The marsh walk was chosen not because it was flat but because there was a pub at either end. George was home for a few days gardening leave between jobs, his gardening consisting in sunbathing on the lawn that his mother tends with this activity in mind. Stodmarsh feels further from London than 70 miles.
Nonetheless, this is a post-industrial landscape: Chislet colliery lay under here and as land in the Stour valley subsided water and reeds took over. Paths allow dryshod walking from the Red Lion to the Grove Ferry Inn, especially after a dry winter and spring.
Mrs T is shorter than her husband and son, just below the tops of the reeds, so her view was restricted. But she enjoyed the birdsong – including two cuckoos and a booming bittern. The cuckoo is becoming rarer; there were many more when we came to Kent some forty years ago. Bitterns are a different case, no more than birds of passage back then.
Back then the old field fences could be seen from the train, gradually sinking into what was at first seasonal open water but has now become reed beds, favoured home of bitterns. Back then – even just a couple of years ago – we would have expected swallows and martins as well as swifts chasing flies. It cannot be just lack of mud for nest-building that kept them away this year.
Although young Abel will appreciate the birds he gets to know, he may never be familiar with swallows and martins, or even song thrushes. Thank God he has sparrows under his roof.
I don’t need Mr Trump’s climate change denial. I saw how entranced Abel was, aged 18 months, by the song of a robin in a nearby bush. I would like to think that, aged 18, he will enjoy the song of a nightingale from a Kentish bramble patch.
Laudato Si’ – but also – miserere nobis.
George’s picture of the swans -there were two parents and seven cygnets – shows how well the wildlife is hidden out on the marsh.
I didn’t expect
those stars in the wide
black Colorado sky
to be so bright
that ancient night
beauty yes but this
to earth so close
to me marvelling
almost as though
night rained light
as if heaven’s shower
reversed the measure
of black to bright
I didn’t expect
that little girl’s
to be so bountiful
that young summer day
sweet yes but this
was heaven so close
to earth so close
to me wordless
almost as though
the chapel were
host to glory
as if Tabor
as if Tabor
See Matthew 17 for his account of the Transfiguration of Jesus.
More than a million 3 day emergency food parcels were given out by British food banks in 2015-2016. Read more about it here: what food banks do . This does not include parcels given directly by the Saint Vincent de Paul Society and other organisations.
I know people who have greatly benefited from this service. One mother often seems to have more teabags than she needs, but this means that she is able to share her surplus with others. That feels good!
Another interesting story was in The Observer on 4th December last. A Dublin organisation was able to establish deliveries of fresh food that a supermarket would have dumped to a women’s refuge. This abundance brought the women out of themselves and they began to share: to share food, to share a kitchen (I find that a real challenge!), to share recipes, to be good to each other.
Please pop a few cans into the collection baskets at your supermarket or church and help your local food bank keep going. Summertime, and the living will not be so easy when the children do not get their free school meals!
I had been ill. Ill enough to give up work and move back home to recover. I’d lost a tremendous amount of weight: an infection had gone crazy, affecting my liver function and leaving me exhausted and without appetite.
Then one day I was sitting at the big kitchen table with my grandmother – Nana to countless young people, by no means all of them her actual grandchildren. Basil and Sam the dogs were keeping us company.
Suddenly I realised that I felt hungry, for the first time in months, and said so to Nana. ‘Feed that hunger’, she said, and put bread on the Aga cooker to toast. Wow! I could taste the good bread, the butter, the marmalade. I was grateful: an informal Eucharist.
As Fr Austin (AMcC who writes here) says, hunger can be a blessing. In this case my body was well enough to feel the need of something outside itself, instead of fighting something inside itself. It took time, but I did get better.
There are other hungers too; hungers for learning, for love, ultimately for God. We need to acknowledge these when we feel them.
But as Austin would also tell us, hunger for many people is a curse; they do not have the luxury of knowing where the next meal is coming from. Perhaps, if you are a child at school in Africa, it will be from Mary’s Meals.
You may have noticed in these pages a degree of affection for young Abel and rejoicing in his growth in wisdom, and age, and grace; rejoicing as the parents of the Lord did, and no doubt his grandparents too. (Luke 2:52) It’s always good to remember that Jesus had to grow in all those ways.
Growing up did not happen by magic or instinct with Jesus, nor does it for any child. I was looking through old notes recently and found a teachers’ leader relaying what many of her members observed, that children were coming to school unable to use a knife and fork and these were by no means all living in poverty. Their parents were simply ‘not prepared to give time and energy doing that most difficult, but essential of jobs – raising children properly.’ (Mary Bousted, Report Magazine, May 2009 p11.)
As Maria Montessori reminded us, children want to grow up and want to co-operate with adults in the process. Feeding oneself is an important instance of this, so is helping grandad make that essential of modern living: flapjack, and again, so is sharing the result.
The shared table is the foundation for so much human goodness, it’s no wonder Jesus chose it as the foundation for sharing divine goodness in the Eucharist. To say that is not to deny that the Eucharist is a sacrifice: just re-read Dr Bousted’s remarks to see that the shared table is a place of sacrifice as well as of enjoyment.
Do I need to add that it was another true story? One of the most spectacular shared meals of all time, that puts into the shade our small miracle recalled in Tuesday’s post – and it happened in the unforgiving Galilean sunshine. 5,000 men, not to mention women and children, all of them fed from five loaves and two little fish.
John’s account (Chapter 6) tells us that the food was offered by a small boy. So even then, the Lord depended on others to complete his work.
John also tells us that Jesus spoke about himself as real food:
For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me.
Well, they did not get it, those who walked no more with him. But do we get it? Remember Herbert McCabe:
The doctrine of transubstantiation, as I see it, is that the bread and wine become more radically food and drink.
To the naked eye the Eucharist is nothing like as spectacular as the feeding of the five thousand, at which Jesus floated the idea of his body as food to his followers. But consider how we feel more alive in the company of loved ones, as part of a crowd with a purpose such as cheering on a sports team; breathing the same air, hearing and singing the same chants, sharing conversation. We feel energised.
We can be less than 100% attentive to what is being said and done at Mass, receiving the Sacrament in a daze of fatigue or fret. But our presence, our extended hand, are there not just in the moment, but more radically are on the brink of the eternal moment.
(I doubt the loaves and fish were as big as these carved on Strasbourg Cathedral)
At this time of the end of Ramadan and Corpus Christi, and in view of the atrocities that have been committed recently in England and elsewhere, I offer this story from South Africa. Maurice.
Missionaries of Africa - SAP Province
By Christophe Boyer, M.Afr
End of April 2017, I was back from holidays in France where the islamo-christian dialogue has improved a lot since the martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel during mass in a church. Of their own initiative Muslims have come to Church to show their opposition to violence and intolerance.
I was wondering what could be done here in South Africa. One day I received a phone call from Toni Rowland who is in charge of the family apostolate at the South African Catholic Bishops Conference. She asked me to advise her about a Muslim invitation since I am a contact person for islamo-christian relations at the SACBC. I was lifted up by this answer to my question.
We went together to meet Ayhan Cetin the CEO of the Turquoise Harmony Institute. He told us that this year the Institute invites people motivated to inter religious…
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Maria Montessori was one of the greatest Italians of modern times. Young Abel makes me think of this passage from The Child in The Family. Montessori tells how a baby wants to be at table with the family.
If we are at dinner and the child is in another room and he weeps because he is left out, we have withheld the respect we would have given to an adult. We ought to be pleased by his presence and keep him near us. Do not worry about food hurting him – ignoring him is an offence. p52.
We could also read this paragraph:
Those who do not care brutally shove the spoon into the child’s mouth – but observe and the child will try to help himself. One must simply sacrifice cleanliness to the justifiable impulse to act. The child will perfect the movements in time. When he has satisfied the need to help himself he will let the adult help. p124-5.
Young Abel was so keen to help himself on the occasion of this photo that he had spoon in one hand, fork in the other, and also a special spoon for the helpful adult. (Al fresco dining meant pickings for Robin and Mrs Tittlemouse, eager to clear up Abel’s mess.)
So why does the Church refuse to give the Eucharist to baptised babies? What message does that give them; and the rest of us? Are we not withholding respect? Abel’s mother as a baby used to extend her hand when carried up to the altar, and when I was little, one parent would often stay with the little ones in the bench and await the other’s return before receiving the Sacrament themselves.
Beware of counter-signs; often they are so established that we never see them; disrespect of children runs deep in Church and Society.
Today in England is Corpus Christi, the feast of the Body and Blood of Our Lord. We receive this great gift at the shared table of the Eucharist – or from that table if we are too poorly to attend Mass in person. Jesus chose a meal to give himself to us. This week’s posts reflect on that from different angles. What do you think?
Into whatsoever house you enter, first say: Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you. And in the same house, remain, eating and drinking such things as they have: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Remove not from house to house. And into what city soever you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you.
This passage from Luke 10: 5-9 comes back to me time and again. My tutoring work has taken me into many homes, often where no teacher has been before, and in all but two refreshment has been offered. Instinctively, people set a cup of tea and maybe a biscuit or bacon sandwich, before the visitor. (Those two houses where refreshment was not offered, though I visited many times, were definitely not peaceful homes; my inner peace was surely hard-pressed at times.)
Setting a mug of tea before the visitor is indeed a peace offering. So, whether it be builder’s tea, with three sugars I never requested, or a greyish liquid brewed by an eight-year-old boy, keen to please, ‘Thank you! Just what I needed!’
And to be received in peace allows me to do the labour for which I was sent. Teaching English to a school drop-out may not be directly spreading the Gospel, but it is good news when the youngster responds and learns. And all good news is part of The Good News.
‘You turn by this big Catholic Church’, my son told his mother who was to pick him up from the flat he’d been living in over the summer. ‘That’s where I was baptised’, I said. ‘Limehouse’ is on my birth certificate, and you can’t get more East End than that. More East End than Walford, and on a quiet night, you can hear Bow Bells. Is there ever a quiet night?
Mother, aged 18, had joined Dad at Saint Mary and Saint Michael’s parish where he was running the Boys’ Club, and a whole new world was opening before her eyes. Across the street was the Mosque with whom they were on friendly terms; there were many synagogues within walking distance. It was by no means just Jewish people who had landed in this dockland parish from across Europe and around the world.
A Frenchwoman took her under her wing to negotiate the local markets and learn to cook exotic dishes such as Spaghetti Bolognese; yes, this was 1948-50! She experienced great solidarity from the Jewish and Italian traders who understood about beginning a new life in unfamiliar surroundings. Somehow the portions she received from Mrs Guazzelli in her café were that little more generous than the ration books might require. She learned from her friend how to buy wisely on the street market.
Another friend, my Godmother, kept in touch with me and my parents till her death. She was East End English Catholic all the way through.
My parents had to leave Stepney while I was still a toddler, happily watching the largely horse-drawn traffic on Commercial Road. I remember nothing of my time there, but living in the East End opened my parents’ eyes to other, quite different ways of life that good people were following in good faith. Some of their openness has rubbed off onto their children. May we continue to spread it.