Tag Archives: nature
The poet Henry Moult, in his biography of Mary Webb, describes her nature mysticism as ‘pagan’. I feel ‘Franciscan’ would be better; certainly she was Franciscan in her generosity. Moult shares the testimony of relatives:
‘Her charity often did more credit to her heart than her head, for she gave extravagantly, with an abandon which sometimes left her own real necessities unsupplied … A friend of Mary’s said: ‘She might have twenty pounds in the morning, and hardly ten shillings at night.’ (Ten shillings became 50p)
‘Whatever was asked of her by those who sought her help she joyously supplied.’
Moult quotes a friend telling how she asked the Shropshire village children what they would like for Christmas, and a farm labourer’s daughter ‘ambitious as well as presumptuous’ and no doubt unaware of the monetary value, asked for a piano, and received it. Let’s hope she learnt to play! Another time a windfall came her way, which she used to send a sick child and his family out of their single room in London’s East End to the coast in Essex.
Any attempt, says Moult, to explain her ‘chivalrous actions’ would be ‘as futile as to seek an explanation why St Francis devoted so much of his affection to the birds.’
I suggest that the actions of Mary Webb, like those of Saint Francis, were not chivalrous. Francis, after all, renounced his ambition to become a knight, he embraced poverty. Mary Webb’s generosity was not a matter of noblesse oblige, but stemmed from the sympathy with poor people that pervades her novels. Both of them loved Creation and the Creator; both loved their fellow human beings. There is the explanation for their generosity and their mysticism.
Mary Webb died this day in 1927.
This post is taken from The Imitation of Christ, Book 3, Chapter XIX. I am using the copy my late Aunt Margaret gave to my Grandmother Evelyn sometime in the late 1930s.
What is it thou sayest, my son? Cease to complain, and consider my Passion, and that of the other Saints. Thou hast not yet resisted unto blood. (Hebrews 12.14)
Thou oughtest to call to mind the heaviest sufferings of others, that thou mayest the easier bear the very little things that thou sufferest. And if to thee they seem not little, take heed lest this also proceed from thy impatience. But whether they be little or great, strive to bear them all with patience.
He is not a truly patient man who will suffer nothing, only so much as he shall think fit, and from whom he pleaseth. The truly patient man … how much soever and how often soever any adversity happeneth to him from any creature, he taketh it all equally with thanksgiving as from the hand of God, and esteemeth it a great gain. For with God not anything, how trifling soever, suffered for God’s sake, shall go unrewarded …
Make, O Lord, that possible to me by grace, which seemeth impossible to me by nature. Thou knowest how little I can bear, and that I am soon dejected when a small adversity ariseth. Let all exercises of tribulation become lovely and most desirable to me for thy Name’s sake, for to suffer and be afflicted for Thee is very healthful for my soul.
There is scriptural foundation for the Imitation’s position on accepting suffering: Here for instance is Ben Sirach, otherwise known as Ecclesiasticus, a late Jewish wisdom writer. (Ch2:3-10).
Wait on God with patience: join thyself to God, and endure, that thy life may be increased in the latter end. Take all that shall be brought upon thee: and in thy sorrow endure, and in thy humiliation keep patience. For gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation. Believe God, and he will recover thee: and direct thy way, and trust in him. Keep his fear, and grow old therein. Ye that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy: and go not aside from him, lest ye fall. Ye that fear the Lord, believe him: and your reward shall not be made void. Ye that fear the Lord, hope in him: and mercy shall come to you for your delight. Ye that fear the Lord, love him, and your hearts shall be enlightened.
And here is Jesus in Luke 6:27-29:
But I say to you that hear: Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you. Bless them that curse you, and pray for them that calumniate you. And to him that striketh thee on the one cheek, offer also the other. And him that taketh away from thee thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also.
Nana’s little copy of the Imitation was well thumbed and could really do with some repairs to the cover. She had a great devotion to Christ crucified. Nana knew many trials in her life, but was a source of strength and fun to us, her grandchildren. (MMB)
I stood on the cliff – gale and rain
roared and bellowed, strange duet.
Thwack and thunder, warrior waves,
dropped like bombs on rocks below,
then spewed sea shrapnel up
twenty feet and higher.
Today’s war-storm flooded our lust
for nature’s drama. Oh! Oh! Delight
at every wave-crack.
But this was not
Better to have moaned
in shame and covered my
face as I faced a faceless
rage that could, with only
minor adjustments in light
and temperature, destroy us:
I hope you enjoy the next few poems from Sister Johanna. This is one for the sea-side holiday, if the weather turns fierce and the children insist on enjoying the storm; parents and grandparents can reflect after all are safe indoors. Is our planet becoming more angry with our destruction of its blessings, and on course to destroy us?
Thank you once more, Sister Johanna.
“Not all the gold, that is beneath the moon,Or ever hath been, of these toil-worn soulsMight purchase rest for one.”
Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.
Nicholas Lash, in Theology for Pilgrims (p22), tells how Frei Betto, a distinguished Dominican theologian from Brazil was invited to contribute a guest editorial for New Blackfriars, their magazine. He wrote that people had told him that Britain was a secular country, yet he found it a pagan country, where the things that were worshipped were not called gods.
Today’s poem also comes from The Ballad of Saint Barbara. A Second Childhood by GK Chesterton urges us not to ‘grow too old to see / Unearthly daylight shine’. May we, despite our sins, grow ever new as we grow old; and may we never grow too old! And may we stop and stare, and Laudato Si!
When all my days are ending
And I have no song to sing,
I think I shall not be too old
To stare at everything;
As I stared once at a nursery door
Or a tall tree and a swing.
Wherein God’s ponderous mercy hangs
On all my sins and me,
Because He does not take away
The terror from the tree
And stones still shine along the road
That are and cannot be.
Men grow too old for love, my love,
Men grow too old for wine,
But I shall not grow too old to see
Unearthly daylight shine,
Changing my chamber’s dust to snow
Till I doubt if it be mine.
Behold, the crowning mercies melt,
The first surprises stay;
And in my dross is dropped a gift
For which I dare not pray:
That a man grow used to grief and joy
But not to night and day.
Men grow too old for love, my love,
Men grow too old for lies;
But I shall not grow too old to see
Enormous night arise,
A cloud that is larger than the world
And a monster made of eyes.
Nor am I worthy to unloose
The latchet of my shoe;
Or shake the dust from off my feet
Or the staff that bears me through
On ground that is too good to last,
Too solid to be true.
Men grow too old to woo, my love,
Men grow too old to wed:
But I shall not grow too old to see
Hung crazily overhead
Incredible rafters when I wake
And find I am not dead.
A thrill of thunder in my hair:
Though blackening clouds be plain,
Still I am stung and startled
By the first drop of the rain:
Romance and pride and passion pass
And these are what remain.
Strange crawling carpets of the grass,
Wide windows of the sky:
So in this perilous grace of God
With all my sins go I:
And things grow new though I grow old,
Though I grow old and die.
From the Second Century to the time of Saint Augustine in the Fifth, Church teaching felt it imperative to defend God in the freedom of salvation against those emphasising self-perfection through sheer moral effort. The Twelfth Century saw Grace as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, emphasising God’s initiative. Duns Scotus – at the end of the Thirteenth Century – said grace is the supernatural habit of Charity, grace is a loving disposition.
What matters is that God’s grace is necessary for everyone. It is redemptive, healing grace in a broken world in which we have never seen anyone attaining natural happiness by human effort independently of God. Karl Rahner makes two points: in the historical situation in which we find ourselves we have been called by God to a life of grace. This call applies to everyone – pure nature people did not, do not and will not exist. Secondly, if grace has any meaning at all, it is God’s invitation, working at the core of human existence – working through our humanness, spontaneity and creativity – our ability to think and take possession of our being and make appropriate decisions. This means that Grace cannot be separate from the realm of experience. It can only be a change in the way we experience life. The supernatural cannot be regarded as beyond consciousness, if it were it would make no sense.
It is not necessary to suppose that God’s offer of friendship is communicated in an extra-sensory way outside our experience. It is communicated by the happening of Jesus in the world, and by the community of believers extending through history. So if we ask what difference Grace makes, it makes all the difference in the world to everything and everybody. But if we ask someone to point out exactly the effects of grace in a situation, in contrast to natural efforts alone – it is not a valid question. Grace is not parallel to nature, but transforms and sustains it. Everything that is a work of Grace is also a work of nature, there is no way of separating them and looking at them one at a time.
John Duns Scotus’ homeland in the Scottish borders.
What do the living saints know?
Perhaps, first, they are not afraid to know divine things with a kind of knowledge that makes room for mystery. This ‘base-note’ was sounded when we were looking at faith, and it plays continuously. Faith is the habit of mind in which we assent to what is ‘non-apparent,’ says Thomas. Our existence is usually geared to what is apparent on the level of our senses. But there is emphatically another level. St. Thomas tells us (or me, anyway) to trust it.
Second, perhaps saints on earth know – unforgettably – that they are on a trajectory headed towards the fulfilment of our deepest hopes not in this life, but in the next. Yet, surely, they are also unforgettably aware that eternal happiness has its beginnings now. St Thomas teaches that through the virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, our whole being can be directed to God – and not merely God outside and beyond us. The theological virtues tap a new spring within us where God dwells, making Himself known. Now. Today. This very moment!
Third, perhaps the saints are more aware of the gift of God. God gives us the beginnings of eternal life, He gives us His ‘wide lap’ to support us, He gives us His happiness. And Thomas makes it clear that God is not stingy with His gifts. They are for everyone.
Lastly, perhaps the living saints are more willing to undergo the process that gives us connaturality with divine things. It strikes me that the virtues of faith, hope and charity are not so much virtues that we have, as virtues that have us. Through faith we allow God’s truth to form us. Through the virtue of hope, we allow our egg-sized hopes to be stretched to something more ‘heaven-sized’. Suffering can be seen as part of that stretching process. As we lean on God’s help, He leads us to the virtue of charity. Through the virtue of charity, we consent to ‘suffer’ divine things. The deepest, most divine thing, as we know, is Christ crucified. We learn to love as Christ loved by undergoing something of what He underwent. Through this process the Holy Spirit creates in us that connaturality with divine things for which we hunger on the deepest level of our being.
Many thanks, Sister Johanna, for this series of reflections. Maybe we now ought to read Pope Francis’s ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’ to help the message sink in and stretch ourselves to eternal-life-size. WT.
So God makes it possible for me to love. And he has done this so well that love, in fact, is our greatest delight. Normally human beings love to love much more than we love to have faith or we love to have hope. As St Thomas puts it: “…no virtue has such a strong inclination to its act as charity, nor does any virtue perform its act with so great pleasure” (II.II.23.2).
Yet, although charity is infused into our hearts, we are nonetheless the ones who love. As St Thomas says, “Love of its very nature implies an act of the will” (II.II. 23.2). Grace makes it possible for us to love, and even connatural, but it is not inevitable. We must freely choose to do our own loving.
St. Thomas goes on to explain that the Holy Spirit augments our capacity to love by the gift of Wisdom. How does this Wisdom help us? Wisdom, says St. Thomas, “denotes a certain rectitude of judgment according to the eternal law” (II.II.45.2). With Wisdom, we begin, in other words, to evaluate experiences not according not to the transitory things of this life, but according to what really matters, what will matter in eternal life.
Thomas says that there are two aspects of Wisdom: one, of course, is the ability to think clearly, as we would expect. The other is to do with “a certain connaturality with the matter about which one has to judge. ….It belongs to Wisdom as a gift of the Holy Spirit to judge rightly about [divine things] on account of connaturality with them.”
What strikes me here is the difference between charity on one hand and faith and hope on the other. In faith and hope the Beloved is known, yes, but he is known, it seems to me, as the one who is sought. Here, in this teaching on connaturality with divine things, there is a glorious sense of finding, of possessing the Beloved. “Now this sympathy or connaturality for divine things is the result of charity, which unites us to God,” says Thomas simply. And he brings in 1Corinthians: “…he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.” This loving union, then, gives us a connaturality with God that encompases everything about us.
Moreover, in the gift of Wisdom, one not only learns about divine things, Thomas says, but also ‘suffers’ divine things – suffering in the sense of undergoing divine things. So these ‘divine things’ become not extrinsic to our deepest being, but are experienced and known right there in our deepest core, our heart of hearts.
St Francis Embraces Christ, Ste Anne de Beaupre, Canada, Christina Chase.
The image of God having a ‘lap’ that we looked at in the last post chimes with the gift of the Holy Spirit that strengthens hope. St. Thomas calls the gift “filial fear” (II.II.19:9) – the fear not of a slave for his master, but of a son/daughter, “whereby”, he continues, “what we fear is not that God may fail to help us, but that we might withdraw ourselves from his help. Wherefore filial fear and hope cling together, and perfect one another.”
This reminds me of something Jean Vanier* said in a talk once that I was privileged to hear. He said that the only thing to fear in our relationship with God is not that we might get angry with God over the sufferings we are going through. Anger with God isn’t the problem. It is the fact that we might just start to ‘tune God out’ he said, just stop turning to Him, stop praying to Him, just switch off. This fear of switching God off is an excellent description of ‘filial fear’. The saints know themselves. They know that they are at risk of turning away from God. They don’t want to.
This loving language of leaning and clinging that St. Thomas uses in writing of hope suggests connaturality again. In the virtue of hope, it becomes connatural to lean more on God than on the self. We’re looking for the kind of mentality the saints have. A certain peaceful leaning-on-God-mentality must be what becomes connatural to them as hope grows within them.
*Jean Vanier, born in 1928, is a Catholic philosopher, theologian and author. In 1964 he founded L’Arche, an international federation of communities for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. His vision was that disabled individuals would live together in community as equals with those who are not disabled, in a sharing of life and of gifts that is profoundly healing and enriching for all community members. There are now L’Arche communities spread over thirty-seven countries. Jean Vanier has authored at least thirty books on religion, disability, community, human development. He has received numerous honours and awards, including the Community of Christ International Peace Award (2003), and the Templeton Prize (2015).
Images from L’Arche in India, England and Syria.