Tag Archives: memory

11 December: the impenetrable accent

During the 1930s the British Colonial Office was beginning to grasp its duty to provide education for the young people of Uganda. The overwhelming majority of schools were provided by the Anglican and Catholic churches, but they were receiving some government finance and so  subject to inspection by British inspectors working for the Ugandan civil service.

One of these was a Scotswoman that the Anglican Bishop Stuart, who was based at Kampala, complained of. In retirement  he recalled how she had turned up to inspect one of his schools, and gave it poor marks and a bad report.

This surprised him, since he knew his schools, and this was a good one. However, on enquiring, he was told that nobody responded to her questions because nobody understood a word she said.

We can reflect in the words of Scotland’s National Poet:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion.

Robert Burns, To a Louse.

In particular, as parents or teachers, to see ourselves as children see us. We won’t find out by asking them, but by watching them in our presence.

Bishop Cyril Stuart was often at odds with his Christians, but when he retired to Worcester, he and his wife Mary were presented with a ceremonial scroll, on which they were portrayed with dark skin, because they were seen as one with their Ugandan Christian brothers and sisters. His memoirs are in Lambeth Palace Library. (see p 17).

MMB.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Mission, PLaces, poetry

7 November: Threading a yarn.

See the source image

 

As part of their Week of Retreat in Daily Life the L’Arche Kent Community asked me to  read a Hans Christian Andersen story: I chose the Darning Needle which you can read by following the link. It’s a story with a few morals to it which we talked about afterwards, including the dangers of pride and the fact that we all need each other.

We also talked about darning and mending rather than throwing away. I had with me a coat that was coming apart at the seams. G and E suggested in Makaton that I could sew it, which I did when the story was told, but the needle had been threaded and passed around during the telling. J showed his tailoring skills and awoke a memory, which I shared, of my mother doing as he did, measuring the working length of thread from nose to extended fingertips.

G suggested using a machine, which led to my telling about my wife’s machine – hand turned, not treadle as he signed. This had been given to her 40 years ago from the community’s surplus. It had belonged to a friend of L’Arche in those early days, who was glad to see it in a good home. She could never use it; it was all that remained of her own home, which was destroyed in the Blitz, her family within it.

When I got home I realised another story could have been told. The yarn J threaded was branded ‘winfield’ – in lower case. It had come from Woolworth’s, via my wife’s mother’s mending basket, purchased perhaps in the 1970s. But thereby would hang yet another tale.

No man, or woman, is an island!

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, L'Arche

20 August, Readings from Mary Webb XXVI: Treasures (For G.E.M.)

trees-reflection-chris

These are my treasures: just a word, a look,
A chiming sentence from his favourite book,
A large, blue, scented blossom that he found
And plucked for me in some enchanted ground,
A joy he planned for us, a verse he made
Upon a birthday, the increasing shade
Of trees he planted by the waterside,
The echo of a laugh, his tender pride
In those he loved, his hand upon my hair,
The dear voice lifted in his evening prayer.

How safe they must be kept! So dear, so few,
And all I have to last my whole life through.
A silver mesh of loving words entwining,
At every crossing thread a tear-drop shining,
Shall close them in. Yet since my tears may break
The slender thread of brittle words, I’ll make
A safer, humbler hiding-place apart,
And lock them in the fastness of my heart.

Mary Webb reflecting on her Father’s love and her bereavement. Hope to balance the feelings of despair she recorded in yesterday’s poem.

Picture from Brother Chris.

2 Comments

Filed under Daily Reflections, poetry

20 May: Jean Vanier RIP

By Eddie GIlmore; from the Irish Chaplaincy blog

Another tribute to Jean Vanier from a long-standing community member; Eddies now works at the Irish chaplaincy, but is still present to the Kent community.

As I was told of the death, at the age of 90, of Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, there immediately came to mind my favourite story connected with the great man: an important story for me, and one which I discovered years later from Jean I’d actually misheard!

Jean was a son of Georges Vanier, a Governor-General of Canada, and he crossed the Atlantic at the height of the second world to join the British Naval College at Dartmouth. After the war, one of his tasks, together with a fellow young naval cadet, was to ‘entertain’ the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret on a long sea voyage to South Africa. I was touched to hear that when Jean went to Buckingham Palace in recent years to collect an award from the now Queen Elizabeth she said to him “hello Jock”, this being the name that those close to him used when he was growing up.

From this rather privileged background Jean found himself in 1964 in a village called Trosly in the North of France, moving into a dilapidated old house with two men, Raphael and Philippe, who he had met and befriended at a large institution and who he had invited to come and live with him. The house was named L’Arche, French for the ark, and it would grow into a worldwide network of 150 communities in almost 40 countries, where people with and without learning disabilities live and work and share life together. I joined the L’Arche community in Canterbury in 1988 and was there for 28 years, and it’s where I met my wife so I have a particular reason to be grateful for what Jean started.

In 2006 I was attending an event in Trosly for directors of L’Arche communities in Europe, at which Jean spoke to us. In one of his talks he recalled how he’d been visiting a prison in America where one of the guys had told him proudly (or at least this is what I heard at the time!) “I’m the best card-dealer in the State of Virginia”. Jean went on to say “you know, we all need to be the best something; but where do I want to choose to be the best?” I interpreted this as meaning ‘where do I want to choose to use my gifts?’ At that time I was coming to the end of my initial 4 year ‘mandate’ as Director and unsure whether or not to continue for a second 4 year term, but this story inspired me to do so.

I told this story often to people and I hoped I’d have a chance one day to say thank you to Jean. Years later I drove a minibusful of people from L’Arche Kent over to Trosly to visit Jean, who we knew could be in his final years. It was never easy to get to speak to him one-to-one but following mass in the lovely converted barn of a chapel I spotted that he was momentarily on his own in the courtyard and seized my chance. I went over and said I wanted to thank him for something he’d said years earlier that had been very important for me. “Oh yes”, he replied, “what was that?” I said he’d been speaking about the man in a prison who claimed to be the best card-dealer in the State of Virginia. “No, no, no!” said Jean, “the best car-stealer in the state penitentiary”! And we both roared with laughter.

God bless you Jean, and Thank You

And, by the way, if you want to see some archive L’Arche photos from the 1960s and 1970s (and even later!) then click here: Jubilee Blues

(Jean, seen here with Raphael and with Gabrielle who founded the first L’Arche community in India)

Leave a comment

Filed under Interruptions

December 23: O Emmanuel Come, so that we may be saved.

dec 23 pic birds in flight

One of the delights of this time of year is to see the starlings gathering. They used to roost in the tall yews in one of the gardens I worked in, up on Barton Hill. If I wasn’t there I would often still see them as they flew over the Canterbury city centre gardens I cared for, or we might meet them as I walked the children home from school.

Thank you for this image, Sister, and for all the good things you have shared with us this week.

Dec 23 – O Emmanuel

Leave a comment

Filed under Advent and Christmas, Daily Reflections, poetry

24 November: The Road to Emmaus VII – and beyond.

RoodEngMartyrsCamb2

 

Then they said to each other, did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32).

Jesus has vanished, but at last the disciples see. They recognize Jesus. And they are able, consciously now, to lay claim to the strange and wonderful joy they felt as Jesus walked with them on the road and explained the scriptures to them.

But now they realise that what Jesus had told them on the road was a preparation for something else. His words, spoken during their journey, were themselves like the journey and not like the full arrival. The disciples did not really “arrive” until they reached Emmaus.

Then why did Jesus at first pretend that he wanted to go further than Emmaus? Perhaps he did this for the disciples’ sake, because he wanted to draw something further out of them. This seeming pretence on Jesus’ part gives the two disciples the opportunity to realise how much they want this stranger to stay with them; even though they do not realise fully who he is, they know that he is important to them, and so they then make a conscious choice and ask him pressingly to remain with them.

But, when would full recognition of the Risen Jesus come? And why hadn’t it come to them yet? Caravaggio’s painting helps us here, helps us to see that the recognition of the Risen Lord comes most fully within the context of the meal. In the Last Supper Jesus commanded the Twelve ‘do this in memory of me.’ He would now, in this “first supper” of his risen life, show them that he meant it. He would show them that this memorial of him was not an empty memory, a mere trick of the imagination, but a real encounter with him. Earlier in the day, Jesus had shown them that Scripture was about him. Now Jesus would show them that the meal is not ‘about’ something, it is something – or rather, Someone: it is Him.

The disciples’ recognition of Jesus and Jesus’ physical disappearance are nearly simultaneous. This is, in a way, a difficult truth. It is always a bit painful to me to think that the two disciples were so close to being able to throw their arms around Jesus once more, if only they had been quick enough! But, always the teacher, Jesus has something else, something more important to show them. When he disappears from their sight at the meal, this disappearance of Jesus is not like the disappearance of Jesus in death. This disappearance does not cause grief, it heals grief. The disciples begin to grasp now that Jesus’ reality remains in the meal. The disciples know him in the breaking of the bread. And, most importantly, they now realise that he has overcome death, and as such has assumed a new form. This form is the form in which we, too, must recognise and follow him.

The adventure of Emmaus happens only three days after Jesus’ death, remember. The disciples will need more time to express in words what they suddenly grasped here at Emmaus on an essential level. We need time, too. But there is so much to learn from this. Here I am, a latter day disciple, with all the advantages of understanding that result from access to two thousand years of Christian teaching. Yet, I can feel as raw and untutored as these two disciples were. And maybe that is the way things should be. It enables me to use their experience as a model and to take comfort and encouragement from their story.

SJC

1 Comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Easter, PLaces

22 November: The Road to Emmaus V

Easter Sunday

The two disciples aren’t finished yet. They have a few more things to say to Jesus:

…[T]his is not all: two whole days have now gone by since it all happened; and some of the women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they could not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing (Luke. 24:21-24)..

Cleopas and his friend do not seem to be able to remember anything that Jesus had prophesied about himself during his lifetime. Maybe grief and shock had made them forget everything. Maybe Jesus’ prophecies had been so horrifying to the disciples at the time that they simply “blanked” them. But Jesus cannot be faulted for having failed to warn his disciples. He had, on numerous occasions, told them plainly that he would be crucified, and would die and be buried, and then, after three days, would rise from the dead. Neither of the disciples seemed able to recall this now. But Jesus, like the superb healer he is, listens intently in silence while they vent their feelings of confusion and disappointment.

At last, they pause. They have finished their tale. Maybe they are feeling a bit empty now, but surely they know they have been heard – you can always feel it when someone is listening with his whole heart. As a result, they themselves are perhaps better able now to listen than they have been all day. And Jesus does not fail to make use of this opportunity. He is bold and forthright:

You foolish men! So slow to believe all that the prophets have said! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer before entering into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself (Luke. 24:25-27).

We are not told what the disciples did while Jesus spoke to them. Presumably, they continued to walk along as he talked. They seem to have been reduced at last to silence. What was this experience like for them? I imagine that they must have gone through a swift succession of feelings, beginning perhaps with dismay over being called foolish and slow. But no doubt they moved quickly to a state of some amazement at the stranger’s penetration into the situation they had described to him, and from there into a state of wonder, joy and even to a feeling of hope that they could not understand immediately. Here at last was someone who could make profound sense of everything that had happened. Here was someone who was picking up the shattered pieces of their lives and making them whole again.

Happily, this is an experience that I can say I know about also, even as I know of the distress and bewilderment that these two disciples had felt. Jesus never abandons those who love him and seek him sincerely, even if we seek him wrongheadedly. Perhaps especially then. Perhaps this endears us to him.

In my experience of discipleship, enlightenment does come. Eventually. Or, at least, partial enlightenment comes. And, by the time it comes, I am usually so happy to have it that I will accept it thankfully in any form. But, as is the case in this story, full enlightenment – the recognition of the Jesus himself in a new form – usually comes to me later, when reflecting on my experience through prayer. The disciples here are enlightened enough to be loath to part with this wonderful stranger, but that seems to be all they know. They don’t see yet that he is not a stranger.

SJC

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Easter, PLaces

20 April: Telling the Truth IV: Poetry.

path.charlottenberg.mausoleum

A few more thoughts on telling the truth. It is not just setting the facts down – that is always going to be a selective exercise, and an interpretive one, as I am discovering writing my biography of Arthur Hughes. Poetry is truth telling in yet another mode. Here is John Betjeman, sometime Poet Laureate:

What poetry is, I do not quite know. Maybe it is the right words in the right order. For me it requires rhythm and, as an extra flourish, rhyme. It is the shortest and the most memorable way of saying what you want said.

In Lovely bits of Old England. Gavin Fuller, Ed. London, Aurum, 2012.  P96.

Betjeman was building on a previous poet’s definition:

I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose,—words in their best order; poetry,—the best words in their best order.

 Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Note the link between Fran Horner’s quest for succinctness (see yesterday’s post) and Betjeman’s  ‘shortest and most memorable’ way of saying something!

With that, I’ll hush up!

MMB

Charlottenberg Park, Berlin.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

27 October: Dylan’s Birthday.

llagerub2

Mrs Turnstone and I find ourselves at the water’s edge in Wales; the sum has gone down, a half moon presides over the estuary outside our window. The birds are subdued but not far away. We should mark Dylan’s Birthday! These are the last three stanza’s of his birthday ‘Poem in October.’

And down the other air and the blue altered sky
        Streamed again a wonder of summer
                With apples
             Pears and red currants
     And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's
     Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
             Through the parables
                Of sunlight
        And the legends of the green chapels

        And the twice told fields of infancy
     That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
        These were the woods the river and the sea
                Where a boy
             In the listening
     Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
     To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
             And the mystery
                Sang alive
        Still in the water and singing birds.

        And there could I marvel my birthday
     Away but the weather turned around. And the true
        Joy of the long dead child sang burning
                In the sun.
             It was my thirtieth
        Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
        Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
             O may my heart's truth
                Still be sung
        On this high hill in a year's turning.

May each one of us find the child’s key to heaven that opened the gate for Dylan, that day when he whispered the truth of his joy. And may he be there, singing his joy eternally! First published on Will Turnstone.

Views of Laugharne, where Dylan walked.

I hope you can listen to Dylan reading the poem here:

2 Comments

Filed under Daily Reflections, poetry