Tag Archives: Wales

17 July: F is for Fishguard

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What is it about Docks and Ports? Dover, East End of London, and now Fishguard? Things happen there, as they do at railway stations.

Fishguard, one of the ports to go to Ireland, is tucked into this rocky Welsh shore, not far from St David’s. I introduced readers to the late John Byrne a year ago last month; he was a highly respected Irish railway modeller.

He was also a retired sea captain. When we were in Pembrokeshire I sent him a photo of the Ferry arriving in port; he recognised her at once, saying she was not built for the Irish Sea and the Atlantic swells, but for the enclosed Mediterranean  or the Baltic, and gave many a rough ride when the wind was up.

I wonder how it was for Saint Nôn and her son David, forced into exile when he was little, voyaging on a tiny boat across the very sea that John’s big ship was so ill-equipped for?

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Let us remember in our prayers all those in peril on the sea, especially those trying to cross the Mediterranean in flimsy boats. Like the one used to make the Lampedusa Cross. And remember, too, the crews who spend months at sea, rarely able to call home, ill-paid, forgotten by us consumers who depend on their hard work. crososososo1450655040

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12 May: Reflection: The river of life

river.monnow. 

I remember spending a week in the house of a friend, on the bank of the river Monnow, in the Welsh borders. The sky arches over rich pastureland and rising hills. As the light of day fades, bats tumble and spin across the darkening sky. And night and day the river runs, playing over the rocks and shaping the land. I remember and am stilled by the sound of that river. The river is movement and presence: always new, yet older by far than I who hear it.

The prophet Ezekiel, writing in exile from his homeland, wrote of another river, flowing from the Temple, the dwelling place of God:

water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple…and it was a river that could not be crossed…This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river flows, every living creature that swarms will live…everything will live where the river goes. On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food…their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.

  Ezekiel 47

The river of the life of God brings life to the place of death and decay; it is always creative, fruitful and medicinal.

Perhaps one way of thinking about the incarnation is as the pouring out of the life of God into all being like Ezekiel’s river. This river of the Word made flesh flows not only through green pastures but desert places, and because of the river, barren wastelands live. Because of Christ’s life, suffering, dying and rising there is no place of human struggle and despair where the river of hope will not and does not flow. This does not mean that we do not continue to experience pain, or no longer struggle to make sense of suffering. Christ still feels the pain of nails in his hands and the rejection of those who had been his followers; yet Christ is also risen, the tombstone rolled definitively away. In the Gospel of John, as Jesus dies, blood and water flow from his side. This moment of death is also the outpouring of life. A river flows.

The river always runs, and we are caught up in its flow; more than this, through the gift of God we discover this same river flowing within us. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman:

If only you knew what God is offering…you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water…Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again; but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again; the water that I shall give will turn into a spring within, welling up to eternal life.

John 4: 10-14

It was at night, when the last sheep call faded into the twilight, and the earth stilled that I heard most clearly the river running. Not that it wasn’t always flowing, but the sounds of the day, and the noise of my own activity prevented me from hearing it clearly. There are moments in the world of here and now when we hear the river flowing within all things and know this same river is the source of our own being, becoming and giving.

The river flows from the Temple of God, and sometimes, sometimes even at night, we hear it running. Wherever the river flows, through our own meanness and narrowness of heart, through the pain of loss or cruelty of others, unexpected trees grow with fruit for healing: – for our own easing, and to be shared with others.

CC.

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May 5: Where Love Can Learn

 

I’ll have a garden full of flowers,
With many a corner-place;
Where love can learn from spiders’ webs
To make her mats of lace.

Since 1 March was Ash Wednesday this year, we missed out on  Saint David’s day. But let’s remember him now. David of Wales was very keen on little things: ‘Do the little things well’, he told his followers on his deathbed, so we offer another little verse from the Welsh poet W.H. Davies.  A garden verse, since it was in a garden that our first parents were brought together; it was in a garden that Christ was buried; in a garden that Mary met him on Easter morning.

The garden on the left, lacy with long stems, feathered leaves and daisy flowers was sown with English wild flowers on land that had lain neglected for years; the Easter Garden with its first little flowers of the year around the tiny empty tomb, we found in Northumberland, a country that knew the influence of the Celtic Christianity that formed David.

As Spring tempts out a new array of flowers, let’s continue  to look and learn; at ourselves, yes, but also at the world God has entrusted to us: Laudato si’!

MMB.

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April 9th, Palm Sunday 2017: Shropshire Daffodils

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Wordsworth may have the fame when it comes to daffodils in verse, but in Shropshire last Spring we saw drifts of daffodils beside the roads, beneath the hedges, shining along the footpath edges … apologies; William is too easily parodied.

But I wondered why such county-wide devotion to a Welsh emblem: surely not love of the western neighbour? Rather love of the flower itself, and its defiance of lingering resistance from Winter’s rearguard winds.

And then I picked up Houseman, and these lines from A Shropshire Lad:

The boys are up the woods with day
To fetch the daffodils away,
And home at noonday from the hills
They bring no dearth of daffodils.
Afield for palms the girls repair,
And sure enough the palms are there,
And each will find by hedge or pond
Her waving silver-tufted wand.
In farm and field through all the shire
The eye beholds the heart’s desire;
Ah, let not only mine be vain,
For lovers should be loved again.

 

The girls’ palms are of course the pussy willow, whose ‘silver-tufted wands’ set off the Easter daffodils so splendidly in the vase.

How good to be reminded, even by the morbid Houseman, to link our native flora and ourselves, to the ‘Hebrew children’ who went to meet the Lord carrying olive branches, and singing ‘Hosanna!’

Pueri Hebraeorum, portantes ramos olivarum, obviaverunt Domino, clamantes et dicentes, Hosanna in Excelsis.

The Hebrew children, carrying olive branches, went out to meet the Lord, shouting out and saying, ‘Hosanna in the highest!’

WT.

Sheet music and recording of ‘Pueri Hebraeorum’

 

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Review: The Methodist Art Collection comes to town.

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When we were first married we worshipped in a village Methodist Church near Margate; an austere little chapel it was, whitewashed walls and uncomfortable benches. Thank God we did not have to sit under hour long nineteenth century non-conformist sermons, but were fed with wise words from Fr Martin Symonds, of Ramsgate Abbey.

That was more than a few years ago, but the austere image of Methodism is fixed in my mind, which expects churches to be bathed in coloured light from stained glass windows and peopled by statues of the saints who have gone before us.

Not all windows or statues in English Catholic churches would merit inclusion in a travelling art exhibition.

The Methodist Church has built up a collection of modern art, largely looking at Jesus, in one way or another. You can view the works here: http://www.methodist.org.uk/prayer-and-worship/mmac/index . The website will lead you to videos and other resources around these images.

Instead of hanging on church walls, the collection is sent out to proclaim the Good News in its own way; through exhibitions around the UK and in the future to Dublin, Rome and beyond. Until Saint George’s Day 2017 it is in Canterbury’s Beaney Museum.

Not all the images inspire me to ‘prayer and worship’, but I am hard-wired to David Jones, represented here by a delicate woodblock of The Three Kings, passing a David Jones signature passion-resurrection image: a war-blasted tree-cum-cross, sprouting new growth. The Magi approach a starlit Bethlehem amid Welsh hills that bring to mind a woman’s torso and raised knees at the moment of childbirth: the star’s rays beam down like a searchlight upon the haven where the Child lies, under the hill within his Mother’s womb.

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Next to Jones’s tiny, monochrome image hangs The Dalit Madonna, a big, bright work by Jyoti Sahi. While this glorious work picks up themes from Eastern and Western European tradition, such as the sun and moon in the sky, and the Babe blessing from the womb, the artist integrates these with his own Indian culture. The sun is represented by a marigold; the moon by a crescent, including Hinduism and Islam in this birth. Then the Infant is seated within an oval reminiscent of the traditional mandala of Eastern icons, yet despite his foetal position and naturalistic drawing, he is clearly blessing the viewer; he is strong but clearly dependent on his mother, who bends her body in worship and protection, her breast ready to comfort and nurture. Many Catholic preachers would tell you that Mary, who conceived Jesus before her marriage, would have been considered an outcast; an untouchable like this Dalit mother, a radiant human being who clearly loves her son, the centre of her world and being. And how many unwed mothers were condemned by the Catholic Church in recent times?

The one Old Testament story on view here is that of Cain and Abel. We could be among Jones’s Welsh hills, or the Lake District, or even the Downs of the Isle of Wight where John Reilly lived and worked. Cain is a stocky, almost Calibanesque figure, at work within the pale he has set around his neat, well-ordered, smallholding. He pauses in his digging to stare up at his brother, a slim, radiant type of the Good Shepherd, who like Abel would be killed by his own. Suddenly that spade looks menacing: a ploughshare about to become a sword. And yet one cannot help a twinge of sympathy for one who wants his world to be under control, without any disturbing incursions from his brother’s nomadic flocks; that brother who stands nearby with eyes for the far horizon, not for him.

The Lord’s eyes, too, are on a far horizon in Christ writes in the dust – the woman taken in adultery by Clive Hicks Jenkins. In a nightmare of blues, Jesus is almost cartwheeling as, with arms outstretched as on the Cross, he looks away from the scene, away from the woman and her accusers, away from us bystanders looking on. The woman, with her Magdalenesque red hair, high heels and little black dress, is bound, as Christ soon would be, a halter around her throat.The light that glows upon her skin is reflected from Christ, apart from the tiny white triangle of her underwear, visible beneath her skirt which she cannot pull down with her hands tied behind her back. It takes a few moments to see that her accusers already have rocks in their hands, awaiting the moment when Christ’s assent to her killing is given. A moment that never comes. Would we back these men up, if we were there? Were these the men who stoned Stephen? Was Paul among them? Was this the first step on the road to Damascus?

Go and sin no more, Jesus told that woman. A good motto for the Christian life.

Even in the first two pictures reviewed here, the effects of sin creep in: the tree from Flanders, the outcast mother. We see the sin in Cain’s illusory self-sufficiency and his inherent jealousy; loud and clear in those shadowy, self-righteous stones, poised for murder. But like Jones’s three kings, each of us can follow the star, which leads us to a fleshly, humble place. The damage of our sinfulness will not prevent the Cross from being the tree of Life.

If you get the chance to see this exhibition on its travels, do spend some time with a few of the works. Others among them may speak to you louder than these four have done to me. Stop, look, listen.

MMB

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Dark is a creative time

It’s St David’s Eve. The Welsh side of this blog insists that the Bible black dark is not to be feared as Lord is creating all through the night. Laudato Si’!

Fr James Kurzynski’s mother confirms this for us in this story of his recent visit home. Enjoy the story of turn right at the cow

WT

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26 February: The Most Natural Thing in the World.

heart

Continuing with Father Andrew SDC.

It is to me a comfort to think that the most natural thing in the whole world is also the most supernatural, and that is love.

The Life and Letters of Father Andrew, p159.

And turning now to the Welsh poet, W.H. Davies, to amplify that thought.

Love is a staff, and Love’s a rod,
A wise man and a fool;
I thought that I was wise, until
Love sent me back to school.

The Song of Love IV, 1926.

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Let’s pray for the humility to go back to school and learn from those we meet. God loves us, ‘supernaturally’ as we used to say, through their natural love for us, whether as spouse, parent, child, friend, or the one who smiles at us in the ticket office.

MMB.

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A week with Rabindranath Tagore: V

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That I exist is a perpetual surprise which is life.

Stray Birds XXII

Or in the words of the Welsh Poet W.H. Davies:

Good Morning Life and all things glad and beautiful.

I fully realise that for you, reader, maybe this is not the way you feel today. Certainly not ‘all things glad and beautiful.’ WHD knew suffering as a tramp, an amputee and a homeless hostel dweller before he was helped to become a full time writer. ‘What is this life if full of care …’ was written from experience.

‘… we have no time to stand and stare?’ Davies continues. It is no bad discipline to make time to stand and stare at any moment, or sit and reflect at day’s end. There is never a day without something to be grateful for: a smile, a star, sunshine on waves, an unseasonably early flower, dust motes dancing in a beam of light. And more small mercies to come tomorrow.

May the Lord grant us a quiet night and a perfect end. Amen.

 

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14 January: Robin and Angel keeping watch.

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Here is Robin, watching the back door from our old Welsh angel. This stone came from St Tydfil’s churchyard in Wales. I was working on the clearing of this ground some years ago and rescued this slab of forest stone from the bulldozer and the skip.

The angel has guarded our comings and our goings since we moved to this house. If we don’t make a daily conscious prayer of thanks for God’s protection on our home, we once and for all made a concrete prayer when we put the stone on the wall.

And robin is welcome to our protection too, in the shape of a few crumbs but also a dense ivy hedge that offers protection for nesting and for roosting – and a few insects and slugs for food.

Visit, we beseech thee, O Lord, this place, and drive from it all the snares of the enemy; let thy holy angels dwell herein to preserve us in peace; and may thy blessing be upon us evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

MMB

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November 8: Saint Winifride and the Crutches.

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Plowden Church, Shropshire: Saint Winifride with her Holy Well and pilgrims’ crutches.
  • ‘… Why then, do you want a photograph of our Saint Winifride?’
  • ‘Because she has her crutches. I wanted to show them as part of a blog about sacrifice.’
  • ‘I’m still not following you.’

I was at an unfamiliar church in the Border country, Saint Walburga’s in Plowden, discussing the theology of sacrifice and of art with a new acquaintance. Such encounters help to clarify the mind:

  • ‘I was also thinking of Saint Omer, where the tomb of Saint Erkembolde[1] is covered with children’s shoes. He was a missionary who tramped around Northern France and so became patron for people with foot problems. They leave a token of their child as a sign of their prayer. And so with the crutches and Winifride. I wanted to get away from the image of Abraham raising the knife to Isaac, and look at sacrifice in the everyday.’
  • ‘Now you are making sense. I like the idea of the everyday sacrifices.’

The crutches at Saint Winifride’s well represent real, if not everyday events: not everyone is cured at Holywell; nor was everyone cured at Bethesda (John 5). But the crutches represent realities: each of us will need crutches, physical or mental, from time to time; each will need help to walk in the way of the Lord (Psalm 116). For the one who offered a crutch at Holywell it maybe represented a concrete prayer of thanksgiving; for us today it is a sign of everyday needs, physical and spiritual, that we can admit to and offer to the Lord.

For thou hast delivered my soul from death,
mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.
I will walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.

Ps 116: 8-9.

Winifride, of course, was one of those remarkable women leaders of the Church in these Islands in the allegedly ‘Dark Ages’, like Walburga herself, and Eanswythe of Folkestone.[1]

[1] See Blog posts for 22 April 2016, 4 July 2016, 7 July 2016.

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