Tag Archives: Wales

6 December: An Advent Message from Paul at L’Arche.

Raindrops at L’Arche Kent, November 2022.

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Dear Janet & Maurice 

I’m Paul, the Chair of the National Speaking Council in L’Arche, where I make sure people with learning disabilities get to say what they want. This Advent I’d like to share my message with you.

I like to do stuff. In Brecon, I make candles with Beacons Creative, I have a gardening job, mowing the lawns and planting, and I work in L’Arche’s Rebound Books workshop.

When I was in my twenties, I was in care homes. I was lonely and unhappy. I just sat on a chair like everyone else, watching TV, smoking like a trooper. If L’Arche wasn’t there, I’d either be in hospital or some other kind of care home today. I’ll be sharing my story later in Advent. Donate now L’Arche costs money. We need buildings for workshops and for people to live in, with gardens to look after and perhaps a little garage. We need to pay people. And we need to pay for get-togethers and parties, where we can meet our friends and have a laugh and a disco.

In L’Arche, everyone makes each other happy and cheery and safe. But we don’t have much money and we would like people to donate, to keep L’Arche going and make everyone happy. Would you give us a little donation?

Happy Christmas and have a happy new year.Paul Jones
L’Arche Brecon Member and Chair of the National Speaking Council Donate now Social care is going through a crisis of funding and vision. We want L’Arche to be a beacon for brilliant care and life-giving community in Britain, supporting hundreds more people like Paul. But we cannot do it without your support. Please give a gift to L’Arche this Advent.
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October 27: Dylan’s Birthday

The view from Dylan Thomas’s study, Laugharne.

There was nothing God ever made that Dylan Thomas, the revolutionary, wanted to alter. The careful compounder of explosive imagery believed only in calm … The true tragedy of Dylan Thomas’s death is that he died. Everything else is secondary to that … He had the faculty of immediacy, of making everything present, and of becoming a part of people’s lives almost before he knew them; how much more did he do this when he knew them well.

Vernon Watkins on Dylan Thomas, from Tenby Museum and Art Gallery.

Vernon Watkins was a friend of Dylan Thomas from boyhood, when they encouraged each other’s writing. Watkins saw the man struggling beneath the chaos of Dylan’s life and remained his friend : even after Dylan failed to appear for Vernon’s wedding, when he was chosen as best man.

‘He had the faculty of … making everything present’, as we can gather for ourselves as we read his work. In Elegy he confidingly brings us to the bedside of his dying father, and shares the thoughts coursing through his mind as he keeps vigil, night and day, holding the hand of that cold kind man. Dylan’s faith that his father may grow young again and never lie lost drives the poem. It is truly a love poem.

Elegy

Too proud to die; broken and blind he died
The darkest way, and did not turn away,
A cold kind man brave in his narrow pride

On that darkest day, Oh, forever may
He lie lightly, at last, on the last, crossed
Hill, under the grass, in love, and there grow

Young among the long flocks, and never lie lost
Or still all the numberless days of his death, though
Above all he longed for his mother’s breast

Which was rest and dust, and in the kind ground
The darkest justice of death, blind and unblessed.
Let him find no rest but be fathered and found,

I prayed in the crouching room, by his blind bed,
In the muted house, one minute before
Noon, and night, and light. the rivers of the dead

Veined his poor hand I held, and I saw
Through his unseeing eyes to the roots of the sea.
(An old tormented man three-quarters blind,

I am not too proud to cry that He and he
Will never never go out of my mind.
All his bones crying, and poor in all but pain,

Being innocent, he dreaded that he died
Hating his God, but what he was was plain:
An old kind man brave in his burning pride.

The sticks of the house were his; his books he owned.
Even as a baby he had never cried;
Nor did he now, save to his secret wound.

Out of his eyes I saw the last light glide.
Here among the liught of the lording sky
An old man is with me where I go

Walking in the meadows of his son’s eye
On whom a world of ills came down like snow.
He cried as he died, fearing at last the spheres’

Last sound, the world going out without a breath:
Too proud to cry, too frail to check the tears,
And caught between two nights, blindness and death.

O deepest wound of all that he should die
On that darkest day. oh, he could hide
The tears out of his eyes, too proud to cry.

Until I die he will not leave my side.)

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21 July: Another view of eternity.

Yesterday we advocated butterfly’s days: no set agenda, no targets, no business, no busy-ness. Today we open the Book of Common Prayer to read a collect that is complementary to Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘The Butterfly’s Day’. It makes explicit that we are passing through this life, and need God’s guidance and rule to survive passing through things temporal, but we can keep a hold on things eternal with Our Father’s mercy.

Our picture from Saint David’s Cathedral invites us to be still – Emily might say ‘idle’. And knowing that Our Father is God will follow; we will be given a hold on things eternal

O God, the protector of all who trust in you,
without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:
increase and multiply upon us your mercy;
that with you as our ruler and guide
we may so pass through things temporal
that we lose not our hold on things eternal;
grant this, heavenly Father,
for our Lord Jesus Christ's sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.


			

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7 July: Know that I am God; Feast of the Translation of Saint Thomas of Canterbury.

Chapel of Saint Thomas of Canterbury, St David’s Cathedral.

Be still, and know that I am God:
I will be exalted among the heathen,
I will be exalted in the earth.

Psalm 46:10.

The text on the reading desk in Saint Thomas’s chapel invites us to compose ourselves, to be calm as we come before God. This is a quiet corner of Saint David’s Cathedral in Wales, but the saint it celebrates did not live a quiet life. Perhaps he had plenty of time to be still in God’s presence while he was in exile from England after disputes with the King, who wanted more control over the Church.

Archbishop Thomas, however, could not agree to this. God did not depend on earthly kings for his greatness: he was not and is not a tame god, working for a narrow national interest.

Be still, and know that I am God:
I will be exalted among the heathen,
I will be exalted in the earth.

In the stillness of his heart, Thomas accepted this and refused to be King Henry’s puppet. His martyrdom in his own Cathedral of Canterbury was the consequence of exalting God over his earthly lord.

This is the feast of the Translation of Saint Thomas – the day in 1220 when his bones were ‘translated’ to the new shrine in Canterbury Cathedral, and a better day for pilgrims to travel than late December, when he died.

Let us pray for the Church under persecution in so many parts of the world. And pray, too, for the Bishops of the Anglican Communion, gathered for their Conference, and for unity among all Christians, as Jesus prayed. AMEN.

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27 June. My vocation today XVII: Gwen John, artist.

Mere Marie Poussepin by Gwen John, 1876-1939.

Gwen John was from Pembrokeshire in West Wales. Her more famous brother, Augustus, was also an artist. Gwen studied art in London and in Paris, becoming the lover of the much older sculptor Rodin; hardly a woman with a vocation, you might feel. Yet as her passionate affair with him came to an end, she was received into the Catholic Church and lived a quite solitary life with her cats, which she often painted.

She began writing meditations and prayers; she wanted to be a saint and God’s little artist: ‘My religion and my art, they are my life’, she is quoted as saying by Tenby Museum and gallery.

About 1913, to oblige the Dominican Sisters of Charity at Meudon, she began a series of painted portraits of their founder Mere Marie Poussepin, based on a prayer card.

In Meudon she lived in solitude, except for her cats. In an undated letter she wrote, “I should like to go and live somewhere where I met nobody I know till I am so strong that people and things could not effect me beyond reason.” She wished also to avoid family ties (“I think the family has had its day. We don’t go to Heaven in families now but one by one”) and her decision to live in France after 1903 may have been partly to escape the overpowering personality of her famous brother.

Art was her vocation, and perhaps something of an obsession; or should we say she was single-minded? Previous generations would have revered her as a repentant sinner, a term most likely to be used of a woman who had abandoned promiscuous ways. It was not so cut and dried as that. Just look at this self portrait, and it appears that her vocation was to question, to seek. to record what she saw, and to go back and begin her search again.

‘My religion and my art, they are my life’.

self portrait.

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17 June: Traherne XLVII

The immensity of God is an eternal tabernacle. 
Why then we should not be sensible of that as much as of our dwellings, I cannot tell, 
unless our corruption and sensuality destroy us. 
We ought always to feel, admire, and walk in it. 
It is more clearly objected to the eye of the soul, 
than our castles and palaces to the eye of the body. 
Those accidental buildings may be thrown down, 
or we may be taken from them, 
but this can never be removed, 
it abideth for ever. 
It is impossible not to be within it, 
nay, to be so surrounded as evermore to be in the centre and midst of it.

From Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditations.

Tabernacle here means a tent, in particular the Tent of Meeting in Exodus, where the Lord was present to his people in a special way. Objected to means something like ‘aimed at’ rather than disputed or negated. So God’s immensity is aimed at the eye of the soul, to impress and attract it, like an earthly palace or castle that we may be attracted to visit. But no rebel baron or oppressive king will ever throw down our heavenly home.

This ancient tomb has long ago been stripped of its treasures; people now walk past it without a glance, whereas originally it would have stood out in the Welsh coastal countryside.

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14 June: and yet …

Aberdaron Beach, below the church where RS Thomas was parish priest.

Yesterday, it seemed to me, the Anglican priest Thomas Traherne made the consolations of the spiritual life seem so readily available. Today, it seems as though those consolations can be very distant, beyond my grasp. My go-to bard for such moments of faithful doubt is another Anglican priest, the Welsh poet, RS Thomas. You could open his Collected Poems* almost at random and find the wrangled wisdom of a faithful doubter, a committed questioner. Faith, as to be fair Traherne said the other day, demands effort. Here is an extract from RS’s poem Inside.

... Inside me, 
stalactite and stalagmite,
ideas have formed and become
rigid. To the crowd 
I am all outside.
To the pot-holing few there is a way
in along passages that become
narrower and narrower,
that lead to the chamber
too low to stand up in,
where the breath condenses
to the cold and locationless
cloud we call truth. It 
is where I think.

Ideas have formed and become rigid: it’s the rigidity that stifles us. And then when RS Thomas reaches the chamber at the centre of his being he is forced to his knees. This is the ‘cloud we call truth’, and there will be times when we are given a glimpse of the light that lies beyond, sometimes through thought and meditation, sometimes as pure, unexpected, inexplicable gift.

The children building sand castles in the rain at Aberdaron were enjoying the moment together, despite the cold cloud raining over them. Let’s pray for the grace to live in the moment and to live in hope and truth.

*R.S. Thomas, Collected Poems, 1945-1990, London, Phoenix.

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7 June: The Month of the Sacred Heart.

1 O dearest Lord, thy sacred head
with thorns was pierced for me;
O pour thy blessing on my head
that I may think for thee.
2 O dearest Lord, thy sacred hands
with nails were pierced for me;
O shed thy blessing on my hands
that they may work for thee.
3 O dearest Lord, thy sacred feet
with nails were pierced for me;
O pour thy blessing on my feet
that they may follow thee.

4 O dearest Lord, thy sacred heart
with spear was pierced for me;
O pour thy Spirit in my heart
that I may live for thee.

I first heard this hymn at Canterbury Cathedral during Holy Week, and enjoyed its unsentimental simplicity and the fleshy images; this is a Jesus you could touch, as Thomas did. I’m glad to share ‘O dearest Lord’ with you in this Month of the Sacred Heart. May his blessing pour down over your head, hands, feet and heart as the sun pours down on the sea, the sand – and the people on the beach – in this picture from Wales.

Father Andrew, who wrote this hymn was a pioneering Anglican Franciscan, working in East London during World War II. Search through Agnellus Mirror for more of his reflections.

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5 June: Pentecost.

Saint David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire.
Direct, O Lord, our actions by thy inspiration 
and further them by thy continual help, 
that every prayer and work of ours may always begin from thee, 
and through thee may be happily ended. 
Through Christ our Lord. 
Amen.

This prayer was recited before his lessons by Mr Norris, history teacher at St John's College Southsea. It succinctly expresses what we have been circling around these last couple of days: our role as baptised Christians as co-creators of this Earth under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. 
Come, Holy Spirit!

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27 May: Saint Augustine of Canterbury.

There was a time when I felt in two minds about Augustine: Saint Augustine? Saint? Hmm. He was a most reluctant Missionary, delaying his departure from Rome to make his way across Europe in 596-597, and indeed, dilly-dallying on the way. But he did get here and began work with his community. He established the dioceses of Canterbury, Rochester and London, which exist to this day in the Church of England.

And then there was the incident when he remained seated to greet the British bishops who went to visit him. They saw this as grossly insulting. For all that, he founded a Church that has lasted.

Let us pray that we may become the missionaries that Gregory’s successor, Francis, calls us to be, and that, like Augustine, we may co-operate with God’s grace, thriving in our weakness.

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