May [our] merciful God make tender my heart,
and make me as thankful,
as in my distress I was earnest,
in my prayers.
From The Letters of Charles and Mary Lamb, 1796-1820.
On 7 April 1797 Charles Lamb wrote to his friend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, rejoicing that his sister Mary’s mental illness was much improved, so that her carers could ‘get her out into the world again’. He called her his ‘ever-present and never alienable friend’ and looked after her all his life.
What ‘not common blessing of Providence’ should I be thankful for today?
Our old friend Ignatius has started blogging again. Welcome back, Ignatius!He’s writing about happiness, a subject he has touched on before, as he did after World Youth Day six years ago. Then he was writing in the moment, joy oozing out of him; this time he’s more reflective.
HOW TO BE HAPPY – SOME TIPS
Live well. It sounds obvious right? But it’s worth saying as a starting point, that happiness will follow from living well.
Live consciously. This ties into my first point, because you need to figure out what it means in practice to live well, and because you need to become conscious of where you aren’t living well so that you can correct it. Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. Don’t live on autopilot.
Move forwards. That is, make your life better each day. Put in work each day to grow, to learn, to deepen your relationships, to help a friend, to make your life a little easier, whatever. Just keep moving forwards making things better. These things add up, and they have meaning.
Face your problems. This goes back to point 2 and 3. Identify your problems and their roots as much as you can, and find ways to proactively address them bit by bit. Don’t ignore a problem or put off facing it, because it won’t go away.
Love yourself. Self love provides a certain unity to your own soul, which is the basis for all love and friendship with others, according to St Thomas Aquinas.
Trust entirely in Providence. Everything that happens is part of God’s will, and is therefore good. We ought to accept all things, good and bad, that come to us as being directly from God’s hand and give Him thanks for all of it. Especially for suffering, because it means God is bringing us some great blessing that will more than make up for the suffering.
Life is a gift: be grateful and enjoy it. The worst ingratitude is to receive a gift and not enjoy it. Gratitude is arguably the centre of our faith. The word “Eucharist” means thanksgiving, and it’s our great sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, offering up all of our lives and the whole cosmos in union with Jesus, in joyful thanksgiving.
I replied to Ignatius as follows: The older I get the more I see your last tip as the first and foremost. We Christians can take the first step in evangelising other people if we encourage them find one thing each day to be grateful for. Grateful to whom? The Father, the Cosmos, Life? As you say, Gratitude is arguably the centre of our faith.
My night prayer with children or grandchildren always includes examining the day for good things and thanking the Giver of all for them. So should my own night prayer.
As Ignatius replied: the last tip sort of contains all the others.
Meanwhile, what makes you happy, and what prevents you from feeling happy?
We at Agnellus Mirror do not claim to agree totally with everything we publish, but we hope that somebody out there finds it interesting. We questioned, no, disagreed with Tagore at the beginning of the month, and today we find him interesting but writing from a privileged point of view. Perhaps we should, each of us, stand outside the current of time, occasionally. But who stands beside us and shares our inner world? We offer a response to Tagore at the end of the post. What are your feelings?
SHELIDAH, 24th June 1894.
I have been only four days here, but, having lost count of the hours, it seems such a long while, I feel that if I were to return to Calcutta to-day I should find much of it changed—as if I alone had been standing still outside the current of time, unconscious of the gradually changing position of the rest of the world. The fact is that here, away from Calcutta, I live in my own inner world, where the clocks do not keep ordinary time; where duration is measured only by the intensity of the feelings; where, as the outside world does not count the minutes, moments change into hours and hours into moments. So it seems to me that the subdivisions of time and space are only mental illusions. Every atom is immeasurable and every moment infinite.
There is a Persian story which I was greatly taken with when I read it as a boy—I think I understood, even then, something of the underlying idea, though I was a mere child. To show the illusory character of time, a faquir put some magic water into a tub and asked the King to take a dip. The King no sooner dipped his head in than he found himself in a strange country by the sea, where he spent a good long time going through a variety of happenings and doings. He married, had children, his wife and children died, he lost all his wealth, and as he writhed under his sufferings he suddenly found himself back in the room, surrounded by his courtiers. On his proceeding to revile the faquir for his misfortunes, they said: “But, Sire, you have only just dipped your head in, and raised it out of the water!”
The whole of our life with its pleasures and pains is in the same way enclosed in one moment of time. However long or intense we may feel it to be while it lasts, as soon as we have finished our dip in the tub of the world, we shall find how like a slight, momentary dream the whole thing has been.
Glimpses of Bengal Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore
We are not simply writhing under our sufferings in this life, dipping into the rub of the world. Eighty years of life are indeed as nothing compared to the light years of the Universe’s existence, but they are years of responsibility to each other, to creation, and to the Creator.
Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me.
Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee? Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee?
And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.
Yesterday we visited L’Arche; today we share a prayer for the people of Ukraine, published by L’Arche Kent. We remember especially the two L’Arche communities there, who with international assistance have been able to help their neighbours with essential supplies.
hear our prayers for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.
Lord, we ask for peace for those who need peace,
reconciliation for those who need reconciliation
and comfort for all who don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
Lord may your Kingdom come,
and your will be done.
Lord God, we ask for you to be with all
– especially children –
who are suffering as the crisis in Ukraine deteriorates.
Lord, we pray for those who are anxious and fearful.
For those who are bereaved, injured or who have lost their lives.
And for those who have lost loved ones.
Lord hear our prayers.
Or should I say, an encouragement for pilgrims? This particular stretch of Wales’s Pembrokeshire Coast Path winds down only to go almost straight uphill, or up 121 stairs – I counted them. At the end of the day you can discover how many metres you have climbed overall. If you began at sea-level you will have descended a similar amount. We were not counting.
Fellowship is one of the gifts of pilgrimage, as yesterday’s picture showed us. Christina Rossetti reminds us that in our life-long pilgrimage we have also the support of the Church Triumphant, the saints who have gone before.
And “Yea, beds for all who come”, though “travel-sore and weak.” She does not specifically mention blisters!
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come."
These pilgrims are somewhat exposed. The woman in the middle at least has long sleeves against the nettles and brambles; the lads behind? Well, they lived to tell the tale. If it’s not nettles or brambles, it will be neck pain or blisters or soakings or sunburn. But pilgrimage can also lead us to friendship, hospitality, service; the discovery of who we are and where we are – eventually – hoping to be.
There seems to be a growing interest in pilgrimage these days, perhaps enhanced by the experience of confinement under covid regulations. Let’s get out of here! i’ll come to Mrs Turnstone’s and my visit to Bury Saint Edmund’s in another post. Here we share a reflection by the designer and tv presenter, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, one of a group of ‘celebrities’ who travelled across Ireland and the Irish Sea as pilgrims to Iona, for the BBC, and following journey of Saint Columba.
He tells Peter Stanford, “I am of a generation that has been war-free, plague-free, difficulty-free for most of our privileged lives, and suddenly here we are facing a plague [Covid], nuclear war [Ukraine] and gas prices going through the roof. We are literally touching cloth for the first time and we are feeling very, very exposed. We have nothing to believe in and yet we have to make some decisions quite quickly because we are running out of time.” (The well-tailored pilgrim, in The Tablet, 6 April, 2022).
Privileged we have been, but this blog does not accept that we have nothing to believe in.
Not many Canterbury citizens would pause for a photograph here! I have cropped away some of the street furniture on this corner, but there are still bollards, a bin, contradictory road signs and a public toilet block. Oh, and a cherry tree.
A cherry tree so laden with blossom that these Japanese people have stopped to take each other’s photographs, despite the clutter. They see something we pass by on the other side.
There is beauty in places where we’d never look; sometimes it breaks out and hits us between the eyes. Sometimes we can be shown beauty by a friend, or as here, by complete strangers.
We will soon be celebrating the Man of Sorrows, ‘so disfigured that he seemed no longer human’.(Isaiah 52:14). Let’s cut away the clutter and stand beneath the Tree of Life. Cherry blossom will not take away the horror and evil in this world, and it seems that all we can offer to help is the wiping with a face cloth, the cup of water or vinegar, the money in the collecting bucket.
Let’s not scorn to offer such support, the Works of Mercy; it makes a difference, reminds people that we are one family, sharing one earthly home. There’s something about cherry blossom that touches the Japanese soul: my nephew saw Japanese people photographing each other beneath cherry trees; my wife saw the same in Rome some years ago. It’s a deep sign of home.
The Cross is a deep sign of home, in Heaven for Eternity; through suffering we can be one with the Man of Sorrows who will be lifted up; with him we shall see the light and be content.
Sheila Billingsley has had her eyes open! On the edge of Saddleworth Moor, spring has arrived! She gives this poem the title ’14th March 2022′. We hope Spring is enchanting your eyes, ears and sense of smell. Those cherry trees . . .
14th March 2022.
Today Spring arrived!
Slipped in!. . . Quietly!
Bright blue sky,
Pushing out thoughts of rain,
. . . until tomorrow!
The cherry tree in the lane is in blossom.
Delicate, tiny, hardly pink blossom.
Not the blowsy in-your-face Japanese,
Today the gardener arrived too,
To clear the detritus of winter.
Cheerful and happy within his whiskers.
Did many thank you?
Did many even notice?
That your world was still struggling to obey you,
Despite what we do?
At least your world obeys you,
While we fight and kill and poison.
Do they know that you exist ?
Do they know that you suffer?
I just wanted to record that Spring arrived today.
We are looking at Jesus’ words in Luke 12: 4, where he says, To you, my friends, I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. He is telling us more than we may at first realise.
I’d like to ask us to consider under what heading we usually think of Jesus. Maybe we think of him most often as a teacher, or a miracle-worker, or a prophet. Maybe we think of him most often as the one who rose from the dead. Maybe we focus on him as God and the Son of God; maybe we turn to the Creed, with full acceptance of everything that the Creed says about him. All of these ways of thinking of Jesus are wonderful and true. But perhaps we forget that he is also a lover. He is a different sort of lover, granted, to the ones that are celebrated in novels and films, but he is nevertheless a lover. And the authentic lover, who loves the beloved more than himself, wants to protect the beloved from pain and suffering – indeed, wants to remove it entirely.
The human person’s deepest suffering is in the knowledge that we must die one day. Jesus wants not only to deprive this suffering of its ‘sting’, to use St. Paul’s expression (cf. 1 Cor. 15: 55-57), but also to reassure us about the entire experience. He tells us in John’s gospel that when we die, he will take us to himself and we go to the place he has prepared for us in the Father’s house (cf. Jn 14:3). As God, Jesus is actually capable of doing this. He does not overturn the laws of nature by taking death away. Except in the case of the miracles he works, nature’s processes remain the same. But what happens after our death is something new – it is Jesus’ ‘territory’, you might say. That is what he knows about. And because of this knowledge he tells us not to be afraid.
Let’s take a day to reflect on some of the ways in which Jesus talks about our death. Tomorrow, we’ll be back for our final reflection.
Cross in cave at Zakopane, Poland; Greyfriars’ chapel, Canterbury.
Saint Francis caused the book of the Gospels to be brought unto him; for God had put it in his mind that, by the opening of the book of the Gospels three times, that which it was the will of God to do unto him should be revealed. And, when the book was brought unto him, St. Francis betook himself to prayer; and, when he had finished his prayer, he caused the book to be opened three times by the hand of Friar Leo, in the name of the Most Holy Trinity; and, as it pleased the Divine Providence, in those three times ever there appeared before him the Passion of Christ.
The next day came, to wit the day of the most Holy Cross, and St. Francis, betimes in the morning, or ever it was day, betook himself to prayer before the entrance of his cell, and turning his face towards the East, prayed after this manner: “O my Lord Jesus Christ, two graces do I beseech Thee to grant me before I die: the first, that, during my lifetime, I may feel in my soul and in my body, so far as may be possible, that pain which Thou, sweet Lord, didst suffer in the hour of Thy most bitter passion; the second is that I may feel in my heart, so far as may be possible, that exceeding love, whereby Thou, Son of God, wast enkindled to willingly bear such passion for us sinners”.
And, when he had continued long time in this prayer, he knew that God would hear him, and that, as far as was possible for a mere creature, so far would it be granted to him to feel the aforesaid things. Having this promise, St. Francis began to contemplate with very great devotion the Passion of Christ and His infinite charity.
We were celebrating the Season of Creation during September, so these posts are about a month later than the events they record.