Tag Archives: death

June 7: The Poetic Pillar Box.

 

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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. 

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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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4 June: Unexpected Visitors

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The Canterbury Diocese magazine ‘Outlook’ for this month tells how the Dean’s Easter sermon was interrupted. A note was handed to him, saying that the Canterbury Imam, Ihsan Khan, had brought flowers to demonstrate on behalf of local Muslims, their ‘respect for our Christian brothers and sisters who lost their lives in Sri Lanka’ a few hours earlier. ‘We pray for the victims and their loved ones. Our condolences, Canterbury Mosque.’

The Imam and his delegation were welcomed into the Quire to lay their flowers at the Altar, to applause led by the Dean.

Imam Khan said it was vital for the community in Canterbury to show the rest of the world that whatever our faith, or none, we are still brothers and sisters in humanity. he hoped the people of Canterbury would push solidarity forward.

Our Muslim Sisters and Brothers end their Ramadan fast today or tomorrow, depending where they live. Happy Eid!

This post from the Missionaries of Africa describes how Eid is celebrated in different places.

 

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3 June: More Passion Flowers

 

passion.flower.st.Thomas.smI’m sure you’ll understand why I don’t usually take my phone to church, even if this one usually stays switched off when I switch it off. Not like the one that erupted into cacophonous life during an Archbishop’s sermon. This habit partly explains why I’ve only just added this picture of a passion flower from Saint Thomas’ Church in Canterbury. We looked at the symbolism of the flower a few months ago after we spotted some on tombstones in nearby Chartham. You can tell the Christian story with it.

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Here is the real thing, a promise of summer to come, and also of heaven to come! Saint Thomas’ flower is next to the sacristy door, the priest and servers process by the passion flower on the way to the altar to celebrate the passion and death of Jesus.

As we have remarked more than once, Jesus lived a lifelong passion. He enjoyed the world, loved it. He told us parables about the flowers of the field, trees and fruit, wine and wineskins, seeds and sowers, so it’s appropriate that we should have this little parable in stone in our Church, even if Jesus would not have known one in his earthly life.
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Would Jesus have known this plant, the hop? I don’t know, but it was very common in Kent back in the Nineteenth Century when the church was built, and is still grown in the local area for the brewing industry.  Hops were harvested by hand until after the Second World War, with whole families joining in; school holidays in Canterbury were adjusted to allow children and parents to go to the hop gardens legally rather than as truants!

The hops can be seen between two arches on the opposite side of the Church. They represent the people of Canterbury, and the work of their hands. So Christ’s offering and ours, depicted in stone on the walls of our Church: Laudato Si!

PS: So far we’ve not found carved passion flowers in any local churchyard that we’ve visited since Chartham.

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After all the shouting

 

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A man recently took his life after appearing on a British ‘reality’ tv show where a lie detector allegedly ‘proved’ that he was unfaithful to his partner.

Thank God for the Samaritans, including my friend L, who listen in ways beyond the capabilities of such shows. They know, far better than the distressed caller ever can, how much their death will affect others. Here’s another reminder of how to contact them, a poster that greets the traveller at Canterbury West station in Kent.

Talk to us if things are getting to you, 116123.

And if someone desperate talks to you, take courage, and listen.

WT

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10 May: Far from home.

daffodils
The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.
Edward Thomas wrote this poem, IN MEMORIAM (Easter, 1915), before he joined up and went to the front. If Eastertide means what we Christians claim it means, we should read and remember these lines, let them filter down into our hearts, and teach us how we can proclaim the message of the Prince of Peace. Meanwhile, we remember with gratitude those who gave their lives in battle. 
MMB.

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Pope Francis and Jean Vanier

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Many tributes will be paid to Jean Vanier. Here is what Pope Francis had to say as reported by Independent Catholic News

https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/37058

 

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May 4: The Signpost

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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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April 30: Saint George for England – and Ethiopia!

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haile sellasse.jpgThe Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Sellasse, as the effort began to wrest control of his country back from the Italian invaders during World War II, called on the servicemen of Ethiopia and Britain to follow the selfless example of their shared patron, Saint George.

My friend George was one of those servicemen, not in any glamorous role, but as a merchant seaman, bringing home food and supplies, always in danger from U-boats.  George was a miner and could have stayed at home, but he believed that Britain’s part in the war was right and put his life on the line.

He returned to the mines after the war, but did not leave his sense of what is right behind. It was not right, he said, that landowners received more per ton of coal dug from beneath their estates than the men did who cut and carried it, and were often injured in the process. So he overcame a stammer to be able to speak for his colleagues.

Like many another, he developed an industrial disease which affected his breathing. In his forced retirement he turned to the Catholic church and to working almost full-time with L:Arche Kent. He greatly encouraged the middle aged men who joined from the big hospitals around Kent; his working class background and his long experience of male comradeship was a great gift to Bill, John and David and to the whole community. He still valued an honest day’s work, and so did the men.

Another Saint George, one who’ll never make it to the altars, but he is there beside us in L’Arche Kent, along with Bill, John, David and all our old friends.

Saint George has been transferred this year as his usual feast day fell in Easter week.

Our late friend David Powell wrote here about his experience of mining.

 

 

MMB.

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April 29: Sussex Folk Through a Poet’s Eyes.

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Edward Thomas, The man that loved this England well,1 wrote about The South Country before he became a poet. Wandering through Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, he recorded what he saw and felt along the way. Here he is in a Sussex village near where the poet Shelley was born; he has just been discussing the romantic poets.

Edward Thomas died this month in 1917, leaving a wife and family.

Note how he values the two villagers, Robert Page and his presumed descendant, as equally worthy of consideration as the poet.

In a churchyard behind I saw the tombstone of one Robert Page, born in the year 1792 here in Sussex, and dead in 1822 — not in the Bay of Spezia1 but in Sussex. He scared the crows, ploughed the clay, fought at Waterloo and lost an arm there, was well pleased with George the Fourth, and hoed the corn until he was dead. That is plain sense, and I wish I could write the life of this exact contemporary of Shelley.

That is quite probably his great granddaughter, black-haired, of ruddy complexion, full lips, large white teeth, black speechless eyes, dressed in a white print dress and stooping in the fresh wind to take clean white linen out of a basket, and then rising straight as a hazel wand, on tiptoe, her head held back and slightly oh one side while she pegs the clothes to the line and praises the weather to a passer-by. She is seventeen, and of such is the kingdom of earth.

And bearing in mind all those saintly women, Agnes, Agatha, Eanswythe, Tydfil, Mildred; we should perhaps affirm that ‘of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ Despite his melancholy, Edward Thomas can lead us to the gate thereof this Eastertide.

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So too could William Blake, who also lived in Sussex. Surely this little engraving shows the cliffs and downs of nearbyBeachy Head?

MMB

1 WH Davies’ description of his friend. The poet Percy Bysse Shelley was born in 1892 and died at the Bay of Spezia in 1822.

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20 April. Stations of the Cross for saint Peter: 14, Jesus is buried.

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His own people did not accept Jesus. Peter left Joseph to bury the Lord’s body; the disciples met together afterwards, but Judas did not come back.

Scripture references: Peter’s betrayal: Matthew 26: 69-75; Waiting: Luke 23:56; 24: 9-11; Judas: John 13: 21-30; Matthew 27: 3-10.

I was in total shock. My world had crumbled into pieces. I had said that I didn’t know my Lord. And my Lord was taken away; my Lord was killed. I was helpless. At least Joseph made sure that the practical things that had to be done, were done. I blundered off to our guest house with the others. no-one could speak. No-one wanted to eat: the bridegroom had gone. Still, we waited together. But Judas never came back.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.

Let us pray that we may have the courage to persevere from day to day when life seems difficult or unbearable.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.

 

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