A Grateful Table: God, Our HERO in the Storm

As some of you know, my patron saint last year was St Lucia and this year is St Boniface. Been thinking about him a lot lately, and especially how heroic he was towards many women in his life. It is helping me feel more and more just how heroic God really is. To unravel...

Had posted about St Boniface before on the old blog, but in a nutshell he is known for his establishing Christianity more deeply in Germany, Belguim and the Netherlands in the early middle ages, particularly through building many Benedictine monastories. Truly he brought great beauty and order and faith in a time when things were increasingly violent and chaotic, definitely no small thing. He is considered the founding father of the church still in Germany to this day. Some key events are especially remembered in his life, such as his felling an oak tree that had been rather fearfully connected with Thor...and thus also freeing an evergreen tree it had been smothering, which became the first Christmas tree. Many converted in the wake of his lifelong efforts.

But its the more personal side that draws me most to St Boniface. He knew, deeply, what it meant to be a pilgrim, journeying to a strange country to deepen the faith. But also...about our lives themselves as a pilgrimage. He understood our frailness in this life, of feeling tossed by the sea and needing so deeply a rudder. I love this qoute from a letter of his, " I am shaken by my shortcomings, that take hold of me as though I were tossed by a tempest on a dangerous sea." It is typical of the imagry he uses. It was more than that though, it was an understanding that others felt this way too, others he supported in the "storm". He became a true protector.

St Boniface's time was almost a precursor to the future horrors of Henry the VIII and the like. It was a time when monasteries in some areas were absolutely unprotected, at the mere whim of the mood of the local prince who could easily invade or rob them at any time, degrading the life there, seducing the nuns, or worse. Respecting monastic life was a joke to these rulers and so a monastic’s life was incredibly vulnerable, especially the women, it was just horrible. And the letters St Boniface receives from these women affected are so moving. It looks like some of them are about "simple" things like the state of real poverty these monasteries had been brought to, others of a deeper sense of danger, and still others had lost their ability to even live a prayerful life under the instability. This letter to me expresses the feeling under many of them, from here :

"on account of the pressing miseries we have now insisted on to the full, we needs must find a true friend, one whom we can trust more than ourselves; who will treat our grief, our miseries and our poverty as his own, who will sympathize with us, comfort us, support us by his words, and raise us up by wise counsel. Long have we sought him. And we believe that in you we have found the friend whom we longed for, whom we wished for, whom we desired.”

They needed a true friend and a protector..and through him they sure had one. Big time. He worked ceaselessly it seems for the protection of women like this (men too; but it looks like he had a very strong chivalrous streak that led him to a special protection of many women, God bless him). In some cases he fought for changes where they were, in other cases he brought them into his own jurisdiction and made real concrete provisions for them. And he also wasn't afriad to ask them to pray for him in his own struggles...fully trusting in prayer as worth much. I just love this guy.

One really cool thing about the letters between St Boniface and many of these women is that they reveal how learned many of the woman monastics were in his day. Many knew Latin, and were quite involved in manuscript writing and the high art of gold illumination and the like. And some of these women he encouraged, and supported, in coming to Germany and founding abbeys there. There are many, but St Lobia is a well known example. From here:

“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."

Then yesterday, i happened to come accross St. Walburga, who was yet another amazing kinswoman of St Boniface's, whom he helped to establish an abbey. From here:

"She lived from 710 to 779 and was one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages. She was born in England and educated by English Benedictines. St. Boniface asked England for help in the missionary work in Germany. Because St. Walburga was open to this call, she left her homeland in England and devoted her life to the conversion of Germany. Walburga became the Abbess of a double Benedictine monastery in Heidenheim. She was responsible for the spiritual and material welfare of both the monks and the nuns. St. Walburga was respected and loved during her lifetime. People remembered her deep prayer life, charity, and courage, as well as miracles of healing when she prayed for them. The legends written about her after her death give us a good picture of her spirit. One of these stories is

The Light Miracle

One night when Walburga asked one of the monks to light the candles so that she could go to her room, he refused. Walburga had to find her way alone in the darkness. When her sisters came to accompany her to supper, the hallway was lighted, not by candles, but by a divine light. It lit the dormitory brightly until time for the office of Matins. The nuns went to Walburga, filled with joy over the miracle, and she prayed to the Lord in these words:

"Oh Lord, as a humble maid who committed my life to you since my youth, I thank you for granting this grace. You have honored me in my unworthiness with the comfort of your light. This sign gives courage to the souls of your handmaids who are dependent on me. And you have driven out the darkness and our fear through the bright light of your mercy."

This prayer gives a good idea of who she was. "

There is something i am so moved by here that i have a hard time expressing. Something about these women in St Boniface's life, they so appeal to the heroic in a man...and in God. They remind us that we have the image of a man as knight and gentleman and hero and provider and protector of the vulnerable, all for a very good reason: becuase God himself is these things. God is...a HERO. As a woman especially, that does something profound to my heart, a heart longing for such heroic rescue. A heart slowly gaining the courage to say..."we needs must find a true friend, one whom we can trust more than ourselves; who will treat our grief, our miseries and our poverty as his own, who will sympathize with us, comfort us, support us by his words, and raise us up by wise counsel. Long have we sought him. And we believe that in you we have found the friend whom we longed for"....

(Images from here (#17), and here)

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