Monday, January 26, 2015

Who Were the Beguines?

It was a mystery to me, so I was glad to receive a review copy from BlueBridge ( and have enjoyed reading it. The Wisdom of the Beguines, the Forgotten Story of a Medieval Women's Movement is by Laura Swan, who is adjunct professor of religious studies, Washington State, and a former prioress of a community of Benedictine women in the Pacific Northwest. I am impressed by the research and study she must have done to tell us about the Beguines, and am grateful to her for all of this history of an important woman's group I had not heard of previously. Yes, I have heard of some of the early women mystics, such as Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, but those are about all I knew of, until now.

The Beguines began to form in groups in Europe more than 800 years ago! That's in the early 1200s. They were not nuns, but laywomen. They did not take vows, nor live in monasteries. There was no founder or rule to live by. Some lived alone, some lived in groups, perhaps sharing a house. Swan writes: "They did share their common way of life: chastity and simplicity, their unusual business acumen, and their commitment to God and to the marginalized."

Beguines existed into the twenty-first century and some news media reported the death of "the last Beguine, Marcella Pattyn in 2013." She was in her 90s and had lived in Belgium. They thought she was the last but Swan says there are reports that young women are "making spiritual promises and seeking a beguines lifestyle today, both in Europe and in North America."

Swan gives much information about who was where and what they were doing, their ups and downs, problems with business guilds, church officials, and local politics, even while they were much involved in helping the poor and needy in their communities. Often their day included "prayer, fasts, physical labor, and works of charity," She says that the beguines were "united in their commitment to ministry," and they were also involved in local businesses to support their ministries. I think we have much to learn about the women who have gone before us and their ministries and The Wisdom of the Beguines is an important beginning.

---Lois Sibley

Friday, January 16, 2015

Special Prayer Book for Military

With sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters signing up and going off to represent our country in this world of wars, it might be helpful for them to have a prayer or two in their pockets. The Episcopal Church has provided A Prayer Book for the Armed Services, which looks to me like it could be very helpful. Published by Church Publishing, Inc., this is a small book of the size to fit into one's pocket or purse. Meant for chaplains, but it could be of benefit to anyone in the military.

The print is small but manageable, and the contents are perfect from my perspective. First, there is a brief  suggestion for daily prayers in the morning, noon, and evening. There is a special listing of Psalms that might fit nicely into one's daily devotions. Some of the Psalms and prayers are also in Spanish. Changes in wording can be chosen and fitted in as best provides for the pray-er and his or her situation at any moment. There are pages of brief readings and prayers that quote from those in The Book of Common Prayer, which is a basic resource for this small prayer book. And there are also appropriate, brief prayers for specific needs of someone in the military, including one "for a family farewell for a deployed member." There are prayers "for a spouse," and their children I assume, "for loved ones out of touch," "during night hours," "friends who are being deployed," and "a flight prayer" for those who are in the Air Force and taking "the wings of the morning" while praying for "fair weather, a clean landing, and a welcome home."

There is also a summary of the Bible, beginning with Creation, including God's promise to Abraham, God's covenant with Israel, the story of Jesus' birth, baptism, preaching, some of his teachings, healings, his summary of the law, his promises to those who believe in him, his last supper with his disciples, his death and resurrection, the coming of the Holy Spirit. and the promise that Christ will come again. Enough so that anyone who wonders may know the truth and believe.

A good selection of the Psalms and words of some hymns are also there, and information for services of baptism, communion, and others that might be helpful to chaplains, as well as informative to the curious. The Lord's Prayer is included as well as the Ten Commandments, Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed.

It occurs to me that parents and grandparents might appreciate having this little book. With it, they could pray some of the same prayers their children and grandchildren are praying. And that might be a comfort for all of them.

---Lois Sibley,

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Questions for the New Year...

As we begin the New Year 2015, let's read The Essential Question, How You Can Make a Difference for God by Whitney T. Kuniholm, and published by IVPress, ( Kuniholm, who is president of Scripture Union/USA is also author of several books on personal and group Bible study. In this one he invites readers to take a journey with him through the book of Acts as Luke tells us of the first century church, how it began and who were some of the people involved, like Peter and John and Stephen and Philip and Barnabus and Saul who became Paul, and Priscilla and others. These people knew that Jesus is Lord and it "changed their lives," as it continues to do for believers today.

After Jesus left it, the church began to grow. We might wonder how did the Christians function without him? Resolve conflicts? Manage day-to-day problems? Discern God's will for them and their church? Rely on the Holy Spirit as a guide? Remember Jesus's promise that he will come back one day? There were many questions in their minds and on their lips. Not unlike our own. For Christians, writes Kuniholm, "the real question is "How can I make a difference for God?" He is full of practical ideas and practices that might be helpful to readers who have that concern.

Other questions he brings up for discussion are: "Who are you, Lord?" and "What shall I do, Lord," Saul's questions on the Damascus Road (Acts 22:8-10). Kuniholm reminds us that once we have heard the story of Jesus and made our decision to follow him, that is our essential question: "What shall I do, Lord," and we may be asking it many times through our days and nights as we try to serve the Lord and share his life, death, and resurrection truth with others.

Kuniholm believes that God has a plan, an assignment, a mission for his people, whether it be in the home, school, military, marketplace or somewhere else, and Kuniholm is eager to help us "answer the essential question for ourselves---that is, to find and follow God's assignment for us today."

He recommends  readers follow the steps through his book with a friend, a group, or with their church. "Answering the essential question," he writes, "is not a one-time event. It's an everyday challenge. 'What shall I do, Lord?' is the question that will keep you focused on your God-given mission, whether great or small, for the rest of your life. And that's the way to change your world forever."

---Lois Sibley,