Tag Archives: Shropshire

20 December, Simon says II: In her.

She said those words, ‘Thy will be done’.

In her God’s gracious will had won.

Simon’s couplet sent me to this painting from Plowden Catholic Church in Shropshire. Mary seems to be having a moment of weariness, such as any parent will have undergone, and her Child seems anxious to comfort her.

Here they are, far from home in Egypt. Is Joseph his own boss, self employed as he had been in Nazareth, or is he out all day, at the beck and call of an employer, who might expect him to work extra at short notice? Does Mary sew or launder to help make ends meet in the big city?

At any point after she said those words, Mary’s life will have had problems. There were many more difficult years after the Holy Family returned to Galilee; if Mary thought her troubles were over, they had only just begun.

Most of her appearances in the Gospels are challenging. Even heartbreaking. She was not mentioned on the day the mob tried to throw Jesus off a cliff near Nazareth, but she must have been there. And so it went on until Good Friday.

Thy will be done: giving birth in the stable probably also meant Mary didn’t have her little home-made layette with her. All her preparations apparently wasted; no doubt some other family  benefited, but she and Joseph had to start from scratch: that gold the Wise Man brought must have come in useful!

Thy will be done: it will be, but it probably won’t be done smoothly!

More from Simon soon!

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18 December. The ruined chapel, II: in the nearby church and in Uganda.

richards castle pew

On November 16th we visited an abandoned Methodist chapel. Albert’s comment on that post brought to mind the nearby Anglican church of which this is a feature. To make a sweeping generalisation, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Anglicans had churches, while Dissenters – Protestants who for various reasons did not accept all the traditions of Anglicanism – worshipped in buildings called chapels; that was the case here at the 12th Century church of Saint Bartholomew, right on the Shropshire-Hereford boundary.

This wooden cabin inside the church is actually a family pew for local gentry. There would have been cushions and footwarmers provided for their comfort at this time of year. Small wonder that the poor people of the parish went elsewhere, especially if they heard proclaimed these words of James Chapter 2.

ruined chapel

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.

It need not be that way. During the 1930s in Uganda, there was a great deal of unexamined racism with Europeans holding themselves aloof from the locals. They would even expect to go to Communion first in Rubaga Cathedral. One man who stood out against this was Sir Joseph Sheridan, Chief Justice of East Africa. Not only did he mix with the Africans at Communion, unlike other Europeans, he also processed barefoot at the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday.

It is not just at Church that we are challenged to choose the ‘option for the poor’, though that is a good place to start. Catholics were not invited to share the sign of peace at Mass until the 1960s, but we should assert our membership of Jesus’ family by sharing it with whomsoever we are near, and maybe exchanging a word with them after Mass. People who feel cold-shouldered by congregations today may well just fade away, and not go looking for a congregation that welcomes and suits them.

But a conversation with a lonely person, a few cheerful or sympathetic words with the person on the checkout or in front of us in a queue. There are many people poor in ways other than financial.

 

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8 October: Mary Webb’s Franciscan generosity.

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The poet Henry Moult, in his biography of Mary Webb, describes her nature mysticism as ‘pagan’. I feel ‘Franciscan’ would be better; certainly she was Franciscan in her generosity. Moult shares the testimony of relatives:

‘Her charity often did more credit to her heart than her head, for she gave extravagantly, with an abandon which sometimes left her own real necessities unsupplied … A friend of Mary’s said: ‘She might have twenty pounds in the morning, and hardly ten shillings at night.’ (Ten shillings became 50p)

‘Whatever was asked of her by those who sought her help she joyously supplied.’

Moult quotes a friend telling how she asked the Shropshire village children what they would like for Christmas, and a farm labourer’s daughter ‘ambitious as well as presumptuous’ and no doubt unaware of the monetary value, asked for a piano, and received it. Let’s hope she learnt to play! Another time a windfall came her way, which she used to send a sick child and his family out of their single room in London’s East End to the coast in Essex.

Any attempt, says Moult, to explain her ‘chivalrous actions’ would be ‘as futile as to seek an explanation why St Francis devoted so much of his affection to the birds.’

I suggest that the actions of Mary Webb, like those of Saint Francis, were not chivalrous. Francis, after all, renounced his ambition to become a knight, he embraced poverty. Mary Webb’s generosity was not a matter of noblesse oblige, but stemmed from the sympathy with poor people that pervades her novels. Both of them loved Creation and the Creator; both loved their fellow human beings. There is the explanation for their generosity and their mysticism.

Mary Webb died this day in 1927.

 

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August 31, Readings from Mary Webb, XXVII: the tragedy of the self-absorbed.

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This extract from Mary Webb’s novel, The Golden Arrow, follows on well from Chesterton’s Donkey yesterday, and from the posts about Saints Augustine and Monica. Let’s pray that we may be alive to the silver flutes playing at the great moments of our lives, and when we are amid the encircling gloom, may we follow the kindly light.

As we begin reading, Stephen has come home to Deborah after a hard day at work. It is December and they are seated together before the fire.

He turned restlessly.

Stroke more!’ he said imperiously, ‘and sing! don’t talk.’

She began to sing in a hushed voice, while the firelight stole up and down the walls, and the wind lashed itself into the yelping fury of starved hounds.

We have sought it, we have sought the golden arrow!
(bright the sally-willows sway)
Two and two by paths low and narrow,
Arm in crook along the mountain way.
Break o’ frost and break o’ day!
Some were sobbing through the gloom
When we found it, when we found the golden arrow –
Wand of willow in the secret cwm.’

She looked down in the silence afterwards; he was asleep. She took up the small woollen boots. She would be doing them when he awoke, and he would ask what they were.

She smiled.

I know right well what he’ll say,’ she thought. ‘He’ll say, “What the devil are those doll’s leggings?” – for he calls all my stockings leggings and my nightgown a shirt, him being such a manly chap, and nothing of the ‘ooman in him, thank goodness!’

She crocheted in a maze of delight at this thought and at the prospect of telling him her news.

But when Stephen awoke, he oly wanted to go to bed, and never noticed the boots. It is the tragedy of the self-absorbed that when the great moments of their lives go by in royal raiment with a sound of silver flutes, they are so muffled in self and the present that they neither hear nor see.

+ + +

The next day Stephen left her, oblivious to her news.

Stiperstones and the Devil’s Chair, which stand over the village where The Golden Arrow takes place.

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July 8, Readings from Mary Webb XVII. Good-Bye To Morning

speedwell
Mary Webb’s girlhood, as we read yesterday, was a magical time, spent largely out of doors. In adulthood her hyperthyroidism caused her much suffering and brought abut her early death at 47. Here she faces that eventuality.
I will say good-bye to morning, with her eyes
Of gold, her shell-pale robe and crocus-crown.
Once her green veils enmeshed me, following down
The dewy hills of heaven: with young surprise
The daisies eyed me, and the pointed leaves
Came swiftly in green fire to meet the sun:
The elves from every hollow, one by one,
Laughed shrilly. But the wind of evening grieves
In the changing wood. Like people sad and old,
The white-lashed daisies sleep, and on my sight
Looms my new sombre comrade, ancient night.
His eyes dream dark on death; all stark and cold
His fingers, and on his wild forehead gleams
My morning wreath of withered and frozen dreams.

darkevening

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July 7: Readings from Mary Webb XV: just gazing.

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I had not realised how long it had been since I promised more from Mary Webb, until I began re-reading her official biography, ‘Mary Webb: her life and work’ by Thomas Moult, Jonathan Cape, 1935. These lines from pp23; 25-26 set me looking at her poetry again. What treat can I find for tomorrow?

One of her brothers remembers how in girlhood she would go out early in the morning and sit in the grass ad watch the wild flowers open. She would watch them at evening, too, seeing them close. he remembers also how she ‘lay for hours and hours, just gazing at the wheat field, as the wind ran across it.’

[Mary Webb] eventually praised it all so proudly and gratefully in her prose and verse.

‘Long, long ago I thought on all these things,

Long, long ago I loved them.’

Lord, give us eyes to see your world, and the grace to love and nurture it. Amen.

The picture shows barley rather than wheat, but the monochrome brings out the dancing, like tango partners en masse!

 

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29 August: Saint Sabina

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I doubt I’ll find out how an icon of a second century Roman martyr saint came to be displayed in a redundant church in Shropshire, but that’s where we found this image of Saint Sabina. Who was she?

A wealthy woman by all accounts, who was converted by her Syrian slave girl, Serapia. That alone makes me wonder what sort of relationships existed between Roman citizens and their slaves. But it was not a Roman, but a Victorian woman, Mrs Alexander, who wrote All things bright and beautiful, including the lines, ‘The rich man in his castle,/ The poor man at his gate,/ God made them high and lowly / And ordered their estate. 

But that’s not today’s reflection!

Sabina held Serapia dear enough to have her body rescued after she was martyred, and buried in the family tomb. Sabina herself was denounced and executed soon afterwards.

The ancient Basilica of Saint Sabina in Rome is built where her house had stood.

Serapia shows us how anyone can be a herald of the Gospel; Sabina invites us to humbly pay attention to everyone around us, to respect those who serve us. A bus driver, postman or woman, a supermarket worker or nurse; none of these is our slave but our sister or brother in Christ rendering us service. That much Sabina saw; an early step on the road to abolition. The two ideas of equality and slavery are irreconcilable, unless everyone is equally precious and everyone is also a willing slave towards their neighbours.

For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.

Philippians 2:5-8

 

Photo from St Batholomew, Richard’s Castle.

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21 August: Travellers’ Joy

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.

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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.

ludlow.br.2

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.

 

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Christmas Greetings!

plowden.madonna

To all our race
The light hath come;
For He Who lies ‘neath quilt of straw,
That homeless One Whom shepherds saw
Himself our Home,
Reveals God’s Face.

Fr Andrew SDC, 1869-1946, pioneer Anglican Franciscan.

With all our prayers and best wishes for Christmas and for a Peaceful New Year, from all the team at Agnellus’ Mirror.

And please spare a prayer for Constantina, our contributor, who is moving house today.

God Bless you all,

Will Turnstone and all at Agnellus’ Mirror.

Madonna, Saint Walburga, Plowden, Shropshire.

 

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October 16: Readings from Mary Webb, VIII – Tranquility deepened by sounds.

barley-sea-waves-b-w-2-640x477Barley, one of the heavier grains, dancing in the wind

 

Just before autumn the oat fields begin their dry-throated song, louder than that of the grass, and the heavier grains keep time with fairy castanets. Sounds of reaping begin to haunt the air; the prelude of autumn has begun.

On still, September mornings, when a sweet warm wind blows under the grey sky, sounds carry far – the bleating of sheep, calls from far-off fields, the sharp trot of a horse on a hard road, the hum of threshing. The rooks fly in a long black thread across the uplands to the stubble-fields, and the sense of tranquillity is deepened by their erratic cawing.

Some of the harshest tones of nature bring the deepest rest. Few things are so unmusical as the voices of rooks, yet a home with a rookery is a very peaceful place. Perhaps the continual cawing, like the ticking of a clock in a quiet room, emphasises the surrounding hush; perhaps it is the associations of childhood and calm days; or is it something deep and old as earth that lurks in the harsh voices and comes poignantly to our hearts?

Hear them on a windless evening, winging homeward heavily through the rain, with desultory cawing! Listen as they settle clamorously for the night and you will know how well they fill the pauses made by departing sweetness.

From Springs of Joy: The Joy of Music.

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