Tag Archives: War

11 November: The Victory

The grave of a Royal Marine from the Great War, 1914-18.

I was led to Robert Southey’s poem which follows, by this paragraph from one of Charles Lamb’s letters to him. Lamb offers some observations to his friend:

I think you are too apt to conclude faintly, with some cold moral, as in the end of the poem called “The Victory”— “Be thou her comforter, who art the widow’s friend;” a single common-place line of comfort, which bears no proportion in weight or number to the many lines which describe suffering. This is to convert religion into mediocre feelings, which should burn, and glow, and tremble. A moral should be wrought into the body and soul, the matter and tendency, of a poem, not tagged to the end, like a “God send the good ship into harbour,” at the conclusion of our bills of lading.

The Letters of Charles and Mary Lamb

A bill of lading is a list of all a ship’s cargo agreed between the Master of the vessel and the shipping line. A little prayer at the end could be sincere or just a form of words, though there was plenty of peril on the sea in those days. But here is Southey’s The Victory. Lawful violence would be the press gang, a posse of sailors who were allowed to abduct men off the street to serve in the wars against Napoleon and other enemies.

I disagree with Lamb on this. I sense the same anger as in Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et decorum est of a century or so later, with the poem building towards its final ferocious prayer which was meant to change human hearts. What do you think?

The Victory

Hark–how the church-bells thundering harmony
Stuns the glad ear! tidings of joy have come,
Good tidings of great joy! two gallant ships
Met on the element,–they met, they fought
A desperate fight!–good tidings of great joy!
Old England triumphed! yet another day
Of glory for the ruler of the waves!
For those who fell, ’twas in their country’s cause,
They have their passing paragraphs of praise
And are forgotten.
There was one who died
In that day’s glory, whose obscurer name
No proud historian’s page will chronicle.
Peace to his honest soul! I read his name,
‘Twas in the list of slaughter, and blest God
The sound was not familiar to mine ear.
But it was told me after that this man
Was one whom lawful violence had forced
From his own home and wife and little ones,
Who by his labour lived; that he was one
Whose uncorrupted heart could keenly feel
A husband’s love, a father’s anxiousness,
That from the wages of his toil he fed
The distant dear ones, and would talk of them
At midnight when he trod the silent deck
With him he valued, talk of them, of joys
That he had known–oh God! and of the hour
When they should meet again, till his full heart
His manly heart at last would overflow
Even like a child’s with very tenderness.
Peace to his honest spirit! suddenly
It came, and merciful the ball of death,
For it came suddenly and shattered him,
And left no moment’s agonising thought
On those he loved so well.
He ocean deep
Now lies at rest. Be Thou her comforter
Who art the widow’s friend! Man does not know
What a cold sickness made her blood run back
When first she heard the tidings of the fight;
Man does not know with what a dreadful hope
She listened to the names of those who died,
Man does not know, or knowing will not heed,
With what an agony of tenderness
She gazed upon her children, and beheld
His image who was gone. Oh God! be thou
Her comforter who art the widow’s friend!

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8 November: Say you have lost a friend.

To Irushka at the Coming of War by Frank Thompson

If you should hear my name among those killed,
Say you have lost a friend, half man, half boy,
Who, if the years had spared him might have built
Within him courage strength and harmony.
Uncouth and garrulous his tangled mind,
Seething with warm ideas of truth and light,
His help was worthless. Yet had fate been kind
He might have learned to steel himself and fight.
He thought he loved you. By what right could he
Claim such high praise, who only felt his frame
Riddled with burning lead, and failed to see
His own false pride behind the barrel’s flame?
Say you have lost a friend and then forget.
Stronger and truer ones are with you yet.

Frank Thompson went to war as a young man after his first year at university. He ended up with partisan fighters in Bulgaria, where he was captured by the Nazis and murdered together with his Bulgarian comrades. Irushka was Iris Murdoch, his beloved.

The poem is not about Irushka at all, but about himself, ‘Seething with warm ideas of truth and light’, enough to send him to war in the romantic spirit of Rupert Brooke. It hardly mattered that he would be killed, ‘his help was worthless’. No question in this poem of the rights or wrongs of Nations going to war, nor his duty or otherwise to go there and steel himself to fight against physical deprivation as well as the enemy.

War as romantic but empty of meaning, only false pride.

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2 October: A Franciscan Bishop on Peacemaking

Peace starts at home

We will soon be celebrating Saint Francis’s feast day. His motto was Pax et Bonum, Peace and Goodness be with you. What does this mean? Not shallow sweetness; it means hard work, following Jesus in prayer, community and service.

For Saint Francis it also meant working for peace, each one in his or her own heart and their local community, as well as looking at the bigger picture, as when he went to meet the sultan. The American Franciscan bishop John Stowe recently celebrated the half century of Pax Christi in the USA with this challenging article from National Catholic Reporter. Do follow the link to read it. Here is a short extract.

As we observe this golden jubilee of Pax Christi USA, we continue to long for the realization of Isaiah’s vision of swords and spears becoming instruments for cultivation of food. But we do not wait idly, we contribute to the building of that peaceable kingdom which Jesus inaugurated with his death and resurrection. We cultivate inwardly and demonstrate outwardly that peace which was breathed by the Risen Christ upon the apostles.

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25 September: Season of Creation, Blood upon the Rose.

Godshill, IoW.

I was looking for posts to mark the Season of Creation – which starts on 1 September, the Day of Prayer for Creation, and ends on 4 October, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology beloved by many Christian denominations. This poem leapt off the page.

I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.
I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice—and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words. All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.

Joseph Plunkett

I learned that Joseph Plunkett was one of those who signed the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and he was executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising.

Shortly before his execution on May 4 1916, he married his fiancée, Grace Gifford, in the jail’s chapel. Plunkett was just 28 years old.

There are multiple painful contradictions here. How to reconcile Plunkett the poet of creation with Plunkett the man of violence against other men, created by God?

Meanwhile, when Plunkett was fighting for an Irish Republic, other young Irishmen were signing up to the British Army to fight the Kaiser. Their recruitment was not necessarily an exercise in honesty on the part of the authorities.

When I chose the Godshill Lily Cross to head this post I was forgetting that in the churchyard there is the grave of

THOMAS FRANCIS O’NEILL
A SOLDIER OF THE KINGDOM OF IRELAND
WHO DIED OCTOBER 18TH 1918
AGED 35 YEARS
R.I.P.

DULCE ET DECORUM EST PRO PATRIA MORI

So, not every Irishman agreed with Plunkett. Thomas O’Neill saw things differently as his widow recorded on his memorial (but why did she erect this stone rather than the standard white Portland stone for War Graves?)

The Latin verse is another irony: ‘sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country’, an irony picked up by another poet, Wilfred Owen, who saw many men endure painful ends before dying himself in the last days of the War. Violence in Ireland continued for many years, and is not yet about to be forgotten or totally set aside.

Let us pray for peace, the peace implied in Plunkett’s words, peace on earth to people of good will, and peace to all creatures that share this world with humanity.

He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. Isaiah 2:4.

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10 August: Living in the light II

From a Pax Christi prayer car

This is a second extract from Archbishop Wester’s pastoral letter on nuclear weapons. He is Scriptural and concretely contemporary, challenging us to think, pray and act.

It is interesting to note that shortly after Jesus commanded His disciples to love their enemies, according to Luke’s account (9:54-55), they asked if they could kill their enemies. They wanted to call down hellfire from heaven on their enemies, as Elijah did. This passage is particularly important for us here in New Mexico . . .

One Samaritan village refused to welcome Jesus because He was heading toward Jerusalem where their enemies, the Judeans, lived. When James and John heard this, they asked Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” (Luke 9:54). Jesus had just commanded them to practice universal love and creative nonviolence, to love even their enemies, yet here they were—ready to kill their enemies. They preferred the teachings of the prophet Elijah, who called down fire from heaven and killed his enemies. 

Luke says simply, “Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village,” (9:55). 

Jesus rebuked the disciples because they wanted to call down fire from heaven. He absolutely forbids even the thought of it. He rejects violence of all kinds, including retaliation and warfare. He will not tolerate it among His followers. Jesus wants us to be as nonviolent and loving as He is, come what may. We are not allowed to kill people. 

Two thousand years later, here in New Mexico, we not only want to call down hellfire from heaven, but we have also actually built the most destructive weapons in history to do it, and then we used them to kill hundreds of thousands of sisters and brothers in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since then, we have built tens of thousands of more nuclear weapons that can destroy the entire human race. We have surpassed James and John, who wanted to call down hellfire from heaven. We have done this and continue to prepare to do this.

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9 August: Living in the Light I

From a Pax Christi prayer card.

Within the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, are massive research and production facilities for nuclear weapons. Archbishop John Webster has given time to reflect on the presence of such destructive power in his diocese, culminating in a Pastoral Letter he issued earlier this year, which can be read here. We publish two extracts today and tomorrow, since it was at this time of year that the nuclear bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The whole document makes for interesting, but challenging, reading.

In September 2017, I travelled to Japan and visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was a sombre, sobering experience as I realised that on August 6, 1945, humanity crossed the line into the darkness of the nuclear age. We can now kill billions of people instantly and even destroy the world in a flash. 

The reality of this evil becomes very real as you walk through Hiroshima and Nagasaki today. In one exhibit, I read about school children in Hiroshima who, on that fateful morning in August 1945, ran to the windows, attracted by a bright light. I wonder how many were running to their deaths, either instantaneously incinerated or dying later in agonising pain. Normally, light brings new life and clearer vision. Not that day. Sadly, the light generated by the first nuclear explosion used in war brought only destruction and death. 

Then I remembered when I was a schoolboy in October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I recall looking up at the sky on my way home from school to see if any Russian planes were about to drop atomic bombs on me. I became so frightened that I ran all the way home. 

Those Japanese school children had no time to be afraid. They had no time to run and there was no home left to run to. Later, when I walked through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and stood before the incinerated Genbaku Dome, it dawned on me that I had not really thought about the possibility of nuclear war since then or felt fear over the nuclear threat. Those childhood days when we practised for nuclear war by hiding under our desks or locating the nearest bomb shelter are dim memories. But Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought them all back vividly.

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25 July: A Child’s Grace

Thank you God, for Father’s hand.
Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat,
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God, for everything.
                                                      Edith Leatham

in 1937 Ernest Claxton published a photograph album by Harold Burdekin based on this grace, all six verses illustrated by scenes from childhood in soft photogravure.* He wrote: ‘This simple grace … is so full of praise, so beautiful, that it at once brings home the joyful message of the Giver of all good things.

‘Natural and happy hours in a child’s life may be linked up with the realisation of God’s love. If this is done at an early age, children will learn to know that He is a loving Father.’

Two years on, children were being evacuated to the countryside from London and other cities; similar scenes were played out across Europe. The war in Ukraine is by no means the first since then with families forced into refuge away from home, away from their native land.

At this holiday time, let us pray for the wisdom to know how to bring natural and happy hours to the lives of children in our families, among our neighbours, at home and across the world.

*E. E. Claxton, H Burdekin (photographer), A Child’s Grace, London, Dent, 1937;

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17 July: Calamities in Sussex

The forest can reclaim industrial land.

Here is E.V. Lucas in the Sussex woodlands more than a century ago. The iron trade moved North as iron and coal mining techniques evolved during the Industrial Revolution. But he cites Thomas Fuller’s question as to which use of iron was the more harmful – guns or the printing press? Fuller lived in the XVII Century and witnessed the Civil War. I doubt he would maintain today that fewer lives were lost to guns than the sword. Let us pray for the beating of all weapons into instruments of peace, and for a continuing change of heart towards our sisters and brothers and our earthly home. Archbishop Dunstan of Canterbury was a part-time iron worker.


St. Leonard’s Forest, and all the forests on this the forest ridge of Sussex, were of course maintained to supply wood with which to feed the furnaces of the iron masters—just as the overflow of these ponds was trained to move the machinery of the hammers for the breaking of the iron stone. The enormous consumption of wood in the iron foundries was a calamity seriously viewed by many observers, among them Michael Drayton who was, however, distressed less as a political economist than as the friend of the wood nymphs driven by the encroaching and devastating foundrymen from their native sanctuaries to the inhospitable Downs.

Jove's oak, the warlike ash, veined elm, the softer beech, 
Short hazel, maple plain, light asp, the bending wych, 
Tough holly, and smooth birch, must altogether burn; 
What should the builder serve, supplies the forger's turn, 
When under public good, base private gain takes hold, 
And we, poor woful woods, to ruin lastly sold. 

Under the heading of Sussex manufactures, Thomas Fuller writes, in the Worthies, of great guns:— “It is almost incredible how many are made of the Iron in this County.

A Monke of Mentz (some three hundred years since) is generally reputed the first Founder of them. Surely ingenuity may seem transpos’d, and to have cross’d her hands, when about the same time a Souldier found out Printing; and it is questionable which of the two Inventions hath done more good, or more harm. As for Guns, it cannot be denied, that though most behold them as Instruments of cruelty; partly, because subjecting valour to chance; partly, because Guns give no quarter (which the Sword sometimes doth); yet it will appear that, since their invention, Victory hath not stood so long a Neuter, and hath been determined with the loss of fewer lives.

from Highways and Byways in Sussex by E. V. Lucas

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9 July: Against the destructive power.

Pope Francis embraces a child as he meets the disabled during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Jan. 13, 2016. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Here are a couple of paragraphs from Pope Francis’s Laudato si’, his teaching on the environment, and how we can care for it or destroy it. Humankind, he warns, has abandoned trust in God, in each other, and in the earth we inhabit. We need to acknowledge the harm we have done and continue to do, although we are much more aware of it than just a few years ago.

Sadly, the pandemic over, it seems people are scrambling to ‘get back to normal’ when our previous way of life was definitely not normal. It lacked respect: for God and his laws, which are the laws of true human living; for our neighbours, and for our mother earth and all that lives on her. But let’s read Francis’s own words. (The footnote links lead to the original document.)

66. The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), to “till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). As a result, the originally harmonious relationship between human beings and nature became conflictual (cf. Gen 3:17-19). It is significant that the harmony which Saint Francis of Assisi experienced with all creatures was seen as a healing of that rupture. Saint Bonaventure held that, through universal reconciliation with every creature, Saint Francis in some way returned to the state of original innocence.[40] This is a far cry from our situation today, where sin is manifest in all its destructive power in wars, the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature.Ex 23:12). Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.

69. Together with our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly, we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: “by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory”,[41] and indeed, “the Lord rejoices in all his works” (Ps 104:31). By virtue of our unique dignity and our gift of intelligence, we are called to respect creation and its inherent laws, for “the Lord by wisdom founded the earth” (Prov 3:19). In our time, the Church does not simply state that other creatures are completely subordinated to the good of human beings, as if they have no worth in themselves and can be treated as we wish. The German bishops have taught that, where other creatures are concerned, “we can speak of the priority of being over that of being useful”.[42] The Catechism clearly and forcefully criticizes a distorted anthropocentrism: “Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection… Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness. Man must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things”.[43]

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6 July: Prayer for the People of Ukraine.

Yesterday we visited L’Arche; today we share a prayer for the people of Ukraine, published by L’Arche Kent. We remember especially the two L’Arche communities there, who with international assistance have been able to help their neighbours with essential supplies.

Heavenly Father, 
hear our prayers for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine. 
Lord, we ask for peace for those who need peace, 
reconciliation for those who need reconciliation 
and comfort for all who don’t know what tomorrow will bring. 
Lord may your Kingdom come, 
and your will be done. 
Lord God, we ask for you to be with all
 – especially children – 
who are suffering as the crisis in Ukraine deteriorates. 
Lord, we pray for those who are anxious and fearful. 
For those who are bereaved, injured or who have lost their lives. 
And for those who have lost loved ones. 
                                                                                     Lord hear our prayers. 

L’Arche Kent Information Sheet, June 2022

Ukraine flag, Canterbury Westgate, March 2022. 

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