Tag Archives: poetry

8 January: As it was.

It has to be as it was,
Of course I didn't understand!
It has to be as it was,
Well, almost:
Dark, cold, restless, waiting 
And lonely.

It has to do with loneliness,
And I am rarely lonely.
But, yes, 
It has to be as it was ...
Waiting, cold,
Dark in my warm, well lighted room.

That's not as it was,
No renaissance nativity,
No Christmas card crib,
Just loneliness and the need for warmth and preparation.
Wondering what tomorrow might bring,
Stars and rest and the smell and placid breath
Of animals.

But shelter,
That's as it was!
                                                                                                        Sheila Billingsley.

'Dark in my warm, well lighted room'. Who has not felt that way? How many will be feeling that way this Christmas, how many more are without even the warm, well-lighted room? Let us pray for all who are exiled and homeless this Christmas time, and support those who are organising shelter for them. Our first photograph was taken by volunteers seeking out homeless people on the streets of Canterbury, in order to offer shelter.
Winter and warm, well lighted rooms.
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5 January: You will not be alone when you arrive

Here are two paragraphs from Bishop Nicholas Hudson’s homily at a Mass for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The full text can be found at Independent Catholic News.

‘Now, as he prepares to come before the Lord, I trust he will have been encouraged and strengthened by his own conviction, some years ago, when speaking in 1978 to priests who were celebrating their Golden Jubilee of Ordination. Because he sought to reassure them: “When, some day,” he told them, “you knock at the door of heaven, you need not be afraid.” For, “as pastors you will have accompanied (diverse) people… in their hours of joy and their hours of grief and suffering. You (will) have helped people to live and to die. So you have many friends (both) on this side of the threshold and beyond it. (And so) you will not be alone when you arrive.”‘1

‘I trust he also derived consolation from his own contemplation of St John Henry Newman’s Dream of Gerontius to which he made enthusiastic reference at the climax of his Beatification homily. It is deeply moving to think Pope Benedict now knows what it is like to realise that it is indeed really happening for him what Cardinal Newman imagines in his Dream of Gerontius will be for each of us – at the moment of death to be borne upwards by your guardian angel, to see God and, in instant, to know your sin and the need to atone for it; and so be borne away to purgatory, there to prepare your soul until your angel comes to take you back again – with the promise, the sweet promise, that meanwhile Masses on earth and prayers in heaven will help you – as we pray this Mass, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, will indeed help and console and encourage this our dear departed brother Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI this night.’

1 Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI, Teaching and Learning the Love of God, San Francisco 2017, 348-9

Let us add our prayers to all Pope Benedict’s friends on this side of the threshold as well as beyond; may he rest in peace and rise in glory.

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January 1: Old and New Year II

Greyfriars’ chapel, Canterbury.

Watch with me Jesus, in my loneliness:
Though others say me nay, yet say Thou yes;
Though others pass me by, stop Thou to bless.
Yea, Thou dost stop with me this vigil night;
To-night of pain, to-morrow of delight:
I, Love, am Thine; Thou, Lord my God, art mine.

Christina Rossetti.

Who watches whom this vigil night?

It used to be possible to visit Greyfriars’ chapel without paying an entrance fee for the gardens around it, but most hours in the daytime Saint Thomas’, Saint Dunstan’s and the Cathedral are open for prayer. We locals have free entry to the Cathedral with a resident’s pass. The Lord needs no such thing! He is there with his crook and his staff, with these he gives us comfort.

The New Year of 1999 to 2000 was well celebrated at Saint Thomas’, candles, prayers and hymns, then food and drink in the new century, but how many could not get to such events and so felt lonely? How many felt lonely and so did not dare to join fellow parishioners? How many people feel cold-shouldered and hesitate to join a group of nodding acquaintances talking together? What can we do about it this year? Let us stop what we are doing sometimes and bless our nodding acquaintances of neighbours by inviting them into our group?

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31 December: OLD AND NEW YEAR DITTIES I

Ringing chamber, Lincoln Cathedral. Ring out the old year, ring in the new!
OLD AND NEW YEAR DITTIES

New Year met me somewhat sad: 
   Old Year leaves me tired, 
Stripped of favourite things I had 
   Baulked of much desired: 
Yet farther on my road to-day 
   God willing, farther on my way. 

New Year coming on apace 
   What have you to give me? 
Bring you scathe, or bring you grace, 
   Face me with an honest face; 
You shall not deceive me: 
   Be it good or ill, be it what you will, 
It needs shall help me on my road, 
   My rugged way to heaven, please God.


 From Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems by Christina Rossetti)

Let’s end the old year and start the new with poetry. This is the first of three Old and New Year Ditties from Christina Rossetti, These last few Old Years have left many of us tired, frustrated, baulked from achieving our wishes, however legitimate or worthy they might have seemed.

‘Somewhat sad’ Rossetti may have been, wondering what the New Year will bring. She knew ill-health herself well before modern medicine and surgery which could have helped and healed her. She shared and tried to alleviate the sufferings of sex workers, very badly off in Victorian times, as well as other poor women. Here it almost sounds as though she is armouring herself for the challenges she will face on the rugged road through the coming year.

If we face ourselves with an honest face we’ll acknowledge our mixed feelings. No more covid, please God, for a start! No more war, starvation or suffering; but please God, may the family wedding be the start of a long and happy marriage …

Let us be hopeful rather than optimistic. We can expect the road to be rugged, but we may hit the potholes when we least expect to.

Happy New Year to Everyone!

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30 December: Blake’s Cradle song

A Cradle Song

Sweet dreams, form a shade
   O'er my lovely infant's head!
   Sweet dreams of pleasant streams
   By happy, silent, moony beams!
 
Sweet Sleep, with soft down
   Weave thy brows an infant crown
   Sweet Sleep, angel mild,
   Hover o'er my happy child!
 
Sweet smiles, in the night
   Hover over my delight!
   Sweet smiles, mother's smile,
   All the livelong night beguile.

 Sweet moans, dovelike sighs,
   Chase not slumber from thine eyes!
   Sweet moan, sweeter smile,
   All the dovelike moans beguile.

 Sleep, sleep, happy child!
   All creation slept and smiled.
   Sleep, sleep, happy sleep,
   While o'er thee doth mother weep.
 
Sweet babe, in thy face
   Holy image I can trace;
   Sweet babe, once like thee
   Thy Maker lay, and wept for me:
 
Wept for me, for thee, for all,
   When He was an infant small.
   Thou His image ever see,
   Heavenly face that smiles on thee!
 
Smiles on thee, on me, on all,
   Who became an infant small;
   Infant smiles are his own smiles;
   Heaven and earth to peace beguiles.

From "Songs of Innocence"

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December 26: How should we know?

Deus Absconditus*

Behind each mystery a greater lies,
The kind soul looks upon us through kind eyes,
Yet both are mysteries;
And once, beneath the silver of a star,
There knelt three Travellers who came from far,
And humbly laid great gifts upon the sod,
Before a human Babe Who yet was God.

How should we know our God if He should come?
Where seek Him if He made this earth His home?
The angels knew, the prophets greatly guessed,
He should be found among the lowliest;
And lo, in stable straw He maketh nest.

Father Andrew

Is Father Andrew writing about the hidden God or the revealed God? Both, surely. This is a time to remember the revelation that is Jesus, the kind soul that looks upon us with love, as human babes do to this day.

Here is the Holy Family, hidden away in Egypt, Joseph working away, Mary home-schooling Jesus, who is concentrating hard on the text he is learning. Joseph’s income enables this to happen. How many children today miss out on education because parents cannot afford the fees or other expenses?

Let us keep our eyes and ears open for news of the hidden God, who wants to be found, in the Scriptures, in nature and in other people. The next two posts look at God, hidden but revealed in people at the margins of society.

* The hidden God

Window at The Sacred Heart and Saint William, Saddleworth.


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25 December: Through Angels’ Eyes

Through Angels’ Eyes

This dusty angel is in York Minster with his improbably long-chained censer. Strength to your arm, Angel!

The winter night knows many a star,
But the Angels have found one brighter far
Than any that ever has shone before;
They float and fall through the silent snow
Like birds of God, to settle below;
To find our earth the Angels go.

A poor little planet, a poor little town,
A poor little cradle, not lined with down,
A particular absence of all renown;
Angels must be peculiar things,
Who float and fall with wheeling wings
To seek in such for the King of kings.

If we were heaven-taught we should know
That what we think high God might yet think low,
And straight to Bethlehem singing go;
For this earth of ours is still the Star
Whither the Angels flew from far,
Where the Christ-child and His Mother are.

More bright than the star that Wisdom led,
To Angels’ eyes shone the cattle-shed,
Where the little Christ once laid His head;
And ‘twixt the tapers, just the same
As when to Bethlehem once they came,
To Angels’ eyes must the altar flame.

Father Andrew

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22 December, Advent Light XXII: A Great Story.

Jesus told stories. His disciples kept some of them alive, as we do to this day. They also told stories about him and his travels through Palestine, but, as John’s Gospel tells us (21.25) there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen. Stories – or ‘Salvation’s Story’ – are the basis of Christian belief, not the writings of scholars. St Paul refers back to the message he had received even as he tries to put the meaning of it into words that satisfy the mind as well as the heart.

A 20th Century writer of theology and of stories puts it like this:

Story – or at least a great Story of the mythical type – gives us an experience of something not as an abstraction but as a concrete reality. We don’t ‘understand the meaning’ when we read a myth, we actually encounter the thing itself. Once we try to grasp it with the discursive reason, it fails.

CS Lewis, in Humphrey Carpenter, The Inklings,  George Allen & Unwin, London, 1978, p143.

Or we could turn to a poet, one who dithered, kneeling at the threshold of belief in his ‘Christmas’, but stressing the tangible, not just tissued fripperies, but the Baby in an ox’s stall, and God alive in Bread and Wine. A concrete reality.

And is it true? And is it true,
    This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
    A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true? For if it is,
    No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
    The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
    No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
    Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

John Betjeman, Christmas.

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21 December, Advent Light XXI: The Dayspring

After Father Tom yesterday, here is another Franciscan, Father Andrew this time, reflecting on the O Antiphon for today: O Oriens, O rising dawn, or as the English hymn has it, O come thou dayspring!

The Dayspring

The dawn drives off the dark, and day doth come
Queening away the fearsomeness of night;
But all the world is blessed Mary’s home,
Nor any hour can lack for her its night
While He, our hearts’ one Home, curled cosily,
Can even straw and stall and stable raise
To throne and palace by His royalty;
For perfect Love hath come Who casts out fear –
Now doth the Dayspring from on high appear.

Father Andrew

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

And let us sing, Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel! Let us be joyful this Christmas; He can raise our homes to palaces with his Kingly presence.

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18 December, Advent Light XVIII: Yet more.

Yet more,

Yet further,

Fun

In the searching.

Be there.

Fr Hilary Costello of Mount Saint Bernard’s Abbey was a long-standing family friend. These lines are from a poem he shared with my mother that turned up among her papers when she died. The poem seems to veer from one speaker to another, one hearer to another. Here is God talking to the reader, or the writer to God? either makes sense. They also reinforce the idea of enjoying being a Christian. The shepherds and the Magi surely had fun in the searching; so, too, let us go unto Bethlehem!

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