Tag Archives: sea

20 March: On not reinventing the wheel.

Two young mothers pushing their babies on Margate prom. Their buggies double up as shopping trolleys.

The discussion drifted to mobility and the challenges posed by diminishing powers in later life.

Jane had struggled with herself to adopt a walking stick, and then a walker with a seat and shopping box. ‘But that was silly of me, because now I can get down to the shops and the promenade.’ The thought of not seeing the sea, though living so close, had steeled her to swallow her pride and try the aids.

‘I can do so much more now’, she says.

Reinventing the wheel or even the walking stick seems excessive, but many of us learn the hard way. Jane would tell you how its tempting to be too self-reliant, too independent. In the 1980’s people in big mental hospitals were released into ‘the community’ to live independently; often in a one bedroom flat somewhere completely unknown to the person concerned who would have been incarcerated for decades.

‘The community’ did not exist for them unless someone made an effort to befriend them.

Jane’s first walker trolley was given to her by a fellow member of the exercise group, who had another that suited her better. The group is a little community, even when meeting by zoom.

What can we learn from this little story? To accept help or advice graciously, to admit that no man (or woman) is an island entire of itself, not even me! So we are all responsible for each other, and are diminished if a neighbour suffers; we are, or should be, involved in mankind, conscious of each other’s needs and gifts.

No Man Is An Island by John Donne

No man is an island, 
Entire of itself, 
Every man is a piece of the continent, 
A part of the main. 
If a clod be washed away by the sea, 
Europe is the less. 
As well as if a promontory were. 
As well as if a manor of thy friend's 
Or of thine own were: 
Any man's death diminishes me, 
Because I am involved in mankind, 
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee.

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13 February: A Motto to live by.

317px-Philip_Doddridge.jpg (317×479)
Philip Doddridge D.D.

How are you doing with those New Year’s Resolutions? Read on for some encouragement!

Samuel Johnson and James Boswell are in Skye, made very welcome by a local chief, but unable to move on because the weather was too bad for sailing or rowing, and of course Calmac steamships had not yet appeared. Here is Boswell describing one of their conversations. Doctor Doddridge was a non-conformist minister and hymn writer who died in 1751, 22 years before the friends’ tour of Scotland. More of Boswell’s idiosyncratic spellings.

Dr Dodridge being mentioned, [Johnson] observed that ‘he was author of one of the finest epigrams in the English language. It is in Orton’s Life of him. The subject is his family-motto, Dum vivimus, vivamus*; which, in its primary signification, is, to be sure, not very suitable to a Christian divine; but he paraphrased it thus:

  Live, while you live, the EPICURE would say,
  And seize the pleasures of the present day.
  Live, while you live, the sacred PREACHER cries,
  And give to God each moment as it flies.
 
  Lord, in my views let both united be;
  I live in PLEASURE, when I live to THEE. 

(from The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. by James Boswell)

*While we are alive, let us live!

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11 January: Brownings XXV and silence by the shore

In her long poem, The Soul’s Travelling, Elizabeth Barrett Browning is by the sea as well, though not at Broadstairswhere we were yesterday. In a previous stanza she described a hollow where she could hear, but not see, the ocean ebbing and flowing across the beach. Broadstairs is a bit more open than that, but in the next bay after the pier I used to snatch a few minutes of silence in a hollow at the foot of the cliff. The curlews and other sea birds were calling right through winter, but the silence was still all around.

Except that sound, the place is full
Of silences, which when you cull
By any word, it thrills you so
That presently you let them grow
To meditation's fullest length
Across your soul with a soul's strength:
And as they touch your soul, they borrow
Both of its grandeur and its sorrow,
That deathly odour which the clay
Leaves on its deathlessness alwày.

from The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning Volume II.

Another beach for silence in the sounds of the sea is Aberdaron in West Wales – follow the tag to read more posts about it. The church is at the top of the beach and the sea’s singing accentuates the message embroidered on this seat runner. You don’t need external silence to be still; the Lord is on your side wherever you are, you vessel of clay, holding his treasure! (2 Corinthians 4:7)

WT

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January 2, Tagore XVI: My day is done.

margatesunset-21-1-17

My day is done,

and I am like a boat drawn on the beach,

listening to the dance-music of the tide in the evening.

from “Stray Birds” by Rabindranath Tagore
And very gentle music it was, this winter’s evening in Margate. At the turn of the year, let’s pray that we may enjoy such evenings in this life, with a warm home to return to.
And may He support us all the day long, till the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest and peace at the last.
Amen.
John Henry Cardinal Newman
Apologies that the Tagore’s numbering has got out of sequence.

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9 November: Only the surface is wrinkled.

Looking towards Llyn

This is an old man’s poem: short and bitter-sweet, but nourishing. I came to it in Jim Cotter’s Etched in Silence collection, Canterbury Press, 2013, which Cotter presents as a pilgrimage through R.S. Thomas’s poems, one for each week of the year. This is allocated to week 45, this second week in November.

I look out over the timeless sea
over the head of one, calendar
to time’s passing, who is now open
at the last month, her hair wintry. 

Am I catalyst of her mettle that,
at my approach, her grimace of pain
turns to a smile? What it is saying is:
“Over love’s depths only the surface is wrinkled."

R.S. Thomas, ‘I look out over the timeless sea’, in Collected later poems, 1988-2000, Bloodaxe Books 2004 p72

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23 September, Season of Creation XXIV: aquatic life, Laudato Si’ VIII.

41. In tropical and subtropical seas, we find coral reefs comparable to the great forests on dry land, for they shelter approximately a million species, including fish, crabs, molluscs, sponges and algae. Many of the world’s coral reefs are already barren or in a state of constant decline. “Who turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of colour and life?” This phenomenon is due largely to pollution which reaches the sea as the result of deforestation, agricultural monocultures, industrial waste and destructive fishing methods, especially those using cyanide and dynamite. It is aggravated by the rise in temperature of the oceans. All of this helps us to see that every intervention in nature can have consequences which are not immediately evident, and that certain ways of exploiting resources prove costly in terms of degradation which ultimately reaches the ocean bed itself.

42. Greater investment needs to be made in research aimed at understanding more fully the functioning of ecosystems and adequately analysing the different variables associated with any significant modification of the environment. Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another. Each area is responsible for the care of this family. This will require undertaking a careful inventory of the species which it hosts, with a view to developing programmes and strategies of protection with particular care for safeguarding species heading towards extinction.

All Creatures are dependent on one another, but humans can consciously care for this family. Francis is strongly supporting the scientists here.

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September 12, 1775: A most pleasing effect on my mind. Season of Creation XIV.

An Island ferry docked at Mallaig.

Two Hundred and forty six years ago, Dr Johnson and James Boswell were on the Isle of Raasay in the Hebrides, making for Skye and thence for home. No regular Calmac ferry then! Indeed they had waited in the islands for clement weather to allow the rowing boats to set out. Now the conversation grew serious; can one die contented? Johnson’s answer is comprehensive, and reminds me of the old catechism answer: God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next. We rely on his mercy for the latter.

More of Boswell’s idiosyncratick spelling!

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 12. It was a beautiful day, and although we did not approve of travelling on Sunday, we resolved to set out, as we were in an island from whence one must take occasion as it serves. Macleod and Talisker sailed in a boat of Rasay’s for Sconser, to take the shortest way to Dunvegan. M’Cruslick went with them to Sconser, from whence he was to go to Slate, and so to the main land. We were resolved to pay a visit at Kingsburgh, and see the celebrated Miss Flora Macdonald, who is married to the present Mr. Macdonald of Kingsburgh; so took that road, though not so near.

All the family, but Lady Rasay, walked down to the shore to see us depart. Rasay himself went with us in a large boat, with eight oars, built in his island; as did Mr. Malcolm M’Cleod, Mr. Donald M’Queen, Dr. Macleod, and some others. We had a most pleasant sail between Rasay and Sky; and passed by a cave, where Martin says fowls were caught by lighting fire in the mouth of it. Malcolm remembers this. But it is not now practised, as few fowls come into it.

We spoke of Death. Dr. Johnson on this subject observed, that the boastings of some men, as to dying easily, were idle talk, proceeding from partial views. I mentioned Hawthornden’s Cypress-grove, where it is said that the world is a mere show; and that it is unreasonable for a man to wish to continue in the show-room, after he has seen it. Let him go cheerfully out, and give place to other spectators.

JOHNSON. ‘Yes, Sir, if he is sure he is to be well, after he goes out of it. But if he is to grow blind after he goes out of the show-room, and never to see any thing again; or if he does not know whither he is to go next, a man will not go cheerfully out of a show-room. No wise man will be contented to die, if he thinks he is to go into a state of punishment. Nay, no wise man will be contented to die, if he thinks he is to fall into annihilation: for however unhappy any man’s existence may be, he yet would rather have it, than not exist at all. No; there is no rational principle by which a man can die contented, but a trust in the mercy of GOD, through the merits of Jesus Christ.’

This short sermon, delivered with an earnest tone, in a boat upon the sea, which was perfectly calm, on a day appropriated to religious worship, while every one listened with an air of satisfaction, had a most pleasing effect upon my mind.

From “Life of Johnson, Vol 5 Tour to the Hebrides (1773)” by James Boswell.

Keeley Psalms devotions_30
Follow this link for Sister Johanna’s Psalm reflection for today, again bearing out CS Lewis and Thomas Merton:

‘In the psalms we have theology expressed poetically.’ 

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25 August: The seafarer’s chant.

From Saint David’s Cathedral

We wanted to keep yesterday’s post simple for it needs no introduction, no explanation. Dr Maclean gave his own afterword to today’s prayer, so no more from your editors today.

Be Thou Thyself the guiding star above me,
Lighthouse be thou for every reef and shoal,
Pilot my barque upon the crest of sea-wave
To where the waters make no moan or roll.
Oh the restful haven of the wandering soul!

This, is it not a matchless prayer for fishers of every race and age? The Hebridean, with but a plank between him and the seabed, murmured it a thousand times. As he did so, his vision bore him to some still port far from the breaking seas, some secret haven where the green swell is dumb, and children play on the pearl-white sand.

From Hebridean Altars by Alistair Maclean, 1937.

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31 July: THE OUTLET.

I am privileged to live close enough to the sea to cycle there in under an hour (I’m getting slower in old age!) No further comment on Emily’s little poem below, except that someone should carve it in stone at some seaside place, and perhaps I should get it by heart. The blue-white building in the background is Margate’s Turner Centre. Maybe we could chisel it into the concrete there?


 THE OUTLET

My river runs to thee:
Blue sea, wilt welcome me?
 My river waits reply.
Oh sea, look graciously!
 I'll fetch thee brooks
From spotted nooks, —
 Say, sea,
Take me!

 (from "Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete" via Kindle)

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24 July: XVIII Century Scotland and the New World.

One of today’s Island ferries at Mallaig. In 1773 Johnson and Boswell were ferried about in open rowing or sailing boats.

About the time the Quakers were migrating to North America, many other people were doing the same, in the case of Hebridean Islanders, it was poverty in the aftermath of the 1745 civil war that drove them away. Dr Johnson and James Boswell visited the Isle of Skye in 1773, soon after the process started; they were made welcome, but part of the entertainment was a sobering reminder of this. Here is Boswell (with his sometimes antique spellings):

In the evening the company danced as usual. We performed, with much activity, a dance which, I suppose, the emigration from Sky has occasioned. They call it America. Each of the couples, after the common involutions and evolutions, successively whirls round in a circle, till all are in motion; and the dance seems intended to shew how emigration catches, till a whole neighbourhood is set afloat.

Mrs. M’Kinnon told me, that last year when a ship sailed from Portree for America, the people on shore were almost distracted when they saw their relations go off, they lay down on the ground, tumbled, and tore the grass with their teeth. This year there was not a tear shed. The people on shore seemed to think that they would soon follow. This indifference is a mortal sign for the country.

From “Life of Johnson, Volume 5, by James Boswell, via Kindle.

And a mortal sign for any country today whose more enterprising citizens feel the need to leave all they have known for a perilous journey to a land where they may not be as welcome as they might hope. War still drives people from their homes.

Let’s pray for peace in our time and for the casualties of war.

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