Tag Archives: gardening

22 May: A is for Aston

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back-to-back houses, Birmingham

 

Why the spruced-up slum? I was going to write about Aston Hall, the mansion that overlooks Villa Park in Birmingham. My boyhood home was nearby so we could go there on the green diesel trains, taking care to cross the roads safely and watch out for the ‘rough’ Aston kids, who never actually bothered with us. I thought there were priest holes at Aston Hall, but you can appreciate just how mixed up I was when I began writing this post by reading Carl Chinn’s article here.

Consider the contrast between the splendour of the Hall and its park, and the nineteenth century slums all around it. Again,  Dr Chinn gives some insight into the very different ways of life and how the local people themselves raised money to save the hall and park.

One route from Aston station was along ‘Lovers’ Walk’, a narrow alley of grimy red brick; I doubt any lovers would have lingered there. Was it a lovers’ walk before the slums surrounded it, and the name stuck, or an example of slum-dwellers’  humour? After my great grandmother died I was entrusted with taking her clothes along there to the rag merchant’s yard. What they raised was hardly worth the trouble and train fare.

Aston smelt (literally) of stale poverty, but some remarkable people grew up there. My friend Gill remembers dressing the 8 year old Ossie Osborne in old clothes and a mask, and pushing him round the streets to raise money for November 5 fireworks. Penny for the guy?

If Britain could demolish Aston and build new council houses in the 1950s when there was less wealth in the country, why is it now so impossible to house families decently?

WT.

 

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17 May: The Renewing Grace of Stargazing.

 

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The Beehive Nebula

Reading for None:

Let your spirits be renewed so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:23-24)

Renewal is a central truth in our fellowship with Christ. Daily we have the opportunity for renewal. In the text above the word ’Let’ is the first. We can choose to be renewed or not. How can we do this? How do we know we have been renewed?

When I am weary, I desire an early night. Before I venture upstairs I am in the habit of going into my garden to see if there is a clear night sky with a good sprinkling of stars and a few planets to gaze upon. If there are, I will get out my Makutsov telescope with the battered azimuth cog that makes it judder and begin my astronomical observations. What joy and happiness I feel at such times. I see my old friends, Jupiter and four of his moons: Callisto, Ganymede, Europa and Io; then there is bright Arcturus; the baleful red giant Betelgeuse and if the atmosphere is clear I can see the nebula in Orion’s sword. I pay especial attention to the Seven Sisters and once I have tracked down my other familiar friends I start looking in earnest for something I have not found before.

Most recently, I discerned the Beehive Nebula, so named because it looks like a hive of busy bees.

It is also called the Manger, as, with some imagination, it does seem like two donkeys munching from a manger. Once you know where to look it is easier to find the next time. It took me months to find the Andromeda galaxy. She had been hidden by an overgrown apple tree but I found her eventually. A blurry smudge in the blackness. So distant, yet now present in my humble back garden. What is far is so, so near!

My joy is made complete when looking at the stars in the sky. It has been a lifelong interest but only recently have I been able to indulge in a good telescope. After stargazing I am renewed, refreshed, not tired and filled with a lightness both spiritually and physically. The universe visits my humble garden, impinges on my consciousness and refreshes my soul. I am renewed with love for all creation.

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May 5: Where Love Can Learn

 

I’ll have a garden full of flowers,
With many a corner-place;
Where love can learn from spiders’ webs
To make her mats of lace.

Since 1 March was Ash Wednesday this year, we missed out on  Saint David’s day. But let’s remember him now. David of Wales was very keen on little things: ‘Do the little things well’, he told his followers on his deathbed, so we offer another little verse from the Welsh poet W.H. Davies.  A garden verse, since it was in a garden that our first parents were brought together; it was in a garden that Christ was buried; in a garden that Mary met him on Easter morning.

The garden on the left, lacy with long stems, feathered leaves and daisy flowers was sown with English wild flowers on land that had lain neglected for years; the Easter Garden with its first little flowers of the year around the tiny empty tomb, we found in Northumberland, a country that knew the influence of the Celtic Christianity that formed David.

As Spring tempts out a new array of flowers, let’s continue  to look and learn; at ourselves, yes, but also at the world God has entrusted to us: Laudato si’!

MMB.

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Easter Tuesday 18th April, 2017: Let God lead the way.

Easter Tuesday

Image from http://www.metrovoice.net/2009/0409_stlweb/0409_articles/crushing_weight_of_the_gethsemane.html

Jesus, in order to redeem the world, had to go through a trial – a period in which he had to give up his life. Christ almost wanted to avoid it, but he surrendered to the will of his Father, I would say there was a time in my life I didn’t want to continue living. I told God “that is it, I have had enough.” Often, I pray “let the will of God be done” but sometimes the will of God is not always as sweet or simple as I would wish it.

I was having difficulty singing – not that I didn’t have a good voice to sing, but I found that in the middle of the singing my voice would change completely. The most painful thing was, I was always reminded of how my voice affected everyone. My last option was to stop singing.

One day, I thought: “what if I ask God to sing in me?” At that moment, I decided to hand over the situation to God, to lead the way.

My singing pattern changed. I became happy with myself. Only through God and in God can I/we achieve that which seems impossible in the eyes of men and women.

We are celebrating today the resurrection of Christ because Christ relied on and believed in his Father’s ability to see him through his agony. So it shall be for all of us who believe and trust in God. We shall be victorious no matter what challenge we face in our life’s journey.

FMSL

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16 April, Easter Day: ‘…linen cloths on the ground.’

Easter SundayImage from http://www.swordofthespirit.net/bulwark/april2013p3.htm

Easter Sunday Morning Year A

John 20: 1-9

‘…linen cloths on the ground.’

When a person has conquered the fear of death, there is nothing left to fear in life. He/she has complete freedom of soul and peace of mind. Fear and death both come into the world in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve, feeling shame for the first time, cover their bodies and hide from the Lord.

In the garden of the Resurrection, Jesus, having conquered death and fear, leaves his covering behind in the tomb and comes out into the open, fearless and naked as a new-born human.

St. Francis intuits what it means to be freed from fear by Christ’s Resurrection. When he comes out of hiding from his earthly father and openly claims his Father in heaven, he also sheds all his clothes, facing his new life with the fearless innocence Christ has won for him. Now that he can even look on death as a sister and a blessing, he no longer finds any enemies in God’s creation – only sisters and brothers.

Father, may we, in union with Christ, be unbound from all our fears and claim our true created nature in the power of his Resurrection. Amen.

FMSL

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Review: The Methodist Art Collection comes to town.

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When we were first married we worshipped in a village Methodist Church near Margate; an austere little chapel it was, whitewashed walls and uncomfortable benches. Thank God we did not have to sit under hour long nineteenth century non-conformist sermons, but were fed with wise words from Fr Martin Symonds, of Ramsgate Abbey.

That was more than a few years ago, but the austere image of Methodism is fixed in my mind, which expects churches to be bathed in coloured light from stained glass windows and peopled by statues of the saints who have gone before us.

Not all windows or statues in English Catholic churches would merit inclusion in a travelling art exhibition.

The Methodist Church has built up a collection of modern art, largely looking at Jesus, in one way or another. You can view the works here: http://www.methodist.org.uk/prayer-and-worship/mmac/index . The website will lead you to videos and other resources around these images.

Instead of hanging on church walls, the collection is sent out to proclaim the Good News in its own way; through exhibitions around the UK and in the future to Dublin, Rome and beyond. Until Saint George’s Day 2017 it is in Canterbury’s Beaney Museum.

Not all the images inspire me to ‘prayer and worship’, but I am hard-wired to David Jones, represented here by a delicate woodblock of The Three Kings, passing a David Jones signature passion-resurrection image: a war-blasted tree-cum-cross, sprouting new growth. The Magi approach a starlit Bethlehem amid Welsh hills that bring to mind a woman’s torso and raised knees at the moment of childbirth: the star’s rays beam down like a searchlight upon the haven where the Child lies, under the hill within his Mother’s womb.

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Next to Jones’s tiny, monochrome image hangs The Dalit Madonna, a big, bright work by Jyoti Sahi. While this glorious work picks up themes from Eastern and Western European tradition, such as the sun and moon in the sky, and the Babe blessing from the womb, the artist integrates these with his own Indian culture. The sun is represented by a marigold; the moon by a crescent, including Hinduism and Islam in this birth. Then the Infant is seated within an oval reminiscent of the traditional mandala of Eastern icons, yet despite his foetal position and naturalistic drawing, he is clearly blessing the viewer; he is strong but clearly dependent on his mother, who bends her body in worship and protection, her breast ready to comfort and nurture. Many Catholic preachers would tell you that Mary, who conceived Jesus before her marriage, would have been considered an outcast; an untouchable like this Dalit mother, a radiant human being who clearly loves her son, the centre of her world and being. And how many unwed mothers were condemned by the Catholic Church in recent times?

The one Old Testament story on view here is that of Cain and Abel. We could be among Jones’s Welsh hills, or the Lake District, or even the Downs of the Isle of Wight where John Reilly lived and worked. Cain is a stocky, almost Calibanesque figure, at work within the pale he has set around his neat, well-ordered, smallholding. He pauses in his digging to stare up at his brother, a slim, radiant type of the Good Shepherd, who like Abel would be killed by his own. Suddenly that spade looks menacing: a ploughshare about to become a sword. And yet one cannot help a twinge of sympathy for one who wants his world to be under control, without any disturbing incursions from his brother’s nomadic flocks; that brother who stands nearby with eyes for the far horizon, not for him.

The Lord’s eyes, too, are on a far horizon in Christ writes in the dust – the woman taken in adultery by Clive Hicks Jenkins. In a nightmare of blues, Jesus is almost cartwheeling as, with arms outstretched as on the Cross, he looks away from the scene, away from the woman and her accusers, away from us bystanders looking on. The woman, with her Magdalenesque red hair, high heels and little black dress, is bound, as Christ soon would be, a halter around her throat.The light that glows upon her skin is reflected from Christ, apart from the tiny white triangle of her underwear, visible beneath her skirt which she cannot pull down with her hands tied behind her back. It takes a few moments to see that her accusers already have rocks in their hands, awaiting the moment when Christ’s assent to her killing is given. A moment that never comes. Would we back these men up, if we were there? Were these the men who stoned Stephen? Was Paul among them? Was this the first step on the road to Damascus?

Go and sin no more, Jesus told that woman. A good motto for the Christian life.

Even in the first two pictures reviewed here, the effects of sin creep in: the tree from Flanders, the outcast mother. We see the sin in Cain’s illusory self-sufficiency and his inherent jealousy; loud and clear in those shadowy, self-righteous stones, poised for murder. But like Jones’s three kings, each of us can follow the star, which leads us to a fleshly, humble place. The damage of our sinfulness will not prevent the Cross from being the tree of Life.

If you get the chance to see this exhibition on its travels, do spend some time with a few of the works. Others among them may speak to you louder than these four have done to me. Stop, look, listen.

MMB

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5 January: On the way and already there.

 

Saint Francis is known for his Christmas Crib, among many other things. All sorts of additions have been made to the Nativity scene since then, often reflecting the way of life around where a crib is set.

Our family crib too has extras for our delight. The West Highland Terrier is a rescue dog; he has attached himself to the Magi on the way to the stable of Bethlehem in our living room, where he was found wedged under the skirting when the floor was sanded and polished.

As for the little black cat who has taken up residence in the stable already, making friends with the gentle cow: she is another foundling. When our daughters were little I would bring home these tiny toy animals, each in its own tiny bag from a tiny shop in Broadstairs; unwrapping them on Friday evening started the weekend. There was delight when this one was unearthed in the garden; she was gone but not forgotten. In gratitude for those happy days, she will sit in the stable for years to come.

We are on the way to meet the Lord, but we may be surprised to see who is ready to greet us when we get there!

MMB.

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24 December: Four Candles

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Say ‘four candles’ to ironmongers in Britain and you’ll get a weary reaction. If you don’t know why, watch the video from the link at the end of this post.

I know that reaction. Why? well, Abel’s mother inherited her grandfather’s garden fork, riddled with woodworm. Fork handles? I am serious!

Thanks to  one of an ironmonger’s fork handles, a lick of paint and a few coats of linseed oil, it looks and works as good as new.

A month ago it was the first Sunday in Advent. On the day before, Abel and his grandparents gathered greenery to make their Advent wreaths. When Grannie was not looking Abel used the secateurs; two of his hands and one of Grandad’s did the job very well. Back indoors, Abel and Grannie arranged green leaves on the wreaths, and four candles on each. Red candles on Abel’s, but purple on the old folk’s as Uncle Harry has very definite ideas about the colour of the candles.

At 18 months old Abel knows about doing things together and sharing. He knows a little bit about numbers; he enjoys candlelight and knows not to touch the flame. He knows something about waiting and the candles will help him understand this.

He’ll be learning a bit about baby Jesus, and even if things are a little bit confused in his mind this Christmas, he’ll understand that he’s in a loving human family. Not a bad start.

As for us, we have Good News to proclaim, even if people are confused about what Christmas means. A crib, candle or star in a window represents a silent but glowing witness.

WT.

And here is confusion that you can enjoy: just click on the link.

fork handles

 

 

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6 December: Christ knows Mercy is not always easy.

Mercy is not always an easy virtue to live out. Masefield recognises this in The Coming of Christ. He portrays a foretelling of Jesus’s Agony in the Garden (Luke 22:43) when ‘there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony, he prayed the longer.’

Masefield’s words could apply to Christ’s thoughts in Gethsemane as well as to his reason for coming to earth in the first place:

I stand here at the gate

I quake as I enter in;

Life with its griefs and sin,

Earth with its death and Fate,

Man with his love and hate. (p6)

The Gate of Life, the Gate of Death: two fearsome Gates of Mercy through which Christ entered this world and the next.

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30 October: ‘You spare all things because all things are yours, Lord, lover of life’.

‘You spare all things because all things are yours, Lord, lover of life…’

Wisdom 11:22-12:2

31st-sunday-332x640About two years ago, Sr. Helina and I were working in the kitchen at Catching Lives Community Shelter when another volunteer decided to tidy the window sill.  She picked up from it a little reddish plant which was sitting in a yoghurt pot of dirt, sporting one sorry-looking leaf.  This, she quite sensibly proposed to tidy into the dustbin.  ‘”No!”’ cried Helina and I in unison and we immediately offered to take it home and look after it.  Our rescue plant surprised us.  When it flowered, we discovered it was a begonia.  This year, it outgrew our chapel and had to be moved to a roomier spot.  Over the summer, it put out a cascade of exotic blooms and the beginnings of new leaves all along its stems.

Jesus challenges us to treat each other with mercy as we treated the plant, never giving up on anyone but allowing people the time and the conditions they need to grow and change.  That is why He told a parable about a gardener who asked the landowner to spare a fruitless tree from being cut down.  The gardener wanted it to have another year of nurturing to help it bear fruit.  He could guarantee no results for the following year …but as there are no limits on God’s mercy, I can picture him going back to the landowner every year with the same request until the fruit finally appears. (Luke 13:6-9)

‘…you are merciful to all, because you can do all things and overlook people’s sins so that they can repent.’

FMSL

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