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?
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, —
(from "Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete" via Kindle)
Sister Margaret’s continuing reflection on Penance.
Penance affects the whole person and reflects itself in the lives of all men and women who profess to live a life of penance – reflects itself in their relationship with God, with themselves and with others.
We can say that penance (penitence, repentance) is the total and continuous giving of self to God in a life of love. When we understand it in this sense then the Lenten Preface does make sense. Lent is a joyful season, a season to be celebrated, not suffered, for it encourages us once more to turn continuously from ourselves to our God. This in turn means that we are more able to turn in love towards our brothers and sisters.
Sister Margaret gave me the following week’s posts when Lent was already filled, so I’ve had them filed away. It’s a privilege to offer her Franciscan perspective on Lent this year.
In the first three verses of his Testament,Francis of Assisi reveals to us that he had discovered anew the true meaning of penance. He does this by saying: The Lord granted me to begin to do penance in this way: while I was in sin it seemed very bitter to me to see lepers. Note that, for Francis, the life of penance was a gift from God.
If we even begin to mention the word penance today the majority of people start to close up inside themselves as negative words and feelings flow into their minds and senses. Penance, they think, that awful practice where I have to do something that is uncomfortable to me.
How often, when the season of Lent in particular is drawing near, have we heard the question, or been asked it ourselves: What are you doing for Lent? The next words you might then hear are: I know what I am going to do. I’m giving up sweets and cakes – and I might even lose some weight while I am about it.
Is that really what Lent is all about, what penance is about, where the whole focus is on me with no mention of God and it’s all rather negative? Is that what Pope Innocent III was commissioning Francis to do when in 1209, orally approving Francis’ proposed Way of Life, he instructed him and his followers: Go with the Lord, brothers, and as the Lord will deign to inspire you, preach penance to all. Is that really what Francis meant when he sent his eight brothers out telling them: Go my dearest brothers, two by two into the various parts of the world, announcing to men peace and repentance?
September had turned warm again, it was a good day to enjoy a sandwich in sight of the sea near Rye Harbour, and watch the world go by.
There were fewer humans than the last time I was this way, which was in August, but there were plenty of birds, as always. What first caught my eye was a small group of sand martins, swooping and swirling, stirring themselves up for the long flight to Southern Africa. Not quite ready to go yet! Was it a family group, the parents imparting their final advice before taking off in earnest?
A cormorant passed by, purposefully facing the light westerly breeze. A different spectacle altogether: its flying looked like hard work, though we know the grace they acquire as soon as they are in their watery element.
It must have been the frequent sightings of fighter planes this Battle of Britain month that set me comparing the martins to Spitfires, all speed and aerobatics and the cormorant to a ponderous Wellington bomber: killing machines both. So are the martins and cormorant killers, but not of their own kind and no more than necessary to feed themselves and their children.
We humans know better than that of course.
Redemption? Half a mile away is an abandoned wooden hut, the former lifeboat station. It was from here that seventeen men sailed and rowed to their deaths early last century, setting out in a storm to rescue the crew of a stricken ship. They did not know that the men were safely on shore before they set out. Their monument says they were doing their duty.
I have been reading Abbot Erik Varden’s new book ‘The Shattering of Loneliness, on Christian Rememrance’, and will review it in the next few months. I wanted to share this insight as we come towards Christmas. It follows nicely from Pope Benedict’s ‘sober inebriation’ remark about music, which certainly sustained his spiritual life. On p129.
The Spiritual Life is not, cannot be, a pious pastime. It is premised on a total surrender to the promise and demands of the Gospel. it bears the imprint of the Cross and is charged with the spirit of the risen Jesus.
We took a walk in South Manchester, going to the Fletcher Moss Park along this footpath. Here it crosses over the tram lines; not only has the bridge been decorated with poppies, but where the overgrown verges of the path have been cleared, three local primary schools have sown poppy seeds, ready to come up in the next few weeks. (I was writing this in March, but the poppies did indeed flower during the summer.)
There were poems by some of the children attached to the fence, just out of sight.
On this centenary Remembrance Day, what should we teach them about events that no-one alive remembers? In an increasingly aggressive world, do we say ‘Si Vis Pacem. Pare Bellum’ – ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’? That makes a certain sense, but it is not the way we expect them to behave in the playground.
A sense of injustice can lead to war; but there is also greed. And there is romanticising of self-sacrifice in battle which all too easily prevents the asking of difficult questions. (How dare you suggest my father/brother/son died for nothing.)
There were reasons why our fathers and grandfathers did not speak of their wartime experiences: because romantic it was not. As well as pain, loneliness and fear, a man had to be ready to kill fellow human beings, individually or en masse. Many hated this duty but there was also bloodlust; something we have witnessed, and continue to witness, in today’s conflicts.
Perhaps it’s good to introduce the children to the idea of self-sacrifice, while diverting them from the glorification of war and from the aggressive war games we used to play – in times when the nation had not got the Second World War out of its system. That of course is too easily said, when immersive shoot-up games are readily available on computers and on line. Do these dissipate aggression or reinforce it?
Joyce (Alfred Joyce) Kilmer was an American Catholic Poet who died at the front this day 100 years ago. He is buried at the Oise-Aisne cemetery shown above. In this poem he comes to terms with the everyday suffering of the soldier by laying it alongside the passion of Jesus. Our second post today is a response to KIlmer’s verses from a living American poet, our friend Christina Chase.
I have found it difficult to reconcile the link people have made between Christ’s sacrifice and the soldier at war, prepared to be killed but also prepared to kill, for his country. What right does the country have to demand either sacrifice?
But here is one man. One man’s pain and suffering, offered, not to his country, but to the one true Man who was the one true God. A lesson in that for each of us.