In this series of short reflections on the Rule of Columba my aim is to explore the wisdom of Columba’s life in Christ and creation and to seek to apply this ancient rule, this daily walk to my own personal exploration of the life of the Spirit. In doing so I hope that in some way the principles of the Columban rule can find a newer expression and vitality in the modern era.
What has continually amazed me the most as I have attempted to understand and practice the rule of Columba has been the natural balance that continually emerges. Not a balance as one would immediately assume between two polarities, but more a movement of harmony amongst a community of relationships. Although I have come to view this as a naturally Trinitarian movement, it has not impacted my life as a reflection on a theological doctrine. It has been more an encounter between creation – creator – my own humanity. An emergent conversation between the three of us as we walk together as experienced in my own life.
“and the evangelists’ draws me out of myself, draws me to focus not just on my relationship with Christ, but links me into world of spirituality that is almost lost to us in the western tradition. Namely that of the embrace of the heavenly host and the company of saints. I am confident that Columba is pushing me to focus on the practice of following through identifying with others.
The evangelists (or apostles) where men and women who gave their all and in most cases their very lives because of this great encounter with Jesus.
- Andrew: Martyrdom by crucifixion (bound, not nailed, to a cross).
- Bartholomew (Often identified with Nathaniel in the New Testament): Martyrdom by being either 1. Beheaded, or 2. Flayed alive and crucified, head downward.
- James the Greater: Martyrdom by being beheaded or stabbed with a sword.
- James the Lesser: Martyrdom by being thrown from a pinnacle of the Temple at Jerusalem , then stoned and beaten with clubs.
- John: Died of old age.
- Jude (Often identified with Thaddeus in the New Testament): Martyrdom by being beaten to death with a club.
- Judas: Suicide.
- Matthew: Martyrdom by being burned, stoned, or beheaded.
- Peter: Martyrdom by crucifixion at Rome with his head downwards.
- Philip: Martyrdom.
- Simon: Martyrdom by crucifixion or being sawn in half.
- Thomas: Martyrdom by being stabbed with a spear.
The evangelists if embraced as living people, resurrected and eternally in the presence of the Father become an example of ‘how to follow Christ’. Naturally a short blog piece cannot explore this huge idea in detail yet for me their witness has come to mean the following;
- They all received a call to follow Christ to the exclusion of everything else.
- Their allegiance was to Christ even to the point of death – except for a few of the early witnesses like Mary and John.
- They dedicated themselves to prayer, fasting, teaching and witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus.
- They all (with the odd exception) took the gospel message beyond the shores of their native land.
The journey of the inner life is not an abdication of responsibility to the world around us, rather it is the purity of purpose and quality of this engagement that is constantly called into question. This purification of purpose and focus is the great challenge. The early followers of Jesus gave of themselves to their last breath. Columba and the men and women like him gave their lives to exile for Christ, to prayer, fasting and teaching and in every way they could, in order to imitate the evangelists in the quality of their dedication to Christ, given that ‘red martyrdom’ as the Celts called it, was not likely given the embrace that the British islands gave to the gospel.
Again I note that the call to imitate Christ and the Evangelists is rooted in a relational way, not primarily in concepts or intellectual ideas.
Finally and with great relief to me, the imitation of the evangelists became for me the opportunity to understand my own failings, as all the evangelists were to some degree or another failures at critical moments in their lives. It is almost as if this failure, most notably their abandonment of Jesus in Gethsemane and their subsequent restoration through the witness of the resurrection and the breath of the Holy Spirit gave them the moral courage to eventually face the ultimate test of martyrdom. John records in one of his letters that ‘if we say we have not sinned, then we make him a liar and his word is not in us’(1 John 1 v10).
I am glad that the naked imitation of Christ and the Evangelists means I can fail, it takes the pressure off the next step.