Tag Archives: despair

20 January, Church Unity Week: Unusual Kindness III.

cross.st.nick.cathedral

This year’s reflections for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity were prepared by the Churches in Malta and Gozo. We are sharing elements of their prayers, but follow the link for the full resources for personal or community prayer.

Naturally, the Maltese Christians draw our attention to the story in Acts 27-28 of how Paul, a prisoner in chains, was among a group who survived being shipwrecked on Malta.

Paul standing forth in the midst of them, said: be of good cheer. For there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but only of the ship … there shall not an hair of the head of any of you perish.’ (27:22, 34).

Reflection

Keep up your courage when the storms of life wash you up on an unexpected shore.14, 

Keep up your courage, take barricades down, welcome the stranger, become the guest.

Keep up your courage, listen to the other, seek to understand; disagree agreeably.

Keep up your courage when the ship runs aground, prepare a new vessel, chart another course.

Keep up your courage, stowaways, castaways: whatever our crew, it’s all hands on deck, creation made new.

Prayer

God of mercy, lost and disheartened, we turn to You.

Instil in us Your hope and courage.

May our churches strive for the unity for which Your Son prayed on the eve of His passion.

We ask this through Him who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.

Amen.

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2 January; In the grey Mancunian midwinter.

north pole

Not long before Christmas I took a railway journey across Manchester on one of the darkest days of the year. Since I was visiting my mother for her birthday, I resisted the temptation to continue towards Blackpool North (Pole), but the signaller’s humour was welcome on a bleak morning.

ok not okIt was also good to see this note from Sam on behalf of the Samaritans, who are well aware that this season is not festive for everybody. Sadly, the railway is often a suffering soul’s chosen suicide spot. Sam’s message may persuade someone to ring them, as may the message on many train tickets.

samaritans.ticket nov2017By the time I was making my return journey, the weather had turned from a saturated mist to a greasy drizzle. Walking to Greenfield station with bright LED headlights shining in my face was no joy.

But Saddleworth Catholic church of the Sacred Heart already had their crib on display in the porch. A reminder of the hope that is in us.

Christian or not, we are given the virtue of hope to see us through the dark times. Christian or not, a helpless babe is not hopeless. He or she reaches out in trust. For  those whose ability to trust has been eroded through others’ inhumanity, a word, a smile may make a difference. Few of us will ever find ourselves stepping in to prevent a suicide at the last moment, but we may, all unknowingly, help to do so before that.

From across the main road, my view of the crib was no better than in the photo, but I knew what I was looking at: even in the darkest, murkiest times, there is hope.

crib saddleworth.jpg

 

 

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October 25, Month of Mission: Beachy Head Chaplains

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William Blake lived near Beachy Head in Sussex, part of the range of chalk cliffs he drew as a background for this verse.

Virginia Woolf was to drown herself in the nearby River Ouse a century and a half later, but today it is the cliffs themselves that attract the lonely, depressed and overwhelmed who are tempted to take their lives.

The Beachy Head Chaplaincy team are Christians from local churches ‘and although we reach out with the love of God, we never impose our faith on the people we seek to help.

‘We believe that by receiving skilled crisis intervention support at their time of crisis, people in suicidal distress can be awakened to the hope that there are other ways forward to address the problems they face.’judas

The Apostle Judas went out and hanged himself after seeing Jesus arrested and condemned, but the artist of Strasbourg Cathedral’s west front shows us the Lamb of God coming to release him from his noose and away from the mouth of Hell to go in at Heaven’s Gate.

In their different ways, the well-to-do and well-connected Virginia Woolf, and the disciple who was trusted by Jesus, were both privileged, yet both knew despair. It is not for us to condemn them, or any other suicide; rather let us support with prayer and alms brave good neighbours like the Samaritans and the Beachy Head Chaplains, not forgetting the official first responders, Police, Ambulance, Fire, Coastguard and Lifeboats.

And may we be ready with small talk or even a just a smile for anyone we meet.  Lead, Kindly Light!

 

 

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22 September: A railway reminder

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I was leaving a railway station when the Samaritans’ placard caught my eye: it was fastened to the railing at the top of the footbridge, so that everyone could see it as they climbed. A mental ‘thumbs-up’ to them from me!

The following day, on the rails again, I turned my tickets over to find two different messages from the Samaritans. Notice the slogan, ‘small talk saves lives.‘ The life of an individual human being is small when set against the whole of Creation, but it is all that that person knows, through their own direct experience or through conversation, reading, viewing or listening: their one life is the big thing for them, with sensations and experiences arriving constantly from all sides, not all of them welcome, some of them overwhelming.

tickets

 

If a beloved feels overwhelmed, it’s a big thing for those who care for them. So big that they too may feel overwhelmed and not know what to do or say.

So perhaps Jesus was right to tell us to ‘consider the lilies of the field.’ (Matthew 6:28)  Small things, small talk. There was heather encroaching on the Yorkshire station; lovely purple flowers, but too far away on the opposite platform for me to catch the scent and comment on it to a fellow passenger.

On the return journey two sisters and their four teenaged children were on the train, talking about everything and nothing: small talk that meant nothing and everything. Another advert proclaimed that ‘I love you’ is one of the hardest things to say; but every word and gesture in this group announced that message loud and clear.

Even small words are not always needed. I had a profound experience on an underground train soon after a terrorist attack. I found myself standing next to a British Transport policeman. He was very tired, and had seen I know not what. Not a word was spoken, no gesture, no touch, but I prayed in my heart. When he got off he said, Thank You, and disappeared into the night.

 

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19 August, Readings from Mary Webb XXV: The Door.

 

amsterdam.door.artist.plaque

I heard humanity, through all the years,
Wailing, and beating on a dark, vast door
With urgent hands and eyes blinded by tears.
Will none come forth to them for evermore?
Like children at their father’s door, who wait,
Crying ‘Let us in!’ on some bright birthday morn,
Quite sure of joy, they grow disconsolate,
Left in the cold unanswered and forlorn.
Forgetting even their toys in their alarms,
They only long to climb on father’s bed
And cry their terrors out in father’s arms.
And maybe, all the while, their father’s dead.

Here we see that Mary Webb felt the despair that drew the student artist we mentioned yesterday to take her own life. Mary Webb was very close to her father and devastated by his death. Of course there is more than that event here. One reason the Father’s door seems closed to some of God’s children may be that we Christians are not active enough in keeping it open and welcoming. 

mercydoorkrakow

 

Time to remember the Doors of Mercy around the world: this one was in Krakow, with the light of the candles welcoming us in. Let us have a light in our smile. ready for anyone who comes our way. Our smile is the Father’s smile, a joyful but tremendous responsibility.
samaritans cards 2019

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18 August: Mini Pilgrimage around Canterbury III.

 

 

We moved on to Saint Martin’s Church, where our prayer was extempore.

The two walls shown here include plenty of Roman brick as well as a few local flints. There are three blocked off doorways; the central one may be the one Saint Bertha used in 597. The windows and buttress are recent. The ground has risen above the level of the church floor – is that 1400 years of burials? 

Saint Martin’s Chancel showing Roman red bricks.

From the oldest Church in town we went to one of the newest, the chapel of Canterbury Christ Church University. ‘Wow!’ said Caroline. It is a lovely space, but we especially came to see the tapestry.

cccu chapel tapistry

Dear Lord our Father,

Jesus the Good Shepherd bids us welcome and extends to us the invitation “Come to me”. He knows the troubles we have, our weariness and our failing strength as we try our best to live our lives in keeping with your overarching plan for us and for the world.

Remind us to always turn to him for comfort and restoration whenever we feel life is becoming burdensome.

We are all at times lost sheep, in need of a desire to come back to you.

At this time we remember the artist of the Lost Sheep painting and entrust her soul to your tender care. May all those who find life difficult remember your invitation to come back to you. Amen

The Lost Sheep painting that hung in the chapel was by a former student who was found dead in the Solent. 

Before leaving we looked at the Bible, open at Romans:

It is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’

A good verse for pilgrims!


We made our way back to Saint Mildred’s and stopped there to see the Good Shepherd statue, before we sat down, in true L’Arche tradition, to share a meal together.

good shepherd s mildred.jpg

There are many other places we could visit next time we have a MINI PILGRIMAGE AROUND CANTERBURY. Let’s see what next year brings!

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June 8: Above a whisper

samaritans cards 2019

The day after I published the post ‘After all the Shouting’, praising the work of the Samaritans’ listeners, I turned up at Canterbury West Station again. This time there were tables outside the door, and a group of Samaritans, my friend L’s colleagues. Sadly, the electric railway does attract those seeking to end their lives; it’s  a good spot to raise people’s awareness of the Samaritans’ services.

‘Thank you for sharing our work,’ I was told, when I told how I had posted about them here. The woman I spoke to gave me these cards, so feel free to share the telephone number – or whatever your country’s local equivalent might be.

‘And although we have seventy volunteers, we could always use more to maintain our 24 hour service, seven days a week. We can’t manage that at present.’

For myself, I’ve been drawn back into L’Arche  Kent, and could easily find myself involved there 24/7. There’s always something to be done, and a friend or two to do it with, as you’ll appreciate if you’ve followed our recent pilgrimage posts. But where do your gifts and inclinations lie?

Please pray for the Samaritans and for those who turn to them and other helplines in times of need and distress.

 

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After all the shouting

 

samaritans' poster cbw

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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April 7: Stations of the Cross for Saint Peter. Introduction.

winchester crucifix

Introduction

Over the coming fortnight our posts will follow the Stations of the Cross from the point of view of Peter. You are invited to sit with him in prison in Rome under Nero’s persecution of the Christian church. He has time to reflect on his life with Jesus, and especially on the events of those few nights and days at the end of his Lord’s earthly life.

When someone is hurt, those around feel it too. All the more if they have let their loved one down, betrayed them, in big things or in small. Jesus suffers and dies with his brothers and sisters every day – near at hand and in lands far away. Do we walk away – like the disciples on the way to Emmaus? Do we harden our hearts, as Malchus and his companions must have done, to carry on arresting Jesus after he’d cured that severed ear?

Do we run off and weep as Peter did? Despair, as Judas did?

Do we let Jesus seek us out and help us back onto our feet, as Peter did?

These stations link the Via Dolorosa to other events in the lives of Jesus and Peter. If we could see the whole picture we would know that the life and death of Jesus are one story: as Rowan Williams said, he lived a lifelong Passion. We are his body and our lives make sense in his.

As we walk with Peter, yards behind Jesus, almost out of sight, let us pray that we may see more clearly our own sufferings and our own betrayals alongside our joys. May we see more clearly how our sisters and brothers are betrayed and abandoned by us. may we then be ready to let Jesus come and find us, put us back on our  feet, and lead us into his Kingdom of service.

For each station there are Scripture references to the Way of the Cross and to parallel events in the lives of Peter and Jesus.

These Stations were followed in Saint Thomas’s Church, Canterbury in 2005.

Winchester Cathedral, MMB.

 

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12 February :For those in peril.

samaritans.ticket nov2017We have written before to praise the initiative of the Samaritans and the British railway companies for their efforts to prevent suicides. The ticket shown above is just one way this happens. There has been extensive staff training and there are prominent notices giving the same message at stations and level crossings.

The suicide does not realise how great is the distress for those left behind, as many of us will have witnessed. I remember helping out in a school in a state of shock after a popular teacher died in his car at a level crossing, just before the end of the summer holiday. He could not face the return to his demanding work: the students had emotional and social problems and were difficult to control.  However he felt about his role, the staff and students all spoke highly of him. But he could not see that clearly.

This plaque is clear enough. It is displayed on the harbour arm at Whitby in Yorkshire, for there are those, like Virginia Woolf, who choose to end their lives by drowning. We can – and should – read the inscription as praise of the Creator, but it also as a prayer for the would-be suicide, and an invitation to turn again, to repent of despair.

Let us pray that the new year will be a season of hope rather than gloom for those who all too easily see the dark side. And let us have the courage, as a recent Samaritans advertisement puts it, to make small talk at the school gate, in the queue, on the bus.

How’s the weather where you are?

 

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