Tag Archives: cycling

23 November: Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness.

Our third and – for the present – final borrowing from Eddie’s blog at the London Irish Chaplaincy. Thank you Eddie! Readers may like to visit the chaplaincy’s Prayer Room, see the invitation at the end of the post.

Eddie’s book, Looking ahead with Hope, is now on sale, price £9.99. See his account of a launch event here. WT.

We’re blessed in the UK and Ireland to have four distinct seasons, even occasionally being able to see all of them in a single day, and the transition from Summer to Autumn can be especially evocative.

Each year at the end of August I go through a little period of mourning for the Summer. The holidays have been and gone, the flowers are fading, the long trousers and long sleeves need to be got out, and our Wednesday evening cycling group has to cease due to the rapidly encroaching dark. And yet there are precious treats in store. I always await with eager anticipation the re-appearance of Orion, the constellation visible in the Northern hemisphere only over the winter months. I was at the monastery when the big day came. I happened to have a room on the East side of the Guest Wing and I’d initially been disappointed to be so placed. The West Wing, where I’d been before, overlooks the woods and the lovely old monastery buildings and is especially peaceful. The East side contains a school and a road and consequently a bit of noise. However, waking up in the dark on the first morning of my retreat at 5.40 a.m. to attend the 6 a.m. Vigils service I drew back the curtains to reveal the incredible sight in the sky of Orion and the Winter Triangle. It was like the return of an old and faithful friend. There was also a bright, full Harvest moon in all its glory, and a little later the deepest of red skies as the sun began to rise. Had I been in a room on the West side I would have missed it all!

Autumn is often a time of new beginnings. Another academic year commences, and many people might be embarking on a new course or hobby. The next level of my Korean class has got going and I’ve been enjoying both the study, the interaction with a very nice and very international group of people, and practising some of my new expressions on Yim Soon! The lessons have been quite fun so far and that’s how I like my language learning to be. And then at the start of September there was a much-anticipated event: the meeting of my choir for the first time in over a year and a half. There were fewer people than there used to be. Mansel, who I often sit next to, remarked to me at the start, “You do realise, don’t you, that the reason some people haven’t returned is because they’ve died!” It was a sobering reflection. Nonetheless it has been a great joy to drive off to Whitstable again on a Tuesday evening for rehearsals, a fixed point in my life for many years and much missed during COVID, and it will no doubt be a great joy to perform again.

I relish the first hints of coolness in the air in the early morning or late evening, and being able to give proper observance to those key transition periods in the day, dawn and dusk. I gather and prepare the wood for the winter fires. The garden as well needs to be got ready for its winter slumber and regeneration. There will be a final mowing of the grass; the remains of the summer flowers will be added to the compost heap; the soil will be dug over, taking care not to disturb the Spring bulbs. Perhaps new daffodils or tulips will be planted. Then the garden will be left; the worms will be allowed to do their hidden work of restoration; and the spiders will weave their beautiful webs that glisten so radiantly in the fresh dew of the morning.

October will bring the first frost, and how I marvel on my early morning walk to see the intricate patterns it makes on the car windscreens. That might coincide with another seasonal treat, the first fire. It will be the first of many and how I love to listen to the crackling of the logs and to watch the flames leap and dance. It will be time for the cooking apples to be harvested from the old tree by the shed. There will be the ceremonial first baking of apple crumble; and with a bumper crop, which seems to be every other year, the bulk will be made into chutney. Meanwhile the leaves on that and on the other trees will give their annual display of golden beauty, before they fall and wither.

The cycles of the seasons, the cycles of our lives. And, to paraphrase Keats as the days shorten on another year, may all our fruit be filled with ripeness to the core.

Eddie Gilmore

Visit our Prayer Room

We hope this becomes a place to remember loved ones, to mark special events, to be grateful for something happening or to bring a concern and receive blessings and solidarity from each other. Enjoy your time of prayer with us.

Go mbeannai Dia duit.

May God bless you.

Discover

Stay in touchGet the latest updates from our case workers and volunteers. Sign up for Blog updates.Sign Up Now

Leave a comment

Filed under Autumn, Daily Reflections, Laudato si', PLaces, Summer

30 August: Holy Leisure

The American writer Henry Thoreau claimed that we should not judge our wealth by the things we possess but by the amount of free time that we have.

By Eddie Gilmore of the London Irish chaplaincy. Welcome back, Eddie!

By Thoreau’s reckoning I’ve been pretty wealthy during the pandemic due in part to working from home. My working day used to involve three or four hours of commuting and so I’ve had that time for other things. After the first lockdown had eased I was cycling with a guy in my club called Steve who, pre-Covid, I would see from time to time on the train back from London. He said that previously at a quarter to five he would be clearing his desk and getting ready to head to St Pancras to catch the train. “Now,” he explained to me with evident delight, “I walk down the garden path to the shed to get my bike out and I’m off.” It was a bit the same for me last summer: down to the shed at the bottom of the garden, bike out and away. I needed something a bit different this year and the Korean study has filled up a lot of my free time nicely, although I’ve still relished the extra time for a variety of sporting and other pursuits.

St Augustine described the monastic life as otium sanctum, which can be translated as holy leisure. The American Trappist monk Thomas Merton touches on the theme of otium sanctum in his book ‘Spiritual Direction and Meditation’. Business is not the supreme virtue,’ he writes, ‘and sanctity is not measured by the amount of work we accomplish.’ That’s not to say that no work or business is conducted in a monastery. On the contrary, monasteries through the ages have been hives of activity, and you’re also as likely to find workaholics there as anywhere, Merton himself having been one of them! Yet, there’s a structure and a balance to the monastic day that gives time to work, time to pray, time to eat, time to read or study, time to rest, and time just to gaze upon the flowers in the fields. It’s the active in harmony with the contemplative, and a little sign that all of our time, ultimately, is a gift.

Having free time doesn’t necessarily mean doing nothing but being perhaps less driven and more conscious and intentional about what we’re doing in any given moment. I like that the word leisure comes from the Latin licere, meaning ‘to be permitted’ or ‘to be free’. I also like one of the definitions of that Latin word ‘otium’: ‘leisure time in which a person can enjoy eating, playing, resting, contemplation and academic endeavors.’ The key, perhaps, is taking time to enjoy and savour each moment in the day, and to take pleasure in the world and in those around us; to sit on a bench, to smell a rose, to listen to the birds singing. It could even be experienced in the midst of  writing a report or a funding application, or when doing a 100 mile cycle ride! All is given, all is gift.

The key for Thick Naht Hahn, the Vietnamese monk and poet, is mindfulness. He counsels that when eating a tangerine, be aware that you are eating a tangerine! When drinking a cup of tea, be aware that you’re drinking a cup of tea! Just as in a Japanese tea ceremony, each step of the process is important and given the right amount of time and awareness: boiling the kettle, preparing the vessels, warming the pot, pouring the water, waiting for the tea to brew; and then sipping, smelling, savouring. Perhaps even giving a little thought and a blessing to those who grew the tea and picked and dried the leaves.

I’ll shortly have the great gift of two week’s of holiday in which Yim Soon and I will walk the West Highland Way in Scotland followed by Ben Nevis and then a few days on the Isle of Skye. I will consider myself the wealthiest person alive to have such otium sanctum and to be able to spend it in such a place and in such company.

Happy holidays (i.e. holy days) to everyone!

Leave a comment

Filed under corona virus, Daily Reflections, Laudato si', Mission

4 July: The Lord of the Dance

My goddaughter dancing at her first Communion

Another blog by Eddie Gilmore of the Irish Chaplaincy in London. Thank you Eddie, as always.

“You don’t realise how much you’ve missed something until you have it again.”

I’d only gone down to the newly re-opened library to return the couple of books that I’d had out since last year and to borrow a new one. As I came out of the main entrance onto Canterbury High Street I was greeted by an unusual sight. There were seven elderly-looking ladies about to start some kind of performance. They were dressed identically in grey headscarves and billowing black shawls and each had a zimmer frame. To the accompaniment of a slightly eerie soundtrack, they began to push their zimmer frames around one another and were looking more and more distressed and agitated. Their expressions then softened, as did their movements, and suddenly they all pushed away their zimmers and began to dance. Next, they undid their headscarves and flung them into a captivated crowd and ripped off the black shawls to reveal colourful dresses. A solitary man appeared with a large drum, onto which he was beating a flamenco rhythm. The spectacle ended with the setting off of party-poppers and the women throwing rice over the bystanders, before disappearing, dancing, round the corner. I was utterly enchanted and deeply touched. It was the first live dance performance I’d seen in over a year, the first live anything, and it was so good to experience it again.

As I went round to the other side of the library to get my bike I came across the women in their flamenco dresses, looking very pleased with themselves. “That was wonderful,” I gushed. “Thank you so much.” And I added, almost in tears, “You don’t realise how much you’ve missed something until you have it again.” One of them asked if I’d like more rice strewn over me. “Oh yes!” I replied, and was duly anointed. I felt truly blessed.

The day after that I was having a well-earned coffee with a couple of the guys I’d done my Saturday morning club cycle ride with (and what a treat it is to be riding in a group again). We were basking in the sun by the Argentinian café in the Dane John Gardens in Canterbury, and it was great to see people out and about again. I’d been chatting with Conor en route about coming out of lockdown and I’d told him about how much I’d enjoyed seeing a live dance performance again. Just then I spotted a couple in the nearby bandstand doing a tango. “Look!” I exclaimed to Conor and Chris, “there’s a couple dancing.” Chris then told us of how he had practised for months the first dance, to an 80s song, he did with his wife at his wedding, and the conversation went onto other songs from the 80s. Then I told Dublin-born Conor about a nice scene from the film ‘Sing Street’ in which the protagonist, a boy who forms his own band, gathers a load of fellow-pupils at his Dublin school to be dancers at the first gig and implores them to “dance like it’s the 80s!”

One of my favourite scenes from ‘Mamma Mia’ is where all the women, young and old, dance down to the harbour to the tune of ‘Dancing Queen’ and then leap into the sea. An especially touching bit of that scene is an older woman casting off the large pile of sticks she’s been carrying on her shoulders, joining the joyful procession, and crying out, “Oh YEAH.” A few months ago my ninety-one year old mum was sent a wind-up dancing leprechaun by one of her sisters in Newry. The care home where she lives sent a gorgeous video of her standing up and doing a little jig alongside the leprechaun. This from someone who needs a zimmer frame these days to get around.

The day after the Argentinian coffee and tango in the park was Trinity Sunday and Yim Soon and I were at our customary zoom Mass. Part of a reflection from one of the women present was the playing of a Nina Simone song ‘I wish I knew how it would feel to be free.’ During the song several of us present began to sway and dance, and David the priest was moving from side to side the icon of the Trinity, so that it looked as if the Trinity themselves were dancing. It was a special moment.

I’ve always been taken by the Hindu belief that the Lord Shiva danced the world into existence. On this theme, the most well-known song of Sydney Carter is ‘The Lord of the Dance’, whose lyrics go ‘Dance, dance, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the dance, said he.’ As a child I was convinced that this lyric was, ‘I am the Lord of the dance settee.’ When we were young my sister and I used to jump up and down on the settee in the living-room, and it seemed to me very fitting that God would be jumping up and down with us! The image of the dance settee has, happily, never really left me.

Yim Soon and I are delighted to have just been invited to a wedding, the first such invitation in ages. It’s friends who are musicians and as well as the prospect of good music one of my first thoughts was that we’ll hopefully be able to have a good dance as part of the celebration. I’ve written before of my August holiday in Barmouth, which is an annual reunion of old friends (who met in the 80s!), plus their now mainly adult children, which began in 2000. One of the traditions of the week is a concert night and one of the traditions of the concert night is the singing of ‘500 Miles’. At what was to be the final performance before Covid, the song turned into a long conga of people snaking around the concert room and that led in turn to everyone dancing, old and young together, to other 70s and 80s classics. It was one of the highlights for me of Barmouth 2019.

To finish, here again are the immortal words of Sydney Carter, at least how I remember them:

‘And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be; for I am the Lord of the dance settee’!

Leave a comment

Filed under corona virus, Daily Reflections, Mission, PLaces

27 March: Unexpected building materials

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Mission, PLaces

10 March: Sunny Spring Cycling with Eddie

By 

More from Eddie Gilmore of the Irish Chaplaincy, on his day off.

Having just a fortnight before been looking out at snow in the garden, I was thrilled to have the first days of sitting outside in the sun with a cup of tea.

After a couple of busy months with work I’d decided to treat myself to a Friday off at the end of February. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I vaguely thought I might have a lie-in and listen to ‘Desert Island Discs’ in bed. But when I woke at my usual early hour and looked out of the window I was greeted by the radiant sight of a clear and perfectly round moon on its way down behind the distant trees. From the other side of the house I beheld a deep red sky with the sun beginning to rise. This was no morning for lying in bed. I dressed quickly and went into the street to find that nature had completed its stunning spectacle with a frost, whose delicate shapes I always love to see on the cars. With the birds in full voice it was all quite magical.

Being able to eat my breakfast later on at the bottom of the garden in full sunshine was a total joy. I’ve created a sort of spring bulb lawn near the shed, and was in an ideal vantage point to bask in the glory of clumps of snowdrops, yellow crocuses, purple crocuses and mini daffodils. The sunshine was also creating a beautiful sparkling sheen of water drops on the tips of the just beginning to grow grass. I knew what I had to do that day. I was going to postpone the one or two practical jobs in the house I’d thought I might do and instead get on my bike. There’s a long cycle I did many times last year in the spring and summer that takes me out of Canterbury through various woods to the coast at Herne Bay, then along the seafront to Whitstable. It was the first time this year to follow what had become for me quite a sacred course. It was lunchtime when I got to Whitstable and I stopped at ‘V C Jones’, the chip shop where I often went last year with my youngest Sean son when we were out on our rides. I phoned my order in from outside, as has been the procedure in these days! Disappeared now are the words that were chalked last summer in large colourful letters on the pavement outside V C Jones, ‘As Sting sang, Don’t stand So Close to Me’!

I picked up my scampi and chips and went and found a spot on the beach in full glorious sunshine with my back resting against a groyne. I ate slowly and happily, then took a luxurious siesta on the warm pebbles, followed by a little paddle. The sea was very cold but it felt good, also walking in bare feet on the stones and some isolated strips of sand.

The season of Lent is commonly associated with fasting and abstinence. The word itself comes from the Old English ‘lencten’ which means spring season; and it may also be derived from the Old Germanic ‘lango’, long, and be related to the lengthening of the days which occurs most noticeably and wonderfully at this time.

After a year in which many have died of Covid-19, to simply be alive can feel like a bonus. On a day when I could see and hear and smell the annual miracle of new life springing up so spectacularly all around me, it seemed a particular gift.

The Jesuit Gerry Hughes used to say that he imagined God asking him just one question when he died: “Did you enjoy my creation?” At the start of the spring season it’s difficult not to.

Leave a comment

Filed under corona virus, Daily Reflections, Laudato si', Lent, PLaces, Spring

Going viral V: cast a cold eye

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is fordwich-grave-skulls-date.jpg

There’s a virus about, so maybe we don’t want to look at skulls or gravestones right now. But Henry Brown of this town (Fordwich near Canterbury) has some fine lettering above his plot as well as the two skulls. Whatever else was wrong in England in January 1720/1, there were skilled stonemasons about, and they needed no W.B. Yeats to urge them to cast a cold eye on death.

The date 1720/1 does not indicate that the mason did not know exactly when Henry Brown left his town. It just shows the confusion that prevailed between England and Continental Europe in the years between Pope Gregory XIII introducing the calendar that bears his name in 1582 and its adoption by Britain in 1752. Although the Gregorian was more accurate and sorted out most of the slippage between the earth’s year and the calendar year, the British were not going to accept this crazy, Catholic, continental innovation. Not in 1720/1 anyway.

Why was I in Fordwich? Despite the virus, I’m still allowed exercise and I was preparing the way for a L’Arche pilgrimage, and Fordwich to Canterbury is the last 5 km stage. No major hazards is the good news!

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid,   
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago; a church stands near,
By the road an ancient Cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase,   
On limestone quarried near the spot   
By his command these words are cut:  

Cast a cold eye   
On life, on death.   
Horseman, pass by!

W.B. Yeats Under Ben Bulben

Leave a comment

Filed under corona virus, Interruptions, Lent, poetry, Spring

February 17th: Lift up thine eyes to the hills …

rav.skyline2

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.

rav.skyline3

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.

2005-04-10 16.23.30

Psalm 121
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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, winter