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L’Arche mini pilgrimage around Canterbury, I.

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1 July: Into the forest

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I don’t think the ancient Israelites were altogether fond of the forest. One of the most vivid forest stories tells how Absalom, David’s rebel son, was caught by the hair as he rode under an oak tree while his mule galloped on without him. Absalom was a sitting duck for Joab and his men, who killed him, bringing David to tears. (2 Samuel 18, 19). Earlier, in Joshua 17, we read how the tribe of Joseph cleared away the forest to have room to settle and farm, a process that continues around the world to this day.

But something is lost as we clear the forest and then build suburbs over the resulting fields. Closeness to creation and the creator. Abel, at 3¾ years has found it at Forest School: he spends a day a week in the woods with his nursery school, getting muddy and enjoying himself among the trees. We would wait forever for him to tell us what he gets up to, but my teachers’ magazine ‘Educate’ tells how children are equal partners in learning and can take over the leadership of such sessions, under the guidance of their teachers.

One teacher, Jen Hawkes, says, ‘It’s about shared experiences and making friendships. They build a bond in the forest that helps them in the classroom. We’ve had lots of children making friendships who have previously struggled with that – which is so important, especially for mental health.’ So what the children do is by no means all that they learn out of doors. They learn to trust each other.

Perhaps the Missionaries of Africa were prophetic in sending us schoolboys into the woods on half-holidays. There would be one or two at least in July; the priest-teachers were probably as sick of lessons as we were, and whatever we may have fancied they were up to in our absence, they no doubt had meetings to discuss our progress and all the routine matters that arise in any school. But we were free for the day. Note the seven pound jam tins, blackened from being used to cook a shared meal on the open fire to the left.  Glamping this was not!

Fifty-odd years after this photograph captured the moment, I am in touch with three of the lads shown. That says something for the bonds built in the forest and other parts of our shared life. Perhaps the Missionaries of Africa were prophetic!

MMB

 

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June 18: Jesus meets a Woman and a Dog

upperroom tomdog

After our pilgrims’ canter through the book of Tobit, ending with Tobias and Sarah and the dog living happily ever after, here is a story about Jesus, a woman and a dog. I like to think, along with the master masons of Strasbourg Cathedral, that Jesus and his followers had a dog with them. Here he is a few months later, excluded from Saint Thomas’s moment of truth after thee resurrection.

Jesus was someone who went across the river, through the desert and over the mountains. And then again: over the mountains, through the desert, and across the river. Jesus walked everywhere, and one day he went across the border and came to Tyre.

A Canaanite woman there began shouting,

Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David: my daughter is grieviously troubled by the devil. Who answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying: Send her away, for she crieth after us: and he answering, said: I was not sent but to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel.

But she came and adored him, saying: Lord, help me. Who answering, said: It is not good to take the bread of the children, and to cast it to the dogs. And she said: Yea, Lord; for the pups also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.

Then Jesus answering, said to her: O woman, great is thy faith: be it done to thee as thou wilt: and her daughter was cured from that hour.                      Matthew 15:22-27.

REFLECTION

I think Jesus is teasing this woman – we don’t know her name but we can see that she knew about children, she knew about dogs, and she knew about Jesus.

And she will not be ignored!

Jesus does not send her away. He tests her as he teases her; by appealing to her sense of humour, he leads her to express her faith more clearly, running with the metaphor he challenges her with.

Let us ask God for the things we need, and for the things our family and friends need, and for a sense of our own littleness, as we pray:

Our Father.

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June 15: A faithful Biblical dog.

sam-the-dog

When we were on pilgrimage we always had at least one dog with us, so we adapted parts of the book of Tobit for our midday prayers. Dogs don’t always get a good press in the Bible, but in this book the dog is a faithful companion, as was Sam, seen here. 

Old Tobit was blind and worn out. One day he remembered that his cousin Raguel was looking after some money for him in a town far away. He sent his son Tobias to collect the money. Before he left home, Tobias met the Angel Raphael, who was in disguise.

Raphael says he knows the way across the river, through the desert and over the mountain and agrees to go with Tobias. They say goodbye to Tobit and Anna his wife, and the dog follows behind them.

The first evening they camped beside the River Tigris. Tobias was washing his feet in the river when a monstrous fish leapt out and tried to swallow his foot. He gave a yell and the angel said, ‘Catch the fish; don’t let it get away.’ The boy caught the fish and pulled it onto the bank. Raphael said, ‘Cut it open; take out the gall, heart and liver and throw the rest of the guts away, but the gall and heart and liver make good medicine.’ The rest of the fish they cooked and pickled to eat on the way.

Reflection

Look how the dog is faithful to Tobias! ‘Wherever you are going, I will go.’ he does not know that they are going across the river,  through the desert and over the mountains, for days and days. He just knows Tobias needs him.

And God gives Tobias another companion, a real angel in disguise called Raphael. All Tobias knows about him is that Raphael knows the way across the river, through the desert and over the mountains.

But he knows more than that! He knows how to use part of the fish for medicine, so they save that and eat the rest. Fish and chips tomorrow for us and nobody nibbling out toes.

Let’s thank God for our companions on the journey, for our guardian angels, and our friends and family. May we be as faithful as Tobias and the dog.

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Pilgrimage Day 4.

 

On the last day we walk less miles. From Patrixbourne we follow the Pilgrims’ Way back home to Canterbury. Our first stop will be when we first see the Cathedral; we love Ines’s picture.

We’ll cross the city and make for Saint Mildred’s church – here she is with her grandfather, Ethelbert – and then under the arch of hops to the Glebe, the L’Arche garden project. The BBQ can commence! The hops shown here are in St Thomas’s Church, Canterbury, and they stand for all the work of the farmers and their farmhands around the city.

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31 May, Pilgrimage to Canterbury, XI: Verses for Pilgrims – II

 

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Verses for Pilgrims – II

Here again is the verse that will be recited during our prayer services on our third day of pilgrimage. It still seems strange to me that this verse by Father Andrew SDC came together so opportunely with the window in Patrixbourne.

It is not strange that one blest night
Should shine a star exceedingly bright
To lead three Kings upon their way
To Bethlehem, where Jesu lay,
All lowly, cradled in the hay –
Their journey’s happy ending!

And while the sentiments of Christmas are heart-warming, Friday’s verse reminds us that we may be suffering a little with blisters and sore and swollen feet. We’ve read this verse from Joyce Kilmer before. He was another Great War Poet, but unlike Robert Graves, he did not survive. The full poem appeared on the centenary of his death.

My shoulders ache beneath my pack

(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back).

I march with feet that burn and smart

(Tread, Holy Feet, upon my heart).

Lord, Thou didst suffer more for me

Than all the hosts of land and sea.

So let me render back again

This millionth of Thy gift. Amen.

May we be grateful for shoulders, knees and toes that ache and burn and smart. We are alive, we are together, we live in a relatively peaceful land.

And when we arrive at Saint Mildred’s, our closing prayer and closing feast!

 

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Pilgrimage, Day 3.

 

First stop today is the church of the Holy Innocents in Adisham. Did memories of those Vikings from the dragon boats figure large  when they chose the name? These evangelists are in the church. We will have a picnic on the Downs in sight of the wind turbines, and finally make for Patrixbourne, and the lovely Swiss-German window that we saw before. (I only learnt it was Swiss on Friday!).

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28 May: Pilgrimage to Canterbury VIII: All Coming together

dover5.crest waveThose who are preparing the pilgrimage keep telling ourselves: it’s all coming together!

There was, when I wrote this,still a month before the pilgrims put foot to footpath which was just as well. Catering, comfort breaks, car rides for the weary, climbing up the Downs, covering the route step by step; all this preparation allows the real purpose of the pilgrimage to be fulfilled. And in real life, today is the day we make that first step! 

Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

We are a community: part of the closer walk with Jesus is walking with each other. We know that Jesus and his disciples did a lot of walking around Palestine, and sometimes the disciples’ conversation was far from edifying. Jesus had to rebuke Mrs Zebedee when she wanted him to give James and John top posts in his new government, and to remind the disciples – who had been arguing on the road about who was the greatest – that the greatest of all must be the servant of all.

No wonder he was glad to play with the children at the end of the day!

There will be many opportunities for each of us to serve our fellow walkers during our four days on the road. This time of preparation has  been itself a time of service.

We hope to say more about the pilgrimage itself in the days to come.

The Crest of a Wave monument marks the start of the Pilgrims’ Way to Canterbury and the Channel Swim to France. Let’s hope for blue skies as we walk!

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Pilgrimage Day 1.

 

Today these three pictures will be given to the pilgrims as stickers for their Pilgrim’s Passports. 

We start at Dover Beach, leaving by a subway, or underpass to non-British walkers. It is adorned with mosaics of the changing types of ship that used the harbour, including the Viking dragon boat. Pilgrims beware!

The fish stands for Saint Andrew, brother of Peter, fisherman and apostle. We will break for refreshment and prayer at his church in Dover.

The little church of Saint Pancras in Coldred we have seen already in a photograph; here is our artist, Antonela’s painting. We’ll take a pause here before making for the nearby L’Arche house at Cana in Eythorne.

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May 25: Pilgrimage to Canterbury MMXIX. V: a canine perspective.

upperroom tomdog

I wonder what Tyndale the Terrier will make of it all. He’s named after a great Christian communicator, the translator of the Bible into English, but our Tyndale has rather less intellectual enthusiasms. He’s the one who greets Anne by wagging his tail, but also sniffing around for the dog biscuit she sometimes has about her person. Dogs never miss a chance of a snack: it’s as if they don’t believe they will ever be fed again.

There are, of course, many chances of a morsel falling a dog’s way when a group of people pause to eat together (Matthew 15:26). Tyndale will be busy clearing up crumbs until his master calls a halt.

Each of us has our own gluttony, but I hope and trust that we will find food for all the senses on this walk; food that will build up our souls and our friendships. Even aches and pains, weariness and blisters tell us that we are alive!

Our prayers on the march will include a ‘dog lead’ – reflections on Tobit and Matthew 15. A good dog is not one spelt backwards, but  can lead or shepherd us to where we ought to be.

Follow the link to the story of the disciples’ dog on Easter Sunday.

 

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