I pray not for myself: I pray for him Whose soul is sore perplexed. Shine thou on him, Father of Lights! and in the difficult paths Make plain his way before him: his own thoughts May he not think—his own ends not pursue— So shall he best perform Thy will on earth. Greatest and Best, Thy will be ever ours!
From The Letters of Charles and Mary Lamb.
Charles Lamb had a sister and several friends who suffered from mental interest. He cared for Mary lifelong, and sought out ways that he, or his friends, might help others suffering thus. He also prayed, and has left us this eloquent example.
It is possible to be too conscious of certain realities, perceptions, or maybe illusions. What have we here? Loneliness, pain, self absorption, emotional and spiritual shipwreck, a longing for peace. John Clare descended into the hell of mental illness for the last years of his life – he died in 1864 – and the clarity of his language in ‘I am!’ points up the confusion of his mind. A mind churning, churning, all through the night; little wonder he craves a place where God can let him sleep, untroubling to others, untroubled by their intrusions into his life, or the mills of his mind.
God grant peace to all in affliction.
I Am! by John Clare
I am—yet what I am none cares or knows; My friends forsake me like a memory lost: I am the self-consumer of my woes— They rise and vanish in oblivious host, Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise, Into the living sea of waking dreams, Where there is neither sense of life or joys, But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems; Even the dearest that I loved the best Are strange—nay, rather, stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man hath never trod A place where woman never smiled or wept There to abide with my Creator, God, And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept, Untroubling and untroubled where I lie The grass below—above the vaulted sky.
This links to an article by the Dean of Lichfield, Rev Adrian Dorber. Lichfield was the first cathedral to host a mass vaccination centre. Dean Adrian begins:
I was asked to write the following piece for a daily newspaper. Whether it gets printed, or it is mangled into something unrecognisable by sub-editors, is beyond my control, but I thought you might like to see the article. Here it is:
Last week the UK death toll from Covid-19 crossed the 100,000 mark: a grim milestone in our reckoning with the impact of the virus. The swathe of bereavement the virus brings is terrible. The mental and spiritual desolation of 2020 has shown us the fault lines in the way the world is currently ordered: pointing us to the inescapable truth of our relatedness and obligations to each other. One charity dealing with bereavement has predicted a “tsunami of unresolved grief” that will take a long time to heal. Compound the death rate with the anxiety, stress and isolation lockdown and home-schooling have brought, to say nothing of lost jobs, business closures and a contracting economy, then we are right to welcome the NHS’s vaccination roll-out.
The link above will take you to the whole interesting article.
A prayer from The Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, the Very Revd Dr Robert Willis As aspects of life return to normality, we pray especially for all who remain particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and are anxious about the dangers of infection: O Lord, our refuge, our hope, and our peace, be with us as our protector and our salvation. Keep us all safe from danger, calm those who are anxious in spirit, and help our whole society to work together to continue to protect the most vulnerable, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. The Lord bless us and keep us, the Lord make his face to shine upon us and be gracious to us, the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon us and give us peace. Amen.
Sourced via L’Arche Kent.
Some local churches will open for worship this weekend.
Our Friend Christina has been reflecting on the virus more head on than we have, with some thoughts on death and Mary. I’ll let you Read her reflection here.
What I wanted to pick out of it was her opening: “Son, why have you done this to us?” Luke 2:48, which comes from the story of Jesus ‘lost and found’ in hs youth. Christina goes on:
[On Good Friday evening] Memories flooded over her of that evening (… was it only a couple of days or a couple of decades ago?…) when she walked through the caravan of pilgrims to gather her son to her for the night, and she could not find Him. He wasn’t there … and the words of the holy man Simeon had come back to her as she felt a sword of anxiety pierce her heart with love for her missing child.
But she did not stop him on his pilgrimage to Calvary. And on the third day, this time he came looking for her.
After three years, it pleased God to take away from Brother John that ray and fire of love divine, and reave him of all spiritual consolation. Whereby Brother John remained without the light and love of God, and altogether disconsolate and afflicted and distressed. For the which cause, being in such anguish, he went through the wood running hither and thither, calling with cries and tears and sighs on the beloved spouse of his soul, who had hidden himself and gone away from him, and without whose presence his soul could find no rest and no repose: but in no place and in no manner could he find his sweet Jesu again, nor taste again those sweet spiritual draughts of the loye of Jesu Christ, as he had been wont.
This tribulation endured for many days, in which he abode continually weeping and sighing, and praying God that of His pity He would give back to him the beloved spouse of his soul. At the last, when it pleased God to have made trial enough of his patience and to have kindled his desire, on a day when Brother John was going through the wood in such affliction and distress, he sat him down for very weariness, leaning against a beech tree, and remained with his face all bathed in tears looking up to heaven, — behold! suddenly Jesu Christ appeared hard by him in the path, whereby Brother John had come, but spake naught. Brother John seeing Him and knowing full well that it was Christ, straightway threw himself at His feet, and with sore weeping besought Him very humbly, saying:
“Help me, O Lord, for without Thee, my most sweet Saviour, I am full of darkness and weeping, without Thee, most gentle lamb, I am full of anguish and pain and fear; without Thee, Son of God most high, I am full of confusion and shame, without Thee, I am bereft of all good and am blind, since Thou art Jesu Christ, the true light of souls; without Thee, I am lost and damned, for Thou art the life of souls, and the life of lives; without Thee, I am barren and dry, for Thou art the fountain of every gift and grace; without Thee, I am altogether disconsolate, for Thou art Jesu our redemption, our love, and our desire, the bread of comfort, and the wine that maketh glad the hearts of the Angels, and the hearts of all the Saints; enlighten me, most gracious Master, and most tender Shepherd, for I am Thy little sheep, unworthy though I be.”
The prayer that finishes this post was not composed by one who was mentally ill. But he was altogether disconsolate, and told Jesus so.
I had forgotten this war poem by Mary Webb. ‘So young he is, so dear to me’: this was not just written in sympathy for others, but from her own heart. Her three brothers enlisted, and one was gravely injured. Even so, if we cannot feel with those left behind, there is something wrong with us. Pray for all mothers, wives and families and friends worrying, worrying, at home, as well as the men and women on service.
Oh, Powers of Love, if still you lean
Above a world so black with hate,
Where yet–as it has ever been–
The loving heart is desolate,
Look down upon the lad I love,
(My brave lad, tramping through the mire)–
I cannot light his welcoming fire,
Light Thou the stars for him above!
Now nights are dark and mornings dim,
Let him in his long watching know
That I too count the minutes slow
And light the lamp of love for him.
The sight of death, the sleep forlorn,
The old homesickness vast and dumb–
Amid these things, so bravely borne,
Let my long thoughts about him come.
I see him in the weary file;
So young he is, so dear to me,
With ever-ready sympathy
And wistful eyes and cheerful smile.
However far he travels on,
Thought follows, like the willow-wren
That flies the stormy seas again
To lands where her delight is gone.
Whatever he may be or do
While absent far beyond my call,
Bring him, the long day’s march being through,
Safe home to me some evenfall!
Postcards sent from the front by a lad who died out there.
In my reading about Archbishop Arthur Hughes there was a story from 1938 about his boss worrying. This priest was a great worrier, as it happened, but he was regional superior for Uganda, and the Superior General insisted he stay in the job.
On this occasion, Arthur Hughes was at the annual scout camp as an assistant county commissioner, not as chaplain, although there was daily Mass.
Father Superior had expected to see a separate Catholic Scout Movement such as still exist in France. It was not like that in Uganda.
Arthur Hughes and other fathers were dining with the leaders, and Father Hughes was wearing not his habit but full scout uniform including his shorts, or ‘petite culotte bombo’, apparently with the local Bishop’s approval. Hughes was ‘Mess President, General Secretary, Man of all work, and chief raconteur’, according to an unidentified newspaper report. No doubt he was enjoying himself, but why were the fathers taking orders from Protestant laymen?
Well, we might ask, why not?
Mr Lameka Sekaboga was appointed Assistant County Commissioner during the camp; even as Father Superior fretted, the organisation was being put into competent lay, Ugandan hands. It was surely better for Catholics to work with others to make this happen, Arthur Hughes could see that, his Superior could not, but concentrated on the differences that appeared to define Catholics, and within the church, to define clergy against lay people.
We now see many ministries working ecumenically: Street Pastors, food banks, refugee care, the list is long. What we can share, we should share. And salute those who made the first steps towards Churches working together.
Arthur Hughes (front, centre) and confreres about to leave for Africa.
Your letters delight me, they are altogether after my own heart, that heart that so loves its dear Péronne. It is true, my child, that in this life we must always be beginning anew, but if it were not so where should we be? For this is essential to our humility and to confidence, the two virtues our good God asks of us. Be brave, train yourself to courage and to exactitude in the observance. Keep a light heart, and above all things put sadness far from you. God is wholly ours, and we, my daughter, have no other wish than to be wholly His. How then can we be solicitous about anything whatsoever? When you have time give me news of that heart that is so dear to me and that I know so well, I say, so well, thanks be to God.
I beseech you, my love, be a good example to others, avoid all useless conversation, never absent yourself from the community assemblies without real necessity. Give challenges to spur each other on to virtue. Let your chief care be to inculcate recollection, practise it yourself in good earnest, it ought to be pre-eminently our practice. Incite one another to it, and to seek Our Lord, and our own perfection in singleness of heart.
I have received all your letters and the other things you sent by Chambéry, but they came very late. Another time, my dearest daughter, to give you comfort we’ll talk as you desire, heart to heart, but I am feeling the cold today, and am pressed for time. In a word, humility, exact observance, holy confidence and joy in God.
Our very dear Father1 is, he says, entirely yours. All our Sisters salute you. To conclude, you are, as I told you the other day, my own dear Péronne, whom I love with all my heart.
1Saint Francis de Sales, her co-founder of the Sisters of the Visitation.
There have been times of great perplexity, when I could have done with the following prayer from Cardinal Newman. Something of an antidote to ambition! Retirement is as much a time of discernment as when leaving school or college, and it may well be that Newman’s Kindly Light will lead into unexpected corners!
God created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me, which He has not committed to another. I have a mission. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.
Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; if I am perplexed, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in joy, my joy may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. Amen.