Today Traherne’s meditation flows from the same source as Saint Francis and Pope Francis, who has taken much of his Laudato Si’! from Patriarch Bartholomew. Creation is a gift to be prized, not priced! And, after a day of walking by the sea, I reflected that everything of ours was not in its proper place; I could have filled a few litter bags with discarded plastic if I’d had my litter-picker with me. Not a problem that Traherne could have imagined.
When things are ours in their proper places, nothing is needful but prizing to enjoy them. God therefore hath made it infinitely easy to enjoy, by making everything ours, and us able so easily to prize them.
Everything is ours that serves us in its place. The Sun serves us as much as is possible, and more than we could imagine. The Clouds and Stars minister unto us, the World surrounds us with beauty, the Air refresheth us, the Sea revives the earth and us. The Earth itself is better than gold because it produceth fruits and flowers.
And therefore in the beginning, was it made manifest to be mine, because Adam alone was made to enjoy it. By making one, and not a multitude, God evidently shewed one alone to be the end of the World and every one its enjoyer. For every one may enjoy it as much as he.
Picture from FMSL
Two shorter meditations today, 9 and 10, that seem to sit well together. It is worth pondering on the idea that God wants us to enjoy creation ‘sensible of its use and value – in Divine, not financial terms. Laudato Si’!
Is it not easy to conceive the World in your Mind? To think the Heavens fair? The Sun Glorious? The Earth fruitful? The Air Pleasant? The Sea Profitable? And the Giver bountiful? Yet these are the things which it is difficult to retain. For could we always be sensible of their use and value, we should be always delighted with their wealth and glory.
To think well is to serve God in the interior court: To have a mind composed of Divine Thoughts, and set in frame, to be like Him within. To conceive aright and to enjoy the world, is to conceive the Holy Ghost, and to see His Love: which is the Mind of the Father. And this more pleaseth Him than many Worlds, could we create as fair and great as this. For when we are once acquainted with the world, you will find the goodness and wisdom of God so manifest therein, that it was impossible another, or better should be made. Which being made to be enjoyed, nothing can please or serve Him more, than the Soul that enjoys it. For that Soul doth accomplish the end of His desire in Creating it.
This is Thomas Traherne’s Seventh Meditation. He is grappling with the dilemma posed by Jesus’ words on loving the world alongside the Genesis story of creation as God’s good work. Here is Saint John:
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (2:16-17)
That is the King James Version which Traherne would have used. And here is his meditation: to contemn is to hold in contempt, to despise.
To contemn the world and to enjoy the world are things contrary to each other. How, then can we contemn the world, which we are born to enjoy? Truly there are two worlds. One was made by God, the other by men. That made by God was great and beautiful. Before the Fall it was Adam’s joy and the Temple of his Glory. That made by men is a Babel of Confusions: Invented Riches, Pomps and Vanities, brought in by Sin: Give all (saith Thomas à Kempis) for all. Leave the one that you may enjoy the other.
Mention of Thomas à Kempis reminds me that my grandmother’s Imitation of Christ turned up recently. Another text to be shared sometime soon. But I like the term ‘Adam’s Joy’! Would we be happy to show our ancestors and our creator what we are doing to the Temple of his Glory? Can we dare to say, Laudato si?
Image from NASA
Continuing our watery theme, with the picture of a Heron which we saw in Amsterdam recently.
Back in April Mrs T and I were working on George’s garden in London. We saw and heard – no way of not hearing! – quite a few parakeets as well as more common garden birds, flitting across from the cemetery park. Mrs T remarked on our recent visit to Amsterdam, where the parakeets were enjoying cherry blossom time as much as the humans in the park. There were also herons at the waters’ edge – plenty of that habitat in the city of canals – which reminded George of the herons he likes to see on London’s Serpentine lake.
Let’s hope more birds adapt to city life – and that we humans have the wisdom to adapt our cities and ourselves to provide good environments – land, water and air – for other creatures and ourselves.
Dear Friends, we have received this letter from Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche. To read the whole letter, click on the link.
I have often shared my wonder for the birds, but this time I am going to speak to you about the flowers.
Now, in early May, we have the sun and nice weather. Every day, I take a walk in my little garden, with my eyes looking down because I have to be careful where I walk: this means I notice the primroses.
Please excuse my interrupting Austin’s flow of thought with this appreciation of some of the joys of summer. A version of this post has appeared in the Will Turnstone blog.
As I walked along Canterbury’s Saint Peter’s Street on Saturday I saw a sure sign of Summer. Not the gaggles of French and Dutch teenagers squeezing into the pound shops, nor the obedient American and Japanese tourists following their guides’ uplifted, unopened, umbrellas.
No, It was the cherry lady from Faversham, but selling gooseberries this time. She promised ‘cherries next week’.
I bought gooseberries.
That afternoon as I was cycling home from visiting friends, I sought out the elder flowers needed to make the best gooseberry fool and gooseberry jam. Along the Crab and Winkle cycle path they were as unpolluted as anywhere.
Mrs T made the fool, and froze some puree to make more when summer is mere memory. The fool all went. We took some to the L’Arche gardening club on Sunday, where our Polish friends could not get enough of it, nor could I. Maybe the spare puree won’t make it till Christmas!
And I made the jam. A few Happy Christmasses there!
But yesterday there were cherries in town.
Summertime can begin! Laudato Si!
Janet had been watching a documentary about life in the Himalayas. Amid the fierce natural beauties the programme visited a Buddhist monastery, where the monks ground rock crystals into powder which they dyed into bright colours. They used the sand to create religious symbols which would be displayed for a while, then swept away. Life is passing was the truth they held before themselves in this exercise.
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, I might have said, but didn’t. Instead my mind went back to school days, when preparations for Corpus Christi included the enjoyable task of dying sawdust to make pictures to decorate the route of the Blessed Sacrament procession. The top picture from 1956 shows students at Saint Augustine’s College in Blacklion, Ireland, decorating the drive. The other shows the culmination of the Corpus Christi procession at the Priory, my school in Hampshire, but before my time, in 1948. The first is by Anthony Whelan, the second by Robert Clyde, both come from the website of the friends of the Missionaries of Africa: the pelicans.
Anthony’s photograph shows how these designs will be trampled underfoot. Sic transit – so many labours of love, think of wedding cakes or fireworks, are made to serve for a moment in time. Think, too, of the woman anointing the Lord’s feet with precious oil (Luke7:36-50). Or the oil the other women took to the tomb: an extravagant waste of effort/time/money, says the utilitarian.
But isn’t all we have, see, touch, taste an extravagant gift? Let’s be grateful on this day of the Eucharist, of thanksgiving. If we no longer have processions, we can celebrate with a shared meal, or even eating alone, thank God for the food and raise a glass to absent friends.
And Laudato Si!
What are some of the surprises that God has blessed you with today? Pray with this question and, together, let us allow our hearts to be open to being surprised by God’s grace!
Those few lines are by Father James Kurzynski, writing on the Vatican Observatory Website about a day full of good surprises. Do take up his challenge before bedtime, but also follow this link to his surprising day. He was like a kid in an Astronomical Candy Store, he tells us, finishing with a shared meal with a friend and family.
Many years ago I worked in a ‘Subnormality Hospital’ as they were called in England, or as this one was called in Switzerland, an Asylum. The men and women who lived there had often been committed by their parents who had been told that they had no place in society, but would be happy and safe in the asylum.
There was a young, international staff who were gradually changing the regime, recognising the human potential going to waste. Many of the people I would meet at L’Arche Kent in the early days had spent long years in such places.
Martin was around fifty, but looked older. Shortly before I arrived he had gone missing for three days and nights before walking back, very tired and hungry.
‘And do you know where he was, Maurice? He doesn’t talk about it any more, but he took a promenade in the woods, and spent those days and nights watching a family of fox cubs. Their mother seems to have known that Martin was no threat.’
Half an hour sitting still and quiet in Canterbury Cathedral is pushing it for me! Make that a quarter of an hour…
Martin found his own chapel in the Cathedral of the Forest and was like Wisdom at the Creation: at God’s hand, observing and enjoying creation. A personal Pentecost.
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before he made any thing from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived. neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out:The mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth: He had not yet made the earth, nor the rivers, nor the poles of the world.
When he prepared the heavens, I was present: when with a certain law and compass he enclosed the depths: When he established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters: When he compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters that they should not pass their limits: when be balanced the foundations of the earth; I was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times; Playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men.
Alfie: I really would miss Spring, if ever we went back to Ossyria! Breathe in! Spring smells different here in wet Canterbury. Plus we get some Abel time.
Ajax: Hmmmph. Don’t you get fed up of walking in the cold? Even Will’s neighbours noticed I was shivering. I could have stayed curled up on Mrs T’s sofa.
Alfie: Are you missing pod life then? I don’t remember any scraps of roast lamb there.
Ajax: True. But …
Alfie: But … Will has got himself out to give us a walk on a cold, wet morning. How can we say Thank you?
Ajax: By turning for home now?
Alfie: Don’t be soft! Now where’s he taking us? Are you telegraphing him? A short cut before the fox’s den? No, come on, pull this way. And stop.
Will, responsive to the dogs’ wishes, walked on another ten metres, then stopped while they sniffed around for the fox.
Will: White violets! Fancy that, just four yards away from the path I cycle along and I’ve never noticed them before in thirty years! Thank you guys!
And with that they turned for home.