Tag Archives: Belgium

28 March, Desert XXIX: Proverbs 21.3, More acceptable to the LORD.

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To do righteousness is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

PROVERBS 21:34

This postcard was sent during the Great War from Poperinge, a village in the small enclave of Belgium that was not overrun by the Kaiser’s armies. You may be able to see where the censor obliterated the town’s name for security reasons.

‘Pop’ was a place of rest for allied troops, and an Anglican Chaplain had an open house there. His name was Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, alias Woodbine Willie, from the pungent cigarettes he distributed far and wide.

He had the reputation of a poet, often writing in dialect, as he does here. This is from a longer poem, ‘Well?’, describing a soldier’s dream of the Last Things. We include it here since it challenges any smugness that we might have accumulated during our ‘Lenten Observance’ – the man is in the ultimate desert place – or so he feels.

How would you answer that ‘Well?’

For more about Woodbine Willy, see Remembrance Sunday 2015: Woodbine Willie

And day by day, and year by year,
My life came back to me.
I see’d just what I were, and what
I’d ‘ad the charnce to be.
And all the good I might ‘a’ done,
An’ ‘adn’t stopped to do.
I see’d I’d made an ‘ash of it,
And Gawd! but it were true.

A throng ‘o faces came and went,
Afore me on that shore,
My wife, and Mother, kiddies, pals,
And the face of a London whore.
And some was sweet, and some was sad,
And some put me to shame,
For the dirty things I’d done to ’em,
When I ‘adn’t played the game.
Then in the silence someone stirred,
Like when a sick man groans,
And a kind o’ shivering chill ran through
The marrer ov my bones.
And there before me someone stood,
Just lookin’ dahn at me,
And still be’ind ‘Im moaned and moaned
That everlasting sea.
I couldn’t speak, I felt as though
‘E ‘ad me by the throat,
‘Twere like a drownin’ fellah feels,
Last moment ‘e’s afloat.
And ‘E said nowt, ‘E just stood still,
For I dunno ‘ow long.
It seemed to me like years and years,
But time out there’s all wrong.

What was ‘E like? You’re askin’ now.
Can’t word it anyway.
‘E just were ‘Im, that’s all I knows.
There’s things as words can’t say.
It seemed to me as though ‘Is face,
Were millions rolled in one.
It never changed yet always changed,
Like the sea beneath the sun.
‘Twere all men’s face yet no man’s face,
And a face no man can see,
And it seemed to say in silent speech,
‘Ye did ’em all to me.
‘The dirty things ye did to them,
‘The filth ye thought was fine,
‘Ye did ’em all to me,’ it said,
‘For all their souls were mine.’
All eyes was in ‘Is eyes, – all eyes,
My wife’s and a million more.
And once I thought as those two eyes
Were the eyes of the London whore.
And they was sad, – My Gawd ‘ow sad,
With tears that seemed to shine,
And quivering bright wi’ the speech o’ light,
They said, ”Er soul was mine.’
And then at last ‘E said one word,
‘E just said one word ‘Well?’
And I said in a funny voice,
‘Please can I go to ‘Ell?’
And ‘E stood there and looked at me,
And ‘E kind o’ seemed to grow,
Till ‘E shone like the sun above my ead,
And then ‘E answered ‘No
‘You can’t, that ‘Ell is for the blind,
‘And not for those that see.
‘You know that you ‘ave earned it, lad,
‘So you must follow me.
‘Follow me on by the paths o’ pain,
‘Seeking what you ‘ave seen,
‘Until at last you can build the “Is,”
‘Wi’ the bricks o’ the “Might ‘ave been.”‘
That’s what ‘E said, as I’m alive,
And that there dream were true.
But what ‘E meant, – I don’t quite know,
Though I knows what I ‘as to do.
I’s got to follow what I’s seen,
Till this old carcase dies.
For I daren’t face the land o’ grace,
The sorrow ov those eyes.
There ain’t no throne, and there ain’t no books,
It’s ‘Im you’ve got to see,
It’s ‘Im, just ‘Im, that is the Judge
Of blokes like you and me.
And boys I’d sooner frizzle up,
I’ the flames of a burning ‘Ell,
Than stand and look into ‘Is face,
And ‘ear ‘Is voice say – ‘Well?

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21 March. Before the Cross VIII: an old postcard.

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To my eyes there is little to commend the art of this postcard which is over a century old, but while it may not be good art it screams out in pain. Each person in the ugly scene is tortured: Christ himself, the blood still wet on his body; the other crucified men, Jesus’ mother Mary and the beloved John, gallantly supporting her, and the prostrate Mary Magdalene.

Why has this card been preserved over all these years?

It was among the possessions of Doris, my wife’s grandmother, when she died. It had been bought in Poperinge, one of the few Belgian towns not occupied by the German army during the Great War, and sent to  Doris in Manchester. The second postcard shows a street in Poperinge with ‘the shop where I procured this card’ marked with an X. (The censor had blacked out the word Poperinge on the front of the card, but the fading ink has rendered it legible.)

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Who was it that procured these cards? The boyfriend whom Doris was never to marry because he was killed in battle. There are a few of his Valentines and greetings cards preserved with them.

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The crucifixion card was printed in Munich, a German city, yet he could set that fact aside and still see something in the picture that spoke to his situation, surrounded by death, knowing his own death could strike at any moment. He might well have heard the echo of these Good Friday words as he looked at the card and sent it to Doris.

He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

Isaiah 53:2-5

Poperinge was well known for ‘Toc H’ or Talbot House, a club founded for troops on leave by the Anglican chaplain, Rev’d Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton. It can still be visited to this day; a century ago it was a lifeline for battle weary men.

MMB

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All Saints’ Eve – a good time to thank all of you.

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Doubtless Agnellus and Company wobble sometimes, we may not be pedalling, squeezing an accordion, helping balance a bike, wearing a funny hat and a false moustache while keeping time with the rest of the band, all at the same time. But we hope we provide something interesting, enjoyable and challenging day by day.

It is enjoyable looking out for thoughts to share. We hope that when we offer a sample  of a writer’s work that some readers feel inspired to seek out more. If we can give web links we will continue to do so.

But for today, you saints in the making,

THANK YOU FOR BEING WITH US.

And please do stick around.

Here is a thought for November and Winter from Mary Webb – about time she appeared here again!

Though winter may wear a sad-coloured garment, it is shot with bright threads of reminiscence and prophecy. Orange oak leaves, lingering seed-vessels on ash and lime, crimson blackberry trails, are recollections of past splendour. The sere and broken reeds and rushes – golden and russet – are like the piled trophies of some fairy warfare; spear and sword and bulrush-banner recall the time when conquering summer led forth his legions. There are dreams and dawnings of another summer also. The twigs that look so lifeless have minute buds on them, vivid points of colour.

Reminiscence and prophecy – that is our calling: to go back to our roots and to speak out as the Spirit moves us. Let us read and interpret the signs of the times: Laudato Si!

Mary Webb, The Spring of Joy

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29 October, Christ walking with travellers: IV. A journey around my room

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At the end of the eighteenth century, Xavier de Maistre found himself locked up. He was more comfortably off than most prisoners, but still bored. He used his time to write a little book which he called A journey around my room. It can be found in the original French: here.

If for some reason we cannot go out – weather, illness, time of day, domestic duties – we can sit comfortably and begin our own journey, not just around the corners of the room but around the corners of our heart.

The lamp above my shoulder I made as an exercise on a college course many years ago in Hull, Yorkshire. That reminds me of my fellow course members, my tutors and friends, as well as Paul, a Hull man I often see down here in Kent. Thinking of them soon turns into a prayer.

Then there is the piano, not used much these days, but a bargain buy from a neighbour who was moving away. Think of her, and her son, exiled, perhaps for ever, from their native land; but at least she can walk along the street alone in Britain, free from fear and bare-headed, and still count herself a faithful Muslim.

The fire! We were glad to replace the ugly gas fire with something more in keeping with the house; everyone enjoys it on the special evenings when it burns.

Next, a nineteenth century engraving of a mother bathing her child before the kitchen range where elder sister, aged maybe seven, is warming a blanket, while father with an arm around mother, looks about to tickle the baby’s tummy. That was found in a Belgian flea market, brought home and remounted in a new frame. My wife’s keen eye at work!

To one side, an African carving of the Holy Family where Joseph is twice the size of Mary protecting his wife and the infant Jesus. But those two objects invite so much contemplation that I shall leave you there; perhaps to return to that corner another day.

Take a trip around your personal space and see where it leads you!

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Book Review: David Jones in the Great War, by Thomas Dilworth.

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David Jones in the Great War, by Thomas Dilworth. Enitharmon Press.

Born in South London, the artist and poet David Jones nevertheless grew up a fervent Welsh patriot, absorbing the romantic epics of Welsh history with its battles and brave warriors. Hardly surprising then, that he should volunteer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers when the Great War broke out.

Thomas Dilworth takes us through Jones’s wartime life as if inviting the reader to be a third party to a conversation between friends, and indeed the book is largely the fruit of interviews with David Jones and his friends. Like other poets and former soldiers Jones never got the Great War out of his system and he suffered depression and breakdowns in the years that followed.

He had spent the war as a private, unlike university educated poets Sassoon, Brooke and Owen, who were seen as natural officers. Jones resisted promotion, preferring the company of the Welshmen and Cockneys in the ranks. An officer once encouraged him to apply for a commission, saying, ‘You’re an educated man. Where were you educated?’ At Jones’s reply, ‘Camberwell School of Art and Craft’, he fell silent and never again would Jones be considered for promotion.

Jones was not alone in becoming aware of the iniquities of the class system through his wartime experiences. He had chance to contrast British public school officers with the French alongside, where there was greater camaraderie and an officer could encourage his troops with ‘mes enfants’. He also served in Ireland after the Easter Rising, and became acutely aware of the contrast between Britain’s defence of ‘poor little Belgium’ and the oppressing of Irish aspirations.

Above all Jones was an artist and one who took opportunities to exercise his gift while at war. At times he was detailed to draw maps of battlefields for his superiors; of those that survive, few can be clearly reproduced, but Dilworth gives us many pencil sketches of broken buildings, battlefields, equipment and men. There were months when drawing his companions became too painful, knowing he might soon lose sight of them forever. There is a sketch of a robed and stoled priest, about to distribute Communion. Dilworth links this to a moment of epiphany for Jones, when he came across a Catholic celebration of Mass in a battered barn. Seeing his Irish companions transformed at their devotions was a step towards his conversion.

Just as that experience would have been impossible to explain back home, so too the privations of mud, rats, lice, noise, explosions, shells, smells, death that remained with Jones the rest of his life.

Thomas Dilworth is a warm companion to bring us to Jones and his subsequent poetry and art. Read this book, make friends with Jones, turn to his poetry, and let it speak.

 

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A Week’s Reflections on Living as Neighbours: Introduction.

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Next week includes the feast of Saint Augustine of Hippo, so we had prepared reflections on Algeria, his homeland. But it would be wrong to offer these while ignoring recent events in Belgium, France and Germany. It would also be wrong to suggest that all is well in Algeria or anywhere else that Muslims and Christians live side by side. All too easily someone can assert the primacy of the ‘true faith’, as they perceive it, over love and mutual respect: it happens within communities as well as between them. Therefore I offer this week’s reflections on recent events as a preface to those on Algeria, prepared weeks ago to celebrate Augustine, recognised by Muslims as well as Christians as a great Algerian.

MMB

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14 August: Year of Mercy – the Loving Pelican

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By Anne Man Cheung

Anne has been a supporter of Agnellus mirror since we started, but this is the first time she has written for us. She writes first about a special place that my family loves as well: Bruges in Belgium. It’s good for her to continue where Chris left off writing about Belgium.

Tomorrow she develops the theme of Divine Mercy that came to her when visiting the lower chapel of the Basilica.

On a recent trip to Bruges I visited the Basilica of the Precious Blood. In the Upper Chapel there is a Relic of the Precious Blood of Christ.

The oldest reference to this relic was written in 1255. The relic has been carried through the streets of Bruges in a yearly procession since 1304 – in modern times on the Feast of the Ascension.

In the beautiful Romanesque Lower Basilica Chapel, which dates back to the Twelfth Century, on the altar there is an image of the pelican feeding her babies.

The symbolism of the mother pelican feeding her little baby chicks is rooted in an ancient legend that preceded Christianity: in times of famine, the mother pelican wounded herself, striking her breast with her beak to feed her dying young and save them from death, but in turn lost her own life.

It is easy to see why the early Christians adopted this to symbolise Our Lord Jesus. We know that we find new life through His blood on the Cross and through receiving his Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

AMC

 

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August 12: Trivial Solutions to Human Passions

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Our cosy routines are put in danger, but  we convince ourselves that right will be on our side because we are mighty and might generally proves itself right. Whether with flag in hand on horseback, or with horsepower under the bonnet, the agreed standards of civic protection will favour us, God or no God.  Here is Godfrey de Bouillon again.

We have an army to keep unwelcome passions of others supervised and checked, we imagine, as if there were no rival claims to protection at work in other cultures of the world.

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But what are the unexamined passions of consumer indulgence which provide our confidence? Are they the moderated passions of the best adults, or a splurge of childish cravings? A quick phone call and all the luxuries of the world are ours.

We are like baby kings, and the fact that we cannot observe the labourers abroad who provide the goodies does not disturb our sleep.

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These three images, all from Brussels, seem to me to pinpoint the unhealthy mixture of a tradition of power, resources of control, and the fascination of gaining our own advantages, and satisfying our tastes, which underpins so much modern existence. We don’t believe that we are in any position to prevent the fallout from this heady combination. But we do have the freedom to seek for a spiritual basis to our friendships and ways of living.

CD.

 

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August 9: In and Out of Focus

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The past goes in and out of focus according to which features we attempt to see more clearly. Here is a composite artwork showing the beginning of the pilgrim journey that was the life of St. Francis of Assisi. This is on a wall of the French Franciscan church, Notre Dame des Graces, in Brussels. In one scene we see Francis naked, having returned his clothes to his father, a cloth merchant, in order to become a humble, powerless follower of Christ. A herald of the gospel but also a pilgrim, dedicated to the merciful preaching of peace. He travelled on foot, not by horse.

Twelve years after the early friars came to Canterbury, and settled at Greyfriars, off Stour Street, they arrived in Brussels (in 1238). The friary in which they lived has, in recent times, been excavated. What remains is a few walls and ruined structures, preserved as a museum. No community lasts forever, especially in regions where wars have been frequent and destruction a large-scale reality. It is good for us to have reminders of how easily our religious ideals and convictions become casualties of mortality or a loss of spiritual liveliness.

 

But we need to remind each other of what brings us together to pray, collaborate, and set up a viable shared life of conversion for our own day. Community does not happen purely by accident, nor does it stay vigorous simply through the availability of a few organisers.

This is a view of that location now:

brusselsfriaryCD.

 

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August 8: What Obstructs our Focus

 

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Alexander Nevsky (d. 1263) was a popular Russian soldier who defeated Swedes, Lithuanians and Teutonic Knights in battle. The Russian Orthodox Church declared him a saint. Prokoviev’s cantata Alexander Nevsky was sung at this year’s first Prom Concert in London. It contains the lines ‘Peregrinos exspectavi’ (I expected pilgrims), then ‘Victory to the Crusaders, death to the enemies.’

This photo shows not Alexander but a different crusader, whose statue is prominent in the centre of Brussels. This is Godfrey of Bouillon (d. 1100) who took the title ‘Advocate of the Holy Sepulchre’ after he had been the first to defeat the Muslim occupants of Jerusalem, after three years of campaigning. The patriarch of Jerusalem (a man from Pisa) was forced to crown Godfrey’s brother Baldwin as the first Latin king of Jerusalem. Another brother, Eustace, inherited Boulogne, and a family estate in England.

Perhaps, with such a widespread confusion of the words ‘pilgrim’, ‘crusader’ and warrior we should not be too surprised that a number of people from Islamic cultural backgrounds regard European and Western economic and military dominance of the world as evidence that crusaders, tourists and trade delegations are  three versions of the same thing, all opposed to Islamic traditions.

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Belgians who wanted to let the world know their heartbreak after the subway train bomb went off in Brussels in March this year, left their flowers and memorial tributes to the victims in front of the Bourse, the Stock Exchange. Finance deals and power-brokering are one pattern of domination.

CD.

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