Thomas Merton vs. Charles Wesley

In the last battle before the start of the highly anticipated Elate Eight (aka the Saintly Kitsch round), Thomas Merton takes on Charles Wesley. Poet vs. hymn writer. Both were brothers, of course -- one a monastic brother (Trappist) and one an actual brother (to John Wesley). It's the final match-up of the Saintly Sixteen!

In a quick media round-up, everyone's favorite online Lenten devotion was featured last week on National Public Radio, Christianity Today, and even the Methodists got in on the action with a post on, the official online ministry of the Methodist Church (something tells us they may be especially interested in today's match-up). Also, Archbishops John and Thomas made their national television debut on Bloomberg TV.

What's the secret behind all the Lent Madness love out there (besides the warm and fuzzy nature of the Supreme Executive Committee)? Forward Movement Managing Editor Richelle Thompson shares her take in an article titled "If At First You Don't Succeed" on the Episcopal Church Foundation's Vital Practices webpage (Hint: no high priced PR consultants were harmed in this process).

And if you're looking to take the edge off Monday Morning, watch the Archbishops' Update as they preview the Lent Madness week ahead.

Finally, we're making progress in our campaign to reach 10,000 likes on Facebook before awarding the Golden Halo! We're pushing 9,650 so make sure to share our page with everyone you know. We suggest pilfering the parish directory and sending handwritten notes to everybody urging them to like Lent Madness immediately.

unnamedThomas Merton

Thomas Merton is considered by many to be the voice of the contemplative tradition in the modern world. His books, over 30 of them, reinvigorated those interested in contemplative practice. Given his voluminous amount of writing, his quotes were more than plentiful.

The quirks, however, are what make his quotes matter. Perhaps the quirk was his life of self contradictions. An unhappy child and unsettled adolescent became an adult who, on a street corner in Kentucky, was overwhelmed with the realization he loved all these people, "that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.”

A man with an extravagant personality and celebrity also craved his own space, eventually granted, somewhat grudgingly, in The Hermitage. A deeply devout Trappist who described his order as one that “carried communism to its ultimate limit” also explored the truths in Eastern faith. A sometimes hermit shared his soul and spirit with millions through his words. A man who, in his later years, fell in love with a nurse, writing her love poetry, wrote love poetry to his monastic life, as well, and ultimately reaffirmed his life as a Trappist before his untimely death. Even that too held contradictions: the avid peace activist’s body was flown to Kentucky on a military plane.

Merton was a writer, a poet, an artist, a jazz aficionado, a dissident, a lover, a peace activist, a hermit, a celebrity, and a man -- all held in union in his deeply contemplative soul. The illusion is that we are non-contradictory. To find our true selves, filled with beauty and contradictions and other-ness, we must enter into contemplation. For Merton, “We become contemplatives when God discovers Himself in us.”

Through contemplation, we seek truth. Merton writes, “We make ourselves real by telling the truth....But he can forget how badly he needs to tell the truth....We must be true inside, true to ourselves, before we can know a truth that is outside us.”

And that truth? That self that is beyond illusion, that welcomes our contradictions, our paradoxes and ambiguities? In that space is God.

The man who is not afraid to admit everything that he sees to be wrong with himself, and yet recognizes that he may be the object of God’s love precisely because of his shortcomings, can be sincere. His sincerity is based on confidence, not in his illusions about himself, but in the endless, unfailing mercy of God.

When all our shortcomings, our hypocrisies, our failings...when all that we’d rather not expose about ourselves is welcomed into contemplative union with God, we become part of the dance that is in the midst of us, “for it beats in our very blood whether we want it to or not."

In the midst of Lent Madness, remember Merton’s call to cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join God’s dance.

Here is a video of a monk from Gethsemani praying one of Merton’s most famous prayers:

-- Laurie Brock

unnamedCharles Wesley

Charles Wesley (1707-1788), who with his brother John was among the chief leaders of the Methodist Revival within the Church of England, is especially quotable, having penned well over 6,000 hymns during his lifetime, in addition to a multitude of sermons a personal writings. Wesley knew well the power of hymns to convey theology to a wide audience.

One of Wesley’s great hymns was written on the anniversary of his inner conversion, which he described as “a strange palpitation of the heart.” The hymn spanned some eighteen verses, including some no longer in common use today, speaking to the theme of the assurance of salvation by the presence of the Holy Spirit:

O for a thousand tongues to sing, my great Redeemer’s praise
The glories of my God and King, the triumphs of His grace!

On this glad day the glorious Sun Of Righteousness arose;
On my benighted soul He shone, and fill’d it with repose.

Then with my heart I first believed, Believed with faith Divine;
Power with the Holy Ghost received, to call the Saviour mine.

Some of Wesley’s hymns weren’t as “worship-ready.” After his brother John appointed Thomas Coke as Superintendent for the Methodists in America – giving to Coke the responsibilities in America that would have belonged to a Bishop in the Church of England – Charles Wesley penned a sarcastic verse to express his sense of anger and betrayal:

So easily are Bishops made
By man’s or woman’s whim?
Wesley his hands on Coke hath laid,
But who laid hands on him?

But the vast majority of his hymns, however, remain firmly entrenched on our lips. As a man who often preached in the fields to people unable to reach a parish church, yet another text speaks to the heart of Charles Wesley’s ministry:

Ye servants of God, your Master proclaim,
And publish abroad His wonderful Name;
The Name all victorious of Jesus extol,
His kingdom is glorious and rules over all.

But it is one of his hymns written on the theme of Christian perfection that is perhaps the most beloved. The hymn is among the most fitting and most quotable summations of the theology and ministry of this incredible theologian, preacher, and author:

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive;
Suddenly return and never,
Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.

Finish then thy new creation:
pure and spotless let us be
Let us see thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in thee
Changed from glory into glory
‘til in heaven we take our place
‘til we cast our crowns before thee, 
lost in wonder, love and praise!

-- David Sibley


NOTE: The Supreme Executive Committee has adjusted vote totals based on some cheating we detected. See your announcement on this subject..


Thomas Merton vs. Charles Wesley

  • Charles Wesley (50%, 3,236 Votes)
  • Thomas Merton (50%, 3,185 Votes)

Total Voters: 6,421

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Harriet Bedell vs. Thomas Gallaudet

Since they were both teachers, among other things, Harriet Bedell vs. Thomas Gallaudet can mean only one thing: Educational Armageddon! The winner of this penultimate (we just love saying that word) match-up of the Saintly Sixteen will square off against Harriet Beecher Stowe in the next round.

Yesterday Phillips Brooks defeated Catherine of Siena by a nose (head?) as preacher trumped mystic 53% to 47%. (okay, it wasn't that close but when else besides, perhaps, John the Baptist's feast day can we make references to disembodied skulls). He'll go on to face Julia Chester Emery in the Elate Eight.

With the conclusion of today's showdown the Round of the Elate Eight is nearly set. On Monday Thomas Merton takes on Charles Wesley for a crack at Anna Cooper. At this point, the others moving on are Basil the Great, Julia Chester Emery, Lydia, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Phillips Brooks, and Anna Cooper.

As we head into the weekend and yet another bout with LMW (Lent Madness Withdrawal) we leave you with a challenge. Help us get to 10,000 likes on Facebook before the 2014 Golden Halo is awarded. We're over 9,500 at this point so it's an attainable goal if we all pull together and compel people to like us during coffee hour, at the Peace, in the church parking lot, talking to strangers at IHOP, whatever. The Supreme Executive Committee likes big, fat round numbers.


Photo courtesy of the State Archives of Florida

Harriet Bedell

Whether she was riding horseback in Oklahoma, mushing on dog sleds to remote villages in Alaska or poling through canals in the Florida Everglades (in her high-topped, snake-resistant boots), Deaconess Harriet Bedell, though tiny in stature, lived a super-sized life for God.

The Deaconess, as she is still known among Episcopalians in southwest Florida, never wavered in her faith or in her complete devotion to native people.

About her first post, among the Cheyenne people at the Whirlwind Mission in Oklahoma where she served with Deacon David Oakerhater (Lent Madness 2012 alum), she wrote:

We open school with Morning Prayer... I then take my twenty little ones to my house...which has this advantage, that I am ready to answer any immediate call which may come to the house. There is no doctor within twelve miles, so we have to act as doctors, and nurses, besides being lawyers, amanuenses, and spiritual advisors.

Her work in Alaska between 1916 and 1931, first in Nahana and then after a year in Stevens Village, was similar. Except with snow.

When the mission closed in Alaska, the Deaconess was sent to Florida to drum up funds for mission work. She was appalled at the living conditions of the Seminole people and how the people were put on display for tourists, wrestling alligators, and staging mock weddings. Apparently an appalled deaconess was a formidable deaconess, and, within a year, she was beginning the hard, patient work of winning the trust of the Seminole tribe.

She supported her new mission with the assistance from leaders of the Collier Corporation, a citrus concern that owned great swaths of the Everglades. One executive, George Huntoon, suffered the brunt of her “persistence.” He recalled, according Marya Repko’s her excellent 2009 book, Angel of the Swamp, “that she would come tromping up the request help. In an attempt to avoid these confrontations, his secretary would say that he was not in while he snuck down the fire escape. It did not take long for the Deaconess to realize the ruse and meet him at the bottom of the steps.” Years later Huntoon observed, “When the Deaconess got after you for something. I found it was best to acquiesce and comply with her request because she would keep after you until you got it done for her.”

Margory Stoneman Douglas, a historian and of the Everglades, wrote of the Deaconess in 1947, “The deaconess, like a small steam engine in dark-blue petticoats, walks fast in and out of the trail camps, speaking to everybody by name, asking about sick babies, bringing some old man a mattress pad for his aching bones...taking somebody to the hospital, or getting work for the boys.”

According to Repko, someone once asked a Seminole man if he had known the Deaconess. He replied, “Yes, and I loved her.” Then he pointed to the heavens and said, “she knew God.”

-- Heidi Shott

unnamedThomas Gallaudet

One of the great things about Thomas Gallaudet is his amazing family. His grandfather, Peter Wallace Gallaudet, was the personal assistant to George Washington while the Presidency was in Philadelphia. His father, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, is considered by many to be the father of manual (i.e. sign-language based) Deaf Education in the U.S.

Gallaudet’s mother, Sophia Fowler, is a woman Gallaudet rightly held in high esteem. In a sermon, Gallaudet describes how his mother, who was deaf from birth, taught him sign language. “I learned this powerfully descriptive method of communicating ideas from my mother. I remember well how I watched her face and hands as she affectionately tried to train me in the right way.” Among other things, she taught him that deafness was not an impediment to intelligence or achievement, as she actively lobbied members of Congress to support the Columbia Institution for the Deaf (now Gallaudet University). Gallaudet’s youngest brother, Edward Miner Gallaudet, was Columbia’s president for 46 years.

Our Thomas Gallaudet was no slouch, mind you. It’s worth noting that, in a time when one could not receive communion without being confirmed, and one could not be confirmed without reciting the Lord’s Prayer, the sacraments were almost completely denied to those who could not speak. Gallaudet’s work in providing signed services made it possible, not only for the deaf to “hear” the service, but allowed them to be confirmed, receive communion, and become ordained.

“There is no reason, therefore,” Gallaudet preached, “why deaf-mute men, fitted to be admitted to priest's orders, should not minister among their own kind in the language which makes prayer and praise common to those who have assembled (intelligently, notwithstanding their terrible deprivation) around the table of their Lord and Master, the Christian altar, and as they stretch forth their hands so eagerly and earnestly to receive the consecrated elements, and to spiritually feed on the Body and Blood of Christ, to know in their inmost souls the meaning of the encouraging word, ‘Ephphatha.’”

Gallaudet changed the hearts and minds of people in the Episcopal Church to believe that the deaf could and should, not only be welcomed, but lead and minister to others. That he did so while remaining beloved by all throughout his life is a testament to how he practiced what he preached: “In all works of practical benevolence, zeal must be combined with discretion, and earnestness must be controlled by judgment. And let us ever be ready to say in our hearts, that if this work, which is so dear to us, is not of God, let it not prosper, but let providential circumstances bring it to a speedy termination. This is looking at our labor with the eye of true Christian philosophy.”

P.S. Happy Deaf History Month!

-- Laura Darling



Harriet Bedell vs. Thomas Gallaudet

  • Harriet Bedell (58%, 2,553 Votes)
  • Thomas Gallaudet (42%, 1,818 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,371

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Phillips Brooks vs. Catherine of Siena

Today's match-up features two saintly souls with devilish potential for misspellings. Calling Phillips Brooks "Philip" is like calling Johns Hopkins "John" while spelling Catherine's home of Siena with two "n's" rather than one is like spelling Saint Monnica with one "n" rather than two. Wait, what? Anyway, there's a lot of spelling on the line in today's match-up.

Yesterday, besides hearing Lent Madness featured on NPR, Lydia sent John of the Cross to Dark Night of the Soul redux 58% to 42%. It was a bad day for snails but something tells us we'll be hearing more about escargot during the Saintly Kitsch Round when Lydia faces Basil the Great.

unnamedPhillips Brooks

A dozen years ago Ellen Wilbur, a short story writer and member of Trinity Church, Copley Square in Boston, sought out Phillips Brooks’ sermons. A search yielded fragile, incomplete copies, some of which fell apart in her hands.

“I’d never read a book of sermons in my life, and now wanted to read nothing but Phillips Brooks. There was something wondrous about the loving voice with which he spoke and the utter faith which underlay and glorified all of his preaching,” Wilbur wrote in the preface to a collection of sermons she edited in 2003 titled The Consolations of God.

Peter Gomes, the late professor at Harvard Divinity School, wrote in the book’s foreword, “Even in print, and at the remove of a century, Brooks sounds well, which is no small thing when few sermons last beyond lunchtime.”

In one sermon Brooks inspired people to serve God whatever their station in life, not least, perhaps, his wealthy Back Bay parishioners.

Strike God's iron on the anvil, see God's goods across the counter, put God's wealth in circulation, teach God's children in the school— so shall the dust of your labor build itself into a little sanctuary where you and God may dwell together.

If you are not spiritually minded, do not wait for mysterious light and vision. Go and give up your dearest sin. Go and do what is right. Go and put yourself thoroughly into the power of the holiness of duty.

All the world is an utterance of the Almighty.

Brooks seemed not to worry about the scholarly detractors who dismissed him as an intellectual lightweight. Gomes wrote,  “Brooks consistently practiced biblical preaching...he understood that part of his task was to open the treasures of the Scriptures to his people; and it was his pastoral concern for the human condition and its relationship to the eternal truths of the Christian gospel that made him a biblical preacher and not merely an orator on religious themes.”

In lectures at Yale, Brooks was famous for positing that preaching is “truth through personality.” He said, “the personality of the  teacher invad[ing] the personality of the scholar, bringing the personal Christ to the personal human nature.”

Brooks was a rare breed of priest: a standing-room-only preacher and a deeply caring pastor, something people of all faiths and classes recognized. In 1893, after serving only 15 months as bishop, Brooks died, and the city of Boston grieved. M.C. Ayers, editor of the Boston Daily Advertiser, wrote after his funeral, “It was the people who were quickest to discern the incomparable worth of Phillips Brooks. They knew him, flocked to him, loved and trusted him.”

As usual, it comes down to love. Brooks knew he was entirely beloved of God and thus free to bestow upon his people lavish attention and words to stir their hearts to serve God.

Brooks once said, “Duty makes us do things well, but love makes us do them beautifully.”

-- Heidi Shott

unnamedCatherine of Siena

Catherine of Siena, the 14th century mystic, politician, carer for the poor, and all-around saintly all-star, was an overachiever on several fronts.

She was only seven when she had her first vision of Christ, but her visions kicked into high gear when she was in her mid twenties. She received the stigmata when the crucifix she was praying in front of exploded with five red beams of light, which pierced her hand, feet and heart. That same year, she had a vision in which Jesus appeared, and seemed to exchange her beating heart for his. When she received the Eucharist, she saw the bread become the Child Jesus floating down from heaven to earth to rest in the priest's hands. Once, when she gave the usual response to receiving the host ("Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof"), she heard a voice respond, "But I am worthy to enter you." As she received the bread, she said later that her soul merged with God so that "the soul is in God and God in the soul, just as the fish is in the sea and the sea in the fish."

But all this vision-having did not make her popular with the local clergy of her time, most of whom found her befuddling, even frustrating. One Franciscan, Fr. Lazzarino, was very bothered by her, and sought a meeting to explain why she was Doing Faith Wrong. This did not go well for him, since meeting Catherine in person, and asking for her prayers, caused an acute attack of guilt that evening. He realized that he had not been following the Franciscan path as he had vowed as a youth, and he raced back to Catherine the next morning to apologize, and to give away all he owned to the poor.

As Catherine's reputation as a great persuader spread, she was sought out by popes and politicians as well -- and not just for guilt trips. She was a sought-after counsel to two popes, including Urban VI. She and Urban had such a close relationship that she would chide him frequently to curb his arrogance, and he insisted that she come to Rome to help him lead the Vatican.

After her death at age 33 in Rome, the people of Siena wanted to bring her body back home to be honored. One man from Siena tried to bring back just her head, but was stopped at the Roman gates by soldiers. He prayed to St. Catherine, and miraculously, when the bag was inspected, it had transformed into rose petals. To this day, Catherine’s head (and thumb) reside in Siena, and her body resides in Rome.

-- Megan Castellan


Phillips Brooks vs. Catherine of Siena

  • Phillips Brooks (53%, 2,631 Votes)
  • Catherine of Siena (47%, 2,323 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,954

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Lydia vs. John of the Cross

It's hard to believe but we are now officially halfway through the Round of the Saintly Sixteen. Four more battles and we're on to the Elate Eight. But let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet. To savor each day and immerse ourselves in the match-up at hand is part of the Lent Madness discipline. Speaking of which, we really do need to update the Ash Wednesday liturgy's "Invitation to a Holy Lent" to read:

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; by reading and meditating on God's holy Word; and by participating in Lent Madness.

But we digress. Today it's the Biblical vs. the Mystical as Lydia takes on John of the Cross.

Yesterday Anna Cooper shocked the G-clef off J.S. Bach 54% to 46% to advance to the Elate Eight. She'll face the winner of Thomas Merton vs. Charles Wesley. We also learned of the impending cross-marketing deal between McDonald's and Lent Madness that perhaps fell under the "Fool for Christ" heading.

And finally, you may have been rudely roused from your dreams this morning by a story about Lent Madness on National Public Radio. We apologize.


St. Lydia Thyatira appears only twice in the Biblical text, but her impact is much larger.  

As the first European convert to Christianity, she was baptized by Paul right after he came to Philippi, and there, she started a church in her own household. Early church planter, that's Lydia! She starts the community that will grow into the church at Philippi, and receive the famous letter from Paul. 

This is a big deal, scholars opine, not only because it indicates that Lydia was clearly calling all the shots for her household, and established one of the first Christian communities in Europe, but also because of what it means for gender roles in the early church: men and women were called, men and women were baptized, and men and women led in ministry. And after his release from prison, Paul and Silas headed right back to Lydia's house. It served as a de facto home base the entire time they were in Philippi.

It also indicates that Lydia, who had amassed quite a fortune as a dyer, had decided to dedicate her considerable financial resources to Paul and his work. This would be why she is now invoked as the patron saint of dyers, and all fabric workers, and a good thing, too. Obtaining the purple dye for which the city of Thytira was known required the patience of a saint all by itself. 

Purple dye came from a particular secretion from the spiny dye-murex, a sort of carnivorous sea snail. (Yes, such a thing exists). You obtained it in one of two ways: either you 'milked' the sea snail and poked the thing until it spat purple goo at you, or you gathered a lot of them together and crushed them into a mass of purple goo. And even then, twelve thousand snails yields only enough dye for the hem of a single garment, which is why purple was reserved for the very rich, for emperors. (This is also why the Church adopted purple for the Lenten array -- to emphasize the kingship of Christ. Sorry, snails).

To this day, no one has managed to recreate the special sort of Thyatiran purple exactly as it was back then. The exact recipe is lost to history. But Lydia's legacy of leadership, ministry, and giving nothing less than her best to Christ endures.

-- Megan Castellan

 unnamedJohn of the Cross

If you’ve ever endured debilitating periods of loneliness and despair in your life of faith, you have a loving companion in Saint John of the Cross. John of the Cross, a sixteenth-century Spanish mystic, wrote about such experiences in his popular and well-regarded books, The Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Dark Night of the Soul, both of which he wrote while being imprisoned by his fellow friars. John explained that the journey toward union with God necessitated detaching from self and the world. Noting that often times this process felt excruciating and ripe with loss, dejection, and uncertainty, John encouraged believers to remember that God had not abandoned them. As he said,

Faith is a dark night for man, but in this very way it gives him light...God sustains every soul and dwells in it substantially, even though it be that of the greatest sinner in the world, and this union is natural. The supernatural union exists when God’s will and the soul’s will are in conformity. Therefore the soul rests transformed in God through love.

Although John wrote most of his works in his mid-thirties, he had long been a person of deep compassion and faith. When he was 14, he served as a caregiver to hospital patients suffering from mental or terminal illnesses. Doing so helped him realize the richness of life with God and the futility of finding happiness in worldly possessions. For John, happiness was circumstantial, but joy was eternal and rooted in God’s love. He likened someone who settled for happiness alone to a “famished person who opens his mouth to satisfy himself with air.”

John’s works and humble life have influenced people for generations, including fellow Lent Madness competitor Thomas Merton, who wrote about John’s influence in his well-regarded Seven Story Mountain. John’s Dark Night also found voice in the work of T.S. Eliot, who expressed the sentiment of John’s works through poetry:

To arrive where you are, to get from you are not,
You must go by a way in which there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are no
You must go through the way in which you are not.

John’s life of love, poverty, and selflessness reminds us of the joy of seeking Christ and the eternal love of God that always enfolds us –- no matter what we feel or endure.

-- Maria Kane


Lydia vs. John of the Cross

  • Lydia (58%, 2,994 Votes)
  • John of the Cross (42%, 2,191 Votes)

Total Voters: 5,183

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Anna Cooper vs. J.S. Bach

In a 2014 bracket quirk, Celebrity Blogger Heidi Shott is shepherding her "Killer B's" through the Saintly Sixteen this week. Bach, Bedell, and Brooks are all doing battle over the next few days. Today we begin Heidi Week with J.S. Bach taking on Anna Cooper in a contest between an activist and a musician. One key to this contest will be the critical bassoonist vote. Will they rally behind a fellow musician or take umbrage with one of their own once being called a "nanny-goat bassoonist?"

Yesterday, in a tight race, Harriet Beecher Stowe managed to hold off Alcuin 53% to 47% and will face the winner of Harriet Bedell vs. Thomas Gallaudet in the Elate Eight.

Don't forget, you can always find links to the match-ups of the previous rounds on the Bracket page. Can't remember where Anna Cooper grew up? Need a reminder about the number of children J.S. Bach sired? Go look it up and become a better informed Lent Madness voter.

PS. Your shoelaces are untied.

unnamedAnna Cooper

Anna Julia Cooper -- the daughter of an enslaved women and a white slave master – was an educator and tireless advocate for the rights, dignity, and opportunities of women and people of color during the early twentieth century. Anna's cause was not only about empowering women, it was also about ensuring the dignity of the entire human race as a reflection of God’s likeness. Nevertheless, she recognized that black women had a unique perspective on the matter because of their sex and race. As she explained,

The colored woman feels that woman's cause is one and universal; and that not till the image of God, whether in parian or ebony, is sacred and inviolable; not till race, color, sex, and condition are seen as the accidents, and not the substance of life; not till the universal title of humanity to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is conceded to be inalienable to all; not till then is woman's lesson taught and woman's cause won -- not the white woman's, nor the black woman's, nor the red woman's, but the cause of every man and of every woman who has writhed silently under a mighty wrong.

She fearlessly chastised Christians for being complacent about injustice and advocated for greater recognition of the immeasurable value of women. In her well-known work, A Voice from the South, she wrote:

The earnest well-trained Christian young woman, as a teacher, as a home-maker, as wife, mother, or silent influence even, is as potent a missionary agency among our people as is the theologian; and I claim that at the present stage of our development in the South she is even more important and necessary.

Never one to back down from a challenge, she had pursued the “gentlemen’s” course of study at Oberlin College over the more genteel program for women. After many years as a teacher, principal, and advocate, at the age of 57, she adopted her nephew’s five children while simultaneously working toward her PhD.  (So, yes, we know you just celebrated your 80th birthday Gloria Steinem, but Anna Cooper could run circles around you. Did you get a PhD at 67? I don’t think so).

In a time when women were expected to be quiet and people of color were threatened with violence, Anna refused to succumb to fear or comfort. Instead, she relied upon education and Christian compassion over violence, a lesson from which the short-tempered, bassoon-fighting Bach could have benefited. (So much for turning the other cheek, eh?)

Anna died in 1964 at the age of 105. In 2009, the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School in Richmond, Virginia, opened in her honor and provides a faith-based education to students of limited means.

-- Maria Kane

unnamedJohann Sebastian Bach

Over the years I’ve known many 18 year-old males and, indeed, felt a great fondness for a number of them, but I can assure you that I don’t recall one -- even the musicians among them -- ever saying anything like this: “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul."

Still, despite the odds, such were the words uttered by Johann Sebastian Bach, a young church organist in Arnstadt, Germany, in 1703. Indeed, Bach signed hundreds of his church compositions and some of his secular works with the initials S.D.G., an abbreviation for the Latin term Soli Deo Gloria meaning “Glory to God alone.”

While many of the saints who find their way into the bracket have left behind theological treatises, sermons, devotional poetry, and other writings, Bach left behind little written work to demonstrate his faithfulness. David Mendel argues in The Bach Reader, “For the expression of emotion, however, Bach hardly needed to resort to words. The focus of his emotional life was undoubtedly in religion, and in the service of religion through music...That his church music was designed to deepen the worship of God and to embellish His service need not be emphasized.”

It is not just Bach’s many biographers who see the hand of God in how Bach offered his gifts to the world. Words of praise from other composers, contemporary through the present day, abound. Claude Debussy said famously, “And if we look at the works of J.S. Bach — a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity — on each page we discover things which we thought were born only yesterday, from delightful arabesques to an overflowing of religious feeling greater than anything we have since discovered.”

Faithful Christian and musical genius though he was, Bach seems to have admitted to a few human foibles. His short comic opera on the pleasures of coffee-drinking, Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht (Be still, stop chattering), was performed regularly at a coffee house in Leipzig. We have record of two other of his habits -- a penchant for smoking tobacco and writing poetry -- in a collection he dedicated to his second wife, Anna Magdalena, in "The Second Little Clavier Book.” One verse reads:

How oft it happens when one’s smoking:
The stopper’s missing from its shelf,
And one goes with one’s finger poking
Into the bowl and burns oneself.
If in the pipe such pain doth dwell,
How hot must be the pains of Hell.

A bit of a wag, Bach once said, “It's easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.” But he also said, “Music is an agreeable harmony for the honor of God and the permissible delights of the soul.”


-- Heidi Shot


Anna Cooper vs. J.S. Bach

  • Anna Cooper (54%, 2,717 Votes)
  • J.S. Bach (46%, 2,341 Votes)

Total Voters: 5,056

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Harriet Beecher Stowe vs. Alcuin

You know what's great about today? (Well, besides the fact that it's Monday and a lot of clergy -- and half of the Supreme Executive Committee -- have the day off). We begin an entire week of Saintly Sixteen match-ups! We kick things off with a 19th century laywoman taking on an 8th century deacon. Harriet Beecher Stowe and Alcuin vie for a spot in the Elate Eight.

If you missed the Archbishops' preview of the week ahead, click here. And then subscribe to Lent Madness by entering your e-mail address (on the right side of the home page under the Voting 101 video) so you never miss anything pertaining to Lent Madness ever again. Why get caught at a loss for words around the water cooler when your co-workers ask how you voted  yesterday and you tell them you forgot? If your boss hears of your total disregard for Lent Madness you may even lose your job. So please. Subscribe to Lent Madness. The global economy is depending on you.

hbsHarriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Life among the Lowly, got an early start in her literary career. When she was 13, she graduated from the local girls' school in Litchfield, Connecticut. Her composition, entitled, "Can the immortality of the soul be proved by the light of nature?" was read aloud at the ceremony. Her father, Lyman Beecher, at the time the most famous preacher in the country, wanted to know who the smart aleck was, and was shocked to learn it was his daughter. Harriet was thrilled with herself.

Initially content to stay out of the argument over slavery in the mid-1800s, two events changed Harriet's mind. The first was the death of her 18-month-old son, in the Cincinnati cholera epidemic of 1849. Cholera was new to the United States at the time, so there was no medical treatment. Afterwards, Harriet wrote that she didn't think she could ever be reconciled to the child's death, unless it allowed her to do some great good for others -- but that the loss also helped her empathize with slave mothers who lost their children on the auction block.

When the Fugitive Slave Law was passed the next year, directly implicating even those in Northern states in the institution of slavery, Harriet knew she needed to do something. She said later: "I no more thought of style or literary excellence than the mother who rushes into the street and cries for help to save her children from a burning house, thinks of the teachings of the rhetorician or the elocutionist."

She approached the editor of the anti-slavery paper, the National Era, proposing that she write three or four short sketches, which grew into a serialized form of Uncle Tom's Cabin.  

The intense popularity of the book enraged the slaveholding establishment, causing them to accuse Harriet of fabrication and lying through her teeth, but Harriet was prepared. She published A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, in 1854, in which she directed her white audience to the numerous slave narratives that she had used in her research for her novel, essentially arguing that, if she had lied, it had been to tone down the horrible truth about slavery. It had the added benefit of bringing the first-person slave narratives of Solomon Northrup (of “12 Years a Slave” fame), Frederick Douglass, and many others, to a wider audience. 

"What makes saintliness in my view, as distinguished from ordinary goodness, is a certain quality of magnanimity and greatness of soul that brings life within the circle of the heroic," she wrote. Very appropriate for such a feisty character.

-- Megan Castellan


This quirky 8th Century teacher, theologian, liturgist, and bad poet was responsible for the Christian-based European renaissance that went hand-in-hand with the reign of Charlemagne, a program that was especially focused on educating the clergy so they could educate the people. One of his most notable achievements was to convince Charlemagne that forcing people to accept baptism or be executed was not good Christian policy.

He was also the inventor of the Carolingian miniscule, a form of writing that allowed so many ancient texts to be quickly and clearly reproduced. He may even have been the inventor of the question mark, which, in addition to inspiring the 60’s band ? & The Mysterians to challenge us all to cry 96 tears, was prominently featured in his discourses and other teaching documents.

Here is such an example, a discourse between Pippin, Charlemagne’s son, and Alcuin:

P. What is life?
A. A delight to the blessed, a grief to the unhappy, an experience of waiting for death.
P. What is death?
A. An inevitable happening, an unpredictable journey, the tears of the living, the coming into force of a testament, the robber of human beings.
P. What is a human being?
A. A slave to death, a traveller passing through, a stranger in the place.
P. To what is a human being similar?
A. To a fruit tree.
P. What is his or her situation?
A. Like that of a candle in the wind. (translated by Gillian Spraggs)

Alcuin wrote many textbooks, including the Propositions for Sharpening Youth that included problems like this one:

A certain  man needed  to take  a wolf,  a she-goat, and a  load of cabbage across a  river. However, he could only find a boat which would carry two of these  [at a  time]. Thus, what rule did he employ so as to get all of them across unharmed? (Translated from the Latin by Peter J. Burkholder) (Post your answer in the comments!)

His Bible translation (an update of Jerome’s Vulgate combined with the Northumbrian Ceolfrith Bible) was produced in volumes that contained both illumination (sometimes with gold letters on purple vellum) and illustration and text arranged in cartoon-strip-like registers, thus bringing the Irish tradition of illuminated Gospels to the European continent.

Toward the end of his life, he wrote this about his career:

In the morning, at the height of my powers, I sowed the seed in Britain, now in the evening when my blood is growing cold I am still sowing in France, hoping both will grow, by the grace of God, giving some the honey of the holy scriptures, making others drunk on the old wine of ancient learning…

-- Penny Nash


Harriet Beecher Stowe vs. Alcuin

  • Harriet Beecher Stowe (53%, 2,535 Votes)
  • Alcuin (47%, 2,278 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,813

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F.D. Maurice vs. Julia Chester Emery

With their life spans overlapping by 20 years, today's battle sees F.D. Maurice take on Julia Chester Emery as both vie to advance to the next round. The pairing of contemporaries in Lent Madness is rare (unless they happen to be siblings) so there's that. They're also closely identified with initials: "F.D." Maurice and Julia Chester "ECW" Emery. So there's that as well.

Yesterday, Antony of Egypt failed miserably in his attempt to turn Basil the Great into pesto. Lent Madness bracketologists have determined that the loss was one of historic proportions; the worst drubbing in the history of Lent Madness -- 87% to 13%. Ouch. Basil becomes the first saint of 2014 to make it into the Elate Eight where he'll face the winner of Lydia vs. John of the Cross.

It's hard to believe we've made it through another week of the Madness! After a quick breather, we'll be back bright and early on Monday morning with Harriet Beecher Stowe tangling with Alcuin. If you encounter a Celebrity Blogger on your travels this weekend, be sure to ask for his or her autograph. It's very affirming and helps make up for the severe lack of monetary compensation.

fd moF.D. Maurice

Frederick Dennison Maurice (1805-1872) was among the foremost theologians of 19th century England, who held as his foremost theological and practical cause the advancement of the Kingdom of Christ. This primary conviction led him to serve as a theological forerunner to modern ecumenical movement, and to deeply involve himself in social reforms of the time with the foundation of the Christian Socialist movement. His ideas and activism often led him into conflict with religious authorities of the day; he persisted nonetheless. Contrary to some assertions, he was not called Maurice for his speaking of the pompatus of love.*

 On the church present and active:

We have been dosing our people with religion when what they want is not this but the Living God…we give them a stone for bread, systems for realities. -- As quoted in Life of F.D. Maurice (1885)

On the union of all of heaven and earth in the Kingdom of Christ:

All stages of our earthly life to the last are consecrated; so every beautiful spot in nature as well as all the forms of art share in the same consecration, and have that one name of ‘Father’ illuminating them all. -- from Sermons Preached in Country Churches

Christ is with those who seem to speak the most slightingly of him, testifying to them that he is risen indeed, and they have a life in him which no speculations or denials of theirs have been able to rob them of, even as we have a life in him, which our sins often hinder us from acknowledging, but cannot quench. -- from Theological Essays (1853)

On Relationships in Humanity and in God:

Human relationships are not artificial types of something divine, but are actually the means and the only means, through which man ascends to any knowledge of the divine… every breach of human relation, as it implies a violation of the higher law, so also is a hindrance and barrier to the perception of that higher law – the drawing of a veil between the spirit of a man and his God. – from The Kingdom of Christ (1838)

On the Liturgy and the Work of the Church:

I hope you will never hear from me such phrases as ‘our incomparable liturgy’: I do not think we are to praise the liturgy but to use it. When we do not want it for our life, we may begin to talk of it as a beautiful composition. Thanks be to God, it does not remind us of its own merits when it is bidding us draw near to him. -- As quoted in Life of F.D. Maurice (1885)

 *41-year old Pop Cultural Reference. If you don’t get it, ask your parents, or Google it.

-- David Sibley

jcemeryJulia Chester Emery

Julia Chester Emery (1852-1922) was for 40 years the national secretary of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Episcopal Church. She came from an unusual family: her father Charles was a sea captain and Episcopalian, and he and her mother Susan encouraged all of their eleven children not only to be personally pious but to actively work to further the kingdom of God. Two of her brothers were priests, and Julia and three of her sisters were missionaries or supported missionaries in the manner of Phoebe, whom Paul mentioned in the Letter to the Romans as a deacon and servant/helper to many in the church, and whom Susan Emery held up as an example to her daughters.

She was also a cousin to the four Emery sisters who were patrons of the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE), the Episcopal monastic community which now offers retreat space at Emery House in Newbury, MA.

Julia visited every single diocese in the United States and helped organize branches of the Women’s Auxiliary in more than 5,600 parishes. Many of these branches continue today as the Episcopal Church Women, or ECW.

She wrote: “There are hundreds more earnest, faithful, devoted women who would be cheered if only they knew what is being done by their sisters in the church and see their offering, small and insignificant as it seems, increased and multiplied by the union with the gifts of others” (Spirit of Missions, volume XXXVII, 1872).

Emery led the charge for canonical status for the office of deaconess. She also created the United Thank Offering, represented by small blue boxes with slots for coins to encourage daily giving and thanks to God. The UTO is still under the purview of the ECW, having awarded $1,517,280 in mission grants in 2012.

Apparently, her only training for this ministry was a willingness to try it, for she possessed no special education or preparation. Her only authority was collegial, for being a lay woman, she had neither the office nor the perquisites of ordained status to buttress her leadership. Julia Emery reminds us that we all possess the resources we need to be effective missionaries, except perhaps the two most important qualities exemplified in her — a willingness to try and the commitment to stick with it, even for a lifetime. (Brightest and Best: A Companion to the Lesser Feasts and Fasts by Sam Portaro.)

Known as “Miss Julia,” Emery died in 1922 and is buried in the cemetery of St. James the Less in Scarsdale, New York, a cemetery that also contains a secret room and tunnel that was part of the underground railroad through which slaves were able to escape to Canada.

-- Penny Nash


F.D. Maurice vs. Julia Chester Emery

  • Julia Chester Emery (67%, 3,085 Votes)
  • F.D. Maurice (33%, 1,540 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,623

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Basil the Great vs. Antony of Egypt

Welcome to the Round of the Saintly Sixteen! After sixteen bruising, gut-wrenching, heart-pounding battles, we have cut the field of 32 saints in half. We’ve already seen our fair share of hotly contested match-ups, blow-outs, and Cinderellas and we’re only half-way through the bracket. Lent Madness, like Lent, is part endurance race and we encourage those who have come thus far -- both voters and contestants -- to buckle down for the duration and, in the words of Saint Paul, “Run with perseverance the race that is set before you.”

In this round, we move past basic biographies and delve into what we like to call “Quirks and Quotes.” We’ll learn some unusual facts about our saints and hear about them, either in their own words or in words uttered or written about them. Some of our holy men and women are quirkier than others and some are more quotable. As always, remember these match-ups are neither fair nor for the faint of heart. If you want a bland Lenten devotion you’ve come to the wrong place.

Yesterday's Round of 32 ended with the biggest rout of 2014 with Charles Wesley throttling his brother John 80% to 20%. As you make your informed and never irrational choices from here on out, you can always refresh your memory with the first round bios conveniently housed under the bracket tab by Bracket Czar Adam Thomas. Just click the appropriate links for the first round match-ups. Adam has also updated the Match-Up Calendar so you can see precisely when all the Saintly Sixteen action will take place. Print it out and staple it to your refrigerator!

We kick thing off with Basil the Great vs. Antony of Egypt. In the last round Basil defeated Christina the Astonishing while Antony turned back Mary of Egypt. Away we go!

saint_basil_the_great_smBasil the Great

Basil (330-379) was a prolific writer and preacher. His numerous writings included a treatise on the Holy Spirit; a Lenten series on Creation; writings on the Psalter; sermons on living the Christian life; liturgies and prayers; and hundreds of letters. Essentially, he was a one-man Forward Movement Tract* Rack. A few selections include: 

How to Pray

Prayer is a request for what is good, offered by the devout of God. But we do not restrict this request simply to what is stated in words. We should not express our prayer merely in syllables, but also through the attitude of our soul and in the virtuous actions we do in our life. This is how you pray continually — not by offering prayer in words, but by joining yourself to God through your whole way of life, so that your life becomes one continuous and uninterrupted prayer.

Praying Daily

When you sit down to eat, pray. When you eat bread, do so thanking God for being so generous to you. If you drink wine (or coffee), be mindful of God who has given it to you for your pleasure and as a relief in sickness. When you dress, thank God for His kindness in providing you with clothes. When you look at the sky and the beauty of the stars, throw yourself at God’s feet and adore Him who ordered things this way. When the sun goes down and when it rises, when you are asleep or awake, give thanks to God, who created and arranged all things for your benefit, to have you know, love and praise their Creator.

 On Attachment to Possessions

The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.

Basil lived what he preached. He ate a bare minimum of food, just enough to survive. He owned only the clothes on his back and used any money he acquired to help the poor and needy. 

Lest anyone think Basil was all sweetness and light, he challenged an entire faction of the Church, including an emperor. When the Emperor's prefect demanded Basil support the Arian heresy or risk torture, exile, and death, Basil’s response was essentially, “Hit me with your best shot,” although much more eloquent. When the prefect, stunned by Basil’s defiance, said he’d never heard a bishop speak like that to him, Basil simply replied, “Perhaps you’ve never met a real bishop before.”

Drop. Microphone.

And forever inspire the Church.

*Tracts are small pamphlets that offer insight and information about all things Episcopal. The quotes are not verbatim, either. 

-- Laurie Brock

unnamedAntony of Egypt

In our first encounter with Antony we saw him sell all of his inheritance, ensure the safety of his younger sister (who later became a “guiding spirit” to other virgins), move out to the desert, wage intense battle with demons, and staunchly defend orthodoxy before his death as an old man.

St. Antony’s biographer, the bishop Athanasius, tells us that when Antony addressed would be monks, he reminded them that “The whole of [a person’s] life is very short measured by the ages to come, so that all our time is as nothing compared to eternal life.” Antony himself lived by this code. It was not enough to give up all he owned, he had to be a “martyr to his conscience” daily (Martin Luther would be proud). To aid in this “[Antony] fasted continually, his clothing was hair on the inside while the outside was skin” and “he never bathed his body in water to remove filth.”

In the Sayings of the Fathers it is reported that a man wished to become a monk. After selling all his possessions but keeping some of the proceeds for himself, he came to Antony. Antony instructed him to go to the local village, buy meat, and attach it to his bare body. The man did so and was hounded by birds and wild animals the entire walk back, his body in tatters from the beasts. Antony looked at him and declared, “Those who have renounced the world but wish to have money are thus attacked and massacred by the demons.”

Speaking of demons, Antony’s many nights in the tombs resisting devils produced a demonology that puts Frank Peretti to shame. Space only allows a brief mention of his battle with an enormously tall demon named Providence. Although demons appear full of confusion, crashing, roaring, and shouting, all Antony had to do to banish his foe was blow a breath at it, speak the name of Christ, and make an effort to strike it. The enemy, along with his fellow demons, vanished in a jiffy.

Antony also had a way with animals. Once when he had planted a garden, wild animals continued to damage the beds. With tact that would make Francis of Assisi jealous, Antony gently caught one of the animals and announced to the other beasts, “Why do you do harm to me when I harm none of you? Go away, and in the Lord’s name do not come near these things again!” He was never bothered by the vermin again. Not even a ferret.

Antony firmly believed in the inherent goodness of human beings. He reminds us, “When you hear the word virtue mentioned, do not be afraid of it or treat it as a foreign word. Really it is not far from us, nor is its home apart from us; no the thing is within us, and its accomplishment is easy if we but have the will.”

Finally, I leave you with the little known fact about Antony’s diet. It is reported by his biographer Davidicus that, in addition to his simple meals of bread and water, he used to eat basil for breakfast.

-- David Creech


Basil the Great vs. Antony of Egypt

  • Basil the Great (87%, 4,305 Votes)
  • Antony of Egypt (13%, 643 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,947

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