Not many Canterbury citizens would pause for a photograph here! I have cropped away some of the street furniture on this corner, but there are still bollards, a bin, contradictory road signs and a public toilet block. Oh, and a cherry tree.
A cherry tree so laden with blossom that these Japanese people have stopped to take each other’s photographs, despite the clutter. They see something we pass by on the other side.
There is beauty in places where we’d never look; sometimes it breaks out and hits us between the eyes. Sometimes we can be shown beauty by a friend, or as here, by complete strangers.
We will soon be celebrating the Man of Sorrows, ‘so disfigured that he seemed no longer human’.(Isaiah 52:14). Let’s cut away the clutter and stand beneath the Tree of Life. Cherry blossom will not take away the horror and evil in this world, and it seems that all we can offer to help is the wiping with a face cloth, the cup of water or vinegar, the money in the collecting bucket.
Let’s not scorn to offer such support, the Works of Mercy; it makes a difference, reminds people that we are one family, sharing one earthly home. There’s something about cherry blossom that touches the Japanese soul: my nephew saw Japanese people photographing each other beneath cherry trees; my wife saw the same in Rome some years ago. It’s a deep sign of home.
The Cross is a deep sign of home, in Heaven for Eternity; through suffering we can be one with the Man of Sorrows who will be lifted up; with him we shall see the light and be content.
If you are just joining this blog today, I hope you will go back to the beginning of these posts (12 March) to find out how we’ve arrived at this point today. We’re looking at Jesus’ message about death. Today I’d like to finish our reflection with the question, What must we do to be fully receptive to Jesus’ reassuring and loving message about eternal life? How can we really and truly make it our own, so that we, too, can say, Be not afraid?
First, I think it is a matter of trust, simple human trust. We must trust in Jesus, believe that what he says is true, be filled with faith.
Second, it’s about how we live. What does Jesus teach us on this point? Jesus wants to show us how to live in this life in order to be happy with him in the next. We are meant to be about Jesus, as Jesus is about the Father. We are to cleave to him now, pondering his teachings and praying to him, living as he teaches us to live, keeping the Commandments, and the Beatitudes.
Third, it’s about full commitment. We are meant to do this wholeheartedly, to embrace everything about Jesus, and whenever we are feeling mortally threatened by anything, we are to recall that he has hold of us. We will die one day, but he teaches us not to fear death because death, as he promises, is not the end of our life – despite all appearances to the contrary.
Fourth, it’s about right-thinking. Let’s unpack this in some detail. In Jesus’ earthly life, he works miracles of healing, and even raises a few people from the dead. But he was anxious that these miracles not be misunderstood. We are not supposed to deduce from them that Jesus is some kind of holy magician. More importantly, we are not supposed to see his power as being directed toward the political machinations of this world; nor does he use his power to reward with prosperity those who are good and punish with suffering those who are wicked. He does not want us to think that as Christians we arrogate his power to ourselves and have it on tap whenever we snap our fingers. Nor, again, does Jesus use his miraculous power to enable us to live forever in this difficult world where human propensities and human principles are so often widely at variance with each other. In answer to prayer, and for reasons known to him alone, he sometimes even now heals the dying and prolongs their life by some years. Perhaps someone reading this reflection has been the blessed recipient of such astonishing grace. But every time Jesus manifests power over the laws of nature this is meant to strengthen our belief in his divinity, and in the truth of every word he uttered. The miracles are meant to assure us that we can believe what Jesus says about eternal life because he is Lord of the living and the dead, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, all time belongs to him and all the ages, as the priest proclaims over the Easter Fire at the Easter Vigil.
In many ways, Jesus’ message is stunningly simple. Even a child can understand it. He is God. He loves us. He wants us to be with him now, through our life of faith and through our efforts to lead a life that is in accord with his teachings. He wants us to be with him in eternity. He is even now preparing a place for us with him. Am I enough of a child to believe this?
To you, my friends, I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more (Lk 12:4).
Thank you Sister Johanna! Five reflections to see us well into Lent, Easter and Beyond. I never once mentioned consciousness, our Lenten theme, but you open our eyes and ears to a deeper awareness of who Jesus is, and what life and death are all about. Thank you once again. Will Turnstone.
How are you doing with those New Year’s Resolutions? Read on for some encouragement!
Samuel Johnson and James Boswell are in Skye, made very welcome by a local chief, but unable to move on because the weather was too bad for sailing or rowing, and of course Calmac steamships had not yet appeared. Here is Boswell describing one of their conversations. Doctor Doddridge was a non-conformist minister and hymn writer who died in 1751, 22 years before the friends’ tour of Scotland. More of Boswell’s idiosyncratic spellings.
Dr Dodridge being mentioned, [Johnson] observed that ‘he was author of one of the finest epigrams in the English language. It is in Orton’s Life of him. The subject is his family-motto, Dum vivimus, vivamus*; which, in its primary signification, is, to be sure, not very suitable to a Christian divine; but he paraphrased it thus:
Live, while you live, the EPICURE would say,
And seize the pleasures of the present day.
Live, while you live, the sacred PREACHER cries,
And give to God each moment as it flies.
Lord, in my views let both united be;
I live in PLEASURE, when I live to THEE.
(from The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. by James Boswell)
Mary, O luminous Mother, Holy healing art! Eve brought sorrow to the soul, But you by your holy Son You pour balm On death’s wounds and travail.
You have indeed conquered death!
You have established life!
Ask for us life. Ask for us radiant joy. Ask us the sweet, delicious ecstasy That is forever yours.
Hildegard of Bingen 12th Century
With thanks to Fr Anthony Charlton who shared this. Note that Mary is seen in relation to her Son, and is asked to pray for us, in the words: ‘Ask for us …’If we can pray for each other, and if we believe in eternal life, we can ask Mary to pray for us.
Robert Burns is Scotland’s poet of Hogmanay, New Year’s Eve. We’ve all heard, and probably sung, his ‘Auld Lang Syne’ over the years, but recently I came across this song which is full of hope, comfort and joy. Enjoy the song and Happy New Year! May it be full of happiness, friendship and peace and monie a canty day.
Will & Co.
John Anderson my jo.
John Anderson my jo, John, my dear
When we were first acquent, acquainted
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonny brow was brent; smooth
But now your brow is beld, John, bald
Your locks are like the snaw,
but blessings on your frosty pow, head
John Anderson, my jo!
John Anderson my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither, together
And monie a canty day, John, cheerful
We've had wi' ane anither;
Now we maun totter down, John, must
And hand in hand we'll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo!
On Hearing The Dies Irae Sung In The Sistine Chapel
Nay, Lord, not thus! white lilies in the spring, Sad olive-groves, or silver-breasted dove, Teach me more clearly of Thy life and love Than terrors of red flame and thundering. The hillside vines dear memories of Thee bring: A bird at evening flying to its nest Tells me of One who had no place of rest: I think it is of Thee the sparrows sing.
Come rather on some autumn afternoon, When red and brown are burnished on the leaves, And the fields echo to the gleaner’s song, Come when the splendid fulness of the moon Looks down upon the rows of golden sheaves, And reap Thy harvest: we have waited long.
from “Selected Poems of Oscar Wilde
On this day in 1900, Oscar Wilde died in Paris, an autumn death and apparently a peaceful one, accompanied by a priest and a friend. He had had his share of terrors and thundering, and was ready to be gathered in.
Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest. Matthew 9:37-38.
Let us pray that we might be ready to do for others whatever is asked of us today: perhaps sowing a seed rather than reaping a harvest, or even clearing brambles or nettles to make room for plants being choked of light. And let us trust God to have sent his angels to bring all sinners home.
It is Dylan Thomas’s birthday, a time to listen to him and ‘love the words’ that came to him. Do not be deceived by the simplicity of the Reverend Eli Jenkins’ evening poem from Under Milk Wood. Every word is meant both by Eli and by his earthly creator, Dylan Thomas who wrote “for the love of man and in Praise of God, and I’d be a damn fool if they weren’t.”
Every morning when I wake,
Dear Lord, a little prayer I make,
O please to keep thy lovely eye
On all poor creatures born to die.
And every evening at sun-down
I ask a blessing on the town,
For whether we last the night or no
I'm sure is always touch-and-go.
We are not wholly bad or good
Who live our lives under Milk Wood,
And Thou, I know, will be the first
To see our best side, not our worst.
Oh let us see another day!
Bless us all this night, I pray,
And to the sun we all will bow
And say, good-bye -- but just for now!
And if you go to our search box and ask for Dylan Thomas, you’ll find a few more reflections on the human condition, written for love of humankind and for the glory of God.
41. In tropical and subtropical seas, we find coral reefs comparable to the great forests on dry land, for they shelter approximately a million species, including fish, crabs, molluscs, sponges and algae. Many of the world’s coral reefs are already barren or in a state of constant decline. “Who turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of colour and life?” This phenomenon is due largely to pollution which reaches the sea as the result of deforestation, agricultural monocultures, industrial waste and destructive fishing methods, especially those using cyanide and dynamite. It is aggravated by the rise in temperature of the oceans. All of this helps us to see that every intervention in nature can have consequences which are not immediately evident, and that certain ways of exploiting resources prove costly in terms of degradation which ultimately reaches the ocean bed itself.
42. Greater investment needs to be made in research aimed at understanding more fully the functioning of ecosystems and adequately analysing the different variables associated with any significant modification of the environment. Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another. Each area is responsible for the care of this family. This will require undertaking a careful inventory of the species which it hosts, with a view to developing programmes and strategies of protection with particular care for safeguarding species heading towards extinction.
All Creatures are dependent on one another, but humans can consciously care for this family. Francis is strongly supporting the scientists here.
Two Hundred and forty six years ago, Dr Johnson and James Boswell were on the Isle of Raasay in the Hebrides, making for Skye and thence for home. No regular Calmac ferry then! Indeed they had waited in the islands for clement weather to allow the rowing boats to set out. Now the conversation grew serious; can one die contented? Johnson’s answer is comprehensive, and reminds me of the old catechism answer: God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next. We rely on his mercy for the latter.
More of Boswell’s idiosyncratick spelling!
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 12. It was a beautiful day, and although we did not approve of travelling on Sunday, we resolved to set out, as we were in an island from whence one must take occasion as it serves. Macleod and Talisker sailed in a boat of Rasay’s for Sconser, to take the shortest way to Dunvegan. M’Cruslick went with them to Sconser, from whence he was to go to Slate, and so to the main land. We were resolved to pay a visit at Kingsburgh, and see the celebrated Miss Flora Macdonald, who is married to the present Mr. Macdonald of Kingsburgh; so took that road, though not so near.
All the family, but Lady Rasay, walked down to the shore to see us depart. Rasay himself went with us in a large boat, with eight oars, built in his island; as did Mr. Malcolm M’Cleod, Mr. Donald M’Queen, Dr. Macleod, and some others. We had a most pleasant sail between Rasay and Sky; and passed by a cave, where Martin says fowls were caught by lighting fire in the mouth of it. Malcolm remembers this. But it is not now practised, as few fowls come into it.
We spoke of Death. Dr. Johnson on this subject observed, that the boastings of some men, as to dying easily, were idle talk, proceeding from partial views. I mentioned Hawthornden’s Cypress-grove, where it is said that the world is a mere show; and that it is unreasonable for a man to wish to continue in the show-room, after he has seen it. Let him go cheerfully out, and give place to other spectators.
JOHNSON. ‘Yes, Sir, if he is sure he is to be well, after he goes out of it. But if he is to grow blind after he goes out of the show-room, and never to see any thing again; or if he does not know whither he is to go next, a man will not go cheerfully out of a show-room. No wise man will be contented to die, if he thinks he is to go into a state of punishment. Nay, no wise man will be contented to die, if he thinks he is to fall into annihilation: for however unhappy any man’s existence may be, he yet would rather have it, than not exist at all. No; there is no rational principle by which a man can die contented, but a trust in the mercy of GOD, through the merits of Jesus Christ.’
This short sermon, delivered with an earnest tone, in a boat upon the sea, which was perfectly calm, on a day appropriated to religious worship, while every one listened with an air of satisfaction, had a most pleasing effect upon my mind.
From “Life of Johnson, Vol 5 Tour to the Hebrides (1773)” by James Boswell.
‘In the psalms we have theology expressed poetically.’
In this post from the John Rylands Library in Manchester Kate Gibson uses letters from the Nicholson family to demonstrate that religious faith did not die out in the mushrooming industrial towns of Britain.
Her project, Faith in the Town: Lay Religion, Urbanisation and Industrialisation in England, 1740-1830, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, is looking at the letters and diaries of ordinary people living in the towns of Northern England, for evidence of the place of faith in their daily lives. Unlike many histories of secularisation which focus on formal church organisations and their records, we argue that looking at the everyday practices of faith, and its relationship with how people thought about their family lives, their identities, their work and their use of urban and domestic space, provides a more vibrant picture of the continued importance of religion in this period. This is a history of faith from the bottom up, not the top down.
Faith in the Town has many interesting posts that may challenge us today, when our church communities have been in enforced hibernation. What can we and our buildings offer by way of space to be quiet and simple, welcoming, common worship for members and non-members alike?