Tag Archives: parent

26 June, Shared Table VIII: Growing in wisdom, and age, and grace.

You may have noticed in these pages a degree of affection for young Abel and rejoicing in his growth in wisdom, and age, and grace; rejoicing as the parents of the Lord did, and no doubt his  grandparents too. (Luke 2:52) It’s always good to remember that Jesus had to grow in all those ways.

Growing up did not happen by magic or instinct with Jesus, nor does it for any child. I was looking through old notes recently and found a teachers’ leader relaying what many of her members observed, that children were coming to school unable to use a knife and fork and these were by no means all living  in poverty. Their parents were simply ‘not prepared to give time and energy doing that most difficult, but essential of jobs – raising children properly.’ (Mary Bousted, Report Magazine, May 2009 p11.)

As Maria Montessori reminded us, children want to grow up and want to co-operate with adults in the process. Feeding oneself is an important instance of this, so is helping grandad make that essential of modern living: flapjack, and again, so is sharing the result.

The shared table is the foundation for so much human goodness, it’s no wonder Jesus chose it as the foundation for sharing divine goodness in the Eucharist. To say that is not to deny that the Eucharist is a sacrifice: just re-read Dr Bousted’s remarks to see that the shared table is a place of sacrifice as well as of enjoyment.

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June 18: Father’s Day.

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It was one of those moments. I had been mulling over finding passages for the blog from George MacDonald, the XIX Century Scottish writer, when I found a stall in Canterbury giving out free books – it was World Book Day – including The Gospel in George MacDonald, edited by Marianne Wright, and published by Plough  , the publishing arm of the Bruderhof communities. They have a base near Canterbury at Nonnington. So no prizes for guessing which book I chose. Thank you, Plough!

This passage is one that Marianne Wright chose; the book it’s from is The Seaboard Parish, freely available at Gutenberg .

So, let’s get to the meat, some thoughts on being a father. They may be expressed in XIX Century terms, but I find myself agreeing with them wholeheartedly.

WT

This brings me to speak again of my lovely child. For surely a father may speak thus of a child of God. He cannot regard his child as his even as a book he has written may be his. A man’s child is his because God has said to him, “Take this child and nurse it for me.” She is God’s making; God’s marvellous invention, to be tended and cared for, and ministered unto as one of his precious things; a young angel, let me say, who needs the air of this lower world to make her wings grow.

And while he regards her thus, he will see all other children in the same light, and will not dare to set up his own against others of God’s brood with the new-budding wings. The universal heart of truth will thus rectify, while it intensifies, the individual feeling towards one’s own; and the man who is most free from poor partisanship in regard to his own family, will feel the most individual tenderness for the lovely human creatures whom God has given into his own especial care and responsibility.

Show me the man who is tender, reverential, gracious towards the children of other men, and I will show you the man who will love and tend his own best, to whose heart his own will flee for their first refuge after God, when they catch sight of the cloud in the wind.

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24 May: C is for Canterbury

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Or even ‘H is for Home’. This city has become home as nowhere else in my life, now I’ve spent more than half my days here. Here are the streets where my students have lived, the schools, community centres, libraries and halls where I’ve taught them anything from the basics of maths and English to art, cookery or even simple motor mechanics. Here is the court where I’ve supported students, the chip shop where more than one has greeted me, years after our lessons ceased …

… but here too, closer to my heart, is a family home of thirty years, infused with memories: three generations of Turnstones have made their mark – young Abel too! He had best watch out, though granddad heard about it when felt pen strayed onto the table surface! Remember too that the previous generation, our children’s grandparents were frequent visitors and remain part of the fabric of their growing up in this place.

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Canterbury is special, even if the city centre is increasingly given over to big business rather than small, let alone to worship. Even the signposts all through the town are in the corporate style of the Whitefriars’ shopping centre. And despite the continuous noise of traffic, and the fumes that poison the air, it has been a good place to raise a family. There is still green space. And we do have access to the cathedral and the deep silence of centuries of prayer.

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We may whinge about the busloads of continental teenagers spilling out of the pound shops, but we’ll miss them when they stop coming. Regimented private schools may be well-behaved, but lack their vitality.

We’ll also miss the Franciscans when they close the Study Centre and leave Greyfriars chapel this summer, but this is home, its churches, shops, level crossings and traffic queues, old friends and acquaintances, and corners unvisited except when friends stop by. I guess we’re here while the next generation are based hereabouts; this is home.

WT.

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The misdirected Thank-you.

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She was about two years old and exuberant with it, dancing near the door of Canterbury’s Goods Shed market and enjoying the sound of her own voice.

When I came back from Enzo’s bakery, there she was still, but a little quieter as her mother was readying her to face the cold outdoors again. Mother and I exchanged a few words, but it was clear that the little one was eyeing my warm loaf. I broke off a corner for her – not enough to spoil her appetite, of course.

‘Say thank-you,’ mother said, and looking at mother, the child said her thank-you.

You might call it a misdirected thank-you, as it was not mother who gave her the bread. And yet, mother is her reference point, and mother had agreed to let her take the bread. Every thank-you at this age is a thank-you to her parents.

Perhaps we can see something here about praying to Mary or other saints. Many would argue that praying to them, or thanking them would be misdirected thanks or prayers, but at our age the beatific vision is embryonic; we see Christ in our fellow humans, including those saints whose stories touch our imagination.

The little girl’s thank-you was relayed by a glance from her mother; prayers to the saints will be relayed by a glance at the beatific vision. God is no more insulted than I was.

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18 September: Intergalactic Discoveries: VI – Stranded in Kent!

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On their return from Earth and the Solar System, ‘T’ and the Chihuahuax had many meetings with the Ossyrian Council and even more with the civil servants of the Ministry of Intergalactic Relations. The three returned delegates were fascinated by their visits to earth and used every opportunity to press their leaders to make a formal ‘first contact’ with the human species.

‘T’,the Director, who had of course assumed human form whilst on earth, had noticed that a great many television programmes and films were made in another sea-side place, called California. This, he thought, would be the ideal place to arrange a spectacular arrival ceremony for an official Governor’s delegation to humankind. When the Ossyrians learnt that it was from that same part of the world that the Chihuahua dog originated, it seemed to all concerned that the troika delegation should return to Earth in their accustomed disguises and make further preparations for a full embassy mission.

Their earth clothes and equipment had been stored in the Margate flat, so thither they returned, fixed in their earthly bodies for the duration of their stay. Alfie and Ajax as Chihuahuax were upset that much of the beach was now out of bounds to canines, but there were always walks in the park and visits to human friends to liven up the week. And all could look forward to two months in the California sun.

The dogs’ chagrin increased a hundred-fold when T came home one evening. ‘Sorry boys’, he transmitted, ‘but we messed up. If you come to California, you’d be spending most of the trip in what they call quarantine. Sitting in kennels, not allowed out, till the vetinarians are happy you don’t have fleas or rabies or distemper. I don’t know what to do. I really have to go to California.’

‘There is Will’s place’, suggested Ajax. Alfie looked decidedly sheepish. Last time they’d visited Will, baby Abel had been visiting his grandparents and was sitting between Will’s legs, babbling to the dogs, when his mother arrived and went to pick him up. A surge of emotion had flashed through Alfie, and before he could put his thought into words, he had nipped Abel’s mother. ‘I was trying to protect him’, Alfie said later.

Emotions! Disappointment at not going to California, shame at having misread the situation with Abel’s mother, worry about the summer holiday. These new feelings needed careful thinking through; a far cry from the even tenor of life in the scientifically devised and controlled world of Ossyria. ‘What’s happening to us?’ asked Alfie.

WT.

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Reflections on Living Together, VII: Wise Words and Wise Gestures from Lemn Sissay.

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Just before our travels we attended NAIB’s doctoral graduation in Manchester, where we were addressed by the Chancellor, the poet Lemn Sissay. Eloquently, he urged the graduands to remember those who had made their higher education possible: their parents, their parents’ parents, and their parents before them.

He brought a tear to my eye. In my own family, my generation were the first to have that opportunity, though my mother completed her BA in her sixties. Both my parents left school at fourteen; poverty and ill-health limited life chances for them and many more.

I noticed, as the graduands stepped forward, the great diversity of backgrounds they must have come from. Some were overseas students, attracted to Manchester’s engineering expertise, but many were home grown, including some Muslims. Although the ceremonial expects the graduand to shake the Chancellor’s hand as token of receiving the degree, this gesture would have been an embarrassment for some; but Mr Sissay gracefully received and sent each one into the world with a bow, a smile, a gesture of total acceptance and goodwill.

What kind of world will a Muslim woman engineer be building? What understanding of classical civilisation will her veiled fellow graduate share with her own students?

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Let us trust that God is working in strange and wondrous ways among the people (Psalm 96:3) and let us heed the call to make his paths straight (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3). Meeting the graduands half-way was the University and Lemn Sissay’s response to that challenge.

Even if we have little or no opportunity to foster interreligious dialogue, we can each of us rejoice in a neighbour’s accomplishment, or make even a couple of seconds of their lives more wondrous. That is part of our calling as children of God.

MMB.

Lemn Sissay by Philosophy Football

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July 26: The Parents of Mary, Saints Joachim and Anne.

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The Gospels tell us nothing at all about Mary’s parents, Jesus’ grandparents. Were they still living when Jesus was born, did they get to play with him as a baby? Perhaps not, if the Holy Family had to stay in Egypt for any length of time. Mary would surely have welcomed another pair of hands around the house, while her parents would have been anxious all the time the Holy Family spent in exile.

 

They were real people, even if we do not know their names for sure. The traditional names of Joachim and Anne first appear in the Second Century. The Missionaries of Africa look after the Basilica of Saint Anne in Jerusalem, built on the traditional site of their home. It is now a house of studies and retreat where pilgrims are welcomed to the church dating back to Crusader times.

 

Anne is the more celebrated of this couple. I don’t ever remember seeing a statue of Saint Joachim, though the happy couple are celebrated in icons and Anne is often shown teaching Mary to read. But then, last week, on a visit to Manchester, I found him at Holy Name Church. He appears as an old man with a beard wilder than my own. (Maybe Anne was less assertive than my wife.) And he carries a basket and two doves: we think of the two doves offered by Joseph and Mary when Jesus was taken to the Temple as a baby. (Luke 2:24) But perhaps we should remember the deserved reputation doves have for ‘billing and cooing’ – unabashedly showering affection upon each other all through the day. Those doves could stand for Joachim and Anne and for all married couples.

 

I was happy to learn, from the note beside Joachim’s statue, that he is the patron of grandfathers. I can live with a patron whose beard and hair are something to aspire to! And I can try to live up to the standards of care lavished on his grandson as well as the way he must have supported Mary and Joseph through those difficult months of pregnancy and maybe too their time as refugees. Fun though it is, grandparenting is serious work, God’s work, and mostly in the background.

WT.

 

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18/12 One of my Favourites

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He was living with an aunt but had been excluded from one of the more tolerant local primary schools, and so had her tearing her hair out. Aged seven he was less emotionally mature than his two-year-old cousin or my two year-old son, except that he took seriously my injunction to show them how to behave. In effect, for much of the time I had a three child nursery class. Stories, Auntie Mabel on video, a few sums, very basic PE in the local park, lots of praise and cuddles all round.

One day he was very subdued: a grey-faced mother had arrived on a day visit from prison.

Soon after that she claimed him back; he had just made a success of a return to school, but neither school nor his aunt knew where he was.

I met him in a nearby town when he nearly had me off my feet with his rumbustious greeting; the girl he introduced as his sister was too wary to let him tell me his address.

Three months later his mother’s partner killed him with an overdose of heroin.

The only prayer is to hold them all before the Lord.

And to pray that the other prisoners I have introduced to you may be aware of One who can guide them through the dark. night.

MMB.

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15/12 Who Can Set this Prisoner Free?

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The judge sent him down for eighteen months, hoping he would use his time to ponder the impact of his burglaries on the victims.

Ponder? He’ll need more than time for that – he’ll need the loving care denied him as a child.

Last time we met he was already wearing the offender’s ankle tag he had destroyed at the start of this spree. We were at the railway station: he riding his BMX bike in tight circles, unable to stay still, though he’d been thrown off the station the week before for cycling on the platform.

‘I’m speaking to my mum again’, he said, but his sister was a ‘slut’ and he avoided her and her children, the eldest born when she was sixteen.

We’d worked together briefly after he’d been thrown out of a second primary school. He would watch for me at the corner of the street then either ride home to let me in or pelt across the park into a maze of streets and alleyways. ‘It might be what you’re wearing’, said my colleague Barbara, ‘but you’ll never know.’ Other days he would climb out of the bedroom window as I entered the front door.

Home was one of the rare places where I was never offered a cup of tea. Mother had a live-in boyfriend that she threw out when she ‘fell pregnant’ because ‘I don’t need him now I’ve got the bab’. Someone else needed him: he’d taken an interest in my student, playing football with him in the park. ‘It’s like having two kids about the place’, though he brought in money from his business.

My student needed his mother as well, but he was more of a burden, a problem to her than a beloved child.

Please pray for all damaged children in prison.

MMB

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Play the game!

Baby Isaac and I stopped our walk to watch the students playing Ultimate Frisbee. ‘A singularly pointless game’, commented one passer-by. I’m not sure what Isaac made of it but he was certainly watching every move. I decided to find out how ‘pointless’ it might be, compared to other sports. Is it yet another form of peacetime warfare? “Play up! Play up! And play the game!”

Well, Ultimate Refereeing is rather different:

Players are responsible for foul and line calls. Players resolve their own disputes. This creates a spirit of honesty and respect on the playing field. It is the duty of the player who committed the foul to speak up and admit his infraction. Occasionally, official observers are used to aid players in refereeing, known as observers.

I was once told that not having proper referees excluded Ultimate from the Olympic Games. The rules do recognise that it can take a long while for players to resolve their own disputes and that they can get heated. Not surprising, really.

Isaac got heated while his mother was away. he ignored her at first when she returned. That dispute was resolved with a cuddle and a feed. He’s learning through peep-bo games that she will come back; when others play the same singing games as she does, he learns that they care for and love him too. His father plays in Polish as well as English; that should enrich him.

A cuddle and a feed: these are on offer, one way and another, from our Creator. Do we pass them on?

“Play up! Play up! And play the game!” – see the full poem by Sir Henry Newbolt at: http://www.firstworldwar.com/poetsandprose/newbolt.htm

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