Category Archives: Summer

18 June: The Battlefield

The Battle-Field


 They dropped like flakes, they dropped like stars,
    Like petals from a rose,
When suddenly across the June
    A wind with fingers goes.
 

They perished in the seamless grass, —
    No eye could find the place;
But God on his repealless list
    Can summon every face.”

(from “Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series)

I’m not sure how literally to take these two stanzas from Emily Dickinson, I have no clue what particular battle, if any, she had in mind, but this is Waterloo Day, when great horse-backed armies clashed and Napoleon was finally beaten.

The British troops that day were led by the Duke of Wellington who later became the honorary Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and had his official residence at Walmer Castle in Kent. Like its nearby companion, Deal Castle, it was built by Henry VIII to fortify a vulnerable stretch of the English Channel coastline.

It is the chapel of Deal Castle that we see here. This was built in the 1920s for the Captain of Deal, another honorary position then held by another military commander, General Sir John French, the First Earl of Ypres who commanded the British Expeditionary Force in the First World War.

The chapel is a memorial to all who have died in armed conflict. The petals on the altar are from British Legion poppies, which represent those who died in the First World War and conflict since then.

On this summer’s day, let us pause and pray for peace; for all those who are fighting around the world, for those injured in battle and for bereaved families.

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10 June, 1867: On this day.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson by Julia Margaret Cameron

We can take a photograph on a mobile phone, adjust and enhance it on the same device, print it, and send it all around the world in seconds. All this without setting up a heavy camera with expensive film or glass plates, and only later using poisonous chemicals in a darkroom to develop, print and fix an image that might be blurred if the sitter could not keep still.

Personal photographs were keep-sakes, and portraits. Poor people might be hard-pressed to afford them. The better off were not always keen, perhaps not liking what they saw. Among the pioneers who became famous for their artistic images was Mrs Julia Margaret Cameron, a well-connected woman whose work is still appreciated today. On this day in 1867 William Allingham met her on a train in Hampshire.

Field-path to station, red campions and king-cups. Down train comes in with Mrs Cameron, queenly in a carriage by herself, surrounded by photographs. We go to Lymington together, she talking all the time. ‘I want to do a large photograph of Tennyson, and he objects! Says I make bags under his eyes — and Carlyle refuses to give me a sitting, says it’s a kind of Inferno! The greatest men of the age’ (with strong emphasis), ‘Sir John Herschel, Henry Taylor, Watts, say I have immortalised them — and these other men object !! What is one to do ——- Hm?’

This is a kind of interrogative interjection she often uses, but seldom waits for a reply.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know, even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. 1Corinthians 13:11-13

Perhaps the bags under his eyes were more difficult to ignore when Tennyson looked at himself in this needle-sharp portrait. Already seeing himself face to face, wrinkles, bags under the eyes, receding hairline, mortal. May I accept myself, imperfect image of God — and indeed of my own true self.

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26 May: Love’s redeeming work is done

jackscroppedturned
Jackdaws soaring near Uppermill, Yorkshire.

While they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. Acts 1:7.

Charles Wesley wrote many hymns, and this one fits the end of Eastertide, the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus. I like the image of us soaring where Christ has led: on high and beyond. Let us soar now by enjoying as much as we can of what life offers, as Jackdaws, Starlings, Swifts and Seagulls so often seem to celebrate the gift of flight together. Together may we soar when we are called to go above the cloud and the sunset. 

Christ has burst the gates of hell!
Love's redeeming work is done;
fought the fight, the battle won:
lo, our Sun's eclipse is o'er,
lo, he sets in blood no more.
Vain the stone, the watch, the seal;
Christ has burst the gates of hell;
death in vain forbids his rise;
Christ has opened paradise.
Lives again our glorious King;
where, O death, is now thy sting?
dying once, he all doth save;
where thy victory, O grave?
Soar we now where Christ has led,
following our exalted Head;
made like him, like him we rise;
ours the cross, the grave, the skies.
Hail the Lord of earth and heaven!
Praise to thee by both be given:
thee we greet triumphant now;
hail, the Resurrection Thou!

                                                   

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20 February: Over and gone with Edward Thomas.

540px-Apus_apus_01.jpg (540×720)

Last summer I spotted Helen, a colleague from L’Arche, standing near our gate, staring into the sky. She was watching for swifts, those well-named insect-eating migrants who scream around our homes when the weather brings the flies near enough to the ground. At other times they may be far away or high above the earth, gathering food for their nestlings, but generally in groups. I was able to tell Helen that I generally saw about eight birds flying together. Did I know where they were nesting? I had not observed this, but our neighbourhood has many late 19th Century houses with gaps under the roof sufficient for swifts to enter and breed. However it’s not easy to identify the spot where they get in, so a census is difficult to take. But there are roughly half as many swifts as there were 20 years ago.

Another time we met outside Saint Dunstan’s church, where there are swift nesting boxes on the outside wall of the church hall. In the few minutes we stood there, we observed no birds going in or out. Past experience suggests that a new-smelling box will not be used in its first year, so no need to despair there.

Other local birds are really ‘over and gone’, and not just for one winter; especially the house martin, another migrant fly-eater. To think: they nested in this street when we moved here, but one house had table tennis balls hung from the eaves to deter martins from building their mud-brick houses and, yes, dropping their excrement on the path below, but even so.

The RSPB tell how to make a swift box here. We are sharing this now to allow readers in Europe time to make and install boxes before the swifts return.

How at Once by Edward Thomas

How at once should I know,
When stretched in the harvest blue
I saw the swift's black bow,
That I would not have that view
Another day
Until next May
Again it is due?

The same year after year—
But with the swift alone.
With other things I but fear
That they will be over and done
Suddenly
And I only see
Them to know them gone.

(from "Poems" by Edward Thomas)

Swift By Paweł Kuźniar (Jojo_1, Jojo) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=962740

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23 November: Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness.

Our third and – for the present – final borrowing from Eddie’s blog at the London Irish Chaplaincy. Thank you Eddie! Readers may like to visit the chaplaincy’s Prayer Room, see the invitation at the end of the post.

Eddie’s book, Looking ahead with Hope, is now on sale, price £9.99. See his account of a launch event here. WT.

We’re blessed in the UK and Ireland to have four distinct seasons, even occasionally being able to see all of them in a single day, and the transition from Summer to Autumn can be especially evocative.

Each year at the end of August I go through a little period of mourning for the Summer. The holidays have been and gone, the flowers are fading, the long trousers and long sleeves need to be got out, and our Wednesday evening cycling group has to cease due to the rapidly encroaching dark. And yet there are precious treats in store. I always await with eager anticipation the re-appearance of Orion, the constellation visible in the Northern hemisphere only over the winter months. I was at the monastery when the big day came. I happened to have a room on the East side of the Guest Wing and I’d initially been disappointed to be so placed. The West Wing, where I’d been before, overlooks the woods and the lovely old monastery buildings and is especially peaceful. The East side contains a school and a road and consequently a bit of noise. However, waking up in the dark on the first morning of my retreat at 5.40 a.m. to attend the 6 a.m. Vigils service I drew back the curtains to reveal the incredible sight in the sky of Orion and the Winter Triangle. It was like the return of an old and faithful friend. There was also a bright, full Harvest moon in all its glory, and a little later the deepest of red skies as the sun began to rise. Had I been in a room on the West side I would have missed it all!

Autumn is often a time of new beginnings. Another academic year commences, and many people might be embarking on a new course or hobby. The next level of my Korean class has got going and I’ve been enjoying both the study, the interaction with a very nice and very international group of people, and practising some of my new expressions on Yim Soon! The lessons have been quite fun so far and that’s how I like my language learning to be. And then at the start of September there was a much-anticipated event: the meeting of my choir for the first time in over a year and a half. There were fewer people than there used to be. Mansel, who I often sit next to, remarked to me at the start, “You do realise, don’t you, that the reason some people haven’t returned is because they’ve died!” It was a sobering reflection. Nonetheless it has been a great joy to drive off to Whitstable again on a Tuesday evening for rehearsals, a fixed point in my life for many years and much missed during COVID, and it will no doubt be a great joy to perform again.

I relish the first hints of coolness in the air in the early morning or late evening, and being able to give proper observance to those key transition periods in the day, dawn and dusk. I gather and prepare the wood for the winter fires. The garden as well needs to be got ready for its winter slumber and regeneration. There will be a final mowing of the grass; the remains of the summer flowers will be added to the compost heap; the soil will be dug over, taking care not to disturb the Spring bulbs. Perhaps new daffodils or tulips will be planted. Then the garden will be left; the worms will be allowed to do their hidden work of restoration; and the spiders will weave their beautiful webs that glisten so radiantly in the fresh dew of the morning.

October will bring the first frost, and how I marvel on my early morning walk to see the intricate patterns it makes on the car windscreens. That might coincide with another seasonal treat, the first fire. It will be the first of many and how I love to listen to the crackling of the logs and to watch the flames leap and dance. It will be time for the cooking apples to be harvested from the old tree by the shed. There will be the ceremonial first baking of apple crumble; and with a bumper crop, which seems to be every other year, the bulk will be made into chutney. Meanwhile the leaves on that and on the other trees will give their annual display of golden beauty, before they fall and wither.

The cycles of the seasons, the cycles of our lives. And, to paraphrase Keats as the days shorten on another year, may all our fruit be filled with ripeness to the core.

Eddie Gilmore

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May God bless you.

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7 September: Season of Creation IX: Naming Names.

Senecio (or Brachyglottis) ‘Sunshine’. It certainly deserves the second part of its name.

And the Lord God having formed out of the ground all the beasts of the earth, and all the fowls of the air, brought them to Adam to see what he would call them: for whatsoever Adam called any living creature the same is its name.

Genesis 2:19

Of course when Adam named something, including plants, the same was its name, since there was only one human, himself, so no disputing his word. Things are somewhat different since humans spread around the world and our languages diverged from each other. Is that a mouse or un souris? A courgette or a zucchini? And that’s before we venture upon politically correct or incorrect terrain. ‘It’s demeaning to call grown women girls.’ Try telling that to my late mother-in-law, who in her eighties was still going out with the ‘girls’ she had teamed up with as a young mother.

But we can demean each other in our words as a moment’s reflection should tell us; we can be clear or obscure, sometimes deliberately obscure – ‘as seen on TV!’

The world of science aims for clarity and by being clear it advances in knowledge and techniques. An understanding of antibodies and t-cells enabled the covid-19 vaccinations to be produced at speed. At a more down to earth level, over the last 250 years or so scientific names for living creatures have been developed so that scientists from Aberdeen, Asuncion, or Amsterdam will know exactly what each other is talking about. Mus musculus is a house mouse anywhere in the world.

The trouble comes when names are changed. Microscopic and DNA testing can establish relationships, and botanists hold conferences to decide on names. That’s how the shrub formerly known as Senecio ‘Sunshine’ is now Brachyglottis ‘Sunshine’. Senecio comes from the Latin for ‘old man’: the leaves and seeds of the plant are greyish and white. Other senecios include groundsel, S. vulgaris, (left) and S. cineraria (ashen), below.

It’s not difficult to see a certain type of person taking pleasure in this business of establishing names, and feeling frustrated when gardeners do not follow the scientists and call Sunshine Brachyglottis instead of senecio.

But recently I’ve taken pleasure from watching someone establish names for things. A toddler is naming things that are newly experienced. He or she will of course end up using the names that are common in their society, though sometimes their mispronounced names stick for years, such as ‘Kipper’ which was as close as one of my siblings could get to Christopher, the name of one of our brothers.

For my younger grandson there is a whole world waiting for him to name it, and bring it to life for him, as Adam’s contribution to creation was to give it all names.

I’m happy enough to be ‘Gu’ for the present, and to be part of his world. It sounds better than Brachyglottis, for sure.

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31 August: Sunflowers

Sunflowers
To sing break-heartedly of light
Like dying sunflowers
Gathering to themselves their life,
Defying that which is their source.
Small suns, we grasp your wantonness
And would reverse your death.
Our poorness seize your gold.

But go you must,
Dear small reflections
Of so great a God,
We would you stay.

Sheila Billingsley, August 2019.

The sunflowers are indeed ‘gathering to themselves their life’ as Summer strolls into Autumn. The seed heads will turn to black, attracting the birds when they are hung up in the garden in weeks to come; we cannot seize their gold, but we can remember them, and save a few seeds to reflect God next year.

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20 August: A little cool air seeps in.

It’s the feast of Saint Bernard, one of the founding fathers of the Cistercian reform of monastic life. Our reflection is from Thomas Merton, writing in 1952. The celebration of the Eucharist has changed in religious communities as much, if not more than in parishes; there is one Community Mass each day, but there is still room for silence with God.

Our picture is from the trailer for Outside the City, a film by Nick Hamer about the Monks of Mount Saint Bernard’s Abbey in Leicestershire. Read on for Thomas Merton’s reflection on this day.

This week it is my turn to say the brothers’ Communion Mass, Our Lady’s Mass. It is always a Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin, always the same. I like it that way.

In the summer time, this Mass is said at three o’clock in the morning. So I leave the choir after morning meditation to go and say it while the rest of the monks recite Matins and Lauds. I generally finish the brothers’ Communions by the end of the second nocturne, and then go off into the back sacristy and kneel in the dark behind the relic case next to Saint Malachy’s altar, while the sky grows pale outside over the forest and a little cool air seeps in through the slats of the broken shutters.

The birds sing, and the crickets sing, and one priest is silent with God.

Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas, Hollis & Carter, London, 1953, p336.

https://wordpress.com/post/agnellusmirror.wordpress.com/25775

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7 August: Happy and thoughtful holidays!

Boudicca
Taken near Cleopatra’s needle by CD.

Good Morning! I’d like to share an old family story that has a bearing on our lives during the second summer of covid-19; we hope you enjoy your holidays, but please let other people enjoy theirs in peace!

We looked around for somewhere to eat our picnic and my young daughters chose the spot between the paws of one of the sphinxes that guard Cleopatra’s needle, an inscribed obelisk associated with the Queen, on the Embankment in central London. Here we were out of the way and could watch the river traffic and the passing tourists.

In the half-hour or so we were there four different families or groups swarmed up beside the girls, posing for photographs; there is another sphinx on the other side of the Needle. Only the last family asked permission, and that was when we were leaving, otherwise there came no apology or acknowledgement of our family at all.

This extreme case of bad manners poses two questions. What, first of all, do we go away for? These people did not appear to be looking at or appreciating the monument at all. I guess they too were near Charing Cross, and had to tick the Needle off their list, and take a photo to prove it. In fact the second, unoccupied sphynx was better lit and unoccupied, so why intrude on us?

Which brings up the second question: do we consider other people when on holiday? The first time I ever felt ashamed to be English overseas was when a couple of middle-aged compatriots smuggled two Yorkshire terriers into a Galway restaurant and fed them titbits on their laps. It was not the last time!

It’s not just inebriated football supporters who get us a bad reputation abroad; it can be you or I, when we don’t take trouble to learn foreign ways, whether tipping, using the buses, or even the plumbing. The ordinary courtesy of consideration and neighbourliness are important, even in London.

Don’t spoil your holiday – or someone else’s – with bad manners!

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31 July: THE OUTLET.

I am privileged to live close enough to the sea to cycle there in under an hour (I’m getting slower in old age!) No further comment on Emily’s little poem below, except that someone should carve it in stone at some seaside place, and perhaps I should get it by heart. The blue-white building in the background is Margate’s Turner Centre. Maybe we could chisel it into the concrete there?


 THE OUTLET

My river runs to thee:
Blue sea, wilt welcome me?
 My river waits reply.
Oh sea, look graciously!
 I'll fetch thee brooks
From spotted nooks, —
 Say, sea,
Take me!

 (from "Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete" via Kindle)

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