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29 October, Christ walking with travellers: IV. A journey around my room

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At the end of the eighteenth century, Xavier de Maistre found himself locked up. He was more comfortably off than most prisoners, but still bored. He used his time to write a little book which he called A journey around my room. It can be found in the original French: here.

If for some reason we cannot go out – weather, illness, time of day, domestic duties – we can sit comfortably and begin our own journey, not just around the corners of the room but around the corners of our heart.

The lamp above my shoulder I made as an exercise on a college course many years ago in Hull, Yorkshire. That reminds me of my fellow course members, my tutors and friends, as well as Paul, a Hull man I often see down here in Kent. Thinking of them soon turns into a prayer.

Then there is the piano, not used much these days, but a bargain buy from a neighbour who was moving away. Think of her, and her son, exiled, perhaps for ever, from their native land; but at least she can walk along the street alone in Britain, free from fear and bare-headed, and still count herself a faithful Muslim.

The fire! We were glad to replace the ugly gas fire with something more in keeping with the house; everyone enjoys it on the special evenings when it burns.

Next, a nineteenth century engraving of a mother bathing her child before the kitchen range where elder sister, aged maybe seven, is warming a blanket, while father with an arm around mother, looks about to tickle the baby’s tummy. That was found in a Belgian flea market, brought home and remounted in a new frame. My wife’s keen eye at work!

To one side, an African carving of the Holy Family where Joseph is twice the size of Mary protecting his wife and the infant Jesus. But those two objects invite so much contemplation that I shall leave you there; perhaps to return to that corner another day.

Take a trip around your personal space and see where it leads you!

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October 13: Decisions

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One of the aims of L’Arche is to enable all community members to take part fully without being over-helped at every step of the way; to be able to make decisions – and sometimes to have to stick with those decisions. So if someone opts to spend time in the garden, they don’t just turn up once and expect to be able to do something different the next week. That sort of commitment is part of being human too.

I’m reminded of a story told by someone from L’Arche who briefly worked for another organisation which need not be named. In L’Arche there are discussions about where people go on holiday and with whom, and in the event, everyone seems to enjoy themselves. In this other agency, careworkers chose a destination according to their own preference and the clients’ holiday budget. If a resident hated flying or Spanish food, hard luck, but the carers enjoyed themselves.

James’ words on August 28 bear repeating:

Providing ‘care’ to someone with particular needs enables the individual to live life with more freedom and independence which in turn offers more opportunity for them to care about—and be cared for —by another human being.

Does that sound easy? I remember from many years ago a young man who would refuse to leave the care home where he lived. If staff carried him to the minibus he would cheer up within a few minutes and enjoy the outing or holiday. And he would have been helping plan it all in the preceding weeks. If he stayed at the house, there would have been nothing to do, no-one to play football with. Which course of action promoted his freedom and independence? Which would be said to protect his human rights?

It isn’t always a small and cosy world.

Pray for Wisdom!

MMB.

Mosaic at Broadstairs Baptist Church

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October 6: The Lady of the Woods

 

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I trust that readers who also visit the Will Turnstone blog will forgive my recycling this  piece from there.It fits in well with Saint Francis this week, and with our theme of Laudato Si’!

One summer’s day Mrs Turnstone and I took Abel to the woods where we found this invitation to look at Betula, the Lady of the Woods. Isn’t she lovely? Find one of her sisters near you and enjoy the sight.

And now something I’ve been saving till the right picture turned up! This passage from Nan Shepherd’sThe Living Mountain’. A writer may reveal what the reader more than half knows, awakening joyful recognition in her audience.  I was reading Shepherd to learn about the Scottish Highlands, but I discovered something all-but known about the birch I see as I open the curtains. Here is Shepherd on p53:

Birch … that grows on the lower mountain slopes, needs rain to release its odour. It is a scent with body to it, fruity like old brandy, and on a wet warm day, one can be as good as drunk with it. Acting through the sensory nerves, it confuses the higher centres; one is excited, with no cause that the wit can define.

It’s always good to return home even from a quick walk to the shops. There is magic in fingering the keys as I approach under the lime trees – trees that may not flourish on Cairngorm but here share their bee-sung, scented glory every summer. Birch is wind-pollinated, needing no nectar, but its fresh-air scent, which I barely register even in wet weather, is part of coming home. I never realised till Nan Shepherd told me! And the blackbirds sing louder in the rain.

We occasionally berate the birch for its scattered seedlings, which occupy any bare earth and even take root in garden walls. As Rome fell away from Britain no-one removed the young trees, and the towns crumbled.

Not far from here at the derelict mine, a birch forest has sprung up on the spoil. Silver birch, I called it as a child – but it is pure gold in Autumn.

Do seek out Nan Shepherd’s book and see, hear, smell, feel with her.

And Laudato Si’!

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August 26: We’re just passing through.

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Yesterday I alluded to ‘naught for your comfort’, hope against hope, citing this stanza from Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse. You’ll find it on the Web.

“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.”

The words are given to Mary, mother of Jesus, appearing to King Alfred in a vision. Later Alfred calls for support from his ally Mark, a Roman living a Roman life in Wessex, who drank his own wine when all the kings drank ale.

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“These vines be ropes that drag me hard,”
He said. “I go not far;
Where would you meet? For you must hold
Half Wiltshire and the White Horse wold,
And the Thames bank to Owsenfold,
If Wessex goes to war.

“Guthrum sits strong on either bank
And you must press his lines
Inwards, and eastward drive him down;
I doubt if you shall take the crown
Till you have taken London town.
For me, I have the vines.”

“If each man on the Judgment Day
Meet God on a plain alone,”
Said Alfred, “I will speak for you
As for myself, and call it true
That you brought all fighting folk you knew
Lined under Egbert’s Stone.

“Though I be in the dust ere then,
I know where you will be.”

And indeed the vines are not enough to hold Mark back when his duty lies with his King; after great bravery in battle he was killed and ‘died without a sound.’

Mark recognised, in rather more dramatic circumstances than Roger Deakin in yesterday’s post, that we are only passing through this world, though he dearly loved his corner of it – as Roger Deakin did.

Do read his book as well as GKC’s! Wildwood, a journey through trees, Penguin, 2008.

MMB.

 

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August 8: Francis Thompson VII: THE HOUND OF HEAVEN: VI

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“Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),
“And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come.”

Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”

When I told Anne (see August 14 2016) I was sharing Francis Thompson on the blog, she said, ‘Francis Thompson, my father’s favourite writer.’ I hope you can see why. Maurice.

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June 18, Corpus Christi: Shared Table I, ‘Eat Such Things as are Set Before You.’

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Today in England is Corpus Christi, the feast of the Body and Blood of Our Lord. We receive this great gift at the shared table of the Eucharist – or from that table if we are too poorly to attend Mass in person. Jesus chose a meal to give himself to us. This week’s posts reflect on that from different angles. What do you think?

Into whatsoever house you enter, first say: Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you. And in the same house, remain, eating and drinking such things as they have: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Remove not from house to house. And into what city soever you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you.

This passage from Luke 10: 5-9 comes back to me time and again. My tutoring work has taken me into many homes, often where no teacher has been before, and in all but two refreshment has been offered. Instinctively, people set a cup of tea and maybe a biscuit or bacon sandwich, before the visitor. (Those two houses where refreshment was not offered, though I visited many times, were definitely not peaceful homes; my inner peace was surely hard-pressed at times.)

Setting a mug of tea before the visitor is indeed a peace offering. So, whether it be builder’s tea, with three sugars I never requested, or a greyish liquid brewed by an eight-year-old boy, keen to please, ‘Thank you! Just what I needed!’

And to be received in peace allows me to do the labour for which I was sent. Teaching English to a school drop-out may not be directly spreading the Gospel, but it is good news when the youngster responds and learns. And all good news is part of The Good News.

MMB.

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24 May: C is for Canterbury

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Or even ‘H is for Home’. This city has become home as nowhere else in my life, now I’ve spent more than half my days here. Here are the streets where my students have lived, the schools, community centres, libraries and halls where I’ve taught them anything from the basics of maths and English to art, cookery or even simple motor mechanics. Here is the court where I’ve supported students, the chip shop where more than one has greeted me, years after our lessons ceased …

… but here too, closer to my heart, is a family home of thirty years, infused with memories: three generations of Turnstones have made their mark – young Abel too! He had best watch out, though granddad heard about it when felt pen strayed onto the table surface! Remember too that the previous generation, our children’s grandparents were frequent visitors and remain part of the fabric of their growing up in this place.

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Canterbury is special, even if the city centre is increasingly given over to big business rather than small, let alone to worship. Even the signposts all through the town are in the corporate style of the Whitefriars’ shopping centre. And despite the continuous noise of traffic, and the fumes that poison the air, it has been a good place to raise a family. There is still green space. And we do have access to the cathedral and the deep silence of centuries of prayer.

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We may whinge about the busloads of continental teenagers spilling out of the pound shops, but we’ll miss them when they stop coming. Regimented private schools may be well-behaved, but lack their vitality.

We’ll also miss the Franciscans when they close the Study Centre and leave Greyfriars chapel this summer, but this is home, its churches, shops, level crossings and traffic queues, old friends and acquaintances, and corners unvisited except when friends stop by. I guess we’re here while the next generation are based hereabouts; this is home.

WT.

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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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From 24 April: Spring Talks at the Franciscan International Study Centre.

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Friar Austin’s Spring and Summer talks on Jesus beyond Dogma begin on Monday 24th April at 7.00 p.m. at the Franciscan International Study Centre, Giles Lane, Canterbury.

All are welcome to attend and join in the discussion!

There is ample parking at the Centre.

WT.

Mosaic at the Abbey of St Maurice, Valais, Switzerland.

 

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February 13: Favela!

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As well as fantasy, the BOing! Festival at the University of Kent tried to provide a contrasting awareness of the hurtful and distressing reality of severe overcrowding. This installation in the foyer of the Gulbenkian Theatre was called ‘Favela’ which is the name for large concentrations of slum dwellings in shanty town conditions around the cities of South America. The impression of thousands of families barely housed at all, piled on top of one another, given here for the teenagers and pre-teens to wonder at, was very striking. Poverty, even when represented in a cardboard imitation, is overwhelming.

The Brazilian Catholic Franciscan theologian Leonardo Boff writes about the way in which Francis of Assisi “brought great liberation to the poor,” even without the advantages of a social services structure. “That which makes poverty inhuman is not solely (though it is principally) the non-satisfaction of basic life needs. It is the denigration, exclusion from human community, the introjections into the poor of a negative image of themselves, an image produced by the dominating classes. The poor person begins to believe he is low and despicable.”

In St. Francis, “the ferment of the Gospel breaks forth in all its questioning, challenging reality. We realize how lazy we are, how strong the old man still remains within us. [Francis] is more than an ideal; he is a way of being, an experience of identification with all that is simplest, fraternization with all that is lowliest, enabling the emergence of the best that is hidden within each human being.” [From L. Boff & W. Buehlmann eds., Build Up my Church.]

CD, January 2017

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