Tag Archives: silence

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

Christina.cross1

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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July 30. 100 years ago today: Prayer of a Soldier in France.

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Joyce (Alfred Joyce) Kilmer was an American Catholic Poet who died at the front this day 100 years ago. He is buried at the Oise-Aisne cemetery shown above. In this poem he comes to terms with the everyday suffering of the soldier by laying it alongside the passion of Jesus. Our second post today is a response to KIlmer’s verses from a living American poet, our friend Christina Chase.

I have found it difficult to reconcile the link people have made between Christ’s sacrifice and the soldier at war, prepared to be killed but also prepared to kill, for his country. What right does the country have to demand either sacrifice?

But here is one man. One man’s pain and suffering, offered, not to his country, but to the one true Man who was the one true God. A lesson in that for each of us.

Prayer of a Soldier in France

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). 

Men shout at me who may not speak 

(They scourged Thy back and smote Thy cheek). 

I may not lift a hand to clear 

My eyes of salty drops that sear. 

(Then shall my fickle soul forget 

Thy agony of Bloody Sweat?) 

My rifle hand is stiff and numb 

(From Thy pierced palm red rivers come). 

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. 

Joycekilmersignature

Oise-Aisne Cemetery,  official site.
Signature: Open Access, via Wikipedia  

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11 July, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXIX: He preaches to people and the birds.

ceramic.swallow

Saint Francis rose up with fervour exceeding great, and said : “ Let us be going in the name of God”; and he took for his companions Brother Masseo and Brother Agnolo, holy men. And setting forth with fervent zeal of spirit, taking no thought for road or way, they came unto a little town that was called Savurniano, and Saint Francis set himself to preach, but first he bade the swallows that were twittering keep silence till such time as he had done the preaching; and the swallows were obedient to his word.

He preached there with such fervour that all the men and women of that town minded through their devotion to come after him and leave the town, but Saint Francis suffered them not, saying : “Make not ill haste nor leave your homes; and I will ordain for you what ye should do for the salvation of your souls”: and therewith he resolved to found the Third Order, for the salvation of all the world.

And so leaving them much comforted and with minds firm set on penitence, he departed thence and came unto a place between Cannaio and Bevagno. And as with great fervour he was going on the way, he lifted up his eyes and beheld some trees hard by the road whereon sat a great company of birds well-nigh without number; whereat Saint Francis marvelled, and said to his companions: “Ye shall wait for me here upon the way and I will go to preach unto my little sisters, the birds.” And he went unto the field and began to preach unto the birds that were on the ground; and immediately those that were on the trees flew down to him, and they all of them remained still and quiet together, until Saint Francis made an end of preaching: and not even then did they depart, until he had given them his blessing. And according to what Brother Masseo afterwards related unto Brother Jacques da Massa, Saint Francis went among them touching them with his cloak, howbeit none moved from out his place.

A terracotta swallow from Italy, at home in Canterbury.

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April 3: Easter Tuesday.

dew.grass.png

 

 

the storm shrieked

rushed at everything

tossed and roared

when he rose

like some

possessed

maniac

Now

he stands with

grave authority

quietly speaks

between

sun-streaks

and blades

of grass

SJC

 

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January 29, Aberdaron VII: the beginning

aberdaron church leaflet3

We continue reading the guide to Saint Hywyn’s Church. It is sobering to sit in Canterbury and read that this church dates from the first half of the sixth century. Pope Gregory only sent Augustine to Kent in 597!

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21 December: Zechariah.

 

ossyrianfire

 

On glowing coals your incense plumed and rose,

and tendrils, wisps of smoke, entwining vines

of perfume circled round the holy throne,

round holy presence, round what faith enshrines.

O Zechariah, priest of God and seer,

in God’s eyes good, so good and true, yet you

were unprepared for Gabriel’s appearing:

you balked. But some, condemning, misconstrue.

Before the angel’s majesty and mien,

before unfathomed worlds spirits behold,

to me, your doubts, your dread – how right they seem:

before your silence gained what he foretold.

O Zechariah, made mute, but little flawed,

you shall live to see, to see your God.

(Luke 1:5-25)

SJC

Sister Johanna sent us this sonnet that distills the essence of her reflections on Zechariah. Thank you Johanna!

Will.

 

 

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