Yesterday didn’t start well. I came down to discover the cat had brought in a bird during the night and distributed bits of it quite extensively round the kitchen. I found that I am now ‘represented’ in the European Parliament by the man who stood fruitlessly for Westminister on behalf of the National Front in several elections in the 1970s. I heard about the random murder of a heavily pregnant young woman in our Town Centre. And a Funeral Director phoned to book Funerals at both 10.00 and 4.20 on what had until then been a unusally free Friday which I’d decided the previous day to use to catch up on recent missed Days Off. These are not, of course, matters of equal importance.
But I then got an e-mail confirming the invitation to preach at the Cathedral next at Evensong on All Saints’ Day and was thus reminded of the ancient magic formula which I was minded to talk about then. It is one which the earliest Desert Fathers used as a mantra, something John Cassian (who visited them) reports, something Benedict (who recommends reading Cassian) picked up to begin most of his services, and something which Cranmer (as a direct result) puts at the start of Evensong.
So, I dug out and enjoyed again the passage I needed which Cassian wrote in about 400 and which includes:
For keeping up continual recollection of God this pious formula is to be ever set before you, 'O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me,' for this verse has not unreasonably been picked out from the whole of Scripture for this purpose. For it embraces all the feelings which can be implanted in human nature, and can be fitly and satisfactorily adapted to every condition, and all assaults. Since it contains an invocation of God against every danger, it contains humble and pious confession, it contains the watchfulness of anxiety and continual fear, it contains the thought of one's own weakness, confidence in the answer, and the assurance of a present and ever ready help. For one who is constantly calling on his protector, is certain that he is always at hand. It contains the glow of love and charity, it contains a view of the plots, and a dread of the enemies, from which one, who sees himself day and night hemmed in by them, confesses that he cannot be set free without the aid of his defender.
This verse is an impregnable wall for all who are labouring under the attacks of demons, as well as impenetrable coat of mail and a strong shield. It does not suffer those who are in a state of moroseness and anxiety of mind, or depressed by sadness or all kinds of thoughts to despair of saving remedies, as it shows that he, who is invoked, is ever looking on at our struggles and is not far from his suppliants. It warns us whose lot is spiritual success and delight of heart that we ought not to be at all elated or puffed up by our happy condition, which it assures us cannot last without God as our protector, while it implores him not only always but even speedily to help us. This verse, I say, will be found helpful and useful to every one of us in whatever condition we may be.
Meanwhile, this version of the seal of the Augustinian Wellow Abbey in Grimsby is in a window in the Council Chamber in the Town Hall.