Soon amid the inviolable places Will green, rustling steeples chime again With the sweet, glassy bell-notes of the wren. Soon the plain shall lie beneath blue spaces– Bold and broad and ruddy in the sun, Long and lean to the moon when day is done.
Soon will come the strange, heart-lifting season When through the dark, still dawns, where nothing was, Steals the mysterious whisper of growing grass; And a joy like pain possesses the soul, without reason, Between the budding of day and the lapse of night, With the clear, cold scent of wet starlight.
‘Soon’: a word of promise. Observe the signs of the times: the wren singing amid the brambles, the red, ploughed soil, blue sky. Soon will come joy so intense it hurts. Let’s try to see the signs of the times this Lent, and look out for Easter Joy.
From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. (Matthew 24:33)
Sometimes we have to trust that the dawn will come, despite the seemingly endless dark night. The orchid and bluebells in the picture were putting out roots through the winter to be able to flower in the Spring.
The night was far advanced. I closed the book with a bang and flung it on the table. Then I blew out the lamp with the idea of turning into bed. No sooner had I done so than, through the open windows, the moonlight burst into the room, with a shock of surprise. That little bit of a lamp had been sneering drily at me, like some Mephistopheles: and that tiniest sneer had screened off this infinite light of joy issuing forth from the deep love which is in all the world.
What, forsooth, had I been looking for in the empty wordiness of the book? There was the very thing itself, filling the skies, silently waiting for me outside, all these hours! If I had gone off to bed leaving the shutters closed, and thus missed this vision, it would have stayed there all the same without any protest against the mocking lamp inside.
Even if I had remained blind to it all my life,—letting the lamp triumph to the end,—till for the last time I went darkling to bed,—even then the moon would have still been there, sweetly smiling, unperturbed and unobtrusive, waiting for me as she has throughout the ages.
From Glimpses of Bengal Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore
And we conceal the stars and dim the moon with our wasteful lighting of homes, workplaces and streets. Once again Tagore’s reflections chime in with my Christian sensibilities. I was first introduced to him by my mother, who heard of him from a Cistercian monk.
While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must wait till grief be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it.
From Life of Johnson, Volume 3 1776-1780″ by James Boswell.
It can be difficult to get alongside someone grieving. We want to take the pain away, but our attempts at comfort are rejected, quite possibly irritably. Johnson lost his wife young and never remarried; she had been the love of his life. Although he was a thoughtful, believing Christian, he was acutely aware of his own sinfulness, and had to make an effort to accept that God’s forgiveness was indeed extended to himself. He was melancholic and understood all too well how well-meant kind words can sound like hollow platitudes.
Waiting till grief is digested does not mean shunning a bereaved relative or friend, but something like a waiter in a restaurant: attentive waiting, not fussing. A hard role sometimes.
Tomorrow we remember Saints Peter and Paul, apostles. Peter famously tried to persuade Jesus not to go to Jerusalem and his cruel death; he eventually followed Jesus to his own violent death in Rome. Here Emily Dickinson remembers a natural death which yet ‘made nature different.’
May the Lord grant us a quiet night and a perfect end. Amen.
The last night that she lived,
It was a common night,
Except the dying; this to us
Made nature different.
We noticed smallest things, —
Things overlooked before,
By this great light upon our minds
Italicized, as 't were.
That others could exist
While she must finish quite,
A jealousy for her arose
So nearly infinite.
We waited while she passed;
It was a narrow time,
Too jostled were our souls to speak,
At length the notice came.
She mentioned, and forgot;
Then lightly as a reed
Bent to the water, shivered scarce,
Consented, and was dead.
And we, we placed the hair,
And drew the head erect;
And then an awful leisure was,
Our faith to regulate.
from Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete.
Today’s post is from The Imitation of Christ, chapter LI. I thought we might look at a traditional work on the Christian life while developing the subject of ‘my vocation today’. Any of us who carry out even the most cursory examination of conscience know only too well that we must bear the burden of this daily life and suffer weariness and heaviness of heart. And there just is not the time or opportunity to give myself unceasingly to spiritual exercises and divine contemplation. Someone has to do the necessary tasks around the home or go out to work to be able to feed the family. It can get to be drudgery at times, but let’s get on with our humble, outward works, and Christ will come to us and give us peace among the cooking, gardening, washing and nappy-changing; and in the toils of work that is not always fun.
The Imitation imagines what we could hear from
THE VOICE OF CHRIST
MY CHILD, you cannot always continue in the more fervent desire of virtue, or remain in the higher stage of contemplation, but because of humanity’s sin you must sometimes descend to lower things and bear the burden of this corruptible life, albeit unwillingly and wearily.
As long as you wear a mortal body you will suffer weariness and heaviness of heart. You ought, therefore, to bewail in the flesh the burden of the flesh which keeps you from giving yourself unceasingly to spiritual exercises and divine contemplation.
In such condition, it is well for you to apply yourself to humble, outward works and to refresh yourself in good deeds, to await with unshaken confidence My heavenly visitation, patiently to bear your exile and dryness of mind until you are again visited by Me and freed of all anxieties. For I will cause you to forget your labours and to enjoy inward quiet. I will spread before you the open fields of the Scriptures, so that with an open heart you may begin to advance in the way of My commandments. And you will say: the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the future glory which shall be revealed to us.
Yesterday, Tim; today his mother, Sheila, brings a poet’s eye to the face mask and what it might teach us, now and when we can discard them (and please, not on the street!) Thank you again, Sheila for your artist’s wisdom.
Will we remember that we're beautiful?
When, masks discarded, hands once more held out,
Will we remember - beauty born - oh! Beauty born,
Made by Beauty to be beautiful.
Will we recall when the wrinkles show once more, how smiles light up that beauty,
When mouths now visible
May kiss and speak in beauty?
In tenderness, you made it so, in praise, in song?
Will we have forgotten the gentleness of touch?
The scent of the winter's buried spring,
Still masked, but waiting.
Rorate Cœli desuper, et nubes pluant Justum. Aperiatur Terra, et germinet Salvatorem. *
No sudden thing of glory and fear Was the Lord’s coming; but the dear Slow Nature’s days followed each other To form the Saviour from his Mother —One of the children of the year.
The earth, the rain, received the trust, —The sun and dews, to frame the Just. He drew his daily life from these, According to his own decrees Who makes man from the fertile dust.
Sweet summer and the winter wild, These brought him forth, the Undefiled. The happy Springs renewed again His daily bread, the growing grain, The food and raiment of the Child.
From “Poems” by Alice Meynell.
*Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened, and bud forth a saviour: Isaiah 45.8
Alice Meynell was a mother herself. I’m not sure what she meant by saying he was one of the children of the year, but it brings to mind school uniforms and new friendships between children and perhaps their parents and grandparents too. No longer shunned as the child conceived before marriage, since he is that nice John’s cousin or my Simon’s best friend. Get rid of prejudice and we can begin to see Jesus in each one of the people we find ourselves sharing time and space with.
From Rev Jo Richards’ morning updates for the Benefice of St Dunstan, St Mildred and St Peter, Canterbury. Parish life goes on, despite not getting to choose and see the path. Thank you, Jo, for permission to share your reflections.
Good morning everyone, hope all continue to keep well, as we are here.
Just back from a funeral – this is really tough on so many families, with the social distancing and limited numbers, as it is in so many different spheres of life.
Today I will be reviewing various documents from CofE re cleaning churches and social distancing regulations prior to any further guidance about opening our churches. Nothing further to note, but as and when we are told, we need to be prepared to the best of our ability. That sense of waiting is good to reflect upon, it gives us patience and time to process things. In our ‘normal busy lives’ that sense of patiently waiting can be easily put to one side – that must have now attitude, rather than waiting, and being patient. Looking in the Bible, folk were waiting in the wilderness, and again in exile from Jerusalem. Time and time again people have waited, as we do now, but the time can be well spent – listening to the eulogy at the funeral this morning – make the most of each and every day, whatever it may bring, each and every day is a gift from God.
God Bless you all. and do keep praying, keep connected, and keep safe.
I wonder what does the Ascension of Christ mean to you? For some we have that picture, often depicted in art, with Jesus’ feet disappearing up into the clouds; of the post-resurrection Jesus no longer being physically present with the disciples, as he returns to his Father in heaven. But the disciples were not left alone, they were told to wait in the city, to then be “clothed from with power from in high”; I am sure they must have wondered what Jesus meant, but as ever they were obedient to his words. That must have been such a rollercoaster 40 days for them, since Easter Day; as it is for many of us today, but as we journey together through this we too anticipate Pentecost … in the meantime we have the novena, 9 days of prayer to look forward to.
God Bless and keep safe, keep connected and keep praying.
Rev Jo Richards, rector, Saint Mildred’s, Canterbury.
Upper Photo by CD, from the Chapel of the Franciscan Minoresses, Derbyshire; Lower Photo, MMB, priest’s vesting table, Church of Jesus in the Attic, Amsterdam. A reminder to pray for the Spirit before preaching.
Pope Francis’s mission prayer for February is: We pray that the cries of our migrant brothers and sisters, victims of criminal trafficking, may be heard and considered.
Pope Francis made a point of visiting Lampedusa within days of becoming Pope. That is the Italian island, close to the North African shore, where many migrant ships and boats have landed. The cross is one fashioned by an Italian artist from the timbers of such a boat, stranded on the island, its battered paint reminding us of the dangers of even such a short crossing.
The Colombian artist Oscar Murillo created this scene of waiting migrants for the 2019 Turner Prize exhibition in Magate, Kent. In a darkened room that would overlook the sea if a blackout curtain was not there, they sit in rows, waiting. Is it a church they are in, with its wooden benches, or a run-down station waiting room? Either should be a safe place, but it’s clear that this is not: the benches have been hacked about, and that only recently.
The three men on the right hand end of the benches seem to be listening: listening to someone or listening for someone? Are they waiting for a foreman’s call to work, one day at a time, or for the train to take them where they can earn for their families back home? Imagine your own stories.
The two women on the front row have been eviscerated, their wombs and vital organs replaced by lengths of what looks like stainless steel waste gas ducting.
Hands pressed hard against the bench, the figures are ready to move, but where to? Each one is isolated in his or her own suffering, yet they form a group in our eyes. But let us remember that they stand for individual human beings with families and loved ones who may be anxious over them, hearing no news from the waiting room, the salle des pas perdus as the French have it, the place of lost footsteps. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here?