Friday, June 5, 2015

June 5 - Boniface, Martyr, Missionary, Courageous

Boniface knew that the power of story telling was the power to change lives and form values.Further, he knew that this power rested squarely on the ability to provoke others to reconsider what they "already know" through the use of powerful symbols and unexpected turns in the story. Perhaps this is why Benedictine trained and educated Boniface was able to reach out so effectively to the people we know as Frisians and Hessians in the the land we now call Germany. He had grown up in Britain himself and it was his Anglo-Saxon heritage that made the task considerably easier. After all, his language was remarkably similar to that of the Frisians and so it was easy to learn to hear their stories and tell his own in their language.Boniface's awareness of the power of story is made obvious in his re-crafting of a popular game played by children. He watched them plant small sticks into the ground around them and then pick up a bigger stick to throw. The children would take turns knocking down sticks and cheering and jeering their friends and competitors. Boniface introduced an entirely new dimension to the game, however. He began referring to the little sticks as demons and dark spirits. He referred to the big stick they threw as the movement of the Holy Spirit. This fantastical theme became popular for the game and soon the story that Boniface had crafted for the children helped change the way they looked at the strange faith of Boniface. After all, when you can play a game related to it, it's not so foreign anymore.

Perhaps the most audacious story that Boniface ever crafted, however, happened near the village of Fritzlar. The missionary was astounded to see one large oak tree that seemed to receive an odd amount of respect and appreciation. It was six feet in diameter at the base and was known as Thor's oak. The people of Fritzlar and the surrounding areas would leave offerings and sacrifices to Thor at the base of the tree and treated it as a symbol of the Norse God of Thunder. Boniface began crafting a new story, though, when he came across a service of worship before the giant tree and could stand the idolatry no longer. He ripped off his shirt and grabbed a nearby axe. Every eye turned to him as he approached the tree while shaking his head in disgust. He spoke to the crowd, "Some of you know me. They call me Boniface and I am only a mortal man but I have no fear of Thor or any threat he might pose to me." Hefting the axe, he considered the anxious faces in the crowd and then turned to face the tree. He continued, "If Thor wants to protect his tree, then let the mighty warrior god do it." With those words he swung the axe and sunk it all the way up to its handle in the tree. The crowd waited for the expected lightning strike but no lightning came. Instead, a great wind rushed over the land and finished the work of Boniface by felling the tree. Some were outraged, some were confused. Others saw the power of the story Boniface had crafted and converted and were baptized. Having made it exceedingly clear what he thought of the story of Thor, he proceeded to build a chapel and a monastery from the fallen oak tree.

Many years later after the Church's mission to the Frisians and Hessians had established a foothold and formed congregations in the land, Boniface crafted one more story that clearly demonstrated what he valued and what his faith taught others was of value. He went to Frisia to a place where he was told there were many waiting to be confirmed and baptized in their faith. As a priest and bishop of the Church, he immediately set out to celebrate their new found lives with them and welcome them into the fold. When he arrived, however, he discovered that the only people waiting for him had entirely different intentions. They carried weapons in their hands, hatred in their hearts, and a rationale for murder in their minds. As a group, the armed men swarmed aged Boniface and took his life even as he did not resist them. In this--Boniface's ultimate earthly story--he declared the supreme ethic of the faith that animated him to his last breath: forgiveness for enemies and mercy for all.

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