Tuesday, 12 June 2012

St Joseph of Nazareth

Just at the moment my mind is full of St Joseph; thoughts set in motion because Alice is in process of making a stained glass panel depicting St Joseph holding the infant Jesus, for our Carmelite sisters at Thicket Priory.

Devotion to saints is a strange, uncomfortable thing to the naturally Protestant mind.  When we come to the intercessions at church, not every Sunday but sometimes, we finish with the Hail Mary.  And my Badger never joins in, because it is anathema to his soul steeped for a lifetime in evangelical culture.

But I feel the presence of the saints, and I love the different names for the Mother of Jesus – Our Lady of the Prairie, Our Lady of the Streets, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Grace.  So beautiful.  I have a special devotion to Our Lady of the Pot Hooks, by which I mean my own personal sense of presence around the provisional, make-do, wabi-sabi mode of furnishing and keeping house that has been my habit.  When I am cobbling together a net curtain stretcher and cup hooks to hang the washing indoors, or searching around for a trifle bowl or chamber pot to make a planter for a Rather Large Fern, or upending a kneeler to double as a window box, I mutter “Our Lady of the Pot Hooks, pray for us . . .”

Since I was fifteen years old – that’s forty years  I have had a particular devotion to St Francis.  He has been my loved and revered role model this long time.  But between me and Francis there’s one bone of contention: he is too ascetic for me.  His simplicity is more than close to the edge, it hangs right off the edge.  Francis  wonderful, magnetic, enchanting, humble, beautiful Francis – he is more than a fraction unbalanced.  That would be all right if it were not for the fact that I am too.  Francis is dangerous, you know.  The cheerful, practical, loving humility of modern-day Franciscans, yes that’s fine.  But Francis himself, stumbling in pain with his bleeding hands and feet, freezing and starving, hungry and homeless, ripping off his clothes and abasing himself.  There’s something there that murmurs a warning in my soul.  Same with Mother Teresa, who left nothing for herself, nothing, lived in the exile of her self-punishing dark night for decades.  The holiness of these lives is bought at the cost of something that feels, to me, profoundly unhealthy.

And recently I have been thinking more and more about St Joseph, and what a wonderful role model he is.  St Joseph speaks to my life and condition with a strength and encouragement that astonishes me.

He is revered in the church in three primary aspects: as the husband of Mary, as the protector of Jesus, and as Joseph the Worker.

Here are some of the things St Joseph has been teaching me.

We never hear of St Joseph saying anything.  He teaches us about silence.  He shows us that silence is what nurtures the Word and allows it to mature in safety.  He leads us in a way of going on quietly with the work of our hands.

Joseph raised a family, and he took it upon himself to cherish and provide for them responsibly.  By simple, honest, home-based labour he took care of the people he loved, whom God had entrusted to his care.

Joseph worked at a trade that could be practiced without exploiting others, developing skill and creativity, designing and shaping objects of usefulness as well as beauty.

Joseph listened to God.  You know and I know that hearing and recognising the voice of God accurately relies on practice, on habit.  That God spoke to Joseph in his dreams, such that Joseph responded with obedience and conviction, first taking Mary to be his wife and then shepherding his little family away from the danger of persecution into exile in Egypt, tells me that Joseph was in the habit of listening to God.

Joseph was compassionate, and thoughtful.  When he discovered Mary to be with child, before God spoke to him in the dream, he didn’t rant and shout and expose her to public humiliation; he just made plans quietly and privately to terminate their betrothal.

And that also tells me that Joseph was a man of principle and conviction, a man to whom integrity mattered immensely.

Joseph was unselfish.  Taking Mary and Jesus into his life was a big thing to do.  They relied upon him for stability and security.  They brought with them challenge and upheaval.  He accepted that, because he loved Mary and Jesus.  He was a normal householder who, because of his love for them, accepted the consequences of having Mary and Jesus at the heart of his home and his everyday life.

Joseph was capable, calm and sensible.  He was provident, wise and kind.  

Joseph lived an ordinary life in an ordinary home, but he did it with such grace that God chose that life, that home, that man to be the cradle of redemption, the school of grace, the arms that held and cuddled the hope of the world.

Having a devotion to a saint means not making them more important than God, but gazing upon them intently and thoughtfully, allowing the wisdom they particularly teach to soak into one’s consciousness to inspire change.

The thing about the saints is that they are at one and the same time individual real human lives, archetypes, and bearers of the light of Christ.

In their simple humanity, their individuality, they speak to and encourage our hope of progressing in the Christian way.

As archetypes, they tap into / draw upon the interconnecting root system of our universal unconscious, facilitating access to a source of common human strength and wisdom.

As bearers of the Christlight, they keep us mindful of the transcendent dimension which both indwells our lives and shines as a guiding star.

Because you lived in an ordinary home like ours and know all about the struggles and challenges of family life, St Joseph pray for us.

Because we too want to be kind, mastering unselfishness and fostering the presence of Jesus in our daily lives, St Joseph pray for us.

Because it is hard to find ways in the modern world to make an honest living and still have time for our families, St Joseph pray for us.

Because you lived simply as we long to do, St Joseph pray for us.

Because we too want to work creatively and usefully, avoiding mass-production and sweatshops, choosing the craftsman’s skills and patient labour, St Joseph pray for us.

Because we too want our homes and lives to be a kind of sanctuary where the people God has entrusted to us will always feel safe and loved, St Joseph pray for us.

Because you are comfortable with silence, and know how to live with humility, patience and self-restraint, St Joseph pray for us.

Because your faith shaped your choices and decisions, because you believed in God enough to change your mind, St Joseph pray for us.

Because we too would be capable, responsible, gentle and calm, St Joseph pray for us.

In your kindness, understanding and trustworthy strength, St Joseph pray for us, that we may follow in the way you have showed us to go.



365 366 Day 164 – Tuesday June 12th  

Things like this just kinda waft into my life.  A dear little organza bag.  I cannot bring myself to say “Ah, sweet!” and chuck it in the bin.  That would be such a waste and irresponsible attitude to the Earth’s resources.  So object by object, thing by thing, I have to identify suitable new homes for all these disconcertingly eternal items that find their way into my home.



Julie B. said...

Oh, I want to be like Joseph. You have made him more real to me here, Ember. So beautiful...

Zillah said...

Ember, yours is just about the only blog in my reader whose posts I often like to read twice.

Sometimes, with other Quakers, I find that we have imperceptibly edged from quiet into worship. I love the way your posts similarly sometimes edge into prayer.


Ember said...

Hello Julie :0) Thanks for your email, too xxx

Hi Zillah - I love the idea of quietness edging into worship, edging into prayer :0)

Sarah said...

Love this. Thank you.

Ember said...


Penny said...

I agree with Julie.

Bean said...

Thank you for giving a wonderful perspective on St. Joseph.

I agree with you about St. Francis, he was certainly a radical! I belonged to a Secular Franciscan Order (Secular meaning we were all laity, Catholic Christians) for many years, I left it this Spring. Partly because following St. Francis is so much more than a monthly meeting, a bit of formation and a snack for middle class white people! I sound harsh, but I so often thought what would Francis think of this group of people sitting around talking but rarely doing?? So, after much discernment I left. In all honesty none of us were called to radical living because none of where living a Franciscan spirituality radically, we were all just too comfortable.
I too sometimes shy away from saints, I was recently attempting to read the diary of St. Faustina, but she seemed to live such a tortured life and I find myself spending more time questioning why this had to be.

I very much enjoyed the prayers at towards the end of the blog.

Blessings to you,


Anonymous said...

Dear Pen...Joseph's life is an example of a person that truly is in the habit of listening to Our Lord.

He listened and He acted when guided.

Humility is a wonderful example isn't it?


Ember said...

Hi Penny :0)

Hi Maria - humility is one of the most beautiful things in the world.

Hi Bean - that's interesting. Yes, I think if one is in earnest about walking in the Way, it helps to find somebody one can realistically follow, not watch them in awe scaling the heights, secretly thinking "Hmm, I'm not sure about that . . ."

Simply Grace said...

I love St Joseph too.
He was so very human..yet so totally given over to the Will of God.
His silence (and Mary's) speaks loudly of a gentle servant-heart.
I think your prayer is very beautiful, Pen.

"St Joseph pray for us, that we may follow in the way you have showed us to go."


Bean said...

I think if one is in earnest about walking in the Way, it helps to find somebody one can realistically follow, not watch them in awe scaling the heights, secretly thinking "Hmm, I'm not sure about that . . ."

This totally sums up my feelings, I read this statement and realized this is what was at the core of my discontent with the Franciscan order I belonged to. Thank you that really put things in perspective for me :)



Ember said...

Hi Trish :0) x

Hi Bean - good :0) x

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why anyone thinks dead people can help the...can you explain please?

Ember said...

Tsk. Too many typos in my original response to your question, Debs.
Here's the same thing tidied up.

Ooh, big question, Debs! :0)
There's a phrase in the church, "the Communion of Saints". We belong to it, and so do those who, as they say, "worship on a further shore and in a greater light".
When someone dies, their time in this body on this earth has ended, but I do not believe that their life has ended, or their soul-work has finished. We continue to travel on together, "for life is eternal and love is immortal and death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing but the limit of our sight."
That's the abstract.
To the specific: how can St Joseph, who lived far away and long ago, help me?
Part 1 of the answer to that is only my belief and opinion, and I won't bother with that bit since the tone of your question suggests an antagonism to my own thinking on the matter.
Part 2 of the answer is as follows:
St Joseph can help me by setting me an example to follow. So I can look at his gentleness and be inspired to be gentle. I can look at his approach to family life and be reminded to improve my own. I can remember how he humbly gave his life to protect the infant Christ and nurture Him to maturity, and plant in my own soul a seed of understanding concerning my own life. For Christ also dwells in me, in equally immature and fragile form. The example of St Joseph reminds me to nurture the baby Christ in my soul with all the wisdom and patience at my disposal, that He may grow to maturity in the inner sanctuary of my heart, until my sin is nailed to the cross and my home becomes a heaven.
I think that's quite helpful really.

Anonymous said...

'I won't bother with that bit since the tone of your question suggests an antagonism to my own thinking on the matter.'

WTH??? It was a question Pen...one I was hoping for a reasonable answer to.

Ember said...

Hi Debs - that was meant to be a reasonable answer. I'm not picking a fight. I just meant what I said - that the way you framed the question lets me know that you have a resistance to the belief system implied in the original post, so I thought I'd just let that alone, and go for the aspect of the matter that might make sense for you. I'm so sorry if that came across as rude.
Anyone one else better at explaining than me like to have a go at unpacking some of the issues (of how the saints can help us)?

Bean said...

my thoughts on Deborah's question. It is not so much that we look to dead people to help us, rather we look to those that lived a good and holy life and we seek to learn from their example. For example perhaps you have a relative who died, but they were very devout, and exemplified living for Christ, you would perhaps want to learn more about their spiritual life and practices and maybe incorporate some of the practices into your own life.
We all are helped by those who came before because they laid the groundwork.
Not sure is that is helpful or not?



Anonymous said...

I believe strongly that they can help by being examples to us who are still in this world. I don't pray to them, thinking they have any sort of power to intercede for me in any way.

Instead, I use their lives, their writings and their way of loving Our Lord, to inspire me, to encourage me, to keep me going forward in my walk with My Lord & Master.

I find myself confused sometimes, because as a child, I was asked to bow down to a statue, which I could not understand, nor did I do so.

But now as an adult, I find myself truly understanding the lives of these saints, and realizing that following His Way takes work, humility and love.

Thank you again for making us think Pen. God bless...


Simply Grace said...

In response to Deborah
s query, I am reminded of these verses..
"But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the SPIRITS of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel." Hebrews 12:22-24

"In his vision, Judas saw Onias, who HAD BEEN high priest and was virtuous, good, modest in all things, gentle of manners, and well-spoken. From childhood he had learned all things that properly belong to a good moral life. This man had his hands extended to pray for the entire nation of the Jews. Then in the same manner, another man, noteworthy for his gray hair and dignity, appeared with astonishing and splendid glory. Onias said, “This man is one who loves his brothers and sisters and PRAYS many prayers for the people and the holy city: God’s prophet, Jeremiah.” 2Maccabees 15:12-14

And finally, from the Gospel.
Mose died and was buried by God millenia before the New Testament period.
Yet he appeared with Elijah at the Transfiguration, to minister to and commune with Jesus, on Mt Tabor. He obviously still had spiritual "work" to do in the Name of the Lord!

I firmly believe the Saints can intercede for us who are still here, and are waiting to join them in Heaven.
I have had quite a number of experiences where-by a Saint has helped me receive answer to prayer.
They are spiritual friends who assist us on our journey to God not only by their life's example, but by their on-going ministery from Heaven.

blessings..Trish xx

Jules said...

love your thoughts on st. Joseph of Nazareth. I can relate to feeling the presence of the Saints during the service now that my hubby and I are going to a Orthodox Church and hope to join at the end of year. I need to get on blogger more. I've been slacking. blessings!

Ember said...

Hi Jules, good to see you :0) I've met a few friends online who have found what they were looking for in the Orthodox CHurch - it seems to be a very loving and beautiful faith community x

Jules said...

so yes Ember! I have felt more welcomed and more at home at the Orthodox Church than I did growing up Protestant/Evangelical in the Assemblies of God churches. blessings!

Ember said...