Tag Archives: eternity

13 January: To A Blackbird Singing In London.

Mrs Turnstone likes to remind us that this is the day of the year that the Sun first appears in Greenland. It is also her birthday. While our son is happily settled in London, she feels she has lived there for as long as she ever wants to, but she’ll visit the town, take Abel to an exhibition, or meet up with friends.

After Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who left London to elope with Robert, here is Mary Webb who moved to London to foster her career as a writer. The move brought her little joy, for she was a deep-rooted Shropshire Lass. So here is a melancholic poem from her pen, but one that looks to the ‘stately sun’, symbol of undisdainful death as well as of new life. One of the symptoms of the hyperthyroid Graves’ disease that she endured was swelling of the face which made her feel ‘unlovely’, and aware of ‘slights and lies and unkindnesses’ that more robust souls would have shrugged off.

Despite the melancholy, the blackbird, who is now in good voice, transports Mary to the Shropshire Hills, landing there in Spring, aware in her whole being of Shropshire under the rain and sun. Her kinder life, will it be in heaven only, or also in the golden air of the Welsh borders? I like to think it was experienced on this earth as a gentle preparation for life eternal.

Sing on, dear bird! Bring the old rapturous pain,
In this great town, where I no welcome find.
Show me the murmuring forest in your mind,
And April's fragile cups, brimful of rain.
O sing me far away, that I may hear
The voice of grass, and, weeping, may be blind
To slights and lies and friends that prove unkind.
Sing till my soul dissolves into a tear,
Glimmering within a chaliced daffodil.
So, when the stately sun with burning breath
Absorbs my being, I'll dream that he is Death,
Great Death, the undisdainful. By his will
No more unlovely, haunting all things fair,
I'll seek some kinder life in the golden air.

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11 January: Brownings XXV and silence by the shore

In her long poem, The Soul’s Travelling, Elizabeth Barrett Browning is by the sea as well, though not at Broadstairswhere we were yesterday. In a previous stanza she described a hollow where she could hear, but not see, the ocean ebbing and flowing across the beach. Broadstairs is a bit more open than that, but in the next bay after the pier I used to snatch a few minutes of silence in a hollow at the foot of the cliff. The curlews and other sea birds were calling right through winter, but the silence was still all around.

Except that sound, the place is full
Of silences, which when you cull
By any word, it thrills you so
That presently you let them grow
To meditation's fullest length
Across your soul with a soul's strength:
And as they touch your soul, they borrow
Both of its grandeur and its sorrow,
That deathly odour which the clay
Leaves on its deathlessness alwày.

from The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning Volume II.

Another beach for silence in the sounds of the sea is Aberdaron in West Wales – follow the tag to read more posts about it. The church is at the top of the beach and the sea’s singing accentuates the message embroidered on this seat runner. You don’t need external silence to be still; the Lord is on your side wherever you are, you vessel of clay, holding his treasure! (2 Corinthians 4:7)

WT

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3 January: Where eternity begins.

The present moment terminates our sight; 
Clouds thick as those on doomsday, drown the next; 
We penetrate, we prophesy in vain. 
Time is dealt out by particles; and each, 
Ere mingled with the streaming sands of life, 
By fate’s inviolable oath is sworn  
Deep silence, “where eternity begins.” 
By nature’s law, what may be, may be now; 
There’s no prerogative in human hours. 
In human hearts what bolder thought can rise, 
Than man’s presumption on to-morrow’s dawn! 
Where is to-morrow? In another world. 

From Night Thoughts by Edward Young.

Tomorrow is in another world. One man who saw the dawn of the new world was Simeon, who met the Holy Family in Jerusalem’s Temple.

He had received an answer from the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. And he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when his parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he also took him into his arms, and blessed God, and said:

Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; because my eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

Luke 2:29-32.

And his father and mother were wondering at those things which were spoken concerning him. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.

Luke 2:34.

It was never going to be all sweetness and sleigh-bells, but there were those who were given a broader vision, including:

Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser; she was far advanced in years, and had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity. And she was a widow until fourscore and four years; who departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving night and day. Now she, at the same hour, coming in, confessed to the Lord; and spoke of him to all that looked for the redemption of Israel.

Luke 2:36-39.

As latter-day gentiles, let us pray that our eyes and hearts may see and recognise Jesus in the child next door and the cold infant in Syria or Belarus, as well as in our own family members.

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21 November, Christ the King: Great Little One.

The Infant Jesus is supported by his mother – whose heart was pierced with Sorrow – as he adopts the stance of a crucified King. Elham Church, Kent.

Jesus was not the King that people thought they were looking for. The Gospel reading for today makes that clear: we hear Dismas, the repentant thief, accept Jesus’ paradoxical claim, beseeching, ‘Remember me when you come into your Kingdom’, and being told, ‘today you will be with me in Paradise.’ (Luke 29:35-43).

But 33 years before that, it was hardly a typical royal arrival in Bethlehem.

Welcome, all wonders in one sight!
       Eternity shut in a span;
Summer in winter; day in night;
       Heaven in earth, and God in man.
Great little one, whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heav’n to earth.

This is a verse from Richard Crashaw’s ‘In the Holy Nativity of Our Lord.’ He was an Anglican priest and academic, living from 1613-1649. He was ejected from Cambridge in 1643 by Oliver Cromwell, who famously did not approve of Christmas. Crashaw became a Catholic in exile, and died a canon of Loreto, Italy in August 1649.

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9 November: Only the surface is wrinkled.

Looking towards Llyn

This is an old man’s poem: short and bitter-sweet, but nourishing. I came to it in Jim Cotter’s Etched in Silence collection, Canterbury Press, 2013, which Cotter presents as a pilgrimage through R.S. Thomas’s poems, one for each week of the year. This is allocated to week 45, this second week in November.

I look out over the timeless sea
over the head of one, calendar
to time’s passing, who is now open
at the last month, her hair wintry. 

Am I catalyst of her mettle that,
at my approach, her grimace of pain
turns to a smile? What it is saying is:
“Over love’s depths only the surface is wrinkled."

R.S. Thomas, ‘I look out over the timeless sea’, in Collected later poems, 1988-2000, Bloodaxe Books 2004 p72

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3 October, Season of Creation XXXIV: Making Peace.

Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge.

Pope Francis reaches the end of Chapter 2 of Laudato si’ by giving a Christian understanding of the world, a world created good, not to be despised as evil and a source of contamination.

98. Jesus lived in full harmony with creation, and others were amazed: “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:27). His appearance was not that of an ascetic set apart from the world, nor of an enemy to the pleasant things of life. Of himself he said: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard!’” (Matthew 11:19). He was far removed from philosophies which despised the body, matter and the things of the world. Such unhealthy dualisms, nonetheless, left a mark on certain Christian thinkers in the course of history and disfigured the Gospel. Jesus worked with his hands, in daily contact with the matter created by God, to which he gave form by his craftsmanship. It is striking that most of his life was dedicated to this task in a simple life which awakened no admiration at all: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mark 6:3). In this way he sanctified human labour and endowed it with a special significance for our development. As Saint John Paul II taught, “by enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, man in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity”.

99. In the Christian understanding of the world, the destiny of all creation is bound up with the mystery of Christ, present from the beginning: “All things have been created though him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). The prologue of the Gospel of John (1:1-18) reveals Christ’s creative work as the Divine Word (Logos). But then, unexpectedly, the prologue goes on to say that this same Word “became flesh” (John 1:14). One Person of the Trinity entered into the created cosmos, throwing in his lot with it, even to the cross. From the beginning of the world, but particularly through the incarnation, the mystery of Christ is at work in a hidden manner in the natural world as a whole, without thereby impinging on its autonomy.

100. The New Testament does not only tell us of the earthly Jesus and his tangible and loving relationship with the world. It also shows him risen and glorious, present throughout creation by his universal Lordship: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:19-20). This leads us to direct our gaze to the end of time, when the Son will deliver all things to the Father, so that “God may be everything to every one” (1 Corinthians 15:28). Thus, the creatures of this world no longer appear to us under merely natural guise because the risen One is mysteriously holding them to himself and directing them towards fullness as their end. The very flowers of the field and the birds which his human eyes contemplated and admired are now imbued with his radiant presence.

Tomorrow is the feast of Saint Francis and so this is our last post for the Season of Creation. We’ll return to Laudato Si’ after a break.

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29 August: On the seventh day.

Today we share a passage from Saint Augustine of Hippo’s City of God, 11.8. It is Saint Augustine’s feast day, and it is holiday time, so when better to ask,

What we are to understand of God’s resting on the seventh day, after the six days’ work?

Augustine’s answer to this question may surprise us, coming from a man of the 4th and 5th Centuries. God does not need to rest from toil, as we humans do, for he created all things by his Word – he spake and it was done. So God’s rest is the rest he created for us – and other parts of his creation – and it is part of his plan of creation, even before the Fall. As Augustine says in The Confessions:

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

When it is said that God rested on the seventh day from all His works, and hallowed it, we are not to conceive of it in a childish fashion, as if work were a toil to God, who “spake and it was done,”—spake by the spiritual and eternal, not audible and transitory word. But God’s rest signifies the rest of those who rest in God, as the joy of a house means the joy of those in the house who rejoice, though not the house, but something else, causes the joy.

How much more intelligible is such phraseology, then, if the house itself, by its own beauty, makes the inhabitants joyful! For in this case we not only call it joyful by that figure of speech in which the thing containing is used for the thing contained (as when we say, “The theatres applaud,” “The meadows low,” meaning that the men in the one applaud, and the oxen in the other low), but also by that figure in which the cause is spoken of as if it were the effect, as when a letter is said to be joyful, because it makes its readers so. Most appropriately, therefore, the sacred narrative states that God rested, meaning thereby that those rest who are in Him, and whom He makes to rest.

And this the prophetic narrative promises also to the men to whom it speaks, and for whom it was written, that they themselves, after those good works which God does in and by them, if they have managed by faith to get near to God in this life, shall enjoy in Him eternal rest. This was prefigured to the ancient people of God by the rest enjoined in their sabbath law.

But rest is not idleness: it comes after ‘those good works which God does in and by them’. As we read recently, Thomas Traherne reminds us that, ‘The soul is made for action, and cannot rest till it be employed.’

Let’s pray for the grace to get on with our task in life, and to observe a Sabbath for our soul’s sake, however and whenever circumstances allow.

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5 August: Traherne XLIV, a life within eternity

It ought to be a firm principle rooted in us, 
that this life is the most precious season in all Eternity, 
because all Eternity dependeth on it. 

Now we may do those actions
which hereafter we shall never have occasion to do. 
And now we are to do them in another manner, 
which in its place is the most acceptable in all worlds: 
namely, by faith and hope,
in which God infinitely delighteth, 
with difficulty and danger, 
which God infinitely commiserates, and greatly esteems. 

So piecing this life with the life of Heaven, 
and seeing it as one with all Eternity, 
a part of it, 
a life within it: 
Strangely and stupendously blessed 
in its place and season.

‘This life is the most precious season in all Eternity, because all Eternity dependeth on it.’ I still find myself shaking my head at the piercing simplicity of this idea.

Lord, help me to see this life as a part of eternity,
strangely and stupendously blessed
in its place and season.

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25 July: Honest labour

Boswell read Doctor Johnson's papers after his death:

I select from his private register the following passage:

 'July 25, 1776. 
O GOD, 
who hast ordained that whatever is to be desired should be sought by labour, 
and who, by thy blessing, bringest honest labour to good effect, 
look with mercy upon my studies and endeavours. 
Grant me, O LORD, to design only what is lawful and right; 
and afford me calmness of mind, 
and steadiness of purpose, 
that I may so do thy will in this short life, 
as to obtain happiness in the world to come, 
for the sake of JESUS CHRIST our Lord. Amen.

Boswell comments: This was composed when he 'purposed to apply vigorously to study, particularly of the Greek and Italian tongues.' Such a purpose, so expressed, at the age of sixty-seven, is admirable and encouraging; and it must impress all the thinking part of my readers with a consolatory confidence in habitual devotion, when they see a man of such enlarged intellectual powers as Johnson, thus in the genuine earnestness of secrecy, imploring the aid of that Supreme Being, 'from whom cometh down every good and every perfect gift.

Let us all have confidence in habitual devotion!

Life of Johnson by James Boswell, via Kindle.

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13 July: Traherne XLV, Visited with heavenly influences.

Having once studied these principles you are eternally to practise them. 
You are to warm yourselves at these fires, 
and to have recourse to them every day. 
When you think not of these things you are in the dark. 
And if you would walk in the light of them, 
you must frequently meditate. 

These principles are like seed in the ground, 
they must continually be visited with heavenly influences, 
or else your life will be a barren field.

The principles Traherne was putting before us (see post of 6 July) are: ‘This life is the most precious season in all Eternity, because all Eternity dependeth on it.’ I repeat the prayer from that post.

Lord, help me to see this life as a part of eternity,
strangely and stupendously blessed
in its place and season.

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