The other day when I walked into the greenhouse it was the first time this year that it felt appreciably warmer than outdoors. A spring moment even in February and worthy of a mention in the blog.
When I was looking for a picture to mark the moment I came across this snap from exactly a year before. The snow was such a blessing to all who like snowmen and sledges. There was not enough for cross country skiing, and the sledgers were spattered with as much mud as snow. But that was a moment of pure joy for many people who had been locked down by the corona virus. A heartfelt Deo Gratias!
Another visit to the eighteenth century in the company of Doctor Johnson and James Boswell.
In The Idler, No. II, Johnson shews that ‘an Englishman’s notice of the weather is the natural consequence of changeable skies and uncertain seasons… In our island every man goes to sleep unable to guess whether he shall behold in the morning a bright or cloudy atmosphere, whether his rest shall be lulled by a shower, or broken by a tempest. We therefore rejoice mutually at good weather, as at an escape from something that we feared; and mutually complain of bad, as of the loss of something that we hoped.’
Boswell for once is quoting from Johnson’s written words rather than conversation. I found this text on the same day in winter that I took the photograph. My father called the piercing of clouds by sunbeams such as we see here ‘The Gate of Heaven’. A saying worth recording, as Boswell would no doubt have agreed.
I am reminded of the line of Chesterton: ‘The gates of heaven are lightly locked.’ But do we look up to see them? Dare we set a toe over the threshold, pausing even for a moment, to catch a glimpse of glory? What does the voice from the cloud tell us? I found myself hurrying the next moment, as my grandson’s school bell had rung and he would soon be out, scanning the playground for his adults. But the moment stayed with me.
From “Life of Johnson, Volume 4 1780-1784” by James Boswell
How are you doing with those New Year’s Resolutions? Read on for some encouragement!
Samuel Johnson and James Boswell are in Skye, made very welcome by a local chief, but unable to move on because the weather was too bad for sailing or rowing, and of course Calmac steamships had not yet appeared. Here is Boswell describing one of their conversations. Doctor Doddridge was a non-conformist minister and hymn writer who died in 1751, 22 years before the friends’ tour of Scotland. More of Boswell’s idiosyncratic spellings.
Dr Dodridge being mentioned, [Johnson] observed that ‘he was author of one of the finest epigrams in the English language. It is in Orton’s Life of him. The subject is his family-motto, Dum vivimus, vivamus*; which, in its primary signification, is, to be sure, not very suitable to a Christian divine; but he paraphrased it thus:
Live, while you live, the EPICURE would say,
And seize the pleasures of the present day.
Live, while you live, the sacred PREACHER cries,
And give to God each moment as it flies.
Lord, in my views let both united be;
I live in PLEASURE, when I live to THEE.
(from The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. by James Boswell)
A jolly, hopeful poem from Christina Rossetti. Laudato Si’.
Every valley drinks,
Every dell and hollow:
Where the kind rain sinks and sinks,
Green of Spring will follow.
Yet a lapse of weeks
Buds will burst their edges,
Strip their wool-coats, glue-coats, streaks,
In the woods and hedges;
Weave a bower of love
For birds to meet each other,
Weave a canopy above
Nest and egg and mother.
But for fattening rain
We should have no flowers,
Never a bud or leaf again
But for soaking showers;
Never a mated bird
In the rocking tree-tops,
Never indeed a flock or herd
To graze upon the lea-crops.
Lambs so woolly white,
Sheep the sun-bright leas on,
They could have no grass to bite
But for rain in season.
We should find no moss
In the shadiest places,
Find no waving meadow-grass
Pied with broad-eyed daisies;
But miles of barren sand,
With never a son or daughter,
Not a lily on the land,
Or lily on the water.
(from "Poems" by Christina Georgina Rossetti)
I turned the corner into our street; at almost 4.00 p.m. dusk was falling, so why was a woman crouched down outside the piano workshop looking through her phone towards the dental surgery? Surely not to capture their new paint job, which needs a few brush strokes where the scaffold had stood.
A jerky movement in front of the photographer revealed a pied wagtail, rather whiter about the head than this one, maybe three metres away from her. She will have gone home happy for having seen this trusting creature up close and personal, and at least having tried to take its picture.
And so did I rejoice in bird and birder! Well, I had discovered something of human nature as well as having a good look at the wagtail.
Father James Kurzynski in his blog for the Vatican Observatory, questions the use of three verbs in this short piece: capture, take, and discover. ‘Capture’ and ‘take’ both have hints of violence and taking possession of something. ‘Discover’ – did I dis-cover something or was I made aware of it? Was it rather revealed to me? My smile was real enough.
You will smile more than once reading Fr James’s article, I promise.
Pied wagtail by Charles J Sharp, Sharp Photography
My friend Thomas sent an email to say, ‘We are not failures’ if our New Year Resolutions have not borne the fruit we’d hoped for. So be good to yourself: ‘if only for a moment, let yourself be at home with yourself’.’
One place I am at home with myself is the kitchen. The school Thomas and I attended expected us to master basic cooking, but many of the lads can do better than basic. My January therapeutic special activity is making marmalade. Not much foraging to this one but come Autumn we can make October marmalade using citrus peel, sugar and windfall or crab apples to supply the pectin that helps the preserve to set.
In January the set depends on long boiling and added pectin, using most of the stored jars from under the stairs. That’s our label up above. Friends and relations look out!
Mrs Turnstone likes to remind us that this is the day of the year that the Sun first appears in Greenland. It is also her birthday. While our son is happily settled in London, she feels she has lived there for as long as she ever wants to, but she’ll visit the town, take Abel to an exhibition, or meet up with friends.
After Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who left London to elope with Robert, here is Mary Webb who moved to London to foster her career as a writer. The move brought her little joy, for she was a deep-rooted Shropshire Lass. So here is a melancholic poem from her pen, but one that looks to the ‘stately sun’, symbol of undisdainful death as well as of new life. One of the symptoms of the hyperthyroid Graves’ disease that she endured was swelling of the face which made her feel ‘unlovely’, and aware of ‘slights and lies and unkindnesses’ that more robust souls would have shrugged off.
Despitethe melancholy, the blackbird, who is now in good voice, transports Mary to the Shropshire Hills, landing there in Spring, aware in her whole being of Shropshire under the rain and sun. Her kinder life, will it be in heaven only, or also in the golden air of the Welsh borders? I like to think it was experienced on this earth as a gentle preparation for life eternal.
Sing on, dear bird! Bring the old rapturous pain, In this great town, where I no welcome find. Show me the murmuring forest in your mind, And April's fragile cups, brimful of rain. O sing me far away, that I may hear The voice of grass, and, weeping, may be blind To slights and lies and friends that prove unkind. Sing till my soul dissolves into a tear, Glimmering within a chaliced daffodil. So, when the stately sun with burning breath Absorbs my being, I'll dream that he is Death, Great Death, the undisdainful. By his will No more unlovely, haunting all things fair, I'll seek some kinder life in the golden air.
Mary, O luminous Mother, Holy healing art! Eve brought sorrow to the soul, But you by your holy Son You pour balm On death’s wounds and travail.
You have indeed conquered death!
You have established life!
Ask for us life. Ask for us radiant joy. Ask us the sweet, delicious ecstasy That is forever yours.
Hildegard of Bingen 12th Century
With thanks to Fr Anthony Charlton who shared this. Note that Mary is seen in relation to her Son, and is asked to pray for us, in the words: ‘Ask for us …’If we can pray for each other, and if we believe in eternal life, we can ask Mary to pray for us.
Not every prisoner can be as ready to accept the sacrifice of confinement as Bonhoeffer was. Let us us remember them all at Christmas time in this prayer shared with us by a prison chaplain.
We pray for every imprisoned person
who misses their family,
who cannot hold their children
or visit their parents,
who this Christmas will be surrounded not by loved ones
but by inmates who have no way out.
These are people
whose special holiday dinner
is served on cafeteria trays,
by people who are paid to be there.
We give thanks
that the gift of the Christ-child on Christmas morning
is not controlled by human hands,
not stopped by locks or bars
but poured out by your special grace.