Yesterday, I sat on a bench with a friend by the Sound of Iona and had tea with a scone as big as my head. It was too much for even me to eat and so as we sat in silence watching the water, I began to feed the birds bits of my scone (having run out of raspberry jam and heavy cream.)
The birds flew in like planes landing on an aircraft carrier with precision, freedom and joy. It was like watching an acrobatics show of landings and take-offs, each bird landing onto the space previously held by another bird just seconds before. They had a magical choreography to their dance and never fought over the crumbs but seemed to assume there would be enough for all.
I live in, and was formed by a society very different from the one I was watching. My society, in this age of advertising, seems to have its entire system based on the message that “you do not have enough…you need this.” One look at what happens on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, will remind me that people will kill and trample others to get their hands on possessions which they think are “on sale.” And you and I are not so different. We have too many possessions. At least I do.
John Philip was peaking yesterday about my patron saint, Pelagius. Most people think he was a heretic but that is because much of the church, and many of its clergy and bishops love to scapegoat clergy which are truly and deeply loved by the people they serve. Insecurities flare up and someone needs to be dominated in order to calm the anxious system. That is what happened to Pelagius. A powerful bishop, known to have palaces, Augustine and the Latin church hounded Pelagius who loved to spend time among women, taught all classes of people, and considered an unbaptized baby to be the best image of God.
Trial after trial did not convict Pelagius and so Augustine had t set up a court with only a prosecution, but lacking entirely in a defense…and it was that court which convicted Pelagius under Augustine’s watchful eye. At first the church wrote a law in which nobody who followed Pelagius could be in Rome. Then, four years later, nobody who followed Pelagius’ teachings (which turned out not to be heretical at all, just lied about) could be within 4 miles. A few years later it was 100 miles and then nobody following Pelagius could be in Italy. As John Philip said, with that twinkle in his eye, “Who was afraid in this story?!”
Pelagius infuriated the wealthy by saying that they should live on just enough and then give the rest of their money away to the poor and the homeless. He said that there were three kinds of people: Those without enough. Those with enough. Those with too much. He called those with too much “murderers of the poor.” Harsh. True.
These little birds reminded me of what it looks like to have enough. It challenged me to spend the day wondering what “enough” would look like in my life. I look at some of my own extravagances and wonder who needed to die in order for me to have that much food, or that much house or that many clothes. We have wandered deep into this retreat now on its third day. The waves get very choppy on the third day. But the birds on Iona seem fine. As usual.