Am I a stone and not a sheep
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy Cross,
To number drop by drop Thy Blood's slow loss,
And yet not weep?
Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;
Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon,--
I, only I.
Yet give not o'er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.
This post card was sent home by a man who himself never came home from the Great War. Ironically, it was produced in Munich, sent home to Manchester from Poperinghe in Belgium, and saved by the recipient and her descendants.
Christina Rossetti puts herself with Mary, Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene and other women who stood weeping, next to the Cross, owning a lack of tears on her own part. Poetic licence, I feel. Her heart in this poem is full of sorrow and self-accusation, but she is also repentant, asking God to strike her stony heart, as he commanded Moses to strike to rock in the desert:
“Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” (Exodus 17:1-7).
If the Lord makes our hearts run with tears, whether physical or inner tears, will we give the people living water to drink?
It is a sobering reflection that opinion divides over whether the carpet bombing of German cities was morally right or even effective, but the young men of bomber command were people of great courage who knew they had every chance of not getting home alive. 55,573 lost their lives, including Henry Allen Litherland of Manchester. Casualties in Bomber Command were the highest of any branch of the British armed forces during the Second World War, and the life expectancy of bomber crews was appallingly short. Their wives and families were also painfully aware of the risks.
Henry Litherland worked at the John Rylands Library in Manchester city centre until he was called up to serve in the RAF in October 1941. He became a bomber pilot, and was decorated twice for bravery.
He was 22 when shot down near Berlin, where he is buried.
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?
We met the Shakers briefly when we were reflecting on Vocation in daily life, in particular the life and work of women in this 18th and 19th Century American community. But they started off in Manchester, about 1747. Faith in the city!
The shakers were influenced by the Quakers, they had been known as the Shaking Quakers, and a leader emerged in the person of Ann Lee, the illiterate daughter of a blacksmith. She was however a person of great spiritual intelligence, as well as the desire to know God and carry out his will. Her devotion led her group to accept her as a second embodiment of Christ, and she was known to them as Mother Ann.
There was still a great intolerance of religious dissenters in England at the time, which led to her leading a small band of Shakers to North America in 1774 to restore the Apostolic Church there. This was at the start of the American Revolution, and they were treated as spies for the British government and thrown into prison. After their release they set about establishing the Kingdom of God, and war-weary Americans began to join the movement, and the Shakers made room for them all. Communities of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming were thus established in rural areas, trying to live by the law of love, but celibate, as Jesus had been. A far cry from the mills of Manchester’s Industrial Revolution.
See Caroline B.Piercy, The Shaker Cook Book, New York, Crown Publishers, 1953, pp16-18.
Five years ago we shared the following prayer that the English and Welsh bishops had published for Valentine's Day. It's worth transmitting again. We can pray it for other people if we are happily espoused ourselves.Prayer for those seeking a spouse
You know that the deepest desire of my heart is to meet someone that I can share my life with.
I trust in your loving plan for me
and ask that I might meet soon the person that you have prepared for me.
Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open my heart and mind so that I recognise my soulmate.
Remove any obstacles that may be in the way of this happy encounter,
so that I might find a new sense of wholeness, joy and peace.
Give me the grace too, to know and accept, if you have another plan for my life.
I surrender my past, present and future into the tender heart of your Son, Jesus,
confident that my prayer will be heard and answered.
The Valentine card at the head of the post was sent a century earlier, from a young man in Flanders’ fields to his ‘sweeetie’ in Manchester. They never married because he was killed in action; she went on to find happiness with another man, unlike two ladies I got to know in 1978. Miss M had been unhinged by her experience of loss, or so we were told; Miss P was a good friend to many nieces and nephews and added me to the list, making a beautiful quilt for our first baby’s pram; it’s now a family heirloom.
On this day for lovers, I cannot help thinking of those couples, married or hoping to marry, who are separated by the effects of covid on travel and meeting up. We all have to accept another plan for this period of our lives. And we can hold in our hearts all those who have died, and those who mourn them.
Let us surrender past, present and future into the tender heart of Jesus, confident that our prayer will be heard and answered.
Recently Mrs T and I were at the southern edge of Manchester, in Didsbury, and walked away from the houses, across the main road, into Fletcher Moss Park. I expected Fletcher Moss to be a wetland, as in Chat Moss and other boggy areas around Manchester, but it is named after Mr Fletcher Moss, who gave his house and estate to the city of Manchester early last century.
The land does slope down to the River Mersey, and the lower areas were too wet for our city shod feet, so my expectations were not altogether dashed.
Before we arrived at the park, we crossed the tramway by this Poppy Bridge, remembering the fallen of the Great War. Nearby children from three local schools have scattered poppy seed, to flower this summer, 100 years since the end of that war. (And flower they did, in profusion.)
After walking through Didsbury Park, well populated by young children and parents off to meet siblings from those three local schools, we came to the edge of Fletcher Moss Park, with its sports fields and fine benches including Rory’s Bench, covered in carved creatures, and a formidable lacrosse player. The game is more popular in these parts than most of England.
Mr Moss’s garden had been a little neglected in recent times, until a voluntary group was formed to undertake many of the City Council’s responsibilities. We admired the hellebores in the beds near the house, including this one, thriving in the cold.
Also near the house were witch hazel bushes, worth seeing silhouetted against the grey sky as well as in colour on the dark background of walls and branches. This computer cannot share the scent, clean and sharp.
More scent, sweeter this time, at ground level from snowdrops and oxlips, a hybrid between primroses and cowslips.
A little further and we were at a corner of rainforest – well most English people know that if you can see the Pennine Hills from Manchester, it is going to rain; if you can’t see them, it must be raining.
It wasn’t raining yet … and just around the corner a bank of heather – erica – a plant that shuns our alkaline soil in East Kent.
How’s this for early March?
We wandered down to the next level; as I said, it was too muddy for city shoes to approach the river, but there was a clump of young willow ablaze in the afternoon light. I’m told by my colleagues at L’Arche that for weaving and basket making, the golden-green and the dark red not only contrast well when woven together, they have slightly different properties. I must learn more.
And I must come back to Fletcher Moss next time I’m visiting family in Manchester, and see how it looks in other seasons. Many thanks to the volunteers who are helping the City council care for this treasure.
(This post was scheduled before the Mersey flooded much of this area in January 2012.)
I was warned about Manchester’s 2019 Santa well before I saw it. Now it’s difficult to unsee the thing. As a representation of a saintly bishop it leaves a lot to be desired! The little Kentish village of Barfrestone has a better one.
Here he is, recognisably a bishop, recognisably blessing his people (I doubt the Mancunian’s gesture could be so interpreted), with symbols of his generous charity: the three gold coins for the dowries he gave to three girls who might otherwise have been enslaved; the little boys he rescued from drowning, and a representation of the little church of Saint Nicholas.
We in L’Arche Kent called by during our community pilgrimage last year, for it was in this village that the community was born more than 40 years ago. I was on a sort of pilgrimage to Manchester, not to tip my hat to Santa by Piccadilly Gardens but to visit my mother and my daughter; two good reasons for the journey on a murky day in Manchester. Since my daughter has left town there’s only my mother, but she is isolating herself and outsiders are meant to keep away from Greater Manchester. So thank God for the internet!
Today, 6 December, is Saint Nicholas’ feast day. We can’t do much about the hijacking he has been subjected to by the forces of Mammon, but we can find ways to be generous, maybe in secret, as he often was.
And let us use this season of Advent to make straight the paths of the Lord, through marshland, mountain, or Mancunian murk!
Poets poured out the experience of the Great War in many ways. Edward Thomas does not dwell on the horrors, though he knew them, but on the peace that passes understanding, the blest moment between two lives, the one to come goodlier, lovelier, dearer, for all the pilgrim leaves old friends behind. Read the poem aloud, slowly.
This is the Poppy Bridge, at Didsbury, Manchester.
I have come a long way to-day: On a strange bridge alone, Remembering friends, old friends, I rest, without smile or moan, As they remember me without smile or moan.
All are behind, the kind And the unkind too, no more To-night than a dream. The stream Runs softly yet drowns the Past, The dark-lit stream has drowned the Future and the Past.
No traveller has rest more blest Than this moment brief between Two lives, when the Night’s first lights And shades hide what has never been, Things goodlier, lovelier, dearer, than will be or have been.
It was a murky day in Manchester last winter when I met this column of men from the Great War. The sculpture is based on John Singer Sargent’s painting in the Imperial War Museum, ‘Gassed’. He had been to the front line, though he was in his eighties, and seen the men, British and American, suffering blindness after a mustard gas attack.
They are led by a medical orderly; there is a skill to leading such a group: observing the terrain, being alert for mud, ruts, obstacles, exaggerated dropping of the left or right shoulder to lead the men to turn. There are many ways to love your fellow man: the column of men support each other in what the sculptor, Johanna DomkeGuyot calls ‘Victory Over Blindness’.
Her sculpture loves her fellow human beings: honouring the dead but challenging the living through portraying the gritty, grimy reality of unmedalled, unsought heroism. It is a bold but totally right decision to plant the men at ground level, not way over our heads, like the man on the Manchester cenotaph; an image that all but says, dulce et decorum est – how sweet and right it is to die for one’s country.
Let us not forget that the victims of war, soldiers or civilians, are men, women and children like us and ours; that cruel things have been done in our name as well as against us. Let us do all we can to bring about peace and reconciliation between nations and peoples, and within our own communities.
Lord grant us peace.
DULCE ET DECORUM EST
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Yesterday we visited Saint David’s altar stone, and concluded that ‘the emotional and spiritual resonances of this rather non-descript stone cannot be denied’. Today’s relics are more intimate – or were when they were created – but though we know quite a lot about the 6th Century Bishop David, despite having no portrait of him, we can see these early photographs on-line, but often we do not know anything about them, not even their names. They are made available by the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester, which holds them. Here is a link to their post by Angie, who says: Regardless of time and technology, a portrait of the self or other transcends time and connects us to human emotions.
The owners of these lockets valued their relationship with the sitters and the sitters must have loved the owners to endure sitting still for the quarter hour this process demanded.
They were happy to own these relics, perhaps kissing the before clipping them around their neck, but like George Borrow, did they deplore the Catholic attitude to saints’ relics?
We love flesh and blood family and friends, those with us here and now, those separated by time and space. It is natural to celebrate them with reminders, stones, bones, photographs or locks of hair.