Soon amid the inviolable places Will green, rustling steeples chime again With the sweet, glassy bell-notes of the wren. Soon the plain shall lie beneath blue spaces– Bold and broad and ruddy in the sun, Long and lean to the moon when day is done.
Soon will come the strange, heart-lifting season When through the dark, still dawns, where nothing was, Steals the mysterious whisper of growing grass; And a joy like pain possesses the soul, without reason, Between the budding of day and the lapse of night, With the clear, cold scent of wet starlight.
‘Soon’: a word of promise. Observe the signs of the times: the wren singing amid the brambles, the red, ploughed soil, blue sky. Soon will come joy so intense it hurts. Let’s try to see the signs of the times this Lent, and look out for Easter Joy.
From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. (Matthew 24:33)
Sometimes we have to trust that the dawn will come, despite the seemingly endless dark night. The orchid and bluebells in the picture were putting out roots through the winter to be able to flower in the Spring.
Watch with me Jesus, in my loneliness: Though others say me nay, yet say Thou yes; Though others pass me by, stop Thou to bless. Yea, Thou dost stop with me this vigil night; To-night of pain, to-morrow of delight: I, Love, am Thine; Thou, Lord my God, art mine. Christina Rossetti.
Who watches whom this vigil night?
It used to be possible to visit Greyfriars’ chapel without paying an entrance fee for the gardens around it, but most hours in the daytime Saint Thomas’, Saint Dunstan’s and the Cathedral are open for prayer. We locals have free entry to the Cathedral with a resident’s pass. The Lord needs no such thing! He is there with his crook and his staff, with these he gives us comfort.
The New Year of 1999 to 2000 was well celebrated at Saint Thomas’, candles, prayers and hymns, then food and drink in the new century, but how many could not get to such events and so felt lonely? How many felt lonely and so did not dare to join fellow parishioners? How many people feel cold-shouldered and hesitate to join a group of nodding acquaintances talking together? What can we do about it this year? Let us stop what we are doing sometimes and bless our nodding acquaintances of neighbours by inviting them into our group?
The challenge was to describe a moment spent with another L’Arche community member, and it was issued days after news of Tim Hollis’s death, so this is what came to mind. Tim’s funeral is today, 31 August. MB.
We got to know Tim and Marion Hollis quite well in those early days of L’Arche; they were almost part of the furniture, they came so often. It was good to witness how greatly they respected every core member and assistant, an example to us all. When we went on pilgrimage to Walsingham, they welcomed us to their home in Beccles, with its little oratory in the attic, lit by a custom-made glass roofing tile.
Two or three years after leaving L’Arche I was working in a London adult training centre and was asked to accompany a small group on holiday quite close to Beccles, so I wrote to ask if we might visit Tim and Marion; of course a warm welcome was extended.
After tea and visiting the oratory, Tim invited us for a voyage on the River Waveney, the southern end of the Norfolk Broads. Tim, Geoffrey Morgan and Jean had been in the Royal Navy together, and Tim now had his own boat, big enough to take us all.
Everyone was comfortably enjoying the trip when Tim asked the student beside him, ‘Mervyn, would you like to steer?’ Mervyn proudly took the wheel and soon grasped how to use landmarks to steer by. Everyone else got a turn, even Maurice.
I expected Tim to be wary of Eric, who spent all day head bent, looking down. Could he possibly steer a boat with eight people on board? Tim felt my tension, but said simply, ‘watch’. I watched. Eric stood at the wheel, hardly raising his head, but plying the course that Tim set him. Eric did not have the speech to say how he felt, but the pleasure and recognition he experienced were palpable.
That moment has informed so much of my work with people with learning and behaviour difficulties: so often they are not trusted and respected, even by those entrusted with their care, education and well-being.
It’s a bit late to tell Tim how much that one moment means to me still, but never too late to share such good news. Thank you Tim, and thank you, Eric.
Just like most of Europe, Kent is baking under a heat wave but as we know, mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun; starting from an early age. My two-and-a-half year old grandson was called in by his mother, who was ready for her siesta. ‘I can’t come in for a nap, the sky’s awake!’
I don’t doubt that a nap would have done good to both parent and child, but being awake and watchful can be good too!
Surely it was a day like this when the fiery chariot swung low to collect the Prophet Elijah. Elisha was certainly watching carefully, as were 50 other prophets. (2 Kings 2)
Tradition has it that on this day John and fellow disciples watched together when Mary was taken up to heaven in her turn at the end of her life on earth.
Our Creator, whose holy name is “I AM” (Exodus 3:14), wants to meet us in the “now” of our lives. If I am living in the past or fixated on the future, I may miss the gift of God’s grace in the present. Therefore, the Advent liturgies urge me to “stay awake” to God’s presence in every moment “praying at all times” (Luke 21:36).
If I am awake, I cannot fail to notice that the world needs the light of Christ more than ever. Gathering storms of war, terrorism, inequality, ecological crises and a pandemic threaten to overwhelm humanity in my lifetime. It is easy to become discouraged by so much bad news.
and contemplation is charity drawn inward to its own divine source.
Action is the stream and contemplation is the spring.
Thomas Merton, No man is an Island, 1957, p84.
Another view of ordinary saintliness at work.
We can discover the water of life at work in us through listening, watching, being open to the Spirit.
Jesus said to the woman at the well:
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks the water that I will give him will never be thirsty. The water that I will give him will become a spring of water within him welling up to eternal life.”
PS: Since Merton was writing in 1957 we must forgive his use of ‘man’ to cover both sexes, and the translators, too!
And the Lord God having formed out of the ground all the beasts of the earth, and all the fowls of the air, brought them to Adam to see what he would call them: for whatsoever Adam called any living creature the same is its name.
Of course when Adam named something, including plants, the same was its name, since there was only one human, himself, so no disputing his word. Things are somewhat different since humans spread around the world and our languages diverged from each other. Is that a mouse or un souris? A courgette or a zucchini? And that’s before we venture upon politically correct or incorrect terrain. ‘It’s demeaning to call grown women girls.’ Try telling that to my late mother-in-law, who in her eighties was still going out with the ‘girls’ she had teamed up with as a young mother.
But we can demean each other in our words as a moment’s reflection should tell us; we can be clear or obscure, sometimes deliberately obscure – ‘as seen on TV!’
The world of science aims for clarity and by being clear it advances in knowledge and techniques. An understanding of antibodies and t-cells enabled the covid-19 vaccinations to be produced at speed. At a more down to earth level, over the last 250 years or so scientific names for living creatures have been developed so that scientists from Aberdeen, Asuncion, or Amsterdam will know exactly what each other is talking about. Mus musculus is a house mouse anywhere in the world.
The trouble comes when names are changed. Microscopic and DNA testing can establish relationships, and botanists hold conferences to decide on names. That’s how the shrub formerly known as Senecio ‘Sunshine’ is now Brachyglottis ‘Sunshine’. Senecio comes from the Latin for ‘old man’: the leaves and seeds of the plant are greyish and white. Other senecios include groundsel, S. vulgaris, (left) and S. cineraria (ashen), below.
It’s not difficult to see a certain type of person taking pleasure in this business of establishing names, and feeling frustrated when gardeners do not follow the scientists and call Sunshine Brachyglottis instead of senecio.
But recently I’ve taken pleasure from watching someone establish names for things. A toddler is naming things that are newly experienced. He or she will of course end up using the names that are common in their society, though sometimes their mispronounced names stick for years, such as ‘Kipper’ which was as close as one of my siblings could get to Christopher, the name of one of our brothers.
For my younger grandson there is a whole world waiting for him to name it, and bring it to life for him, as Adam’s contribution to creation was to give it all names.
I’m happy enough to be ‘Gu’ for the present, and to be part of his world. It sounds better than Brachyglottis, for sure.
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.
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.
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.