Tag Archives: Wales

January 8: Delight

open-hands-prayer

Delight has empty hands.

These four words come from the Welsh poet Vernon Watkins, a friend of Dylan Thomas who rated him highly.

In our heart we know they are true. Watkins’s poem tells us that even a miser ‘knows delight has empty hands.’ Here we see Jesus taking Adam by the hand, and Adam clasping Eve’s: the triumph on the Lord’s face, Adam’s clear delight and Eve’s quiet acceptance of her redemption.

Delight has empty hands;

hands that can give, receive, take another’s hand, leading amid th’encircling gloom.

What must I drop in order to delight in being God’s redeemed creature?

strasbg.harrowhell (505x394)

See: The Collected Poems of Vernon Watkins, Ipswich, Golgonooza Press, 2000, p9.

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16 December: His saving hope.

hands pray dove

This is one of those pictures that say a thousand words. It is in Saint David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. Last time we were there, one of the canons was addressing a group of schoolchildren in Welsh, but this sculpture could speak in any language including its own.

Try holding your hands that way, and you’ll see that if they belong to one person, it is the viewer, and the dove is looking you in the eye; and the dove is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. Of course, for the vast majority of us, for the overwhelming proportion of our time, we do not see such a sign of God when we pray. Is it all wishful thinking? Paul addressed the question in his letter to the Romans (8:24-28).

We are saved by hope. But hope that is seen, is not hope. For what a man seeth, why doth he hope for? But if we hope for that which we see not, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God. And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints.

Instead of racking our brains for the right words to pray with, let the Spirit utter our feelings and desires – the hopes and fears of all our years.

Between gurgles, crying, eye contact and all body movements, my new grandson conveys his needs and desires efficiently enough for his adults to jump to meet them. He prays as he ought, to make known his hopes, needs and love.

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7 December: Passion flower III, close to home.

passion.flower.st.dunstan

We reflected on the passion flower story back in June and in November last year, after we’d spotted gravestones in Chartham with carvings of them, and again on the capital of a column at a doorway in St Thomas’ church, Canterbury. This one, well, let’s say it’s very close to home, but I only found it thanks to Chartham.

A few weeks ago the L’Arche  Kent community, with friends and relations on weekend vacations, did a 3 mile sponsored walk – we sponsored ourselves – from Chartham to Canterbury, in particular from Saint Mary’s church, Chartham to Saint Dunstan’s church in Canterbury. My companion and I had time for a coffee on arrival before joining the others, so I had my eyes open walking through the graveyard. And:

Here’s a passion flower, flanked by a daffodil and a rose, with blooms above that I’ve not yet identified. The rose for Saint George and England, the daffodil for Saint David and Wales, and the passion flower? This is how we concluded last year’s post:

When you see a passionflower let it remind you that Jesus is real, his death was real, as indeed will ours be – but so, too, will our rising. And when you see a passionflower on a gravestone, send us a picture to put in the blog!

The rest of that post, describing the story told  by the passion flower, can be found here.

Thank you for following Agnellus Mirror or just looking in and reflecting with us.

Will Turnstone and Co.

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16 November: The ruined chapel

ruined chapel

This derelict chapel is lost in the Herefordshire countryside. The church at nearby Richard’s Castle is no longer in regular use for worship. Has God abandoned the Marches (the Welsh/English border country) or have the Marches abandoned God?

It’s more complex than that. People have gone. Farm work is done mechanically; the railways that employed thousands have closed or greatly reduced the number of workers, and so on. But also people have indeed turned away from Sunday worship.

This chapel was built around 1810 by local people who responded to the Methodist Revival led by the Wesleys. They wanted to live the Christian life more fully and when they were cold-shouldered by the established Church of England, they erected chapels that look as much like dwelling places as churches. Other  groups were also building ‘dissenting’ chapels, like the Baptists and Congregationalists. One of my ancestors is believed to have ministered at Bethel Chapel in nearby Evenjobb, across the border in Wales.

It is a shame to see the building abandoned, the lawn gone to nettles, brambles, and buttercups – we can welcome the buttercups, but the others will soon be preventing people from entering. It is unloved. Perhaps no descendants of the worshippers live nearby, or they don’t know about the chapel, perhaps they don’t care.

So do we Christians pack up and go home? Or do we try to tune ourselves to Christ, live as he would do, in season or out of season?

In a final plug for Rowan WIlliams’s  Luminaries, a few words from his reflection on Archbishop Michael Ramsey.

You’re free to offer God’s love quite independently of your own security or success. Sometimes the world may be in tune and sometimes not; sometimes there is a real symbiosis, sometimes a violent collision. But the labour continues, simply because the rightness of the service does not depend on what the world thinks it wants and whether the world believes it has got what it needs from the Church. (p116).

 

 

 

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27 October, Month of Mission: Prayer of Blessing.

hands pray dove.JPG

My catechism told me that: ‘prayer is the raising of the heart and mind to God.’ Short and sweet, but insufficient. This prayer from USPG, the Anglican missionary society, shows that we should raise all our being and the whole of creation to God – and let our prayer work within us to discern and carry out our mission of forgiveness and healing to all people, all creation. And as Saint Paul tells us, it is the Spirit that prays in us.

Blessed be God in the joy of creation.
Blessed be God in the sending of Jesus.
Blessed be God in the work of the Spirit.
Blessed be God in martyr and saint.
Blessed be God in the spread of the gospel
to every race
and every land.
Blessed be God in the church of our day
in its preaching and witness
and its treasures of grace.
Blessed be God who has called us to mission
who forgives and who heals
and is strength in our weakness.
USPG

Carving from Saint David’s Cathedral, Pembroke.

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23 September: Riding the rails

 

train.steaam. bettws

Now four years old, Abel was enchanted when he came to the miniature railway at Bettws-y-coed.* Since he was tiny, unable to walk or speak in words, his fascination with trains has been clear. He would lean in the direction of his local station when being pushed home in his pram, hoping to direct his mother thither.

Full sized trains go places and can be sorted by colour and shape, but they are formidably big. One day a train that grandfather cannot sit upright in turned out to be the right size for Abel. Most of the elements of a railway were in evidence: rails, steam and diesel locos, signals, points, level crossings and bells. Abel felt aggrieved when the signal was red as he passed it, but relaxed when he observed the next light change from green to red as the locomotive pulled the carriages by. I can remember my father explaining this very phenomenon to me on the approach to Birmingham New Street!

Abel was quite right to be concerned. Partly because he likes things to be correct, but also he is aware of the dangers of level crossings and other parts of the railway. His toy trains often crash and rescue services swiftly descend upon the scene.

Despite the inherent dangers, a well-run railway is safe; disciplined staff know their jobs and do them well, thoughtfully rather than mechanically.

A disciplined life is open to the grace that gets us through many dangers, toils and snares, and grace will lead us safely home.  All Aboard!

*http://www.conwyrailwaymuseum.co.uk/

 

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September 20: Guests of the house.

footwash

I took advantage of a family holiday in North Wales to read ‘The Summer of the Danes’ by Ellis Peters in the area where the action takes place. Here Brothers Cadfael and Mark arrive at Saint Asaph to be greeted and shown to a room.

‘I’ll send someone with water,’ said their guide … and he was gone.

‘Water?’ said Mark, pondering this first and apparently essential courtesy. ‘Is that by way of taking salt, here in Wales?’

‘No, lad. A people that goes mostly afoot knows the value of feet and the dust and aches of travel. They bring water for us to bathe our feet. It is a graceful way of asking: Are you meaning to bide overnight? If we refuse it, we intend only a brief visit in courtesy. If we accept it, we are guests of the house from that moment.’

Helleth, who comes to do this service, is almost the only woman but a central character in the story of power and piracy, secular and ecclesiastical. Ellis Peters uses 13th Century Wales to explore the role of women in society, love and marriage; war- and peace-making; marriage of the clergy; feudal authority and loyalty; and Welsh identity, all within a page-turning mystery. As so often the book is better than the TV programme. You’ll find it for sale on-line.

The Welsh did not initiate this rite, of course, but I believe it was a Welshman, Archbishop Rowan Williams, who reintroduced the Maundy Thursday ceremony to Canterbury Cathedral. You can read about a participant’s experience of the washing of feet in Canterbury here. and about an updated response to this tradition here. This is Rev Jo Richards’ reflection on Holy Week. This reflection links the Station of Veronica to Jesus washing Peter’s feet.

One evening on holiday I ended up giving Abel a bit more than a foot wash after he slipped on slimy mud at the seashore, a service gladly given! There are many such little occasions to provide for each others needs.

 

 

 

 

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24 May. Pilgrimage to Canterbury MMXIX, IV. Walking around Wales: a book review. (Relics XVI)

Before any planning for our walk, I read a book about pilgrimage. Anne Hayward’s A Pilgrimage Around Wales is subtitled in search of a significant conversation.1 Mrs Hayward set herself to have a significant conversation each day of her walk. In his foreword the Archbishop of Wales points out that the significant conversation can be a silent exchange with the people who made the place holy. He recalls a visit to Saint Peter’s in Rome, and being taken down to the niche holding the relics – beyond reasonable doubt those of the fisherman himself. ‘The presence of the Apostle, the witness of the Apostle, the courage of the Apostle, the love of the Apostle for the Lord, and much, much more were all around in an unspoken conversation.’(p7)

Measuring the significance of a conversation is surely impossible. Significant to me, or to the Other? At the end of her three months’ tramp, Mrs Hayward counted up more than 150 names of people she had such conversations with. That is not counting the conversations Archbishop Davies points us to, in the stones and windows of the churches she visited. (I wish she had identified some of the places, to let others find them.) She travelled alone, camping most nights; we will be in a group, with maybe 60 or 70 people walking anything from 100 metres to the full distance. A few people may camp out once or twice.

Tyndale the terrier will walk rather more than the rest of us. He may hold significant conversations with other dogs who leave messages for him, or who pick up his trail marks. We will hold conversations with each other, in words, in linked arms, or held hands, or a shared mint.

Mrs Hayward had conversations with bereaved people, worried mothers, campsite wardens, young hikers and churchwardens, among many others. We can expect significant conversations with the Lord that Peter loved, in song, in silence, in weariness, in landscape and seascape, in sky, tree, river and road. Even a ‘thank you’ to a bus driver may feel very significant at the end of a long walk!

She had but herself to consider when planning her walks, her rests, her meals, we must bear in mind the needs of all our walkers and riders in wheelchairs, buses, cars or trains. Different pilgrimages. Whether you want to walk around Wales or make for Rome or Canterbury, God speed! And any day’s journey can be a pilgrimage, if you remember to pray, ‘Stay with us, Lord.’ Anne Hayward’s book could help a would-be pilgrim to be clearer about the journey. A very human book, and a book for the armchair pilgrim as well as the footsore one. More about ours soon.

1Anne Hayward, A Pilgrimage Around Wales: in search of a significant conversation, Y Lolfa, Talybont, 2018.

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3 March: Margaret’s Story – as shared by L’Arche Flintshire.

‘I’ve been a part of the Community in Flintshire for a long time. For the last few years I have represented Flintshire on the L’Arche National Speaking Council. This means that occasionally I get to go off to meet up with other Communities and report back what I find out to the group here in Flintshire. 

Two years ago I went to Belgium on an inclusion course and performed a short presentation. From that I got to go to Belfast for the international [L’Arche] gathering. I came up with a workshop for about twelve people. [They were] all my ideas. We played ‘we’re going on a bear hunt’ but instead it was ‘we’re going on a house hunt’ and it was about all the places I’ve been to with L’Arche.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to meet and know people from the other Communities. I’ve had lots of invitations from people to come and visit– I haven’t managed to go to them all yet, but I’m hoping to. I love L’Arche.

Before L’Arche I was very quiet, although I bet everyone would probably disagree. It’s given me a lot of confidence in myself. I’m a different person. It’s helped me through so much.

L’Arche gives us a chance to feel part of a community. We help each other to grow. We are a friendly group. If we have any sadness or any happiness we all stick together as one. We just lost one of our core members, but everybody is sticking together. We all brought each other up from that.

L’Arche offers the world an awful lot of things. With Jean Vanier doing what he did – just taking two people into his home and from then all of a sudden you go from one Community to 135. It’s a brilliant worldwide thing that we are all in one boat. It doesn’t matter where we come from. We are all one in the boat.’

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January 13: Christ’s interest.

dawn

Mrs Turnstone delights in the fact that on this day, the light of the Sun is first seen in Greenland, the first sign of Spring in the North. When Hopkins lived in North Wales there were no street lights, and anyone moving after nightfall needed a lantern. At least there was peace, and ‘who goes there?’ need not have been spoken in fear.

I am blest that she who goes there is indeed rare, and that ‘Christ minds’ her and me and you, dear reader.

The Lantern Out of Doors by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Sometimes a lantern moves along the night,
That interests our eyes. And who goes there?
I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where,
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light?

Men go by me whom either beauty bright
In mould or mind or what not else makes rare:
They rain against our much-thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite.

Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.

Christ minds: , what to avow or amend
There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kínd,
Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.

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Filed under Daily Reflections, poetry, Spring, winter