That Which We Have Heard & Known

Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Category: Ireland (page 2 of 6)

Chaotic Water – From the Daily Office – February 1, 2014

From the Gospel of John:

When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – John 6:16-21 (NRSV) – February 1, 2014.)

Blessing the Church Computer copyright Dave WalkerToday, February 1, is the ancient Irish feast of Imbolc, considered the beginning of spring and sacred to the goddess Brigid; it has become the commemoration of St. Brigid of Kildare, sometimes called Ireland’s “other patron saint.” (The lesson from John’s Gospel, however, is simply the Daily Office reading, not specific to the saint’s day.) Among the traditions of Imbolc (and, thus, of St. Brigid’s feast) is the visiting of holy wells, walking around them in prayer, and taking some of their water to be used to bless people and things.

For ancient peoples, the sea and other large bodies of water were vast, chaotic, and frightening places. In the ancient middle east, the sea was deified as Tiamat, goddess of primordial chaos and mother of the gods. In Irish mythology, the chaotic and dangerous sea separates the land of the living from the Otherworld, called Tír na nÓg (“Land of Youth”). Holy wells are viewed as places where the chaotic, spiritual dimension breaks into the everyday world.

Jesus’ walking on the water is a story told in three of the Gospels: Mark, Matthew, and John — Matthew adds Jesus inviting Peter to join him. It is a demonstration of the Lord’s mastery over the chaotic; Matthew’s addition of the invitation to Peter and Peter’s being able to do so until, as writer Madeleine L’Engle put it, “he remembered he didn’t know how” is symbolic of the empowerment Christ offers us to do the same.

Quantum Space-TimeIn a sense, we walk on the surface of chaos all the time. One of the learnings from quantum mechanics is that things are not nearly as solid as they seem. The everyday world seems to “float” on what has been called a “quantum foam.” The Greeks posited that if we continue to divide matter we get to atoms; if we divide atoms, we get electrons, neutrons, and other subatomic particles; if we try to divide subatomic particles, eventually we get to get quantum fields and even multidimensional vibrating strings. At the quantum level, reality is a quivering mass of quantum chaos. We walk on the surface of chaos all the time!

The story of Jesus (and Peter) walking on the water and the reality of the quantum chaos beneath our everyday lives should remind us that we do know how to do this. Water as a symbol of blessing is also a reminder of that; when we bless water and then use it to bless other things, like the Irish use the water from holy wells, we are declaring that we have the power and ability to deal with the chaos and to control the chaos in our lives.


A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

The Hard Road to the Narrow Gate – From the Daily Office – June 1, 2013

From the Book of Deuteronomy:

You must follow exactly the path that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Deuteronomy 5:33 (NRSV) – June 1, 2013.)

Forest PathsConfession: I have never followed any path exactly as it was laid out by anyone . . . even, I’m sure, God. Ever. Could that be why I’ve never lived long in any one place? The longest I ever lived in any place was in an exurban area of Kansas City on the Kansas side of the state line in a house I hated. (It was a split-level; I don’t like split-level homes.) Maybe not following the straight-and-narrow is why I’ve been something of a vagabond; the two do seem to go hand-in-hand.

On the other hand, getting off “the beaten path” leads to wonderful discoveries and unique experiences. A few years ago when traveling Ireland, I decided to visit the Aran Islands. Most tourists head to Inis Mór, the largest of islands, where most ferries from County Galway dock and where Dún Aonghasa is to be found; many go to Inis Oírr, the smallest, where boats from County Clare dock. I chose to go to Inis Meáin, the middle island, the least touristy of the three. There I found An Seipéal Mhuire gan Smál agus Eoin Baiste — the Church of St. Mary Immaculate and St. John the Baptist.

The church is a newer church, built in 1939. I was entranced by stained glass windows which had a most remarkable jewel-like quality with brilliant colors. My poor skills at photography with my inexpensive digital camera couldn’t possible convey the beauty of those windows. I later learned that they were the work of Harry Clarke, considered Ireland’s greatest stained glass artist.

Altar Window - Church of St. Mary Immaculate & St. John the Baptist

Getting off the well-marked, well-travel road and taking a different path can be dangerous . . . but it can also be marvelous!

In any event, when I read Moses this morning I contrast his words with those of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel (not the gospel lesson for today):

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

The easy road is the one well marked; the hard road to the narrow gate is difficult to find. It is the road less traveled about which Robert Frost wrote in The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Get off the highways! Explore the by-ways . . . they may lead to wonderful discoveries . . . and they may lead to the hard road to the narrow gate, the one few find.


A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

A Thing of Power – From the Daily Office – April 15, 2013

From the Book of Daniel:

Daniel, who was called Belteshazzar, was severely distressed for a while.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Daniel 4:19a (NRSV) – April 15, 2013.)

Name TagsThis renaming of Daniel by King Nebuchadnezzar intrigues me. Earlier in chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar explains that Daniel “was named Belteshazzar after the name of my god” apparently because the king believed Daniel to be “endowed with a spirit of the holy gods.” (v. 8)

Daniel is not the only Jew in Babylon to be renamed by the king or on the king’s behalf. In a reading last week we learned that “the palace master gave them other names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.” (1:7) Why, I wonder, do we remember Daniel by his Hebrew name, but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego by the names given them by their captors?

Naming is matter of power. The ancients knew this. Ancient myths of East and West tell of the power held in one’s name: it was believed that if one knew someone’s name one held power over that person. This may be why the Babylonians insisted on renaming these Jews.

In the Irish language the word for “name” is ainm – it is pronounced “AH-n’m”. The Irish word for “soul” is anam – it, too, is pronounced “AH-n’m”. It seems to me to be no coincidence that these words are homophones – one’s name is one’s identity; one’s soul is one’s identity. Certain schools of philosophy believe that the soul is the bearer of personal identity. In the language of the Inuit people there is the concept of the soul-name, atiq, which combines naming and identity, as well as family transmission. Names are definitive of who we are.

As children, we are taught to shrug off taunts and insults, “bad names” we called them; we are taught to recite a nursery rhyme – “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Of course, we know only too well that names do hurt and “bad names” hurt children very badly. Even as adults we may continue to be haunted by the taunts we endured as children. (I started wearing glasses even before going to kindergarten and I can still remember being called “Four-eyes” in the earliest grades of elementary school.) When we name someone or something, we do indeed exert power over that person or that thing.

We should treat all names with respect, especially our own, for a name, as the Babylonians knew, is a thing of power.


A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

The Whole World is Irish on March 17 – Sermon for the Feast of St. Patrick – March 17, 2013


This sermon was preached on Sunday, March 17, 2013, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(Episcopal Sanctorale Lectionary, Patrick of Ireland: Psalm 97:1-2,7-12; Ezekiel 36:33-38; and Matthew 28:16-20. These lessons can be read at The Lectionary. At St. Paul’s Parish, during Lent, we are using the Daily Office of Morning Prayer as our antecommunion; therefore, only these two lessons and the psalm were read. The Epistle lesson, 1 Thessalonians 2:2b-12, was not used.)


Icon of St. Patrick of IrelandIn Ainm an Athar, agus an Mhic, agus an Spioraid Naoimh. Áiméan.

Dia dhaoibh ar maidin, gach duine. Beannachtaí na fheile Padraig oraibh.

That’s more Irish than I’ve spoken in nearly two years! What I said was, “God be with you this morning, everyone. The blessings of the Feast of St. Patrick be with you.” In other words, Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

Everyone loves to be Irish on St. Paddy’s Day. Even though we Funstons being descendants of Anglican Irish (or as the Irish would say, “Protestants”) did not have much, if anything, to do with the Irish communities of my childhood, we still (like everyone else) enjoyed St. Patrick’s Day. We would go to the parades, see and hear the pipe-and-drum corps, and all the other traditional sorts of things. On the evening news, we would see the reports of parades in other places, especially the big one down Fifth Avenue in New York City. And we would usually have corned beef and cabbage for dinner.

I have no problem with people dressing kilts (which aren’t really Irish, at all), putting green food coloring in beer, eating corned beef and cabbage (which is also not really Irish), or any of the other silly things people do on this day. It’s all part of the fun. Many like to watch Irish-themed movies on St. Patrick’s Day. My favorite is the heartwarming tale of a boxer’s return home in The Quiet Man, but I also like the mythical nonsense of Darby O’Gill and the Little People, or the intense drama of The Field, or the whacky comedy of Waking Ned Devine. Those movies are the only times I hear anyone say, “Top o’ the mornin’ to ye” or “Faith and begorrah.” At least, I’ve never heard anyone say those things during any of my trips to Ireland.

The worship committee thought we ought to step away from Lent for a day (because March 17 today falls on Sunday) and celebrate St. Patrick. After all, on March 17, the whole world is Irish . . . but the man we commemorate wasn’t Irish and it would be much truer to his memory if on his feast day all the world tried to be not Irish, but Christian.

Patrick, who was a Romano-Brit (meaning a Roman who lived in Britain) was the son of a minor imperial official named Calpornius, who was also a deacon in the church; his grandfather Potitus was a priest. Around the year 406 A.D., at the age of 16, Patrick was kidnapped and made a slave in Ireland to a minor tribal king. After six years, he escaped and returned home to Britain, and then went to Rome. There he was ordained a priest and a bishop and, according to the chronicle of Prosper of Aquitane, was appointed bishop to the Irish by Pope Celestine I; he arrived back in Ireland in 432 A.D. He landed near modern-day Belfast and set up his principal foundation in Armagh, which is now considered the Primatial See of Ireland. He ministered primarily in that part of the country known as Ulster. Patrick was not the first bishop appointed to bring the Christian faith to the people of Ireland. Ciaran and Palladius came before him, but their mission (primarily in Munster and Leinster, further south) did not bear the same fruits as Patrick’s. So today, what we celebrate is not Irish identity or heritage; today, we celebrate the success of a mission to spread the Christian faith.

The choir is going sing a poetic prayer or lorica attributed to Patrick, the famous St. Patrick’s Breastplate, as their anthem. It is attributed to him, but there is disagreement as to whether he actually wrote it. But he did write this prayer:

I give thanks to the one who strengthened me in all things, so that he would not impede me in the course I had undertaken and from the works also which I had learned from Christ my Lord. Rather, I sensed in myself no little strength from him, and my faith passed the test before God and people. (The Confession of St. Patrick)

For St. Patrick it seems the faith which passed the test was deeply Trinitarian and deeply evangelical. He is credited with using the shamrock, now one of the national emblems of Ireland, as an illustration of the Trinity – three lobes, yet one leaf – although that is probably an 18th Century legend rather than a historical fact. And as you heard, the Gospel lesson for his commemoration is the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Christ’s final words to his apostles before ascending into Heaven. This evangelical, Trinitarian faith — not green beer nor Celtic music nor corned beef and cabbage nor Irish-ness itself — but trust in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit shared with and commended to everyone around us, this is what we celebrate when we celebrate the Feast of St. Patrick.

I thought perhaps the lesson from Ezekiel was chosen for his feast because, with its “forty shades of green,” Ireland might make one think of the garden of Eden, and in Ireland there are both ruined towns and towns that are inhabited, some of both walled and fortified. But I think rather that it was chosen because, just as the nations around Israel came to know the Lord, the God of Israel, so the nations to which Irish missionaries went came to know the Lord Jesus Christ. What Patrick started in Ireland in 5th Century by the mid 6th Century was spreading to northern Europe, carried there by Irish priests and monks practicing what was called “white martyrdom.” The term comes from a 7th Century Irish sermon called the Cambrai homily:

Now there are three kinds of martyrdom that are counted as a cross to us, namely, white, blue, and red martyrdom.
It is white martyrdom for a man when he separates from everything that he loves for God, although he does not endure fasting and labor thereby.
The blue martyrdom is when through fasting and hard work they control their desires or struggle in penance and repentance.
The red martyrdom is when they endure a cross or destruction for Christ’s sake, as happened to the Apostles when they were persecuted the wicked and taught the law of God. (O. Davis, Celtic Spirituality, Paulist Press: 1999)

The white martyrs left everything dear to them — homes, families, familiar surroundings, even Ireland itself — to spread the Gospel in distant lands; white martyrdom was a pilgrimage on behalf of Christ that might be extended permanently so that they would never again see their homeland. They went first to Scotland and the north of England, but then further afield to Holland, Germany, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and even further. Like the man who had brought Christianity to their homeland, they held a deeply Trinitarian and deeply evangelical faith; and it is that faith which we celebrate when we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

It is that faith we all claim and, when we commemorate Patrick, it is to the spread of that faith that we dedicate ourselves. On the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, a special Litany of Penance is recited in Episcopal Churches. Among the confessions of that Litany we find this petition: “Our negligence in prayer and worship, and our failure to commend the faith that is in us, we confess to you, Lord.” (BCP 1979, page 268)

Let us remember that confession on St. Patrick’s Day and try not so much to be Irish, but try to be better Christians. Let us be like Patrick, who was not Irish, but Christian, and like him let us follow Christ’s Great Commission. If we must be Irish on this day, let us be like those Irish white martyrs of old, and commend the faith that is in us, a faith that is deeply Trinitarian and deeply evangelical.

Let us remember, also, a petition from the Great Litany which we recited on the First Sunday in Lent four weeks ago:

That it may please thee to inspire us, in our several callings, to do the work which thou givest us to do with singleness of heart as thy servants, and for the common good, we beseech thee to hear us, good Lord. (BCP 1979, page 151)

Let us pray:

Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

The Ash Wednesday Exhortation – Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent – February 17, 2013


This sermon was preached on Sunday, February 17, 2013, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(Revised Common Lectionary, Lent 1, Year C: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2,9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; and Luke 4:1-13. These lessons can be read at The Lectionary Page.)


LentIn The Book of Common Prayer on page 264 you’ll find the beginning of the liturgy for Ash Wednesday. If you were here on that day which marks the beginning of this season we call Lent, or in another church to be marked on your forehead with the cross of ashes, to be reminded of your mortality with the familiar words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return,” you will also have heard the Lenten admonition which the presiding priest reads at each Ash Wednesday service. It begins at the bottom of that page and comes in the service after the reading of the lessons of the day and the preaching of the sermon.

It seems to me that many of us hear those words, perhaps even read along with them (as is our wont as Episcopalians), but I wonder to what extent we actually think about them, consider them, and internalize them. So this morning, as we enter into the Sundays which are in Lent but not of Lent, I’d like to return to Ash Wednesday and look more closely at, and perhaps offer a few cogent comments about, the Ash Wednesday admonition.

Dear People of God, . . . .

. . . . it starts and let’s just stop there and consider what that means. We hear those words, “the People of God,” often in Scripture, and when we do we usually understand it to mean those people long ago, those folks who lived way back then 2,000 or 3,000 or more years ago and way over there in the deserts of the Middle East in Palestine or Judea or Israel or Syria. “The People of God,” we think, are the Hebrews, those folks who Moses helped get their freedom from Pharaoh in Egypt, the ones to whom Moses is talking in the reading from Deuteronomy this morning. Or, perhaps, we believe “the People of God” are the descendants of Abraham, that “wandering Aramean” whom Moses’ audience was to claim as their ancestor. Or, again, maybe we think of the modern Jews as “the People of God,” the Chosen people with whom God has that special covenant.

But here we are addressed in the liturgy of Ash Wednesday as if we are the People of God! Do we think of ourselves that way? And more specifically, does each of us think of him- or herself individually as a “person of God”?

Did you know that that one of my titles, one of the names of the office of ministry in which I work, actually comes from that term? The word “parson,” which describes a parish priest or village clergyman comes from the old or middle English version of the word “person”. The medieval parish priest was the “person of God,” the “parson,” whose job it was to be in the church praying the liturgical hours, offering the sacrifice of the Mass, looking after the spiritual business of the community so the rest of the people wouldn’t have to! They could get on with the planting of crops, the tilling of fields, the harvesting of produce, the care and feeding of livestock. They could do all the other things of daily life and then go to the pub and have a beer because the “parson,” the “person of God” would have have taken care of the religious stuff, the spiritual stuff for them.

That is not, however, the way it’s supposed to be because no one person is the “person of God” — we are all “people of God;” we are all “persons of God.”

The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection . . .

Now pay close attention to that! The focus of Lent is not Lent! The focus of Lent is “our Lord’s passion and resurrection.” The focus of Lent is Maundy Thursday and Jesus’ agonizing night of prayer in the garden at Gethsemane. The focus of Lent is Good Friday and his terrible, tortured death on the cross of Calvary. The focus of Lent is Holy Saturday and his burial in the borrowed tomb, his descent into hell, his freeing the souls of the dead. The focus of Lent is the empty tomb of Easter morning, his resurrection, his fifty days on earth appearing to, teaching, and sending forth his apostles. The focus of Lent is his Ascension into heaven to be always alive and always with us, our great high priest eternally pleading our case before the Father, elevating our humanity into divinity. Lent is never about Lent! Lent is always looking forward. Lent is always about Easter and beyond.

. . . . and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent . . . .

As many of you know, I was not reared in the Episcopal Church . . . I wasn’t really brought up in any religious tradition. On one side, my mother’s, the family were part of the Campbellite tradition, out of which the Disciples of Christ is the largest current denominational body; they didn’t know from Adam about the church year, about Lent or any other season. On my father’s side they were Methodists in the old Methodist Episcopal (South) mold; no liturgical seasons for them! So we didn’t do this Lent thing. I had Catholic classmates in grade school, of course. I knew they were Catholic because they would show up at school on Ash Wednesday morning having come from Mass with a smudge of ash on their foreheads; they were doing Lent.

But the only thing I knew about “Lent” was that in the sort of English my grandmother spoke it was the past tense of the verb “to lend”. I thought the Roman Catholics were maybe paying back to God something they had borrowed from God. And, you know what? That’s not far from being a good description of what Lent is, in fact, all about. In our lesson from Deuteronomy today that is exactly what Moses instructs the people who are about to enter into the Promised Land, these Hebrews which he has led from captivity in Egypt. They are to remember that everything they have or ever will have has been given to them by God, through no merit of their own; they are to return to God at least some portion, the “first fruits”, of that which God has lent to them.

This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism.

Did you know that back in the beginning, before the Emperor Constantine made Christianity first legal and then the official religion of the Roman Empire, it was a big deal to become a Christian? It was a dangerous thing because it was illegal, and Christians were often blamed for the Empire’s problems and made scapegoats, imprisoned, tortured, and killed. One could not simply walk into a congregation and ask to become a member. You had to be instructed and tested, and often it took as long as three years to complete all the catechesis needed to be accepted into the assembly, to be permitted to undergo the rite of Holy Baptism, which was commonly done only at Easter. And during these forty days of Lent modeled on the forty days of Christ’s tempting in the desert about which we heard in the Gospel lesson, the catechumens underwent their most rigorous training and testing, with mortification of the flesh, denial of even the simplest pleasures, a severely restricted diet (a “fast” in the dietary sense). Only then could they be baptized.

This was a big deal because baptism was considered a sort of death. St. Paul puts it this way in the Letter to Romans (not in the portion we heard today, but in the Sixth Chapter in a passage we read on Easter morning): “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:3) The symbolism of Holy Baptism, especially when done in the traditional way by full immersion, is that the water represents the soil of the grave; we are “buried” as we go under the surface and as we come up out of it, we are resurrected: “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. . . . If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (6:6,8)

So Lent was a time for this baptismal preparation, and it was a time that reminded every member of the church of their own baptismal promises, of their own “death” to the world and their new, resurrected life in Christ, of the seriousness of what it meant (and means) to be a Christian.

It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church.

There was no rite of private confession in the early church; that was created by the Irish monks in the 6th Century and eventually spread to the whole church after the 9th Century. Nor was there a general confession in the early liturgies such as we now have in the Anglican form of worship that we enjoy. No, in the early church when a member was guilty of some grave sin they had to confess it before the whole assembly, after which they would be excluded from communion and they would be given some penance, some way to make amends before they would be permitted to return to worship with the congregation.

Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.

Of course, the congregation would, as the admonition suggests, realize that not only was the repentant sinner in need of forgiveness; they all were — and we all are. You’ll remember the story of Jesus encountering the rabbis and villagers planning to stone the woman taken in adultery. “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” he said. (John 8:7) And not one of them did so because they realized, as Lent calls us to realize, that we are all sinners and all stand in need of forgiveness.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

So this closing invitation to “a holy Lent” just asks us to do a lot of things we hear about every Lent, doesn’t it? Every year someone like me gets up in front of the congregation in every parish and prattles on about things we should do for the next six weeks, which are really things we ought to do year-round, but this time of year we sort of focus on them. We know we’re supposed to “fast” – that means give something up, right?

When people ask me what I’m going to give up for Lent, I always answer, “Chocolate.” It’s easy for me to give that up – I don’t eat chocolate. I should give up . . . I don’t know . . . my Irish whiskey? Good wines? I know! I’ll give up Downton Abbey right after tonight’s episode (the Season 3 finale).

But really, the point of fasting and self-denial is not the “mortification of the flesh.” It isn’t making oneself miserable because we think we ought to join Jesus in his desert misery, his famished hunger as described in today’s gospel lesson. The point of giving something up is to make room in our lives for something else, or to pay over or pay forward that which we give up to the benefit of someone else, or to concentrate on something of spiritual benefit to ourselves.

In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, God questions God’s people about fasting. “Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high,” writes the Prophet. Delivering God’s word, Isaiah tells us that God asks, “Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?” (58:4-5) The answer to these questions is clearly, “No.” The Prophet continues:

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? (58:6-7)

If I give up whiskey for Lent, the money I save not buying it should be given to World Vision International or to Episcopal Relief and Development or to our own Free Farmers’ Market food pantry. If I do give up Downton Abbey, the time I save should be given to study of Scripture, another of the admonitions of this Ash Wednesday exhortation.

The forty days of Lent are, symbolically, our time with Jesus in the desert, our time to emulate our Lord in his preparation for ministry, our time to face our temptations as he faced his. Note how he did so. Each time the devil would set something wonderful before him – food, or world power, or spiritual superiority – Jesus responded by quoting Scripture. Jesus was sustained, strengthened, and empowered by the words of the Law and the Prophets. How many of us could do that?

The truth is that I couldn’t! I’ve never been able to memorize chapter and verse. If you ask me, “Doesn’t the Bible say something about . . . . ?” my response will be to shrug my shoulders and say, “I don’t know. I’ll look that up.” Don’t get me wrong! I read Scripture all the time, every day in fact. I just don’t have the head to remember it all. That’s what concordances and computer search programs are for! I know what’s in there, I just don’t always know where it is. But just because someone may not have the knack to remember chapter-and-verse is no excuse not to study God’s Word. So I do, and I commend the practice to you, so that, as Paul wrote to the Romans, “The word [will be] near you, on your lips and in your heart.” We are all, as the collect for today confesses, assaulted by many temptations; through study and contemplation of the Bible, we can each find God mighty to save; we can each, like Jesus, be sustained and strengthened and empowered by Scripture.

And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.

And then there is a rubric, a word of instruction, saying, “Silence is then kept for a time.” The rubric is not part of the Ash Wednesday exhortation, but those may be the most important words on the page.

When the exhortation and our tradition ask us to “give something up for Lent,” the purpose is to turn our attention from the distractions of the world around us. At the vestry’s retreat the past couple of days, our facilitator asked us to consider the difference between “doing” and “being”, to consider whether the job of the vestry is to “do things” or rather to “be something”. As part of a clergy study group, I’m currently reading a book entitled Beyond Busyness: Time Wisdom in Ministry. The author’s premise is that being “busy” is a bad thing, that when we are “busy” we are allowing a lot of small distractions take us away from the bigger, more important things one which we should use our time. “Busyness” results from concentrating too much on “doing” and too little on “being”.

Keeping silence for a time helps us turn our attention away from busy doing and toward productive being.

There is a lovely verse from the Psalms. (Don’t ask me which verse in which psalm! Remember, I just can’t recall that stuff.) The verse reads, “Be still, and know that I am God!” (46:10) In those catalogs like National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting send out from time to time, I’ve seen a carved stone plaque of that verse which repeats the verse several times, but in each reiteration leaves off a word or two:

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.

So I leave you with the rubric as, perhaps, the most important admonition of Lent: “Silence is kept for a time.” Be still and know that God is God. . . . . Be still and know that God is. . . . . Be still and know. . . . . Be still. . . . . Be.


We Are All Called to Martyrdom – From the Daily Office – December 26, 2012

From the Book of Acts:

While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Acts 7:59-8:3 (NRSV) – December 26, 2012.)
Icon of Saint StephenOn the second day of Christmas the church remembers a murder, the martyrdom of Stephen, and our Daily Office lectionary won’t let us forget it. Often the readings of the Daily Office seem to have nothing to do with the season and they seldom are tied to a saint’s commemoration, but today the morning and evening readings tell the whole story in gruesome detail.

Stephen is revered as the church’s first martyr. The word martyr in Greek merely means “witness” but the church (and thus our modern society) uses it to mean someone who has suffered and died for their faith. The Celtic church would identify three kinds of martyrdom, only one of which involves death, so-called “red martyrdom.” The others were “green martyrdom” and “white martyrdom.”

The green martyrs were those who left ordinary society for the life of a hermit on the mountaintops or islands of Ireland following the example of the Egyptian anchorites. Eventually, they merged their individual dwellings into the monastic communities which dominated the Irish church from the 6th through 9th Centuries.

White martyrs went further. They left Ireland altogether as missionaries. The first of these were Columba and his followers who founded the monastery at Iona. Others following their example went into northern Europe and beyond.

The 2nd Century theologian Tertullian said that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” This is usually understood to mean that through the sacrifice of their lives the “red martyrs” led others to conversion and, on this Feast of Stephen, we see the great example of that in the eventual conversion of Saul, the zealous Jewish persecutor of the church, into Paul, the equally-zealous Christian missionary. But it seems to me that the blood of the green martyrs and the white martyrs, which was not spilled but continued to course through their veins during a life of prayer and service, was equally effective in the conversion of others.

It is not so much the blood of the martyrs but, as the original Greek word says, the witness of the martyrs, the example and testimony of the martyrs of all sorts, red, green, and white, that nurtures the growth of the church. On this second day of Christmas, we should remember that, in some sense, we are all called to martyrdom; we are all called to witness to our faith in the Child whose birth we continue to celebrate.


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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Straining to See God – From the Daily Office – August 22, 2012

From the Psalms:

Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice;
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss,
O Lord, who could stand?

For there is forgiveness with you;
therefore you shall be feared.

I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him;
in his word is my hope.

My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, wait for the Lord,
for with the Lord there is mercy;

With him there is plenteous redemption,
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 130 (BCP version) – August 22, 2012)

Marble Arch Cave, County Fermanagh, IrelandPsalm 130 is one of the seven “pentitential psalms” of the church (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143), a tradition that stretches back to the Sixth Century if not earlier. It is also one of the “songs of ascents” (Psalms 120-134) that are believed to have been sung by pilgrims making their way up to Jerusalem or possibly when climbing up the Temple Mount for festival celebrations. Somehow it strikes me as both odd and poignant that a song or poem beginning “Out of the depths” is called a song of “ascent” – from the deepest sloughs of despond the poet calls out the Highest. Ascent, indeed!

This is a song of longing: my favorite verse is Verse 5, “My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.” Sometimes when this psalm is sung or chanted I find myself wanting just to stop at the verse. In the repetition of the words “more than watchman for the morning” I want to lower my voice, slow my words, shake my head, stare into space, give play to the longing in my soul, sigh deeply, acknowledge the sense that God sometimes seems to be absent, wallow in abandonment.

And yet it is not a psalm of resignation and surrender. It does not end with those words, but forcefully pleads its case that God will appear, that God will have mercy, that God will offer redemption. This is a song of God’s Presence, not of God’s absence. Even in the depths, God in some way is there.

Last year my daughter and I toured the Marble Arch Caves in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. At one point during the tour, the guides extinguished all of the lights and we were plunged into the deepest darkness I have ever experienced. But in that blackness the eye continues to seek for light; you can almost feel the optic nerves at the back of your eyeballs, the rods and cones of the retina, straining to find light. This psalm is like that; the soul of the psalmist is convinced, even in that deepest, darkest, pitch black slough of despond, that the Light of God is still to be found. The soul strains to see God.


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Lady Wisdom & Questions God Is Never Going to Ask – Sermon for Pentecost 12, Proper 15B – August 19, 2012


This sermon was preached on Sunday, August 19, 2012, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(Revised Common Lectionary, Proper 15B: Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:9-14; Ephesians 5:15-20; and John 6:51-58)


Proverbs 9 by David WierzbickiAs I may have mentioned here before, I spent many of my childhood summers in the southeastern Kansas town of Winfield with my paternal grandparents, C.E. and Edna Funston. Winfield was my parents’ hometown, both of them were raised there and my mother had been born there. Her maternal grandparents, Hinrich and Harmke Buss, were immigrants from that area of Germany right next to Holland called “Ostfriesland”. My father was born in Dodge City, and he and his folks moved to Winfield when he was just a few months old; they were relative newcomers but my grandfather soon became a prominent citizen.

Anyway, one of the things I remember about Winfield is the way newcomers, or anyone someone was meeting for the first time, were almost invariably asked two questions. I once discussed this with a friend who was born and raised in South Carolina and she said it was the same in her hometown, that these are what she called “very Southern questions.” That makes sense because in an odd way, southeastern Kansas is much more Southern than it is midwestern. My mother used to all that part of Kansas “lap land” – meaning that it is were Oklahoma and Arkansas lap over into Kansas.

So there were these two questions that people asked when first meeting another person. The first was, “Who are your people?” Winfield was an agricultural center and not much else. There was no industry or manufacturing that would bring people to town. There was farming and the businesses that support farming, all of which were family owned. So if somebody new came to town to work in on a farm or in a farm-supporting business, it was assumed you must be part of the family. So, who are your people? The answer placed you in a particular social context. So I would say, “Well, my mother is Betty Sargent, one of the Buss cousins.” Anyone local would then know I was a descendant of Henry Buss. My greatgrandfather had had two families. One set of children were born to first wife Mary – she had 14 kids who lived; another set of 13 living children were born to Harmke, my greatgrandmother. According to his obituary, all of those children were alive when Henry died and he left approximately 200 acres of land to each of them. Doing the math, you get the idea that he had acquired a lot of farmland (something over 5,000 acres) and that he (and his children after him) were influential in the local economy. As I mentioned before, on the paternal side my grandparents were comparatively new to the town, but they had become very active members of the Methodist Church and my grandfather, an active Mason, had risen in those ranks as well. So if I continued to my inquirer, “And my father is C.E. and Edna Funston’s youngest son,” he or she would immediately know I was related to a Past Master of the Lodge and an elder in the Methodist Church.

Because of that, I wasn’t often asked the second question, “Where do you go to church?” But I could have been because it really wasn’t a given that I would have been a Methodist. The Busses were members of the Dutch Reformed Church and the Sargents belonged to the Disciples of Christ; I could have been either of those – but the truth was, except for those summer months with the Funstons at the Methodist Church, I really didn’t go to church as a kid.

In any event, those questions served to place someone in a social context, to define in the questioner’s mind who they were and where the fit. And the truth is they aren’t just “Kansas questions” or “Southern questions”. They are everywhere questions. In the fall of 2005, Evie and I took our first trip to Ireland and, as part of that trip, visited County Donegal as I was in search of Funstons in the area where I believe my Funston great-greatgrandfather originated. In Donegal Town itself, we happened to stop into a woolen sweater store run by a man named Sean McGinty. Mr. McGinty asked about our trip and I was explaining to him my family connection to the area. He turned to his wife Mary and said, “You’re from Pettigo; weren’t there some Funstons in Pettego.” She thought for a moment and replied, “Yes . . . . but they weren’t our people.” — They weren’t our people, meaning they weren’t Roman Catholic. The Irish Funstons were and still are Church of Ireland – Anglicans . . . Protestants. “Who are your people?” “Where do you go to church?” They or something like them are human questions; the help us to put people in their place, to categorize one another, to define each other. They are human questions.

But they are not God’s questions! Long before St. Paul would write to the Galatians that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female,” (Gal. 3:28) the compiler of the Book of Proverbs would make the same point in the 8th and 9th Chapters of that book, part of which we read today. In these chapters we read of Lady Wisdom, one of the most intriguing characters in all of the Old Testament. In the 8th Chapter, before the part we heard this morning, she tells us herself:

When [God] established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race. (Prov. 8:27-31)

She was, she tells us, a “master worker” helping God to create all that is. And in our reading this morning from Chapter 9, we see her as “the hostess with the mostest” who is ready to throw a party, to do the honors at a great feast. She has “slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has . . . set her table,” and she sent her servants out to invite her guests. In fact, she herself stands in her doorway, in the highest places of the town calling,

“You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” (Prov. 9:4-6)

Note that she doesn’t ask, “Who are your people? Where do you go to church?” She doesn’t ask if any are Jew or Greek, slave or free, black or white, straight or gay, Republican or Democrat, Catholic or Protestant, none of that matters . . . all she asks is that we be “simple” and “without sense.”

Now that’s a bit disconcerting and, frankly, I think the translation belies the true meaning of the invitation. The Hebrew here is, “Mi-phethi yasur henah chasar-leb ‘am’rah lo.” The word translated as “simple” (and sometimes as “naive”) is phethi. It’s root is the word pawthaw, which means “wide open”. An alternative and more positive understanding of this word is “open-minded”. The term “without sense” (sometimes rendered “lacking understanding”) is chasar-leb. Chasar means “without” or “lacking”. Leb (rendered here as “sense” or “understanding”) is most often translated as “heart” because in the ancient Hebrew understanding the heart was believed to be the seat of comprehension and emotion. This is not simple understanding or sense, this is passionate belief, enthusiastic commitment; in a negative sense we might say “bias” or “prejudice”.

Lady Wisdom is not inviting simpletons or the foolishly naive into her parlor; she is inviting the open-minded, those who have no preconceptions, no intolerant prepossessions. Lady Wisdom, God’s master worker, does not care if you are Jew or Greek, Irish or German, black or white or Asian or Native American, straight or gay or lesbian or transgendered, Democrat or Republican or Socialist or Libertarian. Lady Wisdom, God’s master worker, doesn’t care who your people are; she cares about whose you are! She doesn’t care where you go to church; she cares that you are the church, the People of God! She wants you to be open-minded, to come without prejudice or preconception. Her invitation is reminiscent of the Prophet Isaiah’s, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.” (Isaiah 1:18 – KJV) She invites us to come and learn.

She has set her table; she is ready to host her party. “Come, [she says] eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” Lady Wisdom’s celebration is the marriage feast of the Lamb; her invitation is to that very supper Jesus would share with his disciples and shares with us throughout all the ages. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians the words we recite each time we gather at this Table:

. . . that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor. 11:23-2)

And here in John’s Gospel today he promises that “those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (John 6:54-56)

To this Feast we are all invited without regard to who our people may be, without regard to where we go to church. To this Feast today we welcome Nathan Joseph Daley who is to be baptized. No one here will ask, “Who are your people?” but if anyone ever does, Nathan can answer “The People of God” . . . and if he wants to be more specific, he can say “The Episcopalians!” No one here will ask, “Where do you go to church?” but if anyone ever does, Nathan can answer, “St. Paul’s!”

Someone else may ask those questions of Nathan or of you or me, but God is never going to ask them! God will ask, “Are you open-minded? Are you free of bias and prejudice?” God will ask, “Are you filled with the Spirit? Do you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs? Do you sing and make melody to the Lord in your heart? Do you give thanks at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ?” (Questions drawn from Ephesians 5:18-20) God will ask, “Do you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Do you strive for justice and peace among all people? Do you respect the dignity of every human being?” (Questions drawn from the Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer, pg. 305)

With God’s help, Nathan and we will grow and learn to do these; through God’s grace, he and we will feast on Bread and Wine, and “lay aside immaturity, and live and walk in the way of insight.”

Let us pray:

Grant, Lord God, to Nathan who is about to be baptized into the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ, and to those who already have been baptized, that, as we have put away the old life of sin, so we may be renewed in the spirit of our minds, lay aside immaturity, and live and walk in the way of insight, righteousness, and true holiness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Blessed Wedding at Cana – From the Daily Office Lectionary – August 10, 2012

From John’s Gospel:

Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – John 2:2-11 – August 10, 2012)

Marriage at Cana by Giotto, 14th centuryA year ago I was in Ireland, camped out in a cottage outside of the village of Banagher, County Offaly, on sabbatical. As my study project, I was translating old Irish hymns into metrical, rhyming English such that they could be sung to the music of the original. The hymns were published in the early 20th Century in a collection titled Dánta Dé Idir Sean agus Nuadh compiled by Uná ní Ógáin. Dánta Dé includes a communion hymn which elaborates on John’s story of the wedding feast; it is entitled The Blessed Wedding at Cana and is attributed to Maighréad ní Annagáin. I found I could not directly translate the hymn, so instead I wrote a poem of my own. Reading this story today, I recall working on that piece and offer it again.

This is my poem inspired by the gospel story and the old Irish hymn:

King of love,
King of glory,
King of graces, guest at a wedding.
With his mother, with his friends,
seated at the marriage feast waiting.
Came the word: “There is a problem!”
Mary told her son to help them.
“What is this to me?” he asked her;
but to servants she was speaking.

“There is no wine
for the feast.
Do as he says, no hesitation.”
Empty vessels standing there
for the rites of purification.
“Fill them,” he says, “with plain water;
and then draw some for the steward.”
“What is this now?” asks the steward,
“Finest wine in the nation!”

Blessed Mary,
Virgin pure,
Mother of God, you knew that even
that your Jesus was the Christ;
that he was the High King of Heaven.
But did you know he would become
the free way for us to our home?
Through baptism buried with him,
we, too, shall all be risen!

O Lord Jesus,
glorious King,
holy savior who bore the Thorn Crown,
you were beaten, crucified,
killed, and buried, layed in the cold ground.
In fulfillment of the promise,
you broke the bars closed against us.
With your own blood you have freed us!
Death is conquered! Life is newfound!

Your own Body
and your Blood
give us sinners true liberation;
Bread of Heaven, Blessed Cup,
holy table, feast of salvation.
Giving blessings beyond measure;
wedding banquet, splendid treasure.
At the marriage feast of the Lamb,
we are God’s new creation!

For those interest in the hymn as Gaeilge, here is the Irish original:

Ag an bpósadh bhí i gCána bhí Rí na ngrás ann i bpearsain,
É féin is Muire Máthair, is nárbh áluinn í an bhainfheis?
Bhí cuideacht ós cionn chláir ann, agun fíon orra i n-easnamh,
‘S an t-uisge bhí h-árthaibh nár bh’áluinn é bhlaiseadh?

A Dhia dhíl, a Íosa, ‘s a Rí ghil na cruinne,
D’iomchuir an choróin spíne is iodhbairt na Croise,
A stolladh is a straoilleadh idir dhaoinibh gan cumann,
Na glasa do sgaoilis, a d’iadhadh n’ár gcoinnibh.

Is ró-bhreágh an stór tá ag Rígh na glóire dúinn i dtaisge,
A chuid fola agus feóla mar lón do na peacaigh’.
Ná cuirigidh bhur ndóchas i n-ór bhuidhe nó i rachmas
Mar is bréagán mar cheó é, seachas glóire na bhFlaitheas.


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

You Stupid Celts! – From the Daily Office – June 7, 2012

Paul wrote:

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Galatians 3:1-3 – June 7, 2012)

I’m not sure, but those may be my three favorite words in all of Paul’s writings: “You stupid Celts!” That’s what he’s saying here. The Galatians were Celts, distant cousins of the Irish, Welsh, Scots, and Bretons. They all had their origins in the Celtic homelands of the northwestern Alps and migrated to Asia Minor, the islands of Britain and Ireland, and other places. And here Paul calls the Celts of Asia Minor anoetos, a Greek word which means “lacking understanding” and is variously translated as foolish, thoughtless, senseless, or stupid. “You stupid Celts!” ~ It is generally believed that Paul is reacting against the Galatians acceptance of the suggestion of the “Judaizers” that they needed to be circumcised before they could really become Christians. But I wonder . . . . I’ve done a fair amount of study of Celtic spirituality, at least of the western (British Isles) sort; I spent a three-month sabbatical translating ancient Gaelic religious poetry. The western Celtic understanding of Christ’s work was rather different from the Pauline notion. Paul (especially as developed by Augustine but, I think pretty clearly, originally) saw Christ’s salvific work in terms of propitiation and justification: just a few more verses and he will insist to the Galatians “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law.” (v. 13) The Celts, on the other hand, thought in terms of Jesus completing the goodness of creation; they believed much like Origen did that human beings were not so much fallen or cursed by sin as immature and incomplete, striving not for redemption but for perfection. ~ Some of Origen’s views were eventually anathematized as heretical and, though he is viewed as a “Church Father”, he has not been sainted. Later Celtic theologians have suffered the same indignity. The Irishman Johannes Scotus Eriugena believed that all human beings reflect attributes of divinity and that all are capable of progressing toward perfection, a view that Paul would clearly have disputed; Eriugena’s theology was discredited as “Irish porridge” and “an invention of the devil.” The Culdee monk Pelagius (who was probably a Breton rather than Irish) taught that humans do not have inherent sinfulness, but rather have a natural sanctity and the moral capacity to choose to live a holy life; Pelagius, too, was condemned as a heretic. ~ I sometimes wonder if this pervasive western Celtic belief in the essential goodness of humankind and in the progressive divinization or completion of creation might have been shared by their eastern cousins in Galatia. If so, it might have been this which led them to be more accepting of the Judaizer’s suggestions; after all, if the Christian goal is divinization and if circumcision put the Chosen People closer to God, perhaps it ought to be considered. No wonder Paul, who didn’t believe human beings could do anything to contribute to their own sanctification, thought them stupid and foolish! How different might the Christian church today be if the views of the Galatians, Pelagius, Eriugena, and other Celts had prevailed? One will never know. ~ I do know this, however. Those Celtic views ought to be heard and considered. None of us fully knows the mind of God and the views and thoughts of all should be valued as we struggle together to understand. They may be my favorite words of Paul, but not because they are particularly beneficial; indeed, they are not. The church today would be much better off and a much more congenial society if no one ever said or wrote anything like, “You stupid Celts!”

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