At L’Arche Kent we cannot let a year go by without some of us joining in the BBC and RSPB’s* annual Big Bird Watch – spending an hour at the Glebe,§ watching to see how many species and how many individuals call in to our feeding stations.
Nothing exotic here! The parakeets have not arrived in Canterbury yet; there must be plenty of pickings in the Thanet seaside towns to encourage them to say.
But we saw seven sparrows at once and a pair of moorhens: as you see, we are at the riverside. We were quite surprised not to spot any wood pigeons, but when our photographer went to speak to someone at the other end of the garden he saw that they had been there all the time, behind the shed and therefore out of sight.
The rats were there all the time too, but then it was the first day of the Chinese Year of the Rat.
As ever, the afternoon ended with a shared meal, in thanks for a shared afternoon enjoying creation, including each other’s company. Laudato Si!
Our little bit of information sent into the national survey may help ensure that these birds are not lost to Britain. The rats, however intelligent they may be, will have to be controlled, for the sake of the garden as well as the birds who will be nesting here. Stewards of Creation we are meant to be, not exploiters, and it was human intervention that enabled rats to conquer the world. This rat retreated in the face of the moorhen’s sharp beak. They generally keep out of our way.
*BBC – British Broadcasting Corpor ation, the radio and tv people; RSPB – Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
§ Glebe: a plot of land for the priest to grow food on: a church allotment.
Just looking at this photograph, I can feel the cold; the crisp, clear cold of the Alpine winter I enjoyed in my youth. We may well not see a flake this winter down in Kent, but we ca expect some cold, wet, ‘let’s stay indoors’ days.
Time to sit in the warm and be grateful for it, not taking it for granted. The sentence I quoted above invites us to such reflection, for it reads in full:
Autumn can be a powerful time of reflection about life, transition, change, death, and what comes after the winter snows of our Earthly journey’s end.
Well, when I read Fr James Kurzynski’s article back in October I had already slotted posts for every day that could count as officially autumnal, but it seemed just as appropriate to Advent, so I’m sharing it now. Follow the link to Fr James’s back yard. He was stargazing, not looking for the Star of Bethlehem, but still found wonder, light and burning beauty in the skies and in his soul.
A bit cold in the Northern hemisphere for lying out on the grass, but telescope or no telescope, even five minutes stargazing in a city garden brings a reminder of the wonders of ‘our galactic home’.
Saint Francis did not have a telescope but he did have a family; we read about his renunciation of their privileged way of life tomorrow. That decision enabled him to lie down on Sister Earth anf admire the heavens!
A London night sky.
AS we in the northern hemisphere enter Advent and the darker days of winter, here is a thought-provoking article from ‘Sacred Space’ the Vatican Observatory site.
It shows just how light pollution affects us, and what we miss through our obsessive use of street lighting. This is not just a matter for astronomers. Take away dark skies and we have less to see and wonder at. Dark skies would help us to be more human and humble creatures: no wonder we are scared of them.
Read and ponder. Would the wise men have seen the Christmas star today?
O Lord, open our eyes, And our mouth shall declare your praise.
After yesterday’s post from Margate which mentioned the cormorants in Rye, I thought we could borrow one from Will Turnstone’s more private and occasional journal. This was posted in 2017 after a visit to Lambeth Palace Library, in search of Arthur Hughes.
Today I walked from Waterloo to Lambeth beside a river confined by embankments, with light shipping passing by the Palace of Westminster and cyclists, joggers, dog-walkers and tourists in both directions along the path, not all looking where they were going.
One thing I was hoping to see, but only saw when I wasn’t looking for it – a cormorant. Picture this big bird flying past the Houses of Parliament; I watched from the opposite bank.
In my youth anyone falling in the River might have died from poisoning. They even kept my little brother in hospital for observation after he fell into the Serpentine Lake in the park (and I had to go home on the bus in wet clothes after dragging him out).
There must be enough fish in the river to satisfy those greedy cormorants.
When my mother and I visited my 4 year-old brother in hospital on the following Friday he was happy to say goodbye when the time came. Dinner had arrived – fish and chips and it looked really tasty! He’s now a chef and still very fond of fish; and there are even herons along the Serpentine these days.
The citizen scientists of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds were not least among those who fought and worked to clean up London’s River. Pray that we all may take courage to walk the next steps – and look where we’re going!
RSPB image, see here:
Missio’s magazine, Mission Today, invites us to join Pope Francis and the whole Church in praying for his monthly prayer intentions, particularly on Fridays. We will try to share these intentions with you over the months. For September Pope Francis prays:
May politicians, scientists and economists work together to protect the world’s seas and oceans.
The picture shows Margate in Kent, a seaside resort for some 200 years. It’s not a bad spot to contemplate the seas and oceans. The sea here once carried all manner of filth thrown into the Thames upstream in London and other towns, while Margate pumped its own sewage and refuse a little way out to sea, ready to return on the next tide. 25 years ago I took a group of schoolchildren to investigate the new sewage works that put a stop to that. Now Margate has a blue flag which proudly announces that the water and sands are clean.
Furthermore, the cormorants we saw diving at Rye on 12 December last year are also to be seen on London’s river, opposite the Houses of Parliament. It is possible for politicians, scientists and economists to work together to protect the seas and oceans, and we have our part to play, from what we throw away and how we do so, to young Abel litter-picking, to what we eat. In a land with universal suffrage, we are all politicians. We are all economists, at least when we loosen the purse strings; and scientists, if we stop to think about what we are doing. Unlike TS Eliot, at Margate sands we can connect something with everything,
Truth can be hidden in many ways. We can so easily convince ourselves that we are more important than we are. One example of this is street and even alleyway lighting: there is more of it than we need, and because LED lamps are so economical, councils are loth to risk the ire of people who want the lights on all night. But we don’t need all those lights!
We are none of us so important that we need lights on in our street all through the night, just in case we come home late. And the lights also get in the way of a humbling fact of life: we might realise that we are small, unimportant in the universe, if only we could see the stars!
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet. Psalm 8.
I’ve been saving these paragraphs on Astronomy to share with you, from the Vatican Observatory blog, Sacred Space. The writer is Brother Guy Consolmagno of the Observatory.
“Why does the Vatican have an Observatory?” That common question begs the bigger one, why anyone does astronomy. Contrary to what our culture preaches, astronomy doesn’t make you rich, powerful, or sexy. (Maybe that’s why my Jesuit vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience felt so natural.) What astronomy does do, however, is give you the space to contemplate questions bigger than “what’s for lunch?”
Doing science is a way of becoming intimate with creation, and thus with the Creator. The urge to know the truth above all else is common to all scientists, even those who don’t recognize that their devotion to truth is a devotion to God. To me it is an act of prayer.
Image from NASA
What does the word ‘mermaid’ suggest to you? Andersen and Disney sweet young girl, giving herself to the man she loves? Or else the seal-women of Scotland, or the sirens of Greek legend, luring unloved men to their deaths?
The Mermaid rose is s beautiful as any of those, but has more in common with the sirens. Get too close to her and you won’t escape easily from her sharp, backward-facing thorns. But she’s lovely enough, if handled with leather gloves. She’ll grow 4m plus high and those buds will open to creamy yellow single flowers. The deep red berberis leaves set her off well.
It’s not altogether necessary to go on pilgrimage to appreciate the ‘flowers of the field’. (Matthew 6.26) I think that when Jesus encouraged us to consider them, he wanted us first of all to look about us, to look around our feet, on in Mermaid’s case, at or below eye-level; we have to protect our neighbours from her by careful use of secateurs.
But think of all those patient souls who have bred the varieties we love; their considerations went much further, looking at the future and how this or that rose might perform. Or the men and women working to refine the healing power of plants from around the world for the good of all.
Consider the flowers.
Our Saviour’s cross is the throne of delights. That Centre of Eternity, that Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradise of God. There are we entertained with the wonder of all ages. There we enter into the heart of the universe. There we behold the admiration of Angels. There we find the price and elixir of our joys.
As on every side of the earth all heavy things tend to the centre; so all nations ought on every side to flow in unto it. It is not by going with the feet, but by journeys of the Soul, that we travel thither. By withdrawing our thoughts from wandering in the streets of this World, to the contemplation and serious meditation of His blood sufferings. Where the carcase is thither will the eagle be gathered together. Our eyes must be towards it, our hearts set upon it, our affections drawn, and of thoughts and minds United to it. When I am lifted up, saith the Son of Man, I will draw all men unto me.
Traherne was able to reconcile science and faith with his remarks on gravity.
The Cross as the door of Mercy
We had been looking forward to the Bird Watch since Christmas, so it was good to gather again at the Glebe to see who might fly in.
The moorhen walked in from the river alongside, otherwise the rest flew in. Four robins were twice as many as we might have hoped for. The bird table must be shared territory, but one of them was prepared to chase all comers – except his mate – from the feeder by the river gate. Even the bird table was only grudgingly shared and there were a few ruffled feathers when three or four robins were there together: rights to the table had to be asserted!
Watching the Dunnocks
There were at least seven sparrows, that being the most we saw at any one time. I think that was more than last year. The highlight for two of us was seeing a pair of dunnocks. They could manage the feeder but were happier pecking about on the ground. But two dunnocks were two more than last year.
What else? blue tits, great tit, wood pigeon and collared doves, blackbirds, and a blue-green Kubaburra bird flapping his wings and frightening the others away.
Having fed the birds, the humans fed themselves and looked forward to a new season of gardening. Watch the weather and watch this space!
. . .
On my next visit, the first bird I saw was a goldfinch, too late for the survey and too late for the other observers!
Our little contribution to the national survey was science in action. There was also wonder in action: you should have heard people marvelling at the subtle plumage of the dunnocks! And such wonder is prayer in action: Laudato Si! It helps to make it explicit sometimes, as at the end of the day. And to begin with a morning offering:
Good Morning Life, and all things glad and beautiful.
Photos: top MMB, below Przemek Florek
Professor Kate Bulinski is a paeleontologist at Bellarmine University in America. I wanted to share her guest blog at the Vatican Observatory website, as it challenges us to face up to our responsibilities to observe God’s Creation and our part in it – and to start to restore, renew and revive what we have unwittingly damaged. Here is a short sample from her post. Click on her name above to read it in full. A good Advent read. Let’s pray for the enthusiasm to carry on despite the odds, like these children, digging at Aberdaron beach, despite the rain.
I sometimes ask my students to contemplate what the fossil record of the 21st century would look like. Would we have layers of sediment embedded with plastic debris and electronic waste? … What would future humans (or our evolutionary descendants!) have to say about this era of Earth history? And perhaps more importantly, what would God say about how we responded to the charge to care for creation and how we responded once we realized the mistakes we were making?