigid was a convent.
Brigid led a group of women who had also decided to become nuns, and she asked Bishop Mel to bless their taking of the veil. The Bishop saw the Spirit of God descending on Brigid and called her forward. Laying hands on her, he said, 'I have no power in this matter. God has ordained Brigid.' Mel then proceeded to read the rite of consecration for a Bishop over Brigid.
In 470 Brigid founded the Abbey at Kildare, a double monastery for monks and nuns. She became famous for many things, but most of all for her hospitality and welcome.

Brigid's Grace
God bless our food;
God bless our drink. 
And keep our homes and ourselves
in Your embrace, O God.

(Click on the link to the Northumbria Community in my Blog List to see their new website and blog.)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Struggling to keep going? In Christ you have the strength

I'm grateful to Catherine Davies of the Northumbria Community, for bringing this beautiful prayer to my attention. It's a great reminder that in Christ we have the strength to do all that he has called us to:

Christ has many tasks for us.

Some are easy; others are difficult.

Some bring honour; others bring reproach.

Some are to our liking, and coincide

with our own inclinations, and are

in our immediate best interest;

some are just the opposite.

In some we may please Christ

and please ourselves;

in others we cannot please Christ

except by denying ourselves.

Yet the power to take on all of these

is most definitely given us in Jesus;

for it is He who strengthens us,

and comes to help us when we are weak.

Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community pubs. © Harper Collins"

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Northumbria Community New Year Liturgy

Part of the New Year Liturgy from the Northumbria Community 'Celtic Daily Prayer' (c) HarperCollins:
The Opening Door
This is to be used as a ‘first-footing’ prayer. In Scotland, and the northern parts of England, New Year is given much importance: folk go from house to house wishing each other a good year ahead, and celebrate their good wishes with food and plenty of drink. It is often seen as important who should be the first to cross the threshold and ‘bring in the year’ once midnight has passed. This song (spoken or sung) asks Christ Himself to come and ‘first-foot’ for us. The door is opened to welcome Him in and invite His blessing, whether He comes in silence or in the company of other guests.
This day is a new day
that has never been before.
This year is a new year,
the opening door.

Opening of door

Enter, Lord Christ –
we have joy in Your coming.
You have given us life;
and we welcome Your coming.

I turn now to face You,
I lift up my eyes.
Be blessing my face, Lord;
be blessing my eyes.
May all my eye looks on
be blessed and be bright,
my neighbours, my loved ones
be blessed in Your sight.

You have given us life
and we welcome Your coming.
Be with us, Lord,
we have joy, we have joy.
This year is a new year,
the opening door.
Be with us, Lord,
we have joy, we have joy.