Tag Archives: silence

21 July, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLIX: Kindred Spirits 2.

st louisSaint Louis, King of France, had come in disguise to visit Brother Giles. They spent the whole of his visit in loving silence.

And whenas they had a long time continued together without having spoken together, they parted the one from the other, and Saint Louis went his way on his journey, and Brother Giles returned unto his cell.

When the king was gone, a certain brother asked one of his companions who it was that had embraced Brother Giles for so long time; and he replied that it was Louis, King of France, the which had come for to see Brother Giles. When this he told to the other brothers, they were exceeding sorrowful for that Brother Giles had spoken never a word to him: and murmuring thereat, they said to him: “O Brother Giles, why hast thou shown thee so discourteous as to say naught at all to so holy a king that had come from France to see thee and hear from thy lips good words?’

Replied Brother Giles: “Dear brothers, marvel not thereat, for neither I to him nor he to me could speak a word, sith so soon as we embraced each other, the light of heavenly wisdom revealed and showed to me his heart, and mine to him, and thus through divine working, each looking on the other’s heart, we knew what I would say to him and he to me, far better than if we had spoken with our mouths, and with more consolation than if we had sought to show forth in words the feelings of our hearts.

Through the weakness of human speech, that cannot express clearly the secret mysteries of God, it would have left us all disconsolate rather than consoled; wherefore know ye that the king departed from me with marvellous content and consolation in his soul.”

 

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24 June: You’ll never (be allowed to) walk alone.

syrian-gathering

I usually skim read the football writing in the newspaper, but this article was different. The writer was complaining that the fans at a major final were unable to sing their anthems with their usual spontaneity. When they would normally be raising their voices together before the game, there was a pop band playing. There was music during the game too, and after goals were scored: the right tunes, but not fan generated; he felt excluded.

As annoying as canned music in the supermarket, suggested Mrs Turnstone.

Or in churches, I suggested. ‘Even Taizé chants can be annoying at the wrong time’, she said.

I would add plain chant to that list. Please, no piped music in church! If we are representative of anyone other than ourselves, we  feel excluded by it. We don’t find it welcoming, or prayerful, or conducive to inner silence, or even outer silence in terms of visitors being guided towards speaking quietly to each other. Let the church speak for itself!

WT

L’Arche Syria meet to sing and pray

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13 June: Apparent indifference.

 

walk5I was looking for something else when I came across some of the extracts I made from Richard Jefferies’ “The Gamekeeper at Home”, first published in 1878. Ian, a lad I once taught, had an ambition to become a keeper, and enjoyed reading this book together, despite the sometimes old-fashioned language. I hope you enjoy this extract.

He had the capacity to stand and stare that Jefferies describes here.

The book is available at Project Gutenberg.

Often and often, when standing in a meadow gateway partly hidden by the bushes, watching the woodpecker on the ant-hills, of whose eggs, too, the partridges are so fond (so that a good ant year, in which their nests are prolific, is also a good partridge year) you may, if you are still, hear a slight faint rustle in the hedge, and by-and-by a weasel will steal out. Seeing you he instantly pauses, elevates his head, and steadily gazes: move but your eyes and he is back in the hedge; remain quiet, still looking straight before you as if you saw nothing, and he will presently recover confidence, and actually cross the gateway almost under you.

This is the secret of observation: stillness, silence, and apparent indifference.

I made no comment when I published this extract on the ‘Will Turnstone’ blog, perhaps the best sermon or reflection, but ‘if you are still’ you may hear, or see in the corner of your eye, feel a breath on your cheek, smell the breeze that the prophet heeded.

As for apparent indifference to one’s surroundings: by some quirk of my mind’s working I’m put in mind of Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” There are many who seem indifferent to Jesus, but are able to be still and silent, to observe what needs doing, and get on with it without fanfare.

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23 May. Pilgrimage to Canterbury MMXIX. III.

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St Thomas of Canterbury, plaque at St Thomas’ church.

I seem to remember parish pilgrimages from my youth, where some people sat on the bus and said the Rosary very loud and very fast. Of course prayer is part of our journey too. Indeed, just putting one foot in front of the other is prayer, just as walking hand in hand, silently, is love and prayer.

Hand in hand: we have agreed a theme of ‘Stay with us, Lord’, Luke 24:29, from the story of the two disciples going to Emmaus on the first Easter Day. Charlotte and Colin have found a Taizé chant we might be able to sing, so I can begin to plan out the prayers.

Starting on the beach: I think ‘Stay with us Lord’ will be a good response to our prayers, one we can all remember. On a clear day you can see the White Cliffs from our nearest L’Arche neighbours, Les Trois Fontaines at Ambleteuse on the French Coast. May the Lord be with them too. Abbot Peter of Canterbury was shipwrecked and washed up dead on the shore there, his body glowing with light when it was found. Another link between our two communities.

I digress, wandering some 30km across the seaway from our Kentish path. Each day we will begin with prayer, pause for prayer, end with prayer. We can thank the Lord for food, for friends and family, for feet carrying us on. Let’s see what comes to heart and mind! We can try to make the prayers relevant to the sites we visit. A few possible churches and halls have been noted down. We’ll see what the final route takes us.

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20 May: Jean Vanier RIP

By Eddie GIlmore; from the Irish Chaplaincy blog

Another tribute to Jean Vanier from a long-standing community member; Eddies now works at the Irish chaplaincy, but is still present to the Kent community.

As I was told of the death, at the age of 90, of Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, there immediately came to mind my favourite story connected with the great man: an important story for me, and one which I discovered years later from Jean I’d actually misheard!

Jean was a son of Georges Vanier, a Governor-General of Canada, and he crossed the Atlantic at the height of the second world to join the British Naval College at Dartmouth. After the war, one of his tasks, together with a fellow young naval cadet, was to ‘entertain’ the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret on a long sea voyage to South Africa. I was touched to hear that when Jean went to Buckingham Palace in recent years to collect an award from the now Queen Elizabeth she said to him “hello Jock”, this being the name that those close to him used when he was growing up.

From this rather privileged background Jean found himself in 1964 in a village called Trosly in the North of France, moving into a dilapidated old house with two men, Raphael and Philippe, who he had met and befriended at a large institution and who he had invited to come and live with him. The house was named L’Arche, French for the ark, and it would grow into a worldwide network of 150 communities in almost 40 countries, where people with and without learning disabilities live and work and share life together. I joined the L’Arche community in Canterbury in 1988 and was there for 28 years, and it’s where I met my wife so I have a particular reason to be grateful for what Jean started.

In 2006 I was attending an event in Trosly for directors of L’Arche communities in Europe, at which Jean spoke to us. In one of his talks he recalled how he’d been visiting a prison in America where one of the guys had told him proudly (or at least this is what I heard at the time!) “I’m the best card-dealer in the State of Virginia”. Jean went on to say “you know, we all need to be the best something; but where do I want to choose to be the best?” I interpreted this as meaning ‘where do I want to choose to use my gifts?’ At that time I was coming to the end of my initial 4 year ‘mandate’ as Director and unsure whether or not to continue for a second 4 year term, but this story inspired me to do so.

I told this story often to people and I hoped I’d have a chance one day to say thank you to Jean. Years later I drove a minibusful of people from L’Arche Kent over to Trosly to visit Jean, who we knew could be in his final years. It was never easy to get to speak to him one-to-one but following mass in the lovely converted barn of a chapel I spotted that he was momentarily on his own in the courtyard and seized my chance. I went over and said I wanted to thank him for something he’d said years earlier that had been very important for me. “Oh yes”, he replied, “what was that?” I said he’d been speaking about the man in a prison who claimed to be the best card-dealer in the State of Virginia. “No, no, no!” said Jean, “the best car-stealer in the state penitentiary”! And we both roared with laughter.

God bless you Jean, and Thank You

And, by the way, if you want to see some archive L’Arche photos from the 1960s and 1970s (and even later!) then click here: Jubilee Blues

(Jean, seen here with Raphael and with Gabrielle who founded the first L’Arche community in India)

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28 March. Before the Cross XIV, Conform me to your likeness, Lord.

It’s always a joy to receive a post from Christina Chase. Here is her contribution to our season of reflections ‘Before the Cross’.

Meditation upon a crucifix,

remembering an image at Ste. Anne de Beaupré

of Christ with St. Francis of Assisi,

while having my bedroom wall crucifix in sight

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Conform me to your likeness, Lord.

Arms for work, so strong and sure,

are not dependable

unless they’re open wide in love.

They cannot hold dear wisdom close

or carry souls in need,

they cannot lift the sobbing low to soaring heights of joy,

until they’re held and pinioned fast

by love’s relinquishing embrace.

Conform me to your likeness, Lord.

Legs of strength, so swift and free,

are but weak and purposeless

unless they run the endless race of love’s pursuit

and stand upon the heart of God —

for flight is stronger, swifter, freer, when nailed down

into the power of love.

Conform me to your likeness, Lord!

See me, here, little and lacking,

my own body twisted thin,

limbs immobile, lungs slowly failing.

Teach me, Lord, mould me, shape me,

move me in your stillness

with emulating love,

tell me from the silence

of the Cross that you love me,

and I will be able to go every where that you are.

© 2019 Christina Chase
Christina.cross2

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18 March. Before the Cross V: An Absent Presence.

'Still', a major work by Scottish artist Alison Watt, is installed in the Memorial Chapel

Psalm 46:10 ‘Be still and know that I am God.’

A mysterious and endearing quality of art and music is that they can open a door within us to a stillness in which we can inwardly sense the knowing of God. For ultimately this knowing is not a theory in our heads, but the kind of knowing that ripples through our being in a way in which we most probably don’t understand and yet we can say of it ‘I just know’.

‘Still’ is by the Scottish painter Alison Watt OBE (b. 1965), and is hung behind the altar in the Memorial chapel of Old St. Paul’s Episcopal church in Edinburgh. If ever you have a few moments free in the centre of Edinburgh, or arrive by train to the central Waverley Station it is conveniently just across the road from the back entrance to the station. The church is usually open for visitors, offering a respite from the vibrancy and noise of the city centre by the contrastingly silent and poignantly serene space which is this chapel – dedicated in memory of those fallen in World War 1. It is a dark space which holds both the sadness of the memory of those who gave their lives, and the light of hope through the risen Christ.

This unique work somehow expresses the sense of beauty and light and continuing movement of the spirit, through its enigmatic focus on folds of fabric. The work is a quadriptych (a work in four parts) 12 ft by 12 ft, and so naturally echoes the cross in its layout, a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice taken by Christ. The theme of the painting is hanging drapery. The implication is that the cloth is that of the shrouds of Jesus, though what hangs behind it is only alluded to. Certainly the subtle implication is of a body beneath, causing the shaping and the folds. Watt says of the work: ‘‘Although the body is not explicitly represented, it’s still echoed in the landscape of the cloth. The paintings are about an absent presence.’

An absent presence – something we can’t see or physically perceive and yet we know and sense is there. And so it was for those who experienced that first Easter morning – the confusion of a mysterious absent presence. It is that very quality which, without words or analysis, settles within me as I sit with this work of art.

When I first saw this painting I felt mesmerised by the beauty and the impact of the white simplicity of the hangings amidst the stark silence of the chapel. It stills me, and yet the stillness is not rigid but full of gentle movement and flow. The meaning is not obvious and yet in my unknowing it offers me opportunity to sit and just to absorb. It offers that doorway to ‘Be still and know that I am God.’

I often like to pop in when I am back in my home town; By stepping aside from all that energises the centre of town into the entrancing beauty and stillness of being in that place, I experience a way into the serenity of prayer which settles and recharges my inner resources through this beautiful work of art.

Janet McDonald

Alison Watt is the youngest artist to have had a solo exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (2000) and to serve as an Associate Artist at the National Gallery, London (2006-8). For Still, she won the ACE (Art and Christianity Enquiry) award for a Commissioned Artwork in Ecclesiastical Space in 2005. See:

 

Janet McDonald is a member of the L’Arche Kent Community.

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14 December: On fire with all love’s longing.

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For the Feast of Saint John of the Cross, here is one of his spiritual songs. This is taken from ‘San Juan de la Cruz Seven Spiritual Poems’, translated by A.S. Kline, available through Project Gutenberg. 

Song of the Soul that Delights in Reaching the Supreme State of perfection, that is, the union with God, by the path of spiritual negation.

Upon a darkened night
on fire with all love’s longing
– O joyful flight! –
I left, none noticing,
my house, in silence, resting.

Secure, devoid of light,
by secret stairway, stealing
– O joyful flight! –
in darkness self-concealing,
my house, in silence, resting.

In the joy of night,
in secret so none saw me,
no object in my sight
no other light to guide me,
but what burned here inside me.

Which solely was my guide,
more surely than noon-glow,
to where he does abide,
one whom I deeply know,
a place where none did show.

O night, my guide!
O night, far kinder than the dawn!
O night that tied
the lover to the loved,
the loved in the lover there transformed!

On my flowering breast,
that breast I kept for him alone,
there he took his rest
while I regaled my own,
in lulling breezes from the cedars blown.

The breeze, from off the tower,
as I sieved through its windings,
with calm hands, that hour,
my neck, in wounding,
left all my senses hanging.

Self abandoned, self forgot,
my face inclined to the beloved one:
all ceased, and I was not,
my cares now left behind, and gone:
there among the lilies all forgotten.

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22 November: The Road to Emmaus V

Easter Sunday

The two disciples aren’t finished yet. They have a few more things to say to Jesus:

…[T]his is not all: two whole days have now gone by since it all happened; and some of the women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they could not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing (Luke. 24:21-24)..

Cleopas and his friend do not seem to be able to remember anything that Jesus had prophesied about himself during his lifetime. Maybe grief and shock had made them forget everything. Maybe Jesus’ prophecies had been so horrifying to the disciples at the time that they simply “blanked” them. But Jesus cannot be faulted for having failed to warn his disciples. He had, on numerous occasions, told them plainly that he would be crucified, and would die and be buried, and then, after three days, would rise from the dead. Neither of the disciples seemed able to recall this now. But Jesus, like the superb healer he is, listens intently in silence while they vent their feelings of confusion and disappointment.

At last, they pause. They have finished their tale. Maybe they are feeling a bit empty now, but surely they know they have been heard – you can always feel it when someone is listening with his whole heart. As a result, they themselves are perhaps better able now to listen than they have been all day. And Jesus does not fail to make use of this opportunity. He is bold and forthright:

You foolish men! So slow to believe all that the prophets have said! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer before entering into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself (Luke. 24:25-27).

We are not told what the disciples did while Jesus spoke to them. Presumably, they continued to walk along as he talked. They seem to have been reduced at last to silence. What was this experience like for them? I imagine that they must have gone through a swift succession of feelings, beginning perhaps with dismay over being called foolish and slow. But no doubt they moved quickly to a state of some amazement at the stranger’s penetration into the situation they had described to him, and from there into a state of wonder, joy and even to a feeling of hope that they could not understand immediately. Here at last was someone who could make profound sense of everything that had happened. Here was someone who was picking up the shattered pieces of their lives and making them whole again.

Happily, this is an experience that I can say I know about also, even as I know of the distress and bewilderment that these two disciples had felt. Jesus never abandons those who love him and seek him sincerely, even if we seek him wrongheadedly. Perhaps especially then. Perhaps this endears us to him.

In my experience of discipleship, enlightenment does come. Eventually. Or, at least, partial enlightenment comes. And, by the time it comes, I am usually so happy to have it that I will accept it thankfully in any form. But, as is the case in this story, full enlightenment – the recognition of the Jesus himself in a new form – usually comes to me later, when reflecting on my experience through prayer. The disciples here are enlightened enough to be loath to part with this wonderful stranger, but that seems to be all they know. They don’t see yet that he is not a stranger.

SJC

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23 August: Jesus in the Attic, 1.

warmwelcome

That title sounds quite wrong: why would you consign Jesus to the attic when he should be at the heart of our lives?

I remember, many years ago, when I was with a party of people with learning disabilities on holiday in Suffolk. We went to see Tim and Marion Hollis, friends of  Jean and Thérèse Vanier, and of L’Arche Kent. Tim took us on the Broads in his motor boat, encouraging each of us to steer up the channel – even John, who normally said nothing and never looked up from the floor, still set himself to make for the mark Tim pointed out to him. Never underestimate anyone’s capabilities!

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Before we went on the river, Tim showed us his ‘Jesus in the attic’: up in the roof he had replaced a terracotta pantile with a glass one, which let in enough light for a little shrine in one corner. A quiet place, a blessed place. The memory has stuck.

Next month we’ll visit the much grander ‘Jesus in the Attic’ which gave me this title, and speaks of a challenging situation, like that facing John Kemble, but which toleration and accommodation defused without bloodshed and martyrdom.

MMB

 


We heard in the last few days that Marion Hollis has died with Tim at her side. She was a good friend to L’Arche who especially helped the London Community to grow in the early days. May she rest in peace.

 

 

 

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