It’s too easy to sugar coat any of the saints to make the medicine they offer us more palatable. Stories we’ve read in the Little Flowers tempt us to do the same to Saint Francis. Here’s a corrective from GKC. Happy Feast Day to all Franciscans!
I ask the reader to remember and realise what the story really looked like, when thus seen from the outside. Given a critic of rather coarse common sense, with no feeling about the incident except annoyance, and how would the story seem to stand?
A young fool or rascal is caught robbing his father and selling goods which he ought to guard; and the only explanation he will offer is that a loud voice from nowhere spoke in his ear and told him to mend the cracks and holes in a particular wall. He then declared himself naturally independent of all powers corresponding to the police or magistrates, and takes refuge with an amiable bishop who is forced to remonstrate with him and tell him he is wrong. He then proceeds to take off his clothes in public and practically throw them at his father; announcing at the same time that his father is not his father at all. He then runs about the town asking everybody he meets to give him fragments of buildings or building materials, apparently with reference to his old monomania about mending the wall.
It may be an excellent thing that cracks should be filled up, but preferably not by somebody who is himself cracked; and architectural restoration like other things is not best performed by builders who, as we should say, have a tile loose. Finally the wretched youth relapses into rags and squalor and practically crawls away into the gutter. That is the spectacle that Francis must have presented to a very large number of his neighbours and friends. How he lived at all must have seemed to them dubious; but presumably he already begged for bread as he had begged for building materials.
From “Saint Francis of Assisi: The Life and Times of St. Francis, by G. K. Chesterton.
Talking of trees as we were yesterday: the L’Arche garden where we were listening and looking for the robin was blessed and opened by the then Bishop of Dover, Trevor Willmott. I found this quotation from Bishop Trevor the other day.
‘If I knew the world was to end tomorrow, I would plant a tree today’. Of all that Martin Luther wrote and said, these words resonate strongly with me and, I would hope, with the whole Christian Church as we continue to seek and to bear out witness to Jesus Christ and to serve the needs of His world.
A world that badly needs trees! At the Glebe the other day we saw a squirrel planting nuts – or storing them for future use. Squirrel won’t remember them all. Some may well germinate and grow, in which case we gardeners will pot them on and think about where to plant them. If you don’t know where to plant yours, the Woodland Trust will do that for you in the UK; other charities will help people plant trees overseas and make sure they are watered and survive. Last December we met the Happy Man Tree in Hackney, London, which did not survive despite local pressure to keep it and build around it. It was felled earlier this year to make way for housing.
I leant my bike against a buttress of Saint Mildred’s Church while I closed the garden gate. I returned to find myself looking at this stretch of the north wall which I estimate was strengthened in the 19th Century. The course of limestone at the top of this picture is level, top and bottom, being made of identical blocks. To get the top level the bottom had to be level, of course; difficult with flints and reused lumps of limestone, requiring some adjustment. We can see here that the builders used sherds of roofing tile, thin slivers of flint – and oyster shells! I have seen them used in a garden wall before, but never expected to find them holding up a church.
Perhaps many of the people who really hold up the church – ordinary, decent people like Naomi and Ruth – go unnoticed, but their neighbourly prayers and works help to keep the rest of us on a level. Let’s be grateful for them.
Pope Francis’s Missionary Intention this month is:
Let us pray that a spirit of dialogue, encounter, and reconciliation may emerge in the Middle East, where diverse religious communities share their lives together.
What can I do with these stones? I could throw them at anyone who got too close to me or my possessions or my part of the beach.
I could use them to make a pathway in my garden, or across country for people to walk over. I could use them as filler in a drystone or concrete wall, providing shelter for people or beasts.
I could go down to the tideline and start a game of ducks and drakes, skimming them across the surface of the sea, splashing over the waves. People would hardly need an invitation to join in, the game is infectious. Like football (soccer) on a smaller scale. Every nation wants to be involved in the football World Cup even if they can barely hope to win one game.
Playing games, playing music, sharing meals together can help bring about a spirit of dialogue, encounter and reconciliation as much as high level talks between politicians who barely trust one another.
But even sport can be tainted by spectators’ hatred and racist abuse, when they could be admiring the beauty of the players’ skills, sharing the thrills of the game.
Is there room for God’s Spirit somewhere in there?
There are hills and hills of course. Saint Thomas’s Hill is on the rim of the dish that cradles the city. Most cyclists seem to dismount to climb up it, but coming down is another matter; I think that qualifies as a hill. For the last fifty years it has housed the University of Kent, not visible in this winter’s picture.
Indeed I’ve deliberately shown this ‘temporary’ car park in all its glory to stress the point brought home to me as I turned this corner the other day – without my phone of course, so I could not recapture that careless rapture. Here the panel of parking regulations, the hastily spread asphalt and the scrubby edges of the car park impel the walker to pass by on the other side as quickly as possible.
I walk this way nearly every day, eyes averted.
Between where we stand and those whitewashed cottages a footpath takes a short tunnel under the railway; then to the left of the cottages and to the playing field behind the tall trees; a not unpleasant walk. From there the hilltop is seen to be covered in university buildings; from here neither they nor the post-war houses across the field make much impact.
There’s no way you could imagine yourself in the Kentish countryside, but look up! There is a hill, there are trees, there is hope. Even if the developers would happily sacrifice the trees on the altar of Mammon.
This car park has never been built upon. It used to be an allotment garden, gone wild before we came, but good for raspberries, brambles, lizards and slow-worms. A sustained effort was made to rescue the reptiles, now safely rehoused on reclaimed land elsewhere. But this land will be built on. People need homes too.
But what struck me the other day as I walked home?
A hint of sun on the hill, made the grass, and the young stems of the trees – there are plenty of willow in yellow and red – shine against the black of their trunks and branches. It was a Psalm 121 moment – I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
A spring in my step, though nothing material had changed. The car park, graffiti and the intrusive buildings were still there, but look beyond!
The window looks out onto real hills, the Black Mountains of South Wales.
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.
King James Version – to match the window.
A version of this post has appeared in the Will Turnstone blog.