Disciples in the Modern City #3

The third Disciple in the Modern City is Madeleine Delbrêl (1904-1964). A French woman who having declared “God is dead … long live death” as a teenage philosophy student, then discovered God living with her through difficult moments. She founded a House of Hospitality in a communist suburb of Paris and spent her life there working as a Social worker. She wrote on Marxist-Catholic relations and in “We the Ordinary People of the Streets” the role of lay people as missionaries in daily life.  However, in his talk, Rowan Williams concentrated on a series of aphorisms collected together as “The Little Monk” in which Delbrêl imparts wisdom for belonging to a Christian community. For example:-

  • To shine is not the same as to enlighten. (On a day of great eloquence.)
  • Hold you tongue when you can, so that you can speak when you must. (When the little monk had some silly stories to tell.)
  • Not as a great saint, and not a great sinner –  simply be one part of the great community called church. (The little monk when reflecting on his flaws.)
  • Beware of how you judge those who do not appreciate you. (When he felt treated as a nobody.)
  • Put yourself in the shoes of others, don’t force them to wear yours. (When the little monk dictated rules of spiritual discipline.)
  • Know that it is very fortunate for a monastery to have an incompetent leader when, on confessing his incompetence, he leaves it up to God. (One disastrous day)
  • Let God take over. Then you take action – if there’s still anything to act upon. (When the little monk came up with new ideas for his monks.)
  • Prayer does not mean being intelligent – it means being present. (When paying heed to people chatting on the street.
  • When you can’t dance, let your soul tango. (The little monk after a days struggle with accounting.)

Be blessed, Craig


Disciples in the Modern City #2

Our second Disciple in the Modern City was Dorothy Day (1897-1980). Another unlikely candidate; social activist, suffragist, socialist living a bohemian lifestyle who had always explored spiritual writings. The birth of her child brought a spiritual breakthrough in which she learnt that she could trust God. Day and her baby were baptised as Roman Catholic’s but that created a break with the baby’s father who did not support her spiritual explorations. She supported herself and daughter as a journalist, concentrating on social activism and the hardships of the Depression. 

With Peter Maurin, she created, Catholic Worker, for “those who think there is no hope for the future,… there are men of God who are working not only for their spiritual but for their material welfare.” It accepted no advertising and did not pay its staff. Alongside the paper they created a House of Hospitality, a shelter that provided food and welcome. A network would soon follow around the United States. Key to her activity was the trust she had discovered in God, “If you are not acting as if God was to be trusted – what are you words worth?”

An uncompromising pacifist, this would come at a cost for her work in supporting the poor and vulnerable as supporters left and hierarchies despaired at her awkward, passionate faithful dedication to the call she knew God had placed upon her heart. Her’s was an “edgy angular witness,” Rowan Williams says, “prophets are … difficult people, … to say ‘we need prophets’ is to say that ‘we need people who ask us questions that we would rather not be asked’. That’s what Dorothy Day does and I thank God for her.” But he also points out her positive view of the church, “What are we here for, we are here to make communal, generous, forgiving, interdependent, just, equal, human life just a little bit less unlikely in the world. And if that sounds like a modest ambition for the church. Look around because it isn’t. The church is there … to say to a world of injustice, violence and conflict, it doesn’t have to be like this. … the gift of the gospel and the gift of the body of Christ is a restoration of what is natural.” So let us trust our own witness to God’s love and to creating a place where it is easier to be good.

be blessed, Craig

Minister Walking the Way

Disciples in the Modern City #1

In May I had the privilege of listening to Rowan Williams, speak on Disciples in the Modern City. He told stories of three remarkable, awkward, rebellious, idealistic, radical women and the communities that emerged around them.

The first was Maria Skobtsova. From a wealthy Russian family she rebelled politically and religiously, espousing atheism and radical politics. However,  too radical and idealistic for the Bolsheviks she fled Russia for Paris in 1923. There, her second marriage collapsed and she dedicated herself to theological studies and social work.  She had been drawn to the Eastern Orthodox Church by focusing on the humanity of Christ, “He also died. He sweated blood, Thy struck his face.” Living in extreme poverty she began a ministry of hospitality amongst a community of refugees. She would venture to the market to find surplus and rejected food for a rejected community. When she felt a vocation to be a Nun, she found a Bishop willing to accept the vows of a twice divorced woman who refused to go into contemplative seclusion.

In the 1930’s she welcomed the Jewish refugees that were arriving in Paris. During the Occupation protecting as many as she could, declaring “Every Christian should wear the yellow star.” At the heart of her community was interdependence and solidarity, she was never Lady Bountiful handing out gifts to the poor. Her work was the common work of all who stand in need, “We should not give away a single piece of bread unless someone means something to us.” Maria would eventually die in the gas chamber at Ravensbrück, maintaining solidarity with her community until the end.

Rowan Williams closed with a question about discipleship and I pass it to you. “What solidarity do you make with people on the margins of safe society?” Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” and I ask, “How does our discipleship express love and solidarity with our neighbour?”

be blessed



Let Them Eat Chaos

I used some Christmas Book Tokens to buy a poem called “Let Them Eat Chaos” by Kate Tempest. she takes us to one street in the early hours of the morning – 4:18 to be precise and tells the moment for 7 people awake in the night; their thoughts, fears, worries, concerns, confusion. It’s a brilliant poem wonderfully portraying the way we live parallel disconnected lives – lost in our own thoughts, emotions and experiences, perceiving life in very different ways.

For these seven people there is a brief moment  – a passing storm draws them into the street,

Strangely dressed, one shoe and one slipper, socks falling off, smiling,

gathering slowly, tentatively in the middle of the road.

Shielding their eyes at first

but then

tipping their necks back, unhunching their shoulders

opening their bodies up to

the storm

And their hair is flattened against their heads

or puffed madly outwards

And their hands

slip off their chins and cheeks

as they clutch their faces

open mouthed

Amazing! they shout

You seen?! they shout ….

And in the morning when it’s over and they start their days as usual

They will be aware of this baptism in a distant way.

It will become a thing they carry close like the photo of a dead parent

tucked away in the inside pocket

Fading like the heartbeat.

It is in such shared moments that communities are formed and grow together. It is why it is so important to come together to share the storms and the sunshine. When Jesus calls disciples, they are not called into isolation – but into community with one another, they are not called to be separate from the world, but in and of and part of the world – eating the chaos together.

Kate Tempest concludes;

The myth of the individual

Has left us disconnected     lost

and pitiful.

I’m out in the rain

it’s a cold night in London

Screaming at my loved ones

to wake up and love more.

Pleading with my loved ones to

wake up

and love more.

Amen to that, Craig