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Introduction to Aelred’s Spiritual Friendship

Welcome to my first of four or five post series on Spiritual Friendship, a book praising the wonders of Christian friendship. This post will give you a bit of theological, historical, and cultural background information of St. Aelred’s world.

Aelred’s Life

Aelred was born around 1110 A.D. in Northumbria to Eilaf, priest of St. Andrew’s at Hexham. During his father’s married life, Pope Gregory VII ordered the priesthood to become monks or leave the church. His father chose to leave which created financial hardship. But it did not seem to affect Aelred, at least based on his educational opportunities and rise within the ruling Scottish government.

He likely was educated in a cathedral school and later became a steward in King David I of Scotland’s court. He held this position for nine years. During this time he read Cicero’s On Friendship, which had a profound influence on his book, Spiritual Friendship.

After nine years of court life, he visited the Cistercian monastery of Rievaulx in Yorkshire, where he asked and received permission to join. Aelred’s life was spent mainly in Rievaulx, but he spent a few years starting a new monastery at Revesby. He died at Rievaulx of ill health in 1167.

Since he prospered in his duties in King David’s court, his time there gave him the skills he needed to lead Rievaulx: it grew to 140 monks and 500 laymen. His unhappiness with superficial life in court was the goad that God used, I believe, to drive him to spiritual life. When he wrote Spiritual Friendship, he wanted to go beyond On Friendship, adding a Christian foundation.

Aelred’s Monastic Life

The Cisterns had their theology – they took the Benedictine’s Rules more stringently by following the rules and doing no more. Their world view was one of hierarchy starting with God at the top: learning to love Him through experience and metaphor. The monks read both the Psalms and spiritual books. They balanced work and prayer, refused elaborate church art, and practiced poverty. They also settled uninhabited European land to build the world for God to overcome man’s lawlessness.

He also viewed himself as equal to women, as seen through the eyes of God. I can’t help but wonder if St. Francis of Assissi, an after-his-time contemporary, had read or heard of Aelred, because of his lifelong friendship with St. Clare.

Aelred’s Reading and Writing Life

Around the 3rd century, the practice of Lectio Divina began. Readers read to apply what is read to their own lives. It usually applies to religious works, but can also apply to secular ones. (Reading poetry using Lectio Divina is explained in Sage Cohen’s Writing the Life Poetic.)

Aelred was a prolific reader. One of the books he read was Augustine’s Confessions.

He was also a prolific writer, writing histories, guides, and sermons along with his books. One book, The Mirror of Charity, was requested by St. Bernard, a fellow well-known Cistern. The book became the foundation for Spiritual Friendship.

In Spiritual Friendship, Aelred writes in the dialog format, teaching us through his conversation with younger monks. He teaches us the value of friends through the mediator of Jesus Christ:

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,

Ephesians 2:14 NIV

Closing Thoughts

Though this was written by a monk roughly 1,000 years ago, the principles still apply to anyone. Knowing a smattering of the background enhances the understanding of Spiritual Friendship. However, I think we can all to some degree relate to his solitude due to our lockdowns.

Godly friendships prepare us for our time in heaven, where our bodies are transfigured for eternity. Where there is no giving in marriage, just friendships for eternity.

Friendships here on earth allow us to bear each other’s sorrows and celebrate each other’s joys. Over the years, I have made big mistakes and lost friends, but I have also been blessed with a few that have been “closer than brothers” (Proverbs 17:17). One waits for me Up There.


Next up: My take on Book One.

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Aelred’s Spiritual Friendship, A Series

With orchestrated divisions being perpetrated on all of us, friendship is a commodity more valuable than gold. And the divisions being perpetuated are on a micro, local level between friends and families too. Anyone who reads the news knows the specific ways we are being divided – I will not rehash that here.

Some think that “What the world needs now is love sweet love,” and we do. But sometimes that love comes in the form of … “speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—“ (Eph 4:15 NKJV).

So if you have managed to hang onto friends and familiy despite the differing opinions and actions of others, you are blessed indeed. Civility of conversation and brotherly love are required for the other person’s benefit.

My Friend

I recently wrote about one of my best friend’s passing, but I didn’t explain why he was a best friend. He would listen to me, then give me his opinion. And I never once felt slighted. I knew he knew me well and spoke the truth as he saw it (and he did see it), keeping his love utmost in his words to me. He told me that my blog writing was mainly for my benefit (in an enriching way) when I would moan and groan about having low numbers of followers. But he read my posts, commented on one that touched him, and subscribed to my newsletter.

Blog Series

A few years ago, I read Spiritual Friendship by Aelred of Rievaulx, who lived during the 12th century. I marked it up as I read. Aelred wrote this book in a time when friendships were discouraged in the church. His views on friendship, and his education and ties to nobility before he became a monk, enabled his footprint in the church to flourish.

As well as work on my Psalm project, I am going to do a short series of blog posts on what I glean from rereading Spiritual Friendship. The book is sectioned into three books, and I will do one post after each book, plus some background information, and a summary post.

The passing of my friend is opening the possibility to pass on what I know about friendships that the Lord would be proud of. Friends are united through Him. Or put another way:

You should love the Eternal, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength”.The second great commandment is this: “Love others in the same way you love yourself.” There are no commandments more important than these.

Mark 12:30-31 VOICE
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Sonnets to Psalms

Now that I have written a sonnet, I don’t even have to ponder what my next project will be. I have been sitting on pages of notes and internet bookmarks about scapegoats, the outcasts, the misfits. (I hear the word misfits and Rudolph’s Island of Misfit Toys comes to mind.)

Since I have so many pages of information, maybe it would be better written as a long essay. But I think a longer psalm, like Psalms 119, maybe in order. As I was reading the long note in my NASB Study Bible and found the psalmist was himself a “target of their ridicule, hostility, and slander.”

One poem that I wrote could be repurposed for this psalm. (My tip: unless your drafts are doggerel, and even then, keep them for repurposing.)

Reading through the notes, magazine clips, and bible notes for psalm writing tips, I found some interesting trivia:

  • What is one meaning of a maskil? A skillful psalm. Psalms 47:7 “For God is the King of all the earth; Sing praises with a skillful song.”
  • What American poet used biblical free verse? Walt Whitman.
  • What is a psalter? The book of Psalms, or a book of psalms to use in devotions.
  • What is one benefit of writing a psalm? It is easily translatable to other languages.

Like a long essay, Psalms 119 meanders but sticks to the central theme of the Word of God as a way of life. Before, I advoided reading it. But now when I read it, I find it full of life.

Sounds like a good starting point.

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Poetry

Poetry, Grief and Love

A little bit of shoot the breeze and quite a bit of why I haven’t been posting lately. Grief has a funny way of pausing projects, a lifestyle.

Little Bits

I have read that some poets don’t read poetry. (And I would be interested in knowing the percentage.) I have a few anthologies that I pick up and thumb through, especially when I am feeling blue. I love Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz’s three Favorite Poem Project Anthologies. Every poem has at least one reader’s reaction to it – how it affected their lives.

After college, I kept my copy of the Harbrace College Handbook, which is a grammar and style book for writers. I found newer used editions as the years went by, but I noticed they were dumbed down. I actually bought an older version to replace a newer one for this reason. I can’t imagine the state of education today…

Quite a Bit

I have two best friends. I lost one of them on Good Friday.

It was a desire of mine since I began my adult years, to have a male platonic friend. My mother had a co-worker at the small rural high school where she was a counselor. They talked to each other on the telephone all the time. She told me that her friends were asking why don’t you just marry him? It worked for them, they were both very independent. I talked to him after my mother passed and before I moved away, and I could tell he missed her horribly. This relationship I think fostered a desire in me for the same thing. To be loved for me.

The way I met my friend was miraculous. He was an online game player that met my son online shortly after I moved here. He was from Wisconsin and about my age. I would talk to him occasionally through the VoIP software they used sometimes. After my son joined the Marines, the offer went out to talk to him myself while my son was in boot camp. And afterward, we took turns leading with a devotional and communion once a month over the same software. We had church.

We never met in person (though he did get to see my son), but he knew me better than almost anyone else. How did he show me love? He read my poems. And this one made him laugh.

Harry – of When Harry Met Sally fame – is not right when he says the sex always gets in the way. Sometimes the lack of it can be very healing.

Thank you, Lord, for Dec. I will be forever grateful.

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Old Normal or Forge Ahead?

After I finished my sonnet and published it, I was awakened by the Lord shortly afterward. He had a multi-faceted, timed response to what I had written, simultaneously confirming what I was reading and hearing on the radio. I heard to not rush what I write. He reiterated once again that I was using my gift, even if it appeared I was not working at a fast pace, but at a pace that I could handle. And allow time for personal heartaches. He told me months ago writing would save me and it has. And it will.

April is National Poetry Month. The American Academy of Poets has 30 ways of celebrating.

The days ahead are forcing many to make hard choices, with much grief involved, no matter what choices are made. They are not only earthly choices but ones that will determine our eternities. I did an Old Testament Job a few days ago, telling God why was I born during these horrific days? He made it clear, I was born for such a time as this. Twenty years ago when He spoke this to me, He also gave me prophecies that I had no clue as to the scope of them. This is a comfort to me, knowing that He cared enough for me to let me know back then He was in control of not only international events but of me too. As Esther fasted for her people during the possibility of religious extermination, she chose to move forward despite the potential cost to her life.

What is your choice?


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life”

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
     Life is but an empty dream!—
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
     And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
     And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
     Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
     Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
     Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
     And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
     Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
     In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
     Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
     Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,—act in the living Present!
     Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
     We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
     Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
     Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
     Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
     With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
     Learn to labor and to wait.
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A Sonnet Odyssey

For the last few years, I said I was going to write a sonnet, so I could check this item off my list. Yet, I kept putting if off, because it is not as easy as writing a 30 minute haiku.

A Bit of History

Sonnets were invented in the 13th century in Italy. The word sonnet derives from the Italian word sonetto, which translated means “little song.” Michelangelo wrote them as well as the sculptures he created. Shakespeare popularized them in English during the turn into the 17th century. Plutarchian and Shakespearian are the two most popular forms of sonnets.

A Bit of Form

Sonnets have a musical quality to them with a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables called feet. An iamb is an unstressed then a stressed syllable equaling one foot. Pentameter is five feet, so there are ten syllables for each of the fourteen lines. Sounds like dancing with a partner who has two left feet! But just as in dancing, practice makes if not perfect, then easier.

Words at the end of the lines have a rhyme scheme: abab cdcd efef gg – same letters rhyme. Lastly, the first twelve lines set up a story, and the last two bring it to a resolution. Shakespearean and Plutarchian sonnets are mostly alike, but do have different rhyme schemes and story approaches.

My Process

Iambic pentameter closely mimics human speech. I dug up this tidbit in my research, making a difference in being able to write one or not. I had stressed over words I chose fitting the pattern by looking them up in the dictionary. The light bulb went off when I realized all I had to do was read it aloud listening for the rhythm and anything sticking out needed correction. I also researched it being a perfect fit, and found out there can be a very small amount of variations to still qualify as a sonnet. I used one slant rhyme, and some variations in the iambic pentameter.

My steps:

  • Wrote a list outline for subject matter,
  • Drafted the fourteen lines close to ten syllables,
  • Picked the end rhymes for each stanza, and
  • Worked on the iambic pentameter.

I decided I could work on it forever, or get somewhat close and chose the latter route. Walt Whitman kept revising his self-published work Leaves of Grass from 1855 to the end of his days. I don’t want to be Walt Whitman. Without further ado –

Arrest

 Her land was robbed in virginal attire:
 A fossil bed in fashion lined hued sand,
 The coastal pines intoned the ocean choir,
 Majestic mountains stood by His own hand.
 The scissor cut directed forest fires,
 Her swatches shorn in blackened forest floor.
 Bound by the gods of Delilah’s hellfire,
 She fought against entrance into her soul.
 The smoke burning darkened the sky by day,
 Air slipped through cracks of doors into twilight.
 Her cloak and dress and her lands were repayed.
 Delilah’s deceits ravished His birthright.  
 The heavens poured rain in His fierce backlash;  
 He washed away the floor plan's lifeless ash. 
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Martin Lurther Or How to Treat Your Enemies

I listen to many radio sermons throughout the day and night, and it is not uncommon to hear a preacher state just how divided this nation is. Many offer biblical solutions. The ultimate biblical solution is to read and follow the four gospels of Jesus. Not only did He teach us how to treat our enemies through His example, but He was and is the standard.

Many know Martin Luther as the priest and scholar who nailed the 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Castle Church door in 1517. What is not as commonly known is a pastor who hounded him until the day Thomas Münzer was executed in 1525.

A Little Backstory

After the exasperation and intervention of Luther’s spiritual advisor, Johannes von Staupitz, Luther learned the hard way of legalism over grace – Luther would confess every single thought and action that he thought was a sin to Staupitz.

After he overcame this obstacle, Luther believed in sola scriptura, or the supremacy of the Bible over the Church. He was considered a mystic: he prized inward religious experience over ritual. However, over his life he did return to both church and scripture, drawing the ire of Münzer.

Back To The Present

Münzer read the 95 Theses and considered Luther as his spiritual mentor. Luther recommended him for a pastoral position at St. Mary’s at Zwickau, where he immediately and increasingly criticized the Franciscans until he was dismissed. He, along with two other men, shunned book learning and preached that God spoke to men directly. And most damning, they deemed themselves the only ones qualified to interpret the Bible.

After this, he bounced from church to church, stirring up the peasants – the miners, corn threshers, and farmers – saying they could teach better than Luther. He wanted the learned slaughtered, particularly pointing out Luther. His Utopian vision consisted of bringing a godly Kingdom type of equality to the earth.

In a letter written to his elector Frederick (nobles who ruled territories), he asked for toleration for Münzer and his other enemies. “Let us leave in His hands the combat and free encounter of minds.”

Thomas Münzer was tortured into a confession of his crimes, but still unrepentant towards his current congregation in a letter, not taking responsiblity. He was beheaded and impaled, rotting there as a warning to others.

Luther never advocated execution on his enemies, advocating for exile instead. Romans 12:19 states, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

Closing Thoughts

The Reformation was not what it could have been because of the constant hounding of others, not only Münzer’s enemies but the peasants he used to foment his ideals.

I more fear what is within me than what comes from without.

Martin Luther
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God’s Fist

Cheshire grin.
The chess master moves his pawns
with a precise tilt of his wrist.
Each piece performing the moves
Spoken into frequency-laden air.
Bar the resistors,
Bar the knights.

Mock plays
strengthens the standing
slaying their fear of death.
Yet –
Crying out to You,
“Checkmate the beast!”
that cycles minds
on cue.

You laugh
as an angel rolls up Your sleeve,
tight as a cammie wearing Marine,
preparing to smash his chessboard
into ashy dust.

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