Tag Archives: gift

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: 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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September 12. Before the Cross XXIII: above the Altar

st.thomas.reliquary2.Let us read this small crucifix is in the Martyrs’ Chapel at Saint Thomas’ Church, Canterbury. Christ wears an alb – the cord or cincture around his waist makes this clear. Alb, of course, means white, the colour of the baptismal garment, the colour worn by the saints in Heaven in Saint John’s Book of Revelation, the colour worn by the priest at Mass. So this is a Eucharistic Cross. Christ is shown as a priest and a king. his crown a royal one, no longer one of thorns. His hands are raised to heaven, even as they are nailed to the cross, in a gesture familiar from the Mass. his face, like his body, is serene: he looks down to us even as he offers our prayers with his sacrifice to the Father.

But there is another dimension to this particular cross. Do not be completely distracted by it if you visit our church, but beneath the crucifix is a reliquary with Relics of Saint Thomas of Canterbury.

st.thomas.reliquary1.

There are two relics in the reliquary above the altar. That on the right contains a small piece of Saint Thomas’ vestment in which he was buried, and the one on the left one of the Saint’s  finger bones. The bone was brought to Canterbury on 20th December 1953 by Dom Thomas Becquet, a collateral descendant of Saint Thomas and Prior of the Abbey of Chevetogne, Belgium. It is thought that these small relics were removed from Canterbury in 1220 by Cardinals from Rome who came to witness the translation of Thomas’ remains to the new shrine in the Cathedral.

So the statue of Christ can be seen as offering the martyrs’ blood to God with his own: not  just Thomas but three Reformation Martyrs with local connections, Saints Thomas More, John Fisher and John Stone. Nearby is a relic from halfway across the world: a vestment worn by Saint Oscar Romero. In an exchange of gifts, this came to Canterbury for another bone of Saint Thomas sent to the Cathedral of San Salvador. The man who brought about this link between two cities with martyred Archbishops was Fr John Metcalfe, a local priest working in El Salvador. We are all one family.

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20 August, Readings from Mary Webb XXVI: Treasures (For G.E.M.)

trees-reflection-chris

These are my treasures: just a word, a look,
A chiming sentence from his favourite book,
A large, blue, scented blossom that he found
And plucked for me in some enchanted ground,
A joy he planned for us, a verse he made
Upon a birthday, the increasing shade
Of trees he planted by the waterside,
The echo of a laugh, his tender pride
In those he loved, his hand upon my hair,
The dear voice lifted in his evening prayer.

How safe they must be kept! So dear, so few,
And all I have to last my whole life through.
A silver mesh of loving words entwining,
At every crossing thread a tear-drop shining,
Shall close them in. Yet since my tears may break
The slender thread of brittle words, I’ll make
A safer, humbler hiding-place apart,
And lock them in the fastness of my heart.

Mary Webb reflecting on her Father’s love and her bereavement. Hope to balance the feelings of despair she recorded in yesterday’s poem.

Picture from Brother Chris.

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5 August, Little flowers of Saint Francis LVI: Saint Antony and the fish, 2.

anthony and Francis

What did you expect from a sermon to the fish? They got a brilliant theology of Creation, from Scripture to science without any contradictions. Laudato Si!

The fishes being set in order and array, Saint Antony began solemnly to preach, and so spake: “My brothers the fish, much are ye bounden so far as in ye lies, to give thanks to our Creator, who hath given you so noble an element for your abode; in such sort that as it pleaseth you, ye have sweet waters and salt; and hath given you many a refuge to escape the storms withal; nay more, hath given you a clear, translucent element, and food by the which ye may live.

God, your kind and bountiful Creator, when He created you, gave you commandment to increase and multiply, and poured on you His blessing: then whenas the deluge came and one and all the other beasts all died, you alone did God keep safe from harm. Moreover hath He given you fins that ye may roam where’er ye please.

To you the grace was given, by God’s command, to save the prophet Jonah, and after the third day to throw him safe and whole upon the land. Ye brought the tribute-money to our Lord Jesu Christ, who was so poor, He had not aught to pay.Ye were the food of the eternal King, Jesus Christ, before the Resurrection and thereafter, through a mystery wondrous rare; for all the which things much are ye bound to bless and praise God, who hath given you so many and so great blessings more than to other creatures.”

Antony with some of his fish, alongside Francis. Public Domain via Wikipedia.

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19 July: Mite

sjc burnt forest.png

I would know her hands anywhere:
they’re tough and lumpy as rocks,
and lined with cracks – cracks
black as rills in a harsh land,

cracks thin as gossamer silk
hand-spun for a shawl. All

her nails are black, broken.
I have never seen her eyes.

We have never spoken.
But look – she clutches
something in her palm. Now:
she lets two coins fall
into a box marked Alms.

She bows her head,
then, limping down the disabled ramp,
returns to the refugee camp.

SJC

Thank you Sister Johanna.

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21 June: Corpus Christi II. Enough and to spare

feedig 5000.ethiopia.rome

This picture hangs in the Generalate – the headquarters – of the Missionaries of Africa in Rome. It was painted in Ethiopia. We see, at left, the boy trustingly bringing the loaves and fishes to Jesus, who receives them with open arms and a look of encouragement, eye-to-eye. To the right, a crowd of people sitting on the grass, with two of the disciples offering food to them; a few of the 5,000. The two people about to be fed look dubious, wondering what exactly is happening; most of the others are watching those being fed, but one person’s eyes are on Jesus. In front are six of the baskets of left-overs.

Ethiopia is a country that has known famine more than once in my lifetime, and its share of oppression and authoritarian rule. The question then is, ‘Why should the people trust Jesus to feed them freely and without strings?’ ‘Let’s see what happens’, I imagine them saying. ‘Can we be sure he’s genuine?’

Jesus depended on the disciples to bring his gifts to the people. Today he depends on us. Are we dependable? Are we transparent enough for people to trust us? The Church has to do her work, Christ’s work, and we cannot leave it to the identifiable ‘professional’ members, clergy, religious if we want to get that work done.

May we take and eat. May we take strength from the Eucharist to meet our sisters’ and brothers’ needs, and to rebuild Christ’s church. After all, it was built up by those disciples who did not understand what was happening, even as they played their part in it. Let’s not worry, ‘what is this among so many?’

 

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I June, Pilgrimage to Canterbury XII: Getting Creative!

vw hut pilgrimage 2018

It’s been a few years since I made any art work for church, unless I count some of the photographs in this blog, at least as they have been adjusted to run alongside the texts. A few of my banners I felt happy with, but this pilgrimage has opened my eyes to real artists working together as a team. So it has been a pleasure to work with our three designers to produce works that we hope will make the pilgrimage more enjoyable and prayerful.

Antonela and Zsombor, who come from Romania and Hungary respectively, understand design techniques and work well with computers, but they are also true artists. And they make a good team. Run-of-the-mill photos when transformed by an artist’s hand have become lovely paintings. It’s a shame that they will be reproduced so small, as we are using the images as stickers to go in the pilgrim’s passport that will be issued each one. Another designer, Ines, comes from Portugal, and has produced very different illustrations. We are blessed to have such talented people – and the opportunity to use their talents in this way. We’ll share some of their pictures later. In the meantime here is a touch of creativity from last year: a beach hut disguised as a camper van. I hope the owners enjoy it even more than we pilgrims did, and don’t take it for granted.

Nothing asked of them was impossible, let’s hope the walk is not impossible either!

Best foot forward! May we not take our home town for granted, but see it anew when we arrive back in Canterbury.

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