Tag Archives: Samaritans

8 March, Gates I: the gates of death.

Some of our posts during Lent will be a series, or as Christina would say, a season, on the theme of Gates, places where change can take place, where we can start a new life, perhaps in a new home. Some posts will be Scriptural, others from a variety of sources.

Our picture shows a section from the tympanum, or carved lintel panel above the West door of Strasbourg Cathedral. On the right we see one of the gates of death, attended by demons, with a woman descending into Hell. On the left is a remarkable image: the Lamb of God chewing through the rope on which Judas hanged himself, in order to save him from the gates of death. We should give some time to this chapter of Jesus’s story; certainly not one that appears explicitly in Scripture, but one that greatly mattered to the artist.

How many people have been so desperate that they committed suicide, as Judas did? In lockdown times, it is more difficult to get alongside friends who might be down, let alone strangers. Let us remember them when we say ‘Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, grant us Peace.’ And may we all come together soon to declare all God’s praises in the gates of the daughter of Sion – the people of God.

Have mercy on me, O Lord: see my humiliation which I suffer from my enemies. Thou that liftest me up from the gates of death, that I may declare all thy praises in the gates of the daughter of Sion. I will rejoice in thy salvation: the Gentiles have stuck fast in the destruction which they have prepared. Their foot hath been taken in the very snare which they hid.

Psalm 9: 11-16.

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Filed under corona virus, Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, Lent, Spring

3 November: What immortal grief hath touched thee …

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Another lyric of Sappho, translated by Bret Carman. 
Is your heart filled with disillusion at all things human – vanity of vanity, says the preacher (Ecclesiastes 1.2); the Bible, the Word of God, explores the same feelings of ultimate dissatisfaction with things fleeting and desired, as Sappho. But the Lord God is not fettered, as the Olympians were. His love leads, but also seeks out the lost sheep. As Sappho wants to believe, there is a place of safety, where every tear will be wiped away.
Let us pray that those in the depths of disillusion may find freedom in God’s love, and that we may be a light on their path, and be wise beyond words in our dealings with them.
Soul of sorrow, why this weeping?
What immortal grief hath touched thee
With the poignancy of sadness,—
  Testament of tears?
Have the high gods deigned to show thee
Destiny, and disillusion
Fills thy heart at all things human,
  Fleeting and desired?
Nay, the gods themselves are fettered
By one law which links together
Truth and nobleness and beauty,
  Man and stars and sea.
And they only shall find freedom
Who with courage rise and follow
Where love leads beyond all peril,
  Wise beyond all words.
samaritans cards 2019
(from “Sappho: One Hundred Lyrics” by Bliss Carman)

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2 January; In the grey Mancunian midwinter.

north pole

Not long before Christmas I took a railway journey across Manchester on one of the darkest days of the year. Since I was visiting my mother for her birthday, I resisted the temptation to continue towards Blackpool North (Pole), but the signaller’s humour was welcome on a bleak morning.

ok not okIt was also good to see this note from Sam on behalf of the Samaritans, who are well aware that this season is not festive for everybody. Sadly, the railway is often a suffering soul’s chosen suicide spot. Sam’s message may persuade someone to ring them, as may the message on many train tickets.

samaritans.ticket nov2017By the time I was making my return journey, the weather had turned from a saturated mist to a greasy drizzle. Walking to Greenfield station with bright LED headlights shining in my face was no joy.

But Saddleworth Catholic church of the Sacred Heart already had their crib on display in the porch. A reminder of the hope that is in us.

Christian or not, we are given the virtue of hope to see us through the dark times. Christian or not, a helpless babe is not hopeless. He or she reaches out in trust. For  those whose ability to trust has been eroded through others’ inhumanity, a word, a smile may make a difference. Few of us will ever find ourselves stepping in to prevent a suicide at the last moment, but we may, all unknowingly, help to do so before that.

From across the main road, my view of the crib was no better than in the photo, but I knew what I was looking at: even in the darkest, murkiest times, there is hope.

crib saddleworth.jpg

 

 

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9 December: Greater than all our troubles.

whitby ps 93.4

The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea. 

Ps 93.4 KJV

This sign is fixed to the lighthouse at the mouth of Whitby harbour, below the clifftop where Saint Hilda had her monastery and sponsored bishops for the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria.

It’s the sort of place where people, overwhelmed by their troubles, go to end their lives; hence the message:

God is greater than all of our troubles.

It doesn’t always feel that way, and with an outreached hand, a smile, a word in season, we might, all unawares, help  someone to carry on a little longer. Even a notice like this one may touch a troubled soul, though it must have taken great trust for Whitby fishermen’s wives to believe it, on nights when their men were lost on a stormy sea.

judas

Is the suicide lost? The stonemasons of Strasbourg did not think so, for they showed the Risen Lamb of God untying the hanged Judas to bring him back from the mouth of Hell.

If our journey is delayed by a suicide or a fatal accident, let us forgive those whose actions cause us inconvenience, let us not complain at the delay, but rather let us pray for the victim, for those innocently caught up in the incident, and the families and friends of all concerned.

This reflection comes after another railway trespasser’s death led to a callous response from a delayed passenger.

samaritans.ticket nov2017

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October 25, Month of Mission: Beachy Head Chaplains

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William Blake lived near Beachy Head in Sussex, part of the range of chalk cliffs he drew as a background for this verse.

Virginia Woolf was to drown herself in the nearby River Ouse a century and a half later, but today it is the cliffs themselves that attract the lonely, depressed and overwhelmed who are tempted to take their lives.

The Beachy Head Chaplaincy team are Christians from local churches ‘and although we reach out with the love of God, we never impose our faith on the people we seek to help.

‘We believe that by receiving skilled crisis intervention support at their time of crisis, people in suicidal distress can be awakened to the hope that there are other ways forward to address the problems they face.’judas

The Apostle Judas went out and hanged himself after seeing Jesus arrested and condemned, but the artist of Strasbourg Cathedral’s west front shows us the Lamb of God coming to release him from his noose and away from the mouth of Hell to go in at Heaven’s Gate.

In their different ways, the well-to-do and well-connected Virginia Woolf, and the disciple who was trusted by Jesus, were both privileged, yet both knew despair. It is not for us to condemn them, or any other suicide; rather let us support with prayer and alms brave good neighbours like the Samaritans and the Beachy Head Chaplains, not forgetting the official first responders, Police, Ambulance, Fire, Coastguard and Lifeboats.

And may we be ready with small talk or even a just a smile for anyone we meet.  Lead, Kindly Light!

 

 

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22 September: A railway reminder

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I was leaving a railway station when the Samaritans’ placard caught my eye: it was fastened to the railing at the top of the footbridge, so that everyone could see it as they climbed. A mental ‘thumbs-up’ to them from me!

The following day, on the rails again, I turned my tickets over to find two different messages from the Samaritans. Notice the slogan, ‘small talk saves lives.‘ The life of an individual human being is small when set against the whole of Creation, but it is all that that person knows, through their own direct experience or through conversation, reading, viewing or listening: their one life is the big thing for them, with sensations and experiences arriving constantly from all sides, not all of them welcome, some of them overwhelming.

tickets

 

If a beloved feels overwhelmed, it’s a big thing for those who care for them. So big that they too may feel overwhelmed and not know what to do or say.

So perhaps Jesus was right to tell us to ‘consider the lilies of the field.’ (Matthew 6:28)  Small things, small talk. There was heather encroaching on the Yorkshire station; lovely purple flowers, but too far away on the opposite platform for me to catch the scent and comment on it to a fellow passenger.

On the return journey two sisters and their four teenaged children were on the train, talking about everything and nothing: small talk that meant nothing and everything. Another advert proclaimed that ‘I love you’ is one of the hardest things to say; but every word and gesture in this group announced that message loud and clear.

Even small words are not always needed. I had a profound experience on an underground train soon after a terrorist attack. I found myself standing next to a British Transport policeman. He was very tired, and had seen I know not what. Not a word was spoken, no gesture, no touch, but I prayed in my heart. When he got off he said, Thank You, and disappeared into the night.

 

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18 August: Mini Pilgrimage around Canterbury III.

 

 

We moved on to Saint Martin’s Church, where our prayer was extempore.

The two walls shown here include plenty of Roman brick as well as a few local flints. There are three blocked off doorways; the central one may be the one Saint Bertha used in 597. The windows and buttress are recent. The ground has risen above the level of the church floor – is that 1400 years of burials? 

Saint Martin’s Chancel showing Roman red bricks.

From the oldest Church in town we went to one of the newest, the chapel of Canterbury Christ Church University. ‘Wow!’ said Caroline. It is a lovely space, but we especially came to see the tapestry.

cccu chapel tapistry

Dear Lord our Father,

Jesus the Good Shepherd bids us welcome and extends to us the invitation “Come to me”. He knows the troubles we have, our weariness and our failing strength as we try our best to live our lives in keeping with your overarching plan for us and for the world.

Remind us to always turn to him for comfort and restoration whenever we feel life is becoming burdensome.

We are all at times lost sheep, in need of a desire to come back to you.

At this time we remember the artist of the Lost Sheep painting and entrust her soul to your tender care. May all those who find life difficult remember your invitation to come back to you. Amen

The Lost Sheep painting that hung in the chapel was by a former student who was found dead in the Solent. 

Before leaving we looked at the Bible, open at Romans:

It is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’

A good verse for pilgrims!


We made our way back to Saint Mildred’s and stopped there to see the Good Shepherd statue, before we sat down, in true L’Arche tradition, to share a meal together.

good shepherd s mildred.jpg

There are many other places we could visit next time we have a MINI PILGRIMAGE AROUND CANTERBURY. Let’s see what next year brings!

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July 9. Readings from Mary Webb XVII: Beyond

 

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Far beyond, far beyond,
Deeper than the glassy pond,
My shivering spirit sits and weeps
And never sleeps.

Like the autumn dove that grieves,
Darkly hid in dove-like leaves,
So I moan within a woe
None may know.

Not having children, carrying pain and disfigurement, exiled in London to further her literary career: we can begin to list the trials of Mary Webb, but like all of us, at times she bore a woe that none may know. May we trust that it will pass or that we will learn how to confine it or to tell someone about it.

And may we be ready to listen, trusting the Spirit to give us wisdom when we need it.

samaritans cards 2019

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June 8: Above a whisper

samaritans cards 2019

The day after I published the post ‘After all the Shouting’, praising the work of the Samaritans’ listeners, I turned up at Canterbury West Station again. This time there were tables outside the door, and a group of Samaritans, my friend L’s colleagues. Sadly, the electric railway does attract those seeking to end their lives; it’s  a good spot to raise people’s awareness of the Samaritans’ services.

‘Thank you for sharing our work,’ I was told, when I told how I had posted about them here. The woman I spoke to gave me these cards, so feel free to share the telephone number – or whatever your country’s local equivalent might be.

‘And although we have seventy volunteers, we could always use more to maintain our 24 hour service, seven days a week. We can’t manage that at present.’

For myself, I’ve been drawn back into L’Arche  Kent, and could easily find myself involved there 24/7. There’s always something to be done, and a friend or two to do it with, as you’ll appreciate if you’ve followed our recent pilgrimage posts. But where do your gifts and inclinations lie?

Please pray for the Samaritans and for those who turn to them and other helplines in times of need and distress.

 

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After all the shouting

 

samaritans' poster cbw

A man recently took his life after appearing on a British ‘reality’ tv show where a lie detector allegedly ‘proved’ that he was unfaithful to his partner.

Thank God for the Samaritans, including my friend L, who listen in ways beyond the capabilities of such shows. They know, far better than the distressed caller ever can, how much their death will affect others. Here’s another reminder of how to contact them, a poster that greets the traveller at Canterbury West station in Kent.

Talk to us if things are getting to you, 116123.

And if someone desperate talks to you, take courage, and listen.

WT

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