I have wished a bird would fly away, And not sing by my house all day;
Have clapped my hands at him from the door When it seemed as if I could bear no more.
The fault must partly have been in me. The bird was not to blame for his key.
And of course there must be something wrong In wanting to silence any song.
Photo by Tony Hisgett via Wikimedia Commons, male Eurasian Blackcap in Staffordshire, England.
Down at L’Arche Kent’s Glebe garden the other day it was coffee time. My friend said that he hadn’t seen our robin for a couple of weeks, only for the redbreast to burst into song a few metres away in the cypress tree. No chance of spotting him in there.
More than a few years ago my brother became frustrated with the collared doves, billing and cooing right outside his bedroom window; since they were in a yew tree there was no spotting them either. Relief came when the black silkie bantam took her brood to roost in the yew. All attempts to bring them down simply made them hop up higher, as they would have done in the jungle. But they displaced the doves, and my brother could sleep on those light summer mornings.
Too many songs have been silenced as we have desecrated our Mother Earth. Could you buy or make someone a bird nesting box this Christmas?
On Hearing The Dies Irae Sung In The Sistine Chapel
Nay, Lord, not thus! white lilies in the spring, Sad olive-groves, or silver-breasted dove, Teach me more clearly of Thy life and love Than terrors of red flame and thundering. The hillside vines dear memories of Thee bring: A bird at evening flying to its nest Tells me of One who had no place of rest: I think it is of Thee the sparrows sing.
Come rather on some autumn afternoon, When red and brown are burnished on the leaves, And the fields echo to the gleaner’s song, Come when the splendid fulness of the moon Looks down upon the rows of golden sheaves, And reap Thy harvest: we have waited long.
from “Selected Poems of Oscar Wilde
On this day in 1900, Oscar Wilde died in Paris, an autumn death and apparently a peaceful one, accompanied by a priest and a friend. He had had his share of terrors and thundering, and was ready to be gathered in.
Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest. Matthew 9:37-38.
Let us pray that we might be ready to do for others whatever is asked of us today: perhaps sowing a seed rather than reaping a harvest, or even clearing brambles or nettles to make room for plants being choked of light. And let us trust God to have sent his angels to bring all sinners home.
Summer is gone with all its roses,
Its sun and perfumes and sweet flowers,
Its warm air and refreshing showers:
And even Autumn closes.
Yea, Autumn's chilly self is going,
And winter comes which is yet colder;
Each day the hoar-frost waxes bolder,
And the last buds cease blowing."
From Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems by Christina Rossetti.
With a different title, this would have been a straightforward descriptive poem but maybe we should think again. Summer, Autumn and Winter; why no mention of Spring and the hope it brings? Because the poet is feeling bitter, or examining bitterness?
There are people today, Christian people, who seem to have lost hope and become bitter. It was not Christina Rossetti’s default position, but clearly one she experienced and understood. Disappointment in love, twice over, may have contributed.
Not for us to succumb to bitterness. There maybe naught for our comfort in the news about the climate and the future of our grandchildren across the world, but we must acknowledge the reality of the bitterness and the realities that contribute to it. Which of those can we make even the smallest dent or scratch in? What do we, can we, repent of?
I’ll be out litterpicking tomorrow. That’s two spiritual works of mercy, I reckon: to instruct (by example) the ignorant who leave rubbish about, and to bear wrongs patiently. It’s a start.
Another reflection on the stars by a writer who loves the wild places where dark skies are more likely, the stars more visible. Robert Macfarlane is moved, almost physically, by gazing up - or is it down? into the night sky.
The unconverted and limitless nature of the night sky ... is given a depth by the stars that far exceeds the depth given to the diurnal sky by clouds. On a cloudless night, looking upwards, you experience a sudden flipped vertigo, the feeling that your feet might latch off from the earth and you might plummet upwards into space... Our estrangement from the dark [due to street lighting] was a great and serious loss.
Robert Macfarlane, THE WILD PLACES, London, Granta, 2007.
A similar emotion struck David, who must have spent many a night under the stars:
For I will behold thy heavens, the works of thy fingers: the moon and the stars which thou hast founded.
What is man that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him?
Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour:
And hast set him over the works of thy hands.
Before we get carried away in gratification, let Macfarlane remind us that the loss of the night sky to urban dwellers is serious and stunting.
About the photograph: Image of the night sky above Paranal, Chile on 21 July 2007, taken by ESO astronomer Yuri Beletsky. A wide band of stars and dust clouds, spanning more than 100 degrees on the sky, is seen. This is the Milky Way, the galaxy to which we belong. At the centre of the image, two bright objects are visible. The brightest is the planet Jupiter, while the other is the star Antares. Three of the four 8.2-m telescopes forming ESO’s VLT are seen, with a laser beaming out from Yepun, Unit Telescope number 4. The laser points directly at the Galactic Centre. Also visible are three of the 1.8-m Auxiliary Telescopes used for interferometry. They show small light beams which are diodes located on the domes. The exposure time is 5 minutes and because the tracking was made on the stars, the telescopes are slightly blurred.
Our third and – for the present – final borrowing from Eddie’s blog at the London Irish Chaplaincy. Thank you Eddie! Readers may like to visit the chaplaincy’s Prayer Room, see the invitation at the end of the post.
We’re blessed in the UK and Ireland to have four distinct seasons, even occasionally being able to see all of them in a single day, and the transition from Summer to Autumn can be especially evocative.
Each year at the end of August I go through a little period of mourning for the Summer. The holidays have been and gone, the flowers are fading, the long trousers and long sleeves need to be got out, and our Wednesday evening cycling group has to cease due to the rapidly encroaching dark. And yet there are precious treats in store. I always await with eager anticipation the re-appearance of Orion, the constellation visible in the Northern hemisphere only over the winter months. I was at the monastery when the big day came. I happened to have a room on the East side of the Guest Wing and I’d initially been disappointed to be so placed. The West Wing, where I’d been before, overlooks the woods and the lovely old monastery buildings and is especially peaceful. The East side contains a school and a road and consequently a bit of noise. However, waking up in the dark on the first morning of my retreat at 5.40 a.m. to attend the 6 a.m. Vigils service I drew back the curtains to reveal the incredible sight in the sky of Orion and the Winter Triangle. It was like the return of an old and faithful friend. There was also a bright, full Harvest moon in all its glory, and a little later the deepest of red skies as the sun began to rise. Had I been in a room on the West side I would have missed it all!
Autumn is often a time of new beginnings. Another academic year commences, and many people might be embarking on a new course or hobby. The next level of my Korean class has got going and I’ve been enjoying both the study, the interaction with a very nice and very international group of people, and practising some of my new expressions on Yim Soon! The lessons have been quite fun so far and that’s how I like my language learning to be. And then at the start of September there was a much-anticipated event: the meeting of my choir for the first time in over a year and a half. There were fewer people than there used to be. Mansel, who I often sit next to, remarked to me at the start, “You do realise, don’t you, that the reason some people haven’t returned is because they’ve died!” It was a sobering reflection. Nonetheless it has been a great joy to drive off to Whitstable again on a Tuesday evening for rehearsals, a fixed point in my life for many years and much missed during COVID, and it will no doubt be a great joy to perform again.
I relish the first hints of coolness in the air in the early morning or late evening, and being able to give proper observance to those key transition periods in the day, dawn and dusk. I gather and prepare the wood for the winter fires. The garden as well needs to be got ready for its winter slumber and regeneration. There will be a final mowing of the grass; the remains of the summer flowers will be added to the compost heap; the soil will be dug over, taking care not to disturb the Spring bulbs. Perhaps new daffodils or tulips will be planted. Then the garden will be left; the worms will be allowed to do their hidden work of restoration; and the spiders will weave their beautiful webs that glisten so radiantly in the fresh dew of the morning.
October will bring the first frost, and how I marvel on my early morning walk to see the intricate patterns it makes on the car windscreens. That might coincide with another seasonal treat, the first fire. It will be the first of many and how I love to listen to the crackling of the logs and to watch the flames leap and dance. It will be time for the cooking apples to be harvested from the old tree by the shed. There will be the ceremonial first baking of apple crumble; and with a bumper crop, which seems to be every other year, the bulk will be made into chutney. Meanwhile the leaves on that and on the other trees will give their annual display of golden beauty, before they fall and wither.
The cycles of the seasons, the cycles of our lives. And, to paraphrase Keats as the days shorten on another year, may all our fruit be filled with ripeness to the core.
Visit our Prayer Room
We hope this becomes a place to remember loved ones, to mark special events, to be grateful for something happening or to bring a concern and receive blessings and solidarity from each other. Enjoy your time of prayer with us.
Look forth, once more, with softened heart,
Ere from the field of fame we part;
Triumph and Sorrow border near,
And joy oft melts into a tear.
Alas! what links of love that morn
Has War’s rude hand asunder torn!
For ne’er was field so sternly fought,
And ne’er was conquest dearer bought,
Here piled in common slaughter sleep
Those whom affection long shall weep
Here rests the sire, that ne’er shall strain
His orphans to his heart again;
The son, whom, on his native shore,
The parent’s voice shall bless no more;
The bridegroom, who has hardly pressed
His blushing consort to his breast;
The husband, whom through many a year
Long love and mutual faith endear.
Thou canst not name one tender tie,
But here dissolved its relics lie!
Oh! when thou see’st some mourner’s veil
Shroud her thin form and visage pale,
Or mark’st the Matron’s bursting tears
Stream when the stricken drum she hears;
Or see’st how manlier grief, suppressed,
Is labouring in a father’s breast, -
With no inquiry vain pursue
The cause, but think on Waterloo!" (from "Some Poems" by Sir Walter Scott)
Two poems, a century apart; two poems about War in Belgium. The first is the last stanza of Sir Walter Scott’s ‘The Field of Waterloo’, the second chosen by grieving parents of a man so young they were still reckoning his age in years and months. But Scott’s ‘The son, whom, on his native shore, The parent’s voice shall bless no more’ is yet blessed by his parents’ ‘trust in Christ to meet again’ and their prayer, ‘Rest in peace’.
The Raid on Zeebrugge was an unsuccessful and bloody attempt to block the port which was used by German U-boats to attack allied shipping. RMLI was the Royal Marines Light Infantry, based in Cheriton where George lies buried.
Was there much progress in a hundred years? Let us pray that all casualties of war may rest in peace, and that all of us now alive may live in peace.
There's nothing like the sun as the year dies, Kind as it can be, this world being made so, To stones and men and beasts and birds and flies, To all things that it touches except snow, Whether on mountain side or street of town. The south wall warms me: November has begun, Yet never shone the sun as fair as now While the sweet last-left damsons from the bough With spangles of the morning's storm drop down Because the starling shakes it, whistling what Once swallows sang. But I have not forgot That there is nothing, too, like March's sun, Like April's, or July's, or June's, or May's, Or January's, or February's, great days: And August, September, October, and December Have equal days, all different from November. No day of any month but I have said— Or, if I could live long enough, should say— "There's nothing like the sun that shines to-day." There's nothing like the sun till we are dead.
Edward Thomas challenged his melancholy by getting out of doors, with friends such as Robert Frost but often enough alone. November sun in England, especially against a south wall, or south cliff, is warming. Mid-November last year we went walking and foraged damsons, sweeter than they would have been a month earlier, but recorded that in prose, not poetry.
‘There’s nothing like the sun till we are dead’, and then? Why then we shall learn who the sun is like.
And there shall be no night there;
and they need no candle, neither light of the sun;
for the Lord God giveth them light:
and they shall reign for ever and ever.
Here’s a story that follows on naturally from Dr Johnson’s wise words yesterday.
The first lady had just celebrated her birthday. ‘I always buy myself a present from my mother out of the money she left me when she died 14 years ago. This year I bought myself a red rose bush.’
Her friend’s reaction was quite different. ‘I can’t bear roses in the garden, they were my mother’s favourite flowers and I just can’t look at them now. And you remember that I gave you all my lilies of the valley for the same reason. Those pretty little bells and the gorgeous scent. It was too much for me. But they are creeping back in the corner by the shed. I don’t like to think of ripping them out again.’
The rose shown here has a story of grief and remembrance, which you can find here. You can find Elizabeth’s rose next to Saint Mildred’s church in Canterbury.
While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must wait till grief be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it.
From Life of Johnson, Volume 3 1776-1780″ by James Boswell.
It can be difficult to get alongside someone grieving. We want to take the pain away, but our attempts at comfort are rejected, quite possibly irritably. Johnson lost his wife young and never remarried; she had been the love of his life. Although he was a thoughtful, believing Christian, he was acutely aware of his own sinfulness, and had to make an effort to accept that God’s forgiveness was indeed extended to himself. He was melancholic and understood all too well how well-meant kind words can sound like hollow platitudes.
Waiting till grief is digested does not mean shunning a bereaved relative or friend, but something like a waiter in a restaurant: attentive waiting, not fussing. A hard role sometimes.
We pray that people who suffer from depression or burn-out will find support and a light that opens them up to life. Lord, graciously hear us.
This is the right season to remember people who suffer from depression, especially in the lands that know Autumn and Winter with our shortening, darkling days, with the cold in the bones, and even without covid, enough infections to stockpile tissues against. Light amid th’encircling gloom, indeed.
And burn-out is all too real for many who have kept going with caring for children, the sick, the frail, the elderly, and who have not had enough time to take care of themselves. Let us pray that we might show more consideration for carers, nurses and teachers, and all who have given without counting the cost. We pray that people who suffer from depression or burn-out will find support and a light that opens them up to life. Lord, graciously hear us.