And the Lord God having formed out of the ground all the beasts of the earth, and all the fowls of the air, brought them to Adam to see what he would call them: for whatsoever Adam called any living creature the same is its name.
Of course when Adam named something, including plants, the same was its name, since there was only one human, himself, so no disputing his word. Things are somewhat different since humans spread around the world and our languages diverged from each other. Is that a mouse or un souris? A courgette or a zucchini? And that’s before we venture upon politically correct or incorrect terrain. ‘It’s demeaning to call grown women girls.’ Try telling that to my late mother-in-law, who in her eighties was still going out with the ‘girls’ she had teamed up with as a young mother.
But we can demean each other in our words as a moment’s reflection should tell us; we can be clear or obscure, sometimes deliberately obscure – ‘as seen on TV!’
The world of science aims for clarity and by being clear it advances in knowledge and techniques. An understanding of antibodies and t-cells enabled the covid-19 vaccinations to be produced at speed. At a more down to earth level, over the last 250 years or so scientific names for living creatures have been developed so that scientists from Aberdeen, Asuncion, or Amsterdam will know exactly what each other is talking about. Mus musculus is a house mouse anywhere in the world.
The trouble comes when names are changed. Microscopic and DNA testing can establish relationships, and botanists hold conferences to decide on names. That’s how the shrub formerly known as Senecio ‘Sunshine’ is now Brachyglottis ‘Sunshine’. Senecio comes from the Latin for ‘old man’: the leaves and seeds of the plant are greyish and white. Other senecios include groundsel, S. vulgaris, (left) and S. cineraria (ashen), below.
It’s not difficult to see a certain type of person taking pleasure in this business of establishing names, and feeling frustrated when gardeners do not follow the scientists and call Sunshine Brachyglottis instead of senecio.
But recently I’ve taken pleasure from watching someone establish names for things. A toddler is naming things that are newly experienced. He or she will of course end up using the names that are common in their society, though sometimes their mispronounced names stick for years, such as ‘Kipper’ which was as close as one of my siblings could get to Christopher, the name of one of our brothers.
For my younger grandson there is a whole world waiting for him to name it, and bring it to life for him, as Adam’s contribution to creation was to give it all names.
I’m happy enough to be ‘Gu’ for the present, and to be part of his world. It sounds better than Brachyglottis, for sure.
Gilbert White introduced the Natural History of Selborne (1789) with a selection of his verses, including this description of one family’s harvest time. Their field would have been much smaller than this expanse of barley, ready for the combine harvester, but barley it might well have been, grown for the breweries of London and nearby Alton. Every year, White would have seen the harvest gathered in by hand as he records here. By the sweat of their brow this couple took their part in God’s creation.
Waked by the gentle gleamings of the morn, Soon clad, the reaper, provident of want, Hies cheerful-hearted to the ripen’d field: Nor hastes alone: attendant by his side His faithful wife, sole partner of his cares, Bears on her breast the sleeping babe; behind, With steps unequal, trips her infant train; Thrice happy pair, in love and labour join’d !
All day they ply their task; with mutual chat, Beguiling each the sultry, tedious hours. Around them falls in rows the sever’d corn, Or the shocks rise in regular array.
But when high noon invites to short repast, Beneath the shade of sheltering thorn they sit, Divide the simple meal, and drain the cask: The swinging cradle lulls the whimpering babe Meantime; while growling round, if at the tread Of hasty passenger alarm’d, as of their store Protective, stalks the cur with bristling back, To guard the scanty scrip and russet frock.
In this post from the John Rylands Library in Manchester Kate Gibson uses letters from the Nicholson family to demonstrate that religious faith did not die out in the mushrooming industrial towns of Britain.
Her project, Faith in the Town: Lay Religion, Urbanisation and Industrialisation in England, 1740-1830, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, is looking at the letters and diaries of ordinary people living in the towns of Northern England, for evidence of the place of faith in their daily lives. Unlike many histories of secularisation which focus on formal church organisations and their records, we argue that looking at the everyday practices of faith, and its relationship with how people thought about their family lives, their identities, their work and their use of urban and domestic space, provides a more vibrant picture of the continued importance of religion in this period. This is a history of faith from the bottom up, not the top down.
Faith in the Town has many interesting posts that may challenge us today, when our church communities have been in enforced hibernation. What can we and our buildings offer by way of space to be quiet and simple, welcoming, common worship for members and non-members alike?
Virginia Woolf reflects on the experience of boarding school, callous, unfriended. Put it beside the thoughts we read recently from teenagers on life-changing events.
Now that our boxes are unpacked in the dormitories, we sit herded together under maps of the entire world. There are desks with wells for the ink. We shall write our exercises in ink here. But here I am nobody. I have no face. This great company, all dressed in brown serge, has robbed me of my identity. We are all callous, unfriended. I will seek out a face, a composed, a monumental face, and will endow it with omniscience, and wear it under my dress like a talisman and then (I promise this) I will find some dingle in a wood where I can display my assortment of curious treasures. I promise myself this. So I will not cry.
The second half of the teenagers’ reflections on things that changed their lives. I have avoided analysing their contributions or sermonising on them; I hope each reader can do so for themselves. I do remember that when I pinned up copies of these thoughts on the classroom display boards they were pleased, far more so than I had expected. Clearly these events DID change their lives.
Let us be aware in our dealings with young people, that we can change their lives for good or ill. For the most part, power lives with adults: let us pray for wisdom to use it well.
When my parents got a divorce and I was fostered for a year.
When I got my dog, because I have always wanted a dog.
My brother leaving home. I had to get used to being without him, and I don’ have anybody to help me with my homework.(This was written by a girl.)
Parents treating me differently as I got older, and getting more protective because I am a girl.
My mum getting married again because we had another person to tell us what to do and where to go and when to do it.
When I was teaching in school, I once had a class of 13 and 14 year-olds for Religious Studies, an opportunity to reflect, always a priority for Agnellus Mirror. I found this set of notes the other day, their reaction to the question, tell us something, or things, that have changed your life.
It’s time to dust these notes off and share them. And to invite us all to reflect on how much of what we as adults do or don’t do, say or don’t say, helps or hurts the young people we share our lives with as parents, grandparents, relatives, godparents or teachers. Listen to the witness of these youngsters! Read between the lines!
Making new friends at school and leaving my old friends from my old school. My father lost his job abroad and had to come to London to find a new job. He got a job on the railways but he was in digs and we were still in Scotland, so we moved down.
My brother returning from boarding school.
My father dying in hospital.
Moving house because I have to make new friends and go to a new school; leaving my friends behind.
Good Morning! I’d like to share an old family story that has a bearing on our lives during the second summer of covid-19; we hope you enjoy your holidays, but please let other people enjoy theirs in peace!
We looked around for somewhere to eat our picnic and my young daughters chose the spot between the paws of one of the sphinxes that guard Cleopatra’s needle, an inscribed obelisk associated with the Queen, on the Embankment in central London. Here we were out of the way and could watch the river traffic and the passing tourists.
In the half-hour or so we were there four different families or groups swarmed up beside the girls, posing for photographs; there is another sphinx on the other side of the Needle. Only the last family asked permission, and that was when we were leaving, otherwise there came no apology or acknowledgement of our family at all.
This extreme case of bad manners poses two questions. What, first of all, do we go away for? These people did not appear to be looking at or appreciating the monument at all. I guess they too were near Charing Cross, and had to tick the Needle off their list, and take a photo to prove it. In fact the second, unoccupied sphynx was better lit and unoccupied, so why intrude on us?
Which brings up the second question: do we consider other people when on holiday? The first time I ever felt ashamed to be English overseas was when a couple of middle-aged compatriots smuggled two Yorkshire terriers into a Galway restaurant and fed them titbits on their laps. It was not the last time!
It’s not just inebriated football supporters who get us a bad reputation abroad; it can be you or I, when we don’t take trouble to learn foreign ways, whether tipping, using the buses, or even the plumbing. The ordinary courtesy of consideration and neighbourliness are important, even in London.
Don’t spoil your holiday – or someone else’s – with bad manners!
The Global Sisters’ Report ran this article by Franciscan Sister Laura Hammel which discusses her changing reactions to death: death of family and other dear ones, and most especially of the recent death of a sister who had shared her life for 45 years. When Sister Laurene Burns was in hospital, COVID-19 prevented members of her community from visiting; they brought her home to die with them. Insightful indeed. Follow the link!
A friend of mine wrote this letter to the Toronto Globe and Mail after reading an article whose writer concluded: ‘I cannot remain a Catholic.‘ Without trying to diminish what happened in the schools, Michael makes the case for remaining a Catholic.
To the editor of the Globe & Mail re. “Amid shameful residential-school revelations, I cannot remain a Catholic” (Bernadette Hardaker, Opinion, July 5).
I, along with many other Roman Catholics, have signed online expressions of horror at our Church’s involvement in the abuse of our indigenous populations, and their most vulnerable members. Together with millions of fellow Catholics, I choose to remain a member of my Catholic community because, despite its institutional flaws and the moral crimes of some of its leading members, the Catholic Church remains a Christ-centered community that provides the spiritual direction and resources that I need in attempting to be the best person I can be.
The Catholic Church is defined as more than its pope, bishops, priests, and other religious. The Catholic Church is composed of “The People of God”, who are attempting to live according to the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. I, with my fellow Catholics, ask for forgiveness from our abused indigenous neighbours, and forgiveness from our God.
The story of the boarding schools for indigenous children in Canada does not make easy reading. It’s an horrific affair, with racism and a lack of respect for children among the contributing evils.
It’s also confusing to attempt to find the truth of what happened then and what is happening now. Many records were lost or destroyed, many events were not recorded. The Archdiocese of Toronto, which had none of these these schools, has produced this very clear account, which may not answer all the questions, but perhaps may help us to identify the right ones and begin to answer them – and see where to go next. Click to read the report.