Tag Archives: soul

17 June: Traherne XLVII

The immensity of God is an eternal tabernacle. 
Why then we should not be sensible of that as much as of our dwellings, I cannot tell, 
unless our corruption and sensuality destroy us. 
We ought always to feel, admire, and walk in it. 
It is more clearly objected to the eye of the soul, 
than our castles and palaces to the eye of the body. 
Those accidental buildings may be thrown down, 
or we may be taken from them, 
but this can never be removed, 
it abideth for ever. 
It is impossible not to be within it, 
nay, to be so surrounded as evermore to be in the centre and midst of it.

From Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditations.

Tabernacle here means a tent, in particular the Tent of Meeting in Exodus, where the Lord was present to his people in a special way. Objected to means something like ‘aimed at’ rather than disputed or negated. So God’s immensity is aimed at the eye of the soul, to impress and attract it, like an earthly palace or castle that we may be attracted to visit. But no rebel baron or oppressive king will ever throw down our heavenly home.

This ancient tomb has long ago been stripped of its treasures; people now walk past it without a glance, whereas originally it would have stood out in the Welsh coastal countryside.

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12 June: Traherne XLIII: The Soul’s Treasures.

From L’Arche Ipswich.
Till we know the universal beauty of God’s Kingdom, 
and that all objects in the omnipresence are the treasures of the soul, 
to enquire into the sufficiency and extent of its powers is impertinent. 
But when we know this, 
nothing is more expedient than to consider whether a soul be able to enjoy them. 
Which if it be, its powers must extend as far as its objects. 
For no object without the sphere of its power, 
can be enjoyed by it. 
It cannot be so much as perceived, much less enjoyed. 

'All objects in the omnipresence are the treasures of the soul': that is a policy statement for Christian life on earth. Omnipresence is God's presence; Traherne once again comes close to Saint Francis here. I read him this way: nothing outside the range of the soul can be enjoyed by the soul, indeed if  it is outside the range of the soul, then the soul will be unaware of it. 

But if we reflect, or meditate, as Traherne encouraged us yesterday, we will become aware of more and more connections in creation, and aware that our part in Creation is both infinitesimal and infinite, insignificant and important, passing and eternal.

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4 August: Traherne XLIII: I will delight.

Knowing myself beloved 
and so glorified of God Almighty in another world, 
I ought to honour Him in this always, and to aspire to it.  

At midnight will I rise to give thanks unto Thee 
because of Thy righteous judgements. 
Seven times a day will I praise Thee, 
for Thy glorious mercy. 
Early in the morning will I bless Thee, 
I will triumph in Thy works, 
I will delight in Thy law day and night; 
at evening will I praise Thee. 

I will ever be speaking of Thy marvellous acts, 
I will tell of Thy greatness, 
and talk of the glorious majesty of Thy excellent Kingdom; 
these things ought ever to breathe in our souls.

“Knowing myself beloved” – how many of us would dare to start writing with such a bold statement? Knowing implies more than just holding an opinion, or feeling optimistic of getting to heaven to be glorified in that other world. It’s a knowledge that transcends how Traherne feels. He may be tired, hurt or ill, but he will praise God regardless of how he himself feels today. He may feel quite different tomorrow but that does not alter God’s greatness, nor his glory, nor his kindness to humans.

Traherne used the Psalms in composing this reflection. They form the basis of the Church’s seven prayers a day, which can be found free on-line at universalis.com for anyone wishing to pray them.

(Apologies that this reflection has fallen out of sequence. Sometimes a more topical piece turns up and things get moved around.)

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24 July: On Gluttony II.

Fish & chips by the sea: feast or gluttony?

This post is a response to Ignatius’ reflection of yesterday. WT.

Ignatius,

It’s always good to see your posts in my inbox. Once again, you’ve got me thinking. Thomas’s five ways to be a glutton would seem to encompass that other modern phenomenon, anorexia, if you count that as a form of ‘too daintily’.

We are not all called to be ascetic monks or nuns after the pattern of John Cassian but you have a point when you suggest that most people in the Western world are infected with gluttony.

‘With nourishment in mind’ I think is the key to discerning a right attitude to food and drink. But what are we aiming to nourish?

We speak of a feast for the eyes; it is good to present food handsomely, whether it be a birthday cake, a bowl of porridge, Sunday roast or Marmite on toast; that is to respect food and those who provide it, from the Creator of all to the checkout operator. So there should be nourishment for the senses: all of them. Sight we have mentioned; Smell and taste of course; touch, not just of finger food but the crunch of fresh batter giving way to soft, just cooked fish; hearing: the sound of cooking, of cutlery on plates, of grace said or sung.

Nourishment for the soul as well (by CD)

Yes, there’s nourishment for the soul as well. Grace before a meal is perhaps the formal start of feeding the soul, to be continued through conversation, but it happens all the way through from the purchase or growing of ingredients, choosing what looks and promises to taste good for those at our table: K likes that goat’s cheese, we’ll have some of that. We can enjoy blackberry ice cream at Christmas if we fill our baskets on a family walk in August.

We can feed body, soul, family and community if we join events which include a shared meal, street parties, parish picnics, even humbly contributing to cake sales.

I think that respect for food ‘from farm to fork’ would go a long way to combatting gluttony and obesity; grow what you can, even if it’s only windowsill herbs from the supermarket, so you have a connection with the land; buy fresh if you can; eat less fashionable parts of animals and generally eat less meat. Cook from scratch with your fellow diners in mind. Whether as cook or diner, be thankful for food and for all that goes with it. And bear in mind that many people go hungry all over the world.

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January 7: Body and Soul at Table

shared meal

 

This post is an extract from the article in the Hedgehog Review, Fall 2019, by Wilfred M. McClay and an invitation to follow the link and read the whole thing! As he suggests, food is a strong proof of our animality; it is equally strong evidence of how we transcend it. Did you know that Babette’s Feast is a favourite film of Pope Francis?

We are animals too, with animal needs and animal limitations just like those of our dogs and cats and squirrels and horses and all the rest, creatures great and small. For us, as for all of them—all of organic life, for that matter—the perpetuation of life requires at every moment a steady flow of nutrition, which we derive from our taking into ourselves the lives of plants and animals and metabolizing them, then eliminating what is left over from that process. Not to put too fine a point on it, we kill and appropriate and eliminate. We are guilty from the start, in a sense, of valuing our own life more highly than the lives of other living things. That is, in a sense, the original sin of all living beings, the sin entailed in merely existing at all—a thought that would never occur to us, were we nothing but animals.

But food is not only a strong proof of our animality; it is equally strong evidence of the ways we transcend our animality. Just as we are not souls without bodies, so we are not bodies without souls. The two are distinguishable but inseparable. Unlike the other animals, we are not content to take our food as it comes to us. We don’t do a lot of desperate bone-gnawing. Instead, we do a lot of work on our food, and it gains value from the infusion of all our loving labour.

Post-Christmas is a good time to reflect on our eating and our food preparation, the love that stirs the spoon, the shared table and the love that flows from it; the Shared Table of the Eucharist which transcends all meals. Do go and read it.

A family feast of fisn and chips after a morning’s walking in the hills.

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22 December: the hidden work of incarnation.

attic.mary

The process by which the human personality is formed is the hidden work of incarnation.

The helpless infant is an enigma. The only thing we know about him is that he is an enigma, but nobody knows what he will be or what he will do. His helpless body contains the most complex mechanism of any living creature, but it is distinctly his own.

Man belongs to himself, and his special will furthers the work of incarnation. 

Maria Montessori, The Child in the Family, London, Pan, 1970, pp32-33.

Do we accept that there is more to being human than flesh and blood? That there is a will, soul or spirit animating each one of us?

We could say that parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers are charged with enabling the work of incarnation to take place in the child; not to break the child’s will but to provide a fertile ground for it to grow.

Of course we refer to the Incarnation especially in regard to Jesus. His humanity was shaped in his relationship with Mary and Joseph; we have to thank them for their part in his development, his incarnation.

In this statue from the church of Our Lord in the Attic, Amsterdam, Mary is supporting her Son as he reaches out into the world, to you and to me. Let us pray for the grace to perceive how to support the children we live and work with.

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12 August, Readings from Mary Webb XXIV: The Spirit of the Earth.

IMGP4576

 

Love me–and I will give into your hands
The rare, enamelled jewels of my lands,
Flowers red and blue,
Tender with air and dew.

From far green armouries of pools and meres
I’ll reach for you my lucent sheaves of spears–
The singing falls,
Where the lone ousel calls.

When, like a passing light upon the sea,
Your wood-bird soul shall clap her wings and flee,
She shall but nest
More closely in my breast.

speedwell

Jewells: ragged robin and speedwell.

 

Is it a pagan superstition to talk about the spirit of the earth, or to imagine that spirit speaking? We are made of atoms and hormones and genes and bones – remember that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.

So get to know and love ‘Mother’ Earth: not just the dust and flowers but the wisdom that has been there since the beginning, sustaining it.  The Spirit of the Earth can be identified with Wisdom, sitting at the Creator’s side as he set about his work. Laudato Si!

The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before he made any thing, from the beginning.  I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived. neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out: The mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth: He had not yet made the earth, nor the rivers, nor the poles of the world.  When he prepared the heavens, I was present: when with a certain law and compass he enclosed the depths: When he established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters:When he compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters that they should not pass their limits: when be balanced the foundations of the earth;  I was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times; Playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men. 

Proverbs 8:22-31.

 

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February 26. Thomas Traherne XVIII: Our eyes must be towards the Cross.

360px-holy_door_at_the_lateran_basilica_rome

Our Saviour’s cross is the throne of delights. That Centre of Eternity, that Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradise of God. There are we entertained with the wonder of all ages. There we enter into the heart of the universe. There we behold the admiration of Angels. There we find the price and elixir of our joys.

As on every side of the earth all heavy things tend to the centre; so all nations ought on every side to flow in unto it. It is not by going with the feet, but by journeys of the Soul, that we travel thither. By withdrawing our thoughts from wandering in the streets of this World, to the contemplation and serious meditation of His blood sufferings. Where the carcase is thither will the eagle be gathered together. Our eyes must be towards it, our hearts set upon it, our affections drawn, and of thoughts and minds United to it. When I am lifted up, saith the Son of Man, I will draw all men unto me.

Traherne was able to reconcile science and faith with his remarks on gravity.

The Cross as the door of Mercy

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February 24. Present in spirit with all Eternity: Thomas Traherne XVII.

cross.cave1

It’s worth reminding ourselves that this meditation was written before photography, cinema or human flight! Read it slowly, to absorb the language more fully.

The contemplation of Eternity maketh the Soul immortal. Whose glory it is, that it can see before and after its existence into endless spaces. Its Sight is its presence. And therefore in the presence of the understanding endless, because its Sight is so. O what glorious creatures should we be, could we be present in spirit with all Eternity! How wise, would we esteem this presence of the understanding, to be more real than that of our bodies!

When my soul is in Eden with our first parents, I myself am. there in a blessed manner. When I walk with Enoch, and see his translation, I am transported with him. The present age is too little to contain it. I can visit Noah in his ark, and swim upon the waters of the deluge. I can see Moses with his rod, and the children of Israel passing through the sea; I can enter into Aaron’s Tabernacle, and admire the mysteries of the holy place.

can travel over the Land of Canaan, and see it overflowing with milk and honey; I can visit Solomon in his glory, and go into his temple, and view the sitting of his servants, and admire the magnificence and glory of his kingdom. No creature but one like unto the Holy Angels can see into all ages. Sure this power was not given in vain, but for some wonderful purpose; worthy of itself to enjoy and fathom. Would men consider what God hath done, they would be ravished in spirit with the glory of His doings. For Heaven and Earth are full of the majesty of His glory. And how happy would men be could they see and enjoy it ! -But above all these our Saviour’s cross is the throne of delights. That Centre of Eternity, that Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradise of God!

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January 14: Why are you doing astronomy when there are people starving in the world? 

nasaM81galaxy

A very short question and answer that I could not resist sharing with you all. Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ is the Director of the Vatican Observatory. This is taken from an interview he gave a couple of years ago, which you can find here.  Go on, click!

Why are you doing astronomy when there are people starving in the world? 

I learned the answer to that when I served in the US Peace Corps. When my African students learned I was an astronomer, they wanted to look through my little telescope and have the same joy in discovering the universe that I had. They, too, had an insatiable hunger to know about the universe. They reminded me: it’s not enough to feed the body; we also have to feed the soul.

Psalm 146(147) 2-5 links care for physical and emotional needs with astronomical endeavour.

The Lord buildeth up Jerusalem: he will gather together the dispersed of Israel. Who healeth the broken of heart, and bindeth up their bruises. Who telleth the number of the stars: and calleth them all by their names. Great is our Lord, and great is his power: and of his wisdom there is no number.

Brother Guy and his colleagues are still doing one part of the Lord’s temporal work while others are healing broken hearts and bodies, all in his grace. Let us pray for the wisdom to respond to his call, day by day.

MMB.

Image of a galaxy from NASA.

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