Tag Archives: loneliness

12 January: Sitting by the fire.

In centrally heated, 21st Century England it’s easy to forget how comforting a fire can be. Not to mention how much work one can entail. This little 1880s house once had three hearths downstairs – one for the kitchen which was to heat the servant girl’s room above. The other two bedrooms each had a fireplace. Plenty of work hauling all that coal up and ashes down the stairs. No more of that, but we can relax around the woodburning stove, or once a year, by this thermally inefficient open fire.

In 1806 Mary Lamb was writing to her younger friend, Sarah Stoddard, who had a few major family and personal matters to sort out at some distance from London, before Rowland Hill’s Penny Post made letter writing cheap and reliable.


Do write soon: though I write all about myself, I am thinking all the while of you, and I am uneasy at the length of time it seems since I heard from you … and this second winter makes me think how cold, damp, and forlorn your solitary house will feel to you. I would your feet were perched up again on our fender.

The fender is a low barrier between the fireplace and the floor of the room, often at a good height for warming the toes.

This story made me wonder how often the one who came to bring fire to the earth sat around an open fire with his disciples, how much of his more intimate teaching was given that way. I shall have to re-imagine some of the Gospel passages next time they come up.

Mary Lamb to Sarah Stoddard, 14 March 1806, The Letters of Charles and Mary Lamb, 1796-1820, edited by E. V. Lucas.

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January 1: Old and New Year II

Greyfriars’ chapel, Canterbury.

Watch with me Jesus, in my loneliness:
Though others say me nay, yet say Thou yes;
Though others pass me by, stop Thou to bless.
Yea, Thou dost stop with me this vigil night;
To-night of pain, to-morrow of delight:
I, Love, am Thine; Thou, Lord my God, art mine.

Christina Rossetti.

Who watches whom this vigil night?

It used to be possible to visit Greyfriars’ chapel without paying an entrance fee for the gardens around it, but most hours in the daytime Saint Thomas’, Saint Dunstan’s and the Cathedral are open for prayer. We locals have free entry to the Cathedral with a resident’s pass. The Lord needs no such thing! He is there with his crook and his staff, with these he gives us comfort.

The New Year of 1999 to 2000 was well celebrated at Saint Thomas’, candles, prayers and hymns, then food and drink in the new century, but how many could not get to such events and so felt lonely? How many felt lonely and so did not dare to join fellow parishioners? How many people feel cold-shouldered and hesitate to join a group of nodding acquaintances talking together? What can we do about it this year? Let us stop what we are doing sometimes and bless our nodding acquaintances of neighbours by inviting them into our group?

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16 August: Is This What Existentialism Means?

Knowing nothing of physics,
Atoms and such things
As planets - like this one
Are assembled, 
Constructed, 
Designed:
I know therefore, nothing of God,
Designer (a modern term),
Pre-creator
Knowing before creation,
Before, and even before
Existence 
Brought forth thought -
Designer - thought.
But reaching through the mists,
The immateriality of no-thing
Brought forth before thought the loneliness of love,
The culmination of the cross
The existentialism of the cross.

That word slipped in!

Existentialism could be called the philosophy of human existence, of the essence of humanity, which is freedom. While many of the big names were atheists, their ideas were not all hostile to belief in God or the Christian faith; indeed they were critically examined in my seminary course back in the 1960’s. Contrary to popular belief, our teachers who were Catholic Priests, wanted us to think things through, something the existentialists prided themselves on.

Now here is Sheila Billingsley philosophising on creation and suffering and love, the culmination of the cross.

Read it again!

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28 June: In Vinculis

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt was an English poet who was imprisoned for taking part in independence meetings and demonstrations in Ireland. This poem was praised by the Irish critic, Oscar Wilde. In Vinculis means ‘in chains’ as both Peter and Paul were, more than once. Their joint feast falls tomorrow. Let us pray for all prisoners, that in the Lord’s light their spirits may see light, in this world and the next.


Naked I came into the world of pleasure,
   And naked come I to this house of pain.
Here at the gate I lay down my life’s treasure,
   My pride, my garments and my name with men.
   The world and I henceforth shall be as twain,
No sound of me shall pierce for good or ill
   These walls of grief.  Nor shall I hear the vain
Laughter and tears of those who love me still.

Within, what new life waits me!  Little ease,
   Cold lying, hunger, nights of wakefulness,
Harsh orders given, no voice to soothe or please,
   Poor thieves for friends, for books rules meaningless;
This is the grave—nay, hell.  Yet, Lord of Might,
Still in Thy light my spirit shall see light.”

(from “A Critic in Pall Mall Being Extracts from Reviews and Miscellanies” by Oscar Wilde, E. V. (Edward Verrall) Lucas)

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April: 13 A Lenten Litany.

For you were slain and by your blood you ransomed men for God …….

For you were rejected, and through that rejection
You ransomed men for God,
           Lord have mercy.

For you were betrayed, and by that betrayal
You ransomed men for God,
          Christ have Mercy.

For you were mocked, and by that mockery
You ransomed men for God,
          Dear Lord have mercy.

For you were scourged, and by that brutality
You ransomed me for God,
          Dear Lord have mercy.

For you were clothed in purple and insulted
And by those insults you ransomed men for God,
          Christ have mercy.

For you were crowned, not with gold, but thorns.
And with that crown you ransomed men for God.
          Dear Lord have mercy.

For you were stripped and spat upon,
And by your humiliation you redeemed me for God.
          Christ have mercy.

You stood alone and heard the cry of 'Crucify',
And by that cry you have redeemed men for God,
          Lord have mercy.

For you were abandoned and in your abandonment
You redeemed me for God.
          Lord have mercy.

You embraced the wood of your cross,
Embracing the death that you would die
          To ransom men for God.
          Dear Lord have mercy.

In blood and dirt from the road and pain
You met your Mother.
In that shared pain you ransomed men for God.
          Christ have mercy.

You had compassion on the thief who sought your peace,
Your compassion is the ransom of all men for God.
          Christ have mercy.

I drank water to refresh my mouth.
They gave you vinegar to drink.
You drank the searing bitterness of sin
          And by your thirst you ransomed men for God.

You died . . . as all men die . . . alone.
And by your loneliness you ransomed men for God.
          Dear Lord have mercy.

How long those hours, so dark, until your 'hour' was done.
But through the darkness you redeemed us all.#

Christ obedient,
Christ victorious,
Christ wounded,
Christ our brother,
Offered to our Father.

Sheila Billingsley, March 2022

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6 April: Little things make a big difference.

We were thinking on exiles yesterday, and again so today. Thanks to the London Irish Chaplaincy for the following reflection. Note that the team do not take it for granted that a cup of tea is all that’s needed. They do their research and act on it, including tried and tested activities alongside innovations. See, Judge, Act, as my father used to say from his YCW days. Consciousness again!

Let us, in other words, be there for our neighbours, and let them be there for us. A widowed lady that I know, another exile, always likes to make a cup of tea when I do a few little jobs for her. She is then able to do a sharing, Christian deed, more important than having her roses pruned.

Although the term ‘innovation’ seems to be the buzzword, we’ve found that most of the time it’s the little things that make a big difference. For example, simply talking to someone, holding a Travellers’ forum in a prison to offer someone a voice, or writing a letter to a prisoner are the most effective ways to lift their spirit. We know people’s needs change over time and we’ve carried out plenty of research to be sure we’re offering the most helpful services. But the message is clear, that in most cases simply being a kind friend is powerful enough to change someone’s life. For us, these simple actions have stood the test of time.

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20 March: On not reinventing the wheel.

Two young mothers pushing their babies on Margate prom. Their buggies double up as shopping trolleys.

The discussion drifted to mobility and the challenges posed by diminishing powers in later life.

Jane had struggled with herself to adopt a walking stick, and then a walker with a seat and shopping box. ‘But that was silly of me, because now I can get down to the shops and the promenade.’ The thought of not seeing the sea, though living so close, had steeled her to swallow her pride and try the aids.

‘I can do so much more now’, she says.

Reinventing the wheel or even the walking stick seems excessive, but many of us learn the hard way. Jane would tell you how its tempting to be too self-reliant, too independent. In the 1980’s people in big mental hospitals were released into ‘the community’ to live independently; often in a one bedroom flat somewhere completely unknown to the person concerned who would have been incarcerated for decades.

‘The community’ did not exist for them unless someone made an effort to befriend them.

Jane’s first walker trolley was given to her by a fellow member of the exercise group, who had another that suited her better. The group is a little community, even when meeting by zoom.

What can we learn from this little story? To accept help or advice graciously, to admit that no man (or woman) is an island entire of itself, not even me! So we are all responsible for each other, and are diminished if a neighbour suffers; we are, or should be, involved in mankind, conscious of each other’s needs and gifts.

No Man Is An Island by John Donne

No man is an island, 
Entire of itself, 
Every man is a piece of the continent, 
A part of the main. 
If a clod be washed away by the sea, 
Europe is the less. 
As well as if a promontory were. 
As well as if a manor of thy friend's 
Or of thine own were: 
Any man's death diminishes me, 
Because I am involved in mankind, 
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee.

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11 March: the self-consumer of my woes— John Clare

It is possible to be too conscious of certain realities, perceptions, or maybe illusions. What have we here? Loneliness, pain, self absorption, emotional and spiritual shipwreck, a longing for peace. John Clare descended into the hell of mental illness for the last years of his life – he died in 1864 – and the clarity of his language in ‘I am!’ points up the confusion of his mind. A mind churning, churning, all through the night; little wonder he craves a place where God can let him sleep, untroubling to others, untroubled by their intrusions into his life, or the mills of his mind.

God grant peace to all in affliction.

I Am! by John Clare

I am—yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes—
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
Even the dearest that I loved the best
Are strange—nay, rather, stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.

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Irish Chaplaincy: walking with hope.

Irish Chaplaincy

Are you ready, boots? Start walking!

This week, from April 19th– 24th 2021, many people will be walking to raise funds for the work of the Irish Chaplaincy, and to raise awareness of the elderly Irish we support in Britain, whether living alone or in care homes or in prison. To join in, contact Declan.ganly@irishcaplaincy.org.uk . Put the Spring in your step!

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Going Viral LXVI: Virus and Vaccination at Lichfield Cathedral.

This links to an article by the Dean of Lichfield, Rev Adrian Dorber. Lichfield was the first cathedral to host a mass vaccination centre. Dean Adrian begins:

Dear Friends,

I was asked to write the following piece for a daily newspaper.  Whether it gets printed, or it is mangled into something unrecognisable by sub-editors, is beyond my control, but I thought you might like to see the article.  Here it is:

Last week the UK death toll from Covid-19 crossed the 100,000 mark: a grim milestone in our reckoning with the impact of the virus.  The swathe of bereavement the virus brings is terrible.  The mental and spiritual desolation of 2020 has shown us the fault lines in the way the world is currently ordered: pointing us to the inescapable truth of our relatedness and obligations to each other.  One charity dealing with bereavement has predicted a “tsunami of unresolved grief” that will take a long time to heal.   Compound the death rate with the anxiety, stress and isolation lockdown and home-schooling have brought, to say nothing of lost jobs, business closures and a contracting economy, then we are right to welcome the NHS’s vaccination roll-out.

The link above will take you to the whole interesting article.

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