Category Archives: winter

11 November: A murky day in Manchester

gassed piccadilly

It was a murky day in Manchester last winter when I met this column of men from the Great War. The sculpture is based on John Singer Sargent’s painting in the Imperial War Museum, ‘Gassed’. He had been to the front line, though he was in his eighties, and seen the men, British and American, suffering blindness after a mustard gas attack.

They are led by a medical orderly; there is a skill to leading such a group: observing the terrain, being alert for mud, ruts, obstacles, exaggerated dropping of the left or right shoulder to lead the men to turn. There are many ways to love your fellow man: the column of men support each other in what the sculptor, Johanna DomkeGuyot calls ‘Victory Over Blindness’.

Her sculpture loves her fellow human beings: honouring the dead but challenging the living through portraying the gritty, grimy reality of unmedalled, unsought heroism. It is a bold but totally right decision to plant the men at ground level, not way over our heads, like the man on the Manchester cenotaph; an image that all but says, dulce et decorum est – how sweet and right it is to die for one’s country.

war.mem.manc.1.small

Let us not forget that the victims of war, soldiers or civilians, are men, women and children like us and ours; that cruel things have been done in our name as well as against us. Let us do all we can to bring about peace and reconciliation between nations and peoples, and within our own communities.

Lord grant us peace.

DULCE ET DECORUM EST

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen

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27 August: Heaven on earth to the weary head.

Rough sleepers encampment, St Mildred’s, Canterbury, 2019

It is a strange thing this bed, this mimic grave, where we stretch our tired limbs and sink away so quietly into the silence and rest. “O bed, O bed, delicious bed, that heaven on earth to the weary head,” as sang poor Hood, you are a kind old nurse to us fretful boys and girls. Clever and foolish, naughty and good, you take us all in your motherly lap and hush our wayward crying. The strong man full of care—the sick man full of pain—the little maiden sobbing for her faithless lover—like children we lay our aching heads on your white bosom, and you gently soothe us off to by-by. Our trouble is sore indeed when you turn away and will not comfort us.

How long the dawn seems coming when we cannot sleep! Oh! those hideous nights when we toss and turn in fever and pain, when we lie, like living men among the dead, staring out into the dark hours that drift so slowly between us and the light. And oh! those still more hideous nights when we sit by another in pain, when the low fire startles us every now and then with a falling cinder, and the tick of the clock seems a hammer beating out the life that we are watching.

From Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome.

Jerome was writing in 1886, making his way out of poverty. He had lost his parents as a teenager, and left school early to work. He would have had real sympathy for the people represented by today’s image. All too often, over the last few years, a homeless person’s pitch has been replaced by bouquets of flowers following their death in a disused shop doorway or under a tree. This winter, the corona virus led to their being swept up off the streets. Will they be still under a roof when the crisis is over?

A few more extracts from Jerome follow; have we improved our country and our world since 1886?

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19 August: Gilbert White IV, trouble in the forest.

It seems that Gilbert White had some sympathy with the poor of his district, who had free spirits among them who were prepared to stand up to the nobility.

At present the deer of the Holt are much thinned and reduced by the night hunters, who perpetually harass them in spite of the efforts of numerous keepers, and the severe penalties that have been put in force against them as often as they have been detected, and rendered liable to the lash of the law.  Neither fines nor imprisonments can deter them, so impossible is it to extinguish the spirit of sporting which seems to be inherent in human nature.

General Howe turned out some German wild boars and sows in his forests, to the great terror of the neighbourhood, and, at one time, a wild bull or buffalo; but the country rose upon them and destroyed them.

A very large fall of timber, consisting of about one thousand oaks, has been cut this spring (viz., 1784) in the Holt forest: one fifth of which, it is said, belongs to the grantee, Lord Stawell.  He lays claim also to the lop and top; but the poor of the parishes of Binsted and Frinsham, Bentley and Kingsley, assert that it belongs to them, and assembling in a riotous manner, have actually taken it all away.  One man, who keeps a team, has carried home for his share forty stacks of wood.  Forty-five of these people his lordship has served with actions.  These trees, which were very sound and in high perfection, were winter-cut, viz., in February and March, before the bark would run.  In old times the Holt was estimated to be eighteen miles, computed measure from water-carriage, viz., from the town of Chertsey, on the Thames; but now it is not half that distance, since the Wey is made navigable up to the town of Godalming, in the county of Surrey.

The Wey joins the Thames, so timber could be sent there, and on to dockyards along the Estuary and into Kent. Winter-cut trees were easier to transport, as the sap was not running beneath the bark, and the wood was appreciably lighter in weight.

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Filed under Daily Reflections, Laudato si', winter

Working hard in the garden

The worker bees are enjoying the sunflowers, and they don’t mind a long day in the sun. They have more stamina for the heat than I do. Come the winter, when many of these workers will die, my friend P will hang out the sunflower seed heads for the birds. As always, P’s sunflowers are taller than mine by a good metre!

Let us hope and pray that restrictions can soon be lifted and remain lifted on getting together to work the garden and share many activities that are still socially distanced and carried out wearing masks.

And let’s continue to look and see and hear and listen to what is going on around us. And Laudato si’!

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Filed under Interruptions, L'Arche, Laudato si', Summer, winter

March 24, Desert XXVI: in the city.

crypt (640x481)

While Jesus was in the Desert, the devil took him to the top of the Temple. I feel somewhat safer in the crypt of the Cathedral: there’s not so far to fall!

And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and he said to him: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself from hence. For it is written, that He hath given his angels charge over thee, that they keep thee. For it is written, that He hath given his angels charge over thee, that they keep thee. And that in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone.

And Jesus answering, said to him: It is said: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

Luke 4:9-12

I do seem to be dashing my feet against stones quite a lot these days; is that my lack of observation or the lack of footpath maintenance, or perhaps both? Anyway, the Crypt is my go-to desert place in the city. But there are other spots where the desert awaits; even passing through the old orchard grounds for instance, or seeing the hazel catkins in full bloom in various odd spots.

Forty seconds, not forty days, I spend enjoying them, but the resilience of those soft, dangling catkins in this year’s high winds has been an object lesson to me.

Laudato Si!

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14 March, Desert XVII: Simon says, have a place in our hearts.

starlings.wire

May we always have a place in our hearts for those who have no place that they can call their own.

Another of Fr Simon Denton OFM Cap’s words of wisdom. As a Franciscan, he knew the worth of poverty as lived by Saint Francis who renounced wealth and a comfortable home in Assisi to live in a community with Christ at its heart.

These starlings are not in their nesting season but it’s the time when they gather into communities – joining hundreds and thousands of others before bedding down for the night.

As they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.

Luke 9:57-58.

I read the other day that the question to ask somebody on being introduced should not be, ‘where are you from?’ rather ‘where do you feel at home?’ The starlings would answer differently in Spring, when they are nesting, to Winter, when they are in flocks;  home is where the heart is, the nest or the shared roost. At different times of life where we are at home will change too: family, flatmates, a personal bedsit, community or commune.

Most of us, I guess, will have felt as though we don’t belong for whatever reason, even when friends and family are at hand. Having no place to lay one’s head makes the whole world into a desert.

May we always have a place in our hearts for those who have no place that they can call their own. 

And perhaps we could contribute to local groups who provide people with shelter and a path to a secure home of their own.

MMB

 

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Filed under Daily Reflections, Lent, Spring, winter

30 January: the Big Bird Watch 2020.

 

At L’Arche Kent we cannot let a year go by without some of us joining in the BBC and RSPB’s* annual  Big Bird Watch – spending an hour at the Glebe,§ watching to see how many species and how many individuals call in to our feeding stations.

Nothing exotic here! The parakeets have not arrived in Canterbury yet; there must be plenty  of pickings in the Thanet seaside towns to encourage them to say.

But we saw seven sparrows at once and a pair of moorhens: as you see, we are at the riverside. We were quite surprised not to spot any wood pigeons, but when our photographer went to speak to someone at the other end of the garden he saw that they had been there all the time, behind the shed and therefore out of sight.

The rats were there all the time too, but then it was the first day of the Chinese Year of the Rat.

As ever, the afternoon ended with a shared meal, in thanks for a shared afternoon  enjoying creation, including each other’s company. Laudato Si!

Our little bit of information sent into the national survey may help ensure that these birds are not lost to Britain. The rats, however intelligent they may be, will have to be controlled, for the sake of the garden as well as the birds who will be nesting here. Stewards of Creation we are meant to be, not exploiters, and it was human intervention that enabled rats to conquer the world. This rat retreated in the face of the moorhen’s sharp beak. They generally keep out of our way.

*BBC – British Broadcasting Corpor ation, the radio and tv people; RSPB – Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

§ Glebe: a plot of land for the priest to grow food on: a church allotment.

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27 January: The murder that shook the Middle Ages.

crypt (640x481)

This link is to the British Museum blog  post about ‘the murder that shook the Middle Ages: that of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his own Cathedral.  In this period of Brexit and withdrawal from Europe, it is as well for us all to realise that:

In death Becket remained a figure of opposition to unbridled power and became seen as the quintessential defender of the rights of the Church. To this end you can find images of his murder in churches across Latin Christendom, from Germany and Spain, to Italy and Norway. Becket was, and remains, a truly European saint.

By no means was Thomas simply an anti-establishment English hero. Let us pray for the grace to discern when to support and when to oppose or challenge authority.

The British Museum will be holding a major exhibition about Becket and his world in the Autumn of 2020.

 

From 1170 to 1220, Saint Thomas’s remains lay in the Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral.

 

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The long Christmas Season: songs from L’Arche Edinburgh.

crib window EH l'Arche

Good Morning All,

Here is an advertisement from L’Arche Ednburgh for their Christmas CD: they mean the long Christmas, from Advent – early December – until February 2 – Candlemas.

Best wishes, Will. 

My Bonnie Dearie

Carols from Finland to Scotland

Carols from advent to Candlemas, sung in English, by da Noust :

a scratch and informal community singing group of members and friends of L’Arche Edinburgh

Orders via anthonykramers@yahoo.co.uk – available now

In person @ £4 for one and £10 for 3 / + postage if required at cost c. £2 extra for one, £4 for 3. Payment by BACS or cheque

Thanks to .da Noust : Jeremy Devlin-Thorp, Rebecca Fonseca, Cath Norman, John Norman, Sally Fraser, Hugh Fraser, Caitlin Morrow, Sheila Tansey, Dave Middleton, Magnus Kramers, Anthony Kramers, Marguerite Kramers & Phil McBride (Sonic Lodge studio, Leith)

Once a stable bare, now a rose of fire Track one online @ https://youtu.be/bo8wIiVpu0g Images & songs © da Noust

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January 13: Thomas Traherne XXII, Suppose the Sun were absent

darkevening

It is on this day that the people of Greenland have their first glimpse of the sun for the new year.

Place yourself therefore in the midst of the world, as if you were alone, and meditate upon all the services which it doth unto you.

Suppose the Sun were absent; and conceive the world to be a dungeon of darkness and death about you: you will then find his beams more delightful than the approach of Angels: and loath the abomination of that sinful blindness, whereby you see not the glory of so great and bright a creature, because the air is filled with its beams. Then you will think that all its light shineth for you, and confess that God hath manifested Himself indeed, in the preparation of so divine a creature.

You will abhor the madness of those who esteem a purse of gold more than it. Alas, what could a man do with a purse of gold in an everlasting dungeon? And shall we prize the sun less than it, which is the light and fountain of all our pleasures? You will then abhor the preposterous method of those, who in an evil sense are blinded with its beams, and to whom the presence of the light is the greatest darkness. For they who would repine at God without the sun, are unthankful, having it: and therefore only despise it, because it is created.

Meditations 2:7.

‘Repine’ here we read as ‘moan’. Better to be grateful for what is given us, and so be happy.

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