Tag Archives: London

14 November, Little Flowers XCIX: Turn me towards the city

We are now reading of Francis’s last days, after his epic journey to Assisi by donkey. The donkey and its master had gone back home and Francis could not have made his way down the hill from the bishop’s palace with its armed guards, to Santa Maria degli Angeli so the brothers carried him. It would have been a long way to carry him in their arms as the book tells us they did.

Then the friars took him up in their arms and so carried him; and many of the citizens accompanied them. And, coming to a hospice, which was by the way, Saint Francis said unto those who carried him: “Set me down on the ground, and turn me toward the city”. And, when he was set with his face toward Assisi, he blessed the city with many blessings, saying: “Blessed be thou of God, O holy city, for through thee many souls shall be saved, and in thee shall dwell many servants of God, and from thee many shall be chosen unto the Kingdom of Life Eternal”. And, when he had said these words, he caused them to carry him on to Santa Maria degli Angeli. 

And, when they arrived at Santa Maria degli Angeli, they bore him to the infirmary and there laid him down to rest.

The photograph is not Assisi, of course, but the city of London, seen from Greenwich Park. If you know where to look on the left hand horizon you can make out Saint Paul’s Cathedral. It’s hard to imagine pronouncing a blessing like Francis’s over the capital of Mammon, but nevertheless, we can learn from Francis, for the Spirit blows where she will. So perhaps we should bless our home town whenever we enter it, walking down the hill, stepping off the train, sitting in a traffic jam.

Blessed be thou of God, O holy city!

And remembering Francis’s early escapades, let us build the Church and build the city of God.

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13 November: A poet on a poet.

by Atkinson Grimshaw

On this day in 1907 died Francis Thompson, aged 47. He had been in poor health after years of sleeping rough and addiction. Wilfrid and Alice Meynell, writers themselves, took him under their wings, found writing work for him and helped him get published, but TB had already claimed him.

This poem is by W. H. Davies, his younger contemporary, who had himself known life on the streets of London and of American cities. He knew of what he wrote.

Francis Thompson

Thou hadst no home, and thou couldst see
  In every street the windows' light:
  Dragging thy limbs about all night,
No window kept a light for thee.

 However much thou wert distressed,
  Or tired of moving, and felt sick,
  Thy life was on the open deck—
Thou hadst no cabin for thy rest.
 
Thy barque was helpless 'neath the sky,
  No pilot thought thee worth his pains
  To guide for love or money gains—
Like phantom ships the rich sailed by.
 
Thy shadow mocked thee night and day,
  Thy life's companion, it alone;
  It did not sigh, it did not moan,
But mocked thy moves in every way.

In spite of all, the mind had force,
  And, like a stream whose surface flows
  The wrong way when a strong wind blows,
It underneath maintained its course.

Oft didst thou think thy mind would flower
  Too late for good, as some bruised tree
  That blooms in Autumn, and we see
Fruit not worth picking, hard and sour.
 
Some poets feign their wounds and scars.
  If they had known real suffering hours,
  They'd show, in place of Fancy's flowers,
More of Imagination's stars.
 
So, if thy fruits of Poesy
  Are rich, it is at this dear cost—
  That they were nipt by Sorrow's frost,
In nights of homeless misery.

From "Foliage: Various Poems" by W. H. Davies.

See also another Welsh Poet, R. S. Thomas, who also observed the difference between the surface and the depths. 

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7 June: The Month of the Sacred Heart.

1 O dearest Lord, thy sacred head
with thorns was pierced for me;
O pour thy blessing on my head
that I may think for thee.
2 O dearest Lord, thy sacred hands
with nails were pierced for me;
O shed thy blessing on my hands
that they may work for thee.
3 O dearest Lord, thy sacred feet
with nails were pierced for me;
O pour thy blessing on my feet
that they may follow thee.

4 O dearest Lord, thy sacred heart
with spear was pierced for me;
O pour thy Spirit in my heart
that I may live for thee.

I first heard this hymn at Canterbury Cathedral during Holy Week, and enjoyed its unsentimental simplicity and the fleshy images; this is a Jesus you could touch, as Thomas did. I’m glad to share ‘O dearest Lord’ with you in this Month of the Sacred Heart. May his blessing pour down over your head, hands, feet and heart as the sun pours down on the sea, the sand – and the people on the beach – in this picture from Wales.

Father Andrew, who wrote this hymn was a pioneering Anglican Franciscan, working in East London during World War II. Search through Agnellus Mirror for more of his reflections.

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13 May: Young Saints.

somers.town. pentecost.jpg

Some readers will remember that I like St Aloysius’ Church near Saint Pancras station in London. This window, with Mary at the centre of the Apostles on Pentecost morning arouses mixed emotions though. It is good to see a clear theology of Mary’s place in the Church, receiving the Holy Spirit with – I wish I could say ‘with everyone else’ – but it is with the Apostles only, not the 120 people who were gathered together. Perhaps the artist felt that the picture was crowded enough already, but where is Mary Magdalene, Johanna, the other women and where is John Mark, Paul’s future assistant that he would call his ‘son’ (Colossians 4:10)? He is usually identified with the boy who ran away naked from the garden on Maundy Thursday night, as well as with Mark the evangelist. It was to his mother’s house that Peter went after the angel sprung him from prison. (Acts 12.12) She was another Mary.

The window is not diverse enough to represent the first Church, though a few minutes looking through the clear glass out into the street would assure any visitor that St Aloysius’ is in the midst of diversity today. But there should be more women and more young people in that window!

Saint Aloysius was a Jesuit novice when he died in Rome aged 23, after catching plague from nursing the victims of an epidemic. Not an inappropriate neighbour for Saint Pancras, who was martyred for his Christian faith at Rome on 14 May 304, at the age of fourteen. John Mark, Aloysius and Pancras, young men who were saints. Worth remembering them, and young women saints like Agnes, Lucy and Therese, as we approach the great Synod of Pope Francis. Today’s young Christians are as capable of witnessing to the Gospel message as their parents, grandparents, distant ancestors, and the clergy. Let’s hear their voices.

Keep them in your prayers!

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30 January: Charles I execution

Charles_I_AR_Sixpence_722625.jpg (800×377)
Sixpence coin of Charles I, Public domain via Wikipedia

On this day in 1649, Bishop William Juxon of London stood by the side of Charles I on the scaffold and bade farewell to him in the words:

You are exchanging from a temporal to an eternal crown—a good exchange.

Cromwell deposed Juxon as Bishop but he became Archbishop of Canterbury at the Restoration of Charles II.

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14 January: Clouds over London, III.

Alice Meynell was much happier in London than either Mary Webb or Elizabeth Barrett, but she and her family spent plenty of time in the Sussex countryside, where the clouds can be seen and appreciated. London is different in this regard, possibly more so than in the late 19th Century. Today’s buildings cut the sky into ever smaller packets. Greenwich Park allowed us to take a step back and see the clouds of summer.

Needless to say, the cloud of a thunderous summer is the most beautiful of all.  It has spaces of a grey for which there is no name, and no other cloud looks over at a vanishing sun from such heights of blue air.  The shower-cloud, too, with its thin edges, comes across the sky with so influential a flight that no ship going out to sea can be better worth watching. 

The dullest thing perhaps in the London streets is that people take their rain there without knowing anything of the cloud that drops it.  It is merely rain, and means wetness.  The shower-cloud there has limits of time, but no limits of form, and no history whatever.  It has not come from the clear edge of the plain to the south, and will not shoulder anon the hill to the north.  The rain, for this city, hardly comes or goes; it does but begin and stop.  No one looks after it on the path of its retreat.

From The Colour of Life; and other essays on things seen and heard.

Do we take gifts for granted, without asking where they come from, without gratitude? Have we lost our sharpness of vision and imagination? What can we thank God, or someone for, today?

WT

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13 January: To A Blackbird Singing In London.

Mrs Turnstone likes to remind us that this is the day of the year that the Sun first appears in Greenland. It is also her birthday. While our son is happily settled in London, she feels she has lived there for as long as she ever wants to, but she’ll visit the town, take Abel to an exhibition, or meet up with friends.

After Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who left London to elope with Robert, here is Mary Webb who moved to London to foster her career as a writer. The move brought her little joy, for she was a deep-rooted Shropshire Lass. So here is a melancholic poem from her pen, but one that looks to the ‘stately sun’, symbol of undisdainful death as well as of new life. One of the symptoms of the hyperthyroid Graves’ disease that she endured was swelling of the face which made her feel ‘unlovely’, and aware of ‘slights and lies and unkindnesses’ that more robust souls would have shrugged off.

Despite the melancholy, the blackbird, who is now in good voice, transports Mary to the Shropshire Hills, landing there in Spring, aware in her whole being of Shropshire under the rain and sun. Her kinder life, will it be in heaven only, or also in the golden air of the Welsh borders? I like to think it was experienced on this earth as a gentle preparation for life eternal.

Sing on, dear bird! Bring the old rapturous pain,
In this great town, where I no welcome find.
Show me the murmuring forest in your mind,
And April's fragile cups, brimful of rain.
O sing me far away, that I may hear
The voice of grass, and, weeping, may be blind
To slights and lies and friends that prove unkind.
Sing till my soul dissolves into a tear,
Glimmering within a chaliced daffodil.
So, when the stately sun with burning breath
Absorbs my being, I'll dream that he is Death,
Great Death, the undisdainful. By his will
No more unlovely, haunting all things fair,
I'll seek some kinder life in the golden air.

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12 January, Brownings XXVI: The soul in the city

I dwell amid the city,
And hear the flow of souls in act and speech,
For pomp or trade, for merrymake or folly:
I hear the confluence and sum of each,
And that is melancholy!
Thy voice is a complaint, O crownèd city,
The blue sky covering thee like God’s great pity.

.
From The Soul’s Travelling by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

The City of God is a common theme in the Bible, Zion or Jerusalem, the earthly place where he lives among his people, or the Heavenly Jerusalem of the Book of Revelation. A city was, and remains, a convenient setting for a more cultured life that would not have been possible in the hinterlands. Although the airwaves bring us radio, television and the internet – and of course internet shopping – the city remains a magnet for entertainment, dining out, medical care, employment. What is Elizabeth’s problem?

Perhaps it is the flow of souls looking for pomp, trade, merriment or folly: self indulgence in other words. But whether in her 19th Century London as in the first picture, or the 21st Century city, by no means all arrivals flock there for the extras London has to offer, at a price. The city may be a relatively safe haven from war or other troubles but people still have to find a welcome; somewhere affordable to live, familiar food or the sound of their mother tongue.

Chesterton has Mary tell King Alfred about the heavenly city: “The gates of Heaven are lightly locked”, continuing:

“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet 
And the sea rises higher. 

Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?”

The sky in both of our pictures is more iron cope than blue cloak; we can well believe that it grows darker yet as the sea indeed rises higher. It is for each one of us to have joy without any apparent cause, and faith in God when all comfort is taken away from ourselves or the people we meet. Lead kindly light amid the encircling gloom!

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13 December: Tree planting with Martin Luther.


Talking of trees as we were yesterday: the L’Arche garden where we were listening and looking for the robin was blessed and opened by the then Bishop of Dover, Trevor Willmott. I found this quotation from Bishop Trevor the other day.

‘If I knew the world was to end tomorrow, I would plant a tree today’. Of all that Martin Luther wrote and said, these words resonate strongly with me and, I would hope, with the whole Christian Church as we continue to seek and to bear out witness to Jesus Christ and to serve the needs of His world.

A world that badly needs trees! At the Glebe the other day we saw a squirrel planting nuts – or storing them for future use. Squirrel won’t remember them all. Some may well germinate and grow, in which case we gardeners will pot them on and think about where to plant them. If you don’t know where to plant yours, the Woodland Trust will do that for you in the UK; other charities will help people plant trees overseas and make sure they are watered and survive. Last December we met the Happy Man Tree in Hackney, London, which did not survive despite local pressure to keep it and build around it. It was felled earlier this year to make way for housing.

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20 November: Keeping Connected Across the Irish Sea

I thought it was a while since we’d heard from Eddie at the Irish Chaplaincy, but lo and behold, here are three Autumnal posts waiting to appear in Agnellus Mirror. We are grateful to Eddie for allowing us to share his wise words with our readers.

One of the most uplifting images I’ve seen recently was of a 100-year-old religious sister in Dublin looking at and listening to, via a screen, her 90-year-old sister in London.

Mamie, who lives in Archway in North London and who has been supported by the Irish Chaplaincy Seniors’ Project for many years, was one of the first recipients of a pre-programmed Tablet as part of our ‘Keeping Connected’ campaign. Back at the start of the pandemic I’d had a conversation with Paul, the Seniors manager, about how we might be able to use technology to help people who were going to become even more isolated in lockdown. We were both a bit dubious about it initially but it became clear that there was a need for something, with people telling us they would find it a comfort to attend Mass or to listen to their favourite Irish radio station. Along came Joe who had being involved in a project in his native USA whereby senior banking executives who were not very computer literate were enabled to use devices like Tablets. Declan was also instrumental in the project by, amongst many other things, helping us to get around the issue of no wifi facing most of those we were supporting by means of dongles and Giffgaff-activated SIMS!

The key, as with so much of life, is to keep it simple! And that’s precisely what ‘Keeping Connected’ has done. All that’s needed is a swipe or a touch of the screen and somebody can be watching Mass from anywhere in the world, or tuning into the radio, or speaking to a familiar face. Anne told us how she loved listening to her favourite (Drogheda-based) LMFM; and John from Galway told me every week when I called how he loved hearing Galway Bay FM in the evening and how the Tablet had changed his life!

Mamie was equally delighted with her Tablet and was far quicker than me to see the possibilities it offered. She declared that she was going to attend Mass at St Gabriel’s in Archway, as well as in Ireland, and she was going to speak via Google Duo to Fr Ugo, her parish priest. She also, in the event, joined Facebook on her own initiative. And she, a then 89-year-old woman who had never previously used a computer.

Mamie had said as well at the outset, “I’ll be able to speak to my sister in Dublin next September when it’s her 100th birthday.” She was true to her word. Joe was with Mamie in her flat on the big day, and a carer in the home where Sr. Joseph lives was on hand at the other end. I listened to a recording of the call, in which Mamie says to her sister, “I wish I could hold your hand. I love you; I always have, and I always will.” Sr. Noreen in Dublin wrote, “Sr Joseph’s niece and the four Good Shepherd Sisters who celebrated her 100th birthday with her yesterday all agreed that the highlight for Sr. Joseph was the video call which you facilitated with her only living sibling Mamie Williamson. Sr. Joseph (Rita to her family) became more animated when she saw Mamie and though she did not speak it was evident that she was touched.”

Whether it’s supplying phone credit and writing materials to prisoners so they can keep in touch with family in Ireland or by providing seniors with easy-to-use technology like Tablets, I’m so proud of how the Irish Chaplaincy team has, in spite of a pandemic, helped people to keep connected across the Irish Sea.

Eddie Gilmore

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