Tag Archives: despair

16 July: Hope and happiness by Samuel Johnson

Dr Johnson suggests a concise theology of hope – as opposed to ‘improper expectation’. As for that lottery ticket, that requires the common course of things to be changed!

Hope is itself a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords: but, like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain; and expectations improperly indulged, must end in disappointment. If it be asked, what is the improper expectation which it is dangerous to indulge, experience will quickly answer, that it is such expectation as is dictated not by reason, but by desire; expectation raised, not by the common occurrences of life, but by the wants of the expectant; an expectation that requires the common course of things to be changed, and the general rules of action to be broken.

It is necessary to hope, though hope should always be deluded; for hope itself is happiness, and its frustrations, however frequent, are less dreadful than its extinction.’ The Idler, No. 58.

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

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31 May, Pentecost: The Dove Descending

somers.town. pentecost

“The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

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T.S. Eliot famously could connect nothing with nothing, sitting where we are now, looking across Margate sands. But he also had an insight into Something breaking through the shell of nothingness.

No easy comfort here, but a person can choose to be consumed by the fire – of love.

Pentecost today, the Spirit descends as dove and fire in this window from St Aloysius’ Somers Town, London.

From Eliot’s Four Quartets.

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27 May: Time is short

dover17.NDW.closed.and.muddy.
It is heroic to hug one’s sorrow and determine not to be consoled.
But a fresh face peeps across my door and raises its eyes to my eyes.
I cannot but wipe away my tears and change the tune of my song.
For time is short.

from “The Gardener” by Rabindranath Tagore
Surely hugging one’s sorrow and refusing consolation is to be the hero in one’s own tuppence-coloured soap opera? After a catastrophic event in life it is surely normal and good to take time to recuperate, but live on we must, commending all things to their Creator. Maybe the poet is writing in the person of a young teenager, a star-crossed lover? He follows the philosophy, not of Romeo and Juliet, but of Clementine’s admirer: How I missed her, how I missed my Clementine, but I kissed her pretty sister and forgot my Clementine. Time is short. Let’s not succumb to worrying about the virus or its effects. let’s rather be here, full of hope for whoever needs to hear a change of tune.

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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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30 April: Spring is the last true thing

Easter

There was rapture of spring in the morning
When we told our love in the wood,
For you were the spring in my heart, dear lad.
And I vowed that my life was good.
But there's winter of war in the evening,
And lowering clouds overhead,
There's wailing of wind in the chimney nook,
And I vow that my life lies dead.
For the sun may shine on the meadow lands
And the dog rose bloom in the lanes,
But I've only weeds in my garden, lad,
Wild weeds that are rank with the rains.
One solace there is for me, sweet but faint,
As it floats on the wind of the years,
A whisper that spring is the last true thing
And that triumph is born of tears.
It comes from a garden of other days,
And an echoing voice that cries,
Behold I am alive for evermore, And in Me shall the dead arise.

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy
(Woodbine Willie).

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April 19, Emmaus VII: helping those on the road.

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A Reflection on the “Walk to Emmaus” from Luke’s Gospel by David Bex and Vincent Dunkling of L’Arche Kent.

How many of us have been on that road to Emmaus? A journey that is full of emotions that stop us from being able to recognise where we are in our lives. A journey that throws obstacles in the way of asking for help? A journey that we feel has no end.

Mental health provision in this country is so poor that there are thousands who are on this road to Emmaus and are not getting the help they need.

How can you help those on the road?

 

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11 April, Holy Saturday: The Passion of Mary

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On this Saturday as children we were invited to think of Mary. I for one could not get beyond an air of dull pain engendered by the stripped, silent church – an opportunity to get some deep cleaning and polishing done, it’s true, but all in a punishing silence. Francis Thompson knew pain more intimately than most people. We sang these verses during Lent.

VERSES IN PASSION-TIDE

O LADY Mary, thy bright crown
Is no mere crown of majesty;
For with the reflex of His own
Resplendent thorns Christ circled thee.

The red rose of this Passion-tide
Doth take a deeper hue from thee,
In the five wounds of Jesus dyed,
And in thy bleeding thoughts, Mary!

The soldier struck a triple stroke,
That smote thy Jesus on the tree:
He broke the Heart of Hearts, and broke
The Saint’s and Mother’s hearts in thee.

Thy Son went up the angels’ ways,
His passion ended; but, ah me!
Thou found’st the road of further days
A longer way of Calvary:

On the hard cross of hope deferred
Thou hung’st in loving agony,
Until the mortal-dreaded word
Which chills our mirth, spake mirth to thee.

The angel Death from this cold tomb
Of life did roll the stone away;
And He thou barest in thy womb
Caught thee at last into the day,
Before the living throne of Whom
The Lights of Heaven burning pray.

L’ENVOY

O thou who dwellest in the day!
Behold, I pace amidst the gloom:
Darkness is ever round my way
With little space for sunbeam-room.

Yet Christian sadness is divine
Even as thy patient sadness was:
The salt tears in our life’s dark wine
Fell in it from the saving cross.

Bitter the bread of our repast;
Yet doth a sweet the bitter leaven:
Our sorrow is the shadow cast
Around it by the light of Heaven.

O light in Light, shine down from Heaven!

Francis Thompson knew the bitterness of life; it was difficult, at times, for his friends to help him out of the shadows into the light in which he believed. Hoping against hope. he paced amid the gloom of 19th Century London streets, yet looking for mirth beyond death.

If you can ask a friend to pray for you, then in the communion of saints and life everlasting, you can ask Mary to pray for you too. If you are a poet, you can address her in poetry.

Much of the imagery of Thomson’s poem can be seen in the Rood from Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge; but this is a Risen Jesus, wearing a truly royal crown, not the resplendent thorns. Let us pray that Francis Thompson may be forever surrounded by the light of Heaven, and that we too may join him.

 

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26 March: Saint Joseph in the Desert (XXVII)

This image of the Holy Family comes from Africa, though not Egypt, the part where Joseph led his wife and child at such short notice to preserve Jesus’ life. Although his feastday was last week, we did not want to interrupt Pope Francis’s train of thought by posting this reflection on the 19th. And it sits well just after the Annunciation which took place not long before the Flight into Egypt.

Here is Joseph the refugee, suddenly grown to superhero status, protecting his family with wisdom. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, but the man was not acting alone:

Behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him.

Who arose, and took the child and his mother by night, and retired into Egypt. Matthew 2:13-14.

There will be times that we just have to get through, so daunting they may seem before the fact; a truly desert experience. But with God’s grace we become, like Joseph, superheroes for a while, though it may not feel like it, leading our dear ones through the encircling gloom.

I have no doubt that whenever he heard the story of the flight into Egypt, Jesus will have seen his dad as a superhero. Let’s pray for the grace to step up and don the hero’s cloak whenever anyone needs help, even if it’s just a couple of lost souls unsure of how to find their way through town.

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Going Viral VIII: local angels.

This story appeared in the Independent Catholic News. For the full text see the link.

https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/39178

A flyer popped through our door offering help if we were isolated, elderly or lonely. We are not, but I was incredibly touched by the kindness of the two strangers who gave their phone numbers to contact should we need them. I texted to thank them for their care and concern.

In the face of disaster, uncertainty and, for some despair, there is charity, unconditional love and hope. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this initiative carried on once life gets back to normality – communities pulling together and looking out for the most vulnerable in their midst. Scrolling through the link my ‘angels’ sent me, the local help group had offers of shopping, gardening, dog walking and students whose courses were now cancelled who wanted to help with children off school – so many different people volunteering for one or two streets’ worth of help.

Yesterday I discovered a host of angels in my community and now I know their names.

Anne O’Connor

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8 March, Desert XI: Fear 4.

mercy.ruin

Thomas Merton is living through the hotter part of the Cold War; the Cuban Missile Crisis would blow up a year later; he had cause to be afraid. In the days before this diary entry,* bombers had been flying low over the Monastery of Gethsemane, his home. Thinking about US and world politics aroused:

… my own fear, my own desperate desire to survive, even if only as a voice uttering an angry protest, while the waters of death close over the whole continent.

Why am I so willing to believe that the country will be destroyed? It is certainly possible, and in some sense it may even be likely. But this is a case where, in spite of evidence, one must continue to hope. One must not give in to defeatism and despair, just as one must hope for life in a mortal illness which has been declared incurable.

This is the point. This weakness and petulancy, rooted in egoism. 

Defeatism and despair are rooted in egoism, and they are not necessarily good survival tactics. Let us ask the Lord for a taste of the perfect love that casts out fear and despair

Thomas Merton, Turning towards the World, HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, p162.

Image from CD.

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