Holy Bradford

In 1550, when John Bradford was chosen to be a personal chaplain to King Edward VI, no one was surprised. As a deacon in the Church of England, he had travelled all over preaching the gospel. Even in his school days, he was so revered among his friends for his selflessness and piety that he was nicknamed, “Holy Bradford.” 

Once when he was passing by a local tavern with a friend, they heard some drunks laughing and swearing loudly. The friend was embarrassed for “Holy Bradford” to be hearing such talk. He tried to usher him along quickly but John Bradford stood in front of the tavern and prayed to God quietly saying, “Forgive me Lord, for I have a drunken head and a swearing heart.”

When they had gone a little further, they saw a hardened criminal with a sack on his head, being led in chains to his execution. Bradford’s friend looked on with disgust at the man being taken to the gallows to be publicly hanged, no doubt for some wicked and terrible crime.

“I guess he’s getting what he’s got coming,” he sneered.

But his holy friend, with a sorrowful expression on his face, pointed at the criminal and said, “But for the grace of God, there goes John Bradford!”

“There but for the grace of God go I…” has become a proverb of humility in modern times. Do we really understand that it is grace, not our moral superiority that separates us from those we may consider to be sinners far worse than ourselves? If we did, we might be far less likely to judge others. Holy Bradford seemed to realize that the sin in his own heart made him a drunkard, a curser, and a criminal. It was only the grace he received as a free gift from God that made him anything else. This central realization is at the heart of discipleship: “Freely you have received, now freely give…” God’s boundless love frees us to live lives of holiness. Were it not for the way of Jesus, we might find ourselves on a very different path.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear… 

St. Bede’s Sparrow

During the 7th century, King Edwin of Northumbria was trying to decide, after hearing the teaching of the missionary Paulonius, whether to allow Christians to preach in his Kingdom and whether to convert to Christianity himself. He consulted some of his advisers, the final of which gave him this sage advice:

“The present life of man upon earth, O King, seems to me in
comparison with that time which is unknown to us like the
swift flight of a sparrow through mead-hall where you sit
at supper in winter, with your Ealdormen and thanes,
while the fire blazes in the midst and the hall is warmed,
but the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging abroad.
The sparrow, flying in at one door and immediately out
at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry
tempest, but after a short space of fair weather, he im-
mediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter
to winter again. So this life of man appears for a
little while, but of what is to follow or what went before
we know nothing at all. If, therefore, this new doctrine
tells us something more certain, it seems
justly to be followed in our kingdom.”

The above quotation from “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People” by the Venerable Bede, is likely more legend than history. But what a powerful image of the fleeting nature of life! King Edwin’s adviser knew that this life is short and that what comes before and after is vast and mysterious. He also knew that some certainty could give life purpose and meaning. Even the Christian mourns the dead and trembles at the thought of losing his grip on life, yet we live lives anchored in hope that what we do here, in the short time we are here, matters. There are some glimpses of eternity found scripture but in the end we don’t know that much more than Edwin’s adviser. We only know in whom we have placed our trust, and that He will be waiting in whatever awaits us in that vast world beyond.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Book Moth


A moth ate words. To I who wondered it seemed
A remarkable fate, when I learned of it,
That the thing had devoured the speech of a certain man.
A thief in the dark of night, chewing through proverbs,
Replacing them with himself. That unwanted guest,
Was no whit the wiser for the words he ate.

The Book of Exeter

I can still remember coming across this poem as a child in a bright orange paperback on my Mother’s bookshelf titled, “Anglo Saxon Poetry.” I remember reading this poem and being disappointed in the riddle. “It’s a moth,” I thought to myself, “It’s right there in the first line.” I quickly lost interest and moved to other things. The wisdom of this simple parable was wasted on me. It wasn’t until I flipped through the book as teen who was hungrily devouring poetry that I chanced upon the riddle again and found much in it worth contemplating. There is a difference between being a reader who simply chews through words and is not made any wiser and a reader who understands and internalizes what she is reading. When Ezekiel is given the prophecy he is to set before the people, he encounters it in a vision of a scroll which he must eat. When the 1st Psalm declares that the righteous “meditate” on God’s Word day and night, the word “meditate” is the same word used for “chew.” We are called, as disciples, to devour scripture. But there is a difference between memorizing verses, stories, and bits of theology, and actually applying that wisdom to our lives. When we read the words of scripture, we must put them into practice. Otherwise, like the book moth, we will be no whit wiser for the words we ate.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…