Tag Archives: eternity

19 May: Easter, by George Herbert

The risen Lord by Saint Dunstan, monk, blacksmith, artist, and Archbishop of Canterbury. Died 988; his feastday is today.

Easter lasts for fifty days – until Pentecost, when the season of the Holy Spirit begins. George Herbert reminds us that we miss-count the days and seasons: there is just the one day that matters and that day, Easter, is not over in 24 hours, but is eternal, or as Herbert says, ‘ever’. Enjoy the physical images, ‘calcined’, resounding wood, strings and sinews; Herbert was a musician.

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delays,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The cross taught all wood to resound his name,
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long:
Or, since all music is but three parts vied
And multiplied,
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

I got me flowers to straw thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sun arising in the East,
Though he give light, and th’ East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this,
Though many suns to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we miss:
There is but one, and that one ever.

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11 January: Thomas Traherne XX: the world opens his nature.

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The Services which the world doth you, are transcendent to all imagination. Did it only sustain your body and preserve your life and comfort your senses, you were bound to value it as much as those services were worth: but it discovers the being of God unto you, it opens His nature, and shews you His wisdom, goodness and power, it magnifies His love unto you, it serves Angels and men for you, it entertains you with many lovely and glorious objects, it feeds you with joys, and becomes a theme that furnishes you with perpetual praises and thanksgivings, it enflameth you with the love of God, and in the link of your union and communion with Him. It is the temple wherein you are exalted to glory and honour, and the visible porch or gate of Eternity: a sure pledge of Eternal joys, to all them that walk before God and are perfect in it.

From the Second Century of Meditations, 1. (Meditations 2:1)

This meditation follows on well from yesterday’s poem: those bubbles of joy may take us to Eden, but they are fed to us by the world in which we have been created.

Let us reflect on how we can make this Porch of Eternity in which we live more transparent to the eternal joys that the God who walks with us is waiting to pour out for us.  WT.

Goatsbeard seed head, a sphere of joy, a lovely and glorious object.

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4 November: Death and God’s Mercy in the Frozen North.

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Sir Edward Leithen, a Scottish Lawyer is snowbound in Northern Canada, dying of TB in the company of trappers, Indians, and a Quebecois business man who has lost his bearings. Leithen finds his Calvinistic, predestinarian beliefs challenged in the face of the realities he is facing in the North.

The trappers kept a fire going to keep Leithen alive. Picture from SJC

 

Here in this iron and icy world man was a pigmy and God was all in all. Like Job, he was abashed by the divine majesty and could put his face in the dust. It was the temper in which he wished to pass out of life. He asked for nothing—”nut in the husk, nor dawn in the dusk, nor life beyond death.” He had already much more than his deserts! 

Now there suddenly broke in on him like a sunrise a sense of God’s mercy—deeper than the fore-ordination of things, like a great mercifulness… Out of the cruel North most of the birds had flown south from ancient instinct, and would return to keep the wheel of life moving. Merciful! But some remained, snatching safety by cunning ways from the winter of death. Merciful! Under the fetters of ice and snow there were little animals lying snug in holes, and fish under the frozen streams, and bears asleep in their lie-ups, and moose stamping out their yards, and caribou rooting for their grey moss. Merciful! And human beings, men, women, and children, fending off winter and sustaining life by an instinct old as that of the migrating birds. … Surely, surely, behind the reign of law and the coercion of power there was a deep purpose of mercy.

The thought induced in Leithen a tenderness to which he had been long a stranger. He had put life away from him, and it had come back to him in a final reconciliation. He had always hoped to die in April weather when the surge of returning life would be a kind of earnest of immortality. Now, when presently death came to him, it would be like dying in the spring.

John Buchan, Sick Heart River, 1941; Penguin edition 1985.

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November 2: Solitude

sjc. solitude hanging

The room is still but for the ticking clock
and like a snowfall stillness settles round,
and in come presences that needn’t knock,
familiar, homing souls, without a sound.

It isn’t always so – so calm, so quiet,
but now the gentle spirits take their ease
as afternoon melts into shadowed night
and birds seek shelter in the darkening trees.

As night advances, sky turns indigo
and slate-grey clouds in bundles fill the east.
I watch. I seem alone, but I’m with you –
my brothers, sisters summoned to the feast.

In solitude I know that we are one.
In solitude I hear the bridegroom come.

SJC

Definitely a poem for All Saints’ Tide. Thank you Sister Johanna! 

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1 November: All Saints?

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As part of my random self-education in the classics, I’ve been reading Cary’s Victorian translation of  Dante’s Divine Comedy. This passage is very near the beginning. Dante in his vision or dream is in a forest, where he meets Virgil, the Roman poet and philosopher, who offers to guide him through the world to come, as far as Heaven’s Gate. But he adds:
“The blest,
Into whose regions if thou then desire
T’ ascend, a spirit worthier then I
Must lead thee, in whose charge, when I depart,
Thou shalt be left: for that Almighty King,
Who reigns above, a rebel to his law,
Adjudges me, and therefore hath decreed,
That to his city none through me should come.
He in all parts hath sway; there rules, there holds
His citadel and throne. O happy those,
Whom there he chooses!”
In other words, Virgil himself is banned from heaven as ‘a rebel’ to God’s law, and no-one can come to heaven through him. This is in contradiction to what happens in the book! He does indeed guide Dante towards heaven.
On All Saints Day, let us be mindful of the good, non-Christian people whom we know, who live exemplary lives, perhaps with no thought of an afterlife or a heavenly reward. Happy, perhaps, to accept just one earthly  life and the prospect of final extinction at 70 or 80, but to live a life of loving service to the end.
May God choose them – Virgil included – to join him in his citadel!

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February 25: Wonderfully unguessed at! Brownings V.

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I would hope Elizabeth Barrett’s piano was more tuneful than this Victorian specimen, on long-term loan at the Turnstone’s till its owner can give it houseroom. Elizabeth is writing to Robert of the consequences of her confinement to her room after her injury and illness. This seemed worth putting alongside Traherne’s scientific and theological reflections yesterday. And again, reflect: only this afternoon I was able to listen on the BBC to Brahms’s German Requiem; Elizabeth had not heard any vast choral work, except perhaps in a church service, despite living in London. We have much to be grateful for. And how ignorant are we?

If ever I am in the Sistine Chapel, what teaching I shall want, I who have seen so few pictures, and love them only as children do, with an unlearned love, just for the sake of the thoughts they bring. Wonderfully ignorant I am, to have had eyes and ears so long!

There is music, now, which lifts the hair on my head, I feel it so much, … yet all I know of it as art, all I have heard of the works of the masters in it, has been the mere sign and suggestion, such as the private piano may give. I never heard an oratorio, for instance, in my life—judge by that! It is a guess, I make, at all the greatness and divinity … feeling in it, though, distinctly and certainly, that a composer like Beethoven must stand above the divinest painter in soul-godhead, and nearest to the true poet, of all artists. And this I felt in my guess, long before I knew you.

But observe how, if I had died in this illness, I should have left a sealed world behind me! you, unknown too—unguessed at, you, … in many respects, wonderfully unguessed at! Lately I have learnt to despise my own instincts. And apart from those—and you, … it was right for me to be melancholy, in the consciousness of passing blindfolded under all the world-stars, and of going out into another side of the creation, with a blank for the experience of this … the last revelation, unread! How the thought of it used to depress me sometimes!

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February 24. Present in spirit with all Eternity: Thomas Traherne XVII.

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It’s worth reminding ourselves that this meditation was written before photography, cinema or human flight! Read it slowly, to absorb the language more fully.

The contemplation of Eternity maketh the Soul immortal. Whose glory it is, that it can see before and after its existence into endless spaces. Its Sight is its presence. And therefore in the presence of the understanding endless, because its Sight is so. O what glorious creatures should we be, could we be present in spirit with all Eternity! How wise, would we esteem this presence of the understanding, to be more real than that of our bodies!

When my soul is in Eden with our first parents, I myself am. there in a blessed manner. When I walk with Enoch, and see his translation, I am transported with him. The present age is too little to contain it. I can visit Noah in his ark, and swim upon the waters of the deluge. I can see Moses with his rod, and the children of Israel passing through the sea; I can enter into Aaron’s Tabernacle, and admire the mysteries of the holy place.

can travel over the Land of Canaan, and see it overflowing with milk and honey; I can visit Solomon in his glory, and go into his temple, and view the sitting of his servants, and admire the magnificence and glory of his kingdom. No creature but one like unto the Holy Angels can see into all ages. Sure this power was not given in vain, but for some wonderful purpose; worthy of itself to enjoy and fathom. Would men consider what God hath done, they would be ravished in spirit with the glory of His doings. For Heaven and Earth are full of the majesty of His glory. And how happy would men be could they see and enjoy it ! -But above all these our Saviour’s cross is the throne of delights. That Centre of Eternity, that Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradise of God!

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February 23. Thomas Traherne XVI: our Saviour’s cross exerciseth all the powers of his soul.

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Let’s revisit Thomas Traherne, always a challenging read. He accepts the New Testament and revels in its ideas and truths. He interprets the doctrine of the Body of Christ in this passage. ‘Our Saviour’s cross … taketh up his thoughts, and exerciseth all the powers of his soul.’ As it did with the artist of Strasbourg Cathedral, above.

You are His, and you are all; or in all, and with all.

He that is in all, and with all, can never be desolate.

All the joys and all the treasures, all the counsels, and all the perfections; all the angels, and all the saints of God are with him. All the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them are continually in his eye. The patriarchs, prophets, and Apostles are always before Him. The councils and the fathers, the bishops and the doctors minister unto him.

All temples are open before him, the melody of all quires reviveth him, the learning of all universities doth employ him, the riches of all palaces delight him, the joys of Eden ravish him, the revelations of St. John transport him, the creation and the day of Judgment please him, the Hosannas of the church militant and the Hallelujahs, of the Saints Triumphant fill him, the splendour of all coronations entertain him, the joys of Heaven surround him, and our Saviour’s cross, like the Centre of Eternity, is in him; it taketh up his thoughts, and exerciseth all the powers of his soul, with wonder, admiration, joy and thanksgiving.

The Omnipotence of God is his House, and Eternity his habitation.

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10 January: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLIV: The Temptations of Brother Ruffino, 1.

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Let’s return to the Little Flowers of Saint Francis with a story that illustrates his insight into his companions’ feelings. We might be tempted to label Brother Ruffino’s temptation as a mental illness, but the thought of being on the road to eternal perdition is enough to unhinge anybody. At the end of the story we will see that Brother Ruffino was an exceptional person – and so of course was Francis, who saw his need and guided him through it.

BROTHER RUFFINO, one of the most noble citizens of Assisi and a companion of Saint Francis, a man of great sanctity, was on a time most grievously assailed and tempted in his soul, in respect of predestination; whereby he became altogether melancholy and sad; for the devil put it into his heart that he was damned and was not of those predestined to eternal life; and that all that he did in the Order was lost. And this temptation continuing day by day, he for shame told it not to Saint Francis, yet ceased not to observe the wonted prayers and fasts: wherefore the enemy began to heap on him sorrow upon sorrow, over and above the battle within, assaulting him also from without with lying apparitions.

Wherefore on a time he appeared to him in the form of the Crucified, and said to him: O
Brother Rufiino, why dost thou afflict thyself in penance and in prayer, seeing that thou art not among those predestined to eternal life? and believe me that I know whom I have elected and predestined, and believe not the son of Peter Bernardoni,1 if he tell thee the contrary, nor question him concerning this matter, for neither he nor any others know, save I alone, who am the Son of God: Brother therefore believe me of a surety that thou art of the number of the damned: and the son of Peter Bernardoni, thy Father, and also his father are damned, and whoso follows him is led astray.”

And said these words, Brother Ruffino began to be so overshadowed by the prince of darkness that he lost all the faith and love he had had for Saint Francis, and took no care to tell him aught thereof. But that which Brother Ruffino did not tell the holy father, the Holy Spirit revealed to him: wherefore Saint Francis, seeing in spirit the great danger of the said brother, sent Brother Masseo to call him; whom Brother Ruffino answered chidingly: “What have I to do with Brother Francis?” Then Brother Masseo, all filled with divine wisdom, perceiving the deception of the devil, said : “O Brother Ruffino, knowest thou not that Brother Francis is as an angel of God, who hath enlightened so many souls in the world, and through whom we have received the grace of God? wherefore I will that thou by all means come with me to him; for I clearly see that thou art deceived by the devil.”

1That is Saint Francis.
Image: Strasbourg Cathedral, the Last Judgement. MMB.

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December 2: Traherne XIII: that He might be good and wise and glorious.

50.40. pilgrimage

As we begin Advent and prepare to remember Christ’s coming at Christmas, we return to Thomas Traherne with a challenging reflection: God willed his Creation into existence in order to be himself, and he became man, to be himself. As he told Moses,  ‘I am’.

God willed the Creation not only that He might Appear but Be: wherein is seated the mystery of the Eternal Generation of His Son. Do you will it as He did, and you shall be glorious as He. He willed the happiness of men and angels not only that He might appear, but be good and wise and glorious.

And He willed it with such infinite desire, that He is infinitely good: infinitely good in Himself, and infinitely blessed in them. Do you will the happiness of men and angels as He did, and you shall be good, and infinitely blessed as He is. All their happiness shall be your happiness as it is His. He willed the glory of all ages, and the government and welfare of all Kingdoms, and the felicity also of the highest cherubims.

As we get nearer to Christmas, Sister Johanna will be sharing her reflections on Jesus as God’s wisdom. Today Thomas Traherne challenges us to be good and wise and glorious too, as Jesus is, eternally.

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