The 30 Days with a Great Spiritual Teacher series is a collection of short devotionals edited by John Kirvan that offer readings and prayer based on the work of a spiritual master.
I recently had the pleasure of reading two books in this series: Let There Be Light, based on the work of Hildegard of Bingen; and Set Aside Every Fear, which focuses on the writings of Catherine of Siena. Both of these women are saints and doctors of the Church.
Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was an aristocratic abbess of the twelfth century. She was a “mystic, visionary, prophet, reformer, a scientist, an encyclopedist, a composer, and a dramatist – a Renaissance personality well before the Renaissance.” She wrote on a wide variety of topics. The goal of this devotional is “to bring together passages of spiritual wisdom from many different places in her writings” that focus on the theme of night and day, light and darkness. The readings are based on her visions and are largely symbolic. The reflections and prayers invite you to use and trust your imagination.
The daily readings for each morning in Let There Be Light feature two sections: prophecy and commentary. There is then a mantra to carry with you throughout the day. Night prayer includes a reflective exercise for bringing the day to an end and a prayer based on Psalm 36. The readings and reflections are brief but offer much to ponder.
One reflection relevant for Lent is the one offered for Day Six:
It was the face of a jealous God.
We are born, each of us,
With a desire for good
and a lust for evil.
We are called to life
and attracted to death.
We hear: “Do good.”
And we respond: “Choose pleasure.”
We embrace bitterness,
stealing from ourselves a treasury of good
and laying up a treasury of evil.
A jealous God sees us
and turns a terrible face to us.
But rather than condemning us,
he calls us to penitence
he recalls us to life.
He uses his power sparingly
never slaying, but breathing new life,
hearing our prayers.
I know what I deserve.
Your mercy humbles me
but gives glory to your name.
Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380) was a lay Dominican who lived a life of fasting, prayer, and service to others. She also was a gifted mediator, helping solve disputes, both locally and in the papal courts. Her most famous work is The Dialogue, a “summary of her theology, her spirituality, her pastoral concerns, and her convictions.”
Set Aside Every Fear focuses on “the image of the river and the bridge … The irreducible connection between love of God and service of humanity … [and the]dialogue of love between the God-who-is and we-who-are-not.” Each day begins with a passage of God speaking. There is a single-sentence mantra meant to accompany you through the day, and an evening meditation in which we respond to God.
Day Four offers a powerful reflection on love of neighbor.
God Speaks …
I want you to know
that every virtue and every failing
involves your neighbor.
Anyone who does not love her neighbor,
who does not help her,
who does not pray for her,
For to cut yourself off from neighbor
is to cut yourself off from grace.
Unless you love me you cannot love your neighbor,
and to deprive your soul of love for me and
is to do evil.
Both Let There Be Light and Set Aside Every Fear offer beautiful, powerful meditations and prayers. Both would be perfect for an at-home retreat. There are several other books in the series. If you want to spend some time with the two other female Doctors of the Church, Let Nothing Disturb You is based on the writings of Teresa of Ávila, and Simply Surrender focuses on the teachings of Thérèse of Lisieux.
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Copyright 2020 Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur
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