The late Mr. James Ralph told Lord Macartney, that Doctor Johnson passed an evening with Dr. Young at Lord Melcombe’s (then Mr. Dodington) at Hammersmith. The Doctor happening to go out into the garden, Mr. Dodington observed to him, on his return, that it was a dreadful night, as in truth it was, there being a violent storm of rain and wind.
‘No, Sir, (replied the Doctor) it is a very fine night. The LORD is abroad.’
Life of Johnson, Volume 4 1780-1784″ by James Boswell.
In Eastertide we consider the presence of the living Lord in our lives. But see how language changes! On this occasion the Doctor did not mean to suggest that the Lord was overseas, rather that he was out and about, ‘abroad’, even on a night of violent storm. At Hammersmith (West London) in the 1780s the night would have been many times darker than today, a violent storm more truly dread-full, but he felt God’s presence and seems to have enjoyed the storm. A very fine night indeed!
The Baptism of our Lord: a cold shock to his system!
Father Tom Herbst describes winter mornings facing the sea at Margate in this previous post from Advent time. I don’t think many baptisms happen there in January, but the sacrament is an assertion of trust in the loving God, either personally or on a child’s behalf. Jesus trusted that this moment was crucial for his growing into the One mature human, Son of God, Son of Man.
Above we see a grey sky in the Polish Tatra mountains, with light breaking through the clouds. Today Sister Hanne-Maria Berentsen OCSO shares a reflection on January grey skies over the fjord near her monastery in Norway. It comes from Northern Light, a book I shall return to.
Pope John Paul II wrote of celebrating the Eucharist ‘on the altar of the world.’ Perhaps we can give some thought to the meaning of Water, in sky, river, lake and sea, and accept a daily ‘baptism in the font of the world’ – we are within the water cycle in this life – rain, river, sea, cloud – but called to put out into deep water, like Peter and the Apostles, trusting in the loving God.
There is much pain needed to make us fully human and Christ-like … if you feel down, you can look up, look out, go out, and receive the vast sky above and around you, finding again your trust in the loving God who created all this. Even on a grey, stormy day, you can find blue spots between the clouds, holes of hope.
from Northern Light by the Cistercian Nuns of Tautra Mariakloster, Collegeville Minnesota, Liturgical Press, p4.
We will review Northern Light after re-reading it, or should I say, reading it properly!More from Cistercians later this week.
As to the short-winged, soft-billed birds, which come trooping in such numbers in the spring, I am at a loss even what to suspect about them. I watched them narrowly this year, and saw them abound till about Michaelmas, when they appeared no longer. Subsist they cannot openly among us, and yet elude the eyes of the inquisitive; and, as to their hiding, no man pretends to have found any of them in a torpid state in the winter. But with regard to their migration, what difficulties attend that supposition! that such feeble bad fliers (who the summer long never flit but from hedge to hedge) should be able to traverse vast seas and continents in order to enjoy milder seasons amidst the regions of Africa!
Selborne, May 12th, 1770.
Dear Sir,—Last month we had such a series of cold, turbulent weather, such a constant succession of frost, and snow, and hail, and tempest, that the regular or appearance of the summer birds was much interrupted. Some did not show themselves (at least were not heard) till weeks after their usual time, as the blackcap and whitethroat; and some have not been heard yet, as the grasshopper-lark and largest willow-wren. As to the fly-catcher, I have not seen it; it is indeed one of the latest, but should appear about this time: and yet, amidst all this meteorous strife and war of the elements, two swallows discovered themselves, as long ago as April 11th, in frost and snow; but they withdrew quickly, and were not visible again for many days. House-martins, which are always more backward than swallows, were not observed till May came in.
I repeat that we are reproducing White’s letters because it is the tercentenary of this rural parson’s birth, nd because he is a well-known exemplar of the man of faith and of science combined.
What a lovely turn of phrase, ‘meteorous strife and war of the elements’! Up in Selborne, Gilbert White did not have chance to observe the (to us) nearby beaches of Hampshire and Sussex, or the ground below lighthouses where birds, confused and dazzled by the life-saving lantern, were cast down after striking the glass. He would have gathered all the evidence he needed for migration, down by the sea.
This fisherman and his wee daughter stand on the quay at Mallaig, the Scottish port famous as the embarkation point for the Isles of the Hebrides. Many fishermen never came back home from the sea, leaving their families in a precarious way,
The tower beside the statues is modern technology, making the fishermen’s lives safer; good communication of weather problems can persuade the boats to come in in good time.
Peter knew fear on the lake when the waves came right behind the storm and he expected the boat to go down. Jesus walked out across the water, and for a few moments Peter did so too. Like someone learning to ride a bike, he panicked and disaster nearly followed. Some time later it sunk in that Jesus would never abandon him. As his second letter says: (2:9)
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
We hear no more of Peter’s wife after Jesus heals her mother except for one mention in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (9:5):
Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas*?
Did they have children? Did the whole family go to Rome in Nero’s time? Certainly Peter’s wife seems to have spent some time as a missionary with him. In those days there was no GPS, no radar, radio, coastguard stations, or even life jackets; no private suite cabin. But Jesus would never abandon them.
Peter came to repentance the instant he abandoned Jesus; a few weeks later he was sent to feed his sheep.
Leet us not be afraid to live the Gospel of Love, preaching it by the example of our lives, as did Peter and his wife. Lord hear us.
“And altogether, I may say that the earth looks the brighter to me in proportion to my own deprivations. The laburnum trees and rose trees are plucked up by the roots—but the sunshine is in their places, and the root of the sunshine is above the storms.
What we call Life is a condition of the soul, and the soul must improve in happiness and wisdom, except by its own fault. These tears in our eyes, these faintings of the flesh, will not hinder such improvement.”*
London of 1846 looked rather different to what lies under the stormy sky see here. Elizabeth’s house would have been behind the towers to the left, Robert lived a few miles away to our left; the trains that made travelling easier for him to visit her, and the penny post, were new technology then; our couple were bang up to date in their relationship!
I’m not sure I totally agree with EBB that the soul must improve in happiness and wisdom, except by its own fault, So many people have been too badly hurt to accept whatever help they need, even when it is offered. The sun may have to shine above their clouds for some time before breaking through.
But she is right that in the long term: tears, trials and tribulations will not hinder our growth, though we may need God’s grace and other people to help us through them. Christianity is not primarily a self-improvement course!
*Elizabeth Barrett to Robert Browning. (from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning; available on line)
I stood on the cliff – gale and rain
roared and bellowed, strange duet.
Thwack and thunder, warrior waves,
dropped like bombs on rocks below,
then spewed sea shrapnel up
twenty feet and higher.
Today’s war-storm flooded our lust
for nature’s drama. Oh! Oh! Delight
at every wave-crack.
But this was not
Better to have moaned
in shame and covered my
face as I faced a faceless
rage that could, with only
minor adjustments in light
and temperature, destroy us:
I hope you enjoy the next few poems from Sister Johanna. This is one for the sea-side holiday, if the weather turns fierce and the children insist on enjoying the storm; parents and grandparents can reflect after all are safe indoors. Is our planet becoming more angry with our destruction of its blessings, and on course to destroy us?