Tag Archives: Shropshire

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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Laudato si', PLaces

30 September: Fortitude VII, More Endurance.

 

friday-10mountain-cloud-640x464

This idea of endurance is worth lingering over. When I taught this subject as a class, a student once asked, “Isn’t it better to fight for what is right, rather than just put up with something that is evil? Shouldn’t we utilize anger and aggression against an evil which threatens?” St. Thomas allows this, in fact. Moreover, he nowhere says that we should ‘put up with evil’ in a passive way. He says that in resisting evil, all the emotions of the soul can be employed by the virtuous person if they are modified according to the dictate of reason. But as for anger and aggression, they are effective only sometimes. At best, “moderate anger”, as he calls it, can be useful because it is both “moved by the commands of reason and it renders an action more prompt.” Moderate anger, then, is not a tantrum, a rage, a show of personal power. It is intelligent, it speaks without shouting, it has a rational basis for its concerns. That is what Thomas means by being “moved by the commands of reason.” Moreover, an angry person doesn’t delay and stall about doing what needs to be done: an angry person acts quickly. This can be a very good and useful thing.

Then, if the anger is under control, if one has a reasonable set of objections and can communicate them in a rational way, and without dragging one’s feet, then this would be St. Thomas’s idea of the virtuous way to utilize the emotion of anger and grow in fortitude. It might be effective if the difficulty is the type than can be resolved by reasonable argument. Some are.

640px-ironbridge002
The Iron Bridge is a symbol of endurance: Abram Darby III’s endurance against scoffers, and nearly 240 years of Shropshire weather and the vagaries of the river Severn.

But, sadly, not all difficulties can be resolved in this way. For Thomas, the bottom line still seems to be that we must accept that most serious problems take a long time to resolve. This is why endurance, in his teaching, is more effective than anger – even moderate anger. Endurance isn’t merely a passive virtue, for ‘do-nothings’. Rather, endurance actively stands firm on the side of what is truly valuable and good when trials come. It does not capitulate to pressure. It keeps hold of the ethical reasons for taking the stance we take. This, as anyone knows who has ever tried it, is not easy. That is why fortitude is a virtue.

I would like to end these reflections with what The Catechism of the Catholic Church says about fortitude.

Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice one’s life in defence of a just cause (no. 1809).

For further study:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church ,Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1994

The Four Cardinal Virtues, Joseph Pieper, University of Notre Dame Press

http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

August 22: I is for Ironbridge.

640px-ironbridge002

Ironbridge: the name says it. All those glorious structures like the Forth Bridge, Sydney Harbour, the Howrah, the Golden Gate and the bridge at Victoria Falls, owe their ancestry to this iron bridge over the Severn in Shropshire.

A bold venture to build a bridge of cast iron so high above the river in 1779. The beams were cast on site since transporting them would have been difficult. But would it work? Abraham Darby must have been an excellent mathematician, blessed with patience to check each step of his calculations and each stage of the casting, the building of foundations and assembly of the bridge. Here it stands today, carefully maintained, like the Forth Bridge and all those others. My grandfather, a Shropshire lad, took me to see it aged about five; it impresses me more now than it did then, unlike so many things.

Crossing the river here safely was a dream made real by Darby and the men who dug his coal, smelted, transported and cast his iron; masons, surveyors, painters. He and they had to trust in the laws of physics as they understood them. The people who keep the bridge alive –  it is still open to pedestrians – apply the physics and chemistry they understand to prevent rust, metal fatigue and erosion.

The dirt and hard labour of the Industrial Revolution have gone, leaving the Severn Gorge free from dark Satanic Mills. But if we are to build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land we need an understanding of what we are about, and how to ensure dirt, fatigue, rust and erosion do not stop us working together.

God, come to our aid, Lord, make haste to help us!

Laudaato Si’!

MMB.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Laudato si', PLaces

August 13: H is for Holywell.

winifride.plowden (389x640)

There are Holy Wells all over Britain, most more than half forgotten. But people still leave little offerings and prayers tied to branches or stuffed between stones at St Nôn’s Well in Pembrokeshire. Even in Rome, coins are tossed into fountains to bring people back to the eternal city. Are they trying to force the hand of God or some lesser local deity?

R.S. Thomas, the Welsh priest-poet, had a holy well in his parish where he would pray. Whom did he and other visitors pray to there?

‘ where the coins lie, the tarnished offerings

of the people to the pure spirit

that lives there, that has lived there

always, giving itself up

to the thirsty, withholding

itself from the superstition

of others, who ask for more.’[1]

Holy wells challenge me, if no-one else! Whatever lies behind the legend of St Winifred’s well springing to life where her severed head fell, water has bubbled up here, people have prayed here, people have been cured and have left their crutches behind.

Is it superstition to ‘ask for more’? And is seeking bodily healing asking for more – or less – than a draught of ‘the pure spirit that has lived there always? More than likely people came to the holy well before the Welsh saints gathered around it.

Certainly water was a powerful sign to people before the coming of city plumbing and clean water on sale in plastic bottles. Here is Philip in the earliest days of the Church, riding in a chariot with a potential convert (Acts 8):

Philip, opening his mouth, and beginning at this scripture, preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came to a certain water; and the eunuch said: See, here is water: what doth hinder me from being baptized?

 And Philip said: If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answering, said: I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still; and they went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch: and he baptized him.

May we never take water, or the Spirit, for granted!

Find out how to share the benefits of reliably clean water here: http://www.wateraid.org/uk

Winifred and her Holywell depicted in a window at her church in Plowden, Shropshire.

 

 MMB.

[1]R.S. Thomas, ‘Ffynnon Fair’ in R.S. Thomas, ‘Collected Poems, 1945 – 1990’, London, Orion, 2000.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, PLaces, poetry

July 5th, Readings from Mary Webb, IV: Let us dare to be merely receptive.

stars.constantina

Mary Webb’s illness caused swellings, which eventually distorted her face. But:

There are many to whom all beauty seems denied; they hunger for it dumbly, unconsciously. Is their life to be a stricken tree, colourless and silent? Surely not. The flawless forms and colours of nature are an especial consolation to those who are oppressed by that dark tragedy, deformity of body or unloveliness of face. How deep is the desolation, when a sad soul looks out anxiously, through eyes that cannot reflect its beauty, watching for an answering smile, and meeting only a look of swiftly concealed repulsion! Startled and ill at ease in the ruinous mortal dwelling, reminded of it continually, this soul leads a life of torture. I saw one of these look from her windows and weep bitterly, finding no comfort. Then a voice came in the long sigh of the dawn breeze:–

“I know, inhabitant of eternity, how strait and comfortless your home is. Go out into my garden and forget. The skies are clear; see where I lead out my sidereal flocks! The tall young larches are dreaming of green; there is moonlight in the primrose woods. There is a fit dwelling for you; go, and be at peace.”

She rose and went, and her laugh came back upon the wind. The leaves do not hesitate to finger and kiss any face, however marred, that looks up into their dwelling. No distortion of body frightens the birds, if the heart within loves them.

speedwell

One flower of germander speedwell may be the magic robe that clothes us with the beauty of earth. It has the same strength of structure, wonder of tint and mystery of shadow as all natural things. Awakened by its minute perfection, the mind … realises that nature’s beauty can never be perfectly grasped.

Ceasing for a time to question and strive, let us dare to be merely receptive.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Laudato si'

July 3, Readings from Mary Webb, II: Unless latent loves are developed …

Photo0936

We listen, hearing a faint call from afar. It is this sense of mystery – unfading, because the veil is never lifted – that gives glory to the countryside, tenderness to atmosphere. It is this that sends one man to the wilds, another to dig a garden; that sings in a musician’s brain; that inspires the pagan to build an altar and the child to make a cowslip-ball. For in each of us is implanted the triune capacity for loving his fellow and nature and the Creator of them.

These loves may be latent, but they are there; and unless they are all developed we cannot reach perfect manhood or womanhood. For the complete character is that which is in communion with most sides of life – which sees, hears, and feels most – which has for its fellows the sympathy of understanding, for nature the love that is without entire comprehension, and for the mystery beyond them the inexhaustible desire which surely prophesies fulfilment somewhere.

We would not encourage a child to make a cowslip ball today, though there seemed to be an abundance along the motorways this Spring, but that’s not a place to set a child gathering flowers!

Interesting how Mary Webb sees a complete human as having a triune nature, being ‘in communion with most sides of life’, not denying illness, frailty or failing. Let us not exclude the unfading sense of mystery, but be open to our sisters and brothers, our fellow creatures and the One who created all.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Laudato si', PLaces

July 2: Introduction to Mary Webb

 

Mary_webbMary Webb, 1881 – 1927, the Shropshire poet and novelist, suffered from Grave’s Disease, a thyroid problem that is much better understood and treated today. The introduction to her book, The Spring of Joy reveals:

One to whom life was pain, and death a charnel-house, came under cloudy hollows stained with sunrise into a country pleasant as lilac in the rain. Wandering down aisles of birdsong to the brink of a river, she drank where the ousels and the stars had been before her, and found comfort and joy. So she brought back in the palm of her hand for those in need of healing a few drops of the water which sparkled and held the sky.

Some readers may find her writing sentimental, but it is nevertheless authentic and from the heart, and Franciscan in its living in God’s Nature. An ousel is a water blackbird.

WT.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Laudato si'

July 1: A New Beginning

pilgrimsindunes (2) (800x342)

Walking together

Well, dear readers, this is the start of the post-FISC Agnellus’ Mirror. The Franciscan International Study Centre is no more. Who knows were the future will take us? Although the Centre kindly adopted us, we were separate enough to feel bereaved but neither divorced nor terminally compromised when its closure was announced. There are still Franciscans on God’s earth and we’ll try to be in that number, even if not all of us count ourselves among the first, second or third orders in all the ecumenical cousinage of the Poor Man’s family. For the present we will continue to be based in Canterbury, but we have contributors across the UK and further afield. Please continue to walk with us and pray with us.

Let’s turn our backs on the removal men and take ourselves to Shropshire with Mary Webb, poet of the early 20th Century. Her reflections this week inspire a Franciscan Exclamation: Laudato Si’ !

Will Turnstone

Editor.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Laudato si', PLaces

24 April: Editor’s Introduction: The Virtue of Prudence.

weavers-cotts-upmill-640x565

Dear Reader,

What did we read yesterday: we should be grateful to Thomas for his doubts – people do not come back to life, do they?  

Thomas wanted facts. Well, more facts. That his friends, whom he trusted, were so changed by what they had seen and heard that Easter day, that was not enough. He probably saw himself as a prudent, thoughtful chap. And then when the evidence is flesh-and-blood before him his prudence throws him on his knees.

He should have read Sister Johanna; she has got me thinking. I trust she’ll get you thinking as well. Her series of reflections on the Virtue of Prudence might sound a bit dry, but take it from me, you’ll find well-presented food for thought. And Thomas Aquinas follows on nicely from Thomas the Twin.

I got to choose the pictures this time – a privilege, because Sister has a good eye for a picture herself – so I allowed myself the luxury of using this one. The houses at the back of my mother’s place represent Prudence since their builders chose a site and aligned the building with prudence to capture as much light as possible for the weavers at their looms upstairs. Of course there would have been no sycamores to overshadow them in the 18th Century, but no decent artificial light either.

When the series ends, I’d recommend you go back and read them all consecutively.

God Bless,

Will Turnstone.

 

 

Leave a comment

by | April 24, 2017 · 00:44

April 9th, Palm Sunday 2017: Shropshire Daffodils

daffsteps (640x317)

Wordsworth may have the fame when it comes to daffodils in verse, but in Shropshire last Spring we saw drifts of daffodils beside the roads, beneath the hedges, shining along the footpath edges … apologies; William is too easily parodied.

But I wondered why such county-wide devotion to a Welsh emblem: surely not love of the western neighbour? Rather love of the flower itself, and its defiance of lingering resistance from Winter’s rearguard winds.

And then I picked up Houseman, and these lines from A Shropshire Lad:

The boys are up the woods with day
To fetch the daffodils away,
And home at noonday from the hills
They bring no dearth of daffodils.
Afield for palms the girls repair,
And sure enough the palms are there,
And each will find by hedge or pond
Her waving silver-tufted wand.
In farm and field through all the shire
The eye beholds the heart’s desire;
Ah, let not only mine be vain,
For lovers should be loved again.

 

The girls’ palms are of course the pussy willow, whose ‘silver-tufted wands’ set off the Easter daffodils so splendidly in the vase.

How good to be reminded, even by the morbid Houseman, to link our native flora and ourselves, to the ‘Hebrew children’ who went to meet the Lord carrying olive branches, and singing ‘Hosanna!’

Pueri Hebraeorum, portantes ramos olivarum, obviaverunt Domino, clamantes et dicentes, Hosanna in Excelsis.

The Hebrew children, carrying olive branches, went out to meet the Lord, shouting out and saying, ‘Hosanna in the highest!’

WT.

Sheet music and recording of ‘Pueri Hebraeorum’

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, poetry