Tag Archives: friendship

6 September: Season of Creation VIII: Unloved?

the sun-flower, shining fair, Ray round with flames her disk of seed.

In Memoriam Stanza CI

Unwatch'd, the garden bough shall sway,
    The tender blossom flutter down,
    Unloved, that beech will gather brown,
  This maple burn itself away;

 Unloved, the sun-flower, shining fair, 
    Ray round with flames her disk of seed,
    And many a rose-carnation feed
  With summer spice the humming air;

 Unloved, by many a sandy bar,
    The brook shall babble down the plain, 
    At noon or when the lesser wain
  Is twisting round the polar star;

 Uncared for, gird the windy grove,
    And flood the haunts of hern and crake;
    Or into silver arrows break 
  The sailing moon in creek and cove;

 Till from the garden and the wild
    A fresh association blow,
    And year by year the landscape grow
  Familiar to the stranger's child; 

 As year by year the labourer tills
    His wonted glebe, or lops the glades;
    And year by year our memory fades
  From all the circle of the hills." 

(from In Memoriam by Alfred Lord Tennyson.)

After Tennyson lost a dear friend of his youth, Arthur Henry Hallam, he worked through his grief in his epic poem, ‘In Memoriam, AHH, which took some 17 years to complete. Here he reflects upon mortality, and how the time will come when no-one remembers us, and others will be at home in what was once home to us. Does this melancholy stanza express despair or acceptance of mortality? To have been composing this epic for 17 years suggests that Tennyson’s love for his friend did not fade away, though it will have changed.

The loss of a friend’s love affects how the poet sees the landscape as unloved, uncared for: but others can love it into freshness. Perhaps there are neglected plots near you, in town or country, that would benefit from a little love, a few poppies or sunflowers.

Poppy Bridge, Didsbury, Manchester. Poppy seeds were sown on the land to the right and came up in profusion the following year.

During the Great War, British POWs grew sunflowers for decoration, passing the seeds to their Russian counterparts who regarded them as a delicacy. *

Notes:

  • The beech trees’ leaves turn brown in Autumn, the maples’ become red and yellow
  • Lesser wain, or lesser bear, Ursa Minor, the constellation that includes Polaris, the Pole Star, which appears constant in the Northern sky.
  • Hern is the heron, crake is the corncrake, a bird that nests in cornfields.
  • A glebe is a parcel of land, usually allotted to the village priest.
    • * Where Poppies Blow, John Lewis-Stempel, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016, p225.

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21 August: come a few degrees Southwards

Anachronistic by more than 60 years! The penny post was not established until 1840.

It’s holiday season, and was so in August 1780. Johnson writes to invite a Scottish friend to come and enjoy the bright lights of London, but a little later perhaps, when winter is drawing in.

To DR. BEATTIE, AT ABERDEEN.

Sir,

More years than I have any delight to reckon, have past since you and I saw one another; of this, however, there is no reason for making any reprehensory complaint—Sic fata ferunt*. But methinks there might pass some small interchange of regard between us.

If you say, that I ought to have written, I now write; and I write to tell you, that I have much kindness for you and Mrs. Beattie; and that I wish your health better, and your life long. Try change of air, and come a few degrees Southwards: a softer climate may do you both good; winter is coming on; and London will be warmer, and gayer, and busier, and more fertile of amusement than Aberdeen.

More news I have not to tell you, and therefore you must be contented with hearing, what I know not whether you much wish to hear, that I am, Sir,

Your most humble servant,
SAM. JOHNSON.

August 21, 1780.

Life of Johnson, Volume 3 1776-1780 by James Boswell.

* That’s how the fates worked out.

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19 August: Herded together.


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.

(from “THE WAVES” by Virginia Woolf) 1933.

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13 August: Things that have changed my life, I.

July: Things that have changed my life, I.

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.

Meeting new people.

Doing my back in.

More from these young people tomorrow.

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12 August: A friendly process of detachment

This passage from A Christmas Sermon by Robert Louis Stevenson was written in 1888, when he was convalescing in the Adirondack mountains. We’ve put it here because it is his honest look at himself when he was aware of his own fragility, and it follows on from the honest answer given by the trapper in yesterday’s reflection.

To look back upon the past year, and see how little we have striven and to what small purpose: and how often we have been cowardly and hung back, or temerarious and rushed unwisely in; and how every day and all day long we have transgressed the law of kindness;—it may seem a paradox, but in the bitterness of these discoveries, a certain consolation resides.

Life is not designed to minister to a man’s vanity. He goes upon his long business most of the time with a hanging head, and all the time like a blind child. Full of rewards and pleasures as it is—so that to see the day break or the moon rise, or to meet a friend, or to hear the dinner-call when he is hungry, fills him with surprising joys—this world is yet for him no abiding city. Friendships fall through, health fails, weariness assails him; year after year, he must thumb the hardly varying record of his own weakness and folly. It is a friendly process of detachment.

When the time comes that he should go, there need be few illusions left about himself. Here lies one who meant well, tried a little, failed much:—surely that may be his epitaph, of which he need not be ashamed. Nor will he complain at the summons which calls a defeated soldier from the field: defeated, ay, if he were Paul or Marcus Aurelius!—but if there is still one inch of fight in his old spirit, undishonoured.

The faith which sustained him in his life-long blindness and life-long disappointment will scarce even be required in this last formality of laying down his arms. Give him a march with his old bones; there, out of the glorious sun-coloured earth, out of the day and the dust and the ecstasy—there goes another Faithful Failure!

Robert Louis Stevenson, Writers’ Museum, Edinburgh, by Kim Traynorvia Wikipedia

From A Christmas Sermon by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1888

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2 July: Praying with Pope Francis

Pope Francis invites us this month to pray for Social Friendship


We pray that, in social, economic and political situations of conflict,

we may be courageous and passionate architects

of dialogue and friendship.

To be friends with all the world is asking the humanly impossible, don’t you think? On the other hand, it’s a statement of intent, a personal mission statement, but one that none of us can accomplish alone. The school football team above played as one, courageous and passionate in the game. They were also ambassadors of dialogue and friendship in their area, representing the Catholic Church in a time when it was still regarded with much suspicion in Britain.

Courageous and passionate footballers helped build respect among men and boys who shared a love of the game even when they cheered the other team. Our gestures of dialogue and friendship need not be grand; a chat on the street corner can add a brick to the bridge. One good neighbour, who came to our street from Northern Ireland some 20 years ago, said I was the first Roman Catholic he’d ever had a conversation with. We have both gained by our acquaintance, and the other day, before we were interrupted, we were talking about ‘the Church’ – not ‘the Churches’ – needing to reform from within. We’ll meet again!

So do try saying good morning. The worst that is likely to happen is being ignored.

The Pelicans Website

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25 June, Today this is my vocation, X: being a kind friend is powerful.

Volunteers have a vocation which they might admit to, if pressed. Here is part of what the London Irish Chaplaincy has to say for itself.

The Irish Chaplaincy today

Today, we continue to meet and walk alongside Irish people, especially those most isolated and vulnerable such as Irish prisoners, older Irish people and Travellers. Our work stems from our spiritual roots, embracing the core meaning of Catholic, which is ‘universal’ and ‘inclusive’. We work with people regardless of their religious background.

Who said innovation was the only route to revolution?

Although the term ‘innovation’ seems to be the buzzword, we’ve found that most of the time it’s the little things that make a big difference. For example, simply talking to someone, holding a Travellers’ forum in a prison to offer someone a voice, or writing a letter to a prisoner are the most effective ways to lift their spirit. We know people’s needs change over time and we’ve carried out plenty of research to be sure we’re offering the most helpful services. But the message is clear, that in most cases simply being a kind friend is powerful enough to change someone’s life. For us, these simple actions have stood the test of time.

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21 June, Today this is my vocation, VIII: Obedience and Peace.

Good Pope John XXIII

Angelo Roncalli was a 36 year old priest when in 1925 he was unexpectedly consecrated bishop and despatched as Pope Pius XI’s representative in Bulgaria, a largely Orthodox country, when Orthodox and Catholics had yet to learn to trust each other. Bulgaria was already feeling the influence of Soviet Russia. He wrote to priest friends during his pre-consecration retreat:

My mind is calm and my heart at peace … Yes, Obedientia et Pax, that is my episcopal motto. May it always remain so.

But you, my dear colleagues, have the duty to help me at this time by your prayers, especially on the Feast of Saint Joseph. [19 March, when his episcopal ordination was to take place.] Joseph, by the way, is my second name; I am happy to take it, but I would be happier still to take the virtues of that saint, for they form the fundamental qualities of a good representative of the Holy See.

From John XXIII by Leone Algisi, Catholic Book Club 1966, p58.

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16 June: Sell my silver

Saint Richard’s statue outside Chichester Cathedral

A reminder of one of our English Saints, one who should not be forgotten, a model bishop.

To Chichester belongs a Sussex saint, Saint Richard, Bishop of Chichester in the thirteenth century, and a great man.

In 1245 he found the Sussex see an Augæan stable; but he was equal to the labour of cleansing it. He deprived the corrupt clergy of their benefices with an unhesitating hand, and upon their successors and those that remained he imposed laws of comeliness and simplicity. His reforms were many and various: he restored hospitality to its high place among the duties of rectors; he punished absentees; he excommunicated usurers; while (a revolutionist indeed!) priests who spoke indistinctly or at too great a pace were suspended. Also, I doubt not, he was hostile to locked churches. Furthermore, he advocated the Crusades like another Peter the Hermit.

Richard’s own life was exquisitely thoughtful and simple. An anecdote of his brother, who assisted him in the practical administration of the diocese, helps us to this side of his character. “You give away more than your income,” remarked this almoner-brother one day. “Then sell my silver,” said Richard, “it will never do for me to drink out of silver cups while our Lord is suffering in His poor. Our father drank heartily out of common crockery, and so can I. Sell the plate.”

Richard penetrated on foot to the uttermost corners of his diocese to see that all was well. He took no holiday, but would often stay for a while at Tarring, near Worthing, with Simon, the parish priest and his great friend. Tradition would have Richard the planter of the first of the Tarring figs, and indeed, to my mind, he is more welcome to that honour than Saint Thomas à Becket, who competes for the credit—being more a Sussex man. In his will Richard left to Sir Simon de Terring his best riding horse and a commentary on the Psalms.

The Bishop died in 1253 and he was at once canonised. To visit his grave in the nave of Chichester Cathedral (it is now in the south transept) was a sure means to recovery from illness, and it quickly became a place of pilgrimage. Very pleasant must have been the observance of Richard’s day in the Chichester streets. In 1297 we find Edward I. giving Lovel the harper 6s. 6d. for singing the Saint’s praises; but Henry VIII. was to change all this. On December 14th, 1538, it being, I imagine, a fine day, the Defender of the Faith signed a paper ordering Sir William Goring and William Ernely, his Commissioners, to repair to Chichester Cathedral and remove “the bones, shrine, &c., of a certain Bishop —— which they call S. Richard,” to the Tower of London. That the Commissioners did their work we know from their account for the same, which came to £40.

from Highways and Byways in Sussex by E. V. Lucas, 2nd edition 1921.

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7 June: Johnson Good Manners

Johnson’s statue in his home town of Lichfield by Elliott Brown, Flickr.


 ‘When Mr. Vesey was proposed as a member of the LITERARY CLUB, Mr. Burke began by saying that he was a man of gentle manners.

“Sir, said Johnson, you need say no more. When you have said a man of gentle manners; you have said enough.”‘

‘The late Mr. Fitzherbert told Mr. Langton that Johnson said to him, “Sir, a man has no more right to say an uncivil thing, than to act one; no more right to say a rude thing to another than to knock him down.”‘

from Life of Johnson, Volume 4 by James Boswell

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