The Feast Day of St. Alphege
I am visiting our daughter in south Florida. She has a screened-in porch overlooking her backyard, and I have been sitting out here in the cool mornings to write. This morning daylight seeps slowly, incrementally, into the world. As my eye wanders over the lush, tropical greens beginning to be illuminated, it is caught by one giant flower. Orange and yellow, so bright it seems to glow, it holds out its meaty petals. And no matter where my eye wanders in the strange landscape of palms and palmettos, bushes, bamboo, slash pine and cypress, it is always drawn back, and back again, to that flower.
The lives of the Holy Men and Women we celebrate throughout the church year often snag our soul’s attention in much the same way as this flower snags the eye. Frederick Buechner, in Beyond Words, puts it this way: “In his holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a pocket handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints.” It is not, Buechner goes on to say, that these people are unblemished in their thoughts and actions, free of sin and wholly devoted to God. Rather, the saints are folk like you and me who are used by the Holy Spirit to be life-givers, each in a way unique to that one individual.
St. Alphege, whose feast day is today, became a martyr when he was captured by the Danes and held for ransom. Not wanting to place a huge financial burden on his people, he refused to allow them to pay for his release. The Danes, infuriated, began to throw things at him until one man threw an ax and killed him.
I ponder this story, and I wonder in what ways I could sacrifice so as not to add to the financial burdens of those who share the world with me. Living simply so that others might simply live might not be as dramatic as thwarting the plans of hostile kidnappers, but it helps. If everybody did it, we’d be in much better shape as a planet.
Then I go back and ponder the flower to which my eye is drawn again and again. I ruminate on soul-snagging. How might I cooperate with the Holy Spirit in her use of me? How might you do the same? How is each of us a life-giver? How can we equip ourselves to assist when God’s grace works in us? In what ways do we shine with God’s love like a vibrant blossom in the light of dawn?