Tag Archives: birds

26 November, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LIX: Brother Simon 2, into the woods.

entering woods

Brother Simon, as we read yesterday, was a mirror of virtue, an appropriate saint to view reflected in Agnellus’ Mirror. 

He had never learned the art of grammar; nathless he spake such profound and lofty things of God and of the love of Christ that his words seemed supernatural; whence it befell that one evening when he had gone into the wood with Brother Jacques da Massa for to speak of God, and was speaking most sweetly of the love divine, they continued all the night in such discourse, and in the morning it seemed to them that they had been but a brief space together, even as was told me by the said Brother Jacques.

dec 23 pic birds in flight

It befell on a day while the said Brother Simon was at prayer in the wood and was feeling great consolation in his soul, that a flock of crows began to do him annoy with their cries, wherefore he bade them in the name of Jesu depart and return there no more: whereat the said birds departing thence, from that time forward were no more seen nor heard, neither there nor in all of the country round. And this miracle was manifested unto all the Custody of Fermo, wherein the said House lay.

L’Arche Kent on pilgrimage, entering the wood.

Mrs Turnstone might be tempted to send the collared doves away from our garden! This story shows a fallible, human side to John, rather than the miracle-worker his brethren saw, and makes him a much more credible saint, just as Robert Frost’s ‘Minor Bird’ endears him to this reader at least. Laudato Si!

I have wished a bird would fly away,
And not sing by my house all day;

Have clapped my hands at him from the door
When it seemed as if I could bear no more.

The fault must partly have been in me.
The bird was not to blame for his key.

And of course there must be something wrong
In wanting to silence any song.

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4 November: Death and God’s Mercy in the Frozen North.

fire.Moses

Sir Edward Leithen, a Scottish Lawyer is snowbound in Northern Canada, dying of TB in the company of trappers, Indians, and a Quebecois business man who has lost his bearings. Leithen finds his Calvinistic, predestinarian beliefs challenged in the face of the realities he is facing in the North.

The trappers kept a fire going to keep Leithen alive. Picture from SJC

 

Here in this iron and icy world man was a pigmy and God was all in all. Like Job, he was abashed by the divine majesty and could put his face in the dust. It was the temper in which he wished to pass out of life. He asked for nothing—”nut in the husk, nor dawn in the dusk, nor life beyond death.” He had already much more than his deserts! 

Now there suddenly broke in on him like a sunrise a sense of God’s mercy—deeper than the fore-ordination of things, like a great mercifulness… Out of the cruel North most of the birds had flown south from ancient instinct, and would return to keep the wheel of life moving. Merciful! But some remained, snatching safety by cunning ways from the winter of death. Merciful! Under the fetters of ice and snow there were little animals lying snug in holes, and fish under the frozen streams, and bears asleep in their lie-ups, and moose stamping out their yards, and caribou rooting for their grey moss. Merciful! And human beings, men, women, and children, fending off winter and sustaining life by an instinct old as that of the migrating birds. … Surely, surely, behind the reign of law and the coercion of power there was a deep purpose of mercy.

The thought induced in Leithen a tenderness to which he had been long a stranger. He had put life away from him, and it had come back to him in a final reconciliation. He had always hoped to die in April weather when the surge of returning life would be a kind of earnest of immortality. Now, when presently death came to him, it would be like dying in the spring.

John Buchan, Sick Heart River, 1941; Penguin edition 1985.

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4 October, the Franciscans come to Mount Alvernia, VII: Welcome, Francis!

dec 23 pic birds in flight4bc7872c090c71da62a65f182c7c3ff1

And when that they were come about halfway up the mountain, as the heat was very great and the ascent was weary, the peasant became very thirsty, in such sort that he began to cry aloud behind Saint Francis, saying : “ Woe is me, for I die of thirst; if I find not something to drink, I shall choke outright.” Wherefore Saint Francis got down off the ass and fell on his knees in prayer and remained so long kneeling with his hands lifted up to heaven, until he knew by revelation that God had heard his prayer. Then said Saint Francis to the peasant; “Run quickly to that rock, and there shalt thou find the living water, which Jesu Christ in this hour, of His mercy, hath made to come forth from out that rock.” So he ran to the place that Saint Francis had shown him, and found a fair spring that had been brought out of the hard rock by virtue of the prayer of Saint Francis: and he drank his fill thereof and was comforted.

And it doth well appear that this spring was brought out by God in miraculous fashion at the prayers of Saint Francis, seeing that neither before nor after was there ever seen in that place a spring of water, nor any living water near to that place for a great space round. This done, Saint Francis with his companions and the peasant gave thanks unto God for the miracle shown forth to them, and then went they on their way.

And as they drew near to the foot of the rock of Alvernia itself, it pleased Saint Francis to rest a little under the oak that was by the way, and is there to this day; and as he stood under it, Saint Francis began to take note of the situation of the place and of the country round. And as he was thus gazing, lo! there came a great multitude of birds from divers parts, the which, with singing and flapping of their wings, all showed joy and gladness exceeding great, and came about Saint Francis in such fashion that some settled on his head, some on his shoulders, and some on his arms, some in his lap, and some around his feet.

When his companions and the peasant marvelled, beholding this, Saint Francis, joyful in spirit, spake thus unto them: “I believe, brothers most dear, that it is pleasing unto our Lord Jesu Christ that we should dwell in this lonely mountain, seeing that our little Sisters and brothers the birds show such joy at our coming. And said these words, they arose, and went on their way and came at last to the place that his companions had first chosen. And this is the first reflection, to wit, how Saint Francis came to the holy mount of Alvernia.

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7 September: A Cleaner River

 

cormorantAfter yesterday’s post from Margate which mentioned the cormorants in Rye, I thought we could borrow one from Will Turnstone’s more private and occasional journal. This was posted in 2017 after a visit to Lambeth Palace Library, in search of Arthur Hughes.

Today I walked from Waterloo to Lambeth beside a river confined by embankments, with light shipping passing by the Palace of Westminster and cyclists, joggers, dog-walkers and tourists in both directions along the path, not all looking where they were going.

One thing I was hoping to see, but only saw when I wasn’t looking for it – a cormorant. Picture this big bird flying past the Houses of Parliament; I watched from the opposite bank.

In my youth anyone falling in the River might have died from poisoning. They even kept my little brother in hospital for observation after he fell into the Serpentine Lake in the park (and I had to go home on the bus in wet clothes after dragging him out).

There must be enough fish in the river to satisfy those greedy cormorants.

When my mother and I visited my 4 year-old brother in hospital on the following Friday he was happy to say goodbye when the time came. Dinner had arrived – fish and chips and it looked really tasty! He’s now a chef and still very fond of fish; and there are even herons along the Serpentine these days.

The citizen scientists of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds were not least among those who fought and worked to clean up London’s River. Pray that we all may take courage to walk the next steps – and look where we’re going!

RSPB image, see here:

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12 August, Readings from Mary Webb XXIV: The Spirit of the Earth.

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Love me–and I will give into your hands
The rare, enamelled jewels of my lands,
Flowers red and blue,
Tender with air and dew.

From far green armouries of pools and meres
I’ll reach for you my lucent sheaves of spears–
The singing falls,
Where the lone ousel calls.

When, like a passing light upon the sea,
Your wood-bird soul shall clap her wings and flee,
She shall but nest
More closely in my breast.

speedwell

Jewells: ragged robin and speedwell.

 

Is it a pagan superstition to talk about the spirit of the earth, or to imagine that spirit speaking? We are made of atoms and hormones and genes and bones – remember that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.

So get to know and love ‘Mother’ Earth: not just the dust and flowers but the wisdom that has been there since the beginning, sustaining it.  The Spirit of the Earth can be identified with Wisdom, sitting at the Creator’s side as he set about his work. Laudato Si!

The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before he made any thing, from the beginning.  I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived. neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out: The mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth: He had not yet made the earth, nor the rivers, nor the poles of the world.  When he prepared the heavens, I was present: when with a certain law and compass he enclosed the depths: When he established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters:When he compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters that they should not pass their limits: when be balanced the foundations of the earth;  I was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times; Playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men. 

Proverbs 8:22-31.

 

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3 August, Pilgrimage to Canterbury : The Bells, the Bells!

canterbury bells

Canterbury Bells are a flower in the Campanula family, happy to grow on the chalk, or in this case, on top of an old wall built with soft lime mortar. They are traditionally associated with pilgrimage to Canterbury, growing as they do along the lines of the different Pilgrims’ Way routes making for the shrine of Saint Thomas, including the railway cuttings that were driven through the chalk in the 19th Century.

I should have taken a picture while we were walking our L’Arche pilgrimage but then I should have taken a great many that I didn’t! This silhouette against a grey sky cannot really give us the purple-blue of the flowers, but we can see that the leaves are brown, no doubt due to drought. 2½ metres above the ground is not the most promising habitat when the weather turns dry, but the plants are concentrating their efforts into flowering and seeding themselves.

As we pass by we hear, not Bell Harry or Great Dunstan or the other cathedral bells, but the background roar of the main road. Not a problem for Chaucer’s pilgrims! Nor were they wandering through Kent with earphones blotting out the sounds of the birds, the bells. ‘And I shal clinken yow so mery a belle’, says Chaucer’s Shipman, praising his tale before he tells it. 

Mrs Turnstone first heard a cuckoo this year as June was drawing to a close; we heard a nightingale in the woods on one Pilgrim’s Way – in the daytime, but still as lovely. And the blackbirds of Canterbury or London, or even that city of cities, Venice, would be inaudible wearing headphones.

If, as the catechism says, God made us to know him, love him and serve him in this world, we should take each phrase seriously. Out of body experiences are all very well, but Saint Francis, who received them. was also the author of the Canticle of Creation, in which everything created is called to ‘lift up your voice and with us sing, Alleluiah!’ We can only know, love and serve God in this world.

Laudato Si!’

 

 

 

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July 18: Cowboy

sjc crowEver notice crows
walk like cow-boys,
toes in, wide stride,
tough guys of the garden?

Sparrows scold
from a distant tree – safe
they think. I watch
from the window over
the kitchen sink.

I suppose
crows must hatch, wet, needy
and fragile, like other birds,
but now full grown, I half expect
my crow to chew tobacco and spit,
he seems so full of bravado,
compared to prissy little tits.

Does size mean power?
A swagger, a loud caw?
Animals seem to think so.

SJC

 

 

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30 June, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLVI: How Brother Masseo obtained from Christ the virtue of humility and the gift of tongues.

Abel.bluebells

The forest seems to have been a good place for the early brothers of Saint Francis to find God and their own true selves.

The first companions of St Francis set themselves with all their might to follow holy poverty with regard to earthly things, and to acquire every other virtue, as the sure means of obtaining celestial and eternal riches.  Brother Masseo, hearing wonderful things of humility, and knowing it to be one of the greatest treasures of life eternal, was so inflamed with a love and desire of this virtue of humility, that he lifted his eyes to heaven with much fervour, and made a vow and firm resolution never again to rejoice until he should feel the said virtue to be firmly established in his soul.

From that moment he was constantly shut up in his cell, macerating his body with fasts and vigils and prayers, weeping before the Lord, and earnestly imploring him to grant him this virtue, without which he felt that he was only worthy of hell.

Brother Masseo having passed several days in this state of mind, as he was entering the forest and asking the Lord, who willingly listens to the prayers of the humble, with cries and tears to grant him this divine virtue, he heard a voice from heaven, which called him twice: “Brother Masseo! Brother Masseo!” And he, knowing in his spirit that it was the voice of Christ, answered: “My Lord.” Then Christ answered: “What wilt thou give in exchange for this virtue which thou askest for?” And Brother Masseo answered: “Lord, I will willingly give the eyes out of my head.” Christ answered: “I grant thee the virtue, and command at the same time that thou keep thine eyes.”

And having said these words, the voice was silent; and Brother Masseo was so filled with the grace of humility, that from thenceforward he was constantly rejoicing. And often when he was in prayer he was heard to utter a joyful sound, like the song of a bird, resembling “U-u-u”, and his face bore a most holy and happy expression. With this he grew so humble that he esteemed himself less than all other men in the world. And Brother James of Fallerone having asked him why in his joy he used always the same sound, he replied gaily, that when in one way he found all good he saw no reason to change it.

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12 June: Precious green spaces in the city.

venice.secret.garden1 (2)

Although we visited Saint Mark’s Baslica, I’m not sure a trip to Venice counts as a Pilgrimage. And it did not take so much preparation for just the two of us. Mrs T’s reading before going to Venice was the guidebook and Salley Vickers’ Miss Garnet’s Angel. I’m not sure which was better preparation for our visit. My book made more sense once we were in the city, and helped make sense of the city. Ellis Peters, best known for Cadfael and all things Salopian, wrote Holiday with Violence soon after the Second World War, during which Venice escaped bombing but endured great hardship. There are glimpses of that poverty, of the rundown buildings, and also of the precious green spaces:

She saw in the drowned shade of the little waterways, narrow between high palace walls, the occasional green of trees looking out from secret gardens, in a city where all the rest of the spectrum was spilt recklessly, but green was jealously hoarded.

Such a secret garden can be seen on the background to this picture. Some of these plots had walls surmounted with a hedge of Canary Ivy, home to blackbirds which had their singing posts nearby to celebrate the dawn and dusk chorus, all the more audible with the lack of motor traffic.

If we make room for nature, nature will move in!

Laudato Si!

 

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26 May: Pilgrimage to Canterbury VI: a memory unlocked.

pilgrims way2

I was talking to Rupert, one of our contributors during Lent, at the L’Arche garden this morning. He reassured me that the walk uphill from Dover on the revised route is ‘doable’ if taken steadily, and he knows most of the potential walkers. It will be somewhat steeper than this section of the Pilgrims’ Way on the other side of Canterbury: use your imagination to see the Cathedral, tucked between the distant hills near the centre of the photo!

I have not walked that steep path since Easter some 40 years ago, when a few of the community were living in north Dover. On Maundy Thursday I was helping Sue, a Jewish assistant from Toronto, prepare for a community Passover meal, when we looked out and saw a thrush hopping around a snow covered lawn. (What’s that bird, Maurice? It looks like our Canadian robin but has no red feathers.)

By Easter Monday all was serene and sunny, so Sue and I decided to walk the footpaths to Barfrestone. We were not expecting to negotiate the construction site for the A2 road, but we got over that and arrived in time for our next shift.

At least this time we will be prepared for the busy A2, which carries traffic aiming for the ferries to the continent. The footpath is safely in a tunnel underneath. And it’s ‘doable’!

For Rupert’s posts, enter ‘Before the Cross’ in the Agnellusmirror search box and you’ll find his reflections and a few other people’s.

 

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