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Isn't this somewhat similar to the religious athmosphere of the Russian monks in Everyday Saints and other stories, by Metropolitan Tikhon? (Which I am reading with surprising pleasure and interest). The asceticism here is even rougher but the whole mortification of the flesh and the intensity of piety and the forgiving attitude. Wonderful. And outlandish.

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Yes, I think very much so. It's maybe what draws me to these places. This is our heritage too.

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I am terribly torn about all this. It too am reading and enjoying the stories of Everyday Saints. I think England in particular lacks this way of living. There need to be places and people that remind us of the essentials. We are cut off from nature and cut off from spirituality in its raw form, the way we live today. That has undoubtedly weakened us and dulled our understanding of life. But... God has led us all to where we are. I can't accept that the world is some evil corrupt machine that we must all turn away from. I don't know....

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I don't think it was ever intended to be for everyone. They were praying for just such as us. It's a very Catholic thing.

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Jun 9·edited Jun 9

But Paul’s work concentrates on this phenomenon and makes it sound as though for him it is the preferable, maybe the only path as a Christian. Perhaps it is. But I would like more about how the rest of us can live Christian lives with some wildness within them. I guess as a woman I feel the monastic path is a barren one. We are here to give life.

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I take from these articles that he is describing a history on the brink of obliteration, and thus preserving it for future generations. Female hermitage is not a subject I know much about. Suffice it to say communities of women dedicated to prayer existed all over Europe and the Middle East since the foundation of Christianity, and remain to this day. I have four children-that was my calling. However I contend that the monastic or cloistered life is not "barren" but by prayer and example, a different way of glorifying God, and of giving life and strength to others.

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There has been an order of contemplative nuns in the heart of Galway city for nearly 400 years. Their convent is situated on Nun's Island, near the river, Corrib, and the modern cathedral. https://poorclares.ie/

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To JaneH: Surely there is a place in the world of spiritual devotion for those who can't, or don't feel the pull of motherhood, or are beyond child bearing. My impression is some medieval female saints or holy women were widows who retreated to a life of prayer.

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Sure but I’m asking what about the vast majority for whom this is not a vocation. I can’t subscribe to a view of religion that has God standing by letting us and the rest of his creation go to rack and ruin and become prisoners of dangerous ideologies. The battle between good and evil is fought within each one of us and the impact of modern society is far more nuanced.

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Theorist Mark Fisher used to use this term “consciousness-deflation” to describe the effects of modern society on the horizons of our thinking and actions. He'd note that when he got some time off work (as a university professor), rather than genuinely exploring his interests he would end up spending his time thinking about how to turn those interests into money. And he noted something which is kept very non-obvious in this culture: thinking about money is an incredibly stupid way to spend your time, but all of us feel compelled to do so as the capitalist wolf is always at the door.

And in this way our lives become and are kept truly small; focused on contemplating little numbers in little bank accounts rather than on, oh, pick a random example: God.

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This is a good question. I should say, if we are talking about monastics, that of course there are plenty of nuns out there! some of the most beautiful monasteries I have ever visited have been run by women monastics.

I write about this so much because it calls me. I can't say why. I live in the world with my family and would never have the strength or discipline to be such an ascetic. And yet ... I do believe this is the true Christian path. So what does this mean for us? I find my answer in the Orthodox path, which is perhaps the reason I was drawn to it. In Orthodoxy - and I'm sure this would also have been the case amongst the pre-modern Christians of the West, such as those who lived on Inis Cealtra - there is no clear division between 'lay' Christians and the ordained hierarchy, in terms of how we are to live. We are all called to be ascetics. The difference is only one of degree.

So for example, in the Orthodox Church we all follow the monastic fasting rules. We normies do so for about half the year, while the monastics do it every day. We are all called to pray regularly, and to detach ourselves from the things of the world, as much as we are able. St John Chrysostom once described a married man as 'a monk with a wife' and I think that sums it up well.

The more I have tried to live this path - very newly, and very badly - the more I have understood it. That draws me to write about it even more. Perhaps God knows what is going on here.

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"We are all called to be ascetics. The difference is only one of degree."

This is exactly right. Thing is, the West has largely lost the sense of "everyday" asceticism since the Reformation, and the Catholic Church's sometimes overly rational response to that loss hasn't been helpful.

The best book that I've found that explains this "everyday asceticism" is Tito Colliander's little classic "The Way of the Ascetics." It's a small book of about 100 pages, broken down into 40 short chapters and very accessible. It was out of print for a while but if memory serves it was recently reissued. Colliander was a Finnish Orthodox Christian, and I believe the book originally came out in the 1950's.

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And I'm reading that book right now! You're right: it's a terrific little book. A challenge and a revelation. I might put it into our book club here soon.

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Excellent!

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I’m a Benedictine oblate -there are different ways of being monastic. Probably makes sense to talk about each one of them, including asceticism (or simplicity?) https://www.stpaulsmonastery.org/membership/benedictine-oblates/

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It would be interesting to hear more. In the eastern church, things are a bit different. There is only one monastic rule, which applies to men and women, and there is no monasticism (indeed no faith) which is not to some degree ascetic.

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This is some of the history.. https://www.northumbriacommunity.org/articles/asceticism-and-monasticism/

It seems that in the West, there were varying degrees of asceticism (intended) as well as observed. Which would then lead to new orders forming.

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Humans and the world are are not machines, but biology can be hijacked in much the same way as machines, until it becomes a distinction without a difference. What is COVID if not an entity that co-opts biology's often machine-like workings?

It's interesting to view money as a kind of virus set loose by the 15th century equivalent of today's computer virus authors. And speaking of viruses, I was also reminded of the Abbey and Paul's Machine series by this awful story:

https://www.msn.com/en-ie/money/technology/remote-amazon-tribe-left-hooked-on-porn-after-finally-connecting-to-the-internet/ar-BB1nFbhH

This morning I found myself contemplating something darker even than all that:

https://morrisberman.blogspot.com/2024/06/the-origins-of-sadism.html

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Whoooff. Thanks for sharing this bit from Berman. I mean, it doesn't take the insights of a careful reader of Second World War history to imagine what happens when you lob tons of HE and anti-personnel ordinance into a city with trapped civilians, but the detail here, and the intentional meanness, along with the citations from Adler and Becker; I'm left wondering what all of us will be expected to just give a shrug to next and go about our consumerist ways? Echoes of Hannah Arendt. Appreciate your thoughts on money, related. Because it is. Me? I've got firewood to split and re-stack. Winter's coming.

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Yes, I was shaken by that essay. I mean, it seems like ground-level truth and very bad news indeed. Basically, people's insecurities and need for affection get flipped upside down into sadistic attempts to prove they "exist" and are better than their perceived atagonists. At that point, nothing becomes off-limits and you end up with these kinds of atrocities and the sadistic pleasure taken in treating other people's children like cockroaches.

How do we get out of this!? We don't.

Perhaps equally disturbing are the implications of Adler's "The Denial of Death (1973), [which] posits the notion that civilization is a defense mechanism against the knowledge of our mortality". And here you can see why Paul was both on target with his Machine series, and how he absolutely needed something like Christianity if he was rejecting transhumanist promises of techno-salvation. Almost no one can really confront their own annihilation.

Anyway, it was the most disturbing thing I've read in quite awhile. Berman is as old as the hills yet keeps creating and publishing brilliant books and synthesising ideas I don't see anywhere else. He took to retirement extremely well and became more productive than ever. It's quite amazing really.

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Thanks for your reply. I've seen a few hills myself, and I suspect we're all going to get some big ones to climb. In fact, as Paul's been saying for years, we're all being expected to climb 'hills' that The Man continues to demand we pile up. And not one of them even remotely resembles St. George's Hill in Surrey, from whence one might imagine hope arising, like the ghost of Arthur.

Thanks also for the note toward Adler's "Denial of Death' from '73. I'll check the library or the used books store. Interestingly, Yale historian Timothy Snyder ("Black Earth", "On Tyranny") did a presentation for, of all things, a Harry Potter Society gathering, and he spoke of the poison of seeking immortality, and the manner in which it avoids taking responsibility for your neighbors. I'll endeavor to dig it back up, because I found it poignant and grounded. Even if he's not still attending The Simple Gatherings and Quaker Meetings of his upbringing, that wholeness is still present in his work and writings. Thank you again. I've appreciated and been rounded out (or sharpened) by your observations here.

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Did God lead us here? Or did we lead ourselves here by turning away from God?

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Jun 9Liked by Paul Kingsnorth

Can I point to a little known lecture given in the 1950s by the then Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict) called 'The New Pagans and The Church' in which he elucidates upon the deep mystery of how the mass of mankind can be saved when even the holiest are not guaranteed. 

It's a brilliant exegesis and needs chewing over. I'll give a flavour here:

"So this point remains true: In the opposition between Christ, the One, and us, the many, we are unworthy of salvation, whether we are Christians or non-Christians, faithful or unbelievers, moral or immoral. No one besides Christ really “deserves” salvation.

But even here, there occurs a wonderful exchange. Condemnation belongs to all men together, but salvation belongs to Christ alone. But in a holy exchange, the opposite takes place: He alone takes all the evil upon himself, and in this way, he makes the place of salvation free for all of us. All salvation, which can be given to men, is based on this fundamental exchange between Christ, the One, and us, the many, and it is up to the humility of faith to acknowledge this. 

In the continuation of the mission of Christ, the representation of the many has been committed to the few, who are the Church, and the salvation of both takes place only in their functional coordination, and their common subordination, under the great representation of Jesus Christ, which includes both groups.

(This interplay of the Few and the Many) .... means that each person, above all the faithful, have their inevitable function in the whole process of the salvation of mankind.

There is .... a text, in which the opposition of the many and the few is expressed in an especially forceful way: “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Mt 22:14).13 What does this text mean? Surely it does not say that many are condemned, as one commonly tends to interpret it, but first of all that there are two forms of divine election. There are not two ways in which men justify themselves, but two ways in which God chooses them, and these two ways of election by God are the one way of salvation of God in Christ and his Church; and this relies on the necessary dialectic of the few, and the many, and on the representative service of the few in the prolongation of Christ’s representation, or substitution."

It is worth reading the whole essay at   https://www.hprweb.com/2017/01/the-new-pagans-and-the-church/    particularly the latter portion of it. It turned on a very liberating light for me.

Chesterton, characteristically, tumbled on it several decades earlier. In a chapter in 'Orthodoxy' called 'The Paradoxes of Christianity' he elucidates the whole mystery in a flourish when, concerning those paradoxes and anticipating Benedict, he simply wrote:

"Because a man prayed and fasted on the Northern snows, flowers could be flung at his festival in the Southern cities; and because fanatics drank water on the sands of Syria, men could still drink cider in the orchards of England."

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The world is not evil, it is filled with many goods provided to us by a loving God. Surely, one of the greatest of those goods is Silence, which has both spiritual and physical benefits. But in this life, we all have to make choices about which goods we will pursue, which often requires giving up other things that are equally as good. Monks and ascetics are not turning away from the world, they are choosing to pursue another type of good, albeit in an extreme form. In the biblical story of Martha and Mary, Martha is the active one serving Jesus, while Mary simply listens to him. When Martha complains, Jesus tells her that Mary has "chosen the good portion." Jesus affirms that choices can be made, and at least suggests that the less active path might be superior.

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Sounds like good common sense to me...but we fail so often at common sense.

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"By the nineteenth century, the popular pilgrimage to the island had to be suppressed by the Church for the usual reasons: there was too much boozing and fighting. A theory had it that any sin committed on Inis Cealtra was immediately annulled, as it was holy ground."

Basically, what happens in Inis Cealtra stays in Inis Cealtra. Good thing this is in Ireland because if it were in the US there would already be a casino, luxe hotel, and pricey steakhouse on the island.

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What, no buffet?

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Goes without saying...

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This is beautiful. I sincerely hope you'll be publishing a book with all of these Holy Well Substacks which we've enjoyed so much over the past few years. I'll pre-order it for my entire Christmas pressie list!

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Something I've been wondering as I follow this series - when did the golden age of Irish monasticism end? And why? Was it the vikings? The Normans? The English?

Is there a single surviving monastery with a lineage going back to the early saints?

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Good question. I feel like Paul has written about this but I can't recall specifics. Might it also have had something to do with the Catholic Church itself? Anyway, I second this question.

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The Dissolution of the Monasteries (in Great Britain and Ireland) happened under Henry VIII.

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Ah, of course. For some reason, I've only ever thought of that as an English thing... but of course, they ruled Ireland at the time.

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From Marmite to Gaza to the Enlightenment to the end of the Irish monasteries—if something rotten happened or is happening you'll probably find the English behind it.

I'm kidding, people. Sort of...

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Blaming 'the English' for Gaza is quite a stretch. May I be the first to point out that 'the English' were first among those to suffer at the hands of Henry VIII, our very own Stalin. We lost all our monasteries, for a start.

May I be the first then to point out that the Tudors were Welsh ...

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Is it? The Balfour Declaration didn't come out of Mexico, after all. I was mostly trying to make a funny, but Britain could be said to be responsible for Gaza in much the same way it's responsible for the Wounded Knee Massacre, the conflict over Kashmir, and other fallout from from its 400-year imperial/colonial rampage across the globe, including plenty of rotten occurrences in Ireland.

All of this would require acceptance of a radical analysis of how certain problems originated, and honestly, it strikes me as highly suspicious that an England invaded by seafaring Norse plunderers would go on to do seafaring plundering on a global scale. So perhaps even more fundamentally responsible than Britain, some small groups of Viking sociopaths are to blame for Gaza. They sure killed a lot of Irish monks.

Maybe there's even one guy, back in the frosty mists of Norwegian pre-history, who was beaten by his unhappy daddy and became the original source of... wetiko(?) that led to the deaths of 55 million indigenous Americans, a genocide which as we know inspired the Nazis, whose own rampage we know still reverberates today through a place like Israel.

One guy! Or maybe his arsehole dad.

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Henry the 8th was the first obviously sociopathic(IMHO) leader and example for modern times. Studying him as a school kid was eyeopening. The 'divine right' of kings to be openly evil.

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I think I read that there is a monastic community on an island called Iona (?) and Mull Island. I hope I got those names right. Sorry if Im misleading anyone.

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You can find quite a lot about this in How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill. I just re-read it, and it pairs nicely with Paul's writing.

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Wonderful, as usual. That call or potential call to solitude is fascinating - and sometimes maddening.

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Reading through a few comments and I have to ascribe to Paul’s theory that we have turned our backs on God. Here in the US public schools have taken any mention of Christianity out of curriculum and if it is included it’s most assuredly in a bad light. Socialism and Marxism tear away religion from people with the State being the end all be all. We have Latin Mass Catholics being added to watch group lists basically equal to terrorists. Freedom of religion is under attack more now than it has ever been. Thanks for these well stories. It gives me great peace in a time where it’s greatly needed. I for one would sign up for a book on all these wells and read it every Sunday keeping the tradition you have set here on Substack. I know several copies would be needed for friends of mine who would be happy to read about them and your thoughts on them. Thanks

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Yes! Socialism and Marxism have taken over the USA. This is why the communist party is sweeping to landslide victory with the Democrats and Republicans, those two decrepit old capitalist parties, barely registering a fraction of a percent of the vote in 2024. It's quite a turnaround from those treasured, simpler days of oligarchy where we'd be restricted to choosing between a demented, geriatric, warmongering neoliberal hack and a cretinous, sub-literate, sociopathic buffoon.

You know what I did about the lack of Christianity in schools? I didn't send my kids to them, which despite all the rampant socialism and mandated government worship of the State it turns out is legal to do.

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As you probably know, Americans, not having a "Red Tory" tradition, often conflate Socialism/Marxism with left-liberalism and cultural leftism. Also, you have to grant that there is some overlap.

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America is the most frantic capitalist whorehouse the world has ever known, by a lot. I cannot take seriously anyone who calls a place like Washington D.C., crawling with hundreds of thousands of money-grubbing lobbyists of every stripe and bribing every politician in sight, "Marxist". It's a joke, and that's all it is. The percentage of American conservatives who throw around the word 'Marxist' that have ever read 'Das Kapital' can be counted on one hand.

These are working class people who have decided that since they can't handle the cognitive dissonance of facing the reality that neoliberal capitalism has destroyed their lives, have instead lapped up a mythology propagated across right wing media that "Marxists" are to blame for the sorry state of their collapsing imperialist oligarchy. Sure works out great for the billionaires and their lackeys in government to duck responsibility for the smoking ruin they have left of the country and place it at the feet of Karl Freaking Marx.

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~~~These are working class people who have decided that since they can't handle the cognitive dissonance of facing the reality that neoliberal capitalism has destroyed their lives, have instead lapped up a mythology propagated across right wing media that "Marxists" are to blame~~~

Patently unfair. The great majority have never been informed of any alternative. When Dreher tried to point this out back in 2006 with Crunchy Cons, he was metaphorically run out of town on a rail. Prior to that there hadn't been a prominent voice presenting the alternative view since Kirk and Lasch both died in 1994. The mainstream Right in the U.S. is something of a monolith, and has its gatekeepers. You can't fault the WWC for not knowing what it can't know, given the miniscule size of the sane "dissident" right -- TAC, FPR, etc.

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Look, my expectation is that every adult is responsible for constructing at least a passably informed relationship to how the world and their society operates. Especially these days, when anyone can read up on anything, instantly. I mean, is that not the core conservative tenet: personal responsibility?

I'm one of those people who felt Trump's one true mic-drop moment is when he said of Hillary, in front of a national television audience, "She gets rich by making you poor." Thing is, in order to get on that stage and tell that truth, it took a billionaire oligarch. So the critique was never going to translate into anything substantive, and it didn't.

I have zero expectation the American right will ever allow this thought to enter its collective mind: "capitalism is not good." I expect they must get awfully sweaty when Jesus is flipping over the tables of the money-changers.

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You're not personally responsible for what you don't know, and you can only know something you've been exposed to. Trust me, I know these people -- I have some in my family, and the adjacent county to mine is half rural, half rust-belt. For the most part they have only heard one side of the story, the digital availability of the other notwithstanding. In fact the latter may actually hurt, given the sheer volume of information out there. Who can sift through it all?

Thing is, a lot of these folks have an intuition that the playing field is tilted against them, they just don't have enough information to connect the dots.

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I'm Orthodox (with some thanks to Paul for a nudge!). From everything I have read and discussed with my Spiritual Father (the Priest at my Church), I think you are right Paul, about us leading ourselves here by turning away from God. Nature abhors a vacuum and if we discard God, something else will fill that vacuum... something in opposition to God. Hence our 'enlightened' age being the most globally violent ever witnessed. Society, art, mental health, politics, war, in general every worldly thing, reflects back to us our spiritual state. We (mankind) thought we knew better (than God). We don't. The only remedy is to return to Him.

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Agree completely, Samwise! We ignore God and His Word at our peril. The passage in Romans about Abraham not wavering at the promise of God (which would have been most normal and understandable) but “being strengthened in faith, giving glory to God…” is of the utmost profundity. It is a clue for us not to over-intellectualize or critique the Word of God. It is not fashionable to “rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” yet demons abound, waiting to take advantage of the slightest vacuum. Pride would counsel to discredit the danger of ignoring Abraham’s example.

Having read “The Way of a Pilgrim” and “The Pilgrim Continues His Way,” I was struck by how I was drawn to the notion of constantly reciting the Jesus Prayer, because I don’t think the pilgrim had the right answer to the question of “praying without ceasing,” yet I find solace and comfort in the words, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” What is the right answer to the question, “What does it mean to pray without ceasing?” Is prayer more than words? Apparently the ascetics thought so; their very lives were prayers. But what of us? Jobs. Mortgages. The propensity of children to often be hungry. If we don’t take care of our own, we are worse than infidels. Yes, the plea and confession are an important root, but the visible part of the tree is where its life is made manifest, and we can make the effort to “bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” while not forgetting to “rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” you know, praying without ceasing. In the meantime, we can wrestle with the distinction between being “slaves” and “sons” and let the chips fall where they may, eschewing vacuum, embracing Life.

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Absolutely. Whatever we do, wherever God has placed us, to live our lives by imitating Christ and for the glory of God, surely that is praying without ceasing?

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And it's not a case of "God is watching," the message from the accuser, but rather that He is walking with us, better said, we are walking with Him, like a Friend in the back of our mind, One whom the ascetics found but available to us all by putting off the old self and putting on the new, "created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness."

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What a lovely sharing of such a welcoming island and well. I know you are planning a book of the Wild Saints Paul, and hope you’d consider bringing the Fifty Holy Wells into book form as well…perhaps you could organize your writings and bring the finishing touches together at Inis Cealtra, what a Blessing.

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I remember that feeling- the special personal gravity of a place that still beckons and calls the heart back-

for me it's on Iona:

St Oran's ir-raze-able little chapel

Martyr's Bay

St Columba's Bay

But here in British Columbia Canada, return is only ever a dream.

I'm jealous ;-)

Glad I can read though; thank you for sharing as always Paul. And also thanks for inspiring me to go through "How the Irish Saved Civilization" again; thoroughly loving it this second time!

warmly,

-Mark Basil

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"A few weeks of that life would either drive you mad or turn you into a real Christian."

How could on tell which was which? And, how could one to choose which to be?

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There is that quote about the past being a different country where they do things differently…..I do sometimes wish though that I could book an off peak return ticket and visit.

Lance from ‘The Detectorists’….proclaimed metal detecting was the closest thing to time travel. He said …”we unearth scattered memories. We mine for stories” but it seems to me that looking closely at these sacred sites is also a form of detecting …it certainly seems to unearth a lot of stories from the past …..forgotten stories that are imbibed with the eternal….and we need them….they’re like rain in a desert!

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Paul et al, the ancient story about the radical asceticism of St Caimin reminded me of a very contemporary (last year) series of talks called 'Building the Catacomb Church,' by Fr John Valadez. Six talks, each about an hour, all worthy. The 4th (Resistance Cells) and 5th (Embracing Suffering) are the winners IMO for impact and their radical Christian martyric ethos. For now, they are behind a paywall, but it is one of the most remarkable, "meaty," and unflinching pastoral messages I've yet heard. Fr John Valadez runs the Death To The World Zine and its associated Ek Nekron Podcast. He is priest at a parish in California. Link to 'Building the Catacomb Church':

https://www.patreon.com/posts/building-church-103783930?utm_medium=clipboard_copy&utm_source=copyLink&utm_campaign=postshare_fan&utm_content=join_link

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I am having difficulty imagining the saint's motive for praying that he might have every disease known to man. I have read that it is possible for pride or ambition to enter into even the pursuit of the spiritual life, in fact that it is a particular danger. I just can't help thinking that it sounds like a competition to "out-do" others rather than a genuine communion with God. I admit, that maybe it would seem different if I knew all the background and the pattern of the saint's daily life. It certainly served as quite the counterpoint to the fellow who wanted gold and silver for sure!

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This somehow reminds me of the monks in 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail', chanting while trudging along and thwacking themselves in the back with washing boards every few steps.

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Paul, you need to bring a harp along on your next trip to the island. That will make the experience complete, even if you can't play yet. After 100 days, maybe you could carry a tune.

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