‘For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways‘ Psalm 91:11
One of the precious things about travelling and staying in B&Bs is the stories people share.
Staying in Downpatrick, the burial place of St Brigid, St Columba and St Patrick, Rob and I stayed at a B&B close to Down Cathedral in order to take Holy Communion during Lent. The morning service was very moving. Locals were welcoming and friendly, but it was our breakfast at the B&B that truly blessed us.
The B&B was clean and non-descript. No family photos, paintings or prints gave away details of the owner’s private life. The only personal items hung in the house entry. We hadn’t noticed them the night before but coming down to breakfast, they shone like diamonds in the desert.
Small alabaster sculptures of Irelands spiritual life: Celtic crosses, such as the one seen here, now in my mentoring room, St Brigid crosses, angels, churches, spirals, four-leaf clovers and so on.
I set my heart on the cross you see here in the photo, which was marked 30 Euro. Our host, Margaret would only accept 20 Euro but I insisted. Rob spoke with her about faith blessing, and the notion of paying forward in God. Margaret was very taken with the idea and said moved to leave the dining room to get our breakfast, she said she’d give the extra 10 Euro to a favourite charity.
Rob and I commonly practice a form of Grace before eating meals. That morning we hadn’t realised that our host had returned and was waiting in the doorway with our toast until we’d finished.
Margaret placed the assortment of white and brown toast on the table, stood back, hesitated, smiled, and then walked out. This hesitancy happened a couple of times, until we were finished breakfast and about to leave the room. Margaret then sat down on the couch opposite the dining table and began to open up about her story.
‘I don’t speak about this much’, she began, ‘but I feel I can tell you both.’
Rob and I sat back, both with a sense of Holy Spirit healing in the room.
Margaret’s story began with her son, Jonathan, aged 5 telling her she mustn’t feel sad when he goes away. Naturally, Margaret asked him what he meant. He relayed that an angel had told him that he would come to live with them as a boy. Margaret hid her shock and fear from her son, but thereafter attempted to make every moment with him as meaningful as possible. She’d been brought up Catholic but was no longer practising and hadn’t been to church since a child. Still, she told us, she had faith.
At 10 years old, John was diagnosed with motor neurone disease.
That year, in an attempt to do anything that might help heal her son, Margaret, her daughter, John and Margaret’s closest friend all went to Lourdes. There, in the grotto where St Bernadette received her visions of St Mary, Margaret begged a reluctant John to stand in the healing waters. After much resistance, the boy removed his shoes and socks and soaked his feet.
Margaret described then a great peace that came upon her boy. She told us how his physical body was never healed but that from that moment on, John went about with a sense of inner ease. When he suffered, he was profoundly philosophical and mindful of others. She conveyed a great love that came from him after Lourdes.
Sadly, John passed a year later.
Margaret was surprisingly calm when she told us of this awful loss. She smiled a little and continued, saying that a few days before he became unresponsive, John, who could barely talk by then, asked his mother to lean forward. He whispered to her:
‘Don’t be afraid mum. It’s all right. Place me in the bed of pink roses next to the water. The angel will be there. And so will I. It’s okay. I’ll be okay’.
Rob and I listened quietly as this brave mother’s words flowed out amid the gentle tears that had started to fall.
Margaret held onto John’s ashes not knowing what to do with them; not wanting to let him go, when one day, she and the friend who had travelled with the family a few years earlier were in a local book store.
Margaret recounted to us how a book fell off the shelf she was standing in front of. She picked it up without looking at the title and replaced it. Continuing to browse, she startled as the book fell from the shelf again. A little puzzled, Margaret picked it up once more and securely stowed it away. At this point, she described turning away from the shelves and walking towards Jenny who was in the opposite aisle. Jenny had already turned to meet her and yelped as the same book ‘leapt’ out of the shelf and landed at the feet of Margaret.
Our B&B host looked at us a moment, checking for any scepticism in our faces. Having heard of many similar experiences over the years, indeed, having had them myself, and with Rob having worked the miracle healing circuit, neither of us batted an eyelid.
‘I know what it sounds like’, she said, ‘but Jenny was there, and she’d heard it drop twice before. When it came out the third time, Jenny swore, and left the store!’ We all laughed at this point.
Margaret told us how she bent down and turned the book over. It was a book on angels. She sighed, took it to the register, paid for it and promptly stowed it in her bookshelf at home forgetting it was there.
About 3 years later she was sitting in a café when she noticed the woman at the table next to her reading the same book. Wondering what had become of it, Margaret went home and began reading. Within its pages were stories about people’s real life angelic encounters, miracle healings and prophesy. As Margaret read the book she felt it was speaking into some the experiences she had shared with her son over the short span of his life. By the end of the book, Margaret was ready to spread John’s ashes.
That year, the same friend, Jenny was returning to Lourdes. Margaret’s mother had taken quite ill, and ended up passing, so she couldn’t go. It was with great reluctance but with a sense of divine guidance, that Margaret handed over John’s ashes to Jenny, sure that Lourdes – the place that had so impressed itself upon her son – was where he had meant his ashes to be scattered.
Late in the afternoon, Margaret got a call from Jenny who was somewhat distressed.
‘Peg’, she said, ‘I’m so sorry, but I’ve looked everywhere for some water and pink flowers but there’s nothing like that here’.
Margaret described her sense of sadness, as if she’d let John down, and felt anger at herself for having gone with a silly notion of divine guidance.
Jenny asked if Margaret thought it best just to scatter the ashes near the statue of St Bernadette, seeing as how John had been so taken with the saint. Margaret agreed.
Jenny, who wasn’t too far away from the grotto entrance, stayed on the phone as she walked to the rise where the statue stands. Margaret could hear her greeting people as they passed, and her friend’s breathing as she held the phone to her ear, the urn presumably in her other hand.
Then all of a sudden, Margaret heard a cry, a crash, and some loud swearing. Then silence.
When Jenny called back moments later she was crying.
‘Peg, peg, you’ll never believe it. You’ll never believe it. I was walking along the path, moved to get closer [to the statue] by walking over the water – I know, I know – well, I ****ing well tripped on something didn’t I, fell on my a***, and the urn, oh Peg, the urn broke!!’
Margaret listened, shocked but silent. Thoughts running through her head but no words as Jenny continued:
‘Peg. Peg, you’ll never guess. The urn broke and all of John’s ashes spilled out all over the foot of Bernadette, and guess what??? They fell on top of all these pink roses!!’
Margaret could barely comprehend her friend’s message.
As it turned out, the Italian party
that Jenny had passed on the path had laid out a fresh array of pink roses for St Bernadette. When Jenny fell, smashing the urn, John’s ashes spilled out all over the roses at the feet of his beloved saint.
John’s dying words to his mother to place him on the pink flowers near the water and he and the angel would be there, came to be.
Margaret joined her friend in tears and with great healing knew beyond doubt – as St John of the Cross says, she had a ‘knowing beyond all science knowing’ that her son had been guarded over by angels, and she guided by angels.
As you can imagine, Rob and I were both incredibly moved by Margaret’s story, and that she felt able to share it with us. We came away feeling blessed, humbled and grateful. Our prayers for Margaret and her family were raised up in the Downpatrick church that morning.
You may know people who have suffered terrible tragedy – maybe even yourself – who have been upheld by happenings in life that defied everyday occurrences. My own life, as well as those of my students and clients, is full of the glory of angelic, saintly, Holy Spirit and Christ’s presence. God wants to be in this kind of relationship with us. And our soul sings a whole other tune of faith when we open to God’s majesty in trust and faith.
From Margaret’s story we can see that she entered into that relationship with her son and with God through belief, prayer, healing action, faith, dialogue, creativity, response to guidance, trust, openness and more. These, along with scripture, church, fellowship and reading the words of others of faith can help us move into the stream of God’s Light in our life.
In the end, and in the face of such loss, Margaret did this and was comforted by knowing that just as her son had said, he was ‘okay’.