Tag Archives: Kent

28 May: a Little Child shall lead them, Before the Cross XXVI.

Elham Church, Kent.

We walked to Elham on the recommendation of our daughter; we were not disappointed. Firstly, to find the King’s Arms open and ready to sell us good beer which we enjoyed in the square in the full Spring sunshine. And then there was the church, also open, ready to sell us good second-hand books, and ready to give us plenty to reflect upon.

These Easter Lilies were placed before a Madonna and child, but a very Paschal, Easter-minded Madonna and child. Two years ago we looked at a portrait of Mary and baby Jesus in a pieta-like pose, and I urge you to revisit that post now, to complement this one.

That old post considered two paintings from the studio of Rogier van de Weyden, of the mid-XV Century, the Madonna and a Pieta. In each Mary is tenderly holding her son, whose pose as a baby matches that of his lifeless corpse. This is not what our artist in Elham has in view. Jesus may be four years old here, a boy, not a baby, but still dependent on Mary and Joseph for everything.

The boy is very much alive, yet he is standing as if practising for his work on the Cross. He is lightly supported by his mother; at this age he can walk for himself, but that gentle uplift is reassuring. As for Mary, not for the last time she ponders these things in her heart, the heart pierced by the sword of sorrow.

Jesus is about to step forth from her lap. Any parent will know the excitement and trepidation of following a small child, where are they going, what dangers can we perceive that they do not? But letting them lead us is part of growth for the child and also for the parent who is offered the chance to see the world through fresh eyes.

Mary could not prevent the death of Jesus on the Cross but she was there to welcome him on the third day. Isaiah tells us that a little child shall lead them: may we follow him through all life’s trials to our resurrection in his Kingdom.

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1 February. Emily Dickinson: Obedient to the least command.

I have to say that by no means all of Emily Dickinson’s verse speaks to me; this deceptively simple poem does, though I’m reluctant to analyse it too much and lose it. But ‘docile as a boy’? Sometimes a boy is docile and easily led and the sea can be docile, sometimes. ‘Along appointed sands’, as here in Margate, seen from another poet’s perch, the shelter where Eliot wrote. ‘Obedient to the least command’ does not sound like a statement of fact, more a statement of intent: from a storm-tossed Kent, I pray that the Good Shepherd will lead us beside quiet waters this year of Our Lord 2021.

The moon is distant from the sea,
And yet with amber hands
She leads him, docile as a boy,
Along appointed sands.


 He never misses a degree;
Obedient to her eye,
He comes just so far toward the town,
Just so far goes away.


 Oh, Signor, thine the amber hand,
And mine the distant sea, —
Obedient to the least command
Thine eyes impose on me.”

Series 2, Love XIII from Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete

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6 December: Ho, ho, No!

manc.santa

I was warned about Manchester’s 2019 Santa well before I saw it. Now it’s difficult to unsee the thing. As a representation of a saintly bishop it leaves a lot to be desired! The little Kentish village of Barfrestone has a better one.barf.4.st.nicholas

Here he is, recognisably a bishop, recognisably blessing his people (I doubt the Mancunian’s gesture could be so interpreted), with symbols of his generous charity: the three gold coins for the dowries he gave to three girls who might otherwise have been enslaved; the little boys he rescued from drowning, and a representation of the little church of Saint Nicholas.

We in L’Arche Kent called by during our community pilgrimage last year, for it was in this village that the community was born more than 40 years ago. I was on a sort of pilgrimage to Manchester, not to tip my hat to Santa by Piccadilly Gardens but to visit my mother and my daughter; two good reasons for the journey on a murky day in Manchester. Since my daughter has left town there’s only my mother, but she is isolating herself and outsiders are meant to keep away from Greater Manchester. So thank God for the internet!

Today, 6 December, is Saint Nicholas’ feast day. We can’t do much about the hijacking he has been subjected to by the forces of Mammon, but we can find ways to be generous, maybe in secret, as he often was.

And let us use this season of Advent to make straight the paths of the Lord, through marshland, mountain, or Mancunian murk!

Merry Christmas Manchester!

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November 20: Lighting a candle

crypt (640x481)

Although the crypt at Canterbury Cathedral is usually quiet, there are always sounds to absorb or blank out; I think most people would soon find their inner silence undisturbed by passing footsteps of pilgrims or tourists passing by or finding a seat.

These steps were different, a measured tread, leather soles with steel segs to make the heels last longer, as worn by the Combined Cadet Force at my secondary school. The visitor advanced to the candle stand, took one, lit it, and positioned it upon the rack. A step back, and he stood ramrod straight before the altar for a minute, bowed deeply, turned and left. It was a man I have known by sight for maybe thirty years, but this  was the first time I had seen him wearing the regimental tie of the Buffs, the East Kent Regiment, now amalgamated out of existence.

It was obviously an important date for him to mark in this way. When I searched the web I discovered that the Battle of Cambrai began on 20th November 1917 and many Buffs were involved.

Perhaps this man’s grandfather was in the battle, but he had come to the crypt  in solidarity with his comrades, even with men he never knew; his regimental tie, his candle and his silent moment a prayer of hope for them and for this ravaged world; his visit, even if it was but a short walk from his home, a true pilgrimage.

 

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7 November: By the way

Literally ‘by the way’ these impressive soft bracket fungi caught my eye. Without a Polish Babcia to advise me, I thought I’d best leave them for whichever creature has been eating the one at the right. After all, the birds eat yew berries that are poison to us.

A feast for my eyes, at any rate. Laudato si!

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29 September: Creation Season I, Our Stour

The Stour is the river that flows through Canterbury in different channels, including this one, from which L’Arche Kent draws the water for its garden project. When I looked at the photo on a large screen I almost discarded it as it shows more of the flats opposite than the river. But the river is healthy, as the weed shows, and this is confirmed by a survey a friend took part in, counting the different micro-organisms at various sites along the river.

It was not always that way. In the 19th Century Ashford’s sewage went into the river, not good for Canterbury or the schools built near the river. But Canterbury tossed in sewage as well, and worse: opposite us here, where the flats now are, was the tannery, source of industrial pollution.

That has gone, the river is clean enough for trout and eels to thrive; we’ve seen both on this stretch. This would not have happened without dedicated and focussed hard work, continuing to this day with the Our Stour project.

One way to help is to use water wisely; Our Stour provide some good advice for gardeners. This is part of our responsibility as stewards of creation, something to consider in this season of Creation proclaimed by Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis.

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28 September, Relics XXVIII: Treasures of Saint David’s.

One part of St David’s Cathedral did not feature in our armchair pilgrimage – the Treasury. Strange, that, since we do like things that help tell the Story of Creation and Salvation, but thanks to Crispin Paine who visited for Religion & Collections, we can put that right now.

Dr Paine pays this compliment: the Treasury is a selection of things chosen to tell the story. Click here to read his post.

What story do your treasures tell? This cushion is not in the Treasury, but like so many of St David’s treasures is just doing its job in the Cathedral. But it invites us to sit and be comfortable in God’s presence and reminds us of the heavenly Jerusalem to which we are bound, a country as lovely as Wales but with better weather for camping! Can someone identify the tune, perhaps?

A note about the Charter mentioned by Dr Paine: ‘the City status of St Davids, while having ecclesiastical roots going back for centuries, was granted to all of St Davids by HM the Queen by Royal Charter on 1st June 1995’, according to the City Council. This charter put things to rights after it was discovered that there was no record of a city charter ever being granted. Rochester in Kent, however, lost its city status in 1998, when the city council was merged with Gillingham, and does not look like getting it back any time soon. Yet Rochester was the second English city, founded by St Justus in 604.

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31 July: poverty, slavery and corona virus.

Oscar Murillo’s Turner prize winning migrants.

Last month more than 1,000 migrant workers in four abattoirs in Germany were diagnosed with the covid-19 virus. Clearly the personal protection systems were at fault. Bishop Ansgar Puff, head of the human trafficking section of the German Catholic bishops conference, sees this as exploiting foreign workers. “Some of us think that exploitation and slave-like practices are a thing of the past or only take place in far-away countries, and yet here in Germany migrants from eastern Europe are being used as cheap labour and put up in housing that is unfit for human beings. Before the corona crisis the appalling conditions in the abattoirs hardly interested anyone. It was simpler just to close one’s eyes to them”. 

We cannot be sure that workers – residents or migrants – who pick fruit or do other basic jobs in Britain are paid and housed properly. And how well is the land, the soil, cared for; the animals reared upon it? How many farmers earn such an epitaph as this?

Bishop Ansgar’s statement from German bishops’ conference, reported in ‘The Tablet’ 27.6.2020.

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20 June: A walk around Fredville Park and Barfrestone.

On the occasion of our Ruby Wedding, Mrs Turnstone and I took a walk around the country park belonging to Fredville House. This is still working farmland, but the trees have been planted over the last 300 years and more to create a pleasing classical landscape. Our walk took us through the park and back in by one of the gatekeeper’s lodges, then returning to the park and out by another lodge. We were now in Frogham with its redbrick cottages, but we pressed on along a short stretch of the North Downs Way, past the new, far from lowly cattle shed and into the village of Barfrestone. We caught a glimpse through the hedge of the house where we met, the Old Rectory, then visited the graves of L’Arche friends, and into the old churchyard, admiring one stone in particular, noticing the gardener and St Thomas over the door of the ancient church of Saint Nicholas. After a picnic on the grass, one last look at the rectory, and home to Canterbury.

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20 May: An Epitaph

We were on our Sunday walk and sat on a bench in Doddington churchyard to break bread together. As the last crumbs were brushed to the ground I said, Let me see whether there are any good carvings here. As you see, I was not disappointed. Beautiful lettering, my daughter observed as she took the photos, and that lovely strawberry sprig; an epitaph speaking of a long life together well-spent.

What will they want to say about you or me? Loved, respected, dedicated? Not that it matters to us what’s said when we’re gone, but we know some things we are good at: if we are graced to earn our living by them. so much the better, but we may rightly be more dedicated to work we are not paid for. Family and community life are callings for almost all of us: let us dedicate ourselves to them daily, in deed if not in word.

Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? Matthew 25:37.

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