Tag Archives: War

13 November, Readings from Mary Webb XXIII: The Night Sky (1916)

 

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Like Edward Thomas, Mary Webb was touched by the Great  War, even at a distance of hundreds of miles across the sea. She knew well that the flashes at the front were not soft lightnings with less stir than a gnat makes, but despite the scarlet wars taking the young men away, she draws our attention to quiet and calm. Our world is small and oftentimes too loud; too lit up by what we might call light noise. But in November, given clear skies, we may see the moon and stars before bedtime!

The moon, beyond her violet bars,
From towering heights of thunder-cloud,
Sheds calm upon our scarlet wars,
To soothe a world so small, so loud.
And little clouds like feathered spray,
Like rounded waves on summer seas,
Or frosted panes on a winter day,
Float in the dark blue silences.
Within their foam, transparent, white,
Like flashing fish the stars go by
Without a sound across the night.
In quietude and secrecy
The white, soft lightnings feel their way
To the boundless dark and back again,
With less stir than a gnat makes
In its little joy, its little pain.

Published out of numerical sequence to appear at Remembrance tide.

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12 November, Readings from Mary Webb XXII: The Lad out there.

 

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I had forgotten this war poem by Mary Webb. ‘So young he is, so dear to me’: this was not just written in sympathy for others, but from her own heart. Her three brothers enlisted, and one was gravely injured. Even so, if we cannot feel with those left behind, there is something wrong with us. Pray for all mothers, wives and families and friends worrying, worrying, at home, as well as the men and women on service.
Oh, Powers of Love, if still you lean
Above a world so black with hate,
Where yet–as it has ever been–
The loving heart is desolate,
Look down upon the lad I love,
(My brave lad, tramping through the mire)–
I cannot light his welcoming fire,
Light Thou the stars for him above!
Now nights are dark and mornings dim,
Let him in his long watching know
That I too count the minutes slow
And light the lamp of love for him.
The sight of death, the sleep forlorn,
The old homesickness vast and dumb–
Amid these things, so bravely borne,
Let my long thoughts about him come.
I see him in the weary file;
So young he is, so dear to me,
With ever-ready sympathy
And wistful eyes and cheerful smile.
However far he travels on,
Thought follows, like the willow-wren
That flies the stormy seas again
To lands where her delight is gone.
Whatever he may be or do
While absent far beyond my call,
Bring him, the long day’s march being through,
Safe home to me some evenfall!

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11 November: Deliver me from men of blood, O God.

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Good Pope John XXIII 

Remembrance Day, and there are wars still on God’s earth.

During most of the Second World War, Archbishop Angelo Roncalli,  the future Pope John XXIII was the pope’s representative in Istanbul, serving the Church in Turkey and Greece from a city where representatives of both sides could meet in secret. He had many diplomatic contacts and helped save many Jewish people from the death camps. He deplored the conflict and the currents of thought that engendered it and fed off it.

In his Journal of a Soul1 he reflects: 

The world is poisoned with morbid nationalism, built up on the basis of race and blood, in contradiction to the Gospel. In this matter especially, which is of burning topical interest, ‘deliver me from men of blood, O God.’ … Jesus our Saviour died for all nations, without distinction of race or blood, and became the first brother of the new human family, built on him and his Gospel…

The Holy Church which I represent is the mother of nations, all nations. Everyone with whom I come into contact must admire in the Pope’s representative that respect for the nationality of others, expressed with graciousness and mild judgements, which inspires universal trust. Great caution then, respectful silence, and courtesy on all occasions. It will be wise for me to insist on this line of conduct being followed by all my entourage, at home and outside. We are all more or less tainted with nationalism. The Apostolic Delegate must be, and must be seen to be, free from this contagion. May God help me.

May God help us to show respect and courtesy to all those we meet, and encourage others to do likewise. May he give us the peace the world cannot give!

1 John Paul XXIII (1965), Journal of a Soul, London Geoffrey Chapman.

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10 November: Remembrance 2019

 

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This is a view of Portsmouth from the sea. The monument on the left is the Naval Memorial, and this still is Navy town, though there are fewer ships and fewer sailors than in 1944, when the city was an important departure point for the D-Day Normandy Landings.

Back in June this year some the old men who took part in that action to liberate France and Europe returned with the British Legion, as well as their allied counterparts. The Legion’s Head of Remembrance, Nicholas Rowlands had been preparing the men for this last big commemoration in Normandy, and he told the i newspaper*:

A lot of their memories are, naturally, quite sad. But the ones that  they tend to connect with the most are the funny memories. You can see them go back to 1944 and they’re 19 years old again,  it’s lovely.

The tall Naval Memorial cannot be ignored; the deaths of soldiers, sailors and airmen, nurses and ambulance drivers must not be ignored, nor the suffering in the occupied countries, the concentration camps, and the continuing conflicts around the world today.

But the way the funny memories light up the veterans says something about the human spirit. We can find absurdity frightening, or we can look on it as something to be laughed at, to be smiled over in retrospect. Absurdity is a hint that there is peace of mind to be had somewhere. We can connect with that peace by acknowledging our sinfulness and frailties and by laughing absurdity and fear out of court.

* Rob Hastings, I-newspaper 4.6.19 p20

Portsmouth, an important departure point for the landings and for today’s peace time ferries.

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8 November: Praying with Pope Francis: Dialogue and Reconciliation

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Pope Francis’s Missionary Intention this month is:

Let us pray that a spirit of dialogue, encounter, and reconciliation may emerge in the Middle East, where diverse religious communities share their lives together.

What can I do with these stones? I could throw them at anyone who got too close to me or my possessions or my part of the beach.

I could use them to make a pathway in my garden, or across country for people to walk over. I could use them as filler in a drystone or concrete wall, providing shelter for people or beasts.

I could go down to the tideline and start a game of ducks and drakes, skimming them across the surface of the sea, splashing over the waves. People would hardly need an invitation to join in, the game is infectious. Like football (soccer) on a smaller scale. Every nation wants to be involved in the football World Cup even if they can barely hope to win one game.

Playing games, playing music, sharing meals together can help bring about a spirit of dialogue, encounter and reconciliation as much as high level talks between politicians who barely trust one another.

But even sport can be tainted by spectators’ hatred and racist abuse, when they could be admiring the beauty of the players’ skills, sharing the thrills of the game.

Is there room for God’s Spirit somewhere in there?

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7 November: Threading a yarn.

See the source image

 

As part of their Week of Retreat in Daily Life the L’Arche Kent Community asked me to  read a Hans Christian Andersen story: I chose the Darning Needle which you can read by following the link. It’s a story with a few morals to it which we talked about afterwards, including the dangers of pride and the fact that we all need each other.

We also talked about darning and mending rather than throwing away. I had with me a coat that was coming apart at the seams. G and E suggested in Makaton that I could sew it, which I did when the story was told, but the needle had been threaded and passed around during the telling. J showed his tailoring skills and awoke a memory, which I shared, of my mother doing as he did, measuring the working length of thread from nose to extended fingertips.

G suggested using a machine, which led to my telling about my wife’s machine – hand turned, not treadle as he signed. This had been given to her 40 years ago from the community’s surplus. It had belonged to a friend of L’Arche in those early days, who was glad to see it in a good home. She could never use it; it was all that remained of her own home, which was destroyed in the Blitz, her family within it.

When I got home I realised another story could have been told. The yarn J threaded was branded ‘winfield’ – in lower case. It had come from Woolworth’s, via my wife’s mother’s mending basket, purchased perhaps in the 1970s. But thereby would hang yet another tale.

No man, or woman, is an island!

 

 

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October 7: Extraordinary Month of Mission: True Religion.

Laying foundations for an orphanage building in Rwanda.

This post is adapted from the Missionaries of Africa site in the USA, but it is not about them; no it tells of brave Rwandan women seeing a need and working to fill it. Fr Denis P. Pringle introduces them.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure is this: to care for widows and orphans in their distress . . . .”

James 1: 27


These days, a lot of people seem to be discussing what it means to be “religious” — to have a belief in God that is demonstrated through words and actions. Even those of us who consider ourselves “spiritual, but not religious” search for ways to express our relationship with that which is sacred. Two thousand years ago, things weren’t much different among the first Christians. One of the first followers of Jesus, St. James, wrote a letter in which he offers guidance on what “true religion” is. He felt that few things are more important than caring for those who are less fortunate than ourselves — particularly widows and orphans. That is still the case today.

In societies where there are no government support services for the poor — widows and orphans are among those most urgently in need. Many live without basic necessities such as food, water, medical care and adequate housing.

Recently, one of our missionaries, Fr. Simplice Traore, wrote to ask if there is some way we can help the widows and orphans in Kigali, Rwanda, where he lives and works.

“During the Rwandan genocide in 1994,” Fr. Simplice writes, “a young woman began reaching out to women whose husbands had been killed and little children whose parents had been murdered during that tragic time. This young woman became like a mother to the orphans that she gathered. As time went by, the number of orphans increased tremendously — especially since she was taking good care of them. Unfortunately, though, she did not have the resources needed to continue her work. She was all alone. That was 25 years ago.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Since then, more than 100 other women have joined her and they are now officially a congregation of religious Sisters dedicated to serving poor widows and orphans. What a gift these Sisters are!”

“As I write this letter to you, the Sisters are working hard to construct a building where orphan children can live. The need for housing for orphans is critical in this community.

Unfortunately, the Sisters — themselves having little income — do not have the funds to pay any construction costs. They have been able to acquire a piece of land where a building will be constructed and local people are even willing to help with the labour — but still no one has money to pay for the building.

To learn more about the Missionaries of Africa, here are a couple of addresses:

In the UK: https://www.missionariesofafrica.org.uk/

In the US: http://www.missionariesofafrica.org/support-africa/how-to-help/

We are hoping that you can help us. Whatever you can give will give all of us hope for a better future for these children.

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2 October, The Franciscans come to Mount Alvernia V: All through the night

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While his companions slept in the ruined church, Saint Francis threw himself on his knees to pray; and behold in the first watch of the night there come a great multitude of demons, exceeding fierce, with a great noise and tumult, and began to do him grievous battle whereby the one plucked him this way and the other one dragged him up and another down; one threatened him with one thing, and the other accused him of another; and thus they sought to distract him from his prayer; but they could not, for that God was with him.

Therefore whenas Saint Francis had enough endured the assaults of the demons, he began to cry in a loud voice: “O damned spirits, ye can do naught, save what the hand of God alloweth you: wherefore in the name of God Almighty I bid you do unto my body whatever is permitted you of God; for gladly shall I bear it, sith I have no greater enemy than my body: and therefore if you avenge me of mine enemy, ye will do me good service.” Then the demons with great fury and violence took hold of him, and began to drag him through the church, and to do him greater trouble and annoy than at the first.

Thereat Saint Francis began to cry aloud, and said: “My Lord Jesu Christ, I give Thee thanks for the great honour and charity that Thou showest me ; for it is a token of great love when the Lord punishes His servant for all his faults in this world, so that he be not punished in the next. And I am ready gladly to endure every pain and adversity, that Thou, my God, dost will to send me for my sins.”

Then the demons, put to confusion and vanquished by his patience and endurance, were away,
And Saint Francis in fervour of spirit left the church and entered into a wood that was there hard by, and threw himself upon his knees, in prayer; and with prayers and tears and beating of the breast he sought to find Jesu Christ, the spouse and the delight of his soul. And at the last finding Him in the secret places of his soul, he now bespake Him with reverence as his Lord, now made answer to Him as his judge, now besought Him as his father, now held converse with Him as with a friend.

I won’t attempt to diagnose away the experiences Francis’s companions witnessed in that dark night in the ruined church. But at the end he held converse with Jesus as a friend. May we do so in our turn.

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18 September: Y is for York

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York Minster, as the Cathedral is known, was built over the remains of the Roman Garrison. It was here in the year 306 than Constantine was proclaimed Emperor. This late 20th Century statue shows the Emperor dressed for battle, gazing at his broken sword.

The hilt or handle of the sword forms a cross with the blade. In hoc signo vinces – in this sign you will conquer – were the words that accompanied Constantine’s vision of a cross in the sky before the decisive victory that took him from contender for the throne to acknowledged Emperor of Rome.

Constantine, seventeen centuries on, seems to us more of an action man than a contemplative, but if his adoption of Christianity as the religion of the Empire was politically expedient, it must also have spoken to his heart. We can follow his gaze and, looking at the broken sword, ask ourselves under what sign, what banner do we strive? Which Kingdom do we serve? What are we aiming for? And how would we recognise victory? Are we like the man in the background, too busy on our phones to stop and stare? Let’s look at the broken sword and say:

We adore Thee O Christ and we praise  Thee, because by thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world. Amen.

MMB.

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17 September: X is for Exeter

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A city that was badly bombed during World War II, that has lost its town centre shipping, though the quays are in demand for filming; a beautiful old cathedral, the river inviting you to follow it down to the sea at Exmouth; the beautiful and fertile Devon countryside … all this you can find in the guide books.

My brother and sister-in-law’s allotment garden is not in the guide books, but you can find it … if you know where to look.

Here they grow their fruit and vegetables. When we visited we were invited to join the harvest, and a couple of hours later to sit down and enjoy the results. Which we gladly did. It helps that both of them are professional chefs, but they are also generous hosts. We don’t see enough of them.

I’m afraid the photograph of their allotment and shed disappeared between computers and memory sticks, so here is a harvest breakfast with Kentish rather than Devon fare. And here below a harvest loaf. Not as good as my brother’s efforts in past years, but I’ve already been asked to make one for this autumn.

harvest18.2 loaf

A reminder to pray for the farmers in these uncertain times, to thank God for our families and friends, and to share our blessings.

 

 

 

 

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