Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat,
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God, for everything.
in 1937 Ernest Claxton published a photograph album by Harold Burdekin based on this grace, all six verses illustrated by scenes from childhood in soft photogravure.* He wrote: ‘This simple grace … is so full of praise, so beautiful, that it at once brings home the joyful message of the Giver of all good things.
‘Natural and happy hours in a child’s life may be linked up with the realisation of God’s love. If this is done at an early age, children will learn to know that He is a loving Father.’
Two years on, children were being evacuated to the countryside from London and other cities; similar scenes were played out across Europe. The war in Ukraine is by no means the first since then with families forced into refuge away from home, away from their native land.
At this holiday time, let us pray for the wisdom to know how to bring natural and happy hours to the lives of children in our families, among our neighbours, at home and across the world.
*E. E. Claxton, H Burdekin (photographer), A Child’s Grace, London, Dent, 1937;
Yesterday we advocated butterfly’s days: no set agenda, no targets, no business, no busy-ness. Today we open the Book of Common Prayer to read a collect that is complementary to Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘The Butterfly’s Day’. It makes explicit that we are passing through this life, and need God’s guidance and rule to survive passing through things temporal, but we can keep a hold on things eternal with Our Father’s mercy.
Our picture from Saint David’s Cathedral invites us to be still – Emily might say ‘idle’. And knowing that Our Father is God will follow; we will be given a hold on things eternal
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that with you as our ruler and guide we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not our hold on things eternal; grant this, heavenly Father, for our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Some years again when reflecting the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, I imagined, in my prayer, that I was Zacchaeus in the tree and Jesus stood looking up at me and saying to me “I want to stay at your house”. My reply to him was “I have no home”.
It is true that as a priest I have moved from presbytery to presbytery, from place to place. The last place I called home was when I lived with my Mum and Dad and brothers and sister in Clapham, before I went away to school. I was part of a family. I had a sense of belonging.
Many people in life move many times, because of their job or perhaps they have traveller blood in them and are always on the move.
‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him.” The loving Father, Jesus our brother and the Advocate, the Spirit desires to make their home with us. They wish to abide or live in us. Home is a relationship of love. Am I willing and ready to welcome God into my home, that is into my heart.? Am I prepared to allow God to live or abide in me?
We are very familiar with the Holman Hunt’s painting “The Light of the World.” A copy can be seen in St. Paul’s Cathedral. It shows the figure of Jesus preparing to knock on an overgrown and long-unopened door, illustrating Revelation 3:20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will eat with him, and he with Me”. The door in the painting has no handle, and can therefore be opened only from the inside. Jesus might be persistent in his knocking at the door of our heart but will come in when invited. We need to open the door. Before he returned to the Father, Jesus promised that the disciples would receive the power of the Holy Spirit. This is an ideal time to invite the Father, Son and Spirit into us so that they make a home in us.
You could pray this prayer of St Augustine to the Holy Spirit.
Breathe into me, Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Move in me, Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Attract my heart, Holy Spirit, that I may love only what is holy. Strengthen me, Holy Spirit, that I may defend all that is holy. Protect me, Holy Spirit, that I may be holy.
From Canon Anthony Charlton, St Thomas’, Canterbury.
Once more I find myself disagreeing with Emily: this time with her possibly tongue-in-cheek condemnation of science. However, her light-hearted, joyful acceptance of creation and of death are refreshing and appropriate for Advent. Refreshing too, her final image of the Father lifting her over the stile of pearl into Heaven. I can almost feel those hands, half circling my chest to lift me to himself, though now it is my privilege to lift grandsons to where they need to be. ‘You have to help me’, even when the child is ‘helping’ you.
No pearls on the stiles shown here, but good, solid, dependable limestone, that humans and dogs can get over, perhaps with a little help; that deer can leap with grace, but sheep are too woolly to manage. Not the best image for Heaven’s gate, perhaps, but there again, the stile is not the gate, not the official entrance where the sheep go in. This is a short cut, and it is not Peter or Michael but the Father himself that is watching here, ready to lift the naughty ones into his everlasting arms.
Arcturus is his other name, —
I'd rather call him star!
It's so unkind of science
To go and interfere!
I pull a flower from the woods, —
A monster with a glass
Computes the stamens in a breath,
And has her in a class.
Whereas I took the butterfly
Aforetime in my hat,
He sits erect in cabinets,
The clover-bells forgot.
What once was heaven, is zenith now.
Where I proposed to go
When time's brief masquerade was done,
Is mapped, and charted too!
What if the poles should frisk about
And stand upon their heads!
I hope I 'm ready for the worst,
Whatever prank betides!
Perhaps the kingdom of Heaven 's changed!
I hope the children there
Won't be new-fashioned when I come,
And laugh at me, and stare!
I hope the father in the skies
Will lift his little girl, —
Old-fashioned, naughty, everything, —
Over the stile of pearl!"
(from “Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete” by Emily Dickinson)
“Audemus dicere ‘Pater Noster.”*—canon of the mass.
There is a bolder way, There is a wilder enterprise than this All-human iteration day by day. Courage, mankind! Restore Him what is His.
Out of His mouth were given These phrases. O replace them whence they came. He, only, knows our inconceivable “Heaven,” Our hidden “Father,” and the unspoken “Name”;
Our “trespasses,” our “bread,” The “will” inexorable yet implored; The miracle-words that are and are not said, Charged with the unknown purpose of their Lord.
“Forgive,” “give,” “lead us not”— Speak them by Him, O man the unaware, Speak by that dear tongue, though thou know not what, Shuddering through the paradox of prayer.
Alice Meynell, from A Father of Women and other poems, Burns & Oates, London, 1917
* We dare to say ‘Our Father’. The words would have been recited in Latin in 1917.
A warning against taking ourselves and our assumed virtues without a good pinch of salt. We only begin to see what the Lord’s Prayer means when we put the words back onto his tongue, avoiding our short-sighted, self-serving distortions.
And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field, which is to day, and to morrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith?
Matthew 6: 28-30.
The photo is from January last year, but could have been taken today, had the skies not been so grey. I always enjoy our early violets that bloom before their season. They put me in mind of this Gospel passage. I don’t think this was just a throwaway line of Jesus; he wants us to give our attention to the flowers and how they grow and are provided with sunshine, soil and water. That includes solid science.
These violets did not appear by magic, nor do they survive by magic. The bed they grow in was created at the edge of a footpath maybe 20 years ago, with shrubs lining a brick wall and violets providing ground cover beneath, shadowing out any weed seeds that might try and grow there. It’s almost a self-sustaining habitat now, requiring annual pruning of the bushes, and an occasional thinning of the violets.
I once declined to look after the garden of a lady who wanted me to uproot the violets carpeting her rose bed. The combination struck me as one of the most attractive prospects of her plot and she wanted to be rid of it! Removing the violets would have been against nature. Other plants would have come along to fill the space, requiring repeat weedings in turn. Working with nature allows our violets to do what they do best, bringing a smile to the faces of passing humans.
Pat, a girl I once worked with, had no money on her mother’s birthday, but had never noticed the bank of violets by their front fence. We gathered a fine posy to mark the day. Consider the flowers! They can speak of our love for each other as well as God’s love for us. Let’s work with him to restore beauty to our world.
Ephesians 3:14-21 May Christ dwell in our hearts Luke 2:41-52 Mary treasured all these things
The encounter with Jesus gives rise to the desire to stay with him and to abide in him: a time in which fruit matures. Being fully human, like us Jesus grew and matured. He lived a simple life, rooted in the practices of his Jewish faith. In this hidden life in Nazareth, where apparently nothing extraordinary happened, the presence of the Father nourished him. Mary contemplated the actions of God in her life and in that of her son. She treasured all these things in her heart. Thus, little by little, she embraced the mystery of Jesus. We too need a long period of maturation, an entire lifetime, in order to plumb the depths of Christ’s love, to let him abide in us and for us to abide in him. Without our knowing how, the Spirit makes Christ dwell in our hearts. And it is through prayer, by listening to the word, in sharing with others, by putting into practice what we have understood, that the inner being is strengthened. “Letting Christ descend into the depths of our being … He will penetrate the regions of the mind and the heart, he will reach our flesh unto our innermost being, so that we too will one day experience the depths of mercy.” [The Sources of Taizé (2000) p. 134]
Holy Spirit, May we receive in our hearts the presence of Christ, and cherish it as a secret of love. Nourish our prayer, enlighten our reading of Scripture, act through us, so that the fruits of your gifts can patiently grow in us.
Questions • The Bible tells us very little about Jesus’ youth and early adulthood, when he seems to have lived an ordinary life in Nazareth. How are you conscious of God’s presence with you in the everyday things of life? • In your church or group of churches how do you nurture your children and young people to walk with God in their everyday lives, and how could you do this better? • What does the churches having a ‘presence’ together in the community look like in your area?
Pope Francis has declared this to be the Year of Saint Joseph, the Man with the Father’s Heart. Here is the thinking behind that, from his letter, Patris Corde – with a Father’s Heart.
Now, one hundred and fifty years after his proclamation as Patron of the Catholic Church by Blessed Pius IX (8 December 1870), I would like to share some personal reflections on this extraordinary figure, so close to our own human experience. For, as Jesus says, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt 12:34).
My desire to do so increased during these months of pandemic, when we experienced, amid the crisis, how “our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people, people often overlooked. People who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines, or on the latest television show, yet in these very days are surely shaping the decisive events of our history. Doctors, nurses, storekeepers and supermarket workers, cleaning personnel, caregivers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteers, priests, men and women religious, and so very many others. They understood that no one is saved alone… How many people daily exercise patience and offer hope, taking care to spread not panic, but shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday ways, how to accept and deal with a crisis by adjusting their routines, looking ahead and encouraging the practice of prayer. How many are praying, making sacrifices and interceding for the good of all”.
Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all.
We think of Christmas as a time of generosity, but do we stop to think what that means? Sister Johanna did not write this reflection specifically for Advent, but it challenges us to go to the roots of generosity, to the creator who gives us everything, in due season.
Why should you be envious because I am generous? (Mt.20:15)
The question, ‘Why should you be envious because I am generous,’ comes at the end of the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. If you are not sure which parable I mean, have a look at Mt. 20: 1-16. Instead of recounting the whole story here in detail, I’d like to take two days to concentrate on only two aspects of this rich and beautiful parable.
The first thing that I noticed on reading the parable of the labourers this time is that the notion of generosity is evident right from the beginning in the way the vineyard owner actually goes out to the busy marketplace to look for workers to hire. He doesn’t sit back and say to himself, “I’m big and important. Let them come to me if they want a job.” He goes out looking for workers, again and again, at different times in the day – once is not enough for him; he cannot seem to rest until he has employed as many workers as possible. Is he doing this for the sake of his business? One would assume so, but the parable doesn’t exactly say this, and I am a bit tempted to wonder why the vineyard owner isn’t organised enough to know how many workers he needs to begin with.
We see him going out repeatedly, and each time finding men ‘standing idle’ in the village square and saying ‘You go to my vineyard, too.’ This suggests to me that the Lord wants us to think that this vineyard owner might be more concerned to provide work for those who need it than to run an efficient business. My theory seems even more plausible in light of what he does the last time he goes out, when it’s “the eleventh hour”. There are still people standing idly in the marketplace, and he asks them why they have been idle all day long. There’s a hint of a reproach here, I think. And their answer is not stellar: ‘Because no one has hired us’ – or in other words, “Not our fault, mate.” The vineyard owner might have written them off as lazy lumps, without a shred of initiative. But he doesn’t. He gives them a chance, too, and invites even this dubious crowd into his vineyard to work with the others.
Although there are some aspects of this parable that have given me problems over the years, this part of the story has always been easy for me to transmute into a description of God’s loving grace. True, on a bad day, I may feel that in my relationship with God, I’m the one who is searching for him, and he’s the elusive one. But when I look more deeply into the events of my life, I see clearly that God is the one who has gone out to the busy ‘marketplace’ of my life and noticed that I was not in his employ. Without hesitation, he offered me a position as a worker in his vineyard. Did I have any qualifications? Not one. This position was given to me in my baptism; with God, you learn by doing. The learning was further strengthened by the other sacraments of the Church, and was made fast by my vocation to monastic life. None of this came about because I made it happen – especially my monastic vocation (which actually took me quite by surprise). God sought me, attracted me, prepared me and made it all possible. And it’s not over yet. I now know that I will always be on the receiving end of the Father’s generosity. My search for him is always wedded to and made possible by his search for me.
What’s more, as a member of the Church, I am a member of a group, a community of other workers who are all objects of the Father’s ceaseless pursuit and beneficiaries of this generosity. I do not work alone in his vineyard. As an ecclesial community, we witness together to this mystery of call and of service. How? In terms of this parable, we can say that each one in our own way is contributing to the “wine-making” business of the Father – which is to say, we are a Eucharistic community. Our response to his invitation, then, contributes to the making of the blood of Christ, the spiritual drink – a heavenly “product.” How blessed is that?
Tomorrow, I would like to look at a second aspect of this parable. SJC.
We mentioned Minster Abbey yesterday. Here’s a true story from the Turnstone family archives, going back more years than I can calculate.
One day when Mrs Turnstone was over-tired from sleepless nights with baby Evelyn, I decided to take her on the train to visit the sisters at Minster Abbey with big sister Rosie. While Sisters A & B and I were talking, Rose was demolishing monastic hospitality in the shape of a plateful of custard cream biscuits. They erupted in the middle of the night, undoing the good work of a long siesta for her poor mother! Rose has been off custard creams ever since. It even used to made her feel sick when the train passed through the scent of the biscuit factory on its way into London Bridge!
Is there a moral to this story? Be a better Dad, and give your child only appropriate food, physical, mental and spiritual, and in due season and due quantities. It sounds like one of the easier challenges for a Dad, but …. (No, I can’t blame the sisters!)
Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Matthew 24.45