Category Archives: Daily Reflections

Reflections from friends and associates of the Franciscan International Study Centre.

17 November: Eve of the World Day of the Poor.

World Day of the Poor began last year. I’m afraid we missed it, but since we’ve been sent some information about it this year, we’d like to share it with you. The link will take you to articles and videos about ways in which we are, or could be, hearing and answering the cry of the poor.

THE POOR MAN CRIED AND THE LORD HEARD HIM

Loving God,
Open our ears
to hear you in the cry of those
living in poverty.
Open our eyes
to see you in the lives of the
oppressed.
Open our hearts
to meet you in others and to
respond with
mercy and compassion.
Pour out on us your grace,
so that we may grow as your
faithful people, always seeking
your kingdom of Truth, Justice
and Peace.
Through Christ our Lord.
Amen
WORLD DAY OF THE POOR PRAYER CARD
SUNDAY 18TH NOVEMBER 2018
http://www.csan.org.uk

We invite you to revisit our short series of posts on beggars at the beginning of October.

WT

 

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16 November: Spring and Fall.

mistletoe-oxon2-640x481

We can never have too much poetry, nor too much Hopkins. Here he is writing to a young child, but also to himself, and to those who have ears to hear. Earlier this year young Abel, then aged 2½, was inconsolably grieving for the snow. Echoes of Bottom’s speech in Twelfth Night?

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

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15 November: Remembering a century on

 

Remembrance Sunday, 2018, 100 years since the Armistice brought an end to the fighting in the Great War. There was no question as to how I should mark the day, since my niece Jo was down in Folkestone to help create on the sand a portrait of Wilfred Owen, the soldier poet killed a few days before the war ended.

The big portrait was completed by the team in the early morning despite the rain that washed away part of the work; it was replaced in time for the public viewings.

Further along the beach people were invited to sketch silhouettes of dead soldiers in rows upon the sand. Hundreds did so; I imagine with some degree of solemnity. These images, and the portrait of Owen, were washed away by the tide.

But it’s never quite ‘Goodbye to all that’, is it?

As my mother, our poet SPB put it, ‘Bravo Danny Boyle for such a powerful forward looking impact involving so many who would not have taken part in services and parades.’ The crowds were great, but as I heard someone say to an acquaintance: ‘Everyone is taking it in turns up there (on the balcony where the best views were). And so it was. All seemed muted but glad to be there, part of the crowd, part of the people.

MMB

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14 November – A Peace Dividend

bendy.bus.2

I recently visited Northern Ireland for the first time in many years. Belfast looked cleaner and more prosperous, although the murals and the flags on lampposts spoke of tensions that have not disappeared.

The day after my meeting I took a bus to Dublin. A bus from the Republic, running a cross-border service. No halt as we passed from one jurisdiction to the other; if I’d been looking the other way I’d have missed the border altogether.

Most passengers got down at Dublin airport, as it serves more destinations than Belfast; when we reached central Dublin the bus parked at the Busaras (bus station) like those from Sligo or Cork or Galway. And we arrived on time.

That was an example of a poetic timetable!

But we need planners as well as poets, hard heads as well as soft hearts. Such people go unsung, even unfairly criticised for lack of vision, but they have contributed to the changes in Ireland, the Balkans, the Horn of Africa …

God send us more of them!

MMB

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November 13. Remembrance and beyond

southsea

During the Second World War in Britain, while men were fighting and the war effort seemed to be paramount in people’s minds, in the background other politicians and civil servants were drawing up plans for important areas such as housing, health and education. This time it would be a ‘land fit for heroes’. In the event, prefabricated houses and schools were erected with a speed and in numbers never again seen and the National Health Service came into being.

A better housed, better educated and generally healthier population was the result. But planning can only go so far, as the Times Literary Supplement columnist Charles Morgan pointed out.

In all the plans that are made for the life we are to lead, how seldom is there evidence of any wish that life shall be enjoyed: that it shall be safe – yes; that it shall be instructed, equalised, rubbed smooth, supplied with dustless corners and chromium-plated taps; but that there shall be grace or charm or quiet or gaiety or sweetness or light in it, there is among the sterner planners neither hope nor desire. Utility and sameness are their guiding stars … Their ideal is to make of the art of life what a timetable is to a poem.1

He wrote, of course, from a position of privilege, and exaggerates in his last two sentences to make a polemical point. Certainly I have visited prefabs that have lasted nearly three times their planned lifespan, are light and airy, and well loved by those who have made their homes therein. And G.K. Chesterton considered timetables poetic; especially when they work! And what joy, post-war, when such things could be more or less relied on again!

MMB

Portsmouth, largely rebuilt after World War II

1Charles Morgan, Reflections in a Mirror, London, MacMillan, 1944, p.93.

 

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November 12. Truth telling XIII: the first casualty in war.

why not join the army.jpg

It seems to have been the ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus who first said that truth is the first casualty in war.

This poster sums that up. It was intended to attract young Irishmen to join the colours during the Great War of 1914-18. I return to the question we asked on November 6 two years ago: What sacrifices have been offered in modern industrial war and to what deities?

Truth, in this case, was sacrificed to the idols of Nationalism and Xenophobia. And  all too many young men were sacrificed.

Let nation speak peace unto nation.

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11 November: Poppies for remembering

poppy.bridge

We took a walk in South Manchester, going  to the Fletcher Moss Park along this footpath. Here it crosses over the tram lines; not only has the bridge been decorated with poppies, but where the overgrown verges of the path have been cleared, three local primary schools have sown poppy seeds, ready to come up in the next few weeks. (I was writing this in March, but the poppies did indeed flower during the summer.)

There were poems by some of the children attached to the fence, just out of sight.

On this centenary Remembrance Day, what should we teach them about events that no-one alive remembers? In an increasingly aggressive world, do we say ‘Si Vis Pacem. Pare Bellum’ – ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’? That makes a certain sense, but it is not the way we expect them to behave in the playground.

A sense of injustice can lead to war; but there is also greed. And there is romanticising of self-sacrifice in battle which all too easily prevents the asking of difficult questions. (How dare you suggest my father/brother/son died for nothing.)

There were reasons why our fathers and grandfathers did not speak of their wartime experiences: because romantic it was not. As well as pain, loneliness and fear, a man had to be ready to kill fellow human beings, individually or en masse. Many hated this duty but there was also bloodlust; something we have witnessed, and continue to witness, in today’s conflicts.

Perhaps it’s good to introduce the children to the idea of self-sacrifice, while diverting them from the glorification of war and from the aggressive war games we used to play – in times when the nation had not got the Second World War out of its system. That of course is too easily said, when immersive shoot-up games are readily available on computers and on line. Do these dissipate aggression or reinforce it?

MMB

 

 

 

 

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November 10: Remembering

poppy.OTTfigure

I came across this little Staffordshire souvenir figure under a church war memorial last November. A hundred years on, it’s difficult to understand who would design such an ornament, or who would have bought it. As boys I remember us getting more run-of-the-mill designs for my mother’s collection, but we once gave her a Great War tank model, not thinking of the loss of life and all the human suffering it represented.

But what does this figure represent, other than a present from Bishop’s Stortford? Is the soldier a killer or a victim? Brave or resigned, or hoping for a ‘Blighty’ wound to get himself sent home for a month or two? Did it remind its first owner of a loved one lost? And how did it feel to see it if you were a returned front-line soldier, after the War? Pure white was not very often seen amid Flanders mud.

Caught in that moment when he goes Over The Top to kill or be killed: how do we bring this to God? This is not man-for-man fighting – the machine gun that may get him will be many yards away, and unless it comes to bayonets he won’t see the one he kills.

Perhaps it is fitting to put him down, as the parishioners did, in front of the Cross on the War Memorial; without a word, with the poppies around him.

What can we say? With our current weaponry we have no right to feel morally superior. Piloting deadly drones from hundreds of miles away or threatening to press the red button; or indeed having others do so in our name: lives on ‘our side’ are not at risk as those going over the top were.

Father forgive us for we do not want to know what we do.

 

 

 

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9th November: In my Flesh I shall see God.

mile end4

This cemetery in London has not been used for fifty years, when it was closed by Act of Parliament! It is not in ordered rows of dead people, but is alive with trees, flowers and birds. For me  the abundant life speaks more of resurrection than ranks of black marble or white Portland stone, though the Commonwealth Graves Commission keep their cemeteries as near to gardens as possible; a different way of pointing beyond the finality of death.

The Douay Bible translates Job 19:26:

And I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I will see my God. 

And the trees, violets, blue tits, magpies and jays seem to me to bear this out. The photograph was taken in Spring, but even now, as winter approaches, the buds on the branches are full of God’s promise.

WT

 

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8 November: Trumpets shall sound!

strasbourg.judgement small

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall rise again incorruptible: and we shall be changed.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption; and this mortal must put on immortality. And when this mortal hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?

1 Corinthians 15:52-55

The Artist at Strasbourg Cathedral shows Christ as Judge, but clearly bearing the marks of his death in his hands and side –  he leans to one side, looking down at those entering the cathedral, hands held in blessing rather than condemnation. His attendant angels display the cross, the lance, the crown of thorns.

It seems to me that rather than see him face to face, the condemned condemn themselves, walking away, bishops, kings and queens, prosperous merchants among them.

Can I even look myself in the mirror, let alone my saviour? Can I carry a thorn or two without complaining, let alone my daily cross?

At the bottom are two reinforcements for the Last Trumpet, and between them the bewildered dead are rising incorruptible. Like Jesus, the artist has shown them as fully human. One, at least, has realised something of what is going on, and is dancing.

May we hear the Last Trumpet even now as it echoes back and forth through eternity, and may our hearts sing and dance before our Lord and Judge, and leave the rest to his mercy.

 

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