Category Archives: Spring

11 June: Going Viral LXXX, Summertime

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Westgate Gardens, Canterbury, May 29, 2021

There have been two times this year when I breathed more freely, both occurred when the weather was fine, but that was not the only reason.

We go back, first of all, to the Monday when schools reopened for all pupils. I don’t know if any homework was set that day, but I was walking through the city around 5.00 p.m. and there was a tangible air of joy around the place. It felt as if every teenager had gone home and dressed in their best and now they were gathering in the parks, on the steps of the theatre, in the disused car park – now adopted by skate-boarders, roller-skaters and people too young legally to use the electric scooters scattered around the town.

Everywhere though, the buzz of face to face chatter. It was so good to witness the love and solidarity bubbling up all around the town.

There followed weeks of inclement weather, a cold, dry, April, a cold, wet May. Dedicated walkers ventured out, many people did not seem to. Then the last long weekend in May that came with a bank holiday Monday was endowed with sunshine and warmth. This picture was taken quite early in the Saturday in one of the big city centre parks. The building in the background is Tower House, official residence of the Lord Mayor. The River Stour flows along the left of the picture behind a stone wall. It is liable to flood in wintertime but now entices young and old to look for fish or feed the ducks. When my grandson was 18 months old he ran across the grass to join some Italian students playing rugby. The lawns are also popular for picnics.

I wonder when we will be welcoming language students again, but that weekend it was good to see our own young people and families enjoying each other’s company. Long may it continue.

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29 May: A May morning

Red Sussex Cow
 
The sky is clear,
  The sun is bright;
The cows are red,
  The sheep are white;
Trees in the meadows
Make happy shadows.

 Birds in the hedge
  Are perched and sing;
Swallows and larks
  Are on the wing:
Two merry cuckoos
Are making echoes.

 Bird and the beast
  Have the dew yet;
My road shines dry,
  Theirs bright and wet:
Death gives no warning,
On this May morning.

 I see no Christ
  Nailed on a tree,
Dying for sin;
  No sin I see:
No thoughts for sadness,
All thoughts for gladness. 

(from Foliage: Various Poems by W. H. Davies.

Sometimes Davies says it all in sheer simplicity: Christ is risen, No sin I see!

Image by Charles Drake Public domain

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28 May: a Little Child shall lead them, Before the Cross XXVI.

Elham Church, Kent.

We walked to Elham on the recommendation of our daughter; we were not disappointed. Firstly, to find the King’s Arms open and ready to sell us good beer which we enjoyed in the square in the full Spring sunshine. And then there was the church, also open, ready to sell us good second-hand books, and ready to give us plenty to reflect upon.

These Easter Lilies were placed before a Madonna and child, but a very Paschal, Easter-minded Madonna and child. Two years ago we looked at a portrait of Mary and baby Jesus in a pieta-like pose, and I urge you to revisit that post now, to complement this one.

That old post considered two paintings from the studio of Rogier van de Weyden, of the mid-XV Century, the Madonna and a Pieta. In each Mary is tenderly holding her son, whose pose as a baby matches that of his lifeless corpse. This is not what our artist in Elham has in view. Jesus may be four years old here, a boy, not a baby, but still dependent on Mary and Joseph for everything.

The boy is very much alive, yet he is standing as if practising for his work on the Cross. He is lightly supported by his mother; at this age he can walk for himself, but that gentle uplift is reassuring. As for Mary, not for the last time she ponders these things in her heart, the heart pierced by the sword of sorrow.

Jesus is about to step forth from her lap. Any parent will know the excitement and trepidation of following a small child, where are they going, what dangers can we perceive that they do not? But letting them lead us is part of growth for the child and also for the parent who is offered the chance to see the world through fresh eyes.

Mary could not prevent the death of Jesus on the Cross but she was there to welcome him on the third day. Isaiah tells us that a little child shall lead them: may we follow him through all life’s trials to our resurrection in his Kingdom.

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26 May: Resolution in Sussex

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Image details.

Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, Oh Lord of Hosts, my King and my God. Psalm 84:3.

This is a text that should speak to the heart of any worshipper, we should surely rejoice that the birds of the air should feel at home in God’s place. I’m always happy to find that sparrows, robins or bluetits are living in our place, sparrows in the eaves, other birds in the hedge, blackbirds on top of the box put up for bluetits. You’ll see why I could not resist sharing this little story. I am inclined to believe it happened in a cast iron Royal Mail box, like the one below, rather than a private householder’s gatebox, as shown above. WT.

Rowfant [a small village in Sussex] was once the scene of one of the most determined struggles in history. The contestants were a series of Titmice and the G.P.O., and the account of the war may be read in the Natural History Museum at South Kensington:—

In 1888, a pair of the Great Titmouse (Parus major) began to build their nest in the post-box which stood in the road at Rowfant, and into which letters, &c., were posted and taken out by the door daily. One of the birds was killed by a boy, and the nest was not finished. In 1889, a pair completed the nest, laid seven eggs, and began to sit; but one day, when an unusual number of post-cards were dropped into, and nearly filled, the box, the birds deserted the nest, which was afterwards removed with the eggs. In 1890, a pair built a new nest and laid seven eggs, and reared a brood of five young, although the letters posted were often found lying on the back of the sitting bird, which never left the nest when the door of the box was opened to take out the letters. The birds went in and out by the slit.

From Highways and Byways in Sussex by E. V. Lucas.

Not this box, but probably one very like it.

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23 May: Pentecost

Homily by Fr Stefan Acatrinei

I posted this homily in the dark days of January; it was a relief to read of a great gathering of the faithful when that had been impossible for almost a year. Whatever restrictions we are under when Pentecost day comes, enjoy reading Stefan’s homily! Will

Dear brothers and sisters,

We celebrate today the feast of Pentecost which is also the birthday of our mother, the Church. Mothers enjoy giving gifts than rather just receiving them. Actually, the only gift which they really enjoy, according to my own experience (and I guess this is universally valid), is the presence of their children. So, here we are: to please Her with our presence and let Her make us happy with Her teaching.

I don’t know how you find today’s readings, but the atmosphere described by the Acts of the Apostles (2: 1–11) is very familiar to me. This familiarity is not due to the fact that I’ve studied the New Testament, nor it is because I know Jerusalem, for I’ve never been there, but simply because I’m living in Canterbury. The author of the reading says that there were “devout Jews from every nation under heaven”, and he mentions 16 different nationalities. To be honest, I don’t think that we have in Canterbury people from “every nation under the earth”, but I’m quite sure that we have representatives from more than 16 countries. Right now in our chapel, I know people from at least 11 different nationalities; and then if we take into account those who will attend the next Mass, this total number of people is increased. This parallel makes me see a certain similarity between what was going on in Jerusalem, nearly 2000 years ago, and what is happening here right now in our own city, but, of course, that’s not the point. So, we should explore a little more.

By the way, why were those people in Jerusalem? The author tries to give us a clue, by telling us they were “devout Jews”, but he refuses to give an exhaustive answer to our question. Anyway, being told that they were devout, it is not difficult to presume that some were there to fulfil a religious obligation, because Pentecost was the second of the three great Jewish Feasts; others were there to celebrate the completion of the harvest and to thank God for it, or just to pray, to ask for help from God; some, perhaps, were there for business reasons or out of curiosity, or ambition. Anyway, whatever their motives might have been, one thing is certain: they all were driven by the powerful, though invisible, engine which can generate both positive and rewarding feelings, or negative and unsatisfactory feelings, named by us as “desire”. Saint Paul though, in today’s second reading, says that every person can be led either by a spirit of slavery or by the Spirit of God (Romans 8: 8–17). This is wonderful.  It means that everybody is free to follow one of two guides.

A good example would be to look at our seraphic Father, St. Francis. We know that his life was abundantly animated by this energy, which we call desire. Since childhood he sought to develop the desire for human glory, which was seen by him as the only way to happiness. His ambition and the economic possibilities he received from his father nourished his humanity and directed him towards that end, but instead of finding happiness, he experienced a terrible disappointment, which led him to rethink. Once he identified and experienced the right desire, which led him to taste real happiness, he never ceased to recommend it to his friars; he writes: “that above all, they should wish to have the Spirit of the Lord working within them” (Later Rule X, 8)

You may ask, what does all of this have to do with us today?  We are baptized and confirmed and have the Holy Spirit of God dwelling within us. We are totally immersed in the life giving Spirit of the Resurrected Jesus.  What does this entail?  St. Paul gives us a comprehensive explanation.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, he speaks about the variety of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In chapter twelve, he says that the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, fear of the Lord.  Indeed that makes us powerful people. However St Paul also insists that all these gifts are for the benefit of helping others, for building the community of the church.

I hope that you don’t mind if I refer to St. Francis of Assisi again. We all know that he was asked by Christ to rebuild His church, a mission which he, actually, carried out by making use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Towards the end of his life, he wanted to share the secret of his success with the generations which would follow him, so he wrote it down in his Testament: “no one showed me what I should do, but the Most High Himself revealed to me that I should live according to the form of the Holy Gospel” (Testament 14).

Dear brothers and sisters, I guess, we all know what it means to be faced with a challenging situation, I mean to have to make important decisions for our own life or for the lives of our beloved ones. Where do we look for advice? Saint Francis, wanting to help the beginner on their spiritual journey, used to say: “If they ask advice, the ministers may refer them to some God-fearing brothers” (Later Rule II, 8). Counsel and fear of the Lord are gifts of the Holy Spirit and Jesus gave us this guarantee concerning these gifts: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything” (John 2:26).

Now, unlike the devout Jews from Jerusalem, we have not been gathered here by any strange sounds of wind blowing, but I strongly believe that we have been driven here by the same Spirit. We are in this chapel not just to fulfil a religious obligation, but out of love for Him, the third person of the Blessed Trinity, Who is eager to make a new dwelling within us.

Fr. Stefan Acatrinei OFM

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3 May: 500 Miles – in Hope! (Going Viral LXXVII)

Time to catch up with Eddie Gilmore and the Irish Chaplaincy team who have been walking around London in Hope.

After a year in which I’d gone to London just three times I had the prospect of four trips in one week, thanks to our Walk with Hope event.

The event was due to launch on the Monday with a shortish walk from the Irish Centre in Camden, where we have our offices, to St Bride’s church on Fleet Street, named after our patron saint at the Chaplaincy, St Brigid. I was so excited to be going out for the day that I left home earlier than I needed to. I caught the 7.48 High Speed train from Canterbury, my former daily train, whose twelve cars used to be packed with commuters. Now it has six cars and there was just a handful of people in my carriage when we pulled into St Pancras International. I had a chat with the train guard as we strolled down the platform and I realised that it’s those kinds of little encounters that I’ve missed.

I’d been interested to read an article in the Guardian the week before called ‘Has lockdown given you brain fog?’ It explained how the “brain is stimulated by the new, the different,” and that “We have effectively evolved to stop paying attention when nothing changes and to pay particular attention when things do change.” Like many people over the last year, I’ve been working at home, and therefore spending a lot of days on my own sitting in the same position with the same zoom background behind me, and without many of the stimuli that would occur naturally in a day when I was out and about and seeing people. It seems that our brains have begun to switch off!

Don’t switch your brain off there, but follow the link to the rest of Eddie’s story.

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2 May: the most beautiful, Traherne XLI.

The first appearance did amaze us.

This reflection of Thomas Traherne follows well on WH Davies’ poetic heels, this May morning.

When Amasis the King of Egypt sent to the wise men of Greece, to know, Quid Pulcherrimum?* upon due and mature consideration they answered, The World. The world certainly being so beautiful that nothing visible is capable of more. Were we to see it only once, the first appearance would amaze us. But being daily seen, we observe it not.

Ancient philosophers have thought God to be the Soul of the World. Since therefore this visible World is the body of God, not His natural body, but which He hath assumed; let us see how glorious His wisdom is in manifesting Himself thereby. It hath not only represented His infinity and eternity which we thought impossible to be represented by a body, but His beauty also, His wisdom, goodness, power, life and glory; His righteousness, love, and blessedness: all which as out of a plentiful treasury, may be taken and collected out of this world.

* What is the most beautiful?

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1 May: The fools that we were.

wild plum blossom

The First of May

by A. E. Housman

 The orchards half the way
From home to Ludlow fair
Flowered on the first of May
In Mays when I was there;
And seen from stile or turning
The plume of smoke would show
Where fires were burning
That went out long ago.

 The plum broke forth in green,
The pear stood high and snowed,
My friends and I between
Would take the Ludlow road;
Dressed to the nines and drinking
And light in heart and limb,
And each chap thinking
The fair was held for him.
 
Between the trees in flower
New friends at fairtime tread
The way where Ludlow tower
Stands planted on the dead.
Our thoughts, a long while after,
They think, our words they say;
Theirs now's the laughter,
The fair, the first of May.
 
Ay, yonder lads are yet
The fools that we were then;
For oh, the sons we get
Are still the sons of men.
The sumless tale of sorrow
Is all unrolled in vain:
May comes to-morrow
And Ludlow fair again.


From Last Poems by A. E. Housman.

It is as well to acknowledge the other side of the coin. Not everyone accepts the Christian or any other religious view of life. Housman was an atheist, and here seems close to despair: the sumless tale of sorrow is all unrolled in vain. Sorrow is beyond calculation: May fair at Ludlow repeats May fair at Ludlow, repeats May fair at Ludlow; and the sons of men learn sense only when it is too late. The poet was writing in the years after the Great War, and like many of his lyrics The First of May alludes to the futility of war and the price of war in human suffering.

No skating over these questions of human sinfulness and apparent divine indifference!

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Swallows returning to their nests

Swallows were being discussed on the radio this morning, but no, we have not yet seen any around here, though we’ve had blackcaps and willow warblers among the UK’s migrants. This photograph of swallows’ nests was taken a few years ago at Brant Brougham near Lincoln at snowdrop time, so these were the previous year’s nests which might well have been repaired and reused a couple of months later.

It’s rather delightful that they should have built against the roof boss of the pelican on her nest. And the picture brings to mind the famous verse from the Psalms:

Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God. Psalm 84.3

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20 April: Spring Quiet by Christina Rossetti

Different colours of bluebells, Blean, Canterbury.

This poem by Christina Rossetti ought to be set to music; perhaps it has been. These bluebells – they come in white as well – are full of fresh scent, worth getting on one’s knees for, and a word of thanks for the gift might not go amiss. I loved the sound of the sea in the treetops when I was little, but the woods were ‘lovely, dark and deep’ and closer by than the sea.

Gone were but the Winter,
Come were but the Spring,
I would go to a covert
Where the birds sing;

Where in the white-thorn
Singeth a thrush,
And a robin sings
In the holly-bush.

 Full of fresh scents
Are the budding boughs,
Arching high over
A cool green house: 

Full of sweet scents,
And whispering air
Which sayeth softly:
"We spread no snare;

 "Here dwell in safety,
Here dwell alone,
With a clear stream
And a mossy stone.

 "Here the sun shineth
Most shadily;
Here is heard an echo
Of the far sea,
Though far off it be."

from Poems by Christina Rossetti

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