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?
Walton, a Staffordshire Man, first published his Compleat Angler in 1653, hence the unfamiliar spellings. An experienced and keen angler ‘Piscator’, walking out of London, falls in with a man who wanted to learn to fish, who by this point in the book is called the Scholer because he’s an enthusiastic learner. Much of their dialogue takes place under trees, sheltering from the rain. And it leads to other thoughts and the contemplation of creation. What would Walton have made of our sewage infested rivers?
“And now, Scholer … it has done raining, and now look about you, and see how pleasantly that Meadow looks, nay and the earth smels as sweetly too. Come let me tell you what holy Mr. Herbert saies of such dayes and Flowers as these, and then we will thank God that we enjoy them, and walk to the River and sit down quietly and try to catch the other brace of Trouts.
Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and skie,
Sweet dews shal weep thy fall to night, for thou must die.
Sweet Rose, whose hew angry and brave
Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye,
Thy root is ever in its grave, and thou must die.
Sweet Spring, ful of sweet days & roses,
A box where sweets compacted lie;
Musick shewes you have your closes, and all must die.
Only a sweet and vertuous soul,
Like seasoned timber never gives,
But when the whole world turns to cole, then chiefly lives.
From Rev Jo Richards, Rector of Saint Dunstan, Saint Mildred and Saint Peter, Canterbury.
We give thanks for the life of Queen Elizabeth, but also mourn her loss. Not only has she been a Christian witness but led by example, a true disciple of Christ who will be missed by many, all around the world. Someone who has just always been there.
‘Go forth from this world O Christian soul, in the name of the love of God the Father who created you, in the mercy of Jesus Christ who redeemed you, in the power of the Holy Spirit who strengthens you. Amen’
A Prayer on the death of her Her Majesty The Queen
Gracious God we give thanks for the life of your servant Queen Elizabeth
For her faith and her dedication to duty.
Bless our nation as we mourn her death
and may her example continue to inspire us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let Your perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace, and rise in glory. Amen.
The elderly lady that Arthur and I garden for now lives alone in the house that was her bed and breakfast business. She constantly gave of herself to her family and guests with beautiful food, but now relies on carers to put her meals on the table, because sometimes she forgets important things like eating.
Today we were talking about this experience of giving back to God some of our faculties in old age and being cared for. ‘That is true,’ she said, ‘but we can still sit around the table and enjoy a cup of tea and good company. That is good, thank you for coming to see me.’
Caroline B. Piercy’s mother was a frequent visitor to a Shaker Community, back in the 19th Century. There she learnt many of the recipes in her daughter’s The Shaker Cook Book. But what attracted people to these celibate communities, and what kept them there? An interesting question a semi-detached member of a L’Arche community.
I would rule out celibacy as an over-riding motive for joining a community: many L’Arche members do remain celibate, but like many couples Mrs T and I met at L’Arche more than 40 years ago. We feel part of the family even though our lives are lived largely outside the community.
We come closer to answering our question when we read how, ‘These devout Shakers love one another as brothers and sisters. They have withdrawn from the world in order to establish villages where the Golden Rule is the one law by which they live. When their many tasks are completed, daily they gather at their meetings where they dance before the Lord for pure joy and gratitude for the countless good gifts He has bestowed upon His children and, also, in order to drive away any wrong thoughts or desires which may come to them.’
A good session of dancing might do more good than a couple of hours slumped in front of the television, but could the shakers have schooled my toes into something approaching co-ordination? Somehow I very much doubt it.
Celibacy, voluntary or involuntary, lifelong or temporary, enables a person to be available to others and to God, their Creator, in ways that married people cannot always manage. Rightly, the spouse puts their other half and their family above other obligations, and may have to say ‘no’ to interesting opportunities. That is one way to make the earth holy. Cheerfully accepted and faithfully lived celibacy gives different freedoms and different crosses, and it too makes the world holy by living out the Golden Rule.
Let’s thank the Lord for the contribution of faithful brothers and sisters living the celibate way in community or as singles, and pray that they may be happy and fruitful in their way of life, their following of Jesus’ footsteps.
There has been many a battle within the Church, as well as in wider society, to persuade people to accept and treat those with learning difficulties as full and equal members. In the 1980’s and later we were still facing priests who refused to admit children to the sacraments ‘because, bless him, he doesn’t need it, he’s not reached the age of reason. He’ll never understand.’ (As if anyone fully understands the Eucharist at a rational level.)
A sister I once knew was catechist to a boy who had little spoken language; she prepared him for First Communion until the day before, when she brought along an unconsecrated wafer to enact the moment of receiving the Host. He held out his hands with such reverence; he made his First Communion there and then, she said.
That story came to mind when I read this passage from Archbishop Williams’s latest book. Regular readers will know that Agnellus’ Mirror is very fond of L’Arche. It’s good to find insights from someone else. I pray that we in L’Arche may always be consistent and life-sustaining.
It is essential for us to think about the ‘rationality’ of those we stigmatise, patronise, ignore and exclude whose mental capacity is not what we define as ‘normal’. The response of gratitude, affection, human sensitivity, ability to relate and cooperate that is visible, for example, in members of the L’Arche communities, where people with significant learning challenges live alongside those who do not have such challenges, should make us hesitate about defining the limits of ‘rationality’ without reference to such relational qualities. We may begin to see ‘reasoning’ as a richly analogical term, with an application to any form of consistent and life-sustaining adjustment to the environment, human and non-human.
From ‘Looking east in winter, contemporary thought and the Eastern Christian tradition’, Rowan WIlliams, London, Bloomsbury Continuum, 2021.
This month Pope Francis invites us to pray for religious sisters and consecrated women
We pray for religious sisters and consecrated women; thanking them for their mission and their courage; may they continue to find new responses to the challenges of our times.
Religious sisters have always found new responses to the challenges of their times, but they have not always been supported as they should have been by clergy or lay people. The sisters shown above were handing over their work to local sisters and lay people; we have seen how lay catholics have taken charge of schools in England and Wales that were founded in grinding poverty in the 19th Century.
Let us join Pope Francis in thanking God – and the sisters – for their often heroic work and pray that the Spirit may lead them by quiet waters or amid th’encircling gloom.
I recommend the Global Sisters Report a free news web site which tells of the work and lives of sisters throughout the world. I understand there may be more wisdom from our own Sister Clare in GSR this year.
Are you worried about the coming year? Are you happy to be alive? What would make you happy? Are you grateful for your existence? Chesterton calls us to learn from Saint Francis how to accept life as a gift from our Creator.
The full and final spirit in which we should turn to St. Francis is the spirit of thanks for what he has done. He was above all things a great giver; and he cared chiefly for the best kind of giving which is called thanksgiving. If another great man wrote a grammar of assent, he may well be said to have written a grammar of acceptance; a grammar of gratitude. He understood down to its very depths the theory of thanks; and its depths are a bottomless abyss. He knew that the praise of God stands on its strongest ground when it stands on nothing. He knew that we can best measure the towering miracle of the mere fact of existence if we realise that but for some strange mercy we should not even exist.”
From “Saint Francis of Assisi: The Life and Times of St. Francis” by G. K. Chesterton.
Knowing myself beloved
and so glorified of God Almighty in another world,
I ought to honour Him in this always, and to aspire to it.
At midnight will I rise to give thanks unto Thee
because of Thy righteous judgements.
Seven times a day will I praise Thee,
for Thy glorious mercy.
Early in the morning will I bless Thee,
I will triumph in Thy works,
I will delight in Thy law day and night;
at evening will I praise Thee.
I will ever be speaking of Thy marvellous acts,
I will tell of Thy greatness,
and talk of the glorious majesty of Thy excellent Kingdom;
these things ought ever to breathe in our souls.
“Knowing myself beloved” – how many of us would dare to start writing with such a bold statement? Knowing implies more than just holding an opinion, or feeling optimistic of getting to heaven to be glorified in that other world. It’s a knowledge that transcends how Traherne feels. He may be tired, hurt or ill, but he will praise God regardless of how he himself feels today. He may feel quite different tomorrow but that does not alter God’s greatness, nor his glory, nor his kindness to humans.
Traherne used the Psalms in composing this reflection. They form the basis of the Church’s seven prayers a day, which can be found free on-line at universalis.com for anyone wishing to pray them.
(Apologies that this reflection has fallen out of sequence. Sometimes a more topical piece turns up and things get moved around.)
No rainbow without sunshine! The Skye bridge is a new gateway to the isles.
Over the coming weeks, we will be introducing prayers and reflections from Alistair Maclean’s Hebridean Altars, pearls he harvested from the people of the Isles, a hundred years and more ago. This Island Girl’s prayer fits neatly into our sideways look at vocation in the everyday, as well as belonging in this month’s postings.
This day, I say to myself,
is Thy love-gift to me.
White with the purity of Thy mind,
I take it, Lord, from Thy hand,
and, for the wonder of it,
I give Thee thanks.
Make me busy in Thy service
throughout its hours,
yet not so busy that I cannot sing
a happy song.
And may the South wind
blow its tenderness through my heart
so that I may bear myself gently to all.
And may the sunshine of it
pass into my thoughts,
so that each shall be
a picture of Thy thought,
and noble and right.