Tag Archives: noise

13 November, Readings from Mary Webb XXIII: The Night Sky (1916)

 

darkevening

Like Edward Thomas, Mary Webb was touched by the Great  War, even at a distance of hundreds of miles across the sea. She knew well that the flashes at the front were not soft lightnings with less stir than a gnat makes, but despite the scarlet wars taking the young men away, she draws our attention to quiet and calm. Our world is small and oftentimes too loud; too lit up by what we might call light noise. But in November, given clear skies, we may see the moon and stars before bedtime!

The moon, beyond her violet bars,
From towering heights of thunder-cloud,
Sheds calm upon our scarlet wars,
To soothe a world so small, so loud.
And little clouds like feathered spray,
Like rounded waves on summer seas,
Or frosted panes on a winter day,
Float in the dark blue silences.
Within their foam, transparent, white,
Like flashing fish the stars go by
Without a sound across the night.
In quietude and secrecy
The white, soft lightnings feel their way
To the boundless dark and back again,
With less stir than a gnat makes
In its little joy, its little pain.

Published out of numerical sequence to appear at Remembrance tide.

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2 October, The Franciscans come to Mount Alvernia V: All through the night

cross.cave1

While his companions slept in the ruined church, Saint Francis threw himself on his knees to pray; and behold in the first watch of the night there come a great multitude of demons, exceeding fierce, with a great noise and tumult, and began to do him grievous battle whereby the one plucked him this way and the other one dragged him up and another down; one threatened him with one thing, and the other accused him of another; and thus they sought to distract him from his prayer; but they could not, for that God was with him.

Therefore whenas Saint Francis had enough endured the assaults of the demons, he began to cry in a loud voice: “O damned spirits, ye can do naught, save what the hand of God alloweth you: wherefore in the name of God Almighty I bid you do unto my body whatever is permitted you of God; for gladly shall I bear it, sith I have no greater enemy than my body: and therefore if you avenge me of mine enemy, ye will do me good service.” Then the demons with great fury and violence took hold of him, and began to drag him through the church, and to do him greater trouble and annoy than at the first.

Thereat Saint Francis began to cry aloud, and said: “My Lord Jesu Christ, I give Thee thanks for the great honour and charity that Thou showest me ; for it is a token of great love when the Lord punishes His servant for all his faults in this world, so that he be not punished in the next. And I am ready gladly to endure every pain and adversity, that Thou, my God, dost will to send me for my sins.”

Then the demons, put to confusion and vanquished by his patience and endurance, were away,
And Saint Francis in fervour of spirit left the church and entered into a wood that was there hard by, and threw himself upon his knees, in prayer; and with prayers and tears and beating of the breast he sought to find Jesu Christ, the spouse and the delight of his soul. And at the last finding Him in the secret places of his soul, he now bespake Him with reverence as his Lord, now made answer to Him as his judge, now besought Him as his father, now held converse with Him as with a friend.

I won’t attempt to diagnose away the experiences Francis’s companions witnessed in that dark night in the ruined church. But at the end he held converse with Jesus as a friend. May we do so in our turn.

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3 August, Pilgrimage to Canterbury : The Bells, the Bells!

canterbury bells

Canterbury Bells are a flower in the Campanula family, happy to grow on the chalk, or in this case, on top of an old wall built with soft lime mortar. They are traditionally associated with pilgrimage to Canterbury, growing as they do along the lines of the different Pilgrims’ Way routes making for the shrine of Saint Thomas, including the railway cuttings that were driven through the chalk in the 19th Century.

I should have taken a picture while we were walking our L’Arche pilgrimage but then I should have taken a great many that I didn’t! This silhouette against a grey sky cannot really give us the purple-blue of the flowers, but we can see that the leaves are brown, no doubt due to drought. 2½ metres above the ground is not the most promising habitat when the weather turns dry, but the plants are concentrating their efforts into flowering and seeding themselves.

As we pass by we hear, not Bell Harry or Great Dunstan or the other cathedral bells, but the background roar of the main road. Not a problem for Chaucer’s pilgrims! Nor were they wandering through Kent with earphones blotting out the sounds of the birds, the bells. ‘And I shal clinken yow so mery a belle’, says Chaucer’s Shipman, praising his tale before he tells it. 

Mrs Turnstone first heard a cuckoo this year as June was drawing to a close; we heard a nightingale in the woods on one Pilgrim’s Way – in the daytime, but still as lovely. And the blackbirds of Canterbury or London, or even that city of cities, Venice, would be inaudible wearing headphones.

If, as the catechism says, God made us to know him, love him and serve him in this world, we should take each phrase seriously. Out of body experiences are all very well, but Saint Francis, who received them. was also the author of the Canticle of Creation, in which everything created is called to ‘lift up your voice and with us sing, Alleluiah!’ We can only know, love and serve God in this world.

Laudato Si!’

 

 

 

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July 11, Readings from Mary Webb XIX: The Little Sorrow

 

Within my heart a little sorrow crept
And wept, and wept.
Below the lilt of happiest melodies
I heard his sighs,
And cried–‘You little alien in my heart,
Depart! Depart!’

Amid the loud, discordant sounds of fate,
I listening wait–
Not hoping that a song can reach my ear:
But just to hear
That little weeping grief I once bade cease
Would now be peace.

Mary Webb wrote bravely from the heart. Sorrow below the lilt of happiest melodies: she knows of what she writes. 

samaritans cards 2019

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26 May: The Builder’s Dog without the Ossyrians, II. Silence amid the Noise.

Silence amid the Noise.4canal (10) (640x362)

From Will Turnstone’s personal blog.

Between 7.30 and 9.00 in the morning must be the noisiest time of day but most people have to filter out the noise, just to do what we have to. Young Abel often draws our attention to sirens, trains and loud machinery, but I did not need his advice this morning.

The Builder’s Dog is with us and needed his morning walk. Today he was sniffling round a shrub when I heard a woodpecker drumming somewhere nearby. Not that I saw him, but it’s a pleasure to hear him. Trying to place him – somewhere in the treetops – without binoculars was futile, but it made me aware of the din around me, even though I was some yards from the nearest road. The school playing field was being mown with a tractor and a mower; the main roads and inner ring road were still very busy, but a motorbike and ambulance stood out. There were trains and planes, and children winding down to go indoors for the morning.

But I could still hear the woodpecker. And the chaffinch and the blackcap … and the herring gulls and rooks overhead.

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Sometimes we must dive into whatever silence is around, even if no-one else can hear it, even if only for a moment. Oh, still small voice of calm.

But now it’s back to work! 1 Kings 19.12.

 

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12 May: Reflection: The river of life

river.monnow. 

I remember spending a week in the house of a friend, on the bank of the river Monnow, in the Welsh borders. The sky arches over rich pastureland and rising hills. As the light of day fades, bats tumble and spin across the darkening sky. And night and day the river runs, playing over the rocks and shaping the land. I remember and am stilled by the sound of that river. The river is movement and presence: always new, yet older by far than I who hear it.

The prophet Ezekiel, writing in exile from his homeland, wrote of another river, flowing from the Temple, the dwelling place of God:

water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple…and it was a river that could not be crossed…This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river flows, every living creature that swarms will live…everything will live where the river goes. On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food…their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.

  Ezekiel 47

The river of the life of God brings life to the place of death and decay; it is always creative, fruitful and medicinal.

Perhaps one way of thinking about the incarnation is as the pouring out of the life of God into all being like Ezekiel’s river. This river of the Word made flesh flows not only through green pastures but desert places, and because of the river, barren wastelands live. Because of Christ’s life, suffering, dying and rising there is no place of human struggle and despair where the river of hope will not and does not flow. This does not mean that we do not continue to experience pain, or no longer struggle to make sense of suffering. Christ still feels the pain of nails in his hands and the rejection of those who had been his followers; yet Christ is also risen, the tombstone rolled definitively away. In the Gospel of John, as Jesus dies, blood and water flow from his side. This moment of death is also the outpouring of life. A river flows.

The river always runs, and we are caught up in its flow; more than this, through the gift of God we discover this same river flowing within us. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman:

If only you knew what God is offering…you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water…Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again; but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again; the water that I shall give will turn into a spring within, welling up to eternal life.

John 4: 10-14

It was at night, when the last sheep call faded into the twilight, and the earth stilled that I heard most clearly the river running. Not that it wasn’t always flowing, but the sounds of the day, and the noise of my own activity prevented me from hearing it clearly. There are moments in the world of here and now when we hear the river flowing within all things and know this same river is the source of our own being, becoming and giving.

The river flows from the Temple of God, and sometimes, sometimes even at night, we hear it running. Wherever the river flows, through our own meanness and narrowness of heart, through the pain of loss or cruelty of others, unexpected trees grow with fruit for healing: – for our own easing, and to be shared with others.

CC.

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8 May: In the place of God’s presence

ruined abbey

Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it

…this is the house of God, the gate of heaven.

Genesis 28: 16-17

Every place is the house of God, the gate of heaven. Often, when pushed and pulled by noise and movement, it seems God is nowhere – but break the word open and you have the truth: God is now – here.

How do we become awake and receptive to this presence? We might try two things:

The first: To find or create a physical space in our home or environment where we purposefully [and regularly] go to be open to God.

This is likely to be somewhere where we feel at home or comfortable. It could be a corner of a room in the house, where a chair waits, a candle just sitting there invites you to light it and a bible rests ready to restore your soul. Such a space works in a similar way that a church building does. A church is made of bricks and mortar like so many other buildings but you know when you enter why you are going there. Walking in, sitting down, you become open to God who is in that place. The dedicated space in your home becomes your ‘church’; through daily practice you have only to go there to begin the act of prayer.

Your ‘holy’ place could also be a garden shed, a bench in the park where you sit in your lunchbreak, or a place where you regularly walk. What helps is to make your going to whatever space you choose intentional, in just the same way that you choose to visit a friend or family member.

The second: Each day to purposefully seek God in a place that up to now we have found uncomfortable and that seems to work against any sense of God’s presence.

I can think of a few: For example, I rarely enjoy walking along Borough High Street, near London Bridge, where I sometimes work. There is no green of tree or plant to soften the concrete. The pavements are thronged with people walking against the flow of wherever it is I want to get to. The traffic is noisy. Why even try to seek God here? Because God is here and now. So as I walk along I breathe out my hurry and worry, and breathe in God with me. I pause long enough to see the faces that pass me, the cars moving by, the sky framed by the buildings and ask the Lord to help me see well, with an open mind and heart. Perhaps I will hold the line of a psalm as I walk along, dodging those who cannot see because their eyes are trained on the screen of their mobiles.

Where is such a place for you – somewhere that is a regular part of your life? Or perhaps it will be a time of day more than a physical place: perhaps the time when you first get in from work and all the emails are awaiting you, or the commute home on a busy train.

Seek God there, and you will find. It may not be anything dramatic or immediate. God inhabits the ordinary, and moves within the waiting heart.

CC.

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9 October: CONSCIENCE II: Presence to the Self.

Picture Friday wk 3 (1)

We are reflecting together for a few days on the notion of conscience.  Here is a passage I love from The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

It is important for every person to be sufficiently present to himself in order to hear and follow the voice of his conscience.  This requirement of interiority is all the more necessary as life often distracts us from any reflection, self-examination or introspection: “Return to your conscience, question it… Turn inward, brethren, and in everything you do, see God as your witness” [no. 1779].

It would seem that being present to oneself ought to be perfectly natural.  Why even mention it?  Yet, anyone who has begun to take seriously the challenge of living an interior life every day (and not just sometimes) soon discovers that it is far from easy.  Sooner or later, a painful absence of harmony within ourselves and with others becomes evident.  This is one of the results of original sin, and, as The Catechism expresses it, ‘…the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered….’ [see no. 400].

Our capacity to be present to ourselves, our capacity for true interiority is therefore impaired.  Unless we try to do something about this, we will only be living out of a small and superficial portion of ourselves.  We will be vulnerable to any fads or addictions that seem to promise release from our inner disharmony.  Without working on our interior life, without understanding what our conscience is, we will not have the strength to adhere to what is good.  We need our conscience in order to fulfil our human potential and claim our dignity as human persons.

Yet, many people today do not desire to be present to themselves.  We are apt to go to great lengths to avoid being alone with ourselves.  In the car, music must be playing, as it is in most shops.  In many homes the television is on all day long, largely unwatched, but providing background noise and the possibility of self-distraction whenever the mind is insufficiently occupied with the task at hand.  Now the Internet, with its instant communication, unlimited entertainment, and information on tap, means that some sort of contact with others whenever we want can entice us away from being present to ourselves.  Even people who have discovered how unsatisfying a life of self-distraction can be can testify that giving up their distractions was deeply challenging at first.  I doubt former ages were really very different from ours.  Our alienation from our deeper self is as old as the human race.  Self-distraction simply took other forms in other eras.

The reason we are considering the subject of presence to ourselves is to examine the necessity of living in touch with our conscience.  The quotation from The Catechism with which I began this post suggests that there is a step one and a step two with regard to conscience.  Here is step one: with Christ, with his grace, we must first work to acquire presence to ourselves.  This involves turning off the electronic media gadgets from time to time, it means self-discipline, prayer, a measure of silence and a willingness to be alone sometimes.  And step two: there must be some self-questioning going on.  We need to look at our thoughts and our instinctive drives and to ask them where they are taking us and whether they accord with true goodness.  In this way we will draw near to the reality of our conscience.  I would like to explore this in the next few posts.

SJC.

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