A meal in the garden in the company of friends is a great blessing, one Mrs T and I shared recently in Wales. Good local food well cooked. Our friend’s granddaughter has a chef for a brother and she seems to share his love for cooking – one passed down the generations!
There was talk of the brother as well, of course, of cabbages and kings. The lad takes a pride in his work, to the extent that he has persuaded his bosses to buy butcher’s meat and fresh fruit and vegetables so that he could prepare better meals at no extra cost. He is feeding young people on activity holidays.
‘And now, instead of frozen, ground down whatever and jars of sauce, they have spaghetti Bolognese with proper, lean minced beef and sauce from scratch.’
I hope you enjoy a few outdoor meals this summer, and that the cooks enjoy them as well as the diners. The next day was bread and cheese for just the two of us, halfway up a hill in Herefordshire, near Saint John Kemble’s home. That was enjoyable too: we’d walked up an appetite!
Conversation and a meal go hand in hand, It’s not difficult to see why many Christian Churches, like us Catholics, have the Last Supper as the centre – or source and summit – of worship, as it was the source and summit of John Kemble’s life. Time to listen to God and address our prayers to him, as well as to receive Communion. May our week’s activities work up an appetite for his Table.
Fragments of clay pipes often turn up when digging in England and Wales. Trevor, the old gardener I worked with in Wales, told me how they were sold at low prices, or even given away, by pubs to valued customers, which explained a cache in one corner of the churchyard we were restoring. The drinkers at The Three Salmons snapped their old pipes and threw them over the wall, where I found them many years later. This one is from Canterbury; a little unusual with its laurel leaf decoration. It set me thinking of John Kemble, the Martyr of the Marches.
Herefordshire is a long way from London, and the local gentry often turned a blind eye to the work of Catholic priests, even when they were officially deemed traitors. And in all honesty who would organise an invasion or coup d’etat from such a rural inland area?
John Kemble himself was from a landed family that was largely Catholic. He was ordained in France in 1625 and returned to work in his home area either side of the Anglo-Welsh border. For more than fifty years he travelled around Hereford and Monmouth ministering to the local Catholics and keeping a low profile until he was accused of being part of a non-existent Popish Plot to overthrow King Charles II in favour of his Catholic brother, James Duke of York.
This time the magistrates had to arrest him and despatch him to London where he was cleared of the plot but still found guilty of treason and sent back to Hereford to be hung drawn and quartered.
On 22 August 1679 he sat down with the executioner and bystanders for a last pipe and pint before his death, comforting his executioner: “Honest Anthony, my friend Anthony, be not afraid; do thy office. I forgive thee with all my heart. Thou wilt do me a greater kindness than discourtesy.”
So, although this 3cm of clay pipe is really no sort of relic at all of Saint John Kemble, it brings him to mind: his half century of dedicated ministry and his courage and care for others at the time of his death. And I’m counting it as a relic for the blog!
We do not hide our affection for the Marches, the border between England and Wales. A different beauty to Kent’s, the ‘blue remembered hills’. That was Housman; his contemporary, GK Chesterton, said that anyone who walked a mile on a sunny day in England knows why beer was invented. We had travelled rather more than a mile, mostly on hot motorways…
Where Canterbury has a farmers’ market in the old railway goods shed, Ludlow in Shropshire has a brewery. Even on a Monday morning there were people enjoying the sun and the beer. We saw no reason why two travellers should not join them.
Impressive plumbing behind the bar, where we shared a sample of three small glasses of different beers; all very good.
From our seat on the mezzanine floor, we were able to appreciate the physical labour that goes into producing the beer. The mash tun was being cleaned out, but was obviously still very warm for the man dismantling the filters. In the old days he would have been allowed beer ad lib; today he had a pint glass of good Shropshire water. Probably as well, all three we tasted were very drinkable, but might leave the drinker a little unsteady on those steps.
The L’Arche Archangel Brewery is still tiny in comparison, but maybe we should all together visit a few small breweries to learn more skills. And if we can get near the three beers I tasted in Ludlow, we’ll be doing very well. And of course we are saving a couple of bottles to share with the other brewers in Canterbury!
Tomorrow we share a pint with a saint.
She was coming out of the corner shop, on her way to choir before her night shift at the Hospice. In her hand a packet of halal biscuits: I knew she was careful what she ate but not that careful …
‘I forgot to pack a snack to share,’ she said, ‘so I popped in and thought, these look interesting. pistachio wafers. There’s an unwritten tradition at work that we bring something to share through the night. Sometimes I bring crisps or grapes. We may not all three sit down together but we can still share.’
Shared food building the team, or if you like, the community. Shared food asserting life in the face of death.
So why did Jesus eat with all sorts of people? What happened on Maundy Thursday? He took our natural sharing to another level: this is my body, given for you. A promise that transforms every shared meal.
The boy shared his bread and fish with Jesus … Strasbourg Cathedral
We went to a couple of weddings last year, as I was reminded by the photograph in yesterday’s post. The top of the cake on that day was given to the bridesmaid for her birthday party: wouldn’t you feel special if that happened for your seventh birthday?
A friend of the bride’s mother made the cake; it was a real labour of love, and the love rippled on as the bridesmaid and her friends enjoyed it, as well as we who later ate some at home.
At our wedding, my brother made the traditional fruit cake. The top layer was still good eighteen months later when our firstborn was baptised. Ponder the many connections there, the sharing of our wedding cake, not with our daughter (even I would not offer a newborn a crumb of wedding cake), but with people we had not known when we got married. But soon after the wedding, slices had been posted around the world to people who were unable to be with us on the day. As far as Burkina Faso, Paraguay and Australia.
You don’t have to be in the same room at the same time to share food and drink.
Such sharing points to something very important, don’t you think?
The best willow pattern service accompanied the eating of our slices of wedding cake last year.
Tapestry, Aberdaron Church.
Life can be hectic and tiring. Just ask the teachers and pupils who are now worn out and washed up, ready for a holiday!
Jesus and the disciples knew the feeling. His Apostles had just been trusted to go and preach themselves: they preached that men should do penance: And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them. Tiring and emotional enough, but while they were away, Herod had John the Baptist murdered, the cousin of Jesus and a familiar hero to some of the Apostles.
And the apostles coming together unto Jesus, related to him all things that they had done and taught. And he said to them: Come apart into a desert place, and rest a little. For there were many coming and going: and they had not so much as time to eat. And going up into a ship, they went into a desert place apart.
Mark 6:12-13; 30-32
So find your Aberdaron, your place of pilgrimage, your desert place; somewhere quiet, away from people and distractions. That’s what Jesus did, after all.
But be prepared! Your peace and quiet may be short-lived. Remember the next thing that happens – the crowd follow the boats and Jesus has to preach and feed the 5.000. Some peace and quiet!
Perhaps we should make a point of creating quiet space for each other over the holidays. Even just a couple of minutes on the beach or visiting a church, then back to watching the children wandering into danger … And letting teenagers lie in can mean a peaceful breakfast for everyone else!
What God says is always infallible – and that voice is the sound of the poor! We can and do proclaim: man does not live by bread alone – which is in fact only half true; it needs to be completed with man cannot live without bread. What Jesus brings as Bread of Life is how these two actually fit each other – so much so that we could equally say – what God has joined together let no one break apart…
How can a person be food for another? A strange question when that is how every one of us began life in the womb. Indeed the Bible uses this example to express how God sustains creation. The Mystics speak eloquently of Jesus’ relationship: how often I have longed to gather you children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings – Matthew 23.37. Equally do we sustain each other when rescuing from hopelessness and desperation; like the Apostles on Good Friday night. But now they have been enlivened in a new way – as if they too had been raised from the dead.
Passover acquired a new meaning with the Resurrection – the difference Jesus makes in himself becoming food is linked directly with his death. Our Eucharist of bread and wine must remind us that here we have the Paschal Lamb – a lamb becomes food only when it is killed, not when it dies! Its vocation is to become food for others – to be slaughtered and eaten. When Jesus spoke of becoming food many were scandalised; yet it is in his death that he becomes the bread of life; and it is through our being taken into his death [Baptism] that this food satisfies human hungers.
Our shared meal is a token piece of food celebrated within an elaborate ritual. God blessed creation making it fruitful. He also blessed the 7th day for us to enjoy what is given. The flood symbolises our complete disregard for what God offers. God blesses Noah with this very same blessing, now with a more explicit covenant. Blessing is a creative act, bringing something new, and making the one blessed a source of blessing for others. It is not only God who blesses – in certain places parents bless their children before they go out. Parental blessing is calling from within another something not yet there, it is an expression of hope for sustaining new life.
The story about Abel and the letter box reminded me of watching the two fledgling sparrows that left the nest in next-door-but-one’s roof to flit and flutter down to our back gate, where they could perch, and cheep and flutter their stubby wings in the hope that their parents – or any passing sparrow for that matter – might feed them.
They could see how to get food from the fat ball holder, but hadn’t the co-ordination or confidence to try for themselves.
Here is one of them watching intently as his mother (or is it his aunt?) pecks at the fat balls over the gate. The fact that he was fed a second later did not prevent him starting to call again as soon as he’d finished swallowing.
Although the adults are very tolerant of humans moving about the garden we share with them, young Chico took off as soon as the back door opened. Three metres’ flight to the washing line, where he could not get a grip, and turned base over apex before achieving enough co-ordination to crash into the holly bush.
The two chicks were soon back on the gate, ‘Please Sir (or Madam) I want some more! When the psalmist sang of the sparrows finding a home at God’s altar, did he expect the priest to scatter food for them?
Of course Francis fed the birds, and so should we. And perhaps we should attend to the needs of each other as well. As Abel said, ‘You have to help me.’
Last summer we wandered across Manchester City Centre to see crowds sitting on the grass in Piccadilly Gardens, eating lunch-time sandwiches, some in small groups, other singletons often on their phones. Perhaps they too felt the need to be sociable when eating.
And good for them all, to have taken advantage of a comparatively rare sunny day in Manchester to get out of the office or whatever their workplace, and make a picnic of it.
I was reminded of a time years ago. Muddy boots were a bone of contention at morning break where I was working. The indoor workers wanted their space to be clean and tidy. The gardeners wanted to get indoors for ten minutes, and some of them had real bother getting their boots on and off.
The boss, an office man through and through, said that he had always had a coffee brought to him at his desk, so maybe the indoor workers and the outdoor workers should sit down on the spot and take a quick refuelling break and get on with their work.
I don’t know that he ever saw the point the rest of us were arguing: it was not just a refuelling stop, but a together time. Like the coffee break I enjoyed at the Glebe this morning, with my L’Arche friends. Maybe the boss missed out on ‘milk and biscuit’ time when he was of an age to go to nursery school. Milk and sugar? Bourbon or pink wafer?
Then after some long space, Saint Francis and Saint Clare, together with all the others, returning to themselves again and feeling of good comfort from the spiritual food, took little heed of the food of the body.
And, that blessed feast thus ended, Saint Clare, escorted well, returned unto Saint Damian, whereby the sisters, beholding her, had joy exceeding great; for they feared lest Saint Francis should have sent her to rule some other convent, even as he had already sent Sister Agnes, her holy sister, as abbess to rule the convent of Monticelli at Florence: and Saint Francis on a time had said to Saint Clare: Be thou ready, if so be that I needs must send thee to some other House; and she, as a daughter of holy obedience, had made answer :
Father, I am at all times ready to go whithersoever thou mayest send me.” Wherefore the sisters rejoiced exceedingly when they saw her face again: and thenceforward Saint Clare abode in much consolation.