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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

January 8, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 179




global perspective St. Magnus the non-violent

by Arthur Jones, NCR editor at large

Editor's note: Arthur Jones is musing on Celtic Invocations from Vineyard Books. The book, now out of print, by Alexander Carmichael captures the prayers and invocations of the elderly Catholics of Scotland. Jones began this reflection on Jan. 6, More thoughts at the dawn of a new year, and continued on Jan. 7, The preciousness of time.

Alexander Carmichael captured beauty through the prayers and invocations of the 18th century-born people he interviewed. In his time it was a world that had changed little in a thousand and more years.

Other Today's Takes by Arthur Jones
Jan. 7, 04 The preciousness of time
Jan. 6, 04 More thoughts at the dawn of a new year
Jan. 5, 04 The Gospel according to Fred Astaire
Nov. 6, 03 Don't expect anything
Nov. 4, 03 Church ain't wot it used to be
Nov. 3, 03 6.30 a.m. Mass
Aug. 21, 03 The fire in her belly isnít curry, itís Christ
Aug. 20, 03 Books, I love
Yet the themes for today and tomorrow are that for the physical beauty and the closeness of nature as integral to God-knowing to hold true, they must be framed by reality.

But Beauty first -- take a quick side trip (but come back!). Click on When the screen comes up, mentally block out the words "Doug Houghton Photography" and look at that Orkney bay. You've just glimpsed the isles in their stillness and loveliness. Later you can surf Houghton's sites. On with the tale.

Back to the 12th century and a man of peace, St. Magnus the non-violent (not to be confused with the 8th century German St. Magnus). He and his less constrained half-brother, Hakon, ruled the Northern isles. In harmony at first.

Hakon, however, became "morose and jealous" of his popular half-brother.

The well-armed Hakon, bent on domination, arrived at a peacemaking meeting. Magnus's people wished to defend their leader, but Magnus would not allow bloodshed.

Magnus told Hakon that to prevent bloodshed he would take banishment to his cousin, the King of the Scots; or go to Rome or Jerusalem, never to return; or, reports Carmichael, "he would submit to being maimed, gouged or slain."

Hakon put Magnus to death on April 14, 1115.

Magnus is remembered (with an annual five-day long music festival) and revered. His tomb in the 12th century medieval church at Kirkwall, Orkney, and the festival are well worth the trip.

So, a tale with morals. That armed might win the day; but the Magnuses win the hearts. Next, that throughout the centuries that prayed the prayers Carmichael recorded in the Carmina Gadelica (the entirety of his collecting) the peoples' troubles and griefs, though not identical with ours, were troubles and griefs enough.

And yet and yet within it all, they had eyes to see. To see that the beauty in the physical world, in their seasonal and daily rhythms, were all one with God.

And that God -- through this natural world and its rhythms -- was one with them.

Arthur's Daily Ditty

A thousand years
Since Magnus died
He is sainted
Hakon decried
What moral then
Is thus implied?
Nonviolence is
The winning side.

Arthur Jones' e-mail address is

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