It’s Mary’s month, I know, and we could have said more about her, so now here is a good, challenging read about motherhood – parenthood, even, but mostly motherhood – and the risks of welcoming a new person into one’s body, home, family. A risk that Mary accepted. This article from The Plough Quarterly, The Risk of Gentleness by Gracy Olmstead, is subtitled: Welcoming the baby I did not want.
But Ms Olmstead found room for her son, and is still adapting and changing to make him welcome.
It is a shock to see the midwife or doctor hold up a freshly birthed baby, red and crying and real. For all our intimate knowing of each other, this is our first encounter as separate individuals. For the newborn, the reality of our separation is sensed through vulnerability, cold, and brightness – unpleasant sensations to be hushed and soothed by a mother’s arms and breasts. For the mother, however, this meeting is the moment in which we say “hello” to the unique human we’ve, by some miracle, sustained inside of us, yet now fully see and know as other …
Like Mary, we must make space: to accept our feebleness and embrace the mystery, knowing that God is good even – and especially – in our weakness and our poverty. Do read the article! Will.
Today is the last but one day of prayer for the environment and our place within it as users and custodians. Find the Bishops’ post here.
In his Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II wrote: “Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given to him, but man too is God’s gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed (6).”
By responding to this charge, entrusted to them by the Creator, men and women can join in bringing about a world of peace. Alongside the ecology of nature, there exists what can be called a ‘human’ ecology, which in turn demands a ‘social’ ecology. All this means that humanity, if it truly desires peace, must be increasingly conscious of the links between natural ecology, or respect for nature, and human ecology.
The human person, the heart of peace with all of creation.’
Pope Benedict XVII, 1 January 2007.
Thomas Traherne invites us to live eternal life now through reading the Bible and regarding all of creation with all our faculties, including the imagination, a faculty, he would argue, of the soul.
The contemplation of Eternity maketh the Soul immortal. It can see before and after its existence into endless spaces. O what glorious creatures should we be could we be present in spirit with all Eternity! How wise, would we esteem this presence of the understanding, to be more real than that of our bodies! When my soul is in Eden with our first parents, I myself am there in a blessed manner. When I walk with Enoch*, and see his translation, I am transported with him.
The present age is too little to contain [my soul]. I can visit Noah in his ark, and swim upon the waters of the deluge. I can see Moses with his rod, and the children of Israel passing through the sea; I can enter into Aaron’s Tabernacle, and admire the mysteries of the holy place. I can travel over the Land of Canaan, and see it overflowing with milk and honey; I can visit Solomon in his glory, and go into his temple, and view the sitting of his servants, and admire the magnificence and glory of his kingdom.
No creature but one like unto the Holy Angels can see into all ages. Sure this power was not given in vain, but for some wonderful purpose; worthy of itself to enjoy and fathom. Would men consider what God hath done, they would be ravished in spirit with the glory of His doings. For Heaven and Earth are full of the majesty of His glory. And how happy would men be could they see and enjoy it! But above all these our Saviour’s cross is the throne of delights. That Centre of Eternity, that Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradise of God.
* Enoch ‘walked with God’ and was taken, or translated, into heaven and seen no more on earth, see Genesis 5:21-24.
+ Ark from Shrewsbury Cathedral, Margaret Rope. = The Tree of Life: Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge.
Here is an idea to contemplate: that God willed Creation into being so that God himself had somewhere to be, in the second person of the Trinity, Jesus the Son.
O the nobility of Divine Friendship! Are not all His treasures yours, and yours His? Is not your very Soul and Body His: is not His life and felicity yours; is not His desire yours? Is not His will yours? And if His will be yours, the accomplishment of it is yours, and the end of all is your perfection.
You are infinitely rich as He is: being pleased in everything as He is. And if His will be yours, yours is His. For you will what He willeth, which is to be truly wise and good and holy. And when you delight in the same reasons that moved Him to will, you will know it. He willed the Creation not only that He might Appear but Be: wherein is seated the mystery of the Eternal Generation of His Son. Do you will it as He did, and you shall be glorious as He.
Thomas Traherne is an Easter writer, full of the joys of spring, and of the endlessly searchable Universe. He uses the word ‘world’ to mean the Universe in this passage. What we have learned of the measures of the world since his time only reinforces the wisdom of his reflection. Let us enjoy creation and notice our felicity – our happiness in that enjoyment – and be grateful.
The world is round, and endlessly unsearchable every way.
What astronomer, what mathematician, what philosopher did ever comprehend the measures of the world? The very Earth alone being round and globous, is illimited. It hath neither walls nor precipices, nor bounds, nor borders. A man may lose himself in the midst of nations and kingdoms. And yet it is but a centre compared to the universe. The distance of the sun, the altitude of the stars, the wideness of the heavens on every side passeth the reach of sight, and search of the understanding. And whether it be infinite or no, we cannot tell.
The Eternity of God is so apparent in it, that the wisest of philosophers thought the world eternal. We come into it, leave it, as if it had neither beginning nor ending. Concerning its beauty I need say nothing. No man can turn unto it, but must be ravished with its appearance. Only thus much, since these things are so beautiful, how much more beautiful is the author of them? But the beauty of God is invisible, it is all Wisdom, Goodness, Life and Love, Power, Glory, Blessedness &c. How therefore shall these be expressed in a material world? His wisdom is expressed in manifesting His infinity in such a commodious manner. He hath made a penetrable body in which we may stand, to wit the air, and see the Heavens and the regions of the Earth, at wonderful distances. His goodness is manifest in making that beauty so delightful, and its varieties so profitable. The air to breathe in, the sea for moisture, the earth for fertility, the heavens for influences, the Sun for productions, the stars and trees wherewith it is adorned for innumerable uses. Again His goodness is seen, in the end to which He guideth all this profitableness, in making it serviceable to supply our wants, and delight our senses: to enflame us with His love, and make us amiable before Him, and delighters in His blessedness.
God … hath drowned our understanding in a multitude of wonders: transported us with delights and enriched us with innumerable diversities of joys and pleasures. The very greatness of our felicity convinceth us that there is a God.
Hundreds of times I have cycled past this gate, rather fewer times have I walked past Saint Mildred’s church on my way to work at L’Arche’s Glebe garden. This morning I had to stop and fix the church’s banner that had come adrift in a high wind; and I found myself beside the gate and able to read its dedication.
I had little to do with Saint Mildred’s church before I returned to L’Arche some ten years after the gate was given, and I never knew the Dinnages; as the years pass by there will be fewer and fewer who have any memory of them. How many are like me, in passing by without thinking?
Well, here are a few thoughts.
The gate opens into the area where the cremated remains of parishioners are interred. It is at the East end of the churchyard that surrounds the church on three sides; all but the North. The East is where the sun rises, where the light comes into the world, day by day, so naturally enough churches were aligned East to West, with the altar at the East end and the congregation facing that way. The people laid to rest here will be facing the rising sun and the Risen Lord, despite looking towards a multistorey car park, the old gas works and a wall that is a graffiti hot spot.
If Joan and Leslie Dinnage are likely to be forgotten as the years roll by, I’d guess that most of those beneath the tombstones to the rear of the picture are known only to particularly assiduous local historians. Yet the Lord will call them home, as here he leads Adam and Eve away from the gates of Hell.
In Christian solidarity, otherwise known as the Communion of Saints, let us pray for Joan and Leslie; for all laid to rest in St Mildred’s churchyard, and all those who have died from the covid infection.
From Revd, Jo Richards, of St Dunstan, St Mildred and St Peter, Canterbury. Many Congratulations to John Morrison: Maundy Money
On the Thursday of Holy Week, known as Maundy Thursday, it is traditional for the reigning monarch to distribute money to deserving pensioners in a cathedral somewhere in the United Kingdom. This year, the chosen cathedral is, once again, Canterbury Cathedral, now that the Queen has distributed the Maundy coins all around the country in every cathedral. She commanded that the ceremony should take place in London only once in every ten years.
The word ‘Maundy’ comes from the Latin for ‘command’, mandatum. The Thursday before Easter Day has been a traditional observation from early Christian days in celebration of Jesus Christ’s command to “love one another” demonstrated by his washing of the disciples feet. The day marks the end of Lent, an old English word for ‘lengthen’ as the daylight increases, a period of forgiveness, prayer, reflection and study.
To qualify to receive Maundy money from Her Majesty the Queen, a recipient must be 70 years old or more, recommended by their Bishop and have made a significant contribution to life in their local community. Since 1957, a recipient may only receive Maundy money once in a lifetime.
The Queen honours the number of ladies and gentlemen for each year of her age. In 2021 this is 95, a total of 190 recipients.
Each recipient is given two purses, white and red. In the red one is a set amount of current coinage amounting to £5.50, historically representing alms, made up of £3 for clothing, £1.50 in lieu of provisions and £1 which represents a piece of the Sovereign’s gown which, before Tudor times, used to be divided between the recipients.
The white purse contains specially minted sterling silver coins in one penny, two pence, three pence and four pence denominations related to the age of the monarch. In 2021, a total of 38 coins. The style of the coins is largely unchanged since 1670 when Charles II added a year date to the coin distribution he started in 1662. The picture of the Queen on these coins is her 1953 Coronation year portrait designed by Mary Gillick. The coins were only ever debased from sterling silver by Henry VIII from 1544 to 1551. The design for the reverse of the Maundy money is a crowned numeral in a wreath of oak leaves. This has been the same design since Charles II.
British monarchs have been known to observe the distribution of alms and/or washing of feet since at least 600AD
As Her Majesty is unable to distribute the Maundy money in person in 2021, for the second year running, because of the coronavirus pandemic, each set will be sent from Buckingham Palace, having been blessed in the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, with a personal letter from the Queen.
In our Benefice, one of our Readers, John Morrison, has been informed by the Lord High Almoner that he has been selected to receive the honour of this year’s Royal Maundy during Holy Week. John is active in the Church of England as a national Peer Reviewer and is on the Provincial Clergy Discipline Panel. In the Diocese he is an Archdeaconry of Canterbury lay representative on the Archbishop’s Council, a member of the Diocesan Synod, the Canterbury Deanery Treasurer and is an active licensed lay minister (Reader) in this Benefice. He is also a Chaplain in the Sea Cadet Corps. John, this is a wonderful achievement, and congratulations from us all for this well-deserved honour, and for your ministry amongst us.
Another poem by Mary Webb; this one sprung to mind one January afternoon, as I walked home from the Goods Shed Farmers’ Market, passing this well-laden hawthorn tree. A few more cold days, and the blackbirds – see below – will have stripped it.
A Hawthorn Berry
How sweet a thought,
How strange a deed,
To house such glory in a seed--
A berry, shining rufously,
Like scarlet coral in the sea!
A berry, rounder than a ring,
So round, it harbours everything;
So red, that all the blood of men
Could never paint it so again.
And, as I hold it in my hand
A fragrance steals across the land:
Rich, on the wintry heaven, I see
A white, immortal hawthorn-tree.
Let’s stay with Mary Webb today. Here is the blackbird; he is too preoccupied to sing, with that annoying human standing right next to his lunch. Mrs Blackbird was hidden behind the ivy in the first picture.
Mary Webb once more takes us from the things we hardly see for familiarity to the immortal, eternal. Infinity in a grain – a seed – of hawthorn. A hawthorn seed planted in her time would be ablaze with haws now, if not stripped by the birds, and then creamy white in May, the original Mayflower. This very bush is special to me. Walking by one day after an operation, I realised my sense of smell had returned, an unexpected gift from surgery elsewhere in my head. I try to remember in passing, and be consciously grateful.
South winds jostle them,
Drink, and are gone.
On their passage Cashmere;
I, softly plucking,
Present them here!
Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete, via kindle
Flowers yesterday, flowers today; it’s winter, so why not hover and hesitate, pause for a moment; present them to their maker in loving gratitude. This beautifully arranged bouquet was placed in our room by Karin when we visited her and Winfried, a gesture of love which stays with me although we are long gone!
D H Lawrence meant before the Great War, 1914-18. When he is not trying to be over intellectual and convey abstract ideas in poetry, when he is being human, as here, he is a better poet. We can surely all sympathise with his mixed emotions, as Christina and I discussed a while back. The Embankment would be described as a dyke or levee elsewhere; busy roads and broad footpaths run along it, under trees. Let’s not forget those people it is hard to help this Christmas.
By the river In the black wet night as the furtive rain slinks down, Dropping and starting from sleep Alone on a seat A woman crouches. I must go back to her. I want to give her Some money. Her hand slips out of the breast of her gown Asleep. My fingers creep Carefully over the sweet Thumb-mound, into the palm’s deep pouches. So, the gift! God, how she starts! And looks at me, and looks in the palm of her hand! And again at me! I turn and run Down the Embankment, run for my life. But why?—why? Because of my heart’s Beating like sobs, I come to myself, and stand In the street spilled over splendidly With wet, flat lights. What I’ve done I know not, my soul is in strife. The touch was on the quick. I want to forget.
” (from “New Poems” by D. H. (David Herbert) Lawrence 1885-1930)