Tag Archives: play

December 11: Things in the night that monstrous seem

crypt.monster Take far away each hideous dream,

Things in the night that monstrous seem …

Two lines from the compline hymn came to mind when I read about the Christmas TV Ad which shows a boy who has a monster under his bed. Not a lot to do with the real meaning of Christmas, I hear you say.

This monster above has lived in the crypt, or basement of Canterbury Cathedral for many hundreds of years, along with a few more of different kinds, not unlike the imaginary beasts in the margins of ancient manuscripts. This fellow is within sight of Mother Concordia of Minster’s Mary and Child.

Ancient writers imagined the infant Jesus creating living creatures from the mud of the ground. I can imagine him playing with toy monsters and dinosaurs as so many children do today. After all, there were plenty of monsters to be seen among the deities of ancient Egypt where he grew up!

Can we not play, and play fairly, in the world created for us and be grateful? Let’s play fairly by some of our less favoured sisters and brothers this Christmas – we all know several ways of helping. Let’s not be selfish monsters!

 

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7 December: Aberdaron I: Treasure in a field.

aberdaron.children.digging

We were pilgrims in Aberdaron, R.S. Thomas’s parish. My photo of the church poised on the edge of the sea at the edge of Wales, at the edge of Europe contained this detail of three little ones shovelling sand for all their lives’ worth.

 The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in a field. Which a man having found, hid it, and for joy thereof goeth, and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.  

Matthew 13.44

What treasure, what joy was given to these youngsters, all wrapped up on a misty moisty afternoon?

Think back to the child you once were, still are beneath it all, and enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

No need to buy the beach in Britain. 99% of them belong to the Crown, in trust for us all: dig away to your hearts’ content, children!

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October 26:May we find Christ walking with us: III, Walking with a new pair of eyes.

convolvulus.pink

I mean a pair of eyes seeing things as for the first time because the ears are listening to a very young person. The gutter down the middle of the footpath through the park becomes a ‘track’, and look! the very young person is driving a train. A pink flower at his eye level draws mine down to see properly.

Burns may have prayed: ‘O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us’, which is a good and noble prayer, but perhaps we could also ask for the gift to see the world as others, especially perhaps as inquisitive, two-year-old others see it.

Which might just mean getting down on our knees occasionally.

Laudato Si’!

 

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18 October, Saint Luke: Watching

trees-wind-moon

 

The wind whisked and sighed all night and

at sunrise-time some secret sun

shed what passed for light, but even

bats were sceptical of day and shot

by in fitful flight, long past their

vanishing-hour,

 

while wind kept sweeping through, rustling

like ladies in long silken skirts.

Nothing sparked or spiked in morning

sunshine that wasn’t, and yet,

this shadowed and speaking scene seethed,

strange with the life

 

I strained to see.  Autumn’s sunflowers

rocked and swayed, scarcely able to

stand, like tall thin drunks on their stems,

sleepy heads lolling, and they seemed

about to slither down, feet first,

into a heap,

 

while wind – I relished standing in

it – used its huge hands to swish the

leaves of trees and push tree tops round

in circles and made sounds like surf

foaming, swirling, hurling itself

on the seashore,

 

sliding back, all slick, and hurling

itself over and over –

 

such

dark, brooding exuberance –

 

such

fierce sibilance –

 

such lavishly

lively gifts of Being –

 

all mine, at dawn

 

as I stood

in the dark wind

 

watching.

 

 

 

SJC.

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Sister Johanna’s poem about Watching and the Wind seems appropriate for Saint Luke, who gave us his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, where he tells how the Spirit came in a great wind and settled over the Apostles.

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October 14: As a little child

steamtrainNI

One of the last Steam locomotives in Ireland, 1969. John was a highly respected Irish railway modeller.

My sincerest apologies to Ignatius for borrowing the title of this post. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery! Comparing God our Father to a little child was His idea, not a human notion: this is about being a little child, or being as a little child, even if only for a few minutes on the beach, and so coming to a little corner of heaven.

I wrote last year about a friend, John Byrne, who built model railways, each representing a particular era, with trains and buildings in authentic colours, and period advertisements. Exquisite, approaching perfection. A labour of love.

Someone else would smile and patronisingly make remarks about grown men’s toys. Is that bad?

Two year-old Abel took a ride on a special grown men’s toy at the local model engineering club, rather like the one in this picture, and enjoyed it as much as the real train he rode to get there.

modeltrain

Of course railways strive to be perfect in many areas, including safety above all.

But the other day I played on the beach with Abel. He persuaded me to make a bridge of sand and rocks and then he used pebbles for trains and cars, pushing them across the sand, under and over the archway, lining them up on the far side. It seemed to me that this was as serious as John’s model, or the miniature ride-on trains in the park.

And just as the child’s imagination or the modeller’s patience create new worlds for a few people to enjoy, so the great imagination and patience of God keep on creating a universe for all his creatures to enjoy.

Let us pray for the imagination and patience to see how best we can join in the work of building up and caring for our corner of the universe, and the grace to get on and do it.

Laudato Si’!

 

MMB.

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August 14: Inter-Galactic Explorations XXXI: Chewing it over.

APRICOT.MAR2017.small

who would not sit under the apricot tree?

‘Have you noticed,’ said Ajax, wolfing down a flake of haddock, ‘how Abel likes to use all his words, but Will and Mrs T, who know thousands more, can sit under the apricot tree quite happily without saying a word?’

‘Do they need to speak to tell each other they are there?’ wondered T. ‘Of course not. But maybe Abel needs to tell himself he is in the presence of a digger, a train, or two black dogs.’

‘You mean he is telling himself his own story?’ interrupted Ajax, giving Alfie time to think how to respond to T’s probing remark about the two black dogs.

‘When he was little, he was just living his story. You remember how he just loved you two. No words from his mouth but plenty of glee. And you guys were on another plane, playing with him without words – until you pretty much forced him to say “dog”. Now when he picks up his toy bus, he says “bus” and “door” and makes a brrrrm noise when he pushes it across the floor.’

‘Are you saying he was better not speaking?’ challenged Ajax.

‘Of course not!’ T replied. ‘He’s not just a bundle of nerve-endings like the Builder’s Dog.’

‘You didn’t see BD outside Peter’s Fish Factory. He had abandoned Will and was sitting actually on a student’s knee. The ladies seem to like him as much as he likes them.’

‘He’s still a bundle of nerve ends. He could ignore her completely if he was out with his mistress.’

‘Director, you are too cynical!’ Alfie countered. ‘Maybe the Ossyrian scientific diet has trimmed your nerve ends too much.’

This time it was T’s turn to conceal his thought processes. ‘Not all my nerve ends, Alfie, not all of them; but what has Earthly life done to yours?’

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19 July: G is for Valley Gardens

berlin.charlottenberg.flowerbed

Since I was small, I had always loved gardening, so when the chance came of a holiday job at the parks in Castleford, I seized it. The town council took a pride in their parks, lung-savers in an industrial landscape. As well as the mines there were glassworks, a  factory producing chemicals such as wood preservers, a coke oven and a maltings: the least offensive smell. In a heat wave the fumes gathered in the valley where the town was built on the ford. The rivers ran black. Breathing was a challenge.

Valley Gardens was our nearest park: a good park with a crown bowling green, playground for the children, lawns and lots of traditional bedding, the plants grown in the council’s own nursery. There was also raised bedding with scented plants for blind people to enjoy. And so they did.

I’m ever grateful for the skills learnt at Valley Gardens but also for the attitude to work imbibed from the older guys I worked alongside. Many had been miners and knew how to pace themselves to be productive over the whole day. They were also humble enough to put themselves through the City and Guilds Certificate training: men who knew how to handle tools, being ‘taught’ how to dig or prune before taking on specialised skills such as caring for the greens.

mermaidrose (542x408)

Recently I read that Valley Gardens, for many years the responsibility of Wakefield City council, is run-down and the play area no longer safe. A committee has been formed to revive this park. When I was there, people knew the decision makers in town. Now they are in Wakefield and need never go near Valley Gardens.

I hope the committee is supported by the community and Wakefield council so that the gardens return to their former glory.

There are parallels in church life. We need to trust people, even  those who shun responsibilities, with a mission they may fail at. Apart from Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who were members of the Sanhedrin, Jesus chose women and misfits for his first generation of leaders. I don’t recall his disciples sitting exams.

Since writing this post I read an article describing how the people who use the parks the most are poorer people, people without gardens of their own. So it is poor people who take the brunt of government spending cuts in this area of life, as in so many others.

Our beds were every bit as lovely – and more so – than this semiformal planting in Berlin’s Charlottenberg Park. The Roses were a feature of Valley Gardens: the older gardeners taught me how to prune them. This is ‘Mermaid’, who needs very careful handling with her vicious thorns. But she’s lovely!

 

 

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13 May: Time to have fun

herefords

The Christianity many of us grew up with was not big on laughs. My childhood parish priest seemed determined to make sure we were suitably miserable. Fun was equated with self-indulgence – all too likely to carry us away into the path of sin. The eleventh commandment was ‘Thou shalt not laugh, nor enjoy thyself’.

The hangover of that upbringing is that I have sometimes struggled to allow myself to enjoy life. The notion that God is a spoiler is not one I adhere to rationally but somewhere inside that image of God must linger. And yet when I remember some of the moments of deep fun that I have known I see how they abound with love, friendship, wonder, energy, and liberation: and as I put themselves back into those times I sense the presence, joy and life of God.

  • Sledging down the snow covered slopes of Greenwich Park while the ambulances circled below
  • Playing foot ball with my nephews in a muddy field
  • Losing myself in working with clay and not minding too much what shape I came up with
  • Making music with a group using my three and a half chords on a guitar
  • Going swimming on the spur of the moment with my sister in West Wales
  • Being thrown around at a barn dance without really having much clue what steps I was supposed to be making.

What moments do you remember?

Fun can have its downsides. Making fun of another at their expense is destructive. Thrill seeking can be addictive and self-centred. But these are perversions of what is essentially good and of God.

It is through fun that we lose our self-consciousness and allow ourselves to run free.

Walls of polite distance or even hostility between people evaporate in shared laughter.

Bonds of friendship are forged.

We stop taking ourselves too seriously – as if everything depended on our performance

We discover that we are creative after all – and all we needed was the opportunity and the courage to dare to express ourselves.

We delight in life, in the company of those with us and are completely held in the moment, putting aside our fears and preoccupations.

These are good moments, God moments.

In our churches and within our neighbourhoods,

in our tired lives, and amidst our difficulties

it is time to have fun!

CC.

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February 21: Inter-galactic Discoveries XXIV, It’s cold outside.

 

It was cold, too cold for pseudo-Chihuahuas to do more than put their noses outside the door but they were enjoying people watching from the bay window.

 

‘Look down there! It’s little Abel on the sands. What is he doing?’ Alfie was half wrapped in his blanket which had become a shared blanket, as so much was shared, freely, by the Ossyrians in dogs’ clothing, almost without their realising it was happening.

T got out his binoculars and soon focussed on the toddler, clad in blue wellington boots and a warm all-in-one suit. ‘Very interesting. We should go join them.’

‘But what is he doing?’ demanded Ajax, who could read the amusement shaking T’s shoulders, but not the reason for it.

‘Come and see,’ said T, shaking the dog leads, and off they went, past the Waste Land shelter and along the prom. Just by the Jubilee Clock, the dogs yanked their leads from T’s hand, turned tail with one accord and refused to go on to greet Will, Abel and his mother. T had to follow. When something made Will look up he just caught a glimpse of the dogs mounting the steps to their front door, with the Director some yards in the rear. He did not realise they were avoiding Abel, and T never told him.

Indoors, Alfie shivered: ‘Abel was wading about in that cold water at the edge of the sea and splashing rocks and laughing! I’ll never understand humans. He was enjoying it and his mother and Will were letting him do it, and they were laughing too.’

‘They can’t help sharing his fun, and they aren’t the sort to stop him doing it completely. Sun, Sand and Sea. That’s why we came to Margate.’

‘But not Sun, Sand, Sea and Splash!’ grumbled Alfie.

‘Lighten up boys,’ said T. ‘Laughter is part of being human. Why the wife of Abraham, mother of the great religions, even laughed at God and called her son ‘laughter’ or Isaac. But I don’t think the humans totally understand it themselves.’

margatesunset-21-1-17

Sunset over T and Alfie and Ajax’s house, Margate, January 2017.

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14 February: Mockery

skull-640x343

Just a few weeks after the children’s festival, a new academic year began at the University. During Freshers’ Week the newly-arrived keen students who have just survived Sixth Form pressures and A level exams, are encouraged to develop lively leisure activities alongside their chosen Degree courses. A Fresher’s Fair is a chance for all sorts of university clubs to win over a good number of students to this or that hobby. Here is one example, a Paintball shooting club. As seen here, human beings are presented as dividing into aggressive friends and unwelcome enemies. The idea of slaughtering an enemy is part of this so-called “game”. A mock human skull can be lifted up at the end to foster pride in the possibility of sneering (symbolically) at a corpse.

During the Vietnam War in the late Sixties and Early Seventies, some religious writers, both Buddhist and Christian, collaborated in calling for pacifist symbolism to be given a genuine hearing. The need for an agreed symbolism of non-violent resistance was what brought together the Jesuit Daniel Berrigan and the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Nhat Hanh wrote and spoke about resistance meaning “more than resistance against war. It is a resistance against all kinds of things that are like war. Because living in modern society one feels he cannot easily retain integrity, wholeness. One is robbed permanently of humanness, the capacity of being oneself… So perhaps, first of all, resistance means opposition to being invaded, occupied, assaulted, and destroyed by the system.”  It means refusing to join in all sorts of mockery, even in play, that treats others as disposable rubbish.  [See their co-authored book: The Raft is Not the Shore.]

 

Chris D.

Jan. 2017.

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