Two hundred years ago and more, Wordsworth witnessed some of the early stages of the Industrial Revolution and did not look favourably upon it. There is prophecy in this sonnet: ‘we are out of tune’ indeed with nature because we are too busy getting and spending. Looking at today’s society, it is often poor people in this country and overseas who are forced to lay waste their powers, that is to work till they can do no more in order to get enough money to spend on essentials.
The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers: Little we see in nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon; The Winds that will be howling at all hours And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers; For this, for every thing, we are out of tune; It moves us not—Great God! I’d rather be A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; Have sight of Proteus coming from the sea; Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.”
(from “Poems in Two Volumes, Volume 1” by William Wordsworth, 1807)
Let’s get ourselves in tune with winds, rain, sunshine and moonshine. A moonlit walk along the beach would surely move us, or a stroll in the park: even half an hour out of doors or sitting at the window. I was heartened, when in hospital, by the comings and goings of a crow who appeared from time to time over a blank brick wall which was all my view!
If we were in tune with nature there would be expansion of the rain forests, pollution control measures would actually work, concrete would start to be replaced. We could all add to the list. But let’s do what we can today, and a little more tomorrow.
Walton, a Staffordshire Man, first published his Compleat Angler in 1653, hence the unfamiliar spellings. An experienced and keen angler ‘Piscator’, walking out of London, falls in with a man who wanted to learn to fish, who by this point in the book is called the Scholer because he’s an enthusiastic learner. Much of their dialogue takes place under trees, sheltering from the rain. And it leads to other thoughts and the contemplation of creation. What would Walton have made of our sewage infested rivers?
“And now, Scholer … it has done raining, and now look about you, and see how pleasantly that Meadow looks, nay and the earth smels as sweetly too. Come let me tell you what holy Mr. Herbert saies of such dayes and Flowers as these, and then we will thank God that we enjoy them, and walk to the River and sit down quietly and try to catch the other brace of Trouts.
Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and skie,
Sweet dews shal weep thy fall to night, for thou must die.
Sweet Rose, whose hew angry and brave
Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye,
Thy root is ever in its grave, and thou must die.
Sweet Spring, ful of sweet days & roses,
A box where sweets compacted lie;
Musick shewes you have your closes, and all must die.
Only a sweet and vertuous soul,
Like seasoned timber never gives,
But when the whole world turns to cole, then chiefly lives.
I was looking for posts to mark the Season of Creation – which starts on 1 September, the Day of Prayer for Creation, and ends on 4 October, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology beloved by many Christian denominations. This poem leapt off the page.
I see his blood upon the rose And in the stars the glory of his eyes, His body gleams amid eternal snows, His tears fall from the skies. I see his face in every flower; The thunder and the singing of the birds Are but his voice—and carven by his power Rocks are his written words. All pathways by his feet are worn, His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea, His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn, His cross is every tree.
I learned that Joseph Plunkett was one of those who signed the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and he was executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising.
Shortly before his execution on May 4 1916, he married his fiancée, Grace Gifford, in the jail’s chapel. Plunkett was just 28 years old.
There are multiple painful contradictions here. How to reconcile Plunkett the poet of creation with Plunkett the man of violence against other men, created by God?
Meanwhile, when Plunkett was fighting for an Irish Republic, other young Irishmen were signing up to the British Army to fight the Kaiser. Their recruitment was not necessarily an exercise in honesty on the part of the authorities.
When I chose the Godshill Lily Cross to head this post I was forgetting that in the churchyard there is the grave of
THOMAS FRANCIS O’NEILL A SOLDIER OF THE KINGDOM OF IRELAND WHO DIED OCTOBER 18TH 1918 AGED 35 YEARS R.I.P.
DULCE ET DECORUM EST PRO PATRIA MORI
So, not every Irishman agreed with Plunkett. Thomas O’Neill saw things differently as his widow recorded on his memorial (but why did she erect this stone rather than the standard white Portland stone for War Graves?)
The Latin verse is another irony: ‘sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country’, an irony picked up by another poet, Wilfred Owen, who saw many men endure painful ends before dying himself in the last days of the War. Violence in Ireland continued for many years, and is not yet about to be forgotten or totally set aside.
Let us pray for peace, the peace implied in Plunkett’s words, peace on earth to people of good will, and peace to all creatures that share this world with humanity.
He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. Isaiah 2:4.
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.
Emily Dickinson’s verses prepare us for a short series on Grief and Suicide; World Suicide Prevention Day is on 10th September.
I measure every grief I meet
With analytic eyes;
I wonder if it weighs like mine,
Or has an easier size.
I wonder if they bore it long,
Or did it just begin?
I could not tell the date of mine,
It feels so old a pain.
I wonder if it hurts to live,
And if they have to try,
And whether, could they choose between,
They would not rather die.
I wonder if when years have piled —
Some thousands — on the cause
Of early hurt, if such a lapse
Could give them any pause;
Or would they go on aching still
Through centuries above,
Enlightened to a larger pain
By contrast with the love.
The grieved are many, I am told;
The reason deeper lies, —
Death is but one and comes but once,
And only nails the eyes.
There's grief of want, and grief of cold, —
A sort they call 'despair;'
There's banishment from native eyes,
In sight of native air.
And though I may not guess the kind
Correctly, yet to me
A piercing comfort it affords
In passing Calvary,
To note the fashions of the cross,
Of those that stand alone,
Still fascinated to presume
That some are like my own.
Here is a recent sermon by Rev Jo Richards of Canterbury, from the texts: Genesis 15:1-6, Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16. Luke 12:32-40. It makes for another reflection on life, death and what faith means.
The Train has come and I’m on my way,
I didn’t need a ticketAnd there was nothing to pay.
My lass will be waiting, on that I am sureWhat a wonderful meetingWith a future that will endure.
On Thursday I took a funeral of a local man; Bill and he wrote poems; he asked that The Last Poem, be read at his funeral, which was read in full just before the commendation: I have read to you with the family’s permission the opening verses.
I knew Bill, and in his writing, there is such a sense of moving from this mortal life to the next, that is eternal life. For Bill was assured of things hoped, for the conviction of things not seen. Bill had a deep Christian faith
Bill had a sense of the hope, of knowing that one day the train would stop, he would get on board and continue his onward journey to eternal life.
Abraham was also a man of deep faith and also on a journey. Here we have someone in his mid-seventies, who heard a call from God to up sticks with his barren wife Sarah and leave home. Obedient to God’s call they became nomads, setting off from Harran, which is in modern day Iraq, travelling through Syria, down to Egypt, and then up to the land of Canaan, which is in the present-day West Bank, in Palestine.
During this time, directed by God, Abraham gazes at the night sky trying in vain to imagine his descendants as numerous as the stars, whilst Sarah, his wife remains heartbreakingly barren.
I wonder what Abraham and Sarah must have been thinking; surely they must have had doubts along the way, of perhaps being cross with God, who has taken them out of what has been familiar and comfortable and sent them on this journey into the unknown, and then telling them they will have children, but despite this they had faith in what God said and set off and set off.
I want us to think for a moment what does our faith mean to us? Would we have done what Abraham and Sarah did?
Perhaps like Bill and Abraham we are on a journey of faith; assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen; but that is not always easy to describe when asked what your faith means to you.
Some might describe their faith in terms of creeds and as we do when we recite the creed; From a doctrinal or theological perspective. At baptism either the godparents or those who speak for themselves are asked about their faith and what they believe.
How do you describe your faith?
Faith is perhaps turning our heads and looking at the stars that sense of awe and wonder, that sense that there is something far greater than what we can see, feel or hear, yet we are still loved and cherished by God our creator.
Faith is perhaps that sense of knowing deep within ourselves knowing that we are not alone, that there is a greater presence of which we get glimpses of from time to time;
Faith is perhaps that longing for the eternal home – that place of peace, love and joy where there are no more suffering or tears. That place we call heaven, eternal life. That feeling of longing, and desire; for Abraham and Sarah their faith took them on a perilous journey, to take them where God was leading, not that they knew where they were going or how they would get there.
Faith is not a destination, more like a journey, and we often say we are all on a journey of faith, with each of us on a different point of that journey; some are just setting out whilst others more established but we can all sometimes be thrown off course, just as Peter was when he was walking on water. He took his eyes off Jesus and sank in the sea, but Jesus put his arm out and caught him.
But I am sure like Peter and doubting Thomas, our faith may have wobbled, and we may have had doubts. Thomas was with Jesus for three years and yet he doubted that he had been raised from the dead, which perhaps gives us permission to question or even doubt at times.
And perhaps when we do question or doubt then something might happen that reaffirms our faith; just this week I heard of how someone had their faith restored by an act of kindness; it is often the little things that we do or say that can have such a big impact on others. Time and time again we hear of people saying I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have my faith.
Perhaps the opposite of faith is not doubt, but apathy – of not being alert and awake, as our Gospel suggests, of staying put and not willing to journey forth; Faith in a way is a response to an invitation to a journey of adventure; it’s not blind faith. We nurture our faith through worship, scripture, talking to other people, praying and for those small what I call God moments – moments when we sense God’s promptings and act on them.
Twice in this week’s readings we hear the words do not be afraid, by nurturing our faith it gives us the strength to face things that may frighten us or make us anxious. We can draw on these moments of remembering that God is with us in the everyday stuff as well as the ups and downs of life. As did the servants in our gospel reading, who were faithful doing the everyday mundane things, and ended up as the master’s guests at the great celebration.
Faith is perhaps a knowledge of God and a deep rooted heart felt desire to want to know God better – to find out what God is doing and join in, just as Bill did, Abraham and Sarah did, and the master’s slaves did.
So, we venture forward on our journey of faith may we give thanks for what we have already experienced of God’s love for us and what is still to come…and give thanks for the gift of faith, as we reflect upon what our faith means to us.
Pilgrimage was a popular devotion in England before the Reformation, that tornado which changed the face of Canterbury and many other towns, including Bury Saint Edmund’s in Suffolk. People would travel, often with some hardship, to celebrate a saint at his or her home, to pray at the shrine, and to buy a souvenir to show to family and friends. Earlier this year we brought home some Saint Edmund’s Russet apples from Saint Edmundsbury Market as our pilgrimage souvenir.
After our visit to Norway yesterday, join us in a virtual pilgrimage to Bury, beginning, as is right, with a passage from the Prologue to Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote The droghte of March hath perced to the roote And bathed every veyne in swich licour, Of which vertu engendred is the flour; Whan Zephiruseek with his sweete breeth Inspired hath in every holt and heeth The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne, … Thanne longen folk to go on on pilgrimages.
When in April the sweet showers fall That pierce March’s drought to the root and all And bathed every vein in liquor that has power To generate therein and sire the flower; When Zephyr also has with his sweet breath, Filled again, in every holt and heath, The tender shoots and leaves, and the young sun His half-course in the sign of the Ram has run, … Then folk do long to go on pilgrimage,
Geoffrey Chaucer’s pilgrims set out to Canterbury in April, probably just after Easter but Mrs T and I left that city just after Christmas, travelling to Bury Saint Edmund’s.
Getting around England is so much easier today than in Chaucer’s time: a train to London, a short walk, and onto another. That said, we arrived out of season, as the restrictions on travel and gatherings were easing. We found ourselves warmly welcomed in another pilgrimage city. The Cathedral’s choirs were just finding their voices again. It was good to be there, but we did not see everything we had in mind. Another time, maybe?
One blessing of a short time away is to shake off the daily routines that keep us from spending time with each other. Even if you can only manage a walk for a few hours with your spouse or friends, create the opportunity and enjoy your time together. By the time you read this it will be summer holidays: plan now for quality time at half-term or Christmas!
Tomorrow we will look at the story of Saint Edmund, king and martyr, which turned the little town into a major pilgrims’ destination.
Knowing nothing of physics,
Atoms and such things
As planets - like this one
I know therefore, nothing of God,
Designer (a modern term),
Knowing before creation,
Before, and even before
Brought forth thought -
Designer - thought.
But reaching through the mists,
The immateriality of no-thing
Brought forth before thought the loneliness of love,
The culmination of the cross
The existentialism of the cross.
That word slipped in!
Existentialism could be called the philosophy of human existence, of the essence of humanity, which is freedom. While many of the big names were atheists, their ideas were not all hostile to belief in God or the Christian faith; indeed they were critically examined in my seminary course back in the 1960’s. Contrary to popular belief, our teachers who were Catholic Priests, wanted us to think things through, something the existentialists prided themselves on.
Now here is Sheila Billingsley philosophising on creation and suffering and love, the culmination of the cross.
On this day in 1868 the Irish poet William Allingham was visiting Alfred Lord Tennyson on the Isle of Wight.
Luncheon. Then T and I walk into croquet ground, talking of Christianity.
‘What I want’, he said, ‘is an assurance of immortality.’
For my part I believe in God: can say no more.
A butterfly is seen as a symbol of the transition from earthy to eternal life. What would provide the poets with assurance of immortality? How would they recognise it? Is faith the basis of Allingham’s ‘I believe in God: can say no more’?
I’m nobody! Who are you? Are you nobody, too? Then there ‘s a pair of us — don’t tell! They ‘d banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody! How public, like a frog To tell your name the livelong day To an admiring bog!
I would guess that Mark’s rich young man that Sister Johanna has been talking about was a ‘somebody’, at least a local somebody, a village celebrity. Then he discovered that he was a nobody. Sister Johanna explored how getting close to Jesus meant giving away the possessions that trip us up. Emily Dickinson suggests what comes next: forming a community, not seeking affirmation from gossip column inches!