Silence can be a moment of revelation, writes Eddie Gilmore of the Irish chaplaincy. Here’s a paragraph from his reflection, where a hike across Wales opened that possibility to him. As ever, the whole article is worth reflecting upon, but here’s that taster.
When I was fourteen I was on a school trip to North Wales and we were hiking one day across the high and remote moorland when the guide asked us to stop dead still and to listen. Having grown up in a city, and in a house where my sister liked to have Radio 1 playing all the time, and where the TV was usually on non-stop, it was probably the first time I had heard that sound of silence. And what an amazing sound it was. It lasted just a few seconds before some of the others started giggling but it was a little moment of revelation for me.
What revelation could we receive if we stopped the noise for a few minutes? That said, I used to find silence following a noisy lawnmower around some extensive grounds, part of my mind concentrating on the machine and the grass, the rest, eventually turning to silence.There are many entries to the bliss of solitude.
This poster from Saint David’s Cathedral welcomes the ‘Accidental Pilgrim’. Let us reflect on the times we have become that accidental pilgrim, when a place or person spoke to us unexpectedly. Saint David’s is one of those ‘thin places’ where eternity can feel closer, if not at the Cathedral then by Saint Non’s chapel and well, along the coastal path, or the foundations of the Celtic monastery at Whitesands. The last mile into Canterbury, likewise is downhill from Harbledown with its holy well.
Where will your pilgrimage shrine be today? Are you on holiday? Make space for a holy five minutes. Notice and seize the moment of grace and be sure to reflect in quiet later.
Apologies for the poor focus, especially on the Welsh language leaf! I shall have to go back and retake the photo.
These bishops were ascetics and hard-working Pastors, and would have enjoyed this Lenten feast. It’s easy to make, cheap and tasty.
David, whose feast was yesterday, was born around 500, well before Augustine came to Canterbury to convert the English. The Welsh were already Christian and civilised. David founded a monastery where his Cathedral now stands, a pleasant walk from his birthplace, close by where his mother, Saint Nôn’s, well still flows. Water was all David drank: he ate just bread with herbs. Onions, leeks and garlic count as herbs, and surely so do peas. Was there a word for vegetarian in the sixth century, I wonder?
A century later, Chad was a civilised Saxon. He came to Lichfield in 669 from Lindisfarne by way of York; he is patron of the ancient Diocese of Lichfield as well as the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham. He lived a short distance from today’s Cathedral with its three spires and beautiful Lady Chapel. The area is rich in springs, one of them feeds Saint Chad’s Well. Here Chad would pray, and here he baptised his converts. Here stands the Church in his name.
Although he was only bishop for three years before he died of the plague on this day in 672, Chad so looked after his diocese, as Bede tells us, that he was soon declared a saint. Chad was known and loved for visiting on foot, and smoothing relations with the local British Christians, diplomatic where Augustine had been imperious. Saint Chad’s cathedral in Birmingham houses his relics, saved from destruction by local recusant families. Lichfield has a precious fragment of his tomb, a Saxon angel found under the cathedral floor.
This Pea Soup would suit both David and Chad. The pea-souper fogs of my childhood in Birmingham meant School sent us home early, to feel our way by the gas lamps. Chad would have known the gentler mists that envelop Lichfield and the Trent Valley to this day.
Birmingham Pea Soup
Clean and chop up a leek, a big carrot and a celery stick. Put them into a big pan with 250 gm of split peas – use green or better yellow, the colour of the fog; 2 bay leaves, pepper and salt, a teaspoon each of ginger, coriander and paprika. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, and push onto the back burner for an hour or so, before liquidising the soup. It will have the consistency of the air in old Birmingham on a foggy March evening. Serve with crusty bread, or croutons.
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 nowL’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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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.
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.
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.
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
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.
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.
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.
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.