A few words from Rev Jo Richards of Saint Mildred’s, Canterbury, on her church’s patronal feast day, 13 July.
St Mildred: Today is the Feast day of St Mildred, a fascinating woman and a very local saint. So for those who might be less familiar with her, one of our patron saints here is some info: St. Mildred was the daughter of King Merewald of Magonset and his wife, St. Ermenburga (alias Aebbe of Minster-in-Thanet); and therefore sister of SS. Milburga and Milgith. At an early age, her mother sent her to be educated at Chelles in France, where many English ladies were trained to a saintly life. There is lots more info here: http://earlybritishkingdoms.com/adversaries/bios/mildred.html
Lifting of covid restrictions: we are still awaiting guidance from CofE with respect to what this means for our places of worship, and how we conduct public worship. I assure you that we will not be rushing into anything, though I would be very interested to hear your thoughts about what you would feel comfortable with in terms of mask wearing, social distancing, singing and receiving of communion; of course this may all be dictated by CofE, but good to get a feel of what folk are thinking, and would feel comfortable with – we are in this together!
Another blog by Eddie Gilmore of the Irish Chaplaincy in London. Thank you Eddie, as always.
“You don’t realise how much you’ve missed something until you have it again.”
I’d only gone down to the newly re-opened library to return the couple of books that I’d had out since last year and to borrow a new one. As I came out of the main entrance onto Canterbury High Street I was greeted by an unusual sight. There were seven elderly-looking ladies about to start some kind of performance. They were dressed identically in grey headscarves and billowing black shawls and each had a zimmer frame. To the accompaniment of a slightly eerie soundtrack, they began to push their zimmer frames around one another and were looking more and more distressed and agitated. Their expressions then softened, as did their movements, and suddenly they all pushed away their zimmers and began to dance. Next, they undid their headscarves and flung them into a captivated crowd and ripped off the black shawls to reveal colourful dresses. A solitary man appeared with a large drum, onto which he was beating a flamenco rhythm. The spectacle ended with the setting off of party-poppers and the women throwing rice over the bystanders, before disappearing, dancing, round the corner. I was utterly enchanted and deeply touched. It was the first live dance performance I’d seen in over a year, the first live anything, and it was so good to experience it again.
As I went round to the other side of the library to get my bike I came across the women in their flamenco dresses, looking very pleased with themselves. “That was wonderful,” I gushed. “Thank you so much.” And I added, almost in tears, “You don’t realise how much you’ve missed something until you have it again.” One of them asked if I’d like more rice strewn over me. “Oh yes!” I replied, and was duly anointed. I felt truly blessed.
The day after that I was having a well-earned coffee with a couple of the guys I’d done my Saturday morning club cycle ride with (and what a treat it is to be riding in a group again). We were basking in the sun by the Argentinian café in the Dane John Gardens in Canterbury, and it was great to see people out and about again. I’d been chatting with Conor en route about coming out of lockdown and I’d told him about how much I’d enjoyed seeing a live dance performance again. Just then I spotted a couple in the nearby bandstand doing a tango. “Look!” I exclaimed to Conor and Chris, “there’s a couple dancing.” Chris then told us of how he had practised for months the first dance, to an 80s song, he did with his wife at his wedding, and the conversation went onto other songs from the 80s. Then I told Dublin-born Conor about a nice scene from the film ‘Sing Street’ in which the protagonist, a boy who forms his own band, gathers a load of fellow-pupils at his Dublin school to be dancers at the first gig and implores them to “dance like it’s the 80s!”
One of my favourite scenes from ‘Mamma Mia’ is where all the women, young and old, dance down to the harbour to the tune of ‘Dancing Queen’ and then leap into the sea. An especially touching bit of that scene is an older woman casting off the large pile of sticks she’s been carrying on her shoulders, joining the joyful procession, and crying out, “Oh YEAH.” A few months ago my ninety-one year old mum was sent a wind-up dancing leprechaun by one of her sisters in Newry. The care home where she lives sent a gorgeous video of her standing up and doing a little jig alongside the leprechaun. This from someone who needs a zimmer frame these days to get around.
The day after the Argentinian coffee and tango in the park was Trinity Sunday and Yim Soon and I were at our customary zoom Mass. Part of a reflection from one of the women present was the playing of a Nina Simone song ‘I wish I knew how it would feel to be free.’ During the song several of us present began to sway and dance, and David the priest was moving from side to side the icon of the Trinity, so that it looked as if the Trinity themselves were dancing. It was a special moment.
I’ve always been taken by the Hindu belief that the Lord Shiva danced the world into existence. On this theme, the most well-known song of Sydney Carter is ‘The Lord of the Dance’, whose lyrics go ‘Dance, dance, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the dance, said he.’ As a child I was convinced that this lyric was, ‘I am the Lord of the dance settee.’ When we were young my sister and I used to jump up and down on the settee in the living-room, and it seemed to me very fitting that God would be jumping up and down with us! The image of the dance settee has, happily, never really left me.
Yim Soon and I are delighted to have just been invited to a wedding, the first such invitation in ages. It’s friends who are musicians and as well as the prospect of good music one of my first thoughts was that we’ll hopefully be able to have a good dance as part of the celebration. I’ve written before of my August holiday in Barmouth, which is an annual reunion of old friends (who met in the 80s!), plus their now mainly adult children, which began in 2000. One of the traditions of the week is a concert night and one of the traditions of the concert night is the singing of ‘500 Miles’. At what was to be the final performance before Covid, the song turned into a long conga of people snaking around the concert room and that led in turn to everyone dancing, old and young together, to other 70s and 80s classics. It was one of the highlights for me of Barmouth 2019.
To finish, here again are the immortal words of Sydney Carter, at least how I remember them:
‘And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be; for I am the Lord of the dance settee’!
Time to catch up with Eddie Gilmore and the Irish Chaplaincy team who have been walking around London in Hope.
After a year in which I’d gone to London just three times I had the prospect of four trips in one week, thanks to our Walk with Hope event.
The event was due to launch on the Monday with a shortish walk from the Irish Centre in Camden, where we have our offices, to St Bride’s church on Fleet Street, named after our patron saint at the Chaplaincy, St Brigid. I was so excited to be going out for the day that I left home earlier than I needed to. I caught the 7.48 High Speed train from Canterbury, my former daily train, whose twelve cars used to be packed with commuters. Now it has six cars and there was just a handful of people in my carriage when we pulled into St Pancras International. I had a chat with the train guard as we strolled down the platform and I realised that it’s those kinds of little encounters that I’ve missed.
I’d been interested to read an article in the Guardian the week before called ‘Has lockdown given you brain fog?’ It explained how the “brain is stimulated by the new, the different,” and that “We have effectively evolved to stop paying attention when nothing changes and to pay particular attention when things do change.” Like many people over the last year, I’ve been working at home, and therefore spending a lot of days on my own sitting in the same position with the same zoom background behind me, and without many of the stimuli that would occur naturally in a day when I was out and about and seeing people. It seems that our brains have begun to switch off!
Irish Chaplaincy will host a ‘Fireside Gathering’ concert on February 5th 2021 at 7.30pm. Headlining again is the London Celtic Youth Orchestra, and we’re delighted as well to have Thomas McCarthy on the bill. Thomas, an Irish Traveller, singer and storyteller was named Traditional Singer of the Year in the Gradam Ceoil Awards 2019. Various other talented musicians and poets will complete the line-up, there will be a special message from the Ambassador and it promises to be a great and uplifting evening. The event will be Live on the Irish Chaplaincy Facebook Page and is free to watch. Follow the Fireside Gathering link to find the flier.
Today’s post is an extract from a longer article from the Hermit of Saint Bruno. Worth reading in full, I’m sure much in there will resonate with you, especially if we cannot sing together this Christmastide!
Carthusian monks spend a lot of time singing in choir and cell. They gather to sing the Mass in the morning, then to sing the Office of Vespers at the end of the day, and at night for the long Office of Readings and Lauds. It is the common activity that takes the most time in the life of the monks.
Not only is Gregorian chant inseparable from the liturgy – it is not an ornament – but it is considered an essential spiritual instrument. The Statutes specify it thus:
“Let us observe this manner of chanting, singing in the sight of the most Holy Trinity and the holy angels, penetrated with fear of God and aflame with a deep desire. May the songs we sing raise our minds to the contemplation of eternal realities, and our voices blend into one cry of jubilation before God our Creator.” (Statutes book VI, §52:25)
The Statutes state precisely that singing can elevate the spirit to contemplation of God, that is, to the highest one can expect here below.
To round off this reflection, may I send you back three years to this video from the Poor Clares of Lilongwe, singing and dancing their prayers.
Here is another posting by Eddie Gilmore of London’s Irish Chaplaincy. I’ve just shared a paragraph from the middle, but the whole article, and the links he provides, are worth your perusal. Eddie writes as a musician, so his thoughts on angels and other intelligent beings’ singing are most interesting.
We are told that angels sang at the birth of Christ. Who were those celestial beings that sang at an event that was never going to be on the front page of the Bethlehem Gazette? Whoever they were, I’ll bet they laid down a good tune, with some sublime harmonies and with no one angel hogging the limelight. And what about their unusual audience that starry night? Shepherds, who were outcasts in their community because staying out in the fields at all hours meant that they were unable to observe the normal rituals of the Jewish faith, and who might as well have been a bit tipsy, since they were known to have a little toddy to keep themselves warm. And then those three mysterious characters who had followed a star and who arrived with gifts that the mother of a newly-born wouldn’t exactly find that practical!
I have to say, though, I thought the wise men’s gifts had their uses. Gold would have got the Family to Egypt and bought new tools for Joseph. Frankincense might have sweetened the air of the stable, myrrh helped look after Baby Jesus’ skin, especially in the nappy area. At least, so I used to tell the children!
Andrew is our daughter’s godfather, and he has kindly sent us this link to a Christmas message from Bishop Curry in the US, suggesting the title we’ve given it. Enjoy the short video and have a joyful Christmas wherever you may be.
Another story from Rev Jo Richards of Canterbury. Thank you, Jo. Looking forward to the nine lessons and carols; we’ll copy your order of Service on Friday. WT.
Good morning to you all, and I do hope this finds you all well, as we are here. So yesterday I had a first, in terms of zoom Carol Service – always in St Dunstan’s we hold the annual Parkinson’s Christmas Carol Service – and a huge number come along to it, including the Mayor. Well, this year it was on zoom, and 55 of us gathered for the service. To be honest it was good to have a really good sing of a number of carols – we were all muted I hasten to add, but actually bearing in mind the current circumstances – it was ok. I know it wasn’t the real thing, but to see so many folk who were obviously thrilled to be there, catching up with one another and singing was really encouraging.
Further musical reflections from Eddie Gilmore of the Irish Chaplaincy; a good one for Saint Cecilia, even if it was written a while ago. Viva la musica!
Music is especially evocative during Advent, although for some people the memories touched can be bittersweet, as I discovered on a prison visit a couple of weeks before Christmas.
We were in HMP Wormwood Scrubs for the regular Irish Chaplaincy Traveller forum and I’d brought my guitar in to play to what turned out to be a very lively group! One or two of the younger guys were being a bit overly boisterous but I didn’t let it put me off. I just kept singing and I just kept smiling, as I looked around the group making eye contact. It was reassuring to see that a couple of the men were quietly singing along to the Irish songs. I’d planned as well to go into a medley of Christmas songs, both traditional and modern (assuming that everyone would be in the mood for some Christmas music); but was pulled up short when one guy exclaimed “we don’t want to be reminded of Christmas when we’re in here”. “Can I at least do ‘Fairytale of New York’”, I pleaded, and happily they relented, and were singing the chorus with gusto. I think I managed to win them over because when it came to the refreshments they were almost fighting each other to make me a cup of tea. I ended up with four! One of which had so much sugar in it, it was undrinkable! Not to matter; I was really touched, so too when there was a whip round for mince pies for me, before any leftovers got secreted into jogging trouser pockets to be smuggled back to the cells!
There was a man sitting next to me who had not seemed very happy when I’d been singing and I assumed he just didn’t like the songs or didn’t like me or whatever! But after the drinks he suddenly said to me “you’ve a queer good voice but this just reminds me of being in the pub”. Another came over to talk to me. He’d been one of those singing along and he was a good bit older than the rest. He explained to me “ah, the young guys get a bit over-excited”. We had a really nice chat. It was his first time in prison and he said “it’s like spending 23 hours a day in a bathroom”. That was certainly a striking image of the reality of being in prison.
The week before the Scrubs gig I’d been singing in a care home in Kensington for people with dementia, which I always enjoy. I do mainly Irish songs for the benefit of the Irish people there but everyone in what is a very international group of residents appreciates the music. As I was going round greeting people on arrival one of the Irishmen, clearly in a cheeky mood, motioned to the lady next to him and said to me “give her a kiss”!
This group were very much up for Christmas songs! People were singing along with the so-familiar melodies; and when it got to ‘Jingle Bells’ even some of those who are normally quite subdued were joining in and moving their arms, with their faces lighting up in recognition. It was a lovely moment. So too when a Columbian lady (the one I’d been encouraged to kiss at the start!) came up to me and said in Spanish (she appears to have reverted to her mother tongue in her later years) “the singing was beautiful. May God bless you”.
We’re currently planning our second annual St Brigid’s Day concert, which will take place on January 31st 2020 at St James’ Church, Piccadilly: a ‘Celebration of Irish music, poetry and dancing’. Like the events mentioned above, it will bring people together and, I have no doubt, touch the heart and the soul and raise the spirit. Amongst the variety of talented performers on the bill we’ll have the young people of the London Celtic youth Orchestra and the ‘more mature’ members of the Irish Pensioners Choir’. It promises to be another wonderful occasion.
How blessed I am to have contact with such incredible people in such a rich variety of situations and to have music as one of the means by which we encounter one another and share in our common humanity.
It’s a few years since we marked St Francistide with the Transitus Service, marking his death and entry into glory. This version was celebrated at the Franciscan Study Centre some years ago. I believe it was put together by Friar Anthony Jukes. It includes Francis’s Canticle of the Sun, which gave Pope Francis the starting point for his encyclical, Laudato Si’!
Salve, Regína, mater misericórdiæ; vita, dulcédo et spes nostra, salve. Ad te clamámus, éxsules, filii Evæ. Ad te suspirámus, geméntes et flentes in hac lacrimárum valle. Eia ergo, advocáta nostra, illos tuos misericórdes óculos ad nos convérte. Et Iesum, benedíctum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exsílium osténde. O clemens, o pia, o dulcis Virgo María.