This is from earlier in the Compleat Angler. Piscator lands a trout, his protege, here still called ‘Viator’ or Traveller, is treated to more of his master’s observations and praise of creation.
Piscator: here is a Trout now, and a good one too, if I can but hold him; and two or three turns more will tire him: Now you see he lies still, and the sleight is to land him: Reach me that Landing net: So (Sir) now he is mine own, what say you? is not this worth all my labour?
Viator. On my word Master, this is a gallant Trout; what shall we do with him?
“But turn out of the way a little, good Scholar, towards yonder high hedge: We’ll sit whilst this shower falls so gently upon the teeming earth, and gives a sweeter smell to the lovely flowers that adorn the verdant Meadows.
Look, under that broad Beech tree I sat down when I was last this way a fishing, and the birds in the adjoining Grove seemed to have a friendly contention with an Echo, whose dead voice seemed to live in a hollow cave, near to the brow of that Primrose hill; there I sat viewing the Silver streams glide silently towards their centre, the tempestuous Sea, yet sometimes opposed by rugged roots, and pibble stones, which broke their waves, and turned them into some: and sometimes viewing the harmless Lambs, some leaping securely in the cool shade, whilst others sported themselves in the cheerful Sun; and others were craving comfort from the swollen Udders of their bleating Dams.
As I thus sat, these and other sighs had so fully possessed my soul, that I thought as the Poet has happily expressed it: I was for that time lifted above earth; And possessed joys not promised in my birth.
Walton, a Staffordshire Man, first published his Compleat Angler in 1653, hence the unfamiliar spellings. An experienced and keen angler ‘Piscator’, walking out of London, falls in with a man who wanted to learn to fish, who by this point in the book is called the Scholer because he’s an enthusiastic learner. Much of their dialogue takes place under trees, sheltering from the rain. And it leads to other thoughts and the contemplation of creation. What would Walton have made of our sewage infested rivers?
“And now, Scholer … it has done raining, and now look about you, and see how pleasantly that Meadow looks, nay and the earth smels as sweetly too. Come let me tell you what holy Mr. Herbert saies of such dayes and Flowers as these, and then we will thank God that we enjoy them, and walk to the River and sit down quietly and try to catch the other brace of Trouts.
Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and skie,
Sweet dews shal weep thy fall to night, for thou must die.
Sweet Rose, whose hew angry and brave
Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye,
Thy root is ever in its grave, and thou must die.
Sweet Spring, ful of sweet days & roses,
A box where sweets compacted lie;
Musick shewes you have your closes, and all must die.
Only a sweet and vertuous soul,
Like seasoned timber never gives,
But when the whole world turns to cole, then chiefly lives.
We were going to write about NASA’s James Webb telescope but Canon Anthony Charlton beat us to it. He is PP of St Thomas, Canterbury.
Amidst all the news about the continued atrocities in Ukraine and the search for a new prime minister, the first full-colour picture from the new James Webb Space Telescope has been released. The $10bn James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), was launched last Christmas and is billed as the successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope.
It will make all sorts of observations of the sky but has two overarching goals. One is to take pictures of the very first stars to shine in the Universe more than 13.5 billion years ago; the other is to probe far-off planets to see if they might be habitable.
The BBC website reported “The image is said to be the deepest, most detailed infrared view of the Universe to date, containing the light from galaxies that has taken many billions of years to reach us. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. And that light that you are seeing on one of those little specks has been travelling for over 13 billion years,” said Nasa administrator Bill Nelson.” And by the way, we’re going back further, because this is just the first image. They’re going back about 13 and a half billion years. And since we know the Universe is 13.8 billion years old, you’re going back almost to the beginning.”
What an exciting revelation. It is hard to take in but amazing that we have such a new glimpse of the universe. I immediately thought of the words of Psalm 8
“When I see the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you arranged, what is man that you should keep him in mind, or the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him little lower than the angels; with glory and honour you crowned him, gave him power over the works of your hands. You put all things under his feet.”
Canon Father Anthony Charlton, Parish Priest, St Thomas’, Canterbury.
Pope Francis visited the Poor Clares, the Franciscan enclosed sisters, in Assisi on the World Day of the Poor, 19 November 2021. The report below is from Vatican News; we can gain some understanding of the contemplative calling, but also a few challenges for our own lives. Happy Feast Day!
Pope Francis asked the Franciscan nuns to pray for the Church so that it may not be corrupted by sin, calling on them to be attentive contemplatives. Pope Francis said attentiveness to the Lord requires having peace of mind, serenity of the heart and serenity of the hands, lest we miss Him when He passes by. It is not watching the world pass by and chatting from a window, but being aware of what is going on with a pure mind, thinking well and not badly of people, he remarked.A “serene heart” implies going back in memory to the origin of religious vocation, to the reason of God’s call, to love and let ourselves be loved.
There is also the serenity of the hands: hands must move not only to pray, but also “to work,” Pope Francis said, recalling St. Paul’s words in his Letter to the Thessalonians: “Whoever does not work, must not eat”.
When mind, heart and hands do what they have to do, consecrated people may find a balance which is “full of love and passion”, making it easy not to miss what the Lord tells us when He passes by.
He pointed to the core of the Poor Clares’ contemplative work: “You carry on your shoulders the problems of the Church, the pains of the Church and also – I dare say – the sins of the Church, our sins, the sins of the bishops, we are all sinful bishops; the sins of the priests; the sins of consecrated souls … And bring them before the Lord”.
The real danger in the Church is not being a sinner, but allowing oneself to be corrupted by sin, to the point of seeing sin as “a normal attitude” and not feeling the need to ask for God’s forgiveness. Pope Francis therefore called on the cloistered nuns to pray that corruption might not affect the Church, stressing that God “only asks our humility to ask for forgiveness.”
Concluding his speech, Pope Francis asked the Poor Clares to think and pray for the elderly, who are often considered “disposable”, for those families struggling to make ends meet so they can bring up their children well, and for young people and children exposed to so many threats and dangers in today’s world.
Finally he asked them to pray for the Church, in particular for priests and bishops so they consider themselves pastors and not “heads of office”.
and contemplation is charity drawn inward to its own divine source.
Action is the stream and contemplation is the spring.
Thomas Merton, No man is an Island, 1957, p84.
Another view of ordinary saintliness at work.
We can discover the water of life at work in us through listening, watching, being open to the Spirit.
Jesus said to the woman at the well:
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks the water that I will give him will never be thirsty. The water that I will give him will become a spring of water within him welling up to eternal life.”
PS: Since Merton was writing in 1957 we must forgive his use of ‘man’ to cover both sexes, and the translators, too!
Then Friar Leo, obedient, stood still and waited for him, with such fear that, as he afterwards told his companions, he would rather, at that moment, that the earth had swallowed him up than wait for Saint Francis, who he thought was angered with him; because with very great diligence he took heed not to offend his fatherhood, lest, through fault of his, Saint Francis should deprive him of his company.
When he had come up to him, Saint Francis asked him: “Who art thou?” and Friar Leo, all trembling, replied: “My father, I am Friar Leo”; and Saint Francis said unto him: “Wherefore didst thou come hither, friar little sheep? Did I not tell thee not to come and watch me? For holy obedience, tell me whether thou sawest or heardest aught.” Friar Leo replied: “Father, I heard thee speak and say many times: ‘Who art Thou, my most sweet God? What am I, most vile worm and Thine unprofitable servant?'” And then Friar Leo, kneeling down before St. Francis, confessed himself guilty of disobedience, in that he had done contrary to his commandment, and besought his pardon with many tears. And thereafter he prayed him devoutly that he would explain those words which he had heard, and would tell him those which he had not understood.
Then, seeing that to the humble Friar Leo God had revealed or granted to hear and to see certain things, by reason of his simplicity and purity, Saint Francis condescended to reveal and to explain unto him that which he asked; and he spake as follows: “Know, friar little sheep of Jesus Christ, that when I was saying those words which thou heardest, then were shown unto me two lights for my soul; the one of knowledge and understanding of my own self, the other of knowledge and understanding of the Creator. When I said: ‘Who art thou, O my most sweet God?’ then I was in a light of contemplation wherein I saw the abyss of the infinite goodness and wisdom and power of God; and when I said: ‘What am I?’ I was in a light of contemplation in the which I beheld the depth of my baseness and misery; and therefore I said: ‘Who art Thou, Lord of infinite goodness and wisdom, that deignest to visit me, that am a vile worm and abominable?’
And in that flame which thou sawest was God; who in that form spake with me, even as of old He spake unto Moses. And, among other things which He said unto me, He asked me to give Him three gifts; and I made answer: ‘Lord, I am all Thine; Thou knowest well that I have nothing beside the habit and the cord and the breeches, and even these three things are Thine; what then can I offer or give unto Thy majesty?’ Then God said unto me: ‘Search in thy bosom, and give Me that which thou findest therein’. I searched and found a ball of gold; and I offered it to God; and thus did I three times, even as God three times commanded me; and thereafter I kneeled me down three times and blessed and thanked God who had given me wherewith to offer Him. And straightway, it was given me to understand that these three offerings signified holy obedience, highest poverty and most resplendent chastity; the which God, through His grace, hath permitted me to observe so perfectly that my conscience accuseth me of nothing.
And as thou sawest me put my hands in my bosom and offer to God those three virtues symbolised by those three balls of gold, which God had placed in my bosom; so hath God given me such virtue in my soul that, for all the benefits and all the graces which He hath granted me of His most holy goodness, I ever praise and magnify Him with heart and mouth. These are the words which thou heardest when I thrice lifted up my hands, as thou sawest. But look to it, friar little sheep, that thou watch me no more; but return to thy cell with the blessing of God, and do thou have diligent care of me; because, a few days from now, God will do such great and marvellous things upon this mountain that all the world shall wonder thereat; for He will do certain new things, the which He hath never done unto any creature in this world.”
And, when he had spoken these words, he caused the book of the Gospels to be brought unto him; for God had put it in his mind that, by the opening of the book of the Gospels three times, that which it was the will of God to do unto him should be revealed.
Today’s post is from The Imitation of Christ, chapter LI. I thought we might look at a traditional work on the Christian life while developing the subject of ‘my vocation today’. Any of us who carry out even the most cursory examination of conscience know only too well that we must bear the burden of this daily life and suffer weariness and heaviness of heart. And there just is not the time or opportunity to give myself unceasingly to spiritual exercises and divine contemplation. Someone has to do the necessary tasks around the home or go out to work to be able to feed the family. It can get to be drudgery at times, but let’s get on with our humble, outward works, and Christ will come to us and give us peace among the cooking, gardening, washing and nappy-changing; and in the toils of work that is not always fun.
The Imitation imagines what we could hear from
THE VOICE OF CHRIST
MY CHILD, you cannot always continue in the more fervent desire of virtue, or remain in the higher stage of contemplation, but because of humanity’s sin you must sometimes descend to lower things and bear the burden of this corruptible life, albeit unwillingly and wearily.
As long as you wear a mortal body you will suffer weariness and heaviness of heart. You ought, therefore, to bewail in the flesh the burden of the flesh which keeps you from giving yourself unceasingly to spiritual exercises and divine contemplation.
In such condition, it is well for you to apply yourself to humble, outward works and to refresh yourself in good deeds, to await with unshaken confidence My heavenly visitation, patiently to bear your exile and dryness of mind until you are again visited by Me and freed of all anxieties. For I will cause you to forget your labours and to enjoy inward quiet. I will spread before you the open fields of the Scriptures, so that with an open heart you may begin to advance in the way of My commandments. And you will say: the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the future glory which shall be revealed to us.
York Minster, as the Cathedral is known, was built over the remains of the Roman Garrison. It was here in the year 306 than Constantine was proclaimed Emperor. This late 20th Century statue shows the Emperor dressed for battle, gazing at his broken sword.
The hilt or handle of the sword forms a cross with the blade. In hoc signo vinces – in this sign you will conquer – were the words that accompanied Constantine’s vision of a cross in the sky before the decisive victory that took him from contender for the throne to acknowledged Emperor of Rome.
Constantine, seventeen centuries on, seems to us more of an action man than a contemplative, but if his adoption of Christianity as the religion of the Empire was politically expedient, it must also have spoken to his heart. We can follow his gaze and, looking at the broken sword, ask ourselves under what sign, what banner do we strive? Which Kingdom do we serve? What are we aiming for? And how would we recognise victory? Are we like the man in the background, too busy on our phones to stop and stare? Let’s look at the broken sword and say:
We adore Thee O Christ and we praise Thee, because by thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world. Amen.
Our Saviour’s cross is the throne of delights. That Centre of Eternity, that Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradise of God. There are we entertained with the wonder of all ages. There we enter into the heart of the universe. There we behold the admiration of Angels. There we find the price and elixir of our joys.
As on every side of the earth all heavy things tend to the centre; so all nations ought on every side to flow in unto it. It is not by going with the feet, but by journeys of the Soul, that we travel thither. By withdrawing our thoughts from wandering in the streets of this World, to the contemplation and serious meditation of His blood sufferings. Where the carcase is thither will the eagle be gathered together. Our eyes must be towards it, our hearts set upon it, our affections drawn, and of thoughts and minds United to it. When I am lifted up, saith the Son of Man, I will draw all men unto me.
Traherne was able to reconcile science and faith with his remarks on gravity.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that this meditation was written before photography, cinema or human flight! Read it slowly, to absorb the language more fully.
The contemplation of Eternity maketh the Soul immortal. Whose glory it is, that it can see before and after its existence into endless spaces. Its Sight is its presence. And therefore in the presence of the understanding endless, because its Sight is so. O what glorious creatures should we be, could we be present in spirit with all Eternity! How wise, would we esteem this presence of the understanding, to be more real than that of our bodies!
When my soul is in Eden with our first parents, I myself am. there in a blessed manner. When I walk with Enoch, and see his translation, I am transported with him. The present age is too little to contain it. I can visit Noah in his ark, and swim upon the waters of the deluge. I can see Moses with his rod, and the children of Israel passing through the sea; I can enter into Aaron’s Tabernacle, and admire the mysteries of the holy place.
I can travel over the Land of Canaan, and see it overflowing with milk and honey; I can visit Solomon in his glory, and go into his temple, and view the sitting of his servants, and admire the magnificence and glory of his kingdom. No creature but one like unto the Holy Angels can see into all ages. Sure this power was not given in vain, but for some wonderful purpose; worthy of itself to enjoy and fathom. Would men consider what God hath done, they would be ravished in spirit with the glory of His doings. For Heaven and Earth are full of the majesty of His glory. And how happy would men be could they see and enjoy it ! -But above all these our Saviour’s cross is the throne of delights. That Centre of Eternity, that Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradise of God!