Tag Archives: communication

23 June: Overheard on another journey. Pilgrimage to Canterbury XIII

goldenstringimage

Our L’Arche pilgrimage was like winding a section of Blake’s golden string, only those of us at the back of the group were following arrows chalked on the pavement by the frontrunners. What ten-year-old would not enjoy the chance to draw graffiti without getting into trouble?

In Dover I ended up walking with D, who may be slow, but speeds up to slow ahead when someone holds his hand. Having a banner to carry also helped him along.

Now D does not speak, though he has a vocabulary in Makaton signs (which I must learn again, not having used them for forty years). We were walking beside the River Dour in Dover when a duck started berating us. So I quacked back. D began to laugh, so I quacked even more. So did the duck.

Then D began making little grunts in time with my quacks. He’d got the joke and joined in. We were both still smiling when a few people caught up with us and mentioned lunch. At which point D’s feet found wings!

I think I passed through Jerusalem’s wall that morning.

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June 9: Pentecost, We hear them speak.

somers.town. pentecost

St Aloysius, Somers Town, London.

Two articles came before my eyes on the same day. In one, an English divorce lawyer said that the main cause of marriage breakdown was lack of communication: spouses not speaking to each other.

The other article was in the Columban Fathers’ Far East magazine for September 2018. Father Willie Lee, a Fijian missionary who has worked in Peru described how he was inspired by the missionaries who ‘were always there with the grassroots people, crossing boundaries and cultures and learning another language. It gave them a feeling of belonging.

‘The sacrifices they made in their calling, in their missionary life, amazed me. If these people can leave their family, come this far … and be happy on their mission, why can’t I do this?’

Learning another language is hard work, very few Pentecost morning experiences these days; if people are to hear us speaking their own language, we must first get close to them and learn to listen.

Let us pray for ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

To read the interview with Fr Lee by Mark Bowling see the message below from the Columbans’ Katie Howard:

We are so pleased to hear that you feature the Far East magazine in your blog. Please use link below and scroll down to ‘Past Issues’ where your readers can download the September/ October 2018 edition of the Far East:

https://columbans.co.uk/publications/far-east

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June 7: The Poetic Pillar Box.

 

ams.postbox

We see above a pillarbox at Centraal Station in Amsterdam, nicely bringing together two strands of today’s reflection from GK Chesterton’s Heretics. Of course, railway signalmen – and they were men in England a century ago – needed greater vigilance then and could not offload much responsibility onto technology. But both postmen and signalmen had to be men of integrity. Over to GKC:

The word “signal-box” is unpoetical. But the thing signal-box is not unpoetical; it is a place where men, in an agony of vigilance, light blood-red and sea-green fires to keep other men from death. That is the plain, genuine description of what it is; the prose only comes in with what it is called. The word “pillar-box” is unpoetical. But the thing pillar-box is not unpoetical; it is the place to which friends and lovers commit their messages, conscious that when they have done so they are sacred, and not to be touched, not only by others, but even (religious touch!) by themselves. That red turret is one of the last of the temples.

Posting a letter and getting married are among the few things left that are entirely romantic; for to be entirely romantic a thing must be irrevocable. We think a pillar-box prosaic, because there is no rhyme to it. We think a pillar-box unpoetical, because we have never seen it in a poem. But the bold fact is entirely on the side of poetry. A signal-box is only called a signal-box; it is a house of life and death. A pillar-box is only called a pillar-box; it is a sanctuary of human words. 

postbox.clitheroe

Not just an excuse to share two favourite photos! But this 19th Century box (at the top VR means Victoria Regina, or Queen Victoria) is at Sabden, Lancashire. Text from Project Gutenberg. It’s no good imagining the Brownings posting their letters into such a box: they were not introduced for some years, although the penny post was speeding letters around the country from 1840. More from the Brownings soon. ‘Heretics’ is available on Kindle or Project Gutenberg.

 

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7 May: A book of ours

You can never get enough of mediæval manuscripts – but sometimes just one can be almost too much.

Follow the link to read how this little Book of Hours is inspiring a Book of Ours in Manchester, thanks to the John Rylands Library of the University of Manchester. The link is to a post on their blog which will interest and move you.

WT.

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May 4: The Signpost

gate,broken (800x487)
THE SIGN-POST by Edward Thomas
THE dim sea glints chill. The white sun is shy.
And the skeleton weeds and the never-dry,
Rough, long grasses keep white with frost
At the hilltop by the finger-post;
The smoke of the traveller’s-joy is puffed
Over hawthorn berry and hazel tuft.
I read the sign. Which way shall I go?
A voice says: You would not have doubted so
At twenty. Another voice gentle with scorn
Says: At twenty you wished you had never been born.
One hazel lost a leaf of gold
From a tuft at the tip, when the first voice told
The other he wished to know what ‘twould be
To be sixty by this same post. “You shall see,”
He laughed—and I had to join his laughter—
“You shall see; but either before or after,
Whatever happens, it must befall,
A mouthful of earth to remedy all
Regrets and wishes shall freely be given;
And if there be a flaw in that heaven
‘Twill be freedom to wish, and your wish may be
To be here or anywhere talking to me,
No matter what the weather, on earth,
At any age between death and birth,—
To see what day or night can be,
The sun and the frost, the land and the sea,
Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring,—
With a poor man of any sort, down to a king,
Standing upright out in the air
Wondering where he shall journey, O where?
Edward Thomas was another who suffered from depression – At twenty you wished you had never been born. He would walk it off for hours.
Here he has been walking, walking, facing the mouthful of earth that awaits him in death, but now acknowledges the wish to be anywhere talking to … maybe his wife Helen? ‘And with a poor man of any sort, down to a king.’ Whatever Thomas meant by that, the words ‘down to a king’ put me in mind of Philippians which we touched on yesterday. Continuing chapter 2:6-8:
Christ Jesus who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the  form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men.
And then there is the story of the walkers to Emmaus being overtaken by one they should have recognised. (Luke  24:13-35) He is there at the crossroads, knowing all too well how each of us has our own cross to bring to the hilltop. And death shall be freely given – Sister Death as Francis put it. Not to be snatched before time! Had Thomas killed himself at twenty, we would have been the poorer without his word painting: The smoke of the traveller’s-joy is puffed Over hawthorn berry and hazel tuft. 
Sometimes it is good to stop, stand upright and look around us, even at a falling leaf. After all, Christ himself told us to consider the lilies of the field. And then walk on in his company.

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1 May: The happy commuter

steamtrainNI

The feast of Saint Joseph the Worker seems a good time to share this story. Joseph, I guess, had his workshop in the house or close by. Not so for many in the world today. And how many of us are less than happy with our work, and with getting there and back? Can we improve things for our colleagues by our attitude towards them?

It’s Wednesday evening and I’m at Canterbury West station, chatting to a railwaywoman while I await my chance to slip onto the platform. Hundreds of people were streaming away from an incoming train.

‘You’d think if they were going home they’d look happy!’ she said, and truly, they did not. ‘I’ll get one smiling’, I said, as I saw M coming into view. To be fair, I’d seen him smiling already. I know he likes his job, and I knew he was not going home for long; he was due to attend the SVP meeting (Saint Vincent de Paul Society) about an hour later on that cold windy night. But he smiled and chatted and went on his way.

‘Now you can start working in the other 451!’ said the railwaywoman. (With a smile.)

So maybe I’ll share one of the staff’s efforts to raise a smile at Christmas with this little plum.

  • Why did the bicycle catch the train?
  • Because it was two-tyred!

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

poperinge.1

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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You came to see me

Here is another post from Eddie Gilmore about the work of London’s Irish chaplaincy with prisoners, as well as an interesting reflection on his own early career and on friendship.

Will.

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14 January: An old missionary’s ecological musings

bins

Passers by set Gerard Manley Hopkins thinking for yesterday’s post, and Otto Mayer for today’s. He was a fellow student of mine, but now works in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have adapted this from an article he wrote. It seems the litter problem is not confined to Canterbury. But if Otto can keep litter picking in Central Africa, I can do my bit in East Kent!

Whenever I pick up plastic wrappers or papers dropped in front of our house in Ruzizi, Congo, passers by look at me as though I’m crazy. The children make fun of me, although the little ones will pick up litter and put it in my bag. But no-one makes fun of the people who drop papers, bags, plastic bottles, tissues…

Sometimes a passer-by will ask why I am cleaning up. I explain that in my home village in Germany, every Saturday afternoon we would take pride in sweeping the footpath beside our house, ready for Sunday. Everything should be ready for the Lord’s day.

Telling people that story starts a conversation, regretting how Goma has become a dirty town, and Kinshasa la belle has become Kinshasa-Poubelle – dustbin city. Everybody wants the council to sort it out. I always say that I can do something. At least in front of my house I can make a difference.

The first principle of ecology is to produce as little waste or pollution as possible. Heineken beer from Holland is an ecological sin when you can get local beers. What a waste, transporting it all the way to Africa.

Buying locally and consuming the products of the region is an ecological obligation. There are seasons when mangoes, cauliflowers, strawberries are chea and readily available. Out of season the price increases as the products are brought in from far away, and the transport costs must be paid for.

The local bus service where I live is cheaper than using a private car; it may take a little longer but means less pollution and less expense. And walking up to half an hour seems to me both reasonable and desirable: Pollution zero, expense zero and more surprises to be met en route. An old priest I remember used to say, ‘Since we got mopeds we’ve lost touch with the people.’ And what progress we’ve made since then!

Père Otto Mayer, M. Afr.

 

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June 19: You have to help me!

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Abel was carrying the letter to the post box for his grandad, a job he took very seriously. As we got near, he looked up and said, ‘You have to help me.’

No question of his being unable to reach; it was a statement of fact: ‘You have to help me.’

No giving up because the slot was too high: ‘You have to help me.’

No getting angry at being set an impossible task: ‘You have to help me.’

 

There’s a lesson there which I won’t spell out!

(It wasn’t this box, but Abel would have enjoyed it as much as his Grandad did!)

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