Category Archives: Lent

3 October: Francis’s mystic consciousness

We are created, called, to be conscious beings. There comes a time when our consciousness overflows into words; the toddler seems to acquire a massive working vocabulary almost overnight, even if the most frequently used word seems to be ‘no’.

Chesterton here seeks to understand with his readers the point at which words are of no further use to describe our consciousness of God; to realise, if only fleetingly, that we all depend in every detail, at every instant, upon God.

The mystic who passes through the moment when there is nothing but God does in some sense behold the beginningless beginnings in which there was really nothing else.

He not only appreciates everything but the nothing of which everything was made.

In a fashion he endures and answers even the earthquake irony of the Book of Job; in some sense he is there when the foundations of the world are laid, with the morning stars singing together and the sons of God shouting for joy. That is but a distant adumbration of the reason why the Franciscan, ragged, penniless, homeless and apparently hopeless, did indeed come forth singing such songs as might come from the stars of morning; and shouting, a son of God. This sense of the great gratitude and the sublime dependence was not a phrase or even a sentiment; it is the whole point that this was the very rock of reality. It was not a fancy but a fact; rather it is true that beside it all facts are fancies.

That we all depend in every detail, at every instant, as a Christian would say upon God, as even an agnostic would say upon existence and the nature of things, is not an illusion of imagination; on the contrary, it is the fundamental fact which we cover up, as with curtains, with the illusion of ordinary life.

From “Saint Francis of Assisi: The Life and Times of St. Francis” by G. K. Chesterton

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The End of Margaret’s Journey of Love

Canon Anthony announced today that Sister Margaret McGrath died yesterday. She had been part of the Franciscan International Study Centre for many years, including a time as principal. She supported Agnellus’ Mirror and offered us a number of reflections. This is the last post that we published. It forms the final part of her reflection on the way of penance, Franciscan style and came out in Lent last year, 2021. To begin with the first of her posts click here, the rest follow on using the arrows above the photograph.

Thank you again, Sister! The last sentence is enough to ponder on.

We, as Franciscans, have been invited to join the way of penance. At times we will fail, for it is not always easy to turn away from ourselves, or to turn away from the values of the world which are, for the most part, so different from the values of God.

When we do fail it is then, more than ever, that we need to turn to God and tell him we are sorry and carry on in our journey of penance – our journey of love, our soul’s journey into God.

Margaret FMSJ

Margaret’s journey through this life is over; may she rest in peace and rise in glory!

Tree of Life window, Franciscan International Study Centre.

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19 June: Wickedness takes the short cut

At the Last Supper scene from Strasbourg Cathedral, Judas is to the right of centre, grasping his moneybag. He has just received the piece of bread from Jesus, to the left, who has his hands clasped, his eyes turned heavenward. How did the betrayal that is about to occur come about? It doesn’t feel to me like just one more venial peccadillo, but perhaps it did to Judas. Maybe the venial peccadilloes, his stealing from the common purse, paved the way for the big one.

Here is an extract from Boswell, reporting a conversation on Skye in which Dr Johnson, The McCleod of McCleod, Rev Donald McQueen, and Boswell himself discussed human wickedness.

JOHNSON. ‘Cunning has effect from the credulity of others, rather than from the abilities of those who are cunning. It requires no extraordinary talents to lie and deceive.’

This led us to consider whether it did not require great abilities to be very wicked.

JOHNSON. ‘It requires great abilities to have the POWER of being very wicked; but not to BE very wicked. A man who has the power, which great abilities procure him, may use it well or ill; and it requires more abilities to use it well, than to use it ill. Wickedness is always easier than virtue; for it takes the short cut to every thing. It is much easier to steal a hundred pounds, than to get it by labour, or any other way.

‘Consider only what act of wickedness requires great abilities to commit it, when once the person who is to do it has the power; for THERE is the distinction. It requires great abilities to conquer an army, but none to massacre it after it is conquered.’

From “The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D.” by James Boswell.

More than once I have heard a preacher say that Judas was taking a short cut, contriving a showdown with the authorities that Jesus would surely win, a coup d’etat. But Jesus was not one for political short cuts; he was not a lazy thinker. Thirty pieces of silver could have been earned by hard work or by betrayal. Perhaps the moment of truth for Judas came as he kissed his master, and suddenly realised how wrong a turning he had made.

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31 May: How green are your blisters?

It’s another of those social sins where we are implicated willy-nilly; it’s as if someone sins on our behalf whether we like it or not. When we can avoid the willy-nillyness of life and be conscious of what we are doing, that’s what we should do.

Some years ago I was correctly told to stop trying to recycle the blister packs from medicine tablets and capsules as they could not be processed. Well, think again Mr Turnstone!

Since February 2021, TerraCycle, an international recycling company, has been working with Superdrug and other pharmacies to recycle these complicated little packages, earning a contribution to charity.

There are other schemes that benefit chosen charities directly; the churches of Saints Dunstan, Mildred and Peter in Canterbury are collecting them for Marie Curie Cancer Care, but Superdrug is in the city centre.

No excuses now for not recycling your blisters!

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11 May: Honour the LORD with your wealth.

 
“Honour the LORD with your wealth and with the first-fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” Proverbs 3:9.
 
Christ Jesus would have approved of this mosaic in Broadstairs Baptist Church. The grapes, the wine, the bread could all be from very close by. There are still fishing boats working nearby, farms growing wheat and ever more vineyards as Kent’s climate favours the grape more and more. The mosaic brings to our consciousness the reality of where this church is sent.
 
The mosaic is honouring the Lord with the first-fruits of  the local community; presumably the Church used its collective wealth to commission the work from a local artist. A mosaicist used to live in our street, not so far away.
 
The church uses its wealth, in terms of the church, hall and meeting rooms, not only to worship and chat about the congregation’s business, but also open these up to local groups. They are conscious of other people’s needs and strive to meet them. I used to teach there: groups of teenagers who had fallen out of school for different reasons and who would not have been wanted in other halls because of occasionally unpredictable behaviour. But there was always something else going on in the building at the same time, or following on from us: playgroup, rehab exercises for older people, drop-in sessions of various sorts. 
 
Thank you to Broadstairs Baptist Church for honouring the Lord by sharing your wealth! 
 
In these last days of Lent, we can remember people like Mary Magdalene, Johanna, Susanna, and Mrs Zebedee who supported Jesus with their wealth, not forgetting Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea who provided Christ’s tomb, newly carved from the rock. Am I supporting Jesus with my wealth of money, time, abilities?

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10 May: What do you see in the mirror?

It used to be one of the standard questions in those short celebrity interviews: Who (or what) do you see in the mirror in the morning? Perhaps it’s been quietly dropped because interviewees came to expect it and had answers ready, answers to sell their new film, tv show or book.

Saint James would have us look into a mirror, a looking glass. We like mirrors, here at Agnellus’, even when they make us look ridiculous.

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if a man be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he shall be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in a glass. For he beheld himself, and went his way, and presently forgot what manner of man he was.

But he that hath looked into the perfect law of liberty, and hath continued therein, not becoming a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work; this man shall be blessed in his deed.

James 1:22-25

The mirror to see ourselves in is the ‘perfect law of liberty’: how do we use the liberty we have been given, or would have been given if our hands had not been clenched, deep in our pockets? We will never reach the day’s end without refusing or abusing our liberty in some way, great or small, but we can look into the mirror of liberty, and with our God-given freedom, do better tomorrow.

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9 May: Incidental Deviations.

Sister ought to be able to walk ‘quite straight’ here, but look, there is mud on the road, and the asphalt is cracking up …

John Conington wrote this paragraph to describe the challenges of translating from Latin into the English of his day (he died in 1869).

“Still, where it is almost impossible to walk quite straight, the walker will reconcile himself to incidental deviations, and will even consider, where a slip is inevitable, on which side of the line it is better that the slip should take place.”

From “The Satires, Epistles, and Art of Poetry” by Horace, Tr. John Conington.

Conington expected to miss the path, to fall short, to slip or trip, but he was prepared for that, prepared to get up and go on again, scratched, besmirched, weary; metaphorically speaking. Let us ask the Good Shepherd to guide us along the right path, and to give us the comfort of his crook and staff, as we make our incidentally devious way through Life.

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21 April: Safe.

2009-05-04 20.01.43 (800x532)

We don’t tend to recycle old posts but this one, from January six years ago, follows well yesterday’s reflection by Emily Dickinson on the forgotten grave. Mary Webb looked forward to her own grave as a haven from the sufferings of this life, especially from the unkindness of other people. Her face was disfigured by Graves’ Disease which can now be successfully treated and she was sensitive about this.

We began the post with another woman’s death and burial.

We buried our friend Mrs O a few days ago. She had a good send-off, the church comfortably full. I was comforted an hour earlier, to see a rainbow, arched over her house as the rain drifted away into the North Sea. A promise that she will not perish! And the thrush and blackbird were singing.

But here is Mary Webb, feeling downhearted as she writes. May she rest in peace and rise in glory!

‘Safe’ by Mary Webb.

Under a blossoming tree
Let me lie down,
With one blackbird to sing to me
In the evenings brown.
Safe from the world’s long importunity –
The endless talk, the critical, sly stare,
The trifling social days – and unaware
Of all the bitter thoughts they have of me,
Low in the grass, deep in the daisies,
I shall sleep sound, safe from their blames and praises.

That is one of Mrs Turnstone’s favourite poems.

https://wordpress.com/post/willturnstone.wordpress.com/832

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16 April: Void


 VOID


 Great streets of silence led away
To neighbourhoods of pause;
Here was no notice, no dissent,
No universe, no laws.
 

By clocks ‘t was morning, and for night
The bells at distance called;
But epoch had no basis here,
For period exhaled.”

(from “Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete”)

Emily captures some of the bleakness experienced by the disciples after Good Friday. No universe, no laws, no certainty, after Jesus exhaled his spirit with his last breath.

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Good Friday gifts

The solemnity of today will be overwhelmed by the joy of Easter, but there were tokens of the coming feast for those with eyes to see.

Before the sun was properly up I was looking into the back garden. What was that hunched figure inspecting the flowerpots? A hedgehog woken from hibernation and going about its business, ridding us of a few pests. That was enough to mark the day.

After the prayerful L’Arche Good Friday service some of us found our way to the Glebe garden, where a shrine had been built of willow wands. If this was intended to be a place of quiet reflection it soon became a meeting place for people who had barely seen each other during covid; another hint of the resurrection to come.

Flitting across the garden was a brimstone butterfly, a caterpillar died but transformed into a creature of beauty no less wondrous for being totally expected.

Then to my task of adorning the church porch. The Easter garden needed the finishing touches, Mary’s jar of ointment and the grave cloths hidden behind the door (a scallop shell to be rolled to one side). What concerned me was the Easter lilies. We had some in flower the last two years, but it had been touch and go this time. Since today was warm, the first flowers were unfurling to be bright and white on Easter Day.

In the evening down to the Cathedral to hear Faure’s Requiem, with its upbeat finish: May the Angels welcome you to Paradise, may the martyrs meet you and lead you to the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Walking home from the Cathedral in the glowing dusk, under the Easter full moon, three blackbirds, singing their hearts out, serenading the new life hatched in their nests. They will be busy tomorrow, as no doubt will I, but by these tokens and by other sure evidence I know that my redeemer liveth.

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