Category Archives: Daily Reflections

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

May 28, Inter-Galactic Explorations XXV: At High Tide.

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It was a neap tide, so even at high water T and the Chihuahuas could walk along the beach without getting their feet wet. The high tide line was always fascinating to the diminutive pseudo-dogs just as it was to the Turnstones, but having instinctively snapped up a sandhopper once, Ajax, and for that matter Alfie, was not keen to repeat the experience.

‘All salt and scales,’ Ajax said, ‘I don’t know how those birds eat them.’

There were other treasures. T once found a battered Maria Teresa piece-of-eight, but he was sure it was a nineteenth century minting. Still, keep on mooching, sniffing, looking … until there came an involuntary yelp from Alfie.

‘I’ve hurt my back foot’, he signalled. He had stood on a badly twisted beer can, hidden under seaweed and scraps of nylon netting.

T staunched the blood with clean tissues then picked up what people thought was his pet and made for the vet at the pet shop.

‘I’ll have to stitch his pad,’ said the vet. ‘He’ll need a local anæsthetic.’ She swabbed and sutured and bandaged, T holding Alfie’s paw and sweating beneath the lamp. ‘Keep the foot dry and we’ll have a look at it on the 20th.’

T here they were again on the appointed day. As she cut the dressing away, the vet exclaimed at the state of Alfie’s foot. ‘A remarkable recovery! What have you been eating, Alfie?’

While Alfie understood the question perfectly well, he could not break the Ossyrian discipline of earthly silence to tell her that T had accidentally bought a large sack of the StarStud Breeders’ Mix edition of their usual food. And he did not want to draw T’s attention to the mistake.

T’s reply to the vet reassured Alfie. ‘Just the usual Kanine Krunchies. And the odd whitebait and chips from Peter’s Fish Factory.’

‘Well he looks perfectly healthy to me. Not too much crunchy batter though. We don’t want you like those obese cocker spaniels that die before their time.’

‘No chance of that,’ beamed the 5,027 earth-years old Alfie.

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27 May: Humour in humility.

 

I was reading the obituary of Bishop Douglas Milmine, the first Anglican Bishop of Paraguay, and of late an honorary assistant Bishop in Chichester. A remarkable man of God.

He had a favourite prayer which would have tickled the Lord as much as it tickled himself: ‘Lord, make me humble for you know how important I am.’

Is that the Publican or the Pharisee or the funny man speaking? Which of the three would write a memoir called ‘Stiff Upper Smile? The prayer is a hearty laugh at himself, and God bless him for sharing it and for all the good he did in his life.

MMB.

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26 May: The Builder’s Dog without the Ossyrians, II. Silence amid the Noise.

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From Will Turnstone’s personal blog.

Between 7.30 and 9.00 in the morning must be the noisiest time of day but most people have to filter out the noise, just to do what we have to. Young Abel often draws our attention to sirens, trains and loud machinery, but I did not need his advice this morning.

The Builder’s Dog is with us and needed his morning walk. Today he was sniffling round a shrub when I heard a woodpecker drumming somewhere nearby. Not that I saw him, but it’s a pleasure to hear him. Trying to place him – somewhere in the treetops – without binoculars was futile, but it made me aware of the din around me, even though I was some yards from the nearest road. The school playing field was being mown with a tractor and a mower; the main roads and inner ring road were still very busy, but a motorbike and ambulance stood out. There were trains and planes, and children winding down to go indoors for the morning.

But I could still hear the woodpecker. And the chaffinch and the blackcap … and the herring gulls and rooks overhead.

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Sometimes we must dive into whatever silence is around, even if no-one else can hear it, even if only for a moment. Oh, still small voice of calm.

But now it’s back to work! 1 Kings 19.12.

 

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25 May: The Builder’s Dog without the Ossyrians.

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The Builder’s Dog in his Hi-Vis coat was wary when he entered Will’s place. Were those Chihuahuas around? Nor scent nor sound nor scratch marks on the gate. All was well, except that he had a stretch of time, impossible to contemplate, without his mistress who could not take him on her sunshine holiday.

The food was good – exactly the same as at home, except for treats like scraps of Sunday dinner. The walks were OK, except that the Mistress was not there and Will and Mrs T avoided walking down BD’s home street. But the park and Abbot’s Hill were full of smells that humans were utterly unaware of.

It was coming down Abbot’s Hill one evening that BD gave Will his reward. Or was it the other way blackcaparound? An urgent, complicated overlay of scented canine communication required close study, and BD was pleasantly surprised not to feel the lead jerk. Will, too, was fixed to the spot. He was listening to a Blackcap, perched in a suburban Japanese cherry tree, singing his heart out, ignoring the human and dog below.

As Will said later, there’s always something to be grateful for. And he enjoyed another little link as he researched this post: according to Wikipedia, the Blackcap’s song provided the theme for Saint Francis when that famous bird lover Olivier Messiaen wrote his Opera, Saint François d’Assise. Not just any bird then!

Blackcap by Ron Knight

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24 May: C is for Canterbury

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Or even ‘H is for Home’. This city has become home as nowhere else in my life, now I’ve spent more than half my days here. Here are the streets where my students have lived, the schools, community centres, libraries and halls where I’ve taught them anything from the basics of maths and English to art, cookery or even simple motor mechanics. Here is the court where I’ve supported students, the chip shop where more than one has greeted me, years after our lessons ceased …

… but here too, closer to my heart, is a family home of thirty years, infused with memories: three generations of Turnstones have made their mark – young Abel too! He had best watch out, though granddad heard about it when felt pen strayed onto the table surface! Remember too that the previous generation, our children’s grandparents were frequent visitors and remain part of the fabric of their growing up in this place.

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Canterbury is special, even if the city centre is increasingly given over to big business rather than small, let alone to worship. Even the signposts all through the town are in the corporate style of the Whitefriars’ shopping centre. And despite the continuous noise of traffic, and the fumes that poison the air, it has been a good place to raise a family. There is still green space. And we do have access to the cathedral and the deep silence of centuries of prayer.

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We may whinge about the busloads of continental teenagers spilling out of the pound shops, but we’ll miss them when they stop coming. Regimented private schools may be well-behaved, but lack their vitality.

We’ll also miss the Franciscans when they close the Study Centre and leave Greyfriars chapel this summer, but this is home, its churches, shops, level crossings and traffic queues, old friends and acquaintances, and corners unvisited except when friends stop by. I guess we’re here while the next generation are based hereabouts; this is home.

WT.

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23 May: B is for Blacklion, Brocagh and Belcoo

Most readers will not have heard of the twin villages, Belcoo to the North, Blacklion to the South, of a river bridge across the Irish border. The river joins the two Loughs, or Lakes MacNean. Once upon a time I was a student in Blacklion, and each week went to the village school at Brocagh, a good walk from the college, to give the youngsters a catechism lesson.

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Sometime around 1970 the little 2 classroom schools were closed down and a new school built in Glenfarne village. In 2011 I shared this photograph of the school on thepelicans.org.uk website, and it was from Belcoo that Olivia O’Dolan identified many of the children, helped by Mary Brady-Timoney, her sisters Kathleen Brady-Keaney and Bridget Brady-Fitzpatrick with Ben McHugh and the Clancy family. Olivia and her family live in the old station house seen at the top of this post. Life goes on; at times it’s almost as if the border did not exist. These children’s cousins will have lived north and south, and things have been so much better in recent years; pray that life doesn’t deteriorate post-Brexit.

Mrs McCormack, the head teacher, (far right) gave me a valuable lesson, thanks to Joe McHugh, down there in the front row, hand to his brow.

One week after Easter we had John’s story of the barbecue by the lake after the miraculous catch of fish, and Peter’s final declaration of faith. I thought the lesson went well. The children drew some remarkable pictures, but Mrs McCormack drew my attention to Joe’s in particular: come here now, Joe, what’s this in the corner? – It’s Saint Peter’s lorry, Miss, come to carry away the fish. I’d missed the lorry completely; I’d not interpreted the shapes he’d drawn in 20th Century terms.

What she knew, but I did not, was that Joe’s family had recently acquired a lorry which was Joe’s pride and joy, so of course St Peter would have had his lorry ready to take the fish to market. The story made sense to Joe, and had always made more sense to me as a consequence; thank you Joe, wherever you are.

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An A to Z: Introduction.

I wonder if this series is a little too self-indulgent, but maybe not: others have written whole books of their favourite holy places or churches in Britain. Some even give star ratings for the religious or artistic experience they encountered there.

This is my personal A to Z of places in the British Isles which have been holy to me: places where I have lived, or been moved, instructed or changed. Just one entry for each letter of the alphabet, no star ratings! Do feel free to add your thoughts on the places I mention or a paragraph or two about your own holiest places wherever in the world these may be.

Overseas readers may like to know that A to Z (pronounced ‘Zed’) are well respected publishers of street maps across Britain.

MMB.

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22 May: A is for Aston

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back-to-back houses, Birmingham

 

Why the spruced-up slum? I was going to write about Aston Hall, the mansion that overlooks Villa Park in Birmingham. My boyhood home was nearby so we could go there on the green diesel trains, taking care to cross the roads safely and watch out for the ‘rough’ Aston kids, who never actually bothered with us. I thought there were priest holes at Aston Hall, but you can appreciate just how mixed up I was when I began writing this post by reading Carl Chinn’s article here.

Consider the contrast between the splendour of the Hall and its park, and the nineteenth century slums all around it. Again,  Dr Chinn gives some insight into the very different ways of life and how the local people themselves raised money to save the hall and park.

One route from Aston station was along ‘Lovers’ Walk’, a narrow alley of grimy red brick; I doubt any lovers would have lingered there. Was it a lovers’ walk before the slums surrounded it, and the name stuck, or an example of slum-dwellers’  humour? After my great grandmother died I was entrusted with taking her clothes along there to the rag merchant’s yard. What they raised was hardly worth the trouble and train fare.

Aston smelt (literally) of stale poverty, but some remarkable people grew up there. My friend Gill remembers dressing the 8 year old Ossie Osborne in old clothes and a mask, and pushing him round the streets to raise money for November 5 fireworks. Penny for the guy?

If Britain could demolish Aston and build new council houses in the 1950s when there was less wealth in the country, why is it now so impossible to house families decently?

WT.

 

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21 May: Going the Extra Mile while Sitting Still.

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Driving along certain motorways in England is rarely a pleasant experience, but sitting in a cabin collecting the charges for using the M6 Toll road must be at least as deadening to the spirit. Yet recently we had a pleasant surprise when the man in the cabin took our money – the exact change – and said, ‘Thank you, super duper!’ Just the little extra humorous touch that made a difference to our enjoyment  of the next mile and more.

You can sit in a little cabin and go the extra mile, spreading a little neighbourly love with your attitude. (And all hail the supermarket checkout operators!)

Whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two. Give to him that asketh of thee and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away.

You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? do not even the publicans this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? do not also the heathens this? Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:41-48.

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20 May: About an Icon.

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This is my last blog of the week and I would like to write a little about an icon I have written.

This Croix Rousse was written as a gift for Bishop Chad in Harare, in response to a talk I heard on the persecution of the Christian church there. It took a good eight months to complete and I had never written an icon of the crucifixion before.

There are elements to working with icons that are unexpected – insights; deep feelings; new ways of seeing and in one case, a continual stream of quantum physics (when writing an icon of Elijah!)

Christ’s emaciated body hangs on the cross in a pose of absolute peace and composure. He bears the wounds of the nails and the spear. The vinegar dipped sponge is being hoisted to his lips. Jerusalem is in the background by the bar at his feet and the cross rests on ground where Adam was purported to have been buried. Golgotha, the Place of the Skull.

Mary, Mother of God, weeps by his right hand and John, his favourite, stands at his left. Above his head is the inscription INRI and above that an empty throne with an open Bible and angels around it, awaiting his Resurrection. The Sun and Moon are symbols of the Old and New Testaments and the circle of the cosmos is at the very top. The power of Almighty God.

Iconographers work form dark to light and each pass of the icon is a level of refinement from rough to smooth and more exquisite detail.

During one profound moment before I parted with this gift I looked at the holes in Christ’s hands and for a nanosecond I seemed to be able to travel across the whole of space through a deep black pinprick of emptiness. The holes in his hands have now become a symbol for me as a gateway leading to Christ. Our Franciscan habit of adoring Christ Crucified has taken on a deeper meaning.

CW.

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