Category: Prayer

A Liturgy of The Rood

Benefice of Bewcastle, Stapleton, and Kirklinton with Hethersgill

Bewcastle Cross – Good Friday

This is the liturgy we used around the Bewcastle Cross on Good Friday for the first time in 2024, which includes a recital of the Anglo-Saxon poem ‘The Dream of The Rood’. However, it almost certainly isn’t the first time it has been read around this cross – I suspect it was recited on Good Friday every year in the 700s when the monastic community existed at Bewcastle. The liturgy is reproduced here for those who might be interested in praying through it themselves.

A recording of the service (excluding the hymn), including the reading of ‘The Dream of the Rood’ can be found here:

The Service

The Welcome

Welcome to this ancient and holy place where, for over 1300 years, our Christian forebears have gathered to worship, meditate on the cross, and pray. Today we join with them.

On Good Friday, the Church focuses on commemorating the Passion and crucifixion of Jesus. Since the fourth century, the ritual of the Veneration of the Cross has been part of this tradition. During the service, we listen to readings that focus on the events of this day, and towards the end, you are invited, if you wish, to come forward and show reverence to the cross, the climax of our salvation, perhaps by touching it, kissing it, bowing before it, or just sitting silently at its feet.

The encounter we have with God on Good Friday is the most profound of the year and the act of veneration one of those moments when we respond in a very individual, personal way. Today we meet God at his most vulnerable and most powerful – a day of paradox in which defeat is really victory and where one man’s death leads to life for all.

Let us pray.
O thou whose supreme devotion did not refuse the burden of bearing crucifixion,
by whom the sins of the human race were taken away as so heavy a burden,
when you were uplifted by your own arms like a pure lamb to sacrifice:
I beg you to extend the hand of your mercy towards my sins,
and to erase all my crimes completely,
O noble and resolute Lord Jesus Christ.

Behold the Cross on which was hung the Saviour of the world.
We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee because by thy Holy Cross thou hast redeemed the World.


We pray together
O Height of humility and Fortitude of the week,
By your humility you have raised up our fallen world.
You permitted the cruel hands of sinners to raise you on the rood.
I offer thanks, and pray that, by this, you will lead me from all wilfulness.
Draw me from earth to heaven:
Do not forsake your lost sheep, but carry me in your arms
that I may be found within your fold,
blessed Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel Reading

Let us pray
Almighty God, Lord Jesus Christ,
You stretched out your pure hands on the rood for us,
And redeemed us with your holy and precious blood;
Enable me so to feel and understand this mystery
That I may attain true repentance and unfailing perseverance
All the days of my life.

The Dream of The Rood

Listen! I will tell the best of dreams
Which I dreamed, the middle of one night
While, far and wide, all speech-bearers slept.
It was as though I saw a wondrous tree
Towering in the sky, suffused with light.
Brightest of beams; and all that beacon was
Cased with gold. Jewels studded lovingly
At its earthen base, just as there were five
Upon the cross-beam: all those beautiful through eternity
Beheld there the angel of the Lord.
No felon’s gallows that, but holy spirits,
Mankind throughout the Earth, and all this marvellous creation, 
Gazed on the glorious tree of victory.
And I with sins was stained, with guilt stricken. 
I saw this tree of glory brightly shine
In gorgeous raiment, all bedecked with gold.
The Ruler’s tree was with gems 
Worthily adorned; yet I could see beyond that gold
The ancient wretched strife, when first
Upon its right side it began to bleed.
I was with sorrows all disturbed, affrighted
At the stunning vision. I saw that brilliant beacon
Then change its clothes and hues; sometimes it was
Bedewed with blood and drenched with flowing gore, 
At other times it was with treasure all adorned.
So there I lay gazing on the Saviour’s tree,
In spirit grieving for a long, long while,
Until I heard it utter sounds. The best
Of woods began to speak these words to me:

“It was long ago – yet I remember still –
That I was hewn down at the grove’s end,
Stripped from my roots. Strong foes there took me,
Command me hold aloft their felons,
Made me a spectacle. These men bore me
Upon their shoulders, till on a mount they set me,
A host of fiends there fixed me.
And then saw I the Lord of all mankind
Hasten with eager zeal that he might upon me
Mount. I durst not against God’s word
Bow down or break, when I saw tremble all
The surface of the earth. I might then
Have felled those foes, yet stood I fast.
The young hero (who God Almighty was)
Disrobed himself, resolute in heart and strong.
He climbed the lofty gallows-tree,
Bold in the sight of many, 
For his intent was mankind to redeem.
I trembled as the warrior clasped me.
But still I dared not to the earth bend down,
Fall to the ground. Upright I there stood firm,
A rood was I, raised up; I held on high
The noble King, the Lord of heaven above.
I durst not stoop. With dark nails they pierced me;
The scars still clearly seen upon me,
The open wounds of malice. Yet for him
I dared not harm them. They mocked us both together.
All sodden with blood was I,
Which from his side poured out, when forth
He sent his spirit. Full many a cruel fate
On that hill have I endured.
I saw the God of hosts stretched grimly out.
Darkness covered the Ruler’s corpse with clouds,
His brilliant brightness; shadows passed across,
Black in the darkness. Weep all creation,
Bewail the King's death; Christ was on the cross.
And yet saw I men coming from afar,
Hastening to the Prince. I beheld it all.
With sorrows I was grievously oppressed,
Yet willingly I bent to those men's hands,
Humbly. They took up there Almighty God,
And from the heavy torment lifted him.
The battle-warriors left me standing steaming in his blood,
Wounded all over with spears was I.
They laid him down limb-weary; 
And at the corpse’s head they stood, beheld
The Lord of heaven, as there he rested 
For a while, weary from his bitter agony.
Hewed they then a sepulchre for him
In sight of his tormentors. Carved it of the brightest stone,
and set therein the Lord of victories.
Then, wretched in the eventide, they sang
a dirge for him; and when away they went,
Wearily from that glorious Prince, there he stayed, alone.
Yet remained we there fixed and weeping in our places
A good long time after the warriors’ voices
Had from us passed away. The corpse grew cold,
The fair abode of life. Then to the earth men
Felled us down. That was a dreadful fate.
In a deep pit they buried us. But friends
And servants of the Lord learnt where I was,
And girded me with gold and silver.
Now may you understand, dearest warrior,
That I have suffered deeds of wicked men
And sorrows grievous. Now the time is come
That far and wide on earth all shall honour me,
And all this great and glorious creation,
And to this beacon offer prayers. On me
The Son of God once suffered; so glorious now
I tower beneath the heavens.
And I may heal all those in awe of me.
Once I became of tortures the cruellest,
Most loathsome to all nations, till opened I
For mortal man the right way of life.
Listen! The Prince of glory honoured me,
And heaven's King exalted me above
All other trees, just as Almighty God
For all mankind raised up his mother Mary 
Above all other women in the world.
Now, my dear warrior, I bid you
That you this sight shall say to all,
Reveal in words, this is the tree of glory
On which Almighty God once suffered torments
For mankind’s many sins, and for the deeds
Of Adam long ago. He tasted death
Thereon; and yet the Lord arose again
By his great might to come to human aid.
To heaven he rose. Again the Lord himself,
Almighty God, and all his angels with him,
Will come onto this earth to seek
Mankind at the day of doom, when he, the final Judge,
Will give his verdict upon every man,
What in this fleeting life he hath deserved.
Nor then may any be free from fear
About the words to him the Lord shall say.
Before the crowd he shall ask where that man is
Who for God’s name would suffer bitter death
As formerly did he upon the tree.
Then will they be afraid, and few will know
What they may say to Christ. But there need none
Be fearful if he bears upon his breast
The best of beacons. Through the rood each soul
May to the heavens journey from this earth,
Who with the Ruler thinks to go and dwell.”

Then prayed I to the tree with joyous heart
And eagerness, where I was all alone,
Companionless; my spirit was inspired
With keenness for departure; I’ve lived
Through many hours of longing. Now my hope in life
Is that the tree of triumph I may seek
Alone more often than all other men,
Well it honour; my wish for that is great
Within my heart, and my plea for support
Is turned towards the rood. I have on earth
Not many noble friends, but they have gone
Hence from earth’s joys and sought the King of glory,
With the High Father live they now in heaven
And in glory dwell; and I wait each day
For when the cross of God, which here on earth
I formerly beheld, may fetch me from
This transitory life and carry me
To where there is great bliss and joy in heaven,
Where the Lord’s host is seated at the feast,
And it shall set me where I hereafter
May in glory dwell, live in lasting bliss
Among the saints. May God be friend to me,
He who suffered once on the gallows tree
Here on earth for the sins of men. He us redeemed
And granted life and heavenly home.
Hope was renewed with glory and with joy
For those who suffered burning in the fires of hell.
The Son was mighty on that fateful journey,
Happy and victorious, when
The one Almighty Ruler with him brought 
A multitude of spirits to God's Kingdom,
To joy among the angels and the souls
Of those who already in the heavens dwelt 
In glory. Then almighty God had come,
The Ruler, where his dwelling was.

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A Liturgy of The Rood

Good Friday 2024, 4pm, Bewcastle. Outside around the Bewcastle Cross (or in the church if the weather is inclement), a service of meditation listening to a reading of the ‘Dream of the Rood’. It will probably take around 15 mins to read, and will finish with a period of silence. The whole service will last about 30 minutes.  I’m not aware of this having been done before, but I’m sure it must have been.

For those who don’t know it, the Dream of the Rood has been described as ‘one of the greatest religious poems in English literature’ and is one of the earliest Anglo-Saxon poems in existence. A section of it is inscribed in runes on the Ruthwell Cross in south Dumfriesshire, not far from the Solway coast. In fact, these runes are the oldest Anglo-Saxon poetry anywhere in the world. The Ruthwell and Bewcastle crosses are closely-related sister crosses that both date from the early 8thC. It is likely that they were either inspired by the poem, or inspired the author(s) of the poem, as they are more or less contemporary with it – the close relation between them being evident through the runic engraving. The poem is about an elderly monk who dreams about the cross (the ‘rood’) in his sleep, and as he meditates the cross begins to speak to him about the events of that day. It is Anglo-Saxon Johannine theology, in that creation speaks of God’s presence to those who pray, and the colour, holiness, gore, majesty, wonder and awe flow back and forth through the poem as the warrior Christ climbs up to mount his victory throne, which is, of course, the rood.

We will be gathered, praying around perhaps the actual cross that ‘speaks’ in the poem. If you would like to be seated outside you will need to bring your own furniture.

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A Letter from Bewcastle – April 2023

Dear Friends,

Lambing Time. This exhausting, exhilarating, seemingly endless period of tiring days and wakeful nights. Blood, afterbirth, mucus, straw. Byres full of lambs crying and ewes softly bleating. Everything throughout the rest of the year finds its fulfilment in these weeks. They are the climax of the farming year.

But not everyone involved in the lambing enjoys working with sheep. It seems to me that generally, there are two types of farmer – those who love working with stock; and those who would rather be working with tractors and machinery. The first tend to have no interest in machinery, other than as a necessary tool to get a job done, but delight in caring for and working with the animals, understanding their behaviour and learning their idiosyncrasies. The second tend to find animals a lot of unpredictable trouble, and would rather spend their time on something logical and practical that they can understand and fix. Of course there are some who understand and enjoy both. Then again, there are others who enjoy neither and struggle with the daily grind.

And then there are the rest of us who aren’t farmers, but who live among them, seeing the fruit of their work as they manage the land around us. We see the first crop of lambs released out into the fields and, whether farmer or no, it fills us with joy to see the young ones springing up into the air, or racing round the outside of the field. They remind us that life can be good, and that we, too, were once young and full of energy!

I guess its time I said something about God. After all, it is Easter and this is the parish letter! Trouble is that a lot of people turn off when they think the ‘religious bit’ is coming. ‘No, I wouldn’t call myself religious’ is the almost universal response when I talk to young parents and prospective godparents wanting their new child baptized. And it’s the same with most older folk as well, especially men. It’s not so much that we don’t believe in God, just that we don’t ‘know’, and it all seems pretty irrelevant to daily living anyway.

Which is strange, really, when you think about it. I mean almost everyone believes in ‘love’ and ‘caring’ for someone dear to you. Most people believe in honesty and integrity, and are kind towards others. But all these characteristics are just reflections of the One who made us. They don’t come from anywhere else. Certainly not from any theory of ‘natural selection’ and ‘survival of the fittest’. No, they are traits in every human heart and are derived from, and dependent upon, the one who created us. And in our hearts we all believe in them, recognising them as good and properly human. Just as we do the joy we feel when we see a field full of lambs.

It’s just our heads that get in the way. We aren’t very good at thinking things through properly. If we did, we’d see, very straightforwardly, that we’re all ‘religious’ deep down inside. Even the most stubbornly grumpy of us! We do really believe in goodness.

So, yes, I am going to talk about God, because, actually, I believe in every one being made in God’s image. I believe in each one of you, that kindness and love reside in the depths of your heart. Our struggle, then, is to allow that kindness and love to always govern the way we behave and the decisions we make. Church is just the place we come to admit we screw it up, say sorry to God, and ask for his help in trying again.

But, for some, that does mean overcoming our pride. That pride that says we are ok and we don’t need to say sorry, or need any help from anyone. That would be to show weakness, and we can’t do that, can we. What might other people think?

And that’s how we come to Easter. Because it was exactly that pride that nailed Jesus to the cross. ‘Who do you think you are to show us how we should live?’ And the nails are driven home. But his arms remain open wide in welcome to all who will come. So come. Even if it means sneaking in the back of the church when no-one’s looking. This is Easter – the day of New Beginning. Try the outdoor sunrise service at 6am!

Your Friend and Priest,


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Lenten Daily Prayer with St Cuthbert

If you haven’t already, please do consider signing up to join us for a series of 15-20 minute times of morning prayer each day throughout Lent. My hope and prayer is that, as we undertake this journey through Lent, in the company of St Luke and St Cuthbert, we do so in the knowledge that, while we may listen and pray on our own, we are actually doing this together, bound by the Holy Spirit, in the presence of the hosts of angels, the great crowd of witnesses who have gone before us, including Luke and Cuthbert, each other, and, of course, Christ himself. We are, therefore, never alone, even in the stillness and the silence. This post is by way of an introduction, and a little background on Cuthbert.

Beginning on Ash Wednesday, we start the day with readings from the psalms, the Gospel of Luke, a chapter from Bede’s Life of Cuthbert, and some prayers. At various points we remember some of the pre-Norman saints whose ‘days’ take place during Lent. The pace is deliberately slow, to allow for contemplation, reflection, and supplication. If you are looking for something quick and amusing, you won’t find it here…

St Cuthbert is the Anglo-Saxon saint of northern England who lived in the 7th Century and died in 687AD. He is renowned for his love of God, and his care for, and kindness towards, people and creation, especially animals, and wandered across the north of England from Lindisfarne and Jarrow to Carlisle and the Lakes as monk, abbot, and then bishop, before returning to his life of solitude on the island of Inner Farne, where he died at the age of 53.

Bede wrote his ‘Life’ (or ‘Vita’) of Cuthbert, not as a biography, but as a hagiography, firstly to show us why we should revere Cuthbert as a saint, and secondly, more prosaically, to show us what a life in Christ’s footsteps looks like in his time and place, and to encourage others, especially monks, to follow where Cuthbert had led. There are 46 chapters in Bede’s story of his life and so there are 46 morning prayers in the series. Bede was a master of numerology and there is no coincidence in the fact that his hagiography is written in 46 chapters and that is the same as the number of days in Lent, which had recently been extended to this length (40 days of fasting, excluding the Sundays). He almost certainly wrote it as an early form of ‘Lectio Divina‘, that is, for monastic contemplation each day through Lent. In other words, exactly the way we are using it in these times of morning prayer.

There is no record of Bede ever having met Cuthbert. He was about 15 when Cuthbert died, but Bede was placed by his parents into Jarrow monastery at the age of seven, Cuthbert was his bishop, and the latter made it his business to visit every monastic house in his see when Bede was already a teenager, so it is highly likely he did. However, Bede did know many monks who knew Cuthbert well, and his stories are drawn from their recollections of him, as we discover through the course of the Vita. Both Cuthbert and Bede are buried in Durham Cathedral (where I was ordained, both as deacon and priest), one at either end.

There is much we can learn from our pre-Norman Christian ancestors on this island – they had an immense respect for creation (not fear, as some claim). They saw themselves as part of the whole, but with a special responsibility to care for creation. This shines through in Cuthbert’s life. For example, when Cuthbert was hungry, he shared his food with the animals around him; when he was cold they warmed him; and when they were a nuisance he reprimanded them! In fact, the way in which animals and nature responded to the Anglo-Saxon saints, such as Cuthbert and Guthlac, was one of the main ways of telling that this was a true follower of Christ and blessed by God. But the saints also understood that the animals were equal inheritors of Christ’s work on the Cross. We see the same idea on the carved faces (iconography) of the Anglo-Saxon stone crosses of Bewcastle and Ruthwell on what is called ‘inhabited vinescroll’, where the beasts and birds share in the fruit of the vine (which is, of course, Christ, the Church, and the Eucharist – remember Jesus saying ‘I am divine, you are de branches…’?).

Remember, if you would like to share your thoughts and reflections at any point with others on the same journey, this page is available to do so. Please check up on it occasionally to join in any conversation that may be taking place.

Follow Cuthbert’s story here, and allow it’s slow pace to sink into your spirit…

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A Poem for Candlemas

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A Letter from Bewcastle – February 2023

Dear Friends,

I love long-tailed tits. Looking like small balls of cream and fawn feather on the end of a black and white stick, they’re constantly restless, moving from tree to tree in their little flocks of six to twelve birds, like a gang a marauding youngsters, calling to each other with their single, tiny, softly shrill cheeps (usually the first sign they’re there)! And yet there is something about them that always lifts my heart and brings a smile of pure joy to my face. I don’t even know why they have this effect on me. Perhaps it’s the suddenness of their unexpected arrival in a nearby willow, or on the fat balls at the feeder. They stay for a few seconds, or even a minute if you’re lucky, and then they’re off again and gone, and who knows when you’ll next see them? There seems to be nothing malicious about them, just a love of life. They stick with each other, always chirping, saying, ‘hey, you still with us? Come on, catch up’, or ‘wow, look what I’ve found here’, or ‘now that was fun.’ Sheer delight!

Late last summer I was out walking up near White Preston in the Bewcastle Fells with the family. My eldest daughter turned and, looking back towards the hill, asked what those birds were making such a noise in the distance. I instinctively said ‘corvids’, but something about them didn’t quite fit, and I decided to have closer look through the binoculars. The rest of the family carried on walking, but as I watched, I saw one was hovering while the other was flying around it, sometimes almost hitting it. ‘Ah’, I thought, ‘it’s crow harrying a kestrel to scare it off, and making a lot of noise about it.’ I was about to turn away when the ‘bombing’ bird turned in the air and I saw the distinctive sharp elbow and pointed wings – it was another kestrel. Kestrels are normally silent and solitary – only the young make much of a noise – so I decided to carry on watching. One bird was clearly hunting. The other was flying off and around, and then charging into the other, calling out all the while. The hunting bird would be knocked from its still point in the air, move a few yards and start again, undeterred. It wasn’t going to have any success hunting with all this disturbance around it, so what was going on? And then it dawned on me – the time of year, the location, the resolute patience of the one, the constant calling of the other – it was a mother trying to teach its fledgling how to hunt! As I watched the drama, it all started to make sense. The young one flying around, trying to work out what it’s mother was doing. The mother, silent, repeatedly and quietly adopting the same poise, the same hover, performing the same routine over and over. Once again, that recognition filled me with a sense of wonder, and a smile. Here was creation gloriously at work – a parent trying to teach its youngster the skills it needed to learn to survive in the world, and the youngster not quite ‘getting it’! And I almost missed it. I turned and ran to catch up with the others.

A few weeks later I was out on another walk one morning. The sky was clear and the sun shining. It was going to be another fine day. As I stood watching in silent prayer, again I became aware of a buzzard ‘miaowing’ close by. Turning, I saw a pair circling over the far corner of the field. Buzzards are the noisiest of all the raptors, so no surprises here. But I love watching all birds of prey, so I continued to gaze. After a while I began to notice that only one bird was being vocal – the other was silent. They were circling on thermals, gradually rising higher, sometimes shifting to a new thermal to continue the rise. But then I noticed that the noisy one was also very ‘flappy’. As I watched, I realised the other buzzard barely flapped at all. In fact, I saw it only do so once. Gradually it climbed higher, always leading the way. The noisy one struggled laboriously to try and keep up, now maybe fifty feet below. Once again, I realised I was watching a parent teaching it youngster how to ride the thermals, passing on its particular skill to enable its offspring to live, and to live well. Once again, the thrill of it ran through me.

There is so much that goes on around us, isn’t there? So many stories and dramas unfolding, usually unnoticed, all the time. Sometimes we just need the patience and the stillness to watch, to observe, to listen, and gradually we can begin to ‘read’ them. Perhaps it’s a discipline we can all practice as a form of prayer as we approach and enter Lent. I’d love to hear some of your stories.

Your friend and priest,



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Morning Prayer with St Cuthbert – Day 43

The Anglo-Saxon saints, along with the rest of the early Church, had a completely different view of Christian suffering to us. For them, pain and illness, although not to be sought, was participation in the suffering of Christ on the cross, and thus an involvement in the redemption of the world. A quick or sudden death, therefore, cheated them out of this privilege, meaning that they were somehow found to be unworthy of sharing in Christ’s work. The granting of Eadberht’s wish, to die through a ‘long and wearing illness’, gave him the right to be buried close to Cuthbert’s uncorrupted body, as he, too, had been found worthy of sharing in Christ’s redeeming work.

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Morning Prayer with St Cuthbert – Day 42

Cuthbert’s body has been in the ground sufficiently long for the worms to have done their work, such that his clean bones may now be translated to the church in a new casket. But, terrifyingly, the monks find his body untouched, looking as if asleep, and his clothes bright and fresh.

Bishop Eadberht, carrying out his Lenten fast on the tiny St Cuthbert’s Isle just next to Lindisfarne, links the preservation of Cuthbert’s body with the resurrection (Jonah in the fish), being called by God to be his own (Israel in the desert), protection through the fire of judgement (Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego), and Christ’s second coming. This is no disembodied existence – the inseparable but personal link between the saint’s material and spiritual existence acts as a conduit for the healing power of heaven to be made present. The saint, being in Christ’s presence, means Christ’s presence is also here.

Day 42 of Morning Prayer with St Cuthbert can be found here.

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The Still Centre

Turmoil and uncertainty all around. From the crisis in social care, to terrifying food, energy, and mortgage inflation; from government sleaze to the ‘invasion’ by the destitute and homeless; from children dying of starvation to personal rockets to the moon; from the Trumpeting of the end of democracy to the rise of nationalism and xenophobia; from corporate mega-profits to the extinction of the human race through catastrophic climate change: take your pick. We can find glimpses of goodness in the personal, but broaden out and there is injustice and injustice at every turn.

Job is devastated by a hurricane of disasters, yet still hopes. The Thessalonian church is persecuted and perplexed, but still believes. The Sadducees know talk of ‘life after death’ is utter nonsense, and for whom there is no ‘yet’ or ‘but’. In the midst of it all is the God who stills the storm by taking it all into his Son…

The Bewcastle Benefice sermon for the 3rd Sunday before Advent can be found here.

Morning Prayer with St Cuthbert – Day 42

Cuthbert’s body has been in the ground sufficiently long for the worms to have done their work, such that his clean bones may now be translated to the church in a new casket. But, terrifyingly, the monks find his body untouched, looking as if asleep, and his clothes bright and fresh.

Bishop Eadberht, carrying out his Lenten fast on the tiny St Cuthbert’s Isle just next to Lindisfarne, links the preservation of Cuthbert’s body with the resurrection (Jonah in the fish), being called by God to be his own (Israel in the desert), protection through the fire of judgement (Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego), and Christ’s second coming. This is no disembodied existence – the demonstrable link between the physical and the spiritual in the saint allows the power of heaven to break through.

Day 42 of Morning Prayer with St Cuthbert can be found here.

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Morning Prayer with St Cuthbert – Day 41

Cuthbert may be dead, but his body, like that of Jesus, was integral to his life of holiness and, more than this, being made of the soil of the earth, again like that of Jesus, creation was being sanctified through it. Even after his death, his body retains a connection with his spirit, as it awaits resurrection. And through this connection God’s Holy Spirit works its healing power through soil and water on a poor lad suffering from some terrible mental illness. There is a profound integration of matter and spirit here.

If you find these morning prayers helpful, please do feel free to pass on the word.

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