Mrs Turnstone, whose birthday this is, loves the fact that on 13 January the sun is visible in Greenland for the first time since the winter’s darkness took over. Let’s pray that we might be ready to observe the light we are given and to rejoice this day and every day.
If you were in church yesterday, no doubt you’ll have seen the Advent wreath with a single candle burning. Do you have one at home? There’s still time to make one, or you could just light a candle. Mrs Turnstone and I have ours on the dining table and we would hold hands around it with the children and sing grace. We now do the same with the grandchildren. We also sing the chorus of the Advent hymn:
Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, oh Israel!
This story is from Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘The House of Unexpected Sisters’.* Mma Ramotswe is ready to serve the evening meal to her husband and two children. Perhaps we could revive the practice of saying grace this Advent, and be ready to find new forms of grace to remind us that all we have is God’s gift, and the greatest gift is the One that came at Christmas.
‘Dinner is ready now, I think.’
She ladled stew into four plates, and placed these, one by one, on the table. Once seated herself, Mma Ramotswe bowed her head and said grace. ‘We give thanks for the food our country gives us, and we think of those who do not have what we have. We give thanks for Africa and for the good things that Africa gives its children.
There are times when life could change dramatically, or even come to an end. One such was when I had brain surgery, a job that took twice as long as it should have done. I eventually woke from the operation with Mrs Turnstone beside the bed, glad to see my eyes opening, and I was happy to be called back to spend more years beside her. I cannot claim any memory of the dreams I enjoyed or endured during those four hours, but here’s Emily Dickinson!
Called BackbyEmily Dickinson
Just lost when I was saved!
Just felt the world go by!
Just girt me for the onset with eternity,
When breath blew back,
And on the other side
I heard recede the disappointed tide!
Therefore, as one returned, I feel,
Odd secrets of the line to tell!
Some sailor, skirting foreign shores,
Some pale reporter from the awful doors
Before the seal!
Next time, to stay!
Next time, the things to see
By ear unheard,
Unscrutinised by eye.
Next time, to tarry,
While the ages steal, —
Slow tramp the centuries,
And the cycles wheel.
We don’t tend to recycle old posts but this one, from January six years ago, follows well yesterday’s reflection by Emily Dickinson on the forgotten grave. Mary Webb looked forward to her own grave as a haven from the sufferings of this life, especially from the unkindness of other people. Her face was disfigured by Graves’ Disease which can now be successfully treated and she was sensitive about this.
We began the post with another woman’s death and burial.
We buried our friend Mrs O a few days ago. She had a good send-off, the church comfortably full. I was comforted an hour earlier, to see a rainbow, arched over her house as the rain drifted away into the North Sea. A promise that she will not perish! And the thrush and blackbird were singing.
But here is Mary Webb, feeling downhearted as she writes. May she rest in peace and rise in glory!
‘Safe’ by Mary Webb.
Under a blossoming tree Let me lie down, With one blackbird to sing to me In the evenings brown. Safe from the world’s long importunity – The endless talk, the critical, sly stare, The trifling social days – and unaware Of all the bitter thoughts they have of me, Low in the grass, deep in the daisies, I shall sleep sound, safe from their blames and praises.
There was an unexpected item on my shopping list, so I was taking my time, scanning the supermarket shelves. Before I found Mrs T’s ingredient, I overheard a conversation between members of staff: now this stand was empty, should they deck it out with their ‘back to school’ range, or would that be better on extra selves by the main door? – No, the floor there is uneven, the shelves will wobble and who knows what will happen.
On one level, an unremarkable and admirable conversation between three conscientious colleagues, on another a depressing indication of their employer’s world view. This was the morning of the last day of school for young Abel, and the store wants to sell his parents the back to school stuff before anyone else gets the chance to do so. Are we put on this earth to be customers/consumers/marketing targets? Is there more to post Covid 19 life than shopping? Miss Turnstone reminded me to pop something in the food bank; not everyone could even begin to think about new school gear when food is too expensive.
On the occasion of our Ruby Wedding, Mrs Turnstone and I took a walk around the country park belonging to Fredville House. This is still working farmland, but the trees have been planted over the last 300 years and more to create a pleasing classical landscape. Our walk took us through the park and back in by one of the gatekeeper’s lodges, then returning to the park and out by another lodge. We were now in Frogham with its redbrick cottages, but we pressed on along a short stretch of the North Downs Way, past the new, far from lowly cattle shed and into the village of Barfrestone. We caught a glimpse through the hedge of the house where we met, the Old Rectory, then visited the graves of L’Arche friends, and into the old churchyard, admiring one stone in particular, noticing the gardener and St Thomas over the door of the ancient church of Saint Nicholas. After a picnic on the grass, one last look at the rectory, and home to Canterbury.
Stuart Perkins has shared a story in his blog, Storyshucker. It’s about what I’ve been calling relics in a few articles in the Mirror over the years. Here is a link to Alexandria Living Magazine where it was published. Thank you Stuart!
In this odd era Mrs Turnstone is threatening an unsentimental bonfire of the relics, keepsakes, mathoms around the house. But she likes the fish too much!
Our constitutional today led us to Harbledown, once home to Canterbury’s lepers, but we took an old sunken road that led us to the parish church, not the lepers’ one – which is now an almshouse. We spent a few minutes checking the gravestones for passion flowers. I would have said no joy, but these modern carvings were little joys, and each of them an Easter image.
The daffodils are often part of an Easter garden, and then the salmon: didn’t the risen Jesus accept a piece of grilled fish, since he was no ghost, but still human, still able to fancy food. And didn’t he barbecue fish for the disciples up North in Galilee? I don’t suppose they have salmon in the Jordan, cut off as it is from the ocean but surely he’d have caught the best in the lake? That would be salmon in England.
As for the boat (a Mirror dinghy if Agnellus is not mistaken) let it remind us of that lakeside morning, the shared meal, the reconciliation, the commission: feed my lambs, feed my sheep, feed my ewes. Let us share our Easter joy in this lockdown time!
It was in the bargain box at the door of the charity shop – a large cardboard egg, covered in a design of crocuses, clearly intended to be the target for an Easter egg hunt. Last year Abel followed the clues well, with a little help from Mummy, up and down and around granny and grandad’s house and garden. The treasure was finally revealed in an unexpected place; this year will be just a bit different, mostly for grandad’s benefit.
Some years ago he was gardening for a living, and around the end of Easter week was at an old garden in town with Abel’s mother and sister, who were both little girls. It was a lovely spring day, so much so that Mrs Turnstone brought a picnic lunch to share in the little park opposite. While the adults were finishing their meal, the girls played happily on the grass, until there came a shout, Mummy, Daddy, come quick!
Among the daffodils they had found a splendid Easter egg shell, like the one at the charity shop. We had no way to tell if it had been a prize in someone else’s hunt, or just possibly it had been left as a present for the finders. We felt it should be seen as a gift, since no one had claimed it and it would spoil if left outdoors, and so would the contents.
Mary went through the garden, looking for her lost Lord one spring morning. He found her. She went from ‘Jesus is nowhere’ to ‘Jesus is now here’ in an instant. Jesus is a gift, he will not spoil. The living Jesus was a much bigger surprise than even a very special Easter egg. He claims us. Let us accept the gift and follow him.
And if one of our readers remembers hiding the egg in the daffodils, thank you; it was greatly enjoyed!
A strange Good Friday but the L’Arche morning service, conducted through a Zoom gathering, made it specially memorable. It was good to see and hear so many friends, all pleased to see each other. The reflections on the traditional Stations of the Cross were personal and insightful, illustrated by photographs of each station enacted by Cana house. It was a privilege to be there; no more to be said about the day and its import.
In the evening we took our walk in the gloaming and saw our first bats of the year. Life goes on; Jupiter beams down as well as the Easter moon, waning now. The last stretch of the planned walk we deferred as it was getting too dark to see the potholes; home safely for all that. People taking care to distance themselves from each other.