Category Archives: poetry

March 9: Humanising organisations.

A friend issued a personal challenge the other day: not to be one of the people who organise humanity, but one of those who humanise organisations. That, he said, was one of today’s great challenges.

Nothing new about trying to fit people into systems:

  Jesus said: Woe to you lawyers also, because you load men with burdens which they cannot bear, and you yourselves touch not the packs with one of your fingers.

(Luke 11.46)

This spring, this Lent, let’s pray for discernment to know when a rule is man-made not God given. e Of course, our efforts won’t always be appreciated, but we don’t want to be like Dylan’s Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, determinedly shutting out any break in the rules and routine of her life, and so shutting out joy: “before you let the sun in, mind he wipes his shoes.” (Under Milk Wood) 



Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Lent, poetry

11 February: Today’s Lodging House Fires

margatebeachbw (800x596)

Eliot wrote in this seaside shelter in Margate, Kent.

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Go, go, go!’ is one of two-year-old Abel’s slogans for living. He still needs his daytime sleep but is not inclined or programmed to torpor. He has been ‘always present’ until recently, but he can now talk about time past, telling his mother what he has seen, and can grasp that something is going to happen ‘later’ or ‘tomorrow, after your sleep.’

What sort of reality could he not bear? It’s certainly difficult when Things don’t work as he thinks they should, and he can perceive intervention as interference – helping him has to be done discreetly and sensitively. But Amor Vincit Omnia – love conquers all. He can forgive our heavyhandedness.

And the realities that the lodging house inmates could not bear? Or the men drinking at 8.30 in the morning? Or the self-harming teenager? People with no ‘go, go, go’? Or you or me? Is giving money to beggars helping or not?

Amor Vincit Omnia. But how?

As the blind John Milton reminds us, ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’ (And listen, like the librarians.) Letting  a smile loose might also help. But the reality of others’ suffering can seem more than we can bear. The one end which is always present: death, or Omega, Christ’s eternal life?

Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to render to every man according to his works. I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

Revelation 22:13-14.


Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, poetry

February 9: N is for Nowhere


Apologies to Newington, Newport, Nonnington and any other candidates for this spot, but Nowhere came to mind and would not go away.

One person who did go to Nowhere was Noah, taking his little world with him, or being taken by it. How could he steer the Ark with no landmarks and no stars in the sky? John Masefield was a sailor around the turn of the 20th Century; even without GPS, he generally knew where he was and need not be anxious, even when alone at the wheel through the night:

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

There is no record of Noah being anxious on board; but like many a sailor he relaxed and drank himself into oblivion once on shore. A different sort of Nowhere, not one to visit often. But Jesus and his followers were castigated as drunkards; though no doubt their critics’ stories grew in the telling!

Another Nowhere was the starting point for this reflection. I was privileged to arrive at the maternity unit moments after my grandson was born, and was holding him when his father came into the room and called him, ‘Hello, Abel!’

In all the confusion of that strange place, totally beyond the world he knew from his mother’s womb, he knew that voice, and turned to face his father. Nowhere became Somewhere!

From then on Abel has explored the world. It has become a place, a home, with the house he shares with his parents at its centre.

May we listen for Our Father’s voice and be ready to follow his commands as Noah did, trusting, trusting, when we feel lost.

Ark window, Shrewsbury Cathedral, Margaret Rope.

Sea Fever, John Masefield


Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, PLaces, poetry

4. There’s Helping and Helping: the Lodging House Fire I.


Here is the poet W.H. Davies himself in a homeless hostel in  early 20th Century London, after the railroad accident that disabled him. Here is a stifling charity, literally; coke here is neither drug nor soft drink but a type of solid fuel, a hot-burning by-product of extracting chemicals from coal. Today Davies would quite likely spend his days in and out of the public library. I see homeless people treated with great courtesy by librarians, who are unsung, unofficial social workers.

The Lodging-House Fire

My birthday-yesterday,
Its hours were twenty-four;
Four hours I lived lukewarm,
And killed a score.

Eight bells and then I woke,
Came to our fire below,
Then sat four hours and watched
Its sullen glow.

Then out four hours I walked,
The lukewarm four I live,
And felt no other joy
Than air can give.

My mind durst know no thought,
It knew my life too well:
‘Twas hell before, behind,
And round me hell.

Back to that fire again,
Six hours I watch it now,
And take to bed dim eyes
And fever’s brow.

Ten hours I give to sleep,
More than my need, I know;
But I escape my mind
And that fire’s glow.

For listen: it is death
To watch that fire’s glow;
For, as it bums more red
Men paler grow.

O better in foul room
That’s warm, make life away,
Than homeless out of doors,
Cold night and day.

Pile on the coke, make fire,
Rouse its death-dealing glow;
Men are borne dead away
Ere they can know.

I lie; I cannot watch
Its glare from hour to hour;
It makes one sleep, to wake
Out of my power.

I close my eyes and swear
It shall not wield its power;
No use, I wake to find
A murdered hour.

Lying between us there!
That fire drowsed me deep,
And I wrought murder’s deed-
Did it in sleep.

I count us, thirty men,
Huddled from Winter’s blow,
Helpless to move away
From that fire’s glow.

So goes my life each day-
Its hours are twenty-four-
Four hours I live lukewarm,
And kill a score.

No man lives life so wise
But unto Time he throws
Morsels to hunger for
At his life’s close.

Were all such morsels heaped-
Time greedily devours,
When man sits still – he’d mourn
So few wise hours.

But all my day is waste,
I live a lukewarm four
And make a red coke fire
Poison the score.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, poetry

5 February, 2018. Helping and Helping II: Come, follow me, my friend!

After yesterday’s story of a blind man finding his way, here is a tale of …

The Fog by W. H. Davies

I saw the fog grow thick,
Which soon made blind my ken;
It made tall men of boys,
And giants of tall men.

It clutched my throat, I coughed;
Nothing was in my head
Except two heavy eyes
Like balls of burning lead.

And when it grew so black
That I could know no place,
I lost all judgement then,
Of distance and of space.

The street lamps, and the lights
Upon the halted cars,
Could either be on earth
Or be the heavenly stars.

A man passed by me close,
I asked my way, he said,
“Come, follow me, my friend”—
I followed where he led.

He rapped the stones in front,
“Trust me,” he said, “and come”;
I followed like a child—
A blind man led me home.

… a blind man leading the way. Jesus may have spoken of the blind leading the blind into the ditch, but that did not happen this time. The sighted man who could not see found his way thanks to a blind man with the simple technology of a white stick, tapping and trailing on the paving stones, coupled with a good memory.

Jesus was talking of spiritual blindness, warning us about following fashionable and presumptuous teachers, in his day the Pharisees: ‘Let them alone: they are blind, and leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit.’ (Matthew 14:15).

(By the way, I saw the blind man of yesterday’s post a few weeks later, confidently making his way along Station Road, unaided.)

1 Comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, PLaces, poetry

February 2, Aberdaron XI: Air.

aberdaron church leaflet7.png


Words on the air? Heard, half-heard?

The same words speaking a different truth on a different day.

The toddler’s joy in words.

The venom of trolls who would not dare speak their words on the air.


We will return to R. S. Thomas, and after tomorrow, we will no doubt return to Aberdaron. Meantime, let us speak words of peace.


Please support Sister Rose for her sleep-out in Littlehampton on Saturday 24th February to raise funds for Worthing Churches Homeless Project. Sister now has a website for donations:

Thank you, Maurice.


Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Laudato si', PLaces, poetry

January 13. Temperance VII: Beauty, Reason and Will

Jack Lonnen Meadows in costume 1At last we may return to one of the key ideas in the first quotation I cited some days ago in these posts on temperance. The philosopher Josef Pieper says that the virtue of temperance is beautiful in itself and renders the human being beautiful. What can he mean? Isn’t temperance about self-control? Beauty belongs to some other virtue, maybe, but not to temperance.

But beauty, says St. Thomas Aquinas, is an attribute of temperance because temperance enables us to control ourselves in relation to those things which can most degrade us. When our passions are indulged in an intemperate way, they ‘dim the light of reason from which all clarity and beauty of virtue arises’, according to Thomas. Let’s linger over this a bit. St. Thomas mentions the ‘light of reason’. We are always being reminded by St. Thomas that the human being is a rational being. Our reason, as we have noted in all our posts, is a great attribute, a precious gift. It is, you might say, like a musical instrument that needs careful handling. A violinist carries his instrument in a specially constructed violin case that protects the strings and the wood from damage so that the violin is able to produce the sweetest sound. Our reason, too, is meant to be protected from damage so that it can function well. Intemperance can cause a kind of damage to our reason. It is not hard to understand this. Just think of someone who is drunk. What becomes of the light of reason and the clarity of thought in an intoxicated person? Or think of someone in a rage so intense that the mind stops functioning, and violence takes over.

The role of the will is important here. ‘The will,’ says Thomas, ‘stands between the reason and the passions and may be moved by either.’ Our will, then, is a bit like a traffic policeman, allowing some things through and making others wait. The traffic policeman commands obedience from drivers in the same way that the will, directed by the reason, can command obedience from our passions. If our passions do not obey will, the will can be run over by them, and this causes havoc for us. Thomas goes on to say, ‘Although the passions are not in the will, it is in the power of the will to resist them.’ We are not at the mercy of our passions, regardless of their seeming strength. Just because we may passionately want to do something that we know is not good, our will need not capitulate.

It is always possible for the passions to respond to the will’s directives. The passions are not all-powerful. The will, moved by the light of reason, is able to resist them.

Yet, the beauty of temperance is not merely that it protects us from going hay-wire with regard to the physical pleasures of food and drink and sex. It has a positive effect on our entire being, body, soul and spirit. Temperance is not directed only to our physical appetites. We have a host of emotional appetites also: the craving for control, for popularity, for possessions, for acceptance, for love, for attention, for money, for safety, for comfort – the list goes on and on. We cannot treat all of them here. But from all of them in their extreme and intemperate form, temperance is liberating and purifying.

The particular beauty of temperance is ‘the glow of the true and the good’ radiating from within the temperate person. Temperance, you might say, works on us to bring about the purification of our entire being. How? By submitting our most intensely personal feelings and desires, our most passionate impulses and cravings to the light of divine truth.

As Pieper says, temperance is ‘that purity by dint of which the selfish and furtive search for spurious fulfilment is abandoned.’ He continues:

A new depth here opens to our view: purity is not only the fruit of purification; it implies at the same time readiness to accept God’s purifying intervention… to accept it with the bold candor of a trustful heart, and thus to experience its fruitful and transforming power.


Maurice’s great-great-grandfather was an actor.

Leave a comment

Filed under poetry

22 December, Christmas 1914. Father Andrew at Christmas, I. The ending of all wars …


Here is a passage from Fr Andrew’s book, Carols and Christmas Rhymes, Mowbray, 1935.

We have been told that on Christmas Day in the Great War from rival trenches English, French, and German voices were united musically in Christmas hymns. That should have been the end of the war. It should be the ending of all wars, and all slum conditions, and all bad treatment of the childhood that the Christ-Child has blessed. With such practical intention these poor verses are laid in homage before the manger shrine of the Holy Child.

We will share more from the introduction as well as a few of Fr Andrew’s carols during the rest of Advent and Christmastide. Fr Andrew had a great devotion to the Eucharist, expressed in the title of this poem (O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee) as well as its theme.

Adoro Te Devote Latens Deitas

Who could refuse the appeal
Of Baby hands stretched out caressingly,
Or patter of Baby feet upon the stair?
It was like Love to deal
So with us in His sweet humility,
To be a little Child amongst us here;
And at the last, when those same hands had borne
The scars of labour and the pierce of sin,
Faithful at eventide as in the morn
Of His first Coming, still to seek to win,
With bleeding hands held wide in mute appeal,
The acceptance of His own unchanging love.

This slum courtyard in Birmingham has been cleaned and tidied almost out of recognition. Imagine no running water, no sewerage,  thin walls, coal fires amid the industrial fumes, rats, mud, disease…


Leave a comment

Filed under Advent and Christmas, Daily Reflections, poetry

21 December: Zechariah.




On glowing coals your incense plumed and rose,

and tendrils, wisps of smoke, entwining vines

of perfume circled round the holy throne,

round holy presence, round what faith enshrines.

O Zechariah, priest of God and seer,

in God’s eyes good, so good and true, yet you

were unprepared for Gabriel’s appearing:

you balked. But some, condemning, misconstrue.

Before the angel’s majesty and mien,

before unfathomed worlds spirits behold,

to me, your doubts, your dread – how right they seem:

before your silence gained what he foretold.

O Zechariah, made mute, but little flawed,

you shall live to see, to see your God.

(Luke 1:5-25)


Sister Johanna sent us this sonnet that distills the essence of her reflections on Zechariah. Thank you Johanna!




Leave a comment

Filed under Advent and Christmas, Daily Reflections, poetry

Christmas Greetings!


To all our race
The light hath come;
For He Who lies ‘neath quilt of straw,
That homeless One Whom shepherds saw
Himself our Home,
Reveals God’s Face.

Fr Andrew SDC, 1869-1946, pioneer Anglican Franciscan.

With all our prayers and best wishes for Christmas and for a Peaceful New Year, from all the team at Agnellus’ Mirror.

And please spare a prayer for Constantina, our contributor, who is moving house today.

God Bless you all,

Will Turnstone and all at Agnellus’ Mirror.

Madonna, Saint Walburga, Plowden, Shropshire.


Leave a comment

Filed under Advent and Christmas, Interruptions, poetry