St Ethelwald

Bishop (entered heaven in the year 740)

Dear Wally,

Swamped again, eh?  You always do this.  I know, I know, my nagging you about your incorrigible expertise at procrastination doesn’t help one bit.  But maybe if I keep nagging you’ll finally decide to pay attention.  But that will have to be at the beginning of the next trimester, after your current stress has abated.  In the midst of your “colossal heap of super-urgent agenda items” under which you find yourself “suffocating unbearably and dying a slow death by over commitment asphyxiation”, as you so bombastically put it (by the way, isn’t it redundant to use “suffocating” and “asphyxiation” in the same sentence?), I do have a thought that may help.

Here it is: DON’T SKIMP ON YOUR PRAYER COMMITMENTS.  Christ is not aloof from your current predicament.  He is the one that wants to help you overcome your evil habit of procrastination (a fancy word for laziness, if you ask me), and he is also the one who can steer you through the stormy seas that will buffet you for the next ten days or so.  But if you don’t connect with him in prayer, he won’t be able to do either one.  Don’t take my word for it, take the word – or example, rather, of today’s saint.

This fellow was a leather worker and bookbinder before he fell under the holy spell of St Cuthbert and joined the famous monastery at Lindisfarne.  From there he went to the Island of Fame off the Scottish coast, where he dedicated himself to prayer as a hermit.  Nevertheless, he was well known and highly esteemed, such that after St Cuthbert he became bishop of Lindisfarne.  The great historian, St Bede, relates an anecdote about St Ethelwald that came from an eye-witness, a priest named Guthfrid.  It illustrates my point admirably:

“I came,” says he [Guthfrid], “to the island of Fame, with two others of the brethren, desiring to speak with the most reverend father, Ethelwald. Having been refreshed with his discourse, and asked for his blessing, as we were returning home, behold on a sudden, when we were in the midst of the sea, the fair weather in which we were sailing, was broken, and there arose so great and terrible a tempest, that neither sails nor oars were of any use to us, nor had we anything to expect but death.

“After long struggling with the wind and waves to no effect, at last we looked back to see whether it was possible by any means at least to return to the island whence we came, but we found that we were on all sides alike cut off by the storm, and that there was no hope of escape by our own efforts. But looking further, we perceived, on the island of Fame, our father Ethelwald, beloved of God, come out of his retreat to watch our course; for, hearing the noise of the tempest and raging sea, he had come forth to see what would become of us. When he beheld us in distress and despair, he bowed his knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in prayer for our life and safety; and as he finished his prayer, he calmed the swelling water, in such sort that the fierceness of the storm ceased on all sides, and fair winds attended us over a smooth sea to the very shore. When we had landed, and had pulled up our small vessel from the waves, the storm, which had ceased a short time for our sake, presently returned, and raged furiously during the whole day; so that it plainly appeared that the brief interval of calm had been granted by Heaven in answer to the prayers of the man of God, to the end that we might escape.”

It was only God’s power that could calm the storm, and only true prayer could tap into that power.  Get it?  I hope so.

Your tired uncle,


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