The flowers left thick at nightfall in the woodThis Eastertide call into mind the men,Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, shouldHave gathered them and will do never again.
Tag Archives: War
The Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Sellasse, as the effort began to wrest control of his country back from the Italian invaders during World War II, called on the servicemen of Ethiopia and Britain to follow the selfless example of their shared patron, Saint George.
My friend George was one of those servicemen, not in any glamorous role, but as a merchant seaman, bringing home food and supplies, always in danger from U-boats. George was a miner and could have stayed at home, but he believed that Britain’s part in the war was right and put his life on the line.
He returned to the mines after the war, but did not leave his sense of what is right behind. It was not right, he said, that landowners received more per ton of coal dug from beneath their estates than the men did who cut and carried it, and were often injured in the process. So he overcame a stammer to be able to speak for his colleagues.
Like many another, he developed an industrial disease which affected his breathing. In his forced retirement he turned to the Catholic church and to working almost full-time with L:Arche Kent. He greatly encouraged the middle aged men who joined from the big hospitals around Kent; his working class background and his long experience of male comradeship was a great gift to Bill, John and David and to the whole community. He still valued an honest day’s work, and so did the men.
Another Saint George, one who’ll never make it to the altars, but he is there beside us in L’Arche Kent, along with Bill, John, David and all our old friends.
Saint George has been transferred this year as his usual feast day fell in Easter week.
Our late friend David Powell wrote here about his experience of mining.
Edward Thomas, The man that loved this England well,1 wrote about The South Country before he became a poet. Wandering through Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, he recorded what he saw and felt along the way. Here he is in a Sussex village near where the poet Shelley was born; he has just been discussing the romantic poets.
Edward Thomas died this month in 1917, leaving a wife and family.
Note how he values the two villagers, Robert Page and his presumed descendant, as equally worthy of consideration as the poet.
In a churchyard behind I saw the tombstone of one Robert Page, born in the year 1792 here in Sussex, and dead in 1822 — not in the Bay of Spezia1 but in Sussex. He scared the crows, ploughed the clay, fought at Waterloo and lost an arm there, was well pleased with George the Fourth, and hoed the corn until he was dead. That is plain sense, and I wish I could write the life of this exact contemporary of Shelley.
That is quite probably his great granddaughter, black-haired, of ruddy complexion, full lips, large white teeth, black speechless eyes, dressed in a white print dress and stooping in the fresh wind to take clean white linen out of a basket, and then rising straight as a hazel wand, on tiptoe, her head held back and slightly oh one side while she pegs the clothes to the line and praises the weather to a passer-by. She is seventeen, and of such is the kingdom of earth.
And bearing in mind all those saintly women, Agnes, Agatha, Eanswythe, Tydfil, Mildred; we should perhaps affirm that ‘of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ Despite his melancholy, Edward Thomas can lead us to the gate thereof this Eastertide.
So too could William Blake, who also lived in Sussex. Surely this little engraving shows the cliffs and downs of nearbyBeachy Head?
1 WH Davies’ description of his friend. The poet Percy Bysse Shelley was born in 1892 and died at the Bay of Spezia in 1822.
We don’t make a habit of reproducing posts, especially quite recent ones. But at this time we should remember that Paris and Notre Dame have known hard times before. It was a relief that the Cathedral survived the Second World War though it was, like the city, exhausted and grubby, when Archbishop Spellman of New York passed through on his way to Rome and his cardinal’s hat in 1946.
The post-war visit to the French capital by and large was anything but gay. For Mass in the great Cathedral of Notre Dame, each priest was still assigned one little piece of candle stuck in a bottle, which was carried from the sacristy by the server and carefully returned. Even when His Eminence gave Solemn Benediction at the main altar, there were only two candles burning.
The streets were dark too, the streets of the City of Light, dark and dirty. The hotels were cold. The shops were shabby. Only the famous Flea Market, which seemed to be very much bigger than ever, was doing a thriving business.
One candle in a neglected, dirty cathedral was a sign of hope, a sign of the Lord’s presence among his people. And even that one candle was an act of defiance to the darkness, the darkness will never overcome!
So, Let your light shine, Notre Dame de Paris! May we all love our own church buildings for it is there that we meet as God’s family. If Notre Dame has many stories of the great and the good, the smallest village chapel has been the meeting place between God and his people.
From ‘The Cardinal Spellman Story’ by Robert L Gannon, London, Robert Hale, 19963, p288.
This image has always troubled me, since the day I first found a copy in a second-hand picture frame. This window is at Hythe in Kent, remembering a nineteen year old officer of the Royal Lancaster Regiment, Robert Aubrey Hildyard, seen dying at the foot of the Cross, his right hand on Christ’s feet, the feet Mary anointed with precious oil. At the foot of the cross lies Robert’s helmet, and a scroll reading, ‘Greater love hath no man’. We can all complete Jesus’ words: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ (John 15:13).
Robert looks peaceful, asleep, while once again we behold a risen Christ: alive, with good muscle tone; his wounds not bleeding. Robert’s rifle and bayonet and an artillery piece are behind the two figures; there is a hill of mud in the background and angels in attendance above.
Surely this comforted the parents of Robert Hildyard, and no doubt others who lost loved ones, but it makes me uneasy. It seems to associate Christ with the war. Yet no less a poet than Hopkins wrote of a soldier or sailor (a tar):
Yes. Why do we áll, seeing of a soldier, bless him? bless
Our redcoats, our tars? Both these being, the greater part,
But frail clay, nay but foul clay. Here it is: the heart,
Since, proud, it calls the calling manly, gives a guess
That, hopes that, makesbelieve, the men must be no less;
It fancies, feigns, deems, dears the artist after his art;
And fain will find as sterling all as all is smart,
And scarlet wear the spirit of wár thére express.
Hopkins recognises that the men are no plaster saints, but if a man wears a brave uniform we – and he – hope, we and he want to believe him as bravehearted as he is smartly dressed. But no-one was smart at the Somme, where Robert died. Their heroism was different: men drowned in mud or were cut down by machine-gun fire before coming to close combat. Robert himself was killed when a shell hit where he and Godfrey James Wilding were sheltering.
Mark Christ our King. He knows war, served this soldiering through;
He of all can handle a rope best. There he bides in bliss
Now, and séeing somewhére some mán do all that man can do,
For love he leans forth, needs his neck must fall on, kiss,
And cry ‘O Christ-done deed! So God-made-flesh does too:
Were I come o’er again’ cries Christ ‘it should be this’.
For love Christ leans forth to kiss Robert and cry … ‘So God-made-flesh does too!’ What did God-made-flesh do in the War? He did not conquer death and sin with violence.
I think of Jesus, asleep on the rugs in the sinking boat. A flimsy shelter, causing his friends to fear. Jesus sensed their fear, knew that death was close by, calmed the storm. But there was no dramatic rescue for Robert and Godfrey in this world, and no more that they could do. ‘It should be this’: not killing other men, but putting oneself in the firing line.
Why did Robert and Godfrey lay down their lives?
The gesture of touching Christ’s feet suggests that Robert’s parents wanted to associate his death with Christ’s, and saw it as freely given.
Here is another soldier’s take on the daily sacrifices of being a soldier in the Great War. For Joyce Kilmer the freely accepted, everyday deprivations were as a millionth part of Christ’s sufferings:
My shoulders ache beneath my pack
(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back).
We published his poem on the centenary of his death last July; click on the link. The post following that is Christina’s response to Kilmer’s poem: Is All Human Suffering The Same Suffering?. Do read that as well.
May we unite our sufferings with the Lord’s, may we grow into the persons he wants us to be, and may we be aware of our own lack of importance and ‘let us render back again /This millionth of Thy gift. Amen.’
“The Presence” is a reflection on God’s dwelling among his people down the ages, and upon how, wherever he truly is might be regarded as a “temple”. John’s Gospel records Jesus referring to his own body as the temple. It was only through the destruction of that “temple”, and its being raised up after three days, that the dark powers of this world could be brought down.
The chains keeping us bound to those powers and to their dehumanising influences have been broken, and so we, as we respond to him, find ourselves becoming “temples”; God chooses to dwell in our own lives. It is when we turn our faces towards him in thankful praise and true worship (as would be appropriate in a temple of God) that “the blessing”, once given to the Israelites in the wilderness, becomes for us a healing, present reality.
Where Presence filled each sight and sound
With harmony and life,
And one who, fashioned from the ground,
Delighted in his wife;
Where grace and kindness filled their days
And joy was in the air,
As all creation joined in praise
To Him who’d set it there.
To Him, who walked the very space,
Who knew and loved his own,
Where they could gaze upon his face
And wouldn’t feel alone.
The One who spoke as loving friend,
Who shared his perfect will,
Was pleased to dwell where all was well
And everything was still.
Then all was lost to pride and death
And sickness, lies and shame;
The very ones he’d given breath
Now trembled at his name.
And fear and hate and hate and fear
Would hold the nations bound
To lifeless idols, sword and spear,
And blood upon the ground.
If love with love could be revealed
And life with life remade,
And broken, hurting souls be healed
Because a debt was paid;
And those forgiven could forgive,
And angry hearts could mourn,
And if the dead began to live
Because a veil was torn –
The Presence on an ancient hill,
Beaten, nailed and speared –
But stubborn will rejects him still,
And sneers as once they sneered.
The Presence, whose ways and thoughts
Lift bitterness and care:
Better one day in his courts
Than a thousand spent elsewhere.
Image: Worship by Jun Jamosmos
To my eyes there is little to commend the art of this postcard which is over a century old, but while it may not be good art it screams out in pain. Each person in the ugly scene is tortured: Christ himself, the blood still wet on his body; the other crucified men, Jesus’ mother Mary and the beloved John, gallantly supporting her, and the prostrate Mary Magdalene.
Why has this card been preserved over all these years?
It was among the possessions of Doris, my wife’s grandmother, when she died. It had been bought in Poperinge, one of the few Belgian towns not occupied by the German army during the Great War, and sent to Doris in Manchester. The second postcard shows a street in Poperinge with ‘the shop where I procured this card’ marked with an X. (The censor had blacked out the word Poperinge on the front of the card, but the fading ink has rendered it legible.)
Who was it that procured these cards? The boyfriend whom Doris was never to marry because he was killed in battle. There are a few of his Valentines and greetings cards preserved with them.
The crucifixion card was printed in Munich, a German city, yet he could set that fact aside and still see something in the picture that spoke to his situation, surrounded by death, knowing his own death could strike at any moment. He might well have heard the echo of these Good Friday words as he looked at the card and sent it to Doris.
He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
Poperinge was well known for ‘Toc H’ or Talbot House, a club founded for troops on leave by the Anglican chaplain, Rev’d Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton. It can still be visited to this day; a century ago it was a lifeline for battle weary men.
Psalm 46:10 ‘Be still and know that I am God.’
A mysterious and endearing quality of art and music is that they can open a door within us to a stillness in which we can inwardly sense the knowing of God. For ultimately this knowing is not a theory in our heads, but the kind of knowing that ripples through our being in a way in which we most probably don’t understand and yet we can say of it ‘I just know’.
‘Still’ is by the Scottish painter Alison Watt OBE (b. 1965), and is hung behind the altar in the Memorial chapel of Old St. Paul’s Episcopal church in Edinburgh. If ever you have a few moments free in the centre of Edinburgh, or arrive by train to the central Waverley Station it is conveniently just across the road from the back entrance to the station. The church is usually open for visitors, offering a respite from the vibrancy and noise of the city centre by the contrastingly silent and poignantly serene space which is this chapel – dedicated in memory of those fallen in World War 1. It is a dark space which holds both the sadness of the memory of those who gave their lives, and the light of hope through the risen Christ.
This unique work somehow expresses the sense of beauty and light and continuing movement of the spirit, through its enigmatic focus on folds of fabric. The work is a quadriptych (a work in four parts) 12 ft by 12 ft, and so naturally echoes the cross in its layout, a reminder of the ultimate sacriﬁce taken by Christ. The theme of the painting is hanging drapery. The implication is that the cloth is that of the shrouds of Jesus, though what hangs behind it is only alluded to. Certainly the subtle implication is of a body beneath, causing the shaping and the folds. Watt says of the work: ‘‘Although the body is not explicitly represented, it’s still echoed in the landscape of the cloth. The paintings are about an absent presence.’
An absent presence – something we can’t see or physically perceive and yet we know and sense is there. And so it was for those who experienced that ﬁrst Easter morning – the confusion of a mysterious absent presence. It is that very quality which, without words or analysis, settles within me as I sit with this work of art.
When I ﬁrst saw this painting I felt mesmerised by the beauty and the impact of the white simplicity of the hangings amidst the stark silence of the chapel. It stills me, and yet the stillness is not rigid but full of gentle movement and ﬂow. The meaning is not obvious and yet in my unknowing it offers me opportunity to sit and just to absorb. It offers that doorway to ‘Be still and know that I am God.’
I often like to pop in when I am back in my home town; By stepping aside from all that energises the centre of town into the entrancing beauty and stillness of being in that place, I experience a way into the serenity of prayer which settles and recharges my inner resources through this beautiful work of art.
Alison Watt is the youngest artist to have had a solo exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (2000) and to serve as an Associate Artist at the National Gallery, London (2006-8). For Still, she won the ACE (Art and Christianity Enquiry) award for a Commissioned Artwork in Ecclesiastical Space in 2005. See:
Janet McDonald is a member of the L’Arche Kent Community.
‘Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief,’ but let no part of it stay in me.
If my life brings me darkness, help me to meet it with faith; if pain, with courage; if bereavement, with hope; if joy, with gratitude; all things with love and patience.
So let my life indeed be the expression of my faith.
This prayer comes from Father Andrew, the pioneering Anglican Franciscan, who was a hard-working parish priest in East London during the Blitz. A good prayer for the start of Lent; we cannot live up to those resolutions without the grace of God.
Help me to meet and embrace my life, Lord.
This Lent we will start with a series of reflections from Sister Johanna Caton OSB on the Zacchaeus story. This is an early Lenten text in the Eastern Churches. There will be a number of reflections from regular and guest contributors which place us before the Cross. Writers have been invited to respond to an image of the crucifixion of their choice.
Finally, during the last fortnight of Passiontide, we will follow the Way of the Cross with Saint Peter, written as if he were reflecting in the prison cell in Rome, linking events in his life on the road with Jesus to the stations, scriptural and traditional, that are celebrated in this devotion. Stay with us and pray with us!
A reminder that Christ is among us at the Eucharist, whether celebrated in splendour or in dirt and poverty – and in the case of Archbishop Spellman’s visit to Notre Dame de Paris, in dirty, poverty stricken splendour. Spellman was en route to Rome, to become a Cardinal,
The post-war visit to the French capital by and large was anything but gay. For Mass in the great Cathedral of Notre Dame, each priest was still assigned one little piece of candle stuck in a bottle, which was carried from the sacristy by the server and carefully returned. Even when His Eminence gave Solemn Benediction at the main altar, there were only two candles burning. The streets were dark too, the streets of the City of Light, dark and dirty. The hotels were cold. The shops were shabby. Only the famous Flea Market, which seemed to be very much bigger than ever, was doing a thriving business.
So, Let your light shine! One candle in a neglected, dirty cathedral was a sign of hope, a sign of the Lord’s presence among his people. And even that one candle was an act of defiance to the darkness, the darkness will never overcome!