Last winter I went down to my native town, where I found the streets much narrower and shorter than I thought I had left them, inhabited by a new race of people, to whom I was very little known. My play-fellows were grown old, and forced me to suspect that I was no longer young. My only remaining friend has changed his principles, and was become the tool of the predominant faction. My daughter-in-law, from whom I expected most, and whom I met with sincere benevolence, has lost the beauty and gaiety of youth, without having gained much of the wisdom of age. I wandered about for five days, and took the first convenient opportunity of returning to a place, where, if there is not much happiness, there is, at least, such a diversity of good and evil, that slight vexations do not fix upon the heart. I think in a few weeks to try another excursion; though to what end?
Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765 by James Boswell
Here speaks the melancholic Samuel Johnson, tired of life but not of London, even if there is not much happiness there.
We were about to sit down to a family lunch in the garden, with all the furniture arranged for social distancing, when there was a mighty clamour from the roof of next-door-but-one. That roof has a hole, some 20cm square, where a tile has fallen. This has been a godsend to the sparrows who seem to be on the increase locally; they’ve moved back into a hole under our eaves which was abandoned for a few years and found a new spot at the back of our house. Two sparrows in particular are tame enough to come near to our al fresco table and suggest that we might spare a crumb. How could we say no?
It turned out that the racket on the roof was from the combined forces of sparrows and starlings, combining to chase away a pair of magpies who were taking too close an interest in the hole in the roof. The magpies left the scene, apparently empty-beaked, and life seemed to return to normal for the little birds.
Except that there was a little chick, still flightless, struggling at the edge of the garden pond. With wet feathers it was becoming more difficult to get out, till Mrs T stretched out her arm and pulled the sorry sodden sparrowlet to safety. The little fellow seemed to know that safety lay in camouflage, hiding in the herbaceous border, but loud ‘feed me’ chirps told us he was still around. The danger from cats has diminished.
I think the sparrow may have been involved in the magpie incident, perhaps pulled out of the nest but dropped to the ground as the bigger birds fled. Let’s hope his devoted parents’ efforts to feed him in hiding were enough to bring him to the joys of flight!
And may we find ways to bring joy to those who have been hiding away from the Corona Virus.
The following day found the three of them walking under the trees in the park, escaping some of the evening wind and keeping a weather eye open for parrots and squirrels. At least Ajax and Alfie were thus occupied, T’s face lit up when he saw a familiar face, Greta from the coffee shop in the old bus near the railway station. She’d been out of work and out of sight for weeks and now here she was, striding around the park in black leotard and pink floral tights with matching trainers.
‘Hello Mr T’, she said, slightly out of breath. ‘I thought you’d disappeared off the face of the earth.’
– ‘What does she mean?’ Alfie flashed. ‘Does she know we are aliens?’ ‘Even more alien than Asian sailors,’ growled Alfie. ‘How can she know?’ ‘Maybe she’s an alien too.’
Greta glanced at her wrist. ‘9, 563 steps so far on this walk. That means I can get my 10,000 before I get home. I have to be there for 5.30 this evening. I’ve been doing at least 10,000 steps a day ever since we were closed.’
– ‘No alien would be walking 10,000 steps, Alfie.’ ‘No? What about the treadmill and weights in the pod?’ – ‘Will you two be quiet!’ flashed T, then let them off the lead.
‘A delivery coming?’ he asked Greta.
‘No, we have an appointment to read bedtime stories to our grandchildren in Gibraltar. We haven’t seen them for months, and we don’t know when we will see them, so three nights a week we read their stories. 5.30 here is 6.30 there, time for bed. I’d better keep moving!’
‘She’s got to be human. No alien that I’ve ever known would obsess about getting 10,000 steps in, and then sit down to read bedtime stories to faraway grandchildren,’ T said to himself.
As I wrote the date today – it was six months ago today that we were all together celebrating Christmas, singing carols together, and for me one of the highlights of the year is Midnight Mass – something so special with all the candles and that sense of celebration after the waiting and preparation of Advent – and the flowers! For some who are isolating that might have been the last time they saw family and friends; if it hadn’t been our visit to see our son in Manchester in February, the last time he was down was Christmas last year, and certainly when we saw any of our extended family, as I am sure it is for many … and for so many across our country, and around the world, Christmas this year will be without a loved one. I do wonder what it will be like this year – I do hope we are allowed to sing by then!! When we lived in Faversham, there was a board I passed every day that said “Christ is not just for Christmas, but there all year” . This is so true, we have Christ with us as a real and living presence 24/7; Rev Mark spoke about this in Sunday’s sermon (on website), from the passage from Romans 6:1-11, in our baptism we die with Christ to be born again with Christ – a new creation; that is why sometime a font is referred to as a womb (in the Roman liturgy the font is designated the “uterus ecclesiae,” ) – when a baby is born, it emerges from the waters of the womb, and wrapped in a blanket – when the person who has been baptised ‘comes up out of the water’ – or usually water poured over the head these days, though many do’ especially in the Baptist church, have full immersion. In the liturgy today, the baby is wrapped in a white blanket immediately after having water poured, with the words “you have been clothed with Christ. As many who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ”; with an adult I use a white scarf.
God Bless, and please do keep safe, keep connected and keep praying Jo🙏🙏🙏 Rev Jo Richards Rector of the Benefice of St Dunstan, St Mildred and St Peter, Canterbury
The Roman font at Milan, where St Ambrose baptised St Augustine and his son Adeodatus by immersion, Easter 387.
Stuart Perkins has shared a story in his blog, Storyshucker. It’s about what I’ve been calling relics in a few articles in the Mirror over the years. Here is a link to Alexandria Living Magazine where it was published. Thank you Stuart!
In this odd era Mrs Turnstone is threatening an unsentimental bonfire of the relics, keepsakes, mathoms around the house. But she likes the fish too much!
This window explicitly links the Ascension to Pentecost, ten days later. And there seems to be a female presence in the shape of Mary and another woman in each scene, which is as it should be, despite the Lectionary airbrushing the women out of the Pentecost day reading from Acts.
But today is Ascension Day – Why are you looking up into the sky? What do you expect to see?
Or we could put the Angel’s question another way: if you are looking for Jesus where do you expect to find him? Among the clouds; really? Whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do it for me. It began with mutual support as the disciples continued to come to grips with all that had happened.
Here and now we can pray for the Spirit to fill our hearts with love, and give us eyes to see Jesus in our neighbours, family, friends.
We were on our Sunday walk and sat on a bench in Doddington churchyard to break bread together. As the last crumbs were brushed to the ground I said, Let me see whether there are any good carvings here. As you see, I was not disappointed. Beautiful lettering, my daughter observed as she took the photos, and that lovely strawberry sprig; an epitaph speaking of a long life together well-spent.
What will they want to say about you or me? Loved, respected, dedicated? Not that it matters to us what’s said when we’re gone, but we know some things we are good at: if we are graced to earn our living by them. so much the better, but we may rightly be more dedicated to work we are not paid for. Family and community life are callings for almost all of us: let us dedicate ourselves to them daily, in deed if not in word.
Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? Matthew 25:37.
We have not gathered the Little Flowers of Saint Francis for a while. This week’s selection are stories of dreams and visions of certain brothers of the early years of the Order. I knew someone who had a clear dream of angels coming to welcome a dear friend of hers into Paradise; it is perhaps a commoner experience than we imagine that a dream has a message for us; maybe even a dream that barely registers on our conscious mind.
There were two brothers in the Order; the one named Brother Humble and the other Brother Peaceful, the which were men of exceeding great sanctity and perfection; Brother Humble, abode in the House of Soffiano, and there died; and the other belonged to another community at some distance therefrom. Now it pleased God that as Brother Peaceful was at prayer one day in a lonely place, he was rapt in ecstasy, and saw the soul of his brother, Brother Humble, that had just then left the body, going straight up into heaven without either let or hindrance. Many years after, Brother Peaceful was sent to the community in the House of Soffiano, where his brother had died.
About this time the brothers, at the request of the lords of Bruforte, exchanged the said House for another; wherefore, among other things, they carried with them the relics of the holy brothers that had died in that House, and coming to the grave of Brother Humble, his brother, Brother Peaceful took up his bones, and washed them with good wine and wrapped them in a while napkin, and with great reverence and devotion kissed them and wept over them; whereat the other brothers marvelled, and deemed he set them no good example in that it seemed that, albeit a man of so great sanctity, he mourned for his brother, with a carnal and a worldly love; and that he showed more devotion to his relics than to those of the other brothers that had been of no less sanctity than Brother Humble, and whose relics were worthy of as much reverence as his. Brother Peaceful knowing the evil imaginings of the brothers, humbly said unto them: “My brothers most dear, marvel not that 1 have done for the bones of my brother what I have not done for the others for, blessed be God, I was not moved thereto, as ye deem, by carnal love; but so have I done, for that, when my brother passed away from this life, praying in a lonely place and distant far from him, beheld his soul rise straight to heaven, whereby I am assured that his bones are holy and should be in Paradise. And if God had granted me such surety touching the other brothers, then would I have paid the self same reverence unto their bones.” For the which cause, the brothers, seeing his holy and devout intent, were through him well edified, and gave praise unto God, that doeth such marvellous things unto His holy ones, the brothers minor.
Both of us retired, both gardeners, both riding to the local supermarket before the crowds but after the baker has started work. It went without saying that there was never enough time in the garden or allotment for either of us, and we agreed on the importance of keeping in touch. His family are at a distance, mine close at hand, but they do worry! ‘Dad, you shouldn’t be going to the shops, you can get it all on line; we’ll do it for you.’ We agreed that while we can do it we will do it: shopping, gardening, walking. My 70+ friends in Dublin may not go to the allotment which is usually their base for the afternoon! Their daughter leaves their shopping on the doorstep.
In 1943, Archbishop Spellman, a former colleague of Pius XII at the Vatican Secretariat of State, visited Ethiopia, which with allied help had defeated the Italian invaders who had overrun the country some years before and planted the beginnings of a colony there. People were sent to create a new Roman Empire in this ‘open country’.
Spellman discovered that many colonists were unhappy with their part in Mussolini’s venture. He met a family who had been exiled from their own home when they were taken as colonisers to Africa.
‘The father of this family told me that the grief he suffered in being taken from his home was renewed and redoubled, when he watched the officers drive another family from their home, to make room for him in a strange land’. And now he and his family were returning to an uncertain future.1
Who knows what became of that family, returning to a famished Italy? Their story is not so far from those of so many displaced people today, exiled even if living in a land flowing with milk and honey and all good things. ‘If I forget you Jerusalem … let my right hand wither.’ Yet who can survive, consumed with bitterness?
1Francis J. Spellman: Action This Day. Letters from the Fighting Fronts. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1943. p169.
Image from West window, Canterbury, thanks to SJC.