Tag Archives: technology

June 7: The Poetic Pillar Box.

 

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We see above a pillarbox at Centraal Station in Amsterdam, nicely bringing together two strands of today’s reflection from GK Chesterton’s Heretics. Of course, railway signalmen – and they were men in England a century ago – needed greater vigilance then and could not offload much responsibility onto technology. But both postmen and signalmen had to be men of integrity. Over to GKC:

The word “signal-box” is unpoetical. But the thing signal-box is not unpoetical; it is a place where men, in an agony of vigilance, light blood-red and sea-green fires to keep other men from death. That is the plain, genuine description of what it is; the prose only comes in with what it is called. The word “pillar-box” is unpoetical. But the thing pillar-box is not unpoetical; it is the place to which friends and lovers commit their messages, conscious that when they have done so they are sacred, and not to be touched, not only by others, but even (religious touch!) by themselves. That red turret is one of the last of the temples.

Posting a letter and getting married are among the few things left that are entirely romantic; for to be entirely romantic a thing must be irrevocable. We think a pillar-box prosaic, because there is no rhyme to it. We think a pillar-box unpoetical, because we have never seen it in a poem. But the bold fact is entirely on the side of poetry. A signal-box is only called a signal-box; it is a house of life and death. A pillar-box is only called a pillar-box; it is a sanctuary of human words. 

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Not just an excuse to share two favourite photos! But this 19th Century box (at the top VR means Victoria Regina, or Queen Victoria) is at Sabden, Lancashire. Text from Project Gutenberg. It’s no good imagining the Brownings posting their letters into such a box: they were not introduced for some years, although the penny post was speeding letters around the country from 1840. More from the Brownings soon. ‘Heretics’ is available on Kindle or Project Gutenberg.

 

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May 21. Pilgrims walking to Canterbury MMXIX, 1.

dover17.NDW.closed.and.muddy.

Pilgrims to Canterbury MMXIX

I

Every year the L’Arche Kent community walks a pilgrimage back towards Canterbury from somewhere not too nearby. Last year the walk was largely along the North Kent coast from Margate due west; the year before that was across country, using ancient footpaths through fields and woods. This year, I discovered that Michael proposed to walk from Dover to Canterbury.

No doubt you’ve heard of the White Cliffs of Dover? They are real, tall, and almost solid. Lumps of chalk large and small tend to drop off into the sea. On the beach is a monument to the Channel Swimmers which is counted as the start or finish of the North Downs Way, a long distance path that goes west towards Guildford. Across the water, it becomes one of those roads that lead to Rome.

A little way inland the Way is a footpath that climbs up the side of the valley, very steeply, even in the town. As part of planning this year’s hike, I followed this through the town, across the railway towards Thanet and then met a notice that said the path was closed. There was some hefty civil engineering going on, with mud and ruts and men in yellow suits. No way for us.

The map showed a sensible detour (sensible if the hill-climb itself was sensible!) which brought me to a supermarket with a café and respite from the cold wet weather. From there, I crossed the main roads safely, with traffic lights and a subway, and out of suburbia into the countryside on my bike. No need for pushing and pathfinding for a bit.

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But this pathway will not do! There was a meeting a few days later which suggested a different way. Let’s see how this looks. We would leave Dover more gently, along the banks of the little River Dour. But we’ll still have to get up the valley side; paradoxically, we must climb up the Downs. And not all of us are very fit.

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May 15: What is Theology Saying? LII: Salvation outside the Church I.

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austinThe Christian has to ask how to evaluate other religions. We are all engaged in the work of transforming the world alongside people who are striving for the same goal and contributing equally as much for its realisation. Yet many belong to another religion or faith community.

The question: do these people participate in the work and fruits of salvation in spite of their own religious commitment or because of it? Christianity has answered this variously through the ages, but with answers heavily influenced by cultural experiences and national belongings. It is not easy to disentangle Christian tradition from social and cultural theories.

Before reflecting on these, it must be remembered that the Christian understanding of Judaism must be discussed separately; the relationship between Judaism and Christianity is unique, and in fairly recent times the French Biblical scholar Paul Démann has undertaken this in various articles to do with the relationship between Judaism in Christianity. He makes many suggestions, but many questions remain unsolved and a full theology of Christian understanding of Judaism has yet to appear.

It is abundantly clear that there is salvation in Judaism and the coming of Jesus in history did not take this salvation away. Scripture asserts that God made an everlasting covenant with Israel – you shall be my people and I will be your God; and through them all nations on the earth will be blessed. God kept promising a new covenant – not that the old one would pass away to be replaced by another, rather would the old one become new again as each generation made it its own; and written, not on stone, but on hearts of flesh.

All these promises were verified again and again in Judaism. Although Christians have not always been aware of it, Jews have continued to live passionately in fidelity to the covenant. Under tough conditions – exile, dispersion, persecution and holocaust – they continued to make the covenant ever fresh and new in succeeding generations.

AMcC

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13 May. What is Theology Saying? L: Signs of the times open pathways for the Gospel

misericord.boat.st.davids

austinThe signs of the times cannot simply be material events or objective happenings. Such things, of themselves, do not indicate anything. They prompt a suspicion that things are brewing, it does not take very much to be aware of that. Sadly that is where most people stop. Whereas the real signs are human actions, human responses to challenges posed by these events. Only people can create realities pointing somewhere, through their words, gestures and actions. The “signs of the times” are these gestures which allow the Lord to be present. There will always be a connection between events and signs. St. Paul’s journeys depended on the existence of sea-routes, and the communications system established by the Roman Empire. But a study of these phenomena would not suffice to help us understand what was going on. Only people can be signs. Anthony in the Desert, Benedict, Francis, Gandhi, Martin Luther King… were all signs who were intimately involved with what was going on in their own world. Their sign value lay in the pathways they opened up for the Gospel life to move through them, relevantly, into the world.

If we are simply looking for new ways to win people to the church, all we need do is take note of modern resources on offer. Make use of the variety of ideologies at our disposal. But our task is different. A new Church demands freedom from the accretions and accumulations of time. We need to sweep away whatever makes the Word inaccessible. Just as individuals need to be set free from their past, so too do Institutions which are made up of individuals. We will only realise the need for change when we discover people who are not being reached. Recognising the signs of the times means risking letting go of much of the past. If Jesus had taken all the Jewish traditions on board he would have made many more converts, but nothing would have changed and the truth would have remained “safely” locked up.

Mission is not something extraordinary, it does not require the presence of genius; simply ordinary folk prepared to do ordinary things, extraordinarily well. When we rely over much on system and method we end up transmitting ideology, religion or culture, rather than access to Jesus Christ

AMcC

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April 27: What became of Peter?

misericord.boat.st.davids

There were a few more people in the boat that morning than we can see here: Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathaniel, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples; seven of them altogether. I can see how they’d have wanted to get Jerusalem out of their hair, and in any case, the message was to get themselves back to Galilee. And once there, it made sense to go fishing, just as it made sense to the children in yesterday’s picture to go fishing. They preferred the river to the lough, and could charm little trout onto a bent pin dangling from a hazel rod, putting us to admiring shame, but I digress – a little.

We, after all, were amateurs. Peter was a professional, whose livelihood depended on a good catch. Had he lost his touch? He’d lost his brash self-confidence …

The stranger on the shore could see the shoal through the mist, but Peter the professional could bring the fish in.

The story in John 21 is familiar enough: as on Easter morning, John gets the picture before Peter, but it’s Peter who jumps in and staggers ashore; Peter who is challenged three times, three challenges that allow him to accept forgiveness for three denials; Peter who is commissioned three times. And Peter leaves the lorry behind – or at least the aspirations to a better life that Joe’s lorry stands for in yesterday’s story. Peter’s vocation now was not to be a fisherman but a fisher of men, a feeder of the five, ten, hundred thousand sheep and more, even down to us today.

There’s good in the heart of the likes of Joe’s dad, working hard, denying himself to provide for his family with a lorry he could earn more money from. No wonder Joe was proud of him! And then some of us are called to leave our father’s house and spread the love of the risen Lord. Come to think of it, that’s you and me as well. We should all be ready to share the love, even with a  simple smile to a stranger whenever we leave the house (and perhaps at home as well; but that can be a real challenge!)

Happy Easter!

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April 26: What became of the fish?

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This was Brocagh School in County Leitrim, close to the Irish border, in 1969. A year or so later the little 2 classroom schools would be all closed down and a new school built in Glenfarne village. The assistant teacher was leaving anyway to get married! So this is an historic photo graph! As seminarians (student priests) we went two and two to the little schools and gave the children an RE lesson each week.

It was Mrs McCormack who gave me a valuable lesson, thanks to Joe McHugh, down there in the front row. One week after Easter we had John’s story of the breakfast by the lake after the miraculous catch of fish, and Peter’s final declaration of faith; I felt the lesson went well. I had the ultimate visual aid close at hand in the lake: Lough MacNean.

The children drew some remarkable pictures, but Mrs McCormack drew my attention to Joe’s in particular: come here now, Joe, what’s this in the corner? – It’s Saint Peter’s lorry, Miss, come to carry away the fish. I’d missed the lorry completely; I’d not interpreted the shapes he’d drawn in 20th Century terms.

What she knew, but I did not, was that Joe’s family had recently acquired a lorry which was Joe’s pride and joy, so of course St Peter would have had his lorry ready to take the fish to market. The story made sense to Joe, and has always made more sense to me as a consequence; thank you Joe, wherever you are.

An earlier version of this true story appears in thepelicans.org.uk website, Gallery p356.

MMB

Here, for the record are names of the children as far as their neighbours could remember them. Back Row: ——, Paddy McManus, John McManus, Jimmy Peckanham, ?Junior McHugh, Sean McGivern, Sean Clancy, Thomas Kelly, Ann Keany, Bernadette Clancy; 2nd Row: ?Teacher —— Agnes O’Hara, —— Breege Campbell, Bernadette Kelly, Kitty Cullen, Lily Pechenham, Owen O’Hara, Marie O’Hara, ——, Ann Brady, Ann McHugh, Ann Kelly, ?Mrs McCormack; 3rd Row: Josephine Clancy, —— McPartlin, ——? Gerry Clancy, ———, ———,———, Veronica McHugh, Geraldine McGuire, ?Teresa Keany; Front Row: Bridget McManus, Noel McManus, Ann Kelly, ——, Joe McLoughlin, Joe McHugh, Hugo Clancy, Margaret McGuire, Damien McGuire, Rosaleen McLoughlin (Thanks to Olivia O’Dolan, Mary Brady-Timoney, her sisters Kathleen Brady- Keaney and Bridget Brady – Fitzpatrick; Ben McHugh and Clancy family

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25 March: The Annunciation of our Lord.

A poem for the Feast of the Annunciation, from Sheila Billingsley, mother in the days before scans and ultrasound, and now grandmother and great-grandmother – and poet.

 

And the Word … 

Sitting before the scan,

An embryo great-grandchild.

Fitting so safely, so securely.

What are you feeling ?

What are you hearing ?

Did you hear your mother singing ?

Her laughter ?

Did you feel in your enveloping nest,

Her touch as she moved ?

The warmth of your sun ?

The deepening silence of your night ?

Oh! Minute yet transparent child,

Complete

With those predestined hands and feet ?

And later, did you feel joy

In your growing infantile strength,

Those fingers that would touch and heal ?

Your limbs so weak, so strong, the skin so soft.

Until the womb could no longer hold you.

Did you hear your angel voices that night ?

Feel your winter’s chill ?

The hands that held you, wrapped you, touched you …

Oh, but your eyes

Opening tentatively in the dim light,

Your eyes, did they seek

The eyes that sought for yours ?

 

 

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23 March. Before the Cross X: Christ crucified welcomes us.

 

 
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As a teenager I visited the resort of Tignes in France on a family skiing holiday. On our way through the French Alps from the airport, our coach crossed a dam, and we could see a large reservoir stretching up the valley to our left. Our ski rep began to tell us a story. There had been a village known as Tignes, which had been flooded and destroyed with the creation of the reservoir in 1952, and its people had been relocated to a newly built village, Tignes Les Boisses. The church there, l’église Saint Jacques de Tarentaise, had been built to a design similar to that in “Old Tignes”. All this is verifiable history. The road wound uphill, away from the dam, and we entered the purpose-built village.

Our rep related how an elderly couple, objecting to the flooding of their valley, and ignoring all the remonstrances of the EDF and local authority negotiators, had refused steadfastly to leave their home. They had drowned as the waters rose to form the new reservoir. He told us to look to our right as we drove past the church, and to notice the crucifix in front of it. The arms of Jesus had originally been nailed to the crossbeam, he said, but over the years they had dropped down to their present position, as though Jesus himself were pleading on behalf of the drowned couple. There was no scientific explanation for this extraordinary phenomenon (great solemnity and wonderment in his voice at this point); not even in the natural warping properties of wood.

The image of this cross has remained with me through my adult life, and I have retold the story of it more than once, and with equal solemnity. But I recently discovered that it wasn’t true at all. At least, I have found no evidence that the elderly couple ever existed. The crucifix itself was crafted by Jean Touret for the new church, with the arms of Jesus extended downwards in an expression of grief for the loss of the old village. It was also to represent Jesus’s welcome of visitors. He named the work ” le Christ Accueillant ” – The Welcoming Christ.

I would rather our ski rep had told us the truth surrounding this remarkable crucifix. Perhaps he believed his story. Or perhaps venturing into the “religious” subject of Christ’s welcome made him feel uncomfortable. As in so many movies, here was an invented tale designed to make is feel indignant towards big-business callousness and government collusion. And our sense of moral outrage is validated by the direct involvement of God himself. No harm in that, surely?

Jean Touret had wanted to honour a community genuinely affected by trauma and loss. His purpose had not been to elicit indignation, but to recognise that Christ stands with the broken and dispossessed. And nobody is honoured by fabricated miracle stories, least of all Jesus. The Hollywood approach fundamentally misreads what is meant in the gospels by the Kingdom of God. It would direct our disdain towards world powers and social injustices over which we have very little control. It would have us “rage against the machine” much like the zealots in Jesus’s own day.

To the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” GK Chesterton’s famous answer was “I am”. The challenge of the gospel is to grasp our own need for a saviour, and in love (rather than self-righteous indignation), to consider the world’s need for a saviour too. “Le Christ Accueillant” does indeed signify a miracle: that Jesus welcomes us today into the presence of the Loving Father. Not from the cross, but as a resurrected, living Saviour, whose brutal crucifixion made our rescue and welcome possible.

Rupert Greville

   Thank you, Rupert, for another thought-provoking image and prayerful reflection. WT.

The story of the Church and Image 1:

Image 2:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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March 1: David in Death Valley

badwater

Dear Friends,

It’s Wales’s National Day: Happy Saint David’s Day! Here is a little celebration piece. I heard recently from David York who in 2015 was getting started in long distance running. Not your average marathon, but as he put it that December 15:

I’m gathering together my things and heading off to Death Valley where I plan to run from Nevada, over the mountain range, down into the valley basin and continue on for 45 miles across the desert.  Please don’t ask “why?” Long story …. I’m facing the reality that I have become an increasingly penitent man (who is having one heck of a mid-life crisis!)  But the desert is a pretty good place to go and bond with the Creator, and I have a lot to offer up.  I swear I’m not insane, I’m just doing what I feel called to do.

And, if I could humbly ask of you, please pray for me and perhaps reflect upon Psalms 23 and 26. 

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A month later he wrote: 

Death Valley was amazing.  Apparently, I was meant to be there, as something was clearly waiting for me in the middle of Badwater.

I have one hell of a story to tell. Countless things went wrong. But if I had a chance to do it all over again, I would in a heartbeat.  45 Miles across mountains and deserts: for the highlight of my (short) ultra-running life, Death Valley is the pinnacle.

 Death Valley is not about death, but life.  Death Valley is almost always the opposite of what it seems.

Regarding “Badwater”: keep in mind, this was part of the “Old West”. I’ll paraphrase the story:

One day an old man was passing across the desert and he took his horse up to some water.  The horse wouldn’t drink!  So… the old man put up a sign that said, “Bad Water”.  It never changed.

There are actually some tiny fish that live in the Badwater basin pools.  But the entire basin is salt.  For as far as you can see.  You can look a few hundred feet up a mountain wall and see a sign letting you know where Sea Level is located.  In pictures, the salt looks like snow.  When driving alongside it, you experience the illusion of water in a lake.  Again…. Death Valley is not what it seems.

Wishing you peace and all good things,

 bro. dave, ofs 

I don’t remember why this never became a blog post back then, but tomorrow will reveal why it has done now.

Appendix

The following is from Pope Francis’s first address to the young people gathered in Panama on January 24.

With you, we want to rediscover and reawaken the Church’s constant freshness and youth, opening ourselves to a new Pentecost (cf. SYNOD ON YOUNG PEOPLE, Final Document, 60). As we experienced at the Synod, this can only happen if, by our listening and sharing, we encourage each other to keep walking and to bear witness by proclaiming the Lord through service to our brothers and sisters, and concrete service at that.

I know getting here was not easy. I know how much effort and sacrifice was required for you to participate in this Day. Many weeks of work and commitment, and encounters of reflection and prayer, have made the journey itself largely its own reward. A disciple is not merely someone who arrives at a certain place, but one who sets out decisively, who is not afraid to take risks and keeps walking. This is the great joy: to keep walking. You have not been afraid to take risks and to keep journeying. Today we were all able to “get here” because for some time now, in our various communities, we have all been “on the road” together.

WT

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February 25: Wonderfully unguessed at! Brownings V.

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I would hope Elizabeth Barrett’s piano was more tuneful than this Victorian specimen, on long-term loan at the Turnstone’s till its owner can give it houseroom. Elizabeth is writing to Robert of the consequences of her confinement to her room after her injury and illness. This seemed worth putting alongside Traherne’s scientific and theological reflections yesterday. And again, reflect: only this afternoon I was able to listen on the BBC to Brahms’s German Requiem; Elizabeth had not heard any vast choral work, except perhaps in a church service, despite living in London. We have much to be grateful for. And how ignorant are we?

If ever I am in the Sistine Chapel, what teaching I shall want, I who have seen so few pictures, and love them only as children do, with an unlearned love, just for the sake of the thoughts they bring. Wonderfully ignorant I am, to have had eyes and ears so long!

There is music, now, which lifts the hair on my head, I feel it so much, … yet all I know of it as art, all I have heard of the works of the masters in it, has been the mere sign and suggestion, such as the private piano may give. I never heard an oratorio, for instance, in my life—judge by that! It is a guess, I make, at all the greatness and divinity … feeling in it, though, distinctly and certainly, that a composer like Beethoven must stand above the divinest painter in soul-godhead, and nearest to the true poet, of all artists. And this I felt in my guess, long before I knew you.

But observe how, if I had died in this illness, I should have left a sealed world behind me! you, unknown too—unguessed at, you, … in many respects, wonderfully unguessed at! Lately I have learnt to despise my own instincts. And apart from those—and you, … it was right for me to be melancholy, in the consciousness of passing blindfolded under all the world-stars, and of going out into another side of the creation, with a blank for the experience of this … the last revelation, unread! How the thought of it used to depress me sometimes!

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