Tag Archives: hospitality

13 August, V is for Verulam: hospitality and its unlikely consequences

Verulam is the other, old name for Saint Alban’s, a city about 30 km to the north of London. Its Cathedral was founded as an abbey in Norman times, and owes its survival to eventually become a cathedral to the people of the town who bought the building in 1553, following the dissolution of the monasteries.

Verulam, or Verulamium had been a Roman city, with baths, theatres, a market and barracks. Alban lived there in the time of Emperor Diocletian, the great persecutor of Christians. He himself was not a Christian but his lodger Amphibalus was a Christian priest. Alban saw how he lived and prayed and was moving towards his own conversion when the authorities came to arrest his guest. By swapping clothes with Alban, Amphibalus escaped.

Alban, though, was arrested and brought before the magistrate who urged him to sacrifice to the Roman gods by burning a few grains of incense, but he refused and declared to the magistrate that he was a Christian, even though he had not been baptised. He was executed in Amphibalus’ place, the first known martyr of England.

Not so long ago I was talking to a parish priest who said that he had been in his parish for years and not been invited to a meal with a family – then two came for the same evening! We don’t need to fear the treatment Saint Alban received if we invite a priest to our homes, so go ahead and ask them round. Just don’t serve them meat on a Friday!

Przemyslaw Sakrajda—Martyrdom of St Alban, window in St Alban’s Cathedral.

 

 

 

 

 

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11 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus V: Healing through Friendship

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When someone undergoes a sudden conversion, time seems to be derailed from its usual track of swift seconds and minutes, and to slow down. Every moment of the conversion experience has an overflowing content of grace. So much grace that it cannot all be absorbed at once. This is what happened when Zacchaeus hears Jesus call him by his name.

How powerful the use of our name can be. In one of the more subtle forms of bullying, the bully pronounces our name with an accent of mockery, making our very name sound contemptible. We feel the insult intensely. It is very hard to shake off the sense that the bully is right, that we are contemptible. In Zacchaeus’s case, he suddenly wakes up to the fact that he himself had been such a bully. But, no time to dwell on this now, for he hears the syllables of his own name ring out not in the tones of contempt, nor in the tones of formality and coldness that people used when speaking to the chief tax collector – if they spoke to him at all. Now, Zacchaeus’s name is called by the person of Love incarnate. Probably for the first time ever, Zacchaeus hears his own name resound in warm tones ringing with delight, friendliness and affection. It sounds as though Zacchaeus were dearer to Jesus than life; as though Jesus had now found the one he had been searching urgently for – for years.

Zacchaeus has rarely been at a loss for words in his adult life. He usually responds to whatever is said to him with a witty remark. In business affairs, his sarcasm was dismayingly prompt and devastating. But suddenly, he cannot think of what to say to this man whose very aura is compelling and whose face is radiantly welcoming. He stares at Jesus, feeling like a young child. He so wants what Jesus has, so wants to be part of who Jesus is.

After a moment, Jesus continues in the same glad and hearty tones, Come down! Years later, Zacchaeus will tell how he knew even at that moment that those words meant more than simply “Come down from that tree.” They meant, re-evaluate your whole way of being. Come down from this pseudo-tough, rich-man persona you have created and think you need. You don’t need it. You don’t even want it any more. Come down to where I am.

But at this particular moment in the encounter, Zacchaeus continues to stand on his tree-branch like a statue. He is shocked. He doesn’t stir. So Jesus urges him, Hurry! This word is also a resonating word for Zacchaeus. Slaves hurried. Zaccheus was a wealthy man and didn’t need to hurry. It wasn’t fitting. He was too important. But he longs to hurry now. He still doesn’t budge. He is too confused, too startled. Too happy. He desperately wants to jump down from his branch, but he is momentarily stuck.

But here now, Zacchaeus, Jesus is speaking to you without ceremony, and with urgency, as a man speaks to a close friend: he is smiling and telling you to get moving. He has something to ask of you. Here it is: Because today I must stay at your house!

Jesus is also offering something to you. He is offering himself. He is offering you his greatest gift: his healing friendship. He’s saying, “I, Jesus, am your friend, and I invite myself and my followers to your house for dinner. Only friends make so bold. Only friends are fearless enough with each other to admit that they need each other. I need you now! I am tired and so are my companions. And we are all hungry. You have a big house and a lot of servants. But it’s not merely your house and your food we need. We need you to be uniquely you. You have a sad history, it is true, but you are more than your history. You have human capacities that will grow and blossom when planted in the soil of friendship. Well? Will you be you? Will you offer yourself in friendship to us? I offer you a place among my friends. Isn’t this exactly what you long for?”

At last Zacchaeus seems to come out of his trance. He looks dazed, but he suddenly comprehends something of what it all means. Jumping from his branch like a boy, he hurries down and welcomes Jesus joyfully. He is not the same man who had swung into that tree a short while before. Everything is different now. He knows that this is not simply about dinner. Zacchaeus is getting ready to shed years of pain – emotional pain he had lived with for so long that he had ceased to regard it as pain at all. He had thought that what he felt inside was simply the price of existence itself – if he thought about it at all. But now he sees that there is a different way to exist. He was barely able to articulate this difference just yet, but as he strode ahead, excitedly pointing out the way to his house, and talking now with a ready flow of words, he was inwardly planning how he would be the friend of Jesus; how he would be the new person he felt he had suddenly become, and not merely today, but for the rest of his life.

SJC

 

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24 December: Edward Thomas at the inn.

A change of voice, a change of pace. Edward Thomas is always worth listening to. This, like all his poetry, was written in the months before his death at the front in 1917. 

THE OWL

Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved;
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.
Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl’s cry, a most melancholy cry
Shaken out long and clear upon the hill,
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went.
And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered, too, by the bird’s voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.”

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3 November: The Pilgrims’ Way

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Join us on a walk in mid September. The road name Pilgrims Way appears in various places around Canterbury. This one, six or seven miles west at Chilham village carries the pilgrims’ scallop shell badge as another reminder of the ancient ways that led to Canterbury and beyond, to Rome or Compostella or even Jerusalem.

Clearly the only way from here is upwards!

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The second picture, taken by the Pilgrims Way just beyond Chilham, shows the first view of Canterbury Cathedral in the distance. The discerning eye – meaning one that knows what to look for – will spot the Bell Harry tower almost dead centre behind the trees that follow the downward slope left to right.

The sight must have put a spring in the pilgrims’ steps, and no doubt they were further encouraged by a long drink in the inn whose wall appears in the first picture. As Chesterton once said, Let a man walk ten miles steadily on a hot summer’s day along a dusty English road, and he will soon discover why beer was invented.

We walked rather less than ten miles on this occasion, but we agree with GKC!

Thank God for hospitality, wherever we find it.

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A Grey day in Canterbury

As I was walking home at a quarter to nine this morning, the Sun was finding it difficult to break through but there was autumn colour nonetheless. We are in the city centre, at the site of a corn mill that burned to the ground eighty years ago. Top picture is looking upstream; the cathedral is behind the houses on the left; the building on the right, obscured by trees, was once the Dominican Priory.

Looking downstream, the steps, right foreground, take you across the main river over the sluice gates that control the flow – still vital when there is too much or too little rain.

There is a pub with rooms called the Miller’s Arms just visible behind the trees to the right. They fed us well the last time we visited.

The old bridge is called after St Radigund, a princess-abbess from the so-called dark ages when so many noblewomen found openings for themselves and others to be something other than wives, mothers and domestics. We’d better publish a post about her sometime soon; till then, Laudato Si!

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17 July, What is Theology Saying? XVII: The Eucharist 4: he is the beloved.

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There is no equal to God. However kind, benign and compassionate the Creator is, we remain creature and Creator.

Scripture will have none of this – it is totally refuted by Jesus. One of the most significant comments Jesus made was the seemingly simple – the Father loves me – John.15.9. et al. Indeed his total identity as we hear at his baptism and the Transfiguration is that he is the beloved of Abba – Galatians 4.4. So, Abba can love! But God cannot love a creature as such: as we have seen, there is no equality; but there is a reality in Jesus which is beyond creaturehood. To say God loves me is to say he is divine.

Where does this leave us? In telling us that the Father loves him, Jesus – who is truly human – is telling us that the father loves everything about him – and especially the common humanity we share with him: to all who believe he gave power to know God as Abba – i.e. we are loved by God as Jesus is loved, as equals yet each one uniquely; which is why the Church always concludes worship and prayer with ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’.

Saint Paul writes that it is the re-shaping of community that allows us to see the presence of Christ. Eucharist fails in its purpose if it allows any form of discrimination for whatever reason: 1Corinthians.11; Romans.12; Galatians.2. The Eucharist asks us individually and collectively where we are as regards God’s unconditional hospitality.

AMcC

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June 1: S is for Sligo

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I remember Sligo for one reason especially: hospitality.

Let loose in a bookshop, even on-line, I tend to lose track of time. So it was in Sligo, all those years ago, so that when I paid over my punts, I received with my book and my change an invitation to take tea with the family.

Perhaps it’s my fond imagination, but Irish baking in those days could hit the heights of good taste. I recall a bakery in Ennis –  run by a cousin of a woman we knew up by Sligo – where the fresh brown bread was so very good, two of us had eaten the loaf within a quarter of an hour as we walked across town.

Here in Sligo it was sitting around the peat fire, a tea loaf – an Irish version of bara brith but with more butter within and more spread upon it than in Wales. And it was talk, good interesting talk it was too.

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Good booksellers, like good librarians, listen to the people of the centuries, and if they speak to those of today, have wisdom to share. ‘I think you’ll like this one. You had another book by her a year ago.’ That’s the computer helping out, telling the librarian what I’ve borrowed before, but it’s a useful tool for her and her borrowers.

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3 March. Little Flowers of Saint Francis, XV: Francis the Peacemaker

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Now as they went along this way, Brother Masseo marvelled within himself, wherefore Saint Francis had made him do as do the children, before the worldly folk that passed that way: howbeit for reverence sake he dared say naught to the holy father.

As they drew nigh unto Sienna, the people of the city heard of the coming of the saint and hied them out to meet him ; and of their devotion bore him and his companion right to the bishop’s house, in such wise that they touched not the ground at all with their feet.

Now at that same hour certain folk of Sienna were at strife with one another, and already two of them lay dead. Saint Francis having won there preached to them in so devout and saintly a fashion, that he brought them one and all to peace and close unity and concord together. For the which cause the bishop of Sienna, hearing of the holy work that Saint Francis had wrought, bade him to his house and received him with high honour that day, and eke the night.

And the next morn Saint Francis, who with true humility sought naught in all his works save only the glory of God, rose up betimes with his companion, and without the bishop’s knowledge was away. Whereat the said Brother Masseo went by the way murmuring within himself.

 

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January 29, Aberdaron VII: the beginning

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We continue reading the guide to Saint Hywyn’s Church. It is sobering to sit in Canterbury and read that this church dates from the first half of the sixth century. Pope Gregory only sent Augustine to Kent in 597!

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August 23: K is for Kyle of Lochalsh

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From a junction, yesterday, to the end of the line today! Kyle of Lochalsh station is out of sight to the right of the photograph.

I’m not necessarily in favour of fixed links where ferries used to ply, but they do make life easier. We have the Channel Tunnel between Kent and Calais while Skye has the Skye Bridge linking it to the Scottish mainland. Its echoing of the rainbow when we were there helped reconcile myself to it, as did the fact that the tolls were abolished some years ago. Our plan to walk across from Kyleakin on Skye to Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland were washed out. The rain was fierce, but there was a bus we were not too proud to catch.

The Isle of Skye’s website says that Kyleakin used to be choked with cars, lined up for the ferry; it’s quieter now but still the hotels do good business.

We were amazed by the quantities of baggage carried by the French coach tourists who shared our hotel, and the mistrustful refusal to accept assistance in getting the cases through the automatic lift door. What a burden for the mind! It is good to travel light whether to Skye or beyond the sky.

And I hope I won’t always need a rainbow to remind me of how beautiful the world is. Even those bits of it engineered and built by mere humans can reflect the beauty of God’s creation.

MMB.

 

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