Tag Archives: loneliness

November 17: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xvii: ‘Human is unique.’


Everything takes its identity from its relationships and not from self-first separateness. Jesus takes his identity from his mission – always pointing away from himself towards the Kingdom. This redefines human. Gone forever the lonely, isolated individual. For most of the 6 million years we have been around we were egalitarian, connected with the earth and cooperative in relation to other beings.

Original Creation is the source of living reality, including that of the earthly Jesus. The difference between Jesus and ourselves is that he was probably more aware of this. The ability to relate is a most noble quality – which has been severely impaired by the domination of patriarchal systems. It will be recovered more from the ground up than from the top down.

Story-telling is the most ancient form of communication – even before formal language emerged story-telling happened through gestures, pictures and skills of hand and eye. The purpose of story-telling was varied, but in the main as a search for meaning and purpose. Stories have their own compelling driving force, for which the teller becomes the creative agent. Time and again stories enable us to discover how individual lives blend with cosmic reality.

Is there a place for God here? World religions couch their truths within story, passed down from poets, prophets and messiahs [e.g. the Gospel parables]. However, institutional religion assures allegiance not through story but through procedures, rules and regulations, with God seen as the supreme ruler. We have formalised stories – Scriptures – which are meant to show the right relationship between the divine and the rest of creation. In fact in many contemporary situations these narratives tend to hide the divine reality, being overtaken by the views of the leaders of religious faith attempting to order and control. This subdues creativity and relegates people into a passive role that inhibits telling and hearing stories.

In Acts 16.2 Paul and Silas are in prison, shackled in chains. In the dark of night the whole prison is shaken by earthquake – gates are open, chains loosened. The governor panics and is for committing suicide; Paul restrains him, assuring him the prisoners are still inside. They are content just to be in their new-found freedom. Sadly, we hear no more about the prisoners, plenty about Paul – the opportunity for an example of liberating grace is lost. The writer is so taken-up with the hero, Paul, as to lose sight of the Gospel promise of liberation for the imprisoned and oppressed.

What is known as the Quantum Vision of the world: a world of endless possibilities, and it is real when there is openness to all of them; the really real is where all things are possible; it becomes unreal when we have to choose one or other option because we are limited in resourcefulness. The Jesus who brings abundant life transcends all structures; he abides not just in the human heart but in the heart of creation.


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September 27, Fortitude IV: Fortitude and Mortality.


At Manchester City War Memorial, MMB.

The ultimate danger is death. But most of us are not required to die for a good cause. Yet, there are other forms of death. We are apt to say, with feeling, “Oh, I would die if such and such happened.” Most of the time, when we use that expression, we know we would not actually die if that thing happened – but the expression bears some truth after all. We would not physically die, but whenever we feel threatened emotionally, we feel that some important part of us would receive a mortal wound if that thing happened. To be rejected by someone we love, for example, does not cause physical death, but the emotional hurt is very deep. If the relationship with the loved one comes to an end, then the part of us that was brought to life through that relationship feels like it is coming to an end. A death of sorts does occur. And so, fortitude is about coping with these kinds of very painful human experiences. It may be that in fact, the relationship in question should change, or even come to an end. Clinging to a relationship out of fear of the loneliness and hurt that will follow once the person is no longer in our life can sometimes perpetuate a relationship that is causing greater harm to oneself that the loneliness we fear. Fortitude would counsel a person in this situation to bring the harmful relationship to an end, and to bear the pain that will ensue for the sake of a deeper level of healing and growth.

For further study:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church ,Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1994

The Four Cardinal Virtues, Joseph Pieper, University of Notre Dame Press


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August 18: An Appreciation of Francis Thompson by W.H. Davies.


Francis Thompson turned up again after I’d put his series to bed, so I’ll share this now. W. H. Davies was another poet who lived on the streets, though he was to find friendship and marriage and a long life span.

In this Davies uses his memories of seafaring and tramping to imagine Thompson’s life before he was welcomed into the life of the Meynell family. The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head when he was travelling the dusty roads of Palestine. Can we see him in the homeless people we meet in the street? How best to give them bread and not stones?

Francis Thompson by W. H. Davies

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.

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21 January: Crossing Barriers, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Canterbury.

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North Gate  Saturday 21st January, 1.30‐2pm

Cityspace, 49 Northgate, CT1 1BE

Families and community Connection

The North Gate had the reputation of being the poorest, least desirable part of the city, and the Northgate Ward is still one of the most deprived areas in Kent. Today we pray for community and family life: that our city will be a place where no‐one is lonely, where people are valued and where healthy relationships thrive.

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May 18: Inter-Galactic Discoveries: III


The three agents from the distant Ossyrian Confederation- one disguised as a middle-aged human and the others as a pair of frisky young Chihuahuas- had chosen an animal shelter near the Kentish seaside town of Margate as a likely locale for initiating their crucial research into the nature of that peculiarly human virtue of hope. That first foray had seemed to be an unmitigated disaster as a maddened Mastiff had shunted any semblance of virtue aside in a slobbering attempt to maul the diminutive Alfie who, though standing his ground (he knew perfectly well that the mesh separating him from the Mastiff was sound), nevertheless returned the insults of barked violence in an angry cacophony that would soon have had all three Ossyrian agents escorted to the nearest exit.

Just as all had seemed lost, Alfie’s wing man (wing dog??) Ajax focused the disheartened group’s attention in a different direction. ‘Look over there!’ he signalled, and – moving out of sight of the doomed Mastiff – the group quietly approached the object of Ajax’s sudden interest.

The elderly woman bore all of the signs of a human at the far end of a difficult life. Dishevelled white hair, sallow complexion over deep crevices etched by relentless work, worry, loneliness, and a multitude of ‘aches and pains’, along with a musty unwashed smell readily apparent to the dogs; all mumbled the same tale of poverty and neglect. ‘She’s been with us for nearly a year,’ the bright-eyed shelter employee said as he opened the door of an enclosure reeking with the smell of fresh antiseptic, ‘and soon, I’m afraid…she’ll have to be put down.’

Ignoring him, the woman stepped inside and paused, gazing at the small cross-breed cowering in a corner, visibly shaking with anxiety. ‘Be careful, ma’am! She’s been known to bite.’ The woman chose to ignore the warning and approached the small dog before pausing, once again, only a few feet before the terrified creature. Not much to recommend yourself, she thought wryly…and it was true. Though kept clean by the kindly employees of the shelter, the cross-breed’s face was disfigured by a pronounced under-bite and her matted grey fur was mottled by what appeared to be bald spots of angry scar tissue.

Noting the woman’s interest, the employee sadly explained, ‘This poor little lady was seriously abused by her first owner; all over now, but those scars you see, well, they go pretty deep…if you know what I mean?’ Oh! I do…I do know what you mean… the woman sighed and, scooping up the ravaged mongrel, ignored the sharp nip to her forearm as she enveloped it in a deep embrace, lightly stroking its mottled pelt.

To the stunned amazement and utter delight of the employees at the animal shelter the adoption of the mongrel, who would proudly respond to the name ‘Mitzi’ for the rest of her life, proceeded smoothly. As she and her new owner were escorted to the shelter’s exit and handed the complementary packet of doggie necessities many of the carers had tears in their eyes but others were smiling…

+   +   +



Awaiting the fish and chips – but sans dogs. NAIB

The three Ossyrian agents sat in reflective silence; each savouring the delightful taste of his fish and chips eaten outdoors with a view of Margate’s small harbour. ‘Batter loaded with calories, enough hydrogenated fat in the oil to block the Canterbury Road, and salt on the chips to send one’s blood pressure off the chart…but oh so goooooooood!’ Alfie chirped. The others merely smacked their lips in hearty agreement; Ossyrian cuisine had nothing on this!

‘T’? Something really important happened this morning at the animal shelter…but I’m not sure what it was…’ Ajax’s honest confusion had, at first, been shared by all and the lunchtime debriefing had been punctuated by long, if thoughtful, silences. ‘I think…I think I’m beginning to understand,’ ‘T’ signalled, ‘though I have only read of it in terrestrial books as what just occurred would have been impossible in the home world.’ ‘What is it?’ Alfie’s expressive ears trembled with anticipation even though the conversation was entirely telepathic.

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‘See,’ ‘T’ began, ‘in the Confederation there is no injustice and almost no suffering. When suffering is encountered it is simply cured, as if it were a kind of medical condition, and that is the way it has been for many thousands of revolutions around the inner sun.’ He sighed, ‘There is nothing wrong with that…but here…here suffering is a very real thing and must be dealt with…or not.’ Remembering the tragic Mastiff, the two Chihuahuas glanced knowingly at each other as ‘T’ continued, ‘The old woman and Mitzi the cross-breed mongrel had each suffered and each recognized a kinship in the other. Denial would have resulted in judgement and judgement in alienation leading to rejection…and further suffering. But the woman had learned a marvellous lesson! Suffering can also function as a mercylogokind of doorway…a doorway, which, when passed through in the company of another, leads to a bright kind of love forged in fearless, though tender, knowing. The humans had to invent a special word for this that is, at the same time the highest and the lowest of all of the many types of love. It is called compassion and where this type of love exists nothing is ever able to undermine, much less extinguish, hope…because compassion flourishes precisely in that place where hope had previously seemed impossible.’

The Chihuahuas, having swallowed the last few chips and licked the last bit of salt and oil from the throw-away Styrofoam plates, nodded their dawning understanding; suddenly slightly envious of the tear glinting in the corner of ‘T’s eye.

(to be continued)

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13 May: Friday: No more pilgrimages?

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As the restoration work progressed, one day I found that all the little shops at Saint Pancras had disappeared; no more pilgrimages to the saint’s ikon for me! I hope the good Greek cooks found somewhere else to feed hungry passers-by and passengers.

Now their archway is a door, leading to where? Home, for the night, via one of the 270 stations on the Underground? East Kent or the East Midlands? The Continent on Eurostar? Is this, as Chris will soon have us consider in one of his posts, the start or the final destination of our journey?

Are we going home for a hug? To read a bedtime story, to share a meal, to relax on the sofa together? Maybe to care for a sick child, parent or spouse; to an atmosphere of tension and worry; to a single, lonely room?

We need food for the journey. Although the good people who worked beneath the ikon of St Pancras have gone, there are other food ‘outlets’ on the station, less homely, and without a prayer behind the counter. And yet; we do not live on bread alone, but on every word from the mouth of God: there is nothing to stop a traveller being a pilgrim in his or her own mind and heart, wherever their current destination, and often a verse lodges in the inner ear and feeds the heart as the eye scans the countryside or the black walls of the tube. Listen to that ear-worm: Oh that today you would listen to my voice!


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February 14th – Man thrives in COMMUNITY.

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Man thrives in community. We live and grow in community, we work in community, and we worship and pray in community. Even a happy death involves community; departing this world surrounded by those we love, and those who love us.

Because in His infinite wisdom, the Father knew, “It is not good that man should be alone”, the last act of creation was to “make him a helper fit for him”, so that man would never be alone again.

With completion of the creative act, man would not be alone. And, so it is also with the Body of Christ, where we see Christ as the groom, and the Church as his bride. Like man was never to be alone when joined with his bride, the Church would always have her groom; for at his ascension he reminded us, “…behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

While marriage is not a vocation we are all called to, it is still not good that any of us should find ourselves to be alone. Indeed, it could easily be argued that loneliness is the greatest of maladies man can face, taking both a physical and spiritual toll.

Just as Christ promised to never leave us alone, so we should make the same promise to those around us. A hug, a smile, or just a nod of acknowledgement can be all it takes to give a lonely person a sense of community, and to feel the love of Christ.


Jeunesse Catholique at Le Melezin, Serre Eyraud, Hautes Alpes France, 1970, MMB; window, Acts, CD.

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Stopping by Fred’s on a Snowy Morning

This true story was first published by WJEC in their ie – Inside English – magazine, see http://issuu.com/wjec_cbac/docs/issue12/1

Stopping by Fred’s on a Snowy Morning

snowgapaIt will remain one of my treasured memories of tutoring. January had brought snowfall: the sea was slushy with ice crystals, the shingle treacherous, the dog walkers double wrapped against the cold. I was glad my road through the woods had been gritted.

Fred went everywhere on his bike, since his legs could not bear his weight, and he hated the snow. As a fellow cyclist I had some sympathy with that, but his disability led to unpredictable behaviour. If he’d slept badly or was in pain, he might refuse to come downstairs or to do any work.

On this morning, you’ll understand, I did not expect much at all. However the course work for his English Entry Level had to be completed. As I was leaving home I gathered up a worksheet on Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Since his Gypsy Grandad still kept a horse Fred could feel for the relationship between man and beast.

I had not expected another student. Pat, Fred’s elder sister, had given up on school, and for eighteen months had refused all offers of help to ease her back for her exams. She was very much at a loose end. Social Services were watching the family, which unsettled her. Pat was there when I began reading Frost’s spellbinding lines. Out of habit I handed her a spare copy of the worksheet.

The magic of the first verse filled the room as we watched the garden fill up with snow. The dismantled bicycles, the broken furniture, the coils of cable waiting to be weighed in at the scrapyard: all took on a clean mantle of white. The snow was soon lovely, white and deep. (And I was suppressing a worry about getting home. There was always the train.)

We read it through twice before sharing the ideas that came to us. ‘He will not see me stopping here’, appealed to Fred. His disability disappeared on his bike, as he could drive the pedals without his ankles buckling. He was a quieter cyclist than me, no squeaks from the chain, all systems lubricated, no bell pinging over the potholes. He enjoyed riding through the woods near his grandparents’ home.

‘The darkest evening of the year’, said Pat: ‘that must be Christmas. He’s out on the sledge, taking presents to his family.’

‘He gives his harness bells a shake’: Fred said that that was just what a horse would do. ‘They like to know what’s going on.’ His Granddad’s Trojan never wore bells, but in the cavernous back shed hung a jangly old harness from when Fred’s great-grandfather used to haul the hops home in the Autumn time.

‘The sweep of easy wind and downy flake’: with the television off, we could hear the gentle snowfall, right before us.

‘“The woods are lovely, dark and deep”: now he’s thinking of topping himself’, said Pat, whose arms were criss-crossed with recent scars.

‘But he doesn’t,’ I put in. ‘He has promises to keep, and miles to go before he sleeps.’

‘All those Christmas presents,’ she replied.

‘And he owes it to the horse to get him indoors,’ said Fred. ‘Having to care for the horse saves his life.’

We put our thoughts on paper. ‘Why don’t you do the exam as well, Pat?’ I suggested, and so it came to pass, with Social Services to paying for her.

When I arrived that morning, their mother had told me off for riding out in such weather. Not for the last time, I was glad to be mad. Sister and brother both sat the exam and were happy with their marks. Pat beat Fred by one mark in English; he scored one more in Maths, although that was because we sat at the kitchen table, completing the last exercises on the last possible morning.

And I did make it home that day, on the last train to struggle through until  late in the evening.



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