I am privileged to live close enough to the sea to cycle there in under an hour (I’m getting slower in old age!) No further comment on Emily’s little poem below, except that someone should carve it in stone at some seaside place, and perhaps I should get it by heart. The blue-white building in the background is Margate’s Turner Centre. Maybe we could chisel it into the concrete there?
My river runs to thee:
Blue sea, wilt welcome me?
My river waits reply.
Oh sea, look graciously!
I'll fetch thee brooks
From spotted nooks, —
(from "Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete" via Kindle)
I have to say that by no means all of Emily Dickinson’s verse speaks to me; this deceptively simple poem does, though I’m reluctant to analyse it too much and lose it. But ‘docile as a boy’? Sometimes a boy is docile and easily led and the sea can be docile, sometimes. ‘Along appointed sands’, as here in Margate, seen from another poet’s perch, the shelter where Eliot wrote. ‘Obedient to the least command’ does not sound like a statement of fact, more a statement of intent: from a storm-tossed Kent, I pray that the Good Shepherd will lead us beside quiet waters this year of Our Lord 2021.
The moon is distant from the sea, And yet with amber hands She leads him, docile as a boy, Along appointed sands.
He never misses a degree; Obedient to her eye, He comes just so far toward the town, Just so far goes away.
Oh, Signor, thine the amber hand, And mine the distant sea, — Obedient to the least command Thine eyes impose on me.”
Series 2, Love XIII from Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete
The Baptism of our Lord: a cold shock to his system!
Father Tom Herbst describes winter mornings facing the sea at Margate in this previous post from Advent time. I don’t think many baptisms happen there in January, but the sacrament is an assertion of trust in the loving God, either personally or on a child’s behalf. Jesus trusted that this moment was crucial for his growing into the One mature human, Son of God, Son of Man.
Above we see a grey sky in the Polish Tatra mountains, with light breaking through the clouds. Today Sister Hanne-Maria Berentsen OCSO shares a reflection on January grey skies over the fjord near her monastery in Norway. It comes from Northern Light, a book I shall return to.
Pope John Paul II wrote of celebrating the Eucharist ‘on the altar of the world.’ Perhaps we can give some thought to the meaning of Water, in sky, river, lake and sea, and accept a daily ‘baptism in the font of the world’ – we are within the water cycle in this life – rain, river, sea, cloud – but called to put out into deep water, like Peter and the Apostles, trusting in the loving God.
There is much pain needed to make us fully human and Christ-like … if you feel down, you can look up, look out, go out, and receive the vast sky above and around you, finding again your trust in the loving God who created all this. Even on a grey, stormy day, you can find blue spots between the clouds, holes of hope.
from Northern Light by the Cistercian Nuns of Tautra Mariakloster, Collegeville Minnesota, Liturgical Press, p4.
We will review Northern Light after re-reading it, or should I say, reading it properly!More from Cistercians later this week.
As our means increase, so do our desires; and we ever stand midway between the two. When we reside in an attic we enjoy a supper of fried fish and stout. When we occupy the first floor it takes an elaborate dinner at the Continental to give us the same amount of satisfaction.
From Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome. The attic, of course, held the pokiest, worst-planned rooms in the boarding houses where the relatively poor Jerome was living at this period of his life. I trust he could still have enjoyed fish and chips from Peter’s Fish Factory in Margate. The 5,000 were content with bread and fish by the lakeside – but not for long! Let us be grateful for what we have been given, and always thank God for our food, spoken or silently.
T wished Greta a good evening and went to round up the parrot hunters. Before he knew it he was face-to-face with a rather overweight police sergeant who was walking sedately through the park. T saw the official look descend over the lawman’s face and felt sure the doglets were being a nuisance to some poor creature. He recognised the sergeant, a former pupil of his friend Will Turnstone, so seized the initiative.
‘Callum, good to see you. How’s life in the force? Am I allowed to stand and chat with you?’‘
Callum had heard that conversational gambit more than a few times. ‘Come on Mr T, you should have those creatures under control. That woman in the red coat says they were chasing squirrels.’
‘And did they ever catch one? They just keep the squirrel population in training.’‘ Well, she can see I’ve had a word with you, but call them in, please.’
T called the boys in English and flashed his urgent call in Ossyrian telepathy. ‘If you don’t want to end up in the stray dogs’ home, you’d best get over here.’ They came.
‘Thanks Mr T,’ said the sergeant. ‘Beware of little old ladies who bring peanuts for the squirrels. She knows she shouldn’t do it but there’s no arguing with her. Good bye and enjoy your walk!’
They watched him plod on. ‘If you two are having fun, can you not keep half an eye out for trouble?’ T complained.
‘We minded your bag while you were in the pool. You should keep watch for us when we are chasing squirrels.’
T felt there was something lacking in Ajax’s logic, but the exhilaration in their bearing suggested that they had gained as much from their noisy run around as he had from his quiet swim. Such joys were available virtually in Ossyria, but he had to admit that the earthly cool water and warm air were the real thing, the home version of total immersion now seemed somewhat lacking. True, Superstud Doggynutz were a poor substitute for the crunchy squirrel thighs the chihuahuas craved, but who has everything? Ossyrians were so sure that they did, but they could learn from crazy generous humans any day.
The following day found the three of them walking under the trees in the park, escaping some of the evening wind and keeping a weather eye open for parrots and squirrels. At least Ajax and Alfie were thus occupied, T’s face lit up when he saw a familiar face, Greta from the coffee shop in the old bus near the railway station. She’d been out of work and out of sight for weeks and now here she was, striding around the park in black leotard and pink floral tights with matching trainers.
‘Hello Mr T’, she said, slightly out of breath. ‘I thought you’d disappeared off the face of the earth.’
– ‘What does she mean?’ Alfie flashed. ‘Does she know we are aliens?’ ‘Even more alien than Asian sailors,’ growled Alfie. ‘How can she know?’ ‘Maybe she’s an alien too.’
Greta glanced at her wrist. ‘9, 563 steps so far on this walk. That means I can get my 10,000 before I get home. I have to be there for 5.30 this evening. I’ve been doing at least 10,000 steps a day ever since we were closed.’
– ‘No alien would be walking 10,000 steps, Alfie.’ ‘No? What about the treadmill and weights in the pod?’ – ‘Will you two be quiet!’ flashed T, then let them off the lead.
‘A delivery coming?’ he asked Greta.
‘No, we have an appointment to read bedtime stories to our grandchildren in Gibraltar. We haven’t seen them for months, and we don’t know when we will see them, so three nights a week we read their stories. 5.30 here is 6.30 there, time for bed. I’d better keep moving!’
‘She’s got to be human. No alien that I’ve ever known would obsess about getting 10,000 steps in, and then sit down to read bedtime stories to faraway grandchildren,’ T said to himself.
The Ossyrian virtues of docility and self-sufficiency had worn thin during the trio’s extended stay on earth. Self-sufficiency, Alfie the Chihuahua reflected, was always an illusion. Back home he had stayed in his pod like a good citizen, accepting without complaint the ten day week’s rota of meals as they arrived through the serving hatch, but with little enthusiasm except on Ninthdays when there was a dish he could actually taste. He was reminded of this flavour when he ate a bagful of cheese and onion crisps, but he very soon realised that the crisps had more taste than ‘Welpow Pie’, and furthermore, that Cheddar cheese was much nicer than the crisps, if bad for a dog’s digestion. A sore tummy once in a while was a price worth paying for getting away from endless grey mush. Alfie, despite being no more than 5% of his Ossyrian stature and weight, was happier living as an earthly dog, even with that annoying Ajax.
Neither of them showed much docility towards the other, T felt. Before the Ossyrian apocalypse he had hunted and eaten many a mongoose-like creature. In a bad light he could almost imagine that a chihuahua was … but he would not let his mind wander too far down that alley, if only because they would read his thoughts.
‘I’m hungry. What about a walk to Peter’s Fish Factory, T?’ projected Ajax. T shuddered; that was a close call! Next time he felt murderous one of them might read his thoughts more clearly. But a walk along the beach promised to be a positive distraction from snarling and knocking into the furniture. ‘I must buy Mature Doggy Megabytz next time’, he promised himself.
We rejoin the alien chihuahuas and Mr T after quite a time when they were collecting data on humanity as seen in Margate, a seaside town in England.The covid lockdown is underway.
The chihuahuas were going cabin crazy, which was a sign of how the last three years had changed them from post-apocalyptic hermits on their home planet of Ossyria to hyperintelligent pseudocanines on Earth. The long Margate horizons, the ever changing sunsets, fish and chips and the joys of chasing the parrots that always got away; these had all got under their skins. A day in Margate, said Ajax, is better than a thousand on Ossyria.
But now they were stuck indoors most of the day due to the corvid19 outbreak. A bit too reminiscent of the latter days of Ossyria. Except that here there was an edge of uncertainty that did not trouble anyone in Ossyria, where life was almost eternal but safe in the pods and, looking back, very boring. Now the chihuahuas could feel the humans’ fear on the street. And neither they nor ‘T’, their director who was disguised as a human, knew how a transformed Ossyrian body would react to the virus if it came their way.
‘I could cut up my blue shirt and sew up some masks,’ said T who travelled around earth in human form but mostly stayed near Margate.
Alfie replied,‘No mask for me, thank you, T; I want to smell things as I go along, not have them drowned out by the smell of washing powder on the cloth.’ And Ajax agreed, or at least he said, ‘I was just going to say that!’ And they were soon rolling about the floor, snapping and snarling. T sighed. ‘No more Superstud Doggynutz for you two.’ An empty threat; the biscuits were delivered every fortnight with his groceries, which he now had to collect from the front doorstep while the driver kept his distance. It was pups’ play for the doglets to distract him when he was checking the shopping list spreadsheet.
“The dove descending breaks the air With flame of incandescent terror Of which the tongues declare The one discharge from sin and error. The only hope, or else despair Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre- To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love. Love is the unfamiliar Name Behind the hands that wove The intolerable shirt of flame Which human power cannot remove. We only live, only suspire Consumed by either fire or fire.
T.S. Eliot famously could connect nothing with nothing, sitting where we are now, looking across Margate sands. But he also had an insight into Something breaking through the shell of nothingness.
No easy comfort here, but a person can choose to be consumed by the fire – of love.
Pentecost today, the Spirit descends as dove and fire in this window from St Aloysius’ Somers Town, London.
Pope Francis’s mission prayer for February is: We pray that the cries of our migrant brothers and sisters, victims of criminal trafficking, may be heard and considered.
Pope Francis made a point of visiting Lampedusa within days of becoming Pope. That is the Italian island, close to the North African shore, where many migrant ships and boats have landed. The cross is one fashioned by an Italian artist from the timbers of such a boat, stranded on the island, its battered paint reminding us of the dangers of even such a short crossing.
The Colombian artist Oscar Murillo created this scene of waiting migrants for the 2019 Turner Prize exhibition in Magate, Kent. In a darkened room that would overlook the sea if a blackout curtain was not there, they sit in rows, waiting. Is it a church they are in, with its wooden benches, or a run-down station waiting room? Either should be a safe place, but it’s clear that this is not: the benches have been hacked about, and that only recently.
The three men on the right hand end of the benches seem to be listening: listening to someone or listening for someone? Are they waiting for a foreman’s call to work, one day at a time, or for the train to take them where they can earn for their families back home? Imagine your own stories.
The two women on the front row have been eviscerated, their wombs and vital organs replaced by lengths of what looks like stainless steel waste gas ducting.
Hands pressed hard against the bench, the figures are ready to move, but where to? Each one is isolated in his or her own suffering, yet they form a group in our eyes. But let us remember that they stand for individual human beings with families and loved ones who may be anxious over them, hearing no news from the waiting room, the salle des pas perdus as the French have it, the place of lost footsteps. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here?