Tag Archives: life

14 November: Can a man be profitable to God?

In the Book of Job, 22, his friend, Eliphaz the Temanite says:

“Can a man be profitable to God?
Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself.
Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right,
or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless? “

Job’s comforters have a bad press, indeed Blake, who engraved our image calls them ‘tormentors’. But even if it’s the wrong time and place for it, Eliphaz has a point for us, if not for Job! As Rowan Williams puts it in his discussion on William Tyndale:

Any system of religious activity and thinking that tries to give us some leverage over God – I’ve never denied God a moment of my time, I hope he remembers that – such an attitude is poisonous to our faith. 

And

We create religious institutions that are designed to preserve that divine indebtedness to us, and while we are doing that, we largely ignore the concrete forms of indebtedness toward other human beings to which we should be attending.*

ALL IS GIFT!

Accept the gift of your life, accept that it is a gift, be thankful for every breath! God did not have to bring you into being, and if you suffer, remember that so too did Jesus, his Son. Suffering is shared by God.

Alfred Joyce Kilmer put it this way in his Prayer of a Soldier in France:

My shoulders ache beneath my pack 

(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back). 

Please follow this link to our post from July last year for the whole poem, written shortly before Kilmer’s death in battle. He concludes:

So let me render back again 

This millionth of Thy gift. Amen. 

The gift is the redemptive suffering of Jesus; allying our suffering to his is to set ourselves in sympathy with Jesus; so if personal suffering is a gift, that is because of how we receive it, endure it, live it: through him, with him and in him. Him being the one who prayed: O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:29)

Image from William Blake’s Illustrations for the Book of Job, via Wikipedia
* Rowan Williams:  Luminaries: Twenty lives that illuminate the Christian Way, London SPCK 2019. p54

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6 November: In the midst of life we are in death.

chartham.passion.flower.3

The title of this post comes from the Book of Common Prayer, and like so much of that manual for English worship, goes back to the early days of the Church.

It was coming up to Christmas and I had a few items of shopping to bring home, including a stalk of Brussels sprouts. We’ll come to that after we’ve visited the local metro shop. I was behind ‘A’ in the queue, whom I’d known since teaching him twenty years ago. As ever, I asked ‘How’s Mother?’ knowing she was ill. ‘She passed away last month; I was going to come and tell you. I haven’t cried yet.’ But the tears were there, I saw them.

In front of him was ‘S’, a widowed neighbour; ‘You know you have two Daily Mails’, said the checkout man. ‘Yes, that’s right’, she answered. I knew that one was for her friend, whose son had recently been killed by a rogue driver, high on drugs.

In front of her was ‘F’, widowed herself this year, but bravely going about her business as a mother and grandmother. We always talk of her family and husband: ‘he was so easy to live with’, she remembered today, and like ‘A’s, her eyes were brimming.

I saw her friend ‘C’s son to wave to, neither of us realising that his mother was to suffer a massive and fatal heart attack an hour or two later.

Then round the corner to the farmers’ market for those sprouts. ‘L’ was there, asking after my family, whom he had taught History. Our conversation was ‘H’, my daughter’s dear friend, who ‘always lit up the classroom’ but she had left us eighteen months before in her mid twenties, with an aggressive cancer.

Time for the Church  to speak to the bereaved, whoever they may be: Dying, and, behold, we live; (2 Corinthians 6:9.)

The Passion flower on this grave marker is a promise of resurrection see here.

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4 November: Death and God’s Mercy in the Frozen North.

fire.Moses

Sir Edward Leithen, a Scottish Lawyer is snowbound in Northern Canada, dying of TB in the company of trappers, Indians, and a Quebecois business man who has lost his bearings. Leithen finds his Calvinistic, predestinarian beliefs challenged in the face of the realities he is facing in the North.

The trappers kept a fire going to keep Leithen alive. Picture from SJC

 

Here in this iron and icy world man was a pigmy and God was all in all. Like Job, he was abashed by the divine majesty and could put his face in the dust. It was the temper in which he wished to pass out of life. He asked for nothing—”nut in the husk, nor dawn in the dusk, nor life beyond death.” He had already much more than his deserts! 

Now there suddenly broke in on him like a sunrise a sense of God’s mercy—deeper than the fore-ordination of things, like a great mercifulness… Out of the cruel North most of the birds had flown south from ancient instinct, and would return to keep the wheel of life moving. Merciful! But some remained, snatching safety by cunning ways from the winter of death. Merciful! Under the fetters of ice and snow there were little animals lying snug in holes, and fish under the frozen streams, and bears asleep in their lie-ups, and moose stamping out their yards, and caribou rooting for their grey moss. Merciful! And human beings, men, women, and children, fending off winter and sustaining life by an instinct old as that of the migrating birds. … Surely, surely, behind the reign of law and the coercion of power there was a deep purpose of mercy.

The thought induced in Leithen a tenderness to which he had been long a stranger. He had put life away from him, and it had come back to him in a final reconciliation. He had always hoped to die in April weather when the surge of returning life would be a kind of earnest of immortality. Now, when presently death came to him, it would be like dying in the spring.

John Buchan, Sick Heart River, 1941; Penguin edition 1985.

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17 July: Music

sjc music

Music
Lines: only five
evenly spaced and ongoing
there is always room in the universe
for infinity’s seed to germinate, and on the left
of the five lines, the treble sign, inward and reverent,
moves roundly, a pregnant woman, her sweet baby coiled
in her sheltered space: music of life, notes tip-toe on their lines
and spaces, sharps, flats, trills and runs patter and boom, blooming and falling.

SJC

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July 10, readings from Mary Webb XVIII: The Neighbour’s Children

brocaghschoola[1]
This poem hurts more  than yesterday’s, I feel.
They run to meet me, clinging to my dress,
The neighbour’s children. With a wild unrest
And sobbings of a strange, fierce tenderness,
I snatch them to my breast.
But my baby, ah! my baby
Weepeth–weepeth
In the far loneliness of nonentity,
And holds his little spirit hands to me,
Crying ‘Mother!’ and nearer creepeth;
Beats on my heart’s lit window anxiously,
Shivering and sobbing, ‘Mother, let me in!
Give me my rosy dress, my delicate dress
Of apple-blossom flesh, dark eyes like flowers,
And warm mouth kissed by a red anemone.
Give me my toys–the hills, the seas, the sun,
Loud song, wild winds, the morning’s cloudy towers.
Give hands to hold and ears to hear and feet to run.
Give me my lesson books–fear, love and sin–
All hell to brave, all heaven to win!’

Then, shadowy, wild and wan,
A little face peers in,
Except in dreams unknown even to me,
And like a summer cloud is gone.
It is the neighbour’s children, playing near,
With voices ringing clear.
But far in twilight, like a moon-awakened bird,
Was that another, fainter laugh I heard?

Brockagh School, Co Leitrim, 1969

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June 16: A faithful Biblical dog, II

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Part 2 of our gallop through the Book of Tobit. We did not have time to examine all Sarah’s past troubles, so we made no mention of them at all.

basil-dogThe dog followed Tobias and the Angel across the river, through the desert and over the mountains, all the way to Tobit’s Cousin Raguel’s house. When they got there, Tobias fell in love with Raguel’s daughter Sarah, and straightaway they got married! Of course there was a big party, and no doubt the dog was busy scrounging scraps all the while, especially because the party went on for two weeks!

The dog must have been quite fat when Tobias set off for home with Raphael, the dog, all Tobit’s money and a big surprise for his parents: Sarah, his new wife. They went over the mountains, through the desert, across the river and back to Tobias’s home town.

Reflection

I can imagine how tired Tobias was, with two weeks of partying on top of walking across the river, through the desert and over the mountains. And now he has to do it all over again, with Sarah, and the fish’s gall, and the money, and the wedding presents on the back of the donkeys from her dad. It’s a good job he has the dog and Raphael, to go over the mountains, through the desert and across the river till they get home.

We are made to enjoy life on earth as in heaven. We are meant to enjoy it together with our family and friends and so this walk we are on is a good idea, and we don’t have to go across the river, through the desert and over the mountains. But we are walking through Kent, the Garden of England – aren’t we blessed! And aren’t we blessed to have Tyndale the terrier with us! 

Basil, above, was Sam the dog’s sidekick.

 

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June 7: The Poetic Pillar Box.

 

ams.postbox

We see above a pillarbox at Centraal Station in Amsterdam, nicely bringing together two strands of today’s reflection from GK Chesterton’s Heretics. Of course, railway signalmen – and they were men in England a century ago – needed greater vigilance then and could not offload much responsibility onto technology. But both postmen and signalmen had to be men of integrity. Over to GKC:

The word “signal-box” is unpoetical. But the thing signal-box is not unpoetical; it is a place where men, in an agony of vigilance, light blood-red and sea-green fires to keep other men from death. That is the plain, genuine description of what it is; the prose only comes in with what it is called. The word “pillar-box” is unpoetical. But the thing pillar-box is not unpoetical; it is the place to which friends and lovers commit their messages, conscious that when they have done so they are sacred, and not to be touched, not only by others, but even (religious touch!) by themselves. That red turret is one of the last of the temples.

Posting a letter and getting married are among the few things left that are entirely romantic; for to be entirely romantic a thing must be irrevocable. We think a pillar-box prosaic, because there is no rhyme to it. We think a pillar-box unpoetical, because we have never seen it in a poem. But the bold fact is entirely on the side of poetry. A signal-box is only called a signal-box; it is a house of life and death. A pillar-box is only called a pillar-box; it is a sanctuary of human words. 

postbox.clitheroe

Not just an excuse to share two favourite photos! But this 19th Century box (at the top VR means Victoria Regina, or Queen Victoria) is at Sabden, Lancashire. Text from Project Gutenberg. It’s no good imagining the Brownings posting their letters into such a box: they were not introduced for some years, although the penny post was speeding letters around the country from 1840. More from the Brownings soon. ‘Heretics’ is available on Kindle or Project Gutenberg.

 

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April 29: Sussex Folk Through a Poet’s Eyes.

bench (800x600)

Edward Thomas, The man that loved this England well,1 wrote about The South Country before he became a poet. Wandering through Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, he recorded what he saw and felt along the way. Here he is in a Sussex village near where the poet Shelley was born; he has just been discussing the romantic poets.

Edward Thomas died this month in 1917, leaving a wife and family.

Note how he values the two villagers, Robert Page and his presumed descendant, as equally worthy of consideration as the poet.

In a churchyard behind I saw the tombstone of one Robert Page, born in the year 1792 here in Sussex, and dead in 1822 — not in the Bay of Spezia1 but in Sussex. He scared the crows, ploughed the clay, fought at Waterloo and lost an arm there, was well pleased with George the Fourth, and hoed the corn until he was dead. That is plain sense, and I wish I could write the life of this exact contemporary of Shelley.

That is quite probably his great granddaughter, black-haired, of ruddy complexion, full lips, large white teeth, black speechless eyes, dressed in a white print dress and stooping in the fresh wind to take clean white linen out of a basket, and then rising straight as a hazel wand, on tiptoe, her head held back and slightly oh one side while she pegs the clothes to the line and praises the weather to a passer-by. She is seventeen, and of such is the kingdom of earth.

And bearing in mind all those saintly women, Agnes, Agatha, Eanswythe, Tydfil, Mildred; we should perhaps affirm that ‘of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ Despite his melancholy, Edward Thomas can lead us to the gate thereof this Eastertide.

goldenstringimage

So too could William Blake, who also lived in Sussex. Surely this little engraving shows the cliffs and downs of nearbyBeachy Head?

MMB

1 WH Davies’ description of his friend. The poet Percy Bysse Shelley was born in 1892 and died at the Bay of Spezia in 1822.

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18 April, Maundy Thursday: Putting on an apron.

footwash

Putting on an apron, as Jesus did: that can be as serious and solemn as giving one’s life … and vice-versa, giving one’s life can be as simple as putting on an apron.

Blessed Christian de Chergé, Martyr of Algeria.

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Journey down, to then be lifted up.

 

strasb.palm (270x393)

I am writing this at the beginning of Holy Week, the week in which Christians around the world recall the journey Jesus made into Jerusalem, and ultimately to his death on Good Friday and through to his Resurrection on Easter Day. It is a journey that takes him into Jerusalem, riding upon a donkey, that in itself being a sign of peace. He goes onto washing the feet of his closest friends (a job normally undertaken by a servant), before sharing a meal with them, and asking that every time they break bread and share wine together they do so ‘in remembrance of me’. During the meal he is betrayed by a close friend, and eventually arrested, before being brought before the High Priests, is flogged and then Crucified. For many this they thought was the end, Jesus was dead, only to discover that Jesus was in fact alive, he had risen from the dead on that first Easter morning. The tomb was empty, Christ had Risen! And was witnessed by over 500 people on 12 separate occasions.

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In our Baptism we die with Christ, so that we might be born again with Christ, a new life with him, and in doing so in the knowledge that in believing in Christ we too will have this eternal life (John 3:15). I often look at what nature tells us. In the autumn, when nights are drawing in we plant seeds into the cold dark soil, only in the spring to find an abundance of new life that has emerged from the darkness. Likewise, with the dawn chorus, when it is still dark, the birdsong announces a new day and ‘the light shines in the darkness, and darkness has not overcome it’ (John 1:5).

As we approach Easter, we do so in the knowledge that we have to journey down, to then be lifted up; we have to walk with Christ through the depths of Good Friday, to be raised up high on Easter Day with our heads held high.

Like a mother hen protecting her young, Christ died that we might live, and by believing in him we too have that eternal life, and all in the knowledge of God’s grace and unconditional love for each and every one of us.

Wishing you all a Blessed Holy Week & Easter.

Rev. Jo Richards April 2019

Rev. Jo Richards is the rector at Saint Mildred’s Church in Canterbury, where L’Arche have our garden project.

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