Tag Archives: journey

22 May: Pilgrimage to Canterbury MMXIX. 2 Out of earshot.

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I left you at the top of Dover, only too glad to get out of the sight and sound of the main roads.

Singledge Lane is part of the North Downs Way. Asphalt all the way these days but in the years before the Great War, it was often impassible in winter. This was disappointing for the owners of Guildford Colliery. They had to suspend operations every winter, and never succeeded in digging down to the coal that awaited them.

Our friend George,1 a L’Arche community member and ex-miner, told me that a truck load of coal was brought to the surface when some potential investors inspected, but that truck had been sent down the shaft full of coal from another nearby mine. The investors lost out, the mine was closed, and what remains is now a private house and farm buildings beside the Lane. The story reminds me of the man wanting to build a tower, and making sound plans. A mine is a much more complicated venture, and a pilgrimage much less so, but we need to anticipate, if you’ll forgive me, the pitfalls, before we gather the walkers on Dover Beach. Hence my ride past the mine that never was.

Which of you having a mind to build a tower, doth not first sit down, and reckon the charges that are necessary, whether he have wherewithal to finish it: lest, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that see it begin to mock him, saying: This man began to build, and was not able to finish.                                                                                                                 Luke 14:28-30

We’ve barely started reckoning our wherewithals.

My Brompton and I bowled along to Coldred church, where I sat in the porch with sandwiches and coffee before turning right towards Eythorne. Here the L’Arche house called Cana made me welcome and plied me with a welcome cup of tea.

Cana was the planned end point for Day 1. Some of the community members seemed to be looking forward to the pilgrimage, but could they manage The Hill? They would be able to walk the first section of Day 2 – to Barfrestone, where L’Arche Kent began.

Coldred Church of St Pancras

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13 May. What is Theology Saying? L: Signs of the times open pathways for the Gospel

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austinThe signs of the times cannot simply be material events or objective happenings. Such things, of themselves, do not indicate anything. They prompt a suspicion that things are brewing, it does not take very much to be aware of that. Sadly that is where most people stop. Whereas the real signs are human actions, human responses to challenges posed by these events. Only people can create realities pointing somewhere, through their words, gestures and actions. The “signs of the times” are these gestures which allow the Lord to be present. There will always be a connection between events and signs. St. Paul’s journeys depended on the existence of sea-routes, and the communications system established by the Roman Empire. But a study of these phenomena would not suffice to help us understand what was going on. Only people can be signs. Anthony in the Desert, Benedict, Francis, Gandhi, Martin Luther King… were all signs who were intimately involved with what was going on in their own world. Their sign value lay in the pathways they opened up for the Gospel life to move through them, relevantly, into the world.

If we are simply looking for new ways to win people to the church, all we need do is take note of modern resources on offer. Make use of the variety of ideologies at our disposal. But our task is different. A new Church demands freedom from the accretions and accumulations of time. We need to sweep away whatever makes the Word inaccessible. Just as individuals need to be set free from their past, so too do Institutions which are made up of individuals. We will only realise the need for change when we discover people who are not being reached. Recognising the signs of the times means risking letting go of much of the past. If Jesus had taken all the Jewish traditions on board he would have made many more converts, but nothing would have changed and the truth would have remained “safely” locked up.

Mission is not something extraordinary, it does not require the presence of genius; simply ordinary folk prepared to do ordinary things, extraordinarily well. When we rely over much on system and method we end up transmitting ideology, religion or culture, rather than access to Jesus Christ

AMcC

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April 30: Saint George for England – and Ethiopia!

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haile sellasse.jpgThe Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Sellasse, as the effort began to wrest control of his country back from the Italian invaders during World War II, called on the servicemen of Ethiopia and Britain to follow the selfless example of their shared patron, Saint George.

My friend George was one of those servicemen, not in any glamorous role, but as a merchant seaman, bringing home food and supplies, always in danger from U-boats.  George was a miner and could have stayed at home, but he believed that Britain’s part in the war was right and put his life on the line.

He returned to the mines after the war, but did not leave his sense of what is right behind. It was not right, he said, that landowners received more per ton of coal dug from beneath their estates than the men did who cut and carried it, and were often injured in the process. So he overcame a stammer to be able to speak for his colleagues.

Like many another, he developed an industrial disease which affected his breathing. In his forced retirement he turned to the Catholic church and to working almost full-time with L:Arche Kent. He greatly encouraged the middle aged men who joined from the big hospitals around Kent; his working class background and his long experience of male comradeship was a great gift to Bill, John and David and to the whole community. He still valued an honest day’s work, and so did the men.

Another Saint George, one who’ll never make it to the altars, but he is there beside us in L’Arche Kent, along with Bill, John, David and all our old friends.

Saint George has been transferred this year as his usual feast day fell in Easter week.

Our late friend David Powell wrote here about his experience of mining.

 

 

MMB.

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January 13: Christ’s interest.

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Mrs Turnstone delights in the fact that on this day, the light of the Sun is first seen in Greenland, the first sign of Spring in the North. When Hopkins lived in North Wales there were no street lights, and anyone moving after nightfall needed a lantern. At least there was peace, and ‘who goes there?’ need not have been spoken in fear.

I am blest that she who goes there is indeed rare, and that ‘Christ minds’ her and me and you, dear reader.

The Lantern Out of Doors by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Sometimes a lantern moves along the night,
That interests our eyes. And who goes there?
I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where,
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light?

Men go by me whom either beauty bright
In mould or mind or what not else makes rare:
They rain against our much-thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite.

Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.

Christ minds: , what to avow or amend
There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kínd,
Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.

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12 December: Beautiful killers and the greatest love.

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September had turned warm again, it was a good day to enjoy a sandwich in sight of the sea near Rye Harbour, and watch the world go by.

There were fewer humans than the last time I was this way, which was in August, but there were plenty of birds, as always. What first caught my eye was a small group of sand martins, swooping and swirling, stirring themselves up for the long flight to Southern Africa. Not quite ready to go yet! Was it a family group, the parents imparting their final advice before taking off in earnest?

A cormorant passed by, purposefully facing the light westerly breeze. A different spectacle altogether: its flying looked like hard work, though we know the grace they acquire as soon as they are in their watery element.

It must have been the frequent sightings of fighter planes this Battle of Britain month that set me comparing the martins to Spitfires, all speed and aerobatics and the cormorant to a ponderous Wellington bomber: killing machines both. So are the martins and cormorant killers, but not of their own kind and no more than necessary to feed  themselves and their children.

We humans know better than that of course.

_______________________________________________

Redemption? Half a mile away is an abandoned wooden hut, the former lifeboat station. It was from here that seventeen men sailed and rowed to their deaths early last century, setting out in a storm to rescue the crew of a stricken ship. They did not know that the men were safely on shore before they set out. Their monument says they were doing their duty.

It was rather the greatest love.

(Another day at the same place.)

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24 November: The Road to Emmaus VII – and beyond.

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Then they said to each other, did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32).

Jesus has vanished, but at last the disciples see. They recognize Jesus. And they are able, consciously now, to lay claim to the strange and wonderful joy they felt as Jesus walked with them on the road and explained the scriptures to them.

But now they realise that what Jesus had told them on the road was a preparation for something else. His words, spoken during their journey, were themselves like the journey and not like the full arrival. The disciples did not really “arrive” until they reached Emmaus.

Then why did Jesus at first pretend that he wanted to go further than Emmaus? Perhaps he did this for the disciples’ sake, because he wanted to draw something further out of them. This seeming pretence on Jesus’ part gives the two disciples the opportunity to realise how much they want this stranger to stay with them; even though they do not realise fully who he is, they know that he is important to them, and so they then make a conscious choice and ask him pressingly to remain with them.

But, when would full recognition of the Risen Jesus come? And why hadn’t it come to them yet? Caravaggio’s painting helps us here, helps us to see that the recognition of the Risen Lord comes most fully within the context of the meal. In the Last Supper Jesus commanded the Twelve ‘do this in memory of me.’ He would now, in this “first supper” of his risen life, show them that he meant it. He would show them that this memorial of him was not an empty memory, a mere trick of the imagination, but a real encounter with him. Earlier in the day, Jesus had shown them that Scripture was about him. Now Jesus would show them that the meal is not ‘about’ something, it is something – or rather, Someone: it is Him.

The disciples’ recognition of Jesus and Jesus’ physical disappearance are nearly simultaneous. This is, in a way, a difficult truth. It is always a bit painful to me to think that the two disciples were so close to being able to throw their arms around Jesus once more, if only they had been quick enough! But, always the teacher, Jesus has something else, something more important to show them. When he disappears from their sight at the meal, this disappearance of Jesus is not like the disappearance of Jesus in death. This disappearance does not cause grief, it heals grief. The disciples begin to grasp now that Jesus’ reality remains in the meal. The disciples know him in the breaking of the bread. And, most importantly, they now realise that he has overcome death, and as such has assumed a new form. This form is the form in which we, too, must recognise and follow him.

The adventure of Emmaus happens only three days after Jesus’ death, remember. The disciples will need more time to express in words what they suddenly grasped here at Emmaus on an essential level. We need time, too. But there is so much to learn from this. Here I am, a latter day disciple, with all the advantages of understanding that result from access to two thousand years of Christian teaching. Yet, I can feel as raw and untutored as these two disciples were. And maybe that is the way things should be. It enables me to use their experience as a model and to take comfort and encouragement from their story.

SJC

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6 November, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXXXIII: Two Gentlemen of Bologna, 2.

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How Saint Francis delivered one of them from a sore temptation

Brother Rinieri devoutly and faithfully served the brethren, dwelling in great sanctity and humility: and he became Saint Francis’ close familiar friend. 

A while after, God suffered a very grievous temptation to arise within his soul: and he being in anguish and tribulation thereby, afflicted himself with fasts, with scourgings, with tears and prayers, both day and night: but for all that he could not rid him of that temptation; but
oftentimes abode in great despair, sith he deemed himself thereby abandoned of God. While he was in such despair, as a last remedy he minded to go to Saint Francis, thinking thus within himself: “If Saint Francis will look kindly on me, and show himself mine own familiar friend, as is his wont, I believe that God will yet have pity on me: but if not, it will be a sign that I shall be abandoned by God.” So he set out and came t0 Saint Francis, who at that time lay
grievously sick in the palace of the bishop of Assisi; and God revealed unto him all the manner of the temptation and the despair of the said Brother Rinieri, and of his purpose and his coming.

And straightway Saint Francis called Brother Leo and Brother Masseo, and said unto them: “Go ye out at once to meet my little son, most dear to me, brother Rinieri, and embrace him on my behalf and salute him, and tell him that among all the brothers that are in the world I love him with especial love.” So they went, and found Brother Rinieri on the way, and embraced him, saying unto him whatsoever Saint Francis had bidden them say. Whereby such consolation and sweetness filled his soul that he was as one beside himself: and giving thanks to God with all his heart, he went on and came to the place where Saint Francis lay sick.

And albeit Saint Francis was grievously sick, yet when he heard that Brother Rinieri was coming, he got up and went to meet him, and embraced him very sweetly, and said: “My little son, most dear to me, Brother Rinieri, among all the brothers that are in the world, I love thee, I love thee with especial love.” And this said, he made the sign of the most holy cross upon his brow, and kissed him thereon; and bespake him again: “My little son, most dear, God hath suffered this temptation to assail thee for thy great gain in merit, but if thou no more desire this gain, then let it be.” O marvel ! as soon as Saint Francis had said these words, incontinent departed from him all temptation, as though in all his life he had felt it not a whit, and he remained altogether comforted.

 

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29 September: Michaelmas Daisies.

MICHAELMAS DAISIES

Many flowers have English names that speak of the faith of those who named them. We saw these resplendent Michaelmas Daisies in Folkestone, next to Saint Eanswythe’s Pool which we have visited before on this blog. It’s where the saint brought clean water for the townspeople and her sisters.

But today we remember Michael the Archangel, whose name means ‘Who is like God?’

Who indeed? Passing through Tonbridge I saw another fine clump of Michaelmas Daisies, where a seed must have taken root alongside the line. Too much reflection from the window to grab a snap, but maybe more people see them than St Eanswythe’s.

Let’s hope hearts at both ends of Kent are lifted at the sight.

It’s worth recalling that Michaelmas daisies are officially ‘asters’ or stars, and stars can guide the wise.

Laudato Si!

MMB

 

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26 August: Behind these doors …

 

On January 23 I shared a picture of a garage door, the entrancing entrance to the Westminster diocesan archive in London. The archive is soon to be renovated, and sadly for the romantic researcher, the deceptive door will be no more. But really it is good news, as the new entrance will be on the flat without thresholds and steps.

Here is an archive that was built from underground up to be accessible. This is the British Library, home to the eighth century Lindisfarne Gospels as well as every book published in Britain in modern times, and much more besides, including hard to find works on Africa and those working there in the first half of last century, my reason for going there.

Under the courtyard are shelves where curators go to find the books readers request. In the courtyard is Sir Isaac Newton, based on a drawing by William Blake by the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi. Blake was not over impressed by Newton, who he felt turned his back on beauty to measure and record facts, reducing creation to what can be proved and tested. Not altogether fair on Newton, but the statue celebrates both men, and both streams of thought.

In the background can be seen the mid 19th century romantic brickwork of Saint Pancras railway station, my usual arrival point in London. The Library is in the same brick, though in a completely different style. On this site was once the goods (freight) depot for the Midland Railway, built in the same red brick. The crimson on the ventilators evokes the Midland Railway livery.

The goods that leave this spot today are ideas, not physical supplies for shops and trades. This is one of the most important buildings in the world, free to use for research, free to go in and see the displays of rare books. The Harry Potter exhibition was to be paid for and there were at least four parties of school children going in or out as I ate my sandwiches; I think one group had stayed too long eating their lunch as I heard their teacher complaining, ‘And now you’re wasting my time.’ I was off to the Underground, and that deceptive door!

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23 August: Jesus in the Attic, 1.

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That title sounds quite wrong: why would you consign Jesus to the attic when he should be at the heart of our lives?

I remember, many years ago, when I was with a party of people with learning disabilities on holiday in Suffolk. We went to see Tim and Marion Hollis, friends of  Jean and Thérèse Vanier, and of L’Arche Kent. Tim took us on the Broads in his motor boat, encouraging each of us to steer up the channel – even John, who normally said nothing and never looked up from the floor, still set himself to make for the mark Tim pointed out to him. Never underestimate anyone’s capabilities!

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Before we went on the river, Tim showed us his ‘Jesus in the attic’: up in the roof he had replaced a terracotta pantile with a glass one, which let in enough light for a little shrine in one corner. A quiet place, a blessed place. The memory has stuck.

Next month we’ll visit the much grander ‘Jesus in the Attic’ which gave me this title, and speaks of a challenging situation, like that facing John Kemble, but which toleration and accommodation defused without bloodshed and martyrdom.

MMB

 


We heard in the last few days that Marion Hollis has died with Tim at her side. She was a good friend to L’Arche who especially helped the London Community to grow in the early days. May she rest in peace.

 

 

 

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