A Lenten Table: Revisiting the Desert...Yet Again : )

"To be able to enjoy fully the many good things the world has to offer, we must be detached from them. To be detached does not mean to be indifferent or uninterested. It means to be nonpossessive. Life is a gift to be grateful for and not a property to cling to. A nonpossessive life is a free life. But such freedom is only possible when we have a deep sense of belonging. To whom then do we belong? We belong to God, and the God to whom we belong has sent us into the world to proclaim in (God’s) Name that all of creation is created in and by love and calls us to gratitude and joy. That is what the “detached” life is all about. It is a life in which we are free to offer praise and thanksgiving.-- Henri Nouwen found at Soul Food UK (hat tip to Christine for the qoute, and the gorgeous image above is also hers)

I love the tradition of drawing one's saint for the year. Its an ancient tradition, and you can find out all about it
here, and also get your own saint of the year prayerfully drawn for you at any time (how cool is that?). The saint according to this tradition "chooses you"... just love this. And so in my own life here, while the saint that "chose me" last year was blessed St Lucia (see here and here), this year it is blessed St Boniface.

I knew nothing about St Boniface till he was drawn really, only that the name sounded familiar. And his being my patron saint this year feels perhaps like both continuity and also turning things on their head a bit. This beginning is more just journal stuff here, but it helps somehow to write it out a bit...
Like St Lucia, St Boniface is very much associated with key Christmas traditions...St Lucia is key to Christmas season traditions especially in the Nordic countries; and legend has it that St Boniface, in Germany, started the tradition of the Christmas tree . I think that continuity really means something. Those traditions of theirs are also focused on the same general (close next to each other/interacting) part of the world and that continuity feels to mean something too (that part of the world holds a big part of my ancestry). And like St Lucia, St Boniface is very tied in with pagan symbols...but while St Lucia helped carry forward those pagan symbols that were healing (her traditional focus on light as sacred and joyful for example) his focus is more on shedding those that became seeped in the occult, likethe fearful and violent traditions that eventully took form around Thor, whose tree he chopped down (which led to the Christmas tree).

But now the shake up part. After resisting the whole "desert" thing so much, and also after stepping back more from the Benedictine tradition lately too (in favor more of the lifelong Carmelite draw), here now is a saint who mega promotes desert spirituality and who was very key to helping establish the Benedictines as a strong cultural and spiritual force, particularly in Germany. Hmmmm, may be time to really re-look at the whole detachment thing somehow. He is also, though with a strongly contemplative background, is a missionary, which is another area i really tend to shy away from. He was also drawn on Valentines day, simply because it was the day before Valentine's day that for some reason was the day i remembered i'd forgotten to draw this year, for some reason it was meant to wait till then i suppose. But looking back now this means something i think, since Valentine’s day was also the (quite unplanned) day i "born again" years back too. Valentine's day has just always been special. Anyway, all in all i have a feeling this year may see some changes, and who knows what, all i know is i really need to stay open here. And iam so grateful for such an amazing patron through it as St Boniface, can’t wait to get to know him better throughout the year.

Onto the good stuff now....about St Boniface, from

“Boniface, then known as Wynfrith, was born in Crediton, Devon, in about 680AD. He went to study at the Benedictine Monastery at Nursling, near Southampton. So able and respected did he prove to be, that when the old Abbot died, Wynfrith was offered his place: but he felt called to the life of a missionary and in 716 set sail to convert the heathen tribes in Frisia (now Friesland, The Netherlands). Although his first mission was not a success, his subsequent workin Frisia and Hesse, this time backed by papal authority, gained him the reputation of being an outstanding missionary and administrator. It was at this time that the Pope gave him the name of Boniface. In 722, Pope Gregory II made him Bishop of all Germany east of the Rhine, and Boniface embarked on 30 years of missionary work in Hesse and Thuringia.

He boldly tackled superstition, including the felling of Thor's sacred Oak at Geismar by his own hand in front of hostile tribesmen, and laid the foundation of a flourishing new church. In 738, he was made Archbishop, and crowned Pepin King of all the Franks at Soissons in 751 - an act which ensured the alliance between the Frankish crown and the Papacy which was to be the foundation of Charlemagne's Holy Roman Empire 50 years later. At the age of 70, he set out again to tame the wild tribes of Frisia. On 5 June 754/5, he and his companions were surprised at dawn by a band of heathen warriors near Dokkum. Boniface was struck down by a sword which pierced the holy book he raised to shield his head...


A pleasant tradition credits Boniface with the invention of the Christmas Tree.
The Oak of Thor at Geismar was chopped down by Boniface in a stage-managed confrontation with the old gods and local heathen tribes. A fir tree growing in the roots of the Oak was claimed by Boniface as a new symbol. "This humble tree's wood is used to build your homes: let Christ be at the centre of your households. Its leaves remain evergreen in the darkest days: let Christ be your constant light. Its boughs reach out to embrace and its top points to heaven: let Christ be your Comfort and Guide". The tree became a sign of Christ in the world for the German peoples, and nowadays it is a universal reminder of Christmas.


Boniface was born just at that time when the Saxon conquest of Devon was complete. The British peoples had been driven steadily further west by the Saxon war leader Cenwealh. One battle was fought in 661 at Posentesbyrig which could be the Iron Age hill fort at Posbury 2 miles south of Crediton. The Saxons would therefore control the fertile lands of the Exe and Creedy valleys.

An attractive tradition says that Boniface's father was a Saxon thegn (lord) and his mother was British. They named their son Wynfrith, "Friend of Peace" to show that the two peoples had come together.

According to William of Malmesbury, the monk historian (born 1090), the Britons and Saxons lived side by side in Exeter until the tenth century. St Petroc's was the British church and St Sidwell's the Saxon. The young Wynfrith, as a monk in Exeter, would have seen the different traditions and problems of Celtic and Roman Christian practices.

He was the spiritual child of the new "English" church. The old Celtic monk-missionaries with their personal holiness and fiery evangelism were part of his inheritance. So, too, was the Roman genius for order and discipline. As he founded monasteries Boniface promoted the Rule of Saint Benedict as their model and guide. The Benedictine influence upon European society became immense through the Middle Ages. Boniface's journeys and letters show his own energy and spirituality. In a new ecumenical age, we can welcome this fusion of Christian traditions and graces which Boniface presented.”

This last part really moved me today. I've actually had a post in the draft about this sort of thing. Because the truth is, i really struggle with this. In my life i have been quite a wanderer in terms of denominations and the like (born and raised Catholic, later turned pagan for a bit, then jewish for a long while, then mormon then evangelical then catholic again). Whew, say that three times fast lol. If anyone should have a tolerant spirit someone with such a crazy background should. Yet i've found myself sadly lacking there sometimes. I think its because so much of my life has been in progressive type circles where in the name of political correctness (grrrrr) one is practically forced to say all faiths are simply wonderful, including those that feel quite wrong to you.... Hinduism and Buddhism and the like especially were most touted as 'more enlightened' in progressive circles than other paths and one can't dare say otherwise. So i found myself later now overreacting in the other direction, saying yes i CAN say other faiths feel wrong for me, no I DON’T think all is okay etc. I believe in religous freedom and sure think religius persecution is wrong...but at the same time i have longed for the freedom to also not have to pretend anymore that i think all out there is just fine...becuase i don't.

I think that shift was important, but it also makes me more and more uncomfortable in a sense too, it's an odd mix. I guess the feeling underneath there is that a narrow view just seems so silly and mean spirited. I keep thinking of that verse in Hebrews 8:11 "And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me", which was also echoed in Jeremiah too. Sure doesn’t sound like the labels we call ourselves will matter a darn bit at that point. And i also am just really uncomfortable with having a critical spirit more and more too, it just feels wrong. I have a feeling St Boniface can really help here so much....he seems to know the line somehow of where to make a stand and where to incorporate instead, and all of it in such a loving spirit. I have so much to learn here!

There is also more that draws about ST Boniface, his connection with St. Lioba. They had a very close relationship, echoing St Francis and St Clare, St Benedictine d St Scholastica. St Teresa and St John.....and i really love this.


“Boniface travelled from England to Germany proselytizing amongst the pagan tribes there and establishing monasteries for both men and women. St Lioba, St Boniface's kinswoman, was a nun in Wessex who had studied under Mother Tetta (in secular life, Cuthberga, sister of the King of Wessex, wife of the King of Northumbria). Boniface sent for Lioba to come to Germany, because she was a skilled Classicist, learned in the Scriptures, the Church Fathers, canon law and the decrees of all the councils. In fact, she was never without a book in her hand, reading at every possible opportunity and she never forgot what she read. Her name 'Lioba' means 'Beloved'. Boniface asked that her bones be laid by his at her death. Charlemagne's wife adored her but Lioba hated the life of court like poison.

Her life tells, among others, this story: 'She had a dream in which one night she saw a purple thread issuing from her mouth. It seemed to her that when she took hold of it with her hand and tried to draw it out there was no end to it. . . When her hand was full of thread and it still issued from her mouth she rolled it round and round and made a ball of it .' An old and prophetic nun was asked about the meaning of the dream and explained that it referred to Lioba's wise counsels spoken from her heart. 'Furthermore, the ball which she made by rolling it round and round signifies the mystery of the divine teaching, which is set in motion by the words and deeds of those who give instruction and which turns earthwards through active works and heavenwards through contemplation, at one time swinging downwards through compassion for one's neighbour, again swinging upwards through the love of God.'

The image of the ball of purple thread in Lioba's hand is similar to Julian's hazel nut in the palm of her hand. “

And from

"We usually assume, I imagine, that the service of women on foreign missions is a practice of modern origin. Not so! Thus, when the Englishman St. Boniface had undertaken his mission to the pagan German heartland around A.D. 719, he invited English nuns to help him. Over a score of them responded to the invitation.

Their leader was St. Lioba. Lioba was a native of Wessex, England. Sent to school at Thanet Abbey and later Wimborne Abbey (Dorset), she eventually decided to become a nun herself. The Benedictine religious life suited her to a "T". Innocent, and diligent by nature, she progressed in the monastic career and became a good example to all her associates. Thus she lived up to her name Lioba, an abbreviation of Liobgetha, "the dear one."

Boniface was consecrated bishop in 722 and assigned by Pope Gregory II to the mission of Saxony, Thuringia and Hesse. (He established his headquarters at Mainz on the Rhine.) Now, Lioba was related to this great missionary through her mother Ebba. When she learned of the great enterprise that he had shouldered, she wrote him a sweet letter expressing her greetings and asking for his prayers. She included in the letter a short religious poem in Latin that she had composed, and expressed the hope that he might criticize it. This and her other correspondence, of which a fair amount has been preserved, proves that the nuns at Wimborne Abbey were highly literate.

The receipt of Lioba's letter got Boniface to thinking that it would be of great help to him to have a group of well-trained English sisters on hand as his helpers. The upshot of it was that St. Tetta, abbess of Wimborne, sent him some thirty nuns, including SS. Lioba, Thecla and Walburga. When they reached Mainz, he gave them as residence a dwelling called Bischofsheim. There the sisters quickly established a model monastery, and soon began to receive native vocations. Before long Abbess Lioba was called on to set up daughter monasteries elsewhere in Germany. Other convents not of her founding eagerly asked Bischofsheim to send one of its nuns among them to show them the "right way" to be religious. The "right way" was clearly the way followed by St. Lioba herself. Beautiful and always pleasant, she was even-tempered and charitable in word and deed. She adhered strictly to the Benedictine rule of life, which means that she was very common sense.

Of course, these Benedictine nuns, unlike most modern missionary sisters, were held to the cloister, and did not travel about on errands of mercy. But their saintly superior saw to it that they were well educated, knew Latin, and spent much of their "working hours" on the copying of manuscripts. Quite likely they added to this educational apostolate the teaching of girls, as was the custom in English convents. Lioba herself was always open to consultation by the hundreds who sought her advice. One of her best friends was Blessed Hildegard, the queen of Charlemagne.

When St. Boniface was about to set out for Friesland in 754 on the journey that would bring him the martyr's crown, he bade his cousin an affectionate farewell. As if anticipating his death, he commended her to the care of his monks at Fulda, and asked that she be buried in the same tomb as himself.

After his death, Lioba often visited the shrine of Boniface at Fulda. However, she survived Boniface by many years, and when she died, the monks feared to disturb Boniface's bones by interring hers with him. But she was buried not far away from him in the abbey-church of Fulda near the high altar. Thus these two kindred Benedictine missionaries, reminiscent of St. Benedict himself and his sister St. Scholastica, repose under the same roof, in this case at the very heart of Germany's sacred Catholic city.--Father Robert F. McNamara"

I really like the image of her life...and what a perfect brother for her to have : )

(Image from Christine Valters Paintner, from here)

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