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22 November, St Cecilia: Viva la Musica

Further musical reflections from Eddie Gilmore of the Irish Chaplaincy; a good one for Saint Cecilia, even if it was written a while ago. Viva la musica!

Music is especially evocative during Advent, although for some people the memories touched can be bittersweet, as I discovered on a prison visit a couple of weeks before Christmas.

We were in HMP Wormwood Scrubs for the regular Irish Chaplaincy Traveller forum and I’d brought my guitar in to play to what turned out to be a very lively group! One or two of the younger guys were being a bit overly boisterous but I didn’t let it put me off. I just kept singing and I just kept smiling, as I looked around the group making eye contact. It was reassuring to see that a couple of the men were quietly singing along to the Irish songs. I’d planned as well to go into a medley of Christmas songs, both traditional and modern (assuming that everyone would be in the mood for some Christmas music); but was pulled up short when one guy exclaimed “we don’t want to be reminded of Christmas when we’re in here”. “Can I at least do ‘Fairytale of New York’”, I pleaded, and happily they relented, and were singing the chorus with gusto. I think I managed to win them over because when it came to the refreshments they were almost fighting each other to make me a cup of tea. I ended up with four! One of which had so much sugar in it, it was undrinkable! Not to matter; I was really touched, so too when there was a whip round for mince pies for me, before any leftovers got secreted into jogging trouser pockets to be smuggled back to the cells!

There was a man sitting next to me who had not seemed very happy when I’d been singing and I assumed he just didn’t like the songs or didn’t like me or whatever! But after the drinks he suddenly said to me “you’ve a queer good voice but this just reminds me of being in the pub”. Another came over to talk to me. He’d been one of those singing along and he was a good bit older than the rest. He explained to me “ah, the young guys get a bit over-excited”. We had a really nice chat. It was his first time in prison and he said “it’s like spending 23 hours a day in a bathroom”. That was certainly a striking image of the reality of being in prison.

The week before the Scrubs gig I’d been singing in a care home in Kensington for people with dementia, which I always enjoy. I do mainly Irish songs for the benefit of the Irish people there but everyone in what is a very international group of residents appreciates the music. As I was going round greeting people on arrival one of the Irishmen, clearly in a cheeky mood, motioned to the lady next to him and said to me “give her a kiss”!

This group were very much up for Christmas songs! People were singing along with the so-familiar melodies; and when it got to ‘Jingle Bells’ even some of those who are normally quite subdued were joining in and moving their arms, with their faces lighting up in recognition. It was a lovely moment. So too when a Columbian lady (the one I’d been encouraged to kiss at the start!) came up to me and said in Spanish (she appears to have reverted to her mother tongue in her later years) “the singing  was beautiful. May God bless you”.

We’re currently planning our second annual St Brigid’s Day concert, which will take place on January 31st 2020 at St James’ Church, Piccadilly: a ‘Celebration of Irish music, poetry and dancing’. Like the events mentioned above, it will bring people together and, I have no doubt, touch the heart and the soul and raise the spirit. Amongst the variety of talented performers on the bill we’ll have the young people of the London Celtic youth Orchestra and the ‘more mature’ members of the Irish Pensioners Choir’. It promises to be another wonderful occasion.

How blessed I am to have contact with such incredible people in such a rich variety of situations and to have music as one of the means by which we encounter one another and share in our common humanity.

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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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29 October, Month of Mission: In Peril on the sea.

This is taken from a news release by Stella Maris, the International Catholic Apostolate to seafarers. It tells not only of the regular day-to-day work of port chaplains, but also of the grave dangers faced by sailors in the course of their duties. I was struck by the picture of crew members not being allowed to land because of visa restrictions. As if they were less than human; yet they endure long months away from their loved ones in order to keep bread on the family table and to educate their children.

Deacon John Archer, Stella Maris port chaplain in Mobile, USA, has spoken of meeting the crew of the cargo ship that was attacked near the port of Douala with eight crew kidnapped.

West African pirates attacked the general cargo ship MarMalaita in the dead of night at anchor near the port of Douala, Cameroon. “It’s shocking to hear that the crew of the MarMalaita are still being held captive after the ship had been attacked.’ said Deacon Archer. ‘The vessel was in Mobile for a few months running between Mexico and Mobile and I got to know the Chief Cook during their short visits to Mobile and I knew they were heading to the coast of Africa. I’d been on board the ship a number of times. On my last visit I did what I usually do, such as asking the crew if they wanted to visit the town, go shopping, or offer to shop for those unable to go ashore due to visa restrictions.’

The International Maritime Bureau recently noted that of the 75 seafarers around the world who were kidnapped and taken hostage for ransom in the first six months of 2019, 62 were kidnapped in the Gulf of Guinea.
Paul Rosenblum, Stella Maris North America regional coordinator said ‘this kidnapping highlights the high price that can be paid by seafarers when things go wrong. This tragedy is a reminder of the dangers seafarers face each day to bring us the various goods and food we rely on’

The abducted crew are from Russia, the Philippines and Ukraine.

John Green, Stella Maris director of development said ‘Today our thoughts and prayers are very much with those who are still being held captive and their families’.

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May 11: The Best Medicine? ask the Irish Chaplaincy.

Another posting from Eddie at the Irish Chaplaincy.


Eddie Gilmore

Eddie Gilmore

When coming away from my regular visit to one of our Irish Chaplaincy Seniors I was reflecting on how uplifted I felt and how it had to do, in part, by how much we had laughed during the visit. This particular lady is only in her 70s but has fairly advanced dementia, and her sister moved over from Ireland to stay in the one-bedroom flat as a live-in carer. It’s a challenging situation but we always regale one another with funny stories, and we hoot with laughter.

I’ve been enjoying a book by James Martin, the American Jesuit, called ‘Between Heaven and Mirth’ with the sub-title ‘Why joy, humour and laughter are at the heart of the spiritual life’. He speaks of the importance of humour, especially in religious settings, which can easily become terribly serious and joyless. I imagine, sadly, that there are many people who might consider laughter to be incompatible with church or religion. And I was interested to see in a recent survey in the Church of England that people didn’t want their priests to be cracking lots of jokes in their sermons! It’s true that humour doesn’t really come across in the gospels. I fear this is a case of jokes getting lost in translation (besides the notion that religion is a ‘serious business’) because I like to think that the stories of Jesus were filled with humour and hilarity, and that he liked nothing better than to have a good laugh with some of the dodgy characters he hung out with.

I still remember the words of my dear friend Tony (and the jokes he told) in his best man speech at my wedding. He reminded us that the words ‘humour’, ‘humility’ and ‘human’ all come from the Latin word ‘humus’ which means earth and ground, so that when we laugh we are connected in a particular way with the ground we walk upon and with those we walk with. It could be said indeed that a sure sign of a growing connection and intimacy with another person is the ability to laugh together. Physiologically, as well, it’s healthy for us to laugh. A good, hearty laugh can relieve physical tension and stress and leave the muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes. It boosts the immune system, decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, therefore improving resistance to disease. It also reduces blood pressure and releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. Laughter is almost as good for the body as going to the gym! And it doesn’t cost a penny in membership! I remember at one time somebody in the NHS having the idea to send comedians into hospitals to help patients to laugh but sadly it doesn’t seem to have caught on.

And talking of funny people, I was tickled to hear what happened when John Cleese met the Dalai Lama. They didn’t say a word to one another but simply broke into spontaneous and prolonged laughter! James Martin tells us in his book that the Trappist monk and prolific spiritual writer Thomas Merton could be identified by visitors to his monastery in Kentucky (at a time, in the 1960s, when there were 200 monks there) because he was the one who was always laughing. And one of the many nice stories in the book concerns Mother Theresa from the time when John Paul II was pope and creating loads of new saints. A young sister asked what she would have to do in her life to achieve sainthood. Mother Theresa replied “die now; this pope’s canonising everyone”!

This season of Lent is perhaps not readily associated with fun and frivolity. Yet, in the scripture readings from Ash Wednesday at the beginning of Lent we have Jesus warning us (Matthew 6) not to look miserable when we fast; and we are reminded of the words from Isaiah 58 of the kind of fast that is pleasing to God:

“Let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke;

Share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor”

And I would add, try and have a bit of a laugh with people as well. It’s one of the things that most profoundly binds us together in our common humanity.

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Prayer Vigil for Sri Lanka.

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Fr Tom Herbst OFM, an occasional contributor to this blog, sent this notice today on  behalf of Kent University Chaplaincy.

We are organizing- at very short notice- a candle/prayer vigil at Uni as a memorial for the Sri Lanka victims. It will be held at 8:00 PM beginning outside Eliot College then moving into the chapel. If you can make it that would be great as we would like to see as many people there as possible. Can you pass the word to people who may be interested? Maybe announce on your blog?

If you can make it this evening, that would be good. If not, please spare a moment around 8.00 to join us in prayer.

MMB

 

 

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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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25 January: Christians together: the four chaplains.

George L. Fox.png  Alexander D. Goode.png  Clark V. Poling.png  John P. Washington.png

The research which took me behind the garage door we saw the other day led me to George L. Fox, Alexander D. Goode, Clark V. Poling, and John P. Washington. They were American Army Chaplains in World War II. They were travelling together, accompanying troops on their way to battle, when their ship, SS Dorchester was sunk by enemy action on February 3, 1943.

The ship went down rapidly, but the chaplains worked together to organise their flock onto the lifeboats, making sure each had a life jacket. When the supply ran out the gave their own jackets to others. Then they linked arms, and together went down with the ship.

Circumstances, evil circumstances, led to their ecumenical witness. during Church Unity Week, and approaching the anniversary of the four chaplain, what is the Spirit asking of the Churches – of you and me – today?

MMB

Photos from Wikipedia

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