Tag Archives: shared meal

 8 January: It’s behind you!?

Eddie from the Irish Chaplaincy sees us into the New Year. I have to admit that we did not make it to the book launch here in Canterbury, but a copy turned up in my stocking and Mrs T and I are enjoying dipping into it. We reviewed the book earlier. You can find it on line or through local bookshops. Meanwhile, where are my keys? (later: in the very deep pocket of my new coat!)

All yours, Eddie, and thank you.

I don’t know if it’s just me but I seem to spend large chunks of my life looking for things, big and small, and oftentimes searching in completely the wrong places.

How much time and energy and frustration there is bound up with this endless quest: for missing objects (that, when finally located, I realise I maybe don’t even need!); or for contentment or recognition or success or intimacy or whatever.

How many prayers are said in supplication to St Anthony, who, it has to be said, rarely if ever lets me down.

I suspect it’s not just me, and I’ve noticed the ever-increasing use in the media of the acronym FOMO (fear of missing out).

So many people doing so much searching; and, so often, looking in the wrong place. Sometimes we completely miss what might be right in front of us; or, as in the pantomimes, what’s right behind us!

As another Christmas comes and goes I find reassurance in the incongruity of God being revealed where few were expecting it. Many were waiting for a mighty king to come and bring liberation from an occupying force. Who, then, would have been searching for the messiah in Bethlehem, a back-water town on the edge of the Roman empire? And who would have suspected it would have had anything to do with an unmarried couple who were far from home and soon to become refugees? And in a stable? Surely not there! And what of those who did know where to look?

Shepherds, who were often rough hired hands, and who were outcasts in their community because having to be out at all hours meant they were unable to observe all of the rituals of the Jewish faith and who may well have been a bit tipsy due to having a little tot or two to shield them from the cold night. Then three mysterious characters who had followed a star and who turned up with the most unusual, but most fitting gifts.

I’d been invited on January 2nd, on which the feast of the Epiphany was being celebrated, to give a presentation of my book at St Paul’s church in Camden following Mass and a shared meal. It was a motley group of people gathered there which included a couple of regulars from the Irish Centre. The church itself is a rather run down and sorry looking 60s style building, albeit with a lovely, prayerful chapel at one end, but the interior had been transformed for the banquet to come. It is situated at the opposite end of Camden Square to the Centre and I began my talk by explaining how I’d discovered it on my very first day at the Irish Chaplaincy. I was feeling totally overwhelmed after the first morning and went out and strolled in the square and saw a poster advertising a half hour of silent prayer in the chapel every Thursday lunchtime and I knew that all would be well. I went to the prayer in that first week and almost every subsequent week for the next three years, until Covid put a stop to it, and it was an anchor in my week.

There was a good crowd there on the 2nd but although it seemed that the presentation went well I sold hardly any books; which is what I thought I’d gone there for. I was bitterly disappointed. Getting rained on when walking back to the station didn’t help my mood, nor my arm getting sore from carrying my guitar (and the still almost full box of books)! Then early the following morning I saw an email from Judy who organises the silent prayer at St Pauls, and I will treasure her kind words to me:

“We are such a diverse group of people, but everybody was spellbound. The things you say and the way you say them really do affirm human kindness (and God’s kindness to us) and encourage people to notice the life that goes on between them and among them that’s too deep for words. I don’t know how your sales went, but you made a whole lot of people very happy. I hope your journeys from and back to Canterbury went well and that you didn’t get soaked in the afternoon.”

As ever, I had been looking in the wrong place, or seeking the wrong thing; or maybe just completely missing what was right in front of me. I had taken part in a true feast, with lots of people having brought a variety of delicious dishes to share. I had been served an assortment of drinks, including a glass of Irish coffee, which I love. I had spoken to a range of colourful characters. At the end of my presentation, after singing ‘Be Thou my Vision’ I had been asked to sing one of my own songs, and there was a request for “something upbeat”! I did the song I’d once written after a night out in Belfast, ‘Fibber McGees’. And Kilkenny-born Enda got up and did some Irish dancing to the delight of the crowd, and was joined by Funmi who is of Sierra Leone heritage (and who had provided the Irish coffee) and it was one of those little ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ moments.

I doubt that I’ll be able to curtail my endless search for things, and I’m sure I’ll continue to get disappointed and discouraged when I don’t find what I thought I was looking for. But please God I’ll learn one day to discern more clearly the things that are truly worth seeking, and maybe occasionally find something I didn’t even know I was looking for and in a place where I least expected to find it.

PS If you’re not fed up with Christmas songs by now then you might like to listen to one I wrote some years ago: A Stable in Bethlehem


Leave a comment

Filed under Advent and Christmas, Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, Mission, PLaces

August 14: Inter-Galactic Explorations XXXI: Chewing it over.


who would not sit under the apricot tree?

‘Have you noticed,’ said Ajax, wolfing down a flake of haddock, ‘how Abel likes to use all his words, but Will and Mrs T, who know thousands more, can sit under the apricot tree quite happily without saying a word?’

‘Do they need to speak to tell each other they are there?’ wondered T. ‘Of course not. But maybe Abel needs to tell himself he is in the presence of a digger, a train, or two black dogs.’

‘You mean he is telling himself his own story?’ interrupted Ajax, giving Alfie time to think how to respond to T’s probing remark about the two black dogs.

‘When he was little, he was just living his story. You remember how he just loved you two. No words from his mouth but plenty of glee. And you guys were on another plane, playing with him without words – until you pretty much forced him to say “dog”. Now when he picks up his toy bus, he says “bus” and “door” and makes a brrrrm noise when he pushes it across the floor.’

‘Are you saying he was better not speaking?’ challenged Ajax.

‘Of course not!’ T replied. ‘He’s not just a bundle of nerve-endings like the Builder’s Dog.’

‘You didn’t see BD outside Peter’s Fish Factory. He had abandoned Will and was sitting actually on a student’s knee. The ladies seem to like him as much as he likes them.’

‘He’s still a bundle of nerve ends. He could ignore her completely if he was out with his mistress.’

‘Director, you are too cynical!’ Alfie countered. ‘Maybe the Ossyrian scientific diet has trimmed your nerve ends too much.’

This time it was T’s turn to conceal his thought processes. ‘Not all my nerve ends, Alfie, not all of them; but what has Earthly life done to yours?’

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

22 September: Intergalactic Discoveries, X: A Minor Triumph of Ossyrian Thought Transference.

buildersdog.1 (800x670)

The Builder’s Dog

It was Thursday before anything at all exciting happened, although it was clear that Mrs Fox was not quite her usual self, mumbling under her breath, writing lists, washing the dogs’ bedding, buying more treats and wet food packs, and gathering clothes into suitcases. Thursday was a whirlwind of last minute laundry, sandwich making, and packing up the car. Since their things were put in the boot it was clear that they were going somewhere. But where?

On Friday morning they made an early start from Cornwall, retracing their journey back towards Kent. Margate at last? No. But when they woke from a fitful dream they were at a familiar place: Will Turnstone’s House in Canterbury. This was good enough till T got home, though the Builder’s Dog was in residence and barely tolerating these interlopers on ‘his’ territory.

The Builder’s Dog was going home the next day, but neither he nor Ajax and Alfie knew that. BD was not much bigger than a Chihuahua, being a Yorkshire Terrier, though without the Tykish belligerence that usually goes with the breed. He was just stubborn that possession was nine points of the law, and he was here first.

On previous visits to Turnstone Towers, first Alfie and then Ajax had misread the duckweed covered pond and plunged in, Alfie walking out on what seemed to be an extension of the lawn, and Ajax jumping after a frog.

Now they felt they could pull BD down a peg or two. Ajax went around the back of the pond and began digging. ‘Come over here’, he signalled. Alfie ran around, positioning himself so that the easiest way to reach the hole was across the pond. ‘Wow! BD! Look at this!’

BD is one of those dogs that knows when he’s being laughed at. It happens with humans, and is one of the downsides of canine life. He’d never been laughed at by dogs before, and he did not like it.



Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

21 September: Intergalactic Discoveries, IX: California Dreamin’.


August 10 came, and with it a beach barbecue. Mrs Fox and the Chihuahuax were there, of course. Ajax worried that in Cornwall it would all be sardines and shellfish, but Larry the chef knew his market and was flipping burgers and bangers on one grill, seafood on the other. Mrs Fox made sure they had a burger and a banger to share, served on shiny new dishes that would keep their food free from sand. A gesture the boys appreciated, as they still preserved some of the daintiness of Ossyrian dining etiquette and loathed the feel of grit on their teeth and tongues.

The Doom Bar and cabernet flowed ever more freely once all had eaten. Ajax and Alfie sidled away behind a dune. Together they emptied their minds and waited for T to contact them. They could only receive T intermittently, as the meteorites that provided distraction for the watchers of the night also interfered with their own thought beams.

T had had a frustrating time. He hawked his neatly typed manifesto for the Ossyrian-Earthling Friendship Pact around the studios but those that let him past the reception desk took him for a would-be script writer and asked to see a fuller treatment of the theme. Hengecliffe Artists arranged a discussion with one of their writers, but after half an hour of his vision of the US Cavalry being zapped by the Ossyrian Gubernatorial Guards, T got up to go. These seemed no point in trying to harness Hollywood. T could take no more.

‘We know how Margate works’, he told Ajax and Alfie. ‘Let’s return to our upstairs room and wait for reinforcements, or another flight home.’

‘What are you waiting for?’ protested Ajax, ‘You’re surfing USA, sucking ice-creams, sipping cold beer… get on that plane!’

‘I can’t go till my booked flight leaves, and don’t forget I hear regularly from Mrs Fox, my friends. You are not doing too badly; ice-cream and doggy treats if not cold beer. It’s a dog’s life, as they say in England. And next week you have a special treat…’

At this point the meteorite shower combined with the midnight barking to white-noise T from the air waves. What was going to happen next week?


Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

20 September: Intergalactic Discoveries: VIII – Pampered Pooches.

Alfie and Ajax 2

After a night in the back porch – no fleas welcome in Mrs Fox’s house – the dogs’ bedding was stuffed into the washing machine, the boys themselves into the car, and off to the vet at the local pets’ emporium. An ordeal not to be repeated or commented on!

‘Why did she do that to us?’ wondered Ajax.

‘Who was scratching himself? You got too close to that English Setter when we stopped at the massive car park hostelry place. She was a walking flea bag. Mrs Fox does not want a houseful of parasites, and I’ve had enough bites already.’

Alfie sensed that Ajax was getting emotional now. ‘Don’t sulk,’ he said. ‘Combine thinking, now. NOW!’

Mrs Fox was in front of the tinned dog food, stroking her chin. ‘Left a bit, next shelf down,’ they beamed, and a bracelet laden wrist hovered for a moment, then swooped forward. ‘YES! Yummy variety pack!’ Ajax’s sulk evaporated before it took him over.

Suddenly the Ossyrian changelings realised how dependent they were on the humans around them; thought beams were all very well, but not everyone was responsive. Over the next weeks they began to notice the webs of connections: Mrs Fox’s neighbours depended on her, even if only her cheerful good morning – a cheerful greeting even when the boys knew she was not feeling cheerful.

‘She is a good woman. Why does she say that which is not?’ wondered Ajax. ‘But it is a good morning,’ countered Alfie. ‘We’ve been fed, walked on the beach, eaten abandoned ice-cream. The sun is shining. The young seagulls are making a racket, but that’s all that’s not perfect. Mrs Fox has a headache. She knows the day is good, even if she feels bad. So she says good morning and she means it.’

‘Will we ever understand humans?’ Ajax asked.

1 Comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

13/12 From a Child’s Faith to an Adult’s – I

There is more to the night than bad dreams. As a child Dylan Thomas made stories in the ‘warm, safe island’ of his midnight bed.[1]

At day’s end in A Child’s Christmas in Wales Dylangot into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.’[2] This childhood feeling of closeness to God when tucked up in bed – Dylan does not name the holy presence – surfaced in 21st Century interviews by Catherine Stonehouse, who comments that children ‘experience the presence of God and find comfort in that sense of nearness’.[3] She argues that children do theology when they think through their experiences of God, but follows John Wesley in pointing out that for these experiences to lead to an adult faith people must have available, at the right time, the ‘words, ritual and doctrine’ to allow the rational mind to receive God’s grace.[4]

So how do we adults admit this Lord into our hearts and minds? David Powell has written of the old lady who felt the need of a special vocabulary to be able to pray (see post Plain Speaking, 17th November 2015); a personal approach to words and ritual, if not to doctrine.


It is he who gives bread to the hungry. FISC dining room by CD.

Perhaps a healthy place to lead off from would be to say, even if under the breath, a short grace before every meal. We have everything to be grateful for; acknowledging the fact, three times a day that ‘It is he who gives bread to the hungry’ (Psalm 145:7) will speak to the rational mind as well as the heart, and lead to a continuing conversion.


[1]  Dylan Thomas, ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog’, London, Dent, 1974; p8.

[2] Dylan Thomas: ‘A Child’s Christmas’, London, Orion, 1993, pages not numbered.

[3]Catherine Stonehouse: ‘Child Theology Matters: Offering Guidance for Practices of Christian Nurture’ in Dharma Deepika, July – Decmber, 2008, pp 18–32; p21-2.

[4]Stonehouse: ‘Child Theology’ p25.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

Startled mortality


FISC Dining Room, by CD.

Startled mortality

Mealtimes are reassuring. We don’t want fire alarms to go off when we settle to enjoy food and conversation. We feel sure that God nurtures us, by providential patterns of life, including gentle involvement in thoughtfully prepared food. We can express our concern for the health and inner peace of those at the table, making the meal a time of creative bonding.

But dining rooms are also places where moments of confusion or excitement might leave their mark, and be remembered as a little vulnerable. Here in the Giles Lane Study Centre, Canterbury, the refectory has brought together a number of religious families: Franciscans and Redemptorists, Sisters of Mercy, Little Brothers and Sisters of Charles de Foucauld, Benedictines, Carmelites and others, generally for special feast day celebrations at Christmas or on the feast of St. Francis. Liturgical joyfulness beforehand spills over into the meal, raising spirits and stirring up kindly laughter.

The prayerful aspect has sometimes become more adventurous, around Eastertime, for instance. For some years, we had held a Christian ‘Passover Seder Meal’ in Holy Week, an echo of the Jewish celebration. One time, our community Guardian, who had diabetes, was reciting a prayer about the Exodus and the tumult of the Crossing of the Red Sea. He suddenly seemed to freeze, and repeated the same phrase three or four times consecutively. He had lapsed into a diabetic ‘hypo’, in danger of entering a coma. It was a very sobering development. But it fittingly highlighted our mortality.


Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

Showered with Gifts

After a meeting at the Franciscan International Study Centre, I detoured past the chestnut trees on my ride home. A neighbour and his dog chestnuts (640x606)were already foraging, and he was happy to leave her with me and climb up to shake the tree. A great many more nuts cascaded down.

We went home well-laden with totally unearned gifts.

Once Zaccheus climbed a tree and came down to a totally unearned gift – the visit of the Good Lord to his home:

But Zacheus standing, said to the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have wronged any man of any thing, I restore him fourfold.

Jesus said to him: This day is salvation come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.    Luke 19:8-10

At least some of my foragings will feed the welcome guests at Christmas, but I found an unexpected challenge in chestnuts: who is my neighbour? Whose house am I to bring salvation to?

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections