Tag Archives: watching

1 July: Power can be a danger, Even the Demons Submit II.

Photo from CD: After a bombing in Brussels.

Continuing Sister Johanna’s reflection from yesterday.

Yesterday, we left the seventy-two missionary disciples when they were feeling wonderful in the knowledge that they would be powerful in Jesus’ name. Jesus himself had just assured them of it (Luke 10:19). Which brings me to the next point in this reflection. It is a joy beyond all joys to work for the Lord and to be an instrument of his power and love. Jesus appreciates that the disciples are experiencing something they’ve never experienced before – and they can barely contain themselves. Perhaps they have even been slightly unbalanced by this experience. Who wouldn’t be? For, in addition to their joy, the entire experience – the journey, their success in preaching the Kingdom and in healing the sick, and, to cap all, their power over the demons – must have given this group of seventy-two men an enormous sense of power. And power can be a danger for those who wield it. No one was ever more astute than Jesus about the dangers of power. He wants the disciples to begin to understand this danger. He now has some sobering words for his missionaries.

The gospels are completely honest in recounting the instances when the disciples reveal that they are preoccupied by issues of power – their own power as a group against the Roman occupation, the apparent power of particular individuals within their group, Jesus’ power in relation to the religious establishment were just a few of the power-issues that distracted them. Jesus has repeatedly tried to lead them away from this preoccupation with power (cf. Luke 9:46-50). But now, here they go again. They have suddenly experienced a new kind of power – spiritual power. This is the most dangerous power of all. And they like it. They like it a lot.

Their words to Jesus when they arrive seem to indicate that they have seen that their spiritual power over the demons depends on their use of Jesus’ name. So that’s something. At least they have a vague notion that they are not the authors of the power they have exercised. Good, but not great, seems to be the judgement of Jesus about this. His words of warning come quickly: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you.”

Now’s the time for the newly minted missionaries to feel like the novices they are, to shuffle their feet and look down at the ground. Jesus’ words make them see that they’ve been gloating rather a lot, and feeling a bit smug and self-congratulatory – precisely because the spirits submitted to them. Jesus wants it to be very clear to them that only by his election are they themselves safe from the demonic. They must keep their attention focused not on who or what has submitted to them, but on where they themselves need to be – and who they need to submit to in order to get there. In case they weren’t sure, Jesus tells them: “Rejoice instead that your names are written in heaven.”

Their names are written in heaven – that is their reason to rejoice. They must keep their focus on heaven – because their names might not have been written there. They, of themselves, are nothing special. They are safe, they are heading for heaven, because Jesus is leading and protecting them; they are strong over Satan because of Jesus’ strength working through them. They bear a power in their hands, but it is not intrinsic to them, and without Jesus, they have no power at all. Jesus is the one to be thinking about. His love is their reason to rejoice.

They began their missionary journey taking nothing with them, at Jesus’ instructions. In this way, through the extreme vulnerability that their physical poverty would have awakened, Jesus meant to wake them up to the fact that everything good that happened to them between the beginning and the end of their journey was due to his gift to them. Luke’s gospel leaves us there, ending the account of the missionaries’ return rather abruptly, and not elaborating further on the episode. We, the readers, suddenly find ourselves alone, and left to consider how this story challenges us. Where is our focus? Are we preoccupied by power-issues? Do we keep our eyes on Jesus? Does Jesus have something to say to us?

*The Bible translation used throughout this reflection is The New Jerusalem Bible.

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28 June: The last night that she lived

Tomorrow we remember Saints Peter and Paul, apostles. Peter famously tried to persuade Jesus not to go to Jerusalem and his cruel death; he eventually followed Jesus to his own violent death in Rome. Here Emily Dickinson remembers a natural death which yet ‘made nature different.’

May the Lord grant us a quiet night and a perfect end. Amen.

The last night that she lived,
It was a common night,
Except the dying; this to us
Made nature different.

We noticed smallest things, —
Things overlooked before,
By this great light upon our minds
Italicized, as 't were.

That others could exist
While she must finish quite,
A jealousy for her arose
So nearly infinite.

We waited while she passed;
It was a narrow time,
Too jostled were our souls to speak,
At length the notice came.

She mentioned, and forgot;
Then lightly as a reed
Bent to the water, shivered scarce,
Consented, and was dead.

And we, we placed the hair,
And drew the head erect;
And then an awful leisure was,
Our faith to regulate.

from Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete.

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28 May: a Little Child shall lead them, Before the Cross XXVI.

Elham Church, Kent.

We walked to Elham on the recommendation of our daughter; we were not disappointed. Firstly, to find the King’s Arms open and ready to sell us good beer which we enjoyed in the square in the full Spring sunshine. And then there was the church, also open, ready to sell us good second-hand books, and ready to give us plenty to reflect upon.

These Easter Lilies were placed before a Madonna and child, but a very Paschal, Easter-minded Madonna and child. Two years ago we looked at a portrait of Mary and baby Jesus in a pieta-like pose, and I urge you to revisit that post now, to complement this one.

That old post considered two paintings from the studio of Rogier van de Weyden, of the mid-XV Century, the Madonna and a Pieta. In each Mary is tenderly holding her son, whose pose as a baby matches that of his lifeless corpse. This is not what our artist in Elham has in view. Jesus may be four years old here, a boy, not a baby, but still dependent on Mary and Joseph for everything.

The boy is very much alive, yet he is standing as if practising for his work on the Cross. He is lightly supported by his mother; at this age he can walk for himself, but that gentle uplift is reassuring. As for Mary, not for the last time she ponders these things in her heart, the heart pierced by the sword of sorrow.

Jesus is about to step forth from her lap. Any parent will know the excitement and trepidation of following a small child, where are they going, what dangers can we perceive that they do not? But letting them lead us is part of growth for the child and also for the parent who is offered the chance to see the world through fresh eyes.

Mary could not prevent the death of Jesus on the Cross but she was there to welcome him on the third day. Isaiah tells us that a little child shall lead them: may we follow him through all life’s trials to our resurrection in his Kingdom.

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18 August: Gilbert White V. Pond life

This marshy stretch of water offers cover to birds – and would-be hunters.

We continue reading from White’s letter to Pennant.

Wolmer Pond, so called, I suppose, for eminence sake, is a vast lake for this part of the world, containing, in its whole circumference, 2,646 yards, or very near a mile and a half.  The length of the north-west and opposite side is about 704 yards, and the breadth of the south-west end about 456 yards.  This measurement, which I caused to be made with good exactness, gives an area of about sixty-six acres, exclusive of a large irregular arm at the north-east corner, which we did not take into the reckoning.

On the face of this expanse of waters, and perfectly secure from fowlers, lie all day long, in the winter season, vast flocks of ducks, teals, and widgeons, of various denominations, where they preen and solace, and rest themselves, till towards sunset, when they issue forth in little parties (for in their natural state they are all birds of the night) to feed in the brooks and meadows, returning again with the dawn of the morning.  Had this lake an arm or two more, and were it planted round with thick covert (for now it is perfectly naked), it might make a valuable decoy.

A decoy uses floating model ducks to attract flocks of wild birds to a stretch of water where hunters and their retriever dogs are waiting.

Gilbert White can be seen here involving his parishioners in his science, surveying the pond. It must have been exciting for the swarms of children following behind. I daresay they got in the way.

He says elsewhere that rich tenants had stripped the oak woods around the pond, selling the timber, in all probability, to the Royal Naval Dockyard at Portsmouth to build ships with ‘hearts of oak’. War and greed deforesting England.

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28 June, Intergalactic Exploration XXXIX: the real thing.

T wished Greta a good evening and went to round up the parrot hunters. Before he knew it he was face-to-face with a rather overweight police sergeant who was walking sedately through the park. T saw the official look descend over the lawman’s face and felt sure the doglets were being a nuisance to some poor creature. He recognised the sergeant, a former pupil of his friend Will Turnstone, so seized the initiative.

‘Callum, good to see you. How’s life in the force? Am I allowed to stand and chat with you?’‘

Callum had heard that conversational gambit more than a few times. ‘Come on Mr T, you should have those creatures under control. That woman in the red coat says they were chasing squirrels.’

‘And did they ever catch one? They just keep the squirrel population in training.’‘ Well, she can see I’ve had a word with you, but call them in, please.’

T called the boys in English and flashed his urgent call in Ossyrian telepathy. ‘If you don’t want to end up in the stray dogs’ home, you’d best get over here.’ They came.

‘Thanks Mr T,’ said the sergeant. ‘Beware of little old ladies who bring peanuts for the squirrels. She knows she shouldn’t do it but there’s no arguing with her. Good bye and enjoy your walk!’

They watched him plod on. ‘If you two are having fun, can you not keep half an eye out for trouble?’ T complained.

‘We minded your bag while you were in the pool. You should keep watch for us when we are chasing squirrels.’

T felt there was something lacking in Ajax’s logic, but the exhilaration in their bearing suggested that they had gained as much from their noisy run around as he had from his quiet swim. Such joys were available virtually in Ossyria, but he had to admit that the earthly cool water and warm air were the real thing, the home version of total immersion now seemed somewhat lacking. True, Superstud Doggynutz were a poor substitute for the crunchy squirrel thighs the chihuahuas craved, but who has everything? Ossyrians were so sure that they did, but they could learn from crazy generous humans any day.

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7 April, Desert XXXVII: Fear 6, the watches of the night.

Church and graveyard of St Mary, Nonnington, Kent.

My brother has a small business with just a few employees. One of them, a smoker with compromised lungs, phoned him in the early hours of the morning. This man had developed a cough which he was worried might be the Corona Virus and he was self-isolating at home.

What struck my brother most was the palpable fear in the man’s voice and his words: at 2.00 a.m. What thoughts went through his head? There are times when Faith is challenged in the face of death. Here is Sir John Betjeman among the mourners at Aldershot Crematorium.

But no-one seems to know quite what to say

   (Friends are so altered by the passing years):

“Well, anyhow, it’s not so cold today”—

   And thus we try to dissipate our fears.

‘I am the Resurrection and the Life’:

Strong, deep and painful, doubt inserts the knife.

Betjeman knew doubt and fear: so did Jesus in the Garden:

And they came to a farm called Gethsemane. And he saith to his disciples: Sit you here, while I pray. And he taketh Peter and James and John with him; and he began to fear and to be heavy. And he saith to them: My soul is sorrowful even unto death; stay you here, and watch. Mark 14:32-34.

Let us pray that all facing an unlooked-for death may face their end with due courage and may the Angels welcome them into Paradise.

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Going viral VI: Quiet Saturdays

Saturdays, I usually avoid the city centre but this weekend I had to pass through. It was quiet, very quiet, but I saw more people that I know, and had a long catch-up wih a former neighbour. He was concerned for the football club he is a part-owner of; even paying part-time wages is a challenge when no money is coming in. But with gyms closing, gatherings prohibited, even the community teams are suspended, including school children and wheelchair players. They don’t want quiet Saturdays.

It becomes clear that sport is important for more than passive entertainment.

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28 December: Little Flowers of Saint Francis LXI: Brother Conrad goes into the wood.

firtrees.sky (800x672)

More early Franciscan characters! When I took the part of Simeon in a Mystery Play, I was more aware of the sword that would pierce Mary’s heart than of the sweetness sought by Brother Conrad in this story. No doubt trials came his way, but they were not recorded in this book of ‘little flowers’.

The holy Brother Conrad of Offida lived in the House of Forana, in the Custody of Ancona. He went one day into the wood to meditate on God, and Brother Peter followed him by stealth, for to see what might befall him.

Brother Conrad began to pray, most devoutly beseeching the Virgin Mary to beg of her blessed Son this grace, that he might feel a little of that sweetness that Saint Simeon felt on the day of the Purification, when he held in his arms the blessed Saviour Jesu. And when he had made this prayer, the Virgin Mary of her pity heard him; and behold: there appeared unto him the Queen of heaven with her blessed Son
in her arms, with a great light exceeding bright, and coming near unto Brother Conrad, she laid in his arms her blessed Son: who taking Him with great devotion, embracing and kissing Him and pressing Him to his breast, was melted altogether and dissolved in the love divine and consolation unspeakable.

madonna-closeup-hales-pl

Mary Mother from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury

And in like manner Brother Peter, who from his hiding-place saw all that befell, felt in his soul exceeding sweetness and consolation. And when the Virgin Mary had departed from Brother Conrad, Brother Peter gat him back in haste to the house, that he might not be seen of him: but thereafter, when Brother Conrad returned all joyful and glad, Brother Peter said unto him: “ O what heavenly great consolation hast thou had this day!” Quoth Brother Conrad: “What is this that thou sayest, Brother Peter? and what dost thou know of that which I have had?”

“I know full well, I know,” said Brother Peter, “how the Virgin Mary with her blessed Son hath visited thee.” Then Brother Conrad, who being truly humble desired to keep secret the favours of God, besought him that he would tell it unto no one; and from that time forth so great was the love between these twain, that they seemed to have but one heart and soul in all things.

And may we welcome every baby and mother whom we meet, as if they were the Christ-child and his mother. Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents.

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12 December, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LX: Brother Peter of Monticello

rosary.rjb

There were plenty of characters in the early days of the Franciscan Order. A young brother – a child we might call him today – hiding under the altar: did his fellow novices put him up to it? The wager for such a venture at my ‘apostolic school’ (a boarding school for would-be priests) was the inflation-proof currency of a Mars bar …  

Brother Peter of Monticello was seen by Brother Servodio of Urbino (he being then guardian in the old House of Ancona) lifted bodily off the ground five or six cubits, even to the feet of the Crucifix of the church, in front of which he was at prayer.

And this Brother Peter, while fasting on a time with great devotion during the forty days’ fast of Saint Michael the Archangel, and being at prayer in the church on the last day of this fast, was heard by a young brother (who of set purpose lay hidden under the high altar for to see some token of his sanctity) speaking with Saint Michael the Archangel; and the words that he said, were these:

Quoth Saint Michael: “Brother Peter, thou hast toiled so faithfully for me, and in many ways hast afflicted thy body: and lo ! now am I come to comfort thee, and to the intent that thou mayest ask what grace soever thou wilt, and I will get it thee from God.”

Replied Brother Peter: Most holy Prince of the celestial host, and faithful zealot of love divine, and pitying protector of souls, I ask this grace of thee that thou obtain from God the pardon of my sins.”

Replied Saint Michael: “Ask some other grace of me, for this grace shall I win for thee right easily.” But Brother Peter asking for nothing more, the Archangel concluded thus: “For the faith and devotion that thou hast to me, I will obtain for thee this grace thou askest for, and many more besides.” And done their parley, the which lasted for a long space, the Archangel Saint Michael was away, leaving him comforted exceedingly.

The young brother’s feelings are not recorded., but Saint Michael talks good Yorkshire. 

The crucifix here is from my late father’s well-used rosary.

WT.

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July 18: Cowboy

sjc crowEver notice crows
walk like cow-boys,
toes in, wide stride,
tough guys of the garden?

Sparrows scold
from a distant tree – safe
they think. I watch
from the window over
the kitchen sink.

I suppose
crows must hatch, wet, needy
and fragile, like other birds,
but now full grown, I half expect
my crow to chew tobacco and spit,
he seems so full of bravado,
compared to prissy little tits.

Does size mean power?
A swagger, a loud caw?
Animals seem to think so.

SJC

 

 

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