Tag Archives: Heaven

28 March, Desert XXIX: Proverbs 21.3, More acceptable to the LORD.

poperinge.2

To do righteousness is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

PROVERBS 21:34

This postcard was sent during the Great War from Poperinge, a village in the small enclave of Belgium that was not overrun by the Kaiser’s armies. You may be able to see where the censor obliterated the town’s name for security reasons.

‘Pop’ was a place of rest for allied troops, and an Anglican Chaplain had an open house there. His name was Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, alias Woodbine Willie, from the pungent cigarettes he distributed far and wide.

He had the reputation of a poet, often writing in dialect, as he does here. This is from a longer poem, ‘Well?’, describing a soldier’s dream of the Last Things. We include it here since it challenges any smugness that we might have accumulated during our ‘Lenten Observance’ – the man is in the ultimate desert place – or so he feels.

How would you answer that ‘Well?’

For more about Woodbine Willy, see Remembrance Sunday 2015: Woodbine Willie

And day by day, and year by year,
My life came back to me.
I see’d just what I were, and what
I’d ‘ad the charnce to be.
And all the good I might ‘a’ done,
An’ ‘adn’t stopped to do.
I see’d I’d made an ‘ash of it,
And Gawd! but it were true.

A throng ‘o faces came and went,
Afore me on that shore,
My wife, and Mother, kiddies, pals,
And the face of a London whore.
And some was sweet, and some was sad,
And some put me to shame,
For the dirty things I’d done to ’em,
When I ‘adn’t played the game.
Then in the silence someone stirred,
Like when a sick man groans,
And a kind o’ shivering chill ran through
The marrer ov my bones.
And there before me someone stood,
Just lookin’ dahn at me,
And still be’ind ‘Im moaned and moaned
That everlasting sea.
I couldn’t speak, I felt as though
‘E ‘ad me by the throat,
‘Twere like a drownin’ fellah feels,
Last moment ‘e’s afloat.
And ‘E said nowt, ‘E just stood still,
For I dunno ‘ow long.
It seemed to me like years and years,
But time out there’s all wrong.

What was ‘E like? You’re askin’ now.
Can’t word it anyway.
‘E just were ‘Im, that’s all I knows.
There’s things as words can’t say.
It seemed to me as though ‘Is face,
Were millions rolled in one.
It never changed yet always changed,
Like the sea beneath the sun.
‘Twere all men’s face yet no man’s face,
And a face no man can see,
And it seemed to say in silent speech,
‘Ye did ’em all to me.
‘The dirty things ye did to them,
‘The filth ye thought was fine,
‘Ye did ’em all to me,’ it said,
‘For all their souls were mine.’
All eyes was in ‘Is eyes, – all eyes,
My wife’s and a million more.
And once I thought as those two eyes
Were the eyes of the London whore.
And they was sad, – My Gawd ‘ow sad,
With tears that seemed to shine,
And quivering bright wi’ the speech o’ light,
They said, ”Er soul was mine.’
And then at last ‘E said one word,
‘E just said one word ‘Well?’
And I said in a funny voice,
‘Please can I go to ‘Ell?’
And ‘E stood there and looked at me,
And ‘E kind o’ seemed to grow,
Till ‘E shone like the sun above my ead,
And then ‘E answered ‘No
‘You can’t, that ‘Ell is for the blind,
‘And not for those that see.
‘You know that you ‘ave earned it, lad,
‘So you must follow me.
‘Follow me on by the paths o’ pain,
‘Seeking what you ‘ave seen,
‘Until at last you can build the “Is,”
‘Wi’ the bricks o’ the “Might ‘ave been.”‘
That’s what ‘E said, as I’m alive,
And that there dream were true.
But what ‘E meant, – I don’t quite know,
Though I knows what I ‘as to do.
I’s got to follow what I’s seen,
Till this old carcase dies.
For I daren’t face the land o’ grace,
The sorrow ov those eyes.
There ain’t no throne, and there ain’t no books,
It’s ‘Im you’ve got to see,
It’s ‘Im, just ‘Im, that is the Judge
Of blokes like you and me.
And boys I’d sooner frizzle up,
I’ the flames of a burning ‘Ell,
Than stand and look into ‘Is face,
And ‘ear ‘Is voice say – ‘Well?

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February 14, Little Flowers LXIV: a Reflection on Brother Conrad’s prayers.

.assisi.clouds.hill

We read yesterday how the prayers of Brother Conrad, an early Franciscan, opened the gates of heaven for a dead brother through his prayers. It was tempting to miss out this story from the Little Flowers, because the soul of that young brother who died went to Paradise through the merits of Jesus Christ, according to the Theology I was taught. I wasn’t looking for an argument! It comes naturally to Catholics to pray for the dead, but even so, where does Brother Conrad come in?

Firstly, it was his young friend who sought out Brother Conrad and asked him, not just to pray but to pray the Pater Noster – the Our Father – given to us by the Lord

‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,          and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’

It is as members of Christ’s body, the Communion of Saints, that the two Franciscan brothers come together in Conrad’s vision. It is as members of Christ’s body that they pray together: if the young brother requested that Conrad should say the Lord’s prayer for him, then that same prayer was at the front of his mind and heart: he was praying it himself, alongside Conrad; and where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. So the youth, Brother Conrad, and the Lord himself were praying together to the Father.

Conrad had a gift of being able to encourage the lad and help him to fit into the earthly community where he had chosen – and been called – to live. Perhaps, then, that same gift exercised by 100 Pater Nosters recited within the Communion of Saints, helped the brother to free himself from his remaining pains of fear and guilt to be fit for heaven.

Conrad’s merits? I’m still not sure, but if you suggested that Conrad’s gifts as mentor on earth to this young man were still effective after the young man’s death, I would not argue with you. Let’s place before Jesus all those who relied on us in this life, and would ask for our sympathetic prayers, could they speak to us now; and with Jesus let us pray:

OUR FATHER …

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13 February, Little Flowers LXIII, Brother Conrad’s Prayers.

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A while after his conversion the youth aforesaid died, sith it was the will of God; whereof the said brothers were sore grieving; and a few days after his death his soul appeared unto Brother Conrad as he was devoutly praying before the altar, and saluted him devoutly as a father; and Brother Conrad asked him; “Who art thou?” He answered: “I am the soul of that young brother that died in these days,” Quoth Brother Conrad: “0 my son most dear, how is it with thee?” He answered: “By the grace of God and your admonishments, it is well; seeing that I am not damned, but for certain of my sins, whereof I had not time sufficiently to purge me, I suffer the grievous pains of Purgatory: but I pray thee, father, that even as of thy pity thou didst succour me whilst yet I lived, so now thou wilt be pleased to help me in my pains, saying a Paternoster for me; sith thy prayer is much acceptable in the sight of God.”

Then Brother Conrad consenting gently unto his prayers, and saying the Paternoster once for him and the Requiem Æternam, quoth that soul: “O father most dear, what blessedness and sweet refreshment do I feel! I pray thee that thou say it once again.” And Brother Conrad said it: and when that it was said, quoth the soul: “Holy father, when thou prayest for me I feel my pains assuaged; wherefore I do beseech thee that thou cease not praying for me.”

Brother Conrad, seeing that this soul was so much helped by his prayers, said for him a hundred Paternosters; and when that they were said, quoth the soul; “I thank thee, father most dear, in the name of God, for the love that thou hast shown me; for through thy prayers am I set free from all my pains, and now am I going to the celestial kingdom” and this said, the soul was away. Then Brother Conrad, for to give joy and comfort to the brethren, told them this vision in order. And thus the soul of that youth went to Paradise through the merits of Brother Conrad

We will reflect on this story tomorrow.

WT

 

 

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4 February. Brownings XVIII: Rending the garment of Christ.

rembrandt x 1. (2)
Elizabeth writes about her faith, opening herself yet more to her fiancé Robert. The arid, grey Puritanism of her father would force her and Robert to elope, and there was no reconciliation in their earthly life.
“Hating as I do from the roots of my heart all that rending of the garment of Christ, which Christians are so apt to make the daily week-day of this Christianity so called—and caring very little for most dogmas and doxies in themselves—too little, as people say to me sometimes, (when they send me ‘New Testaments’ to learn from, with very kind intentions)—and believing that there is only one church in heaven and earth, with one divine High Priest to it; let exclusive religionists build what walls they please and bring out what chrisms.
But I used to go with my father always, when I was able, to the nearest dissenting chapel of the Congregationalists—from liking the simplicity of that praying and speaking without books—and a little too from disliking the theory of state churches.
There is a narrowness among the dissenters which is wonderful; an arid, grey Puritanism in the clefts of their souls: but it seems to me clear that they know what the ‘liberty of Christ’ means, far better than those do who call themselves ‘churchmen’; and stand altogether, as a body, on higher ground.”
ruined chapel
(from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning)
Rembrandt Crucifixion, out of copyright.
Dissenting Chapel, Bishops Castle, MMB.

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16 January: Thomas Traherne XXV, a little Heaven in the creatures.

earthnasa

Entering thus far into the nature of the sun, we may see a little Heaven in the creatures.

Were all the earth filthy mires, or devouring quicksands, firm land would be an unspeakable treasure. Were it all beaten gold it would be of no value. It is a treasure therefore of far greater value to a noble spirit than if the globe of the earth were all gold. A noble spirit being only that which can survey it all, and comprehend its uses.

The air is better being a living miracle as it now is than if it were crammed and filled with crowns and sceptres. The mountains are better than solid diamonds, and those things which scarcity maketh jewels (when you enjoy these) are yours in their places. Why should you not render thanks to God for them all?

You are the Adam or the Eve that enjoy them. Why should you not exult and triumph in His love who hath done so great things for you? Why should you not rejoice and sing His praises? Learn Adam&Eve (391x640)to enjoy what you have first, and covet more if you can afterwards.

Meditations 2:12

Adam and Eve had been given all that was in the garden, except that they might not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, covetable though it was.

How long does the pleasure last when we get hold of the riches or other things we desire? 

We like the idea of the living air, so we’ll return to Thomas Traherne, since his reflections challenge as well as please us; apologies that we left it so long since last time.

Will T

Images: NASA; stone at Dryburgh Abbey, Scottish Borders, MMB.

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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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11 January: Thomas Traherne XX: the world opens his nature.

goatsbeard.small

The Services which the world doth you, are transcendent to all imagination. Did it only sustain your body and preserve your life and comfort your senses, you were bound to value it as much as those services were worth: but it discovers the being of God unto you, it opens His nature, and shews you His wisdom, goodness and power, it magnifies His love unto you, it serves Angels and men for you, it entertains you with many lovely and glorious objects, it feeds you with joys, and becomes a theme that furnishes you with perpetual praises and thanksgivings, it enflameth you with the love of God, and in the link of your union and communion with Him. It is the temple wherein you are exalted to glory and honour, and the visible porch or gate of Eternity: a sure pledge of Eternal joys, to all them that walk before God and are perfect in it.

From the Second Century of Meditations, 1. (Meditations 2:1)

This meditation follows on well from yesterday’s poem: those bubbles of joy may take us to Eden, but they are fed to us by the world in which we have been created.

Let us reflect on how we can make this Porch of Eternity in which we live more transparent to the eternal joys that the God who walks with us is waiting to pour out for us.  WT.

Goatsbeard seed head, a sphere of joy, a lovely and glorious object.

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January 10, Thomas Traherne XIX: Joyful Sense And Purity

pilgrims way2

The Prospect was the Gate of Heaven, that Day
The ancient Light of Eden did convey
Into my Soul: I was an Adam there,
A little Adam in a Sphere
Of Joys! O there my Ravished sense
Was entertained in Paradise,
And had a Sight of Innocence.

All was beyond all Bound and Price.
An Antepast of Heaven sure!
I on the Earth did reign.
Within, without me, all was pure.
I must become a Child again.

Thomas Traherne

Interesting to see the Italian word ‘antipasto’, meaning appetiser or starter, was anglicised in Traherne’s day (1638-74). He was an Anglican priest whose poetry and meditations were lost till early last century. In this continuing Christmas season, it is good to be reminded to become a child again, and to accept and enjoy the moments when we find ourselves in a bubble of joy.  Just because the bubble bursts we should not think it is not real. WT.

The image shows the first prospect of Canterbury Cathedral seen from the West on the Pilgrims’ Way.

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1 November: All Saints?

walkingforest (609x800)
As part of my random self-education in the classics, I’ve been reading Cary’s Victorian translation of  Dante’s Divine Comedy. This passage is very near the beginning. Dante in his vision or dream is in a forest, where he meets Virgil, the Roman poet and philosopher, who offers to guide him through the world to come, as far as Heaven’s Gate. But he adds:
“The blest,
Into whose regions if thou then desire
T’ ascend, a spirit worthier then I
Must lead thee, in whose charge, when I depart,
Thou shalt be left: for that Almighty King,
Who reigns above, a rebel to his law,
Adjudges me, and therefore hath decreed,
That to his city none through me should come.
He in all parts hath sway; there rules, there holds
His citadel and throne. O happy those,
Whom there he chooses!”
In other words, Virgil himself is banned from heaven as ‘a rebel’ to God’s law, and no-one can come to heaven through him. This is in contradiction to what happens in the book! He does indeed guide Dante towards heaven.
On All Saints Day, let us be mindful of the good, non-Christian people whom we know, who live exemplary lives, perhaps with no thought of an afterlife or a heavenly reward. Happy, perhaps, to accept just one earthly  life and the prospect of final extinction at 70 or 80, but to live a life of loving service to the end.
May God choose them – Virgil included – to join him in his citadel!

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October 25, Month of Mission: Beachy Head Chaplains

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William Blake lived near Beachy Head in Sussex, part of the range of chalk cliffs he drew as a background for this verse.

Virginia Woolf was to drown herself in the nearby River Ouse a century and a half later, but today it is the cliffs themselves that attract the lonely, depressed and overwhelmed who are tempted to take their lives.

The Beachy Head Chaplaincy team are Christians from local churches ‘and although we reach out with the love of God, we never impose our faith on the people we seek to help.

‘We believe that by receiving skilled crisis intervention support at their time of crisis, people in suicidal distress can be awakened to the hope that there are other ways forward to address the problems they face.’judas

The Apostle Judas went out and hanged himself after seeing Jesus arrested and condemned, but the artist of Strasbourg Cathedral’s west front shows us the Lamb of God coming to release him from his noose and away from the mouth of Hell to go in at Heaven’s Gate.

In their different ways, the well-to-do and well-connected Virginia Woolf, and the disciple who was trusted by Jesus, were both privileged, yet both knew despair. It is not for us to condemn them, or any other suicide; rather let us support with prayer and alms brave good neighbours like the Samaritans and the Beachy Head Chaplains, not forgetting the official first responders, Police, Ambulance, Fire, Coastguard and Lifeboats.

And may we be ready with small talk or even a just a smile for anyone we meet.  Lead, Kindly Light!

 

 

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