Tag Archives: gift

10 February: What was it you went out to see – at Lourdes.

mary petitions pix venice

This statue in Venice is very like that of Mary at Lourdes, and as we see, it is surrounded by passport photos and little notes, petitions and thank-yous. We saw a similar crop of photographs around the statue of Our Lady of Valencia.  The Basilica of Our Lady of Africa in Algiers also receives photos and notes from Muslims as well as Christians.

Prayer, we were taught at school, is the raising of the heart and mind to God, but it is also a physical activity. Sitting, kneeling, bowing, walking or riding on pilgrimage, even the physical act of going to the parish church of a Sunday; any of these can enable us to raise our hearts and minds to God.

So prayer can be going to church and leaving a prayer request  on a board or in a basket. Or leaving a prayer request before the tomb of a saint, or in this case a statue. We can ask for the prayers of the Church,  not just the Church on earth today but also the saints triumphant who have all the time in eternity to pray for us: Mary included.

Tomorrow is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. What are people seeking there? Can it be put into words? Perhaps peace and healing of the heart and mind, if not of the body, is what I hear most often as the gift of the pilgrimage. An on-going process, not always to be rushed.

Those who leave photos or candles in front of Mary’s statue commend their loved ones to our prayers as well as Mary’s: let us pray then for all who will make the Lourdes pilgrimage this year, as sick pilgrims or helpers, and for all who ask our prayers, directly or through such gestures as we see in this photograph.

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9 February: To the almshouse!

maynards spittal
Dear Simon,
We were sorry to hear that you and Ruth have divorced after so many years. We were unaware of the difficulties in your relationship which do sound beyond human repair. But if you can conserve a friendship then who knows what might not be built on the foundations of the love that brought you together in the first place? And of course, however imperfect the lovers, however imperfect the love, much good has come of your time together. Between you, you sustained two fine young people through to where they are now.
Do you enjoy living in the almshouse? Is there a community feel to the place? I well remember, soon after our George was born, a friend called Kathy came over from Canada, and was just visiting Canterbury for one day, so a quick personal guided tour of the city was required. All the main sights, of course, but also a few of my hidden favourites. We went down Hospital Lane towards the Poor Priests’ Hospital, and of course you cannot really miss the almshouses, which may originate as far back as the 12th Century.
Kathy absolutely fell in love with the idea of almshouses, which provide secure, if compact homes for senior citizens. These days someone in an overlarge rented house might free that property in favour of a family, and receive a handy place in the centre of town. I suspect that when Kathy leaves Planet Earth she’ll not have the money to leave to establish almshouses in Nova Scotia under her name. And nor will we.
The old ones were not built for the likes of me all 6ft 3½ of me— but I gather your place is a 21st Century built apartment, warm, convenient, comfortable. Rest and be thankful!
Will.

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14 January: Thomas Traherne XXIII, more glorious than millions of Angels

sunrise.sjc

[The sun] raiseth corn to supply you with food, it melteth waters to quench your thirst, it infuseth sense into all your members, it illuminates the world to entertain you with prospects, it surroundeth you with the beauty of hills and valleys. It moveth and laboureth night and day for your comfort and service; it sprinkleth flowers upon the ground for your pleasure; and in all these things sheweth you the goodness and wisdom of a God that can make one thing so beautiful, delightful and serviceable, having ordained the same to innumerable ends.

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It concocteth minerals, raiseth exhalations, begetteth clouds, sendeth down the dew and rain and snow, that refresheth and repaireth all the earth. And is far more glorious in its diurnal motion, than if there were two suns to make on either side a perpetual day: the swiftness whereby it moves in twenty-four hours about so vast an universe manifesteth the power and care of a Creator, more than any station or quiet could do.

And producing innumerable effects it is more glorious, than if millions of Angels diversly did do them.

Century 2.8

 

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January 13: Thomas Traherne XXII, Suppose the Sun were absent

darkevening

It is on this day that the people of Greenland have their first glimpse of the sun for the new year.

Place yourself therefore in the midst of the world, as if you were alone, and meditate upon all the services which it doth unto you.

Suppose the Sun were absent; and conceive the world to be a dungeon of darkness and death about you: you will then find his beams more delightful than the approach of Angels: and loath the abomination of that sinful blindness, whereby you see not the glory of so great and bright a creature, because the air is filled with its beams. Then you will think that all its light shineth for you, and confess that God hath manifested Himself indeed, in the preparation of so divine a creature.

You will abhor the madness of those who esteem a purse of gold more than it. Alas, what could a man do with a purse of gold in an everlasting dungeon? And shall we prize the sun less than it, which is the light and fountain of all our pleasures? You will then abhor the preposterous method of those, who in an evil sense are blinded with its beams, and to whom the presence of the light is the greatest darkness. For they who would repine at God without the sun, are unthankful, having it: and therefore only despise it, because it is created.

Meditations 2:7.

‘Repine’ here we read as ‘moan’. Better to be grateful for what is given us, and so be happy.

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January 12: Thomas Traherne XXI, Walking

hereford.lane.b&w.cottage

A village in Herefordshire, Traherne’s home county. Where does the lane lead?

To walk abroad is, not with eyes,
But thoughts, the fields to see and prize;
Else may the silent feet,
Like logs of wood,
Move up and down, and see no good
Nor joy nor glory meet.

Ev’n carts and wheels their place do change,
But cannot see, though very strange
The glory that is by;
Dead puppets may
Move in the bright and glorious day,
Yet not behold the sky.

And are not men than they more blind,
Who having eyes yet never find
The bliss in which they move;
Like statues dead
They up and down are carried
Yet never see nor love.

To walk is by a thought to go;
To move in spirit to and fro;
To mind the good we see;
To taste the sweet;
Observing all the things we meet
How choice and rich they be.

To note the beauty of the day,
And golden fields of corn survey;
Admire each pretty flow’r
With its sweet smell;
To praise their Maker, and to tell
The marks of his great pow’r.

To fly abroad like active bees,
Among the hedges and the trees,
To cull the dew that lies
On ev’ry blade,
From ev’ry blossom; till we lade
Our minds, as they their thighs.

.assisi.clouds.hill

Observe those rich and glorious things,
The rivers, meadows, woods, and springs,
The fructifying sun;
To note from far
The rising of each twinkling star
For us his race to run.

A little child these well perceives,
Who, tumbling in green grass and leaves,
May rich as kings be thought,
But there’s a sight
Which perfect manhood may delight,
To which we shall be brought.

While in those pleasant paths we talk,
‘Tis that tow’rds which at last we walk;
For we may by degrees
Wisely proceed
Pleasures of love and praise to heed,
From viewing herbs and trees.

Thomas Traherne

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26 December: Sober this Christmas?

Photo0674 (555x657)

 

I was looking for inspiration for Saint Stephen’s day, a martyrdom straight after the birth of baby Jesus. I also had an eye open for frankincense, because Abel is to play Caspar the Wise Man or King in the school Nativity play. Siesta is the obvious shop for such things in Canterbury and they did not disappoint: half a dozen sticks of frankincense, or so they claim were soon found and in my bag.

It was on my way out that I saw the card, the bright red was hard to ignore. The message on the front read, ‘What’s sobriety got to do with Christmas’, which reminded me of the ancient card or cracker joke: ‘be like the early Christians this Christmas, get stoned.’ Which brings us back to Saint Stephen, shown here with a pile of the stones people used to kill him. The statue is above the main door of his Church in Canterbury.

Already on Pentecost Day the Apostles had been accused of drunkenness because of their proclamation of the Good News (Acts 2:15). A few weeks later Stephen was arrested, and his words sound like a drunken illusion (Acts 7:56-60).

Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, [who was] calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Even when stone-cold sober, people can act irrationally and sinfully; a sobering message indeed.

Let us pray for all our Christian sisters and brothers who are trying to live out their vocation as members of a minority, sometimes suspected of treason, open to accusations of blasphemy, and liable to suffer violence and murder.

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14 November: Can a man be profitable to God?

In the Book of Job, 22, his friend, Eliphaz the Temanite says:

“Can a man be profitable to God?
Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself.
Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right,
or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless? “

Job’s comforters have a bad press, indeed Blake, who engraved our image calls them ‘tormentors’. But even if it’s the wrong time and place for it, Eliphaz has a point for us, if not for Job! As Rowan Williams puts it in his discussion on William Tyndale:

Any system of religious activity and thinking that tries to give us some leverage over God – I’ve never denied God a moment of my time, I hope he remembers that – such an attitude is poisonous to our faith. 

And

We create religious institutions that are designed to preserve that divine indebtedness to us, and while we are doing that, we largely ignore the concrete forms of indebtedness toward other human beings to which we should be attending.*

ALL IS GIFT!

Accept the gift of your life, accept that it is a gift, be thankful for every breath! God did not have to bring you into being, and if you suffer, remember that so too did Jesus, his Son. Suffering is shared by God.

Alfred Joyce Kilmer put it this way in his Prayer of a Soldier in France:

My shoulders ache beneath my pack 

(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back). 

Please follow this link to our post from July last year for the whole poem, written shortly before Kilmer’s death in battle. He concludes:

So let me render back again 

This millionth of Thy gift. Amen. 

The gift is the redemptive suffering of Jesus; allying our suffering to his is to set ourselves in sympathy with Jesus; so if personal suffering is a gift, that is because of how we receive it, endure it, live it: through him, with him and in him. Him being the one who prayed: O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:29)

Image from William Blake’s Illustrations for the Book of Job, via Wikipedia
* Rowan Williams:  Luminaries: Twenty lives that illuminate the Christian Way, London SPCK 2019. p54

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7 November: Threading a yarn.

See the source image

 

As part of their Week of Retreat in Daily Life the L’Arche Kent Community asked me to  read a Hans Christian Andersen story: I chose the Darning Needle which you can read by following the link. It’s a story with a few morals to it which we talked about afterwards, including the dangers of pride and the fact that we all need each other.

We also talked about darning and mending rather than throwing away. I had with me a coat that was coming apart at the seams. G and E suggested in Makaton that I could sew it, which I did when the story was told, but the needle had been threaded and passed around during the telling. J showed his tailoring skills and awoke a memory, which I shared, of my mother doing as he did, measuring the working length of thread from nose to extended fingertips.

G suggested using a machine, which led to my telling about my wife’s machine – hand turned, not treadle as he signed. This had been given to her 40 years ago from the community’s surplus. It had belonged to a friend of L’Arche in those early days, who was glad to see it in a good home. She could never use it; it was all that remained of her own home, which was destroyed in the Blitz, her family within it.

When I got home I realised another story could have been told. The yarn J threaded was branded ‘winfield’ – in lower case. It had come from Woolworth’s, via my wife’s mother’s mending basket, purchased perhaps in the 1970s. But thereby would hang yet another tale.

No man, or woman, is an island!

 

 

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8 October: Mary Webb’s Franciscan generosity.

Mary_webb

The poet Henry Moult, in his biography of Mary Webb, describes her nature mysticism as ‘pagan’. I feel ‘Franciscan’ would be better; certainly she was Franciscan in her generosity. Moult shares the testimony of relatives:

‘Her charity often did more credit to her heart than her head, for she gave extravagantly, with an abandon which sometimes left her own real necessities unsupplied … A friend of Mary’s said: ‘She might have twenty pounds in the morning, and hardly ten shillings at night.’ (Ten shillings became 50p)

‘Whatever was asked of her by those who sought her help she joyously supplied.’

Moult quotes a friend telling how she asked the Shropshire village children what they would like for Christmas, and a farm labourer’s daughter ‘ambitious as well as presumptuous’ and no doubt unaware of the monetary value, asked for a piano, and received it. Let’s hope she learnt to play! Another time a windfall came her way, which she used to send a sick child and his family out of their single room in London’s East End to the coast in Essex.

Any attempt, says Moult, to explain her ‘chivalrous actions’ would be ‘as futile as to seek an explanation why St Francis devoted so much of his affection to the birds.’

I suggest that the actions of Mary Webb, like those of Saint Francis, were not chivalrous. Francis, after all, renounced his ambition to become a knight, he embraced poverty. Mary Webb’s generosity was not a matter of noblesse oblige, but stemmed from the sympathy with poor people that pervades her novels. Both of them loved Creation and the Creator; both loved their fellow human beings. There is the explanation for their generosity and their mysticism.

Mary Webb died this day in 1927.

 

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24 September. The Brownings XIV: Hair 3, the ring. Relics XVIII.

Elizabeth_Barrett_Browning

Apologies! This post ought to have appeared six months ago! See 27 & 28 February. Here are two more letters from Elizabeth Barrett to Robert Browning: she has sent away  a lock of hair and a ring to put it into; but they have not come back, and she is getting impatient.

And this is 150 years before the arrival of Ebay and Amazon.

“I have been waiting … waiting for what does not come … the ring … sent to have the hair put in; but it won’t come (now) until too late for the post, and you must hear from me before Monday … you ought to have heard to-day. It has not been my fault—I have waited. Oh these people—who won’t remember that it is possible to be out of patience! So I send you my letter now … and what is in the paper now … and the rest, you shall have after Monday. And you will not say a word … not then … not at all!—I trust you. And may God bless you.”

“This is the mere postscript to the letter I have just sent away. By a few minutes too late, comes what I have all day been waiting for, … and besides (now it is just too late!) now I may have a skein of silk if I please, to make that knot with, … for want of which, two locks meant for you, have been devoted to the infernal gods already … fallen into a tangle and thrown into the fire … and all the hair of my head might have followed, for I was losing my patience and temper fast, … and the post to boot. So wisely I shut my letter, (after unwisely having driven everything to the last moment!)—and now I have silk to tie fast with … to tie a ‘nodus’ … ‘dignus’ of the celestial interposition—and a new packet shall be ready to go to you directly.” (from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning).
Start reading it for free: http://amzn.eu/1IB3ps4
Nodus is Latin for knot; dignus means worthy.

 

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