We don’t have a library photo of an albatross but this gull from Folkestone is a commanding presence, by Leigh Mulley. Today is traditionally the birds’ wedding day so a good one for this story.
Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner kept one wedding guest in three with his cautionary tale of the consequences of his crime in killing the Albatross. Two centuries later, as well as sympathising with the guest, we can take the last two verses as a prayer for creation – and for us to realise and fulfil our duty towards it.
O Wedding-Guest! this soul hath been Alone on a wide wide sea: So lonely ’twas, that God himself Scarce seemed there to be.
O sweeter than the marriage-feast, ‘Tis sweeter far to me, To walk together to the kirk With a goodly company!–
To walk together to the kirk, And all together pray, While each to his great Father bends, Old men, and babes, and loving friends And youths and maidens gay!
Farewell, farewell! but this I tell To thee, thou Wedding-Guest! He prayeth well, who loveth well Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best All things both great and small; For the dear God who loveth us, He made and loveth all.
They came slowly along the hospital corridor; she leaning on his arm and balancing the rest of her tiny weight on a sturdy surgical walking stick. At the door to the treatment room they said goodbye and he sat opposite us in the waiting room. A conversation sprang up, helped, perhaps, by our being in a quiet corner.
As he talked to us with the gentle old local accent, he was arranging the things his wife of fifty years would need on her return: shoes, a sip of water, coat and scarf. Ever alert, he went to meet her as the treatment room door opened, and brought her to her seat, helping her to sit down, bending to change her slipper socks for outdoor shoes, making sure she was comfortable. It was her turn to join the conversation.
‘Just chit chat,’ said Mrs T later, ‘but chit chat can be important.’
Indeed. We did not consciously avoid discussing cancer, but talk of the journey home, of the imminent end of her treatment and her husband’s long daily walks took us out of the windowless, plastic-walled waiting room to the world outside. And beyond.
‘Someone above is looking after us through all this’, she said.
Someone down below was the means of that happening for her, and it was beautiful to see. Only later did I realise it was Epiphany, God made manifest. And someone down below was there in that sunless spot for me, as she ever is, in sickness and in health.
Marriage is for this world,
but the love and unity between us
is a participation in God's own love
and is therefore eternal.
One day I too will be called to the fuller knowledge of that love
in our Father's house."
Ruth Reardon who dies recently aged 92, was an English Catholic married to Martin, an Anglican priest. They founded the Association of Interchurch Families with her husband Martin in 1960’s. They helped make interchurch marriages acceptable to the English Catholic bishops and to the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity in Rome.
Walking together has long been a mark of interchurch marriages, often leading to friendships between fellow parishioners of each spouse. Perhaps they can teach us a lot about synodality?
Usually we publish this monthly post on the first Friday, but Saint Kevin was already occupying his feast day, while next Friday gives us a peep into someone’s diary entry for the day. So, here we are on Whit Monday with Pope Francis’s monthly prayer.
We pray for Christian families around the world; may they embody and experience unconditional love and advance in holiness in their daily lives.
That is one impossible manifesto. I cannot live up to that. But I don’t have to, not on my own, because my calling is to married life and the graces and gifts I need, or think I need, have to give first place to the graces and gifts of my spouse and family.
Unconditional love is an aspiration which we work towards, mostly without saying so. Earning a living, putting a meal on the table, walking little ones to school, drying up the dishes: there are tasks that parents, children, grandchildren can do without moaning, even gladly, to help in our shared daily lives. We can become better people, or in Catholic jargon, ‘advance in holiness’ in our daily lives, through such co-operation and deeds of kindness, through teaching good manners, please and thank you.
We can reflect on our lives, in Catholic jargon ‘examine our consciences’ and develop what is good, set aside what is no longer appropriate; tend wounds, physical, mental, or of the heart; move on as a family or as a family member, right what is wrong.
All this is ‘advancing in holiness’. All this is prayer.
Robert Burns is Scotland’s poet of Hogmanay, New Year’s Eve. We’ve all heard, and probably sung, his ‘Auld Lang Syne’ over the years, but recently I came across this song which is full of hope, comfort and joy. Enjoy the song and Happy New Year! May it be full of happiness, friendship and peace and monie a canty day.
Will & Co.
John Anderson my jo.
John Anderson my jo, John, my dear
When we were first acquent, acquainted
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonny brow was brent; smooth
But now your brow is beld, John, bald
Your locks are like the snaw,
but blessings on your frosty pow, head
John Anderson, my jo!
John Anderson my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither, together
And monie a canty day, John, cheerful
We've had wi' ane anither;
Now we maun totter down, John, must
And hand in hand we'll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo!
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.
This is an old man’s poem: short and bitter-sweet, but nourishing. I came to it in Jim Cotter’s Etched in Silence collection, Canterbury Press, 2013, which Cotter presents as a pilgrimage through R.S. Thomas’s poems, one for each week of the year. This is allocated to week 45, this second week in November.
I look out over the timeless sea
over the head of one, calendar
to time’s passing, who is now open
at the last month, her hair wintry.
Am I catalyst of her mettle that,
at my approach, her grimace of pain
turns to a smile? What it is saying is:
“Over love’s depths only the surface is wrinkled."
R.S. Thomas, ‘I look out over the timeless sea’, in Collected later poems, 1988-2000, Bloodaxe Books 2004 p72
Was Elizabeth’s pregnancy planned? The idea of an old couple, an old childless couple, planning a pregnancy sounds crazy, but of course it was not their idea, Someone Else had planned it, they had to make His plan their own.
Zachary’s mutism was perhaps a gift, not a punishment; time to reflect, writing the essentials on a clay tablet, time for patience. Did he need nine months of patience after all those years of waiting, of prayer, of resignation? Perhaps he did. This time he had the promise visibly being fulfilled in Elizabeth’s swelling womb; she herself was filled with joyful acceptance and sang when her cousin appeared, complete with her own unlooked-for but now expected little one.
Zachary it was who had the task of telling everyone the name of his son: his loss of speech seems to have led his neighbours to believe he had lost his mind as well. John was certainly a gift for his parents, but also a gift for the people of Israel. But caring for his parents in old age? No: the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel. (Luke 2.80)
God used Angels to take the Good News of John and Jesus to their parents, parents who were together and who loved and supported each other. But sometimes pregnancy can seem like a disaster, not a gift. I’d like to share these words of Susannah Black which are from the transcript of a discussion with Paul Mommsen and Zito Madu at The PloughCast. Ms Black is exploring some of what being pro-life means, and trying to get away from the discussion being focused on the right of the mother versus the right of the unborn.
Tap on the link for the full transcript.
One of the transformations of ways that I’ve gone about being pro-life has been to move from a discussion of the right to life, away from that and away from a rights-based discussion to just like, “What is the good here? Is there a good in the existence of human beings? Is there a good in a human baby however and wherever, whether or not that baby was planned and is that a good that we can do our best to make room for?”
It’s not about whether or not abortion should be legal, it’s about what it means to be a woman who has a body that can carry children, what it means to find yourself pregnant, what it means to find something happening in your life that you did not plan, and what it means to honor that gift even if it’s a really difficult gift to honor.
I guess one of the things that I am committed to as a pro-life person, is doing my best to, as a woman and as a friend and politically as well, making it easier for women to experience, even unexpected pregnancies as something that they can say yes to, and as something that they can experience as gifts.
Pope Francis’s Intention for Evangelization: – The Beauty Of Marriage
Let us pray for young people who are preparing for marriage with the support of a Christian community: may they grow in love, with generosity, faithfulness and patience.
I think we could pray also for those who do not have the support of a community when preparing to marry or live together. The couple whose wedding these flowers celebrated had family, friends, work colleagues all around them, and still do, now that they are parents. So many people, not all of them claiming to be Christian, gladly did big or little things to make the day go with a swing, but more importantly, they were friends in the times before and after that one day. The couple themselves, as well as their circle, are growing in love, with generosity, faithfulness and patience.
But sometimes growing in love can feel like one step forward and two back. Those virtues will always be needed, so let us pray for all young people who are preparing for marriage!
Earlier this month the regulations for recording marriages were changed; after centuries of pen and paper, it’s going digital. Rev Jo Richards of Saints Dunstan, Mildred and Peter marked the occasion with this post and special prayers.
Marriage Registers: There are significant changes in the Registration of Marriages – this will no longer take place during the marriage ceremony – be it in a church/chapel/registry office or licensed venue. Rather the couple will sign a Marriage Document (or Schedule) during the service. This is returned by the minister who conducts the service within 21 days, to the General Registry Office (GRO) – it is from there that the couple have to get their marriage certificate and where the marriage is now electronically registered, rather than being given the certificate on the day. The marriage certificate is also somewhat different with the inclusion of mothers – since their inception in 1837 only father and father’s rank/profession were on the document. Now the mother’s details are included, along with their occupation. It was this that triggered the changes – along with the GRO going electronic. Needless to say we have had training both by the GRO and CofE for marriages that will take place from today onwards. The other change is that the new certificate is portrait (previously landscape) and we can include up to 4 parents (e.g. step-parents) and 6 witnesses. We do however have to have a ‘register of marriage services’ book. This will be a special book, as we have for burials, baptisms and confirmations. This is just filled out by the minister, again as per other occasional offices. This is also an historical moment, and I attach the prayers that I said in St Dunstan’s on Sunday, to acknowledge the closure of the two Registers there, and I will do likewise for both St Peter’s and St Mildred’s this coming Sunday. We are permitted to keep one Register in church for historical reasons, and the other returns to the GRO. We no longer provide replacement certificates, again all through the centralised GRO. There is no change as far as Banns are concerned – what is called ‘marriage preliminaries’ remain the same, and the marriage service is the same – rather than ‘signing of the registers’ it will be ‘signing of the marriage document’ – and will be a lot quicker – one piece of paper rather than three! And we can still take photos!
At the Closing of the Marriage Registers
The duplicate register books are placed on view, with the blank entries struck through as required by law. This or similar might be read by the minister.
The Church has been closely involved in witnessing and solemnising marriages since the 11th century, and from the Reformation parishes were required to keep written record of all those married in their churches, a requirement formalised in Canon 70 of 1610, which remained in force until the 18th century. The Marriage Act 1836 provided for the duplicate green register books with we are all so familiar, and whose use comes to an end today. For centuries it has been our privilege as a church, entrusted to us by the state, to keep these legal records of marriages. Herein have been recorded the acts of loving commitment made by successive couples, witnessed by their friends and family and recorded on their behalf by our clergy. In years to come the legal record of all marriages will be held nationally by the Registrar-General, but we shall still rejoice to welcome couples to marry here, and pray that God will bless and support them in their unions. Today we give thanks for the duty of record that has been ours.
A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Marriages
Almighty God, we thank you for the gift of love and remember the many men and women who have stood in this place to make their vows to one another, and whose names are written in these registers [and those before them]. We thank you for all the joy and fruitfulness born of their marriages. We remember: Those whose faithfulness was lifelong and who are now at rest. Those who were widowed and bore long grief, or who married again. Those whose marriages, begun in hope did not bring them joy, or which ended how they did not intend. We remember also the fathers, whose names are recorder here, and the mothers, whose names are not; the friends and relations who bore witness to the weddings, and the clergy who solemnised them. Give us grace to remember all that is past with thanksgiving and with love, committing to your care and healing sorrows which cannot now be changed in this world, but which will find peace through the grace of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Records
God of order and peace, we thank you for the means by which the turnings of our lives are faithfully recorded, and for those who keep the records with diligence. For the means they offer for truth-telling and justice, and the record of memory of generations past. As we prepare to commit these records to the archives, help us to leave the past in your care, and renew our trust in your changeless mercy, that brings us life and wholeness in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The register books are closed.
A Prayer for Marriages Yet To Come
Loving God, we pray for those who will come to this place to declare their love in time to come; for those planning weddings here in coming years, those whose love is yet unkindled and the generations still stored up in your bounty that they may live and love in the freedom of your creation. May this place be to them a sign that their earthly love is a sign of your eternal love, that raised Jesus Christ from the dead and that holds us in life until we come to the kingdom prepared for us in him.