Tag Archives: fire

7 February: Helping and Helping 5, The Lodging House Fire II.



If we read his Autobiography of a Supertramp, we learn that Davies did spend time in the libraries but lacked the energy to get the most out of being there because of sitting in front of the Lodging House Fire. What would he have done with a mobile phone? Played mindless games all day?

I gave myself over to the influence of the coke fire. After going out in the morning for two or three hours, I would return at midday, often earlier, and sit hopelessly before this fire for ten or eleven hours, after which I would retire to my room. What a miserable time was this: the kitchen, foul with the breath of fifty or sixty men, and the fumes of the coke fire, took all the energy out of a man, and it was a hard fight to keep awake. It has taken the play out of the kitten, and this small animal lies stretched out, overcome by its fumes, without the least fear of being trodden on. Sometimes, when I endeavoured to concentrate my mind, with an idea of writing something, it was necessary to feign a sleep, so that these kind hearted fellows might not disturb me with their civilities. On these occasions it was not unusual for me to fall into a real sleep. And, when I awoke, it sickened me to think of this wasted time; for I was spending in bed more hours than were necessary for my health, and it was a most cruel waste of time to be sleeping in the day.

This fire exerted a strange influence over us. In the morning we were loath to leave it, and we all returned to it as soon as possible. Even the books and magazines in the libraries could not seduce me longer than an hour.

There was one seat at the corner of a table, which I have heard called “the dead man’s seat.” It was within two yards of this great fire, which was never allowed to suffer from want of coke. It was impossible to retain this seat long and keep awake. Of course, a man could hardly expect to keep this seat day after day for a long winter, and to be alive in the spring of the year. This was the case with a printer who, unfortunately, had only three days’ work a week. The amount he earned was sufficient for his wants, so, in his four idle days, he would sit on this seat, eating, reading, but more often sleeping, until before the end of the winter, he was carried away a dying man. Some of these lodgers claim to be able to recognise in the public streets any strangers who are suffering from this coke fever.



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4. There’s Helping and Helping: the Lodging House Fire I.


Here is the poet W.H. Davies himself in a homeless hostel in  early 20th Century London, after the railroad accident that disabled him. Here is a stifling charity, literally; coke here is neither drug nor soft drink but a type of solid fuel, a hot-burning by-product of extracting chemicals from coal. Today Davies would quite likely spend his days in and out of the public library. I see homeless people treated with great courtesy by librarians, who are unsung, unofficial social workers.

The Lodging-House Fire

My birthday-yesterday,
Its hours were twenty-four;
Four hours I lived lukewarm,
And killed a score.

Eight bells and then I woke,
Came to our fire below,
Then sat four hours and watched
Its sullen glow.

Then out four hours I walked,
The lukewarm four I live,
And felt no other joy
Than air can give.

My mind durst know no thought,
It knew my life too well:
‘Twas hell before, behind,
And round me hell.

Back to that fire again,
Six hours I watch it now,
And take to bed dim eyes
And fever’s brow.

Ten hours I give to sleep,
More than my need, I know;
But I escape my mind
And that fire’s glow.

For listen: it is death
To watch that fire’s glow;
For, as it bums more red
Men paler grow.

O better in foul room
That’s warm, make life away,
Than homeless out of doors,
Cold night and day.

Pile on the coke, make fire,
Rouse its death-dealing glow;
Men are borne dead away
Ere they can know.

I lie; I cannot watch
Its glare from hour to hour;
It makes one sleep, to wake
Out of my power.

I close my eyes and swear
It shall not wield its power;
No use, I wake to find
A murdered hour.

Lying between us there!
That fire drowsed me deep,
And I wrought murder’s deed-
Did it in sleep.

I count us, thirty men,
Huddled from Winter’s blow,
Helpless to move away
From that fire’s glow.

So goes my life each day-
Its hours are twenty-four-
Four hours I live lukewarm,
And kill a score.

No man lives life so wise
But unto Time he throws
Morsels to hunger for
At his life’s close.

Were all such morsels heaped-
Time greedily devours,
When man sits still – he’d mourn
So few wise hours.

But all my day is waste,
I live a lukewarm four
And make a red coke fire
Poison the score.

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January 31, Aberdaron IX: Fire.

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Sometimes a candle can speak where words cannot.

As here in Canterbury Cathedral, on a cake, or at a memorial site.

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29 October, Christ walking with travellers: IV. A journey around my room

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At the end of the eighteenth century, Xavier de Maistre found himself locked up. He was more comfortably off than most prisoners, but still bored. He used his time to write a little book which he called A journey around my room. It can be found in the original French: here.

If for some reason we cannot go out – weather, illness, time of day, domestic duties – we can sit comfortably and begin our own journey, not just around the corners of the room but around the corners of our heart.

The lamp above my shoulder I made as an exercise on a college course many years ago in Hull, Yorkshire. That reminds me of my fellow course members, my tutors and friends, as well as Paul, a Hull man I often see down here in Kent. Thinking of them soon turns into a prayer.

Then there is the piano, not used much these days, but a bargain buy from a neighbour who was moving away. Think of her, and her son, exiled, perhaps for ever, from their native land; but at least she can walk along the street alone in Britain, free from fear and bare-headed, and still count herself a faithful Muslim.

The fire! We were glad to replace the ugly gas fire with something more in keeping with the house; everyone enjoys it on the special evenings when it burns.

Next, a nineteenth century engraving of a mother bathing her child before the kitchen range where elder sister, aged maybe seven, is warming a blanket, while father with an arm around mother, looks about to tickle the baby’s tummy. That was found in a Belgian flea market, brought home and remounted in a new frame. My wife’s keen eye at work!

To one side, an African carving of the Holy Family where Joseph is twice the size of Mary protecting his wife and the infant Jesus. But those two objects invite so much contemplation that I shall leave you there; perhaps to return to that corner another day.

Take a trip around your personal space and see where it leads you!


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15 June: Laid upon God’s table.


barley-sea-waves-b-w-2-640x477Much of the world celebrates Corpus Christi today. Here is another reflection from the early Anglican Franciscan, Fr Andrew SDC.

I have often thought of the bread we use in Holy Communion. First of all it is a blade growing in the field, and then part of a golden cornfield over which winged birds fly and amongst which the poppies and the wild flowers grow. Then it is plucked and subjected to the action of fire and water and kneaded into bread, and then it is laid upon God’s Table, waiting for the Holy Spirit to become his means of grace.

it seems such a parable of our life. We are not really put to the highest use until we have been plucked out of the world, ground and kneaded and given to God to do just what he likes with us, even as He gave Himself for us.

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18 May: The Absorbeat.


Following on from my contemplation of the fiery stars I am on a roll with the theme of fire. The fire of the Holy Spirit, the fire of God’s unconditional love, the fiery power of Christ’s love for us. We can experience this fire in joy: when we are filled with awe and wonder at the beauty of the day; the sky; of nature; of laughing children; smiling people; an act of lovingkindness; through another’s humility and gentleness. Through so many things, yet they are in themselves outward forms, an exercise or practice of experiencing joy via the perception of our senses.

The joy in the prayer above is one of complete consuming attention and focus upon the love of Christ to the exclusion of all else. Immersion in Christ is like being in the fiery furnace where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were condemned by King Nebuchadnezzar, and who were not consumed by the fire being protected and sheltered by a fourth figure. We can only guess at who this fourth figure may have been but the fire of our faith combined with the fire of Christ’s love is a mind-blowing experience. Dare we allow ourselves to be so consumed? The mystics and saints were marked with such willing natures and as a result became extraordinary examples for us to follow…….


……Grant that we may be ready
to die for love of your love,
as you died for love of our love.

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19 October: A Physical Body, A Physical Cross



Godstone, Isle of Wight

R.S. Thomas knew a quiet place to pray, ‘In a country church’.[1]

He … saw love in a dark crown

Of thorns blazing, and a winter tree

Golden with fruit of a man’s body.

I was walking through an apple orchard the day I composed this post, and enjoyed a golden apple left behind by the pickers. In brilliant sunshine it was warm to the taste. Come the winter, that orchard will be muddy and less inviting; the trees bare of all but small and deformed fruit, waiting for the birds to devour them, peck by peck.

Many church crucifixes are golden, from thinking that precious metal should be used to represent the precious death of the Lord. Perhaps R.S. Thomas has some thought of the love of the artists who made the crucifix or glass in his country church, but principally it is the body of the Lord he contemplates.

The physicality of that body came home to me as I bit into that warm golden apple. A man’s warm body growing cold on a winter tree, but a loving heart, crowned with flaming thorns, never growing cold.

The scandal of the cross is that it happened – and yet we adopt this as our Christian symbol, rather than an empty tomb, say, or the star of Bethlehem. Thereby we proclaim ourselves as sinners: the cross is not a good luck charm, it is a true story.

Let us pray that we do not ignore the fruit that is ripe for the picking on that winter (or spring, summer, autumn) tree; may we taste and see that the Lord is good. (Psalm 34:8)


[1] SP p29


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Interruption:Fire on the Earth


I am come to cast fire on the earth; and what will I, but that it be kindled?

Luke 12:49

We pray: send forth your Spirit, Lord, and kindle in us the fire of your love.

My wife Janet took me to see this cowslip meadow: a fragrant flowering fire on a strip of Kentish earth; a reminder of  the gentle fire of Pentecost day.


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May 15: Pentecost: The Breakthrough

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Many years ago, in my hometown, I had a powerful experience while riding on a bus. I don’t know why I was taking the bus that day, as at that time I drove a motorcycle, nor do I recall where I was going…but, really, all of that is beside the point. The experience I had, while staring aimlessly out the window, remains fresh in my memory, even decades later.

Now, please, don’t misunderstand what I am about to write – as if it were a claim to some privileged mystical experience. Rather, it came in the form of a daydream; a sparkling thought, caught up with an image, all in an instant…that made me blink then smile and begin the first of many re-plays. What occurred was a kind of visualisation that I have come to call the ‘breakthrough’; a great, shattering, re-arranging, expansive, irresistible, all-encompassing force pulsing through a billion shards of what seemed like brightly coloured stained glass, all rushing forward and constantly re-configured in near-endless patterns of dazzling complexity and creative expression. It was also immediately apparent that the thrusting force was purposeful, even rational, and, above all…exuberant.

I reckoned right away that it must have been a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

Over the years I have remembered and cherished that image, tried (with varying degrees of success) to represent it in art, and have also discerned it in some others’ experience as well. As I have done so, many different dynamic aspects of the fundamental breakthrough have emerged. The first is scriptural and that is of a Triune God on the move; nearly peripatetic, even mendicant. This has always been obvious in terms of the Second Person of the Trinity, first in terms of the explosive creative agency of the Word and then through the itinerant ministry of the Incarnate Word; preaching and working miracles on the many byroads of Palestine- the foxes have holes and the birds build nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. But what of the other Trinitarian Persons? The Holy Spirit blows like the wind, wherever he wills, defying all of our attempts to place God within perceptible perimeters or even (God forbid!) a box. He also dances and flickers like tongues of flame; dead, static religion has no place in that raucous Kingdom. What of the Father? Moving, always moving with his desert people in the great covenantal Ark; a mendicant God for a pilgrim people, sparkling with the guiding light of shekinah even in the dark nights of weakness and despair.

And like Siva in a very different religious tradition, that Spirit of wind and fire, ever moving- siempre adelante– can unmake as well as make. But God being God is necessarily all in all and utterly good. When Love unmakes it is only to pave the way for the exhilaration of renewed freedom. Thus, St. Paul in Ephesians 2:14, For he himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall… I have seen many a wall tumble and, when it is the work of Christ attested by the Holy Spirit, people invariably look up, rubbing weary eyes in wonder at undreamed of promise…fulfilled.



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O, that you would tear the heavens open and come down



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From where we stand, the Cave is dark.

We wait in this valley of darkness; this night

of shadows and echoes from the past.


The Father is aware, but silent;

the Watchers are there, mute and still;

the Holy Ghost broods with quiet joy.


Moses is there in a cleft of the rock;

 Plato observes the images thrown on the wall

by the fire outside, near the sheep-fold.


In this silence and darkness is no threat,

for waiting there is right; without signs.

Mary has said her Fiat and it shall be.


 The door pushed open by the shepherds,

casts another shadow on the wall;

image of a cross, for pain is there before birth.


Then, at the breath of a new Creation

uttered by the Father, the Holy Ghost stirs;

 Jesus slips into the waiting world.

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The Father tears open the curtains of heaven,

 beside Himself with the weight of joy

at this first glimpse of His only Son,


Child, you shine at your birth, translucent

   with love of the Father, who sees even now, how

 the veil of the temple will be rent at your death.


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