Happy Desert Mothers Day

In brief, the Desert Mothers were third- and fourth-centry acetic, monastic women who took to the Egyptian desert. They, and the Desert Fathers, often developed a reputation as spiritual teachers. Their wisdom continued as an oral tradition and later set down.

Here are two sayings from particulary well-regarded Mother Syncletica:

Do not let yourself be seduced by the delights of the riches of the world, as though they contained something useful on account of vain pleasure. Worldly people esteem the culinary art, but you, through fasting and thanks to cheap food, go beyond their abundance of food. It is written: "He who is sated loathes honey." (Prov. 27.7) Do not fill yourself with bread and you will not desire wine.'

She also said, 'Those who have endured the labours and dangers of the sea and then amass material riches, even when they have gained much desire to gain yet more and they consider what they have at present as nothing and reach out for what they have not got. We, who have nothing of that which we desire, wish to acquire everything through the fear of God.

(Apophthegmata Patrum: The Sayings Of The Desert Fathers, Sr. Benedicta translation)

Painting depicting Syncletica of Alexandria, from the Menologion of Basil II (c. 1000)

A moment with St. Margaret of Antioch

I know today is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, equal-to-the-apostles, but you'll forgive me if Iook back two days to St. Margaret of Antioch, a fourth century virgin-martyr who is reputed to have been disengorged by Satan, in the form of a dragon, or said to have beaten a devil (lye can variety) with hammer.

A hammer.

I hadn't known much about her until I saw a number of tweets, and was too distracted by the fortieth anniversary of the Viking landing on Mars to make anything of then.

To repeat. Disengorged by a Satan-dragon. Beat a demon with a hammer. And people have problems with women being Ghostbusters.

Judith Sargent Murray commemorated

Judith Sargent Murray, Universalist author and catechist, died this day in 1820. Married to "Father" John Murray, Mother Murray was esteemed among the founders of Universalism, and -- with the rediscovery of her letter books in the 1980s  -- the subject of study in her own right.

Hosea Ballou commemorated

Universalist minister Hosea Ballou died this day in 1852.

(Well, this Universalist saints feature I planned isn't going as I hoped. Think about Hosea anyway.)


Elhanan Winchester commemorated

Universalist minister Elhanan Winchester died this day in 1797.

Though less well known than "the father of Universalism" John Murray, Winchester deserves a place in our consciousness because he risked -- and lost -- a position of privilege and authority to follow a true sense of mission. That is, losing the pastorate of the First Baptist Church, Philadelphia and taking a rump congregation (the Society of Universal Baptists) into exile.

A word about his theology. It was based on God's promises and so George Williams, when creating a typology of Universalist theology in 1970, described his as "future-oriented Universalism" with a particular focus on future punishment, a focus that would crop up as a deep controversy from time to time for more than a century following.



St. Mary, Mother of God, pray with us

Less a proper blog post than a thought, perhaps to amplify later.

Copy of Theotokos icon of Máriapócs
Copy of Theotokos icon of Máriapócs, (CC-BY-SA, Joejojo)

I've read -- but forget where -- that Christmas is the time when Protestants become (more) Catholic. A higher regard for the saints and the generous use of medieval images come to mind. Not just the "you and me Jesus" focus that, in its own simplified way, places the Protestant ethos.

Which, is a bit weird for Unitarian Universalists, except perhaps for a small minority of the Christians who are already looking at this religion askew. Sometimes we seem like Protestants -- certainly in our forms and structures -- without Jesus. Something akin to "my experience with an uncertain universe" but with Sunday meetings and urn coffee.

Christmas is one of the times that flips that. Less the art than the songs and -- if you're using scripture at all -- the biblical narrative. It's hard to talk about a birth without considering the mother, and especially so when she's one of the world's well-loved religious figures and objects of projection. Particularly in an era where we're more consciously trying to hear the testimony of women.

So far, Mary's been a safe bet as the role of Jesus' mother. But what ought we, might we say about her -- even to her -- once the boy is up and walking? Something to ponder.

John Murray commemorated

Universalist pioneer and minister John Murray died this day in 1815. While known in his own day as Father Murray, and honored for his early leadership, his own theological views were largely disregarded in his own lifetime.

His works, formerly hard to find, have been brought to light again by scanning projects. His Letters and Sketches of Sermons are particularly noteworthy.

His autobiography, finished by his wife Judith Murray, was often cited as an influential spiritual classic.

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost preparation

The nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost is October 23. The Universalist collect is clearly derived from the Anglican prayer book collect for All Saints Day, and it would be better used thus, or as a common for saints.

Free Church Book of Common Prayer (1929)

God, the Bestower of peace and Lover of good will; grant to thy servants to stay their minds on thee, and to live in true agreement with thy holy will, that they may be delivered from all evils that overtake them, and stand fast in all time of temptation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Epistle: 1 Cor i, 4-9.
Gospel: Matt. xxii, 34-46 (end).

A book of prayer for the church and the home (Universalist, 1866)

O God, who art the fountain of all holiness; grant unto thy servants grace to follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living; that we may be with them come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for them that love thee and keep thy commandments. Amen.

Gospel. St. Matt. xxii. 34.
Epistle. 2 Cor. iv. 13

For the Humanists: a United Nations calendar for themes

I'm not really kidding here. I've written in 2003 and last year about the prospect of a sanctorial calendar -- commemoration of saints -- for liturgical purposes in Universalist and Unitarian churches, Christian or not.

Here, I'm thinking not. It isn't so far a stretch from saints-as-faithful (not demigods) to thematic communities (commons) of saints to themes in worship. Follow me here.

The United Nations has a very full calendar of themes of concerns and commemorations that would fill the year for one of those cool, lean Midwestern kind of Unitarian humanist societies (I almost typed churches) that I have a certain odd affection for.

Perhaps not the International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members (this Friday) or World Rabies Day, but International Book Day, International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims (if repackaged), World Interfaith Harmony Week and others have worship hooks.

And I'd totally be there for International Day of Cooperatives.