The bell strikes one. We take no note of time
But from its loss. To give it then a tongue
Is wise in man. As if an angel spoke,
I feel the solemn sound. If heard aright,
It is the knell of my departed hours: Where are they?
With the years beyond the flood.
It is the signal that demands despatch:
How much is to be done? My hopes and fears
Start up alarm’d, and o’er life’s narrow verge
Look down—on what? a fathomless abyss;
A dread eternity! how surely mine!
And can eternity belong to me,
Poor pensioner on the bounties of an hour?
How poor, how rich, how abject, how august,
How complicate, how wonderful, is man!
How passing wonder He who made him such!
Who centred in our make such strange extremes!
From different natures marvellously mix’d,
Connexion exquisite of distant worlds!
Distinguish’d link in being’s endless chain!
Midway from nothing to the Deity!"
From "Night Thoughts" by Edward Young.
Edward Young was a contemporary of Samuel Johnson so did not know the mixed blessing of electric lighting! George Gilfillan, his editor of 1853, described,'his lonely lamp shining at midnight, like a star, through the darkness, and seeming to answer the far signal of those mightier luminaries which are burning above in the Great Bear and Orion.' Surely he had a few sleepless nights. We can turn to Saint Paul for further comment.
5 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:2-10)
Our third and – for the present – final borrowing from Eddie’s blog at the London Irish Chaplaincy. Thank you Eddie! Readers may like to visit the chaplaincy’s Prayer Room, see the invitation at the end of the post.
We’re blessed in the UK and Ireland to have four distinct seasons, even occasionally being able to see all of them in a single day, and the transition from Summer to Autumn can be especially evocative.
Each year at the end of August I go through a little period of mourning for the Summer. The holidays have been and gone, the flowers are fading, the long trousers and long sleeves need to be got out, and our Wednesday evening cycling group has to cease due to the rapidly encroaching dark. And yet there are precious treats in store. I always await with eager anticipation the re-appearance of Orion, the constellation visible in the Northern hemisphere only over the winter months. I was at the monastery when the big day came. I happened to have a room on the East side of the Guest Wing and I’d initially been disappointed to be so placed. The West Wing, where I’d been before, overlooks the woods and the lovely old monastery buildings and is especially peaceful. The East side contains a school and a road and consequently a bit of noise. However, waking up in the dark on the first morning of my retreat at 5.40 a.m. to attend the 6 a.m. Vigils service I drew back the curtains to reveal the incredible sight in the sky of Orion and the Winter Triangle. It was like the return of an old and faithful friend. There was also a bright, full Harvest moon in all its glory, and a little later the deepest of red skies as the sun began to rise. Had I been in a room on the West side I would have missed it all!
Autumn is often a time of new beginnings. Another academic year commences, and many people might be embarking on a new course or hobby. The next level of my Korean class has got going and I’ve been enjoying both the study, the interaction with a very nice and very international group of people, and practising some of my new expressions on Yim Soon! The lessons have been quite fun so far and that’s how I like my language learning to be. And then at the start of September there was a much-anticipated event: the meeting of my choir for the first time in over a year and a half. There were fewer people than there used to be. Mansel, who I often sit next to, remarked to me at the start, “You do realise, don’t you, that the reason some people haven’t returned is because they’ve died!” It was a sobering reflection. Nonetheless it has been a great joy to drive off to Whitstable again on a Tuesday evening for rehearsals, a fixed point in my life for many years and much missed during COVID, and it will no doubt be a great joy to perform again.
I relish the first hints of coolness in the air in the early morning or late evening, and being able to give proper observance to those key transition periods in the day, dawn and dusk. I gather and prepare the wood for the winter fires. The garden as well needs to be got ready for its winter slumber and regeneration. There will be a final mowing of the grass; the remains of the summer flowers will be added to the compost heap; the soil will be dug over, taking care not to disturb the Spring bulbs. Perhaps new daffodils or tulips will be planted. Then the garden will be left; the worms will be allowed to do their hidden work of restoration; and the spiders will weave their beautiful webs that glisten so radiantly in the fresh dew of the morning.
October will bring the first frost, and how I marvel on my early morning walk to see the intricate patterns it makes on the car windscreens. That might coincide with another seasonal treat, the first fire. It will be the first of many and how I love to listen to the crackling of the logs and to watch the flames leap and dance. It will be time for the cooking apples to be harvested from the old tree by the shed. There will be the ceremonial first baking of apple crumble; and with a bumper crop, which seems to be every other year, the bulk will be made into chutney. Meanwhile the leaves on that and on the other trees will give their annual display of golden beauty, before they fall and wither.
The cycles of the seasons, the cycles of our lives. And, to paraphrase Keats as the days shorten on another year, may all our fruit be filled with ripeness to the core.
Visit our Prayer Room
We hope this becomes a place to remember loved ones, to mark special events, to be grateful for something happening or to bring a concern and receive blessings and solidarity from each other. Enjoy your time of prayer with us.
Sheila Billingsley understands that the sweetness we need at Christmas is more than soft-centred chocolates or saccharine carols in the Supermarket. Those bring very little joy. But the joy of Christmas is paradoxical …
When Christmas seems like Calvary
And stars concealed by cloud,
With stable dark
And manger cold, we seek our childhood's needs
Of sweetness and angels' song.
So quiet the night ...
Rest in the care,
The wondrous care, of a new-born scrap - to be ...
to be our Joy.
Mary Webb’s illness caused swellings, which eventually distorted her face. But:
There are many to whom all beauty seems denied; they hunger for it dumbly, unconsciously. Is their life to be a stricken tree, colourless and silent? Surely not. The flawless forms and colours of nature are an especial consolation to those who are oppressed by that dark tragedy, deformity of body or unloveliness of face. How deep is the desolation, when a sad soul looks out anxiously, through eyes that cannot reflect its beauty, watching for an answering smile, and meeting only a look of swiftly concealed repulsion! Startled and ill at ease in the ruinous mortal dwelling, reminded of it continually, this soul leads a life of torture. I saw one of these look from her windows and weep bitterly, finding no comfort. Then a voice came in the long sigh of the dawn breeze:–
“I know, inhabitant of eternity, how strait and comfortless your home is. Go out into my garden and forget. The skies are clear; see where I lead out my sidereal flocks! The tall young larches are dreaming of green; there is moonlight in the primrose woods. There is a fit dwelling for you; go, and be at peace.”
She rose and went, and her laugh came back upon the wind. The leaves do not hesitate to finger and kiss any face, however marred, that looks up into their dwelling. No distortion of body frightens the birds, if the heart within loves them.
One flower of germander speedwell may be the magic robe that clothes us with the beauty of earth. It has the same strength of structure, wonder of tint and mystery of shadow as all natural things. Awakened by its minute perfection, the mind … realises that nature’s beauty can never be perfectly grasped.
Ceasing for a time to question and strive, let us dare to be merely receptive.