Tag Archives: silence

13 November, Readings from Mary Webb XXIII: The Night Sky (1916)

 

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Like Edward Thomas, Mary Webb was touched by the Great  War, even at a distance of hundreds of miles across the sea. She knew well that the flashes at the front were not soft lightnings with less stir than a gnat makes, but despite the scarlet wars taking the young men away, she draws our attention to quiet and calm. Our world is small and oftentimes too loud; too lit up by what we might call light noise. But in November, given clear skies, we may see the moon and stars before bedtime!

The moon, beyond her violet bars,
From towering heights of thunder-cloud,
Sheds calm upon our scarlet wars,
To soothe a world so small, so loud.
And little clouds like feathered spray,
Like rounded waves on summer seas,
Or frosted panes on a winter day,
Float in the dark blue silences.
Within their foam, transparent, white,
Like flashing fish the stars go by
Without a sound across the night.
In quietude and secrecy
The white, soft lightnings feel their way
To the boundless dark and back again,
With less stir than a gnat makes
In its little joy, its little pain.

Published out of numerical sequence to appear at Remembrance tide.

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3 November: A place to reflect

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I was surprised to be welcomed at the North Door into the Crypt at Canterbury Cathedral and to have a leaflet thrust into my hand. I barely glanced at it – ‘a place to reflect’ sums up Agnellus’ Mirror’s feelings about this ancient part of the Cathedral – and put it safely in my bag. Reflection is our business in the Mirror, so I promised myself to read it later.

As always, the silence of the Crypt needed to be filtered out of the background noises. Hear each one, Will, then set it aside. Bangings, sawing noises, crane engines and hydraulic lifts: the army of masons, paviours and other tradesmen were about their work, as they always are. Have  I ever seen the building without scaffolding somewhere?

Young voices behind me, coming from the nave. School children? Do they whoop and yell? I remembered that at least two little Turnstone chicks, when babes in arms, discovered the acoustics of the nave, and allowed their happy screams to roll around the space, but they were a choir leader’s nightmare. Worth a smile and a prayer for all the younger Turnstones. At least I’d put aside the whoopers, and found silence, undisturbed by comings and goings around me.

When I got up to climb the stairs to the nave, a solid oak door barred the way. I heard an amplified voice speaking, and remembered seeing a young man in academic dress in the street: I realised it must have been a degree ceremony occupying the nave. Whoops and yells are fair enough under the circumstances.

Let’s pray that the graduands enjoyed their day, and always have room in their lives for reflection and silence.

Oh, the leaflet: it is an excellent guide to the crypt. I learnt that there is a Baptismal Font down there in the Holy Innocents’ Chapel which is encouraging: the main font in the Nave has the Royal Coat of Arms over it, which has always seemed inappropriate to me.

 

 

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November 2: Solitude

sjc. solitude hanging

The room is still but for the ticking clock
and like a snowfall stillness settles round,
and in come presences that needn’t knock,
familiar, homing souls, without a sound.

It isn’t always so – so calm, so quiet,
but now the gentle spirits take their ease
as afternoon melts into shadowed night
and birds seek shelter in the darkening trees.

As night advances, sky turns indigo
and slate-grey clouds in bundles fill the east.
I watch. I seem alone, but I’m with you –
my brothers, sisters summoned to the feast.

In solitude I know that we are one.
In solitude I hear the bridegroom come.

SJC

Definitely a poem for All Saints’ Tide. Thank you Sister Johanna! 

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1 October, The Franciscans come to Mount Alvernia IV: a bed for the night

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We see in this post, as in the last one, how Francis entrusted important decisions to other brothers, even when he was around and could have made his will prevail.

Saint Francis took with him to Tuscany Brother Masseo da Marignano of Assisi, the which was a man of great eloquence, and Brother Angelo Tancredi da Rieti, the which was a man of very gentle birth and in the world had been a knight, and Brother Leo, a man of exceeding great simplicity and purity, for the which cause Saint Francis loved him much. And with these three brothers Saint Francis set himself to pray, commended himself and his companions aforesaid to the prayers of the brothers that remained behind, and set out with those three in the name of Jesu Christ, the Crucified, for to go to the mount of Alvernia.

And as he went, Saint Francis called unto one of those three companions, to wit, Brother Masseo, and said unto him: “Thou shalt be our guardian and our superior in this journey, to wit, so long as we be going and staying together, and we will observe our rule, to wit, that we be either saying the office, or speaking of God, or keeping silence, and that we take no thought beforehand, either of eating or drinking or sleeping : but when it is time to seek a lodging, we will beg a little bread, and stay and rest in the place that God may make ready for us.”

Then the three companions bowed their heads, and making the sign of the cross, went on their way: and on the first night they came to a house of the brothers and lodged there. On the second night of their journey, by reason of the bad weather and because they were tired, not being able to reach any house of the brothers or any castle or village, when the night overtook them and bad weather, they took refuge in a deserted and dismantled church, and there laid them down to rest.

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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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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.

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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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