Tag Archives: death

9 August, Browning XXII: Above the storms

Rosa Veilchenblau

I realised yesterday that six months and more had gone by with these posts in the drafts box. Much as I love trees, I have to say that the sunshine is reaching the parts of my daughter’s garden where a badly treated one was removed! Here’s an indomitable rose from Mrs O’s garden,

And altogether, I may say that the earth looks the brighter to me in proportion to my own deprivations. The laburnum trees and rose trees are plucked up by the roots—but the sunshine is in their places, and the root of the sunshine is above the storms.
 
What we call Life is a condition of the soul, and the soul must improve in happiness and wisdom, except by its own fault. These tears in our eyes, these faintings of the flesh, will not hinder such improvement.
 
the Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846
 
 

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5 August: Passion flowers

Another glimpse of Nineteenth Century Britain: Three passion flower graves seen on a recent walk: the first with the passion flower vine climbing the Cross, mingling with the Crown of Thorns to frame the Monogram, IHS, meaning Jesus, is an explicit Act of Faith; we found it near the entrance to Canterbury Cemetery. The second is nearby: from the end of the Century, the carving more rigid than on other stones we have seen. The passion flower is joined by a morning glory to our left, a rose to the right, and a lily above. The final stone is one we missed earlier in Harbledown churchyard. This is from 1940, a good half century later than anything we’ve spotted so far.

We reflected on the meaning of passion flowers here. It’s an interesting read. I close with the last paragraph of that post.

When you see a passionflower let it remind you that Jesus is real, his death was real, as indeed will ours be – but so, too, will our rising. And when you see a passionflower on a gravestone, send us a picture to put in the blog!

passionflower.real.jpg

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4 August: Samuel Johnson at prayer.

Samuel Johnson was like Dylan Thomas at least in his love for words and for writing the best words he could to convey his meaning. The following prayer was composed by him at the time he was finishing his dictionary. A labour indeed!

O GOD, who hast hitherto supported me, enable me to proceed in this labour, and in the whole task of my present state; that when I shall render up, at the last day, an account of the talent committed to me, I may receive pardon, for the sake of JESUS CHRIST. Amen.

Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765 by James Boswell

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17 July: The tyranny of caprice, by Dr Johnson

Dr Johnson’s first sentence reminds us that the Catholic church was still regarded with suspicion in England in the 1740s, even if there was a growing degree of toleration. But he seizes a part of the monastic vocation in this paragraph, as well as presenting us with the mystery of death and dying. Right now, I would quit this life with reluctance, but I hope that I will be able to say my Nunc dimittis when the time comes. Meanwhile, free me from the tyranny of caprice, my own and other people’s!

“I do not wonder that, where the monastick life is permitted, every order finds votaries, and every monastery inhabitants. Men will submit to any rule, by which they may be exempted from the tyranny of caprice and of chance. They are glad to supply by external authority their own want of constancy and resolution, and court the government of others, when long experience has convinced them of their own inability to govern themselves. If I were to visit Italy, my curiosity would be more attracted by convents than by palaces: though I am afraid that I should find expectation in both places equally disappointed, and life in both places supported with impatience and quitted with reluctance. That it must be so soon quitted, is a powerful remedy against impatience; but what shall free us from reluctance? Those who have endeavoured to teach us to die well, have taught few to die willingly: yet I cannot but hope that a good life might end at last in a contented death. ‘

From “Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765” by James Boswell.

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29 June: In Peril on the Sea: Peter and his wife.

mallaig.fisherman.statue

This fisherman and his wee daughter stand on the quay at Mallaig, the Scottish port famous as the embarkation point for the Isles of the Hebrides. Many fishermen never came back home from the sea, leaving their families in a precarious way,

The tower beside the statues is modern technology, making the fishermen’s lives safer; good communication of weather problems can persuade the boats to come in in good time.

Peter knew fear on the lake when the waves came right behind the storm and he expected the boat to go down. Jesus walked out across the water, and for a few moments Peter did so too. Like someone learning to ride a bike, he panicked and disaster nearly followed. Some time later it sunk in that Jesus would never abandon him. As his second letter says: (2:9)

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

We hear no more of Peter’s wife after Jesus heals her mother except for one mention in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (9:5):

Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas*?

Did they have children? Did the whole family go to Rome in Nero’s time? Certainly Peter’s wife seems to have spent some time as a missionary with him. In those days there was no GPS, no radar, radio, coastguard stations, or even life jackets; no private suite cabin. But Jesus would never abandon them.

Peter came to repentance the instant he abandoned Jesus; a few weeks later he was sent to feed his sheep.

Leet us not be afraid to live the Gospel of Love, preaching it by the example of our lives, as did Peter and his wife. Lord hear us.

*Meaning Peter.

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26 May: Pamela Dodds R.I.P.

At last, this afternoon we can commit Pamela’s body to the ground by way of the crematorium. Bureaucracy doing what bureaucracy does, or doesn’t do.

When I say ‘we’, it will be just ten of us, unless the restrictions have been eased since the start of the month. We can come together in bigger numbers to celebrate her life once we can all breathe the same air again.

Meanwhile we pray for her, confident that the Good Shepherd has found her and brought her home.

This duck was a gift to our family from Pam. We painted it up like an Aylesbury duck, a popular British breed. It stands guard over our house which was named Aylesbury Villas by the Victorian builder. So we feel Pam is close to us, thanks to this relic!

Click here to read Eddie Gilmore’s appreciation of Pamela.

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22 May: The mind has mountains.

“O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins

So let’s be a little more serious about the sorrow we looked at yesterday. Sorrow and depression are real. Hopkins bids us take comfort, even if we are tossed about by a whirlwind of spinning emotions and thoughts. We know our sorrow will at least have an end in death: life death does end. But does this mean that death brings an end to a frightful life, or that life puts an end to death? I would suggest both arguments hold true. And each day dies with sleep, ‘and another succeeds it’ is the subtext of that word ‘each’. We always have another chance to open our eyes and say with another of Wales’ poets, WH Davies:

Good morning Life, and all things glad and beautiful.

It may feel all wrong at this moment to be uttering such a prayer, but that does not mean that it is actually wrong to make an act of hope.

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Going viral XXXIV: Passion flowers on our doorstep.

Walking around during lockdown, we came to Saint Stephen's church. Many years ago we came here regularly for Roman Catholic Mass. Today the church, like all churches, is closed, but not the churchyard. We found one stone with a passionflower, bottom centre of the disc, amid roses, a morning glory (?) and others that must have meant something to the bereaved husband. There are oak leaves and acorns in the triangular panels below the disc.

This verse is my best reading of the damaged inscription. It speaks of hope.

A happy world, a glorious place
Where all who are forgiven
Shall find their loved and best beloved
And hearts like meeting streams that flow
For everyone in heaven.

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Going viral XXXI: safer indoors.

Our Friend Christina has been reflecting on the virus more head on than we have, with some thoughts on death and Mary. I’ll let you Read her reflection here.

What I wanted to pick out of it was her opening: “Son, why have you done this to us?” Luke 2:48, which comes from the story of Jesus ‘lost and found’ in hs youth. Christina goes on:

[On Good Friday evening] Memories flooded over her of that evening (… was it only a couple of days or a couple of decades ago?…) when she walked through the caravan of pilgrims to gather her son to her for the night, and she could not find Him. He wasn’t there … and the words of the holy man Simeon had come back to her as she felt a sword of anxiety pierce her heart with love for her missing child.

But she did not stop him on his pilgrimage to Calvary. And on the third day, this time he came looking for her.

Thank you, Christina for sharing with us.

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8 May: VE Day, The Cherry Trees.

The cherry trees bend over and are shedding
On the old road where all that passed are dead,
Their petals, strewing the grass as for a wedding
This early May morn when there is none to wed.

Edward Thomas

This is a war poem. All Edward Thomas’s poems were written with the Great War in the background, here we have loaded words, shedding, dead, followed by the hammer blow, ‘There is none to wed.’ The men were gone to war, as he was going, never to return.

The cherry trees in Thomas’s day would have been like these, with sheep, swine or geese grazing under them. The fruit would have been picked using a wooden ladder, tapering at the top to get between branches, but you could walk between and beneath the trees. The orchard is a fortnight or so before its flowering time, but the ornamental cherry at Saint Mildred’s, Canterbury, was shedding petals this week, strewing the grass.

No weddings this May, due to the corona virus. Edward Thomas could have been writing for us but his wife Helen was an appreciative reader, saying proudly that he found beauty where other people could not see it.

On this VE Day let’s pray for eyes to see the flowers of the field in all their divine glory. Let’s be thankful for all that has been done, these past 75 years, to bring peace to Europe, reconciling former enemies, and over the last 30 years, remedying some of the harm done by the Iron Curtain. Let us pray that peace and understanding will continue growing despite the setbacks of recent times.

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