Tag Archives: suicide

2 January; In the grey Mancunian midwinter.

north pole

Not long before Christmas I took a railway journey across Manchester on one of the darkest days of the year. Since I was visiting my mother for her birthday, I resisted the temptation to continue towards Blackpool North (Pole), but the signaller’s humour was welcome on a bleak morning.

ok not okIt was also good to see this note from Sam on behalf of the Samaritans, who are well aware that this season is not festive for everybody. Sadly, the railway is often a suffering soul’s chosen suicide spot. Sam’s message may persuade someone to ring them, as may the message on many train tickets.

samaritans.ticket nov2017By the time I was making my return journey, the weather had turned from a saturated mist to a greasy drizzle. Walking to Greenfield station with bright LED headlights shining in my face was no joy.

But Saddleworth Catholic church of the Sacred Heart already had their crib on display in the porch. A reminder of the hope that is in us.

Christian or not, we are given the virtue of hope to see us through the dark times. Christian or not, a helpless babe is not hopeless. He or she reaches out in trust. For  those whose ability to trust has been eroded through others’ inhumanity, a word, a smile may make a difference. Few of us will ever find ourselves stepping in to prevent a suicide at the last moment, but we may, all unknowingly, help to do so before that.

From across the main road, my view of the crib was no better than in the photo, but I knew what I was looking at: even in the darkest, murkiest times, there is hope.

crib saddleworth.jpg

 

 

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December 15: A Dedicated Follower of . . .

j baptist venice 1

Last month Venice was a city with both feet in the water, and not for the first time. So perhaps I should not have been surprised to come across so many images of the Advent Saint, John the Baptist, This one is on a tomb monument. A well-dressed young prophet, his camel skin tailored to display a well-turned pair of legs; his coiffure and beard would win praise from today’s London fashionistas.

Coming from an influential priestly family, John could have become a leader of fashionable society in 1st Century Jerusalem. But he seems to have tasted the world of influence and power, finding it thin and bitter. instead he ran away to the desert to find himself and to find God.

That was the result of his flight from the bright city lights, but perhaps when he ran away it was just to escape the life that apparently had been laid down for him: to serve as priest in the Temple according to the rota, while back home, working his allotment to feed his family; meanwhile tight-roping between encouraging the People of God and placating the Romans. Would you blame him for running away?

But then he found himself running to someone. God was in the desert, as Moses discovered in the burning bush. And Gods light shone in him, and people were attracted to him, though his camel skin coat was probably less well tailored than this one here!

Let’s keep in our hearts and prayers those people who find their lives bitter, whose happiness is fragile, who might be tempted towards the desert place from which there is no return. Let us pray that someone may come alongside them when most needed, even if it be you or me.

And let us remember those who do this all the time: Emergency Services, Samaritans, Street Pastors, the Beachy Head Wardens, and so many more.

Lord in your great mercy, hear our prayer.

mercy.carving. (328x640)

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9 December: Greater than all our troubles.

whitby ps 93.4

The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea. 

Ps 93.4 KJV

This sign is fixed to the lighthouse at the mouth of Whitby harbour, below the clifftop where Saint Hilda had her monastery and sponsored bishops for the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria.

It’s the sort of place where people, overwhelmed by their troubles, go to end their lives; hence the message:

God is greater than all of our troubles.

It doesn’t always feel that way, and with an outreached hand, a smile, a word in season, we might, all unawares, help  someone to carry on a little longer. Even a notice like this one may touch a troubled soul, though it must have taken great trust for Whitby fishermen’s wives to believe it, on nights when their men were lost on a stormy sea.

judas

Is the suicide lost? The stonemasons of Strasbourg did not think so, for they showed the Risen Lamb of God untying the hanged Judas to bring him back from the mouth of Hell.

If our journey is delayed by a suicide or a fatal accident, let us forgive those whose actions cause us inconvenience, let us not complain at the delay, but rather let us pray for the victim, for those innocently caught up in the incident, and the families and friends of all concerned.

This reflection comes after another railway trespasser’s death led to a callous response from a delayed passenger.

samaritans.ticket nov2017

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October 25, Month of Mission: Beachy Head Chaplains

goldenstringimage

William Blake lived near Beachy Head in Sussex, part of the range of chalk cliffs he drew as a background for this verse.

Virginia Woolf was to drown herself in the nearby River Ouse a century and a half later, but today it is the cliffs themselves that attract the lonely, depressed and overwhelmed who are tempted to take their lives.

The Beachy Head Chaplaincy team are Christians from local churches ‘and although we reach out with the love of God, we never impose our faith on the people we seek to help.

‘We believe that by receiving skilled crisis intervention support at their time of crisis, people in suicidal distress can be awakened to the hope that there are other ways forward to address the problems they face.’judas

The Apostle Judas went out and hanged himself after seeing Jesus arrested and condemned, but the artist of Strasbourg Cathedral’s west front shows us the Lamb of God coming to release him from his noose and away from the mouth of Hell to go in at Heaven’s Gate.

In their different ways, the well-to-do and well-connected Virginia Woolf, and the disciple who was trusted by Jesus, were both privileged, yet both knew despair. It is not for us to condemn them, or any other suicide; rather let us support with prayer and alms brave good neighbours like the Samaritans and the Beachy Head Chaplains, not forgetting the official first responders, Police, Ambulance, Fire, Coastguard and Lifeboats.

And may we be ready with small talk or even a just a smile for anyone we meet.  Lead, Kindly Light!

 

 

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22 September: A railway reminder

ashfdlowsun1 (800x431)

I was leaving a railway station when the Samaritans’ placard caught my eye: it was fastened to the railing at the top of the footbridge, so that everyone could see it as they climbed. A mental ‘thumbs-up’ to them from me!

The following day, on the rails again, I turned my tickets over to find two different messages from the Samaritans. Notice the slogan, ‘small talk saves lives.‘ The life of an individual human being is small when set against the whole of Creation, but it is all that that person knows, through their own direct experience or through conversation, reading, viewing or listening: their one life is the big thing for them, with sensations and experiences arriving constantly from all sides, not all of them welcome, some of them overwhelming.

tickets

 

If a beloved feels overwhelmed, it’s a big thing for those who care for them. So big that they too may feel overwhelmed and not know what to do or say.

So perhaps Jesus was right to tell us to ‘consider the lilies of the field.’ (Matthew 6:28)  Small things, small talk. There was heather encroaching on the Yorkshire station; lovely purple flowers, but too far away on the opposite platform for me to catch the scent and comment on it to a fellow passenger.

On the return journey two sisters and their four teenaged children were on the train, talking about everything and nothing: small talk that meant nothing and everything. Another advert proclaimed that ‘I love you’ is one of the hardest things to say; but every word and gesture in this group announced that message loud and clear.

Even small words are not always needed. I had a profound experience on an underground train soon after a terrorist attack. I found myself standing next to a British Transport policeman. He was very tired, and had seen I know not what. Not a word was spoken, no gesture, no touch, but I prayed in my heart. When he got off he said, Thank You, and disappeared into the night.

 

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18 August: Mini Pilgrimage around Canterbury III.

 

 

We moved on to Saint Martin’s Church, where our prayer was extempore.

The two walls shown here include plenty of Roman brick as well as a few local flints. There are three blocked off doorways; the central one may be the one Saint Bertha used in 597. The windows and buttress are recent. The ground has risen above the level of the church floor – is that 1400 years of burials? 

Saint Martin’s Chancel showing Roman red bricks.

From the oldest Church in town we went to one of the newest, the chapel of Canterbury Christ Church University. ‘Wow!’ said Caroline. It is a lovely space, but we especially came to see the tapestry.

cccu chapel tapistry

Dear Lord our Father,

Jesus the Good Shepherd bids us welcome and extends to us the invitation “Come to me”. He knows the troubles we have, our weariness and our failing strength as we try our best to live our lives in keeping with your overarching plan for us and for the world.

Remind us to always turn to him for comfort and restoration whenever we feel life is becoming burdensome.

We are all at times lost sheep, in need of a desire to come back to you.

At this time we remember the artist of the Lost Sheep painting and entrust her soul to your tender care. May all those who find life difficult remember your invitation to come back to you. Amen

The Lost Sheep painting that hung in the chapel was by a former student who was found dead in the Solent. 

Before leaving we looked at the Bible, open at Romans:

It is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’

A good verse for pilgrims!


We made our way back to Saint Mildred’s and stopped there to see the Good Shepherd statue, before we sat down, in true L’Arche tradition, to share a meal together.

good shepherd s mildred.jpg

There are many other places we could visit next time we have a MINI PILGRIMAGE AROUND CANTERBURY. Let’s see what next year brings!

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29 June, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLV: The Secrets of Hearts

 

EVEN as our Lord Jesus Christ saith in the Gospel: “I know My little sheep and they know Me,” so the good father St. Francis, like a good shepherd, knew all the merits and virtues of his companions by Divine revelation, and so likewise he knew their imperfections also; whereby he was able to provide for all of them the best remedy; to wit, humbling the proud, exalting the humble, rebuking vice, and praising virtue; as may be read in the wonderful revelations which he had concerning that first family of his.

Among the which we find that once, when St. Francis was with his said family in a Place, discoursing of God, Friar Ruffino was not with them, being in the wood in contemplation; but, while they continued to discourse of God, lo! Friar Ruffino [a noble citizen of Assisi, but a nobler servant of God, a most pure virgin, sublimated by the noble prerogative of Divine contemplation, and adorned before God and man with the flowers of odoriferous conversation] came forth from the wood and passed by at some distance from them.

Thereupon, St. Francis, beholding him, turned to his companions and asked them: “Tell me, which, think ye, is the holiest soul that God hath upon this earth?” Whereto they made answer and said that they believed it was his own. Then St. Francis said unto them: “Most dear friars, I am of myself the most unworthy and the vilest man that God hath in this world; but see ye that Friar Ruffino who is now coming forth from the wood? God hath revealed unto me that his soul is one of the three holiest souls in the world; and of a sooth I tell you that I would not fear to call him St. Ruffino while he is yet alive, inasmuch as his soul is confirmed in grace and sanctified and canonised in heaven by our Lord Jesus Christ;” but St. Francis never spake these words in the presence of the said Friar Ruffino.

judasHow St. Francis knew the imperfections of his friars was clearly seen in like manner in Friar Elias, whom he often rebuked for his pride; and in that Friar Giovanni della Cappella, unto whom he foretold that he would hang himself by the neck; and in that friar whose throat was held fast by the devil what time he was admonished for disobedience; and in many other friars whose secret defects and virtues he knew clearly by revelation of Christ.

The artist of Strasbourg Cathedral shows the Lamb of God releasing the suicide Judas ready to remove him from Hell’s Mouth.

Woodland photograph by Eleanor Billingsley

 

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June 8: Above a whisper

samaritans cards 2019

The day after I published the post ‘After all the Shouting’, praising the work of the Samaritans’ listeners, I turned up at Canterbury West Station again. This time there were tables outside the door, and a group of Samaritans, my friend L’s colleagues. Sadly, the electric railway does attract those seeking to end their lives; it’s  a good spot to raise people’s awareness of the Samaritans’ services.

‘Thank you for sharing our work,’ I was told, when I told how I had posted about them here. The woman I spoke to gave me these cards, so feel free to share the telephone number – or whatever your country’s local equivalent might be.

‘And although we have seventy volunteers, we could always use more to maintain our 24 hour service, seven days a week. We can’t manage that at present.’

For myself, I’ve been drawn back into L’Arche  Kent, and could easily find myself involved there 24/7. There’s always something to be done, and a friend or two to do it with, as you’ll appreciate if you’ve followed our recent pilgrimage posts. But where do your gifts and inclinations lie?

Please pray for the Samaritans and for those who turn to them and other helplines in times of need and distress.

 

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12 February :For those in peril.

samaritans.ticket nov2017We have written before to praise the initiative of the Samaritans and the British railway companies for their efforts to prevent suicides. The ticket shown above is just one way this happens. There has been extensive staff training and there are prominent notices giving the same message at stations and level crossings.

The suicide does not realise how great is the distress for those left behind, as many of us will have witnessed. I remember helping out in a school in a state of shock after a popular teacher died in his car at a level crossing, just before the end of the summer holiday. He could not face the return to his demanding work: the students had emotional and social problems and were difficult to control.  However he felt about his role, the staff and students all spoke highly of him. But he could not see that clearly.

This plaque is clear enough. It is displayed on the harbour arm at Whitby in Yorkshire, for there are those, like Virginia Woolf, who choose to end their lives by drowning. We can – and should – read the inscription as praise of the Creator, but it also as a prayer for the would-be suicide, and an invitation to turn again, to repent of despair.

Let us pray that the new year will be a season of hope rather than gloom for those who all too easily see the dark side. And let us have the courage, as a recent Samaritans advertisement puts it, to make small talk at the school gate, in the queue, on the bus.

How’s the weather where you are?

 

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10 February: Not through vainglory: a response to Virginia Woolf

heart.of.pebbles

Saint Paul never tramped the byways of Palestine with Jesus, but he knew the Jewish Scriptures – to love the Lord your God with your whole being and your neighbour as yourself. He put it this way:

If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, make full my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.

Philippians 2:1-4.

You don’t have to be a Christian believer to look to the things of others, to work towards being of one accord with your neighbours. In a diverse society such as the United Kingdom today, that should be obvious. But that sense of solidarity does not predominate in everybody. I feel that it was what Virginia Woolf missed by trying to live the illusion – her own word – that she was somehow superior to others. Vainglory sums it up precisely.

And realising that it was vainglory to affect such superiority – or so I read her ending – she filled her pockets with stones and waded into the river. Woolf was certainly struggling with despair in her last months. The Hamilton Star recently told how researchers from Canada and Brazil created word clouds from her writings in happier times and those last months.

In the cloud created from her final months, the words include: little, miss, war, nothing, never, can’t and don’t. The researchers write that these “negative words” may indicate Woolf’s “thoughts of lack of efficacy, self-criticism, worthlessness, nostalgia, melancholy and mainly hopelessness.”

This is not to deny the mental illness that blighted Virginia Woolf’s life, which surely contributed to her thoughts of melancholy and hopelessness, despite her many privileges. Nor is it possible to compare her suffering with Paul’s time in chains and prison, nor to deny the power of God’s grace to work in her heart. Suicide is an extreme form of repentance, and Woolf was aware, perhaps morbidly aware, of causing suffering to others, and as her last letter shows, she wanted to end that. Let us, for every one who takes their own life, 

be … confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6.

 

And let us remember, with thanks, that there is now formal and informal help for those in great distress that was not available to Virginia Woolf.

MMB.

 

 

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