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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.

 

 
christ acc2

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. 

death valley1

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.

piano2 (800x600) (2)

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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22 February. What is Theology Saying? XLVIII: The need for a new world.

light in dark rainy window

Jesus had said his kingdom was not of this world, he could not establish the kingdom using any kind of force. For the next several centuries there was little chance of Christians being involved in decision-making – they were being constantly persecuted. Then from being objects of persecution they became part of the establishment in Eastern Roman Empire, with the Decree of Constantine [Edict of Milan 313] – Now came the tendency to believe the empire was the kingdom of God. They saw their role as to obey Christian princes; problems only arose when there were clashes between Popes and Emperors.

The Church in Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on The Church in the Modern World, recognised the findings of Teilhard de Chardin but it soon became evident that this document did not solve all the issues – for instance it does not touch on the value of human work in the world – is technology helping or just keeping us busy? What the Bible tells us and tradition has handed on is in symbolic form, and needs interpretation. We do not know the future in the way we know the past. All that we really know is the demand the future makes on the present. We learn not by looking, but by doing, we are not waiting for the next world to come, but we do feel the need for a new world.

For the Bible the world is not just a place but history itself – it is history always moving towards fulfilment of God’s promises. We must be constantly on the move from a comfortable status quo to a universal better future for everyone – no exclusions. It is not action in the world that must go, but our individual and privileged stake in the present: the privilege of being white where black people have to do menial tasks, the fostering of economic development with larger economies crushing the smaller, the exclusion of the poor from places reserved for the privileged – these are the evils in the world that must pass away.

AMcC

We will hear more from Austin in a few weeks’ time. WT.

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14 January: An old missionary’s ecological musings

bins

Passers by set Gerard Manley Hopkins thinking for yesterday’s post, and Otto Mayer for today’s. He was a fellow student of mine, but now works in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have adapted this from an article he wrote. It seems the litter problem is not confined to Canterbury. But if Otto can keep litter picking in Central Africa, I can do my bit in East Kent!

Whenever I pick up plastic wrappers or papers dropped in front of our house in Ruzizi, Congo, passers by look at me as though I’m crazy. The children make fun of me, although the little ones will pick up litter and put it in my bag. But no-one makes fun of the people who drop papers, bags, plastic bottles, tissues…

Sometimes a passer-by will ask why I am cleaning up. I explain that in my home village in Germany, every Saturday afternoon we would take pride in sweeping the footpath beside our house, ready for Sunday. Everything should be ready for the Lord’s day.

Telling people that story starts a conversation, regretting how Goma has become a dirty town, and Kinshasa la belle has become Kinshasa-Poubelle – dustbin city. Everybody wants the council to sort it out. I always say that I can do something. At least in front of my house I can make a difference.

The first principle of ecology is to produce as little waste or pollution as possible. Heineken beer from Holland is an ecological sin when you can get local beers. What a waste, transporting it all the way to Africa.

Buying locally and consuming the products of the region is an ecological obligation. There are seasons when mangoes, cauliflowers, strawberries are chea and readily available. Out of season the price increases as the products are brought in from far away, and the transport costs must be paid for.

The local bus service where I live is cheaper than using a private car; it may take a little longer but means less pollution and less expense. And walking up to half an hour seems to me both reasonable and desirable: Pollution zero, expense zero and more surprises to be met en route. An old priest I remember used to say, ‘Since we got mopeds we’ve lost touch with the people.’ And what progress we’ve made since then!

Père Otto Mayer, M. Afr.

 

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January 6: Pope Francis visits the Franciscans.

flowers.francis.illustration

While he was in Dublin Pope Francis visited the Capuchin Franciscans at their centre for homeless families and spoke to the friars as well as the people who turn to them for help. This seems an appropriate reading for the Epiphany, when the Wise Men visited the baby born in a stable, and destined, like so many before and since, to flee into Egypt.

Dear Capuchin brothers, and all of you, my brothers and sisters!

You have the grace of contemplating the wounds of Jesus in those in need, those who suffer, those who are unfortunate or destitute, or full of vices and defects. For you this is the flesh of Christ. This is your witness and the Church needs it. Thank you.

It is Jesus who comes [in the poor]. You ask no questions. You accept life as it comes, you give comfort and, if need be, you forgive. This makes me think – as a reproof – of those priests who instead live by asking questions about other people’s lives and who in confession dig, dig, dig into consciences. Your witness teaches priests to listen, to be close, to forgive and not to ask too many questions. To be simple, as Jesus said that father did who, when his son returned, full of sins and vices. That father did not sit in a confessional and start asking question after question. He accepted the son’s repentance and embraced him. May your witness to the people of God, and this heart capable of forgiving without causing pain, reach all priests. Thank you!

And you, dear brothers and sisters, I thank you for the love and the trust that you have for the Capuchin brothers. Thank you because you come here with trust! Let me say one thing to you. Do you know why you come here with trust? Because they help you without detracting from your dignity. For them, each of you is Jesus Christ. Thank you for the trust that you give us. You are the Church, you are God’s people. Jesus is with you. They will give you the things you need, but listen to the advice they give you; they will always give you good advice. And if you have something, some doubt, some hurt, talk to them and they will give you good advice. You know that they love you: otherwise, this Centre would not exist. Thank you for your trust. And one last thing. Pray! Pray for the Church. Pray for priests. Pray for the Capuchins. Pray for the bishops, for your bishop. Pray for me too … I allow myself to ask all this. Pray for priests, don’t forget.

God bless you all, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

 

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January 5: Some Gifts of Community Life.

plowden.madonna

A LETTER FROM DAVID BEX, COMMUNITY LEADER, L’ARCHE KENT.

David came to L’Arche after belonging to an Emmaus Community. The gifts he received and developed there will be good for us and help us grow, but it is also good for us to be reminded of what our gifts and strengths are as a community. I can vouch for friendships that have lasted forty years and more! 

MMB.

The year 2018 is drawing to a close and it has been a year of change. We have had assistants go back to their home countries after a year with us, taking with them a piece of L’Arche Kent in their hearts and creating friendships that continue.

Sadly, we have had Core Members die this year, Emma and Denise.

We have seen long term assistants move on to a new chapter in their lives, which has meant that they have finished as employees but not as members of our Community.

When Core Members and assistants who have been our friends and companions change their roles or move away I sense and share a feeling of loss within the Community and a period of reflection about our relationships with them. There is a time to recognise what we have learnt from each other, the joy and laughter that we shared together.

As part of these times of reflection there comes a time when we are able to recognise that we need to prepare ourselves for welcoming new community members, new assistants and new core members. I feel these two celebrations, departing and arriving, are embraced by our Community and I see the effort and care that goes into them. As a Community we do celebrations very well, and for me, being involved gives me a sense of belonging which deepens my passion for L’Arche.

We may not always realise it but we do cope with change really well. We allow time for it to happen, we talk about it, we reflect upon it and we share our emotions about it. These traditions within L’Arche help us to be a Community, to be strong, to be able to care and have the confidence to show that we care. These traditions, these behaviours are often talked about in the world around us, but from what I see rarely practised in such a meaningful way as can be found in our Community and L’Arche as a whole.

Christmas is a time of change, a time of hope, a time when the deepest part of winter has been reached, when we look forward to brighter and lighter days. As a Community we have lots to look forward to, such as our newly arrived assistants and the ones to come, bringing with them the gifts of new relationships. I see our Community in the future having many opportunities to be a role model to those around us. We are a vibrant Community with lots of ideas, creativitydavid bex and kindness.

I see all of you playing a vital role in L’Arche Kent, in showing to the world around us what Community can look like. Thank you for what you do for each other and for the Community. Thank you for the acts of kindness and caring and being wonderful role models.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

 

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30 December: The Holy Family

flight.egypt.amsterdam

Before Amsterdam had numbers for houses, people used plaques on their walls to identify their home or business premises. Perhaps this one belonged to one of the many exiles living in what was then a small city on a marshy riverside. Here is Joseph taking a watchful Mary and Baby away to Egypt; He has his tools with him, including one very long saw. Perhaps he cut his own planks from the tree, or maybe it pleased the artist’s eye to show it at the pinnacle of the picture. Joseph may have given up his business but he was not giving up work.

Exile was a serious business, true enough, but Joseph was able to start work in Cairo and support his family. (The Franciscan church there that bears his name is said to be near the Holy Family’s home.)

Here is a prayer from USPG.

O God, who made your home among us in Jesus of Nazareth, we pray for those who have been forced from their homes and now live as migrants and refugees. Bless them and all who work to bring them relief, comfort and a new home.

Amen.

We could pray, too, that refugees may be allowed to find work and education in their exile, that they may be better equipped to help restore their homeland when they are able to return.

 

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5 December: The local pilgrim.

As the old missionary said, ‘once we began riding mopeds we had fewer ‘chance’ meetings with people who need to hear the Good News.’ Jesus of course walked about teaching his disciples both before and after his resurrection, a good example for all of us tempted to make the shortest journey by car. And that’s before we think of the environmental issues.

This morning walking out meant I could greet three neighbours. I also had a lesson in walking as pilgrimage. We’ve spoken before of how walking into Canterbury is a daily pilgrimage, if we think about it that way. This was a new aspect of that idea.

The next person I met was one of the local clergy, striding along our street. ‘I’m doing my prayer walk’, she told me. With the help of a mapping app on her phone, she walks the streets of her parish in turn, praying for the residents as she goes by. Over a few weeks she covers the whole parish, street by street, prayer by prayer, and starts all over again.

One of my friends always says to joggers, usually under his breath, ‘You’re going to die anyway!’ We share a scepticism about exercise as self-improvement, but exercise as prayer and pilgrimage is something altogether different.

I walked on with a spring in my step. I had heard the Good News that morning.

MMB

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