Thursday, July 16, 2015

A #Storyteller is Born: Marjorie Bowes Knox

At VBS this week I made a new discovery! I love telling stories and I want to become a better story-teller. How did this happen? Well, I'd signed up to be a story-teller at our VBS, and since we're learning about the Reformation, I  was assigned a heritage person whose story I had to tell: Marjorie Bowes Knox, wife of the great reformer John Knox. I had to write the story and get completely into the part of Marjorie and I was able to do this because of a lot of help from many people but three of them were key: Pastor Mark Davis, Christian education director Susan Thornton, and Nikki MacDonald. Nikki sent me brand new scholarship about John Knox all the way from Scotland. Mark helped me simplify my story and loaned me the clothes to wear. And Susan put together an awesome curriculum for the VBS along with story telling resources (what are the elements of a good story) and the points she wanted the heritage story tellers to cover (e.g. basic facts, essence of the Spirit, etc.). The proof of course is in the pudding. How did I do? I received wonderful compliments: "knocked our socks off" "captivating" were some of the comments I heard. The children asked a lot of questions and I enjoyed it. Story-telling feels so natural to me, like writing, Within twenty-four hours, I'd also told the story to other groups as well, resulting in fascinating discussions!!! Story-telling gets people engaged. Stories rock! So I thought I'd share. 

Close your eyes and breathe. Listen to your breath and those of your friends. The Holy Spirit is the breath of life, giving and renewing life. 

I am Marjorie Bowes Knox. Yesterday, you met my husband the Rev. Knox, Minister of St. Giles, Scotland. 

I was born in 1534, the year the Church of England left the Roman Catholic Church. And, I died in Dec. 1560, the year the Roman Catholic Church doctrine, worship and order of government was overthrown and Protestanism established as the national religion of the Scotland. So you see, although I lived for only 26 years old I saw the Holy Spirit actively changing the church in three different places in the world: the Kingdom of Scotland, the Kingdom of England and the city of Geneva in Europe. 

As I tell you stories from my life see if you can find the ways the Holy Spirit is working in your own life, your family and friends, your church and country. 

My parents were English.

My father, Richard Bowes, was the Captain of Norham Castle, near Berwick on Tweed, on the border between England and Scotland. I have many memories of fighting – you see, Berwick upon Tweed was only 2 miles south of the Border between England and Scotland. England and Scotland were enemies, fighting each other. Do you remember the sword Mr Knox brought yesterday? That’s the kind of swords the army men used. They just cut people up. I didn’t like that at all. It scared me a lot. 

My mother Elizabeth had lands of her own. And it was from her I learned of the God of peace and grace.

I had 4 sisters and 10 brothers.  There were always many babies in the house and all the older children helped Mama take care of them. Everyday Mama taught us how to read and to pray to God.

On Sunday we went to church and worshiped God there. There were many candles burning in the church. I didn’t understand anything as it was all in a strange language.   

But on the other days we prayed at home in English. 7 or 8 times at least each day.  Can you imagine what that was like? Our first daily office was before sunrise – 6 am  called Matins. We prayed kneeling. All of us, even the little ones, had our heads covered. Some of us would fall over in our sleep while praying! Then, we went and cleaned and and got ready and it was time to come back and pray! Then, we went and ate a meal and it was time to come back and pray. Then, it was time to go do some chores and it was time to pray! We prayed the same prayers, from a book, the Breviary. 

But there were big exciting changes happening in the country. King Henry who was king of our country had made himself the head of the church too in the year that I was born. He began to make changes. Three of them changed my life.

The Bible began to be read in English in the churches on Sundays. The daily office was changed so we didn’t have to pray so many times in our homes. Protestant teacher-preachers were hired from Scotland and Europe and sent to the English churches to lead worship and give sermons. 

So by the time I was 16 years old our family had become Protestants too. Listening to the Bible read in English during worship on Sundays in church and listening to sermons helped us learn that God was three persons in one. God did not like us to worship idols. Jesus had saved us. The Holy Spirit was with each one of us and would help us live in the truth and freedom of God. At home, we threw out the pictures of the saints, Mary and Jesus, and the apostles. Our prayer room now had just a simple wooden cross. Instead of praying so many times, we prayed as a family twice a day – in the morning and in the evening.  We thanked God and prayed to do the right thing. Finally, Mr. John Knox, the preacher, would have many meals with us. Even though he was Scottish and we were English, Mr. Knox soon called Mama “mother.”As for me, I was a teenager. I fell in love with Mr. Knox. But my father would not let us get married for many reasons and then, Mr. Knox was appointed as a Royal Chaplain to the new King Edward VI. Before Mr. Knox left for London, Father finally agreed to our engagement. So every chance Mr. Knox got, he came to Berwick to preach. 

But time passed, Mr. Knox was very busy in London helping the Protestants, and I was now 19 years old. Most of my friends had at least least two or three babies. Then, King Edward VI suddenly died. All the Protestants were in trouble. Mary became the Queen of England and she was called "Bloody Mary" because of the bloodshed that was the result of her persecution.  Father said I couldn’t marry Mr. Knox. And, Mr. Knox had to go away, into hiding again. That was my darkest hour. But I trusted God. Whenever I was sad, the Holy Spirit would revive me. My mother became my best friend. She was very afraid but Mr. Knox despite the danger – he’d be put to death if he was caught - came to visit us secretly one last time before he left for Europe where he’d be safe. Two years passed like this. 

I was 21 years old when Mama and I ran away to Scotland where Mr. Knox and I were married. Then we left for Geneva, Switzerland because Protestants were safe in the city there. The three years that we lived there are some of the happiest years of my life and Mr. Knox says the same too. My mother lived with us. I helped Mr. Knox, Mr. Calvin, and others on the Geneva Study Bible, the first printed English Protestant Bible. I organized prayer meetings for women. Mr. Knox led our family worship every day. Our home was always full of visitors, full of good food. I taught the Bible and the daily office using the Common Book of Prayer. Our two sons, Nathan and Eleazer, were born in Geneva.  Mr. Knox often called me, “his left hand” because I helped him so much with all the books he was always publishing. And, Mr. Calvin who had lost his own wife years earlier called me the "sweetest wife."

Even bigger changes were coming. Queen Elizabeth became the Queen of England and since she was a Protestant the Church of England once again left Rome. Mr. Knox was appointed Minister of St. Andrews and he went alone first. He preached in the church on Sundays and at other times; he followed the army men, praying for them. He was secretary to the Lords, busy trying to find a way to take the Scottish church to independence. He got sick. By the time the boys and I arrived, he was in a bad shape.  I nursed him and he got better.

My last year on earth, 1560, saw the biggest change of all. The Scottish Parliament had decided to become Protestant and so Mr. Knox was appointed the Minister of St. Giles in Edinburgh I helped move the family to Edinburgh. Protestanism was established as the national religion of Scotland. I helped my husband with the Scottish Confession of Faith and the First Book of Discipline which sets some of the rules for the church and the country.  I must have been doing too much because in mid-Dec. I died. I died how I lived: confident in my Savior. God was with me in death as he’d been with me in life. I’d lived and seen his Holy Spirit working powerfully in three different countries in my short lifetime.    

Today, the Spirit continues God’s work. We still follow the two great traditions. Every Sunday, we gather together to worship God and we pray daily in our homes. But many things have also changed. I was not given credit for the work I did helping my husband in his writing and publishing. I couldn't preach or lead in front of men. Today, women can become priests. They can write and publish books. Government of a country, political life is separate from religion and government cannot rule over the church. The democratic church government that we started is still used. Some of it was recently changed, after hundreds of years. All of this is the work of the Spirit. The Spirit continues to live in God's people, giving us life, and renewing us. This is what it means to be the church. Reformed , always reforming.  

Now, let us all kneel and I will lead us in the prayer of grace I prayed as a child. When we’re done, we will stand up and open wide our arms to receive the blessing I gave my children.  Let us pray:

O LORDE our heavenly father, almighty and everliving God, who has safely brought us to the beginning of this day: defend us in the same with your mighty power; and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger, but that all our doings may be ordered by your governance, to do always that which is righteous in thy sight: through Jesus Christ our lord. Amen.

The Blessing:

Dear God, for the sake of your son Jesus Christ, in your mercy, make all these children true fearers and upright worshippers, as any that came straight from Abraham.  Amen.

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