Does Alfred Lord Tennyson look like a gardener in that velvet jacket and brilliantly laundered shirt? I did wonder. William Allingham went to visit him at his home on the Isle of Wight on this day in 1867 and committed these reflections to his diary.
Farringford. Tennyson and I busied ourselves in the shrubberies, transplanting primroses with spade, knife and wheelbarrow. After dinner T. concocts an experimental punch with whisky and claret — not successful. Talks of Publishers, anon of higher things. He said, ‘I feel myself to be a centre — can’t believe I shall die. Sometimes I have doubts, of a morning. Time and Space appear thus by reason of our boundedness.’
We spoke of Swedenborg, animals, etc., all with the friendliest sympathy and mutual understanding. T. is the most delightful man in the world to converse with, even when he disagrees.
To my inn, where I woke in the dark, bitten, and improvised two lines —
Who in a country inn lies ill at ease
On fozy feathers filled with furious fleas.
On 1 February Allingham had noted:
To step outside the human limitations is not granted even to [a poet]. The secret is kept from one and all of us... A poet's doubts and anxieties are more comforting than a scientist's certainties and equanimities.
At the end of this week a certain garden will feature in our reflections. Let's see if we can't tidy our own patches between now and Easter, or buy in a few pots of bulbs, primroses or pansies to celebrate the new life promised through Easter.
‘C’ is Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish thinker who was a friend of WIlliam Allingham, the Irish poet and editor, whose diary entry we share from this day in 1878. William Lecky was an Irish historian and politician, married to a lady-in-waiting to the Queen of the Netherlands. Friedrich Wilhelm was the German Kaiser. The illustration is from a Methodist book for children.
C. spoke of Darwinism. ‘ I don’t care three ha’pence for the Darwinian Theory.’
By and by he said, ‘ It is impossible to believe otherwise than that this world is the work of an Intelligent Mind, The Power which has formed us — He (or It — if that appears to any one more suitable) has known how to put into the human soul an ineradicable love of justice and truth.
‘The best bit for me in Kant is that saying of his, ” Two things strike me dumb with astonishment — the Starry Heavens and the Sense of Right and Wrong in the Human Soul.” These physical gentlemen ought to be struck dumb if they properly consider the nature of the Universe.’
Mrs. Lecky suggested that investigation as well as reverence was natural to man, and would not Mr. Carlyle permit inquiry ?
‘Oh yes,’ he said (half jestingly), ‘ man is full of curiosity — but I would order these people to say as little as possible. Friedrich Wilhelm’s plan would be the right one with them, ” Hold your tongue or else — ” ‘
My impression of scientists is that many of them do indeed have a sense of reverence as well as the instinct for investigation. We owe a great deal of whatever security we have to the work of scientists. The young surgeon who spoke to me after operating on my brain described his awe at seeing my brain within my opened skull: a privileged view of human life shared by very few people. He was all but lost for words.
It’s a while since we heard from Fr James Kurzynski, the astronomer and parish priest, scientist and theologian. He’s been reading Pope Benedict and reflects on his reading in this article.
This extract is from the beginning; do follow the link for a most interesting lead.
Reflecting on Genesis 1:20-24, Benedict XVI (writing then as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) begins with a beautiful summary of two, core realisations about the Creation narratives and the Church’s authentic understanding of them.*
We can sum up the first in this way: As Christians we read Holy Scripture with Christ. He is our guide all the way through it. He indicates to us in reliable fashion what an image is and where the real, enduring content of a biblical expression may be found. At the same time he is freedom from a false slavery to literalism and a guarantee of the solid, realistic truth of the Bible, which does not dissipate into a cloud of pious pleasantries but remains the sure ground upon which we can stand. Our second realisation was this: Faith in creation is reasonable. Even if reason itself cannot perhaps give an account of it, it searches in faith and finds there the answer that it had been looking for.
*In the Beginning.: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Eerdmans New York, 1995, p21.
Brother Guy Consolmagno was meant to be addressing an astronomy conference recently, but a mild case of covid meant that he had to do so remotely, though he’d already arrived in Scotland, ready, or so he thought, to speak about meteorites. He reflects on his experience:(follow the link for the full text).
I’ve lost track of how many Covid “waves” this has been, but unlike the last waves there has been no uptick in deaths this time. Still, it’s no fun having your travel plans disturbed by disease, even after you’ve taken all the recommended precautions.
Some forty-plus years ago, the brilliant engineer Freeman Dyson wrote a book called Disturbing the Universe and the title alone would make it memorable. (The rest of the book’s pretty good, too.) Each of us has had to endure having our universes disturbed, by causes big or small. And each of us in turn disturbs the universe as well. We can’t help but poke and prod… sometimes with spacecraft, sometimes with prayer. It’s a universe that was created to be disturbed.
Thanks for your continued prayers and support, and know that you also have mine!
We were going to write about NASA’s James Webb telescope but Canon Anthony Charlton beat us to it. He is PP of St Thomas, Canterbury.
Amidst all the news about the continued atrocities in Ukraine and the search for a new prime minister, the first full-colour picture from the new James Webb Space Telescope has been released. The $10bn James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), was launched last Christmas and is billed as the successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope.
It will make all sorts of observations of the sky but has two overarching goals. One is to take pictures of the very first stars to shine in the Universe more than 13.5 billion years ago; the other is to probe far-off planets to see if they might be habitable.
The BBC website reported “The image is said to be the deepest, most detailed infrared view of the Universe to date, containing the light from galaxies that has taken many billions of years to reach us. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. And that light that you are seeing on one of those little specks has been travelling for over 13 billion years,” said Nasa administrator Bill Nelson.” And by the way, we’re going back further, because this is just the first image. They’re going back about 13 and a half billion years. And since we know the Universe is 13.8 billion years old, you’re going back almost to the beginning.”
What an exciting revelation. It is hard to take in but amazing that we have such a new glimpse of the universe. I immediately thought of the words of Psalm 8
“When I see the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you arranged, what is man that you should keep him in mind, or the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him little lower than the angels; with glory and honour you crowned him, gave him power over the works of your hands. You put all things under his feet.”
Canon Father Anthony Charlton, Parish Priest, St Thomas’, Canterbury.
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.
Are we being called to accompany rather than correct?
This is from a post by Eric Clayton, who was irritated by a bossy safety feature on his car. And that question and its link were to be today”s post, until the very same day I read another Jesuit writer’s wisdom, which answers the question pretty well:
We’re all members of a band, each of us with our own instrument to play. And we play best when we each add our part and don’t try to tell everyone else in the band how to play their instruments.
This Lily Crucifix is striking. The figure of Christ is bleeding yet not broken; indeed he looks vigorous. The cross, too, is not dead wood but a lily of the field, full of sap and flowering. It’s not a canna – the one we usually call an Easter Lily – but an Easter Lily for all that. Christ, the wounded Christ, is risen! Immediately below the lily cross the church has placed the tabernacle or aumbry, housing the wafer that Christians recognise as the body of Christ.
Scattered across the wall are five-petalled pink flowers, surely wild roses like the one below. Or are they stars, their numbers counted by Him alone? Earth’s astronomers keep on counting more and more of them as their instruments look ever further, but they seem to have given up on names, instead allotting numbers to the innumerable golden grains they perceive and whose vastness they measure from light years away. They know they will never reach the end of the numbers but they trust that their work is valuable. It is valuable, for it is awe inspiring.
Here is Christina Rossetti, saying all this and more, with greater eloquence than your correspondent!
Leaf from leaf Christ knows; Himself the Lily and the Rose
Leaf from leaf Christ knows; Himself the Lily and the Rose:
Sheep from sheep Christ tells; Himself the Shepherd, no one else:
Star and star He names, Himself outblazing all their flames:
Dove by dove, He calls To set each on the golden walls:
Drop by drop, He counts The flood of ocean as it mounts:
Grain by grain, His hand Numbers the innumerable sand.
Lord, I lift to Thee In peace what is and what shall be:
Lord, in peace I trust To Thee all spirits and all dust.
If we are to succeed in combatting climate change it will be by taking action based on scientific reflection. Often the research papers are inaccessible in libraries that can pay for journal subscriptions. Something is being done about that. Read on.
The Laudato Si’ Research Institute at Campion Hall, Oxford (LSRI) and Knowledge Unlatched (KU) have joined forces to make 11 titles from the field of Integral Ecology Open Access (OA) – freely accessible.
In his encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of a united, global response to the current ecological crisis. Dialogue and learning on integral ecology, however, is often hindered by limited access to the academic publications on the subject, which are not affordable for many individuals and institutions in lower-income countries. The Laudato Si’ Integral Ecology Collection was developed to address this problem by making OA a selection of key texts on integral ecology. The collection will provide a valuable resource for lay readers, students, and those undertaking more advanced academic study. Publications in the collection could also be read as part of a reading group or an online course.
The titles will be made available OA to users all over the world after the official launch of the Collection on Thursday, 3 March, 2022. The books will be hosted in a special module on the Open Research Library.
“I am thrilled to be launching this pioneering OA library of books on integral ecology, which will reach people globally, whether one is a university student in the Philippines, a layperson engaged in environmental action in the UK, or a college teacher in Kenya,” said Séverine Deneulin, Director of International Development at LSRI, adding: “We hope that the Laudato Si’ Integral Ecology Collection will not only contribute to narrowing the knowledge gap between different regions of the world but also equip people globally to better respond to the cries of the earth and of the poor.”
“We are delighted to work with the LSRI team on making this collection of important content freely available thanks to the KU Reverse model,” said Philipp Hess, KU’s Manager of Publisher Relations. “We are also very grateful to the co-funding institutions that have helped to make this possible.”
Part of me wants Genesis 9:8-15, God’s Covenant with Noah, to be an Easter Vigil reading, when in fact it comes at the beginning of Lent in Year B. Nevertheless, it does speak of salvation, and water bringing Noah’s family to new life; it’s a little taste of Easter as Lent starts. The rainbow still tastes of Easter if we celebrate it in Easter week, with the curate of Selborne, Gilbert White. Our picture is of the rainbow seen over our friend Mrs O’s house on the day of her funeral. White was a pioneer of natural history, and here the scientist and theologian are one with the poet: ‘Lovely refraction!’ ‘Maker Omnipotent.’Happy Easter!
ON THE RAINBOW by Gilbert White of Selborne.
” Look upon the Rainbow, and praise him that made it: very beautiful is it in the brightness thereof.” Ecclesiastes, 18:11.
On morning or on evening cloud impress'd,
Bent in vast curve, the watery meteor shines
Delightfully, to th' levell'd sun opposed:
Lovely refraction ! while the vivid brede
In listed colours glows, th' unconscious swain,
With vacant eye, gazes on the divine
Phenomenon, gleaming o'er the illumined fields,
Or runs to catch the treasures which it sheds.
Not so the sage: inspired with pious awe,
He hails the federal arch ; and looking up,
Adores that God, whose fingers form'd this bow
Magnificent, compassing heaven about
With a resplendent verge, " Thou mad'st the cloud,
Maker omnipotent, and thou the bow
And by that covenant graciously hast sworn
Never to drown the world again: henceforth,
Till time shall be no more, in ceaseless round,
Season shall follow season: day to night,
Summer to winter, harvest to seed time,
Heat shall to cold in regular array
Succeed. — Heav'n taught, so sang the Hebrew bard."
(from “The Natural History of Selborne” by Gilbert White)