Tag Archives: watching

25 August. Reflections on Living Together V: People-watching

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On holiday I indulged in quiet people watching to a greater degree than usual, perhaps because I had no children to amuse. My wife is amused enough by my antics that I need not seek ways to entertain her.

Perhaps, too, not understanding more than a few words of German or Polish favoured my eyes when my ears failed me.

One evening we were in the Old Town of Warsaw, pleasantly crowded with people from all over the world, under the watchful but discreet eyes of armed police and soldiers.

Do you tell yourself stories about passers-by?

In a group of Muslim girls, enjoying each other’s company on a warm evening, some will be veiled, some not; in a family, the mother may wear the veil, the daughters not, or the other way about. What discussions take place around their meal tables? And what does the smiling husband and father feel,  accompanying them through Berlin or Warsaw or even Canterbury?

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I can remember Catholics being scandalised by women appearing with heads uncovered in church, or sisters abandoning their traditional habits; but come to think of it, we saw more veils on nuns than on Muslims in Poland. And one rainy morning in Krakow, nearly all the stragglers from World Youth Day wore veils as they passed by.

Dr Johnson once remarked: ‘A man who cannot get to heaven in a green coat will not find his way thither the sooner in a grey one.’ But not everyone agrees.



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20 August: Consider how they grow

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Kew Gardens sent out free packets of wild flower seeds this Spring, hoping that gardeners around the United Kingdom would ‘Grow Wild’.

I was happy to receive a packet and sprinkled the seeds in a corner of Mrs O’s garden that had been taken over by brambles and ivy; the wrong sort of wilderness for a town garden. 

Now that spot has some lovely wild flowers smiling up at me, but they would be smiling down at baby Abel, if he wandered in there. So in this picture I’ve tried to look at them from his point of view, though truth to tell he prefers to look at the little daisies and scarlet pimpernel that stud the grass at the top of the hill.

It’s all wonderful to him; it’s good to get down to his sort of height and to:

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field, which is to day, and to morrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith?

Matthew 6:28-30

And always we should consider how we grow, how little Abel grows. Half an hour considering the grass of the field, or the ducks on the pond, or pebbles on the beach: that really opens the eyes and the heart.


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14 June, Year of Mercy: Fearful Entrances.

mercylogoLife in the multicultural streets of East London can be intriguing and exciting. For some it will be daunting or even frightening. They want their little house to feel like a safe fortress, and the entrance to be thoroughly guarded against the unplanned incursions of strangers and unwanted callers. Grilles and locks are occasionally applied to windows and porches to let every passerby know that few of them would be welcome.

No doubt there are some immigrant groups whose members are made to feel uncomfortable, at an early point after their arrival. Perhaps no one has ever helped them to feel befriended. Nevertheless there is something sad, it seems to me, about a home that can only survive in these conditions, claustrophobic and ever on the watch.

I grew up on an immigrant street, with neighbours from Trinidad, Pakistan, Yugoslavia and elsewhere. My father, who was self-employed, would quite often deliberately spend an hour in the morning before he began his work, sitting on the front steps, chatting with anyone who came past. Not everyone was as sociable and outgoing as he was, but surviving the War meant for him that we should appreciate all the diversity of human interactions. Real sociable existence depends on our creating trust.

It is possible to travel regularly in our modern cities, and be surrounded by people wearing head-phones, their faces buried in some electronic device. A great deal will be lost if we forget the gift of dynamic interactions and supportive friendship.


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Interruption: Third Person Singular

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I just found a passage that sums up why stories like David’s are so valuable. It comes at the end of a story told by Ali Smith, The Third Person:

The third person is another pair of eyes. The third person is a presentiment of God. The third person is a way to tell a story. The third person is a revitalisation of the dead.

It’s a theatre of living people…

It’s a box for the endless music that’s there between people, waiting to be played.

Ali Smith The First Person and Other Stories: London, Hamish Hamilton, 2008.

Endless Music, maybe waiting for you to play it. Enjoy looking through David’s – or his protagonists’ eyes! Enjoy Ali Smith’s stories – and all the others – as well; let their ‘presentiments of God’ revitalise a deadened corner of your heart.

And look out this coming week for Tom’s continuation of David’s SciFi story as those Chihuahuas return to Kent!


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May 5: The nail that pierced has become the key to unlock the door: III.


The nail that pierced has become the key to unlock the door: III.

St. Bernard

mercylogoToday, let us consider an interpretation of St. Bernard’s words that differs from the one we have been thinking about in the two previous posts.

Perhaps we are going though a very painful time right now.  We may have read St. Bernard’s words and felt instantly that the “nail” to which he refers is not the one piercing the hand of the crucified Lord.  This is a nail that pierces our own heart.

This nail is the nail of our own sufferings – sufferings which feel too heavy to carry.  These are sufferings that make us fear that we will not only collapse under them, but we will never rise again.  The pain is too great.  We feel shaken to our core.  There seems to be no way forward.

Why is this happening to us, we wonder?  What is God trying to say?  Why is he allowing this?

The mystery of suffering is very deep indeed, and I cannot pretend to be able to plumb its depths.  Yet, I can affirm from my own experiences that God’s mercy encompasses sufferings.  How?   Without in any way claiming to say all there is to say about this profound subject, I will offer just a few thoughts.

Perhaps, the first trace we might find of God’s mercy in times of suffering is that he sustains us in faith.  Faith is always a gift – and never more so than in times of suffering.  We may not understand why we are suffering in this way, but, through his grace, we are able to maintain some kind of relationship with God – we don’t just drop him, despite the fact that we may not be feeling very devout or prayerful.  His grace keeps us “in touch” with him.  We may be angry, or despondent, or frightened, or any number of other things.  But we still hang on to him.  And he hangs on to us – although this may be difficult to detect.

Second, by means of his merciful grace, we are learning to wait.  We wait for the answers to come.  We wait for the new life to emerge.  We wait for the pain to subside.  We wait for God to teach us whatever he means to teach us through this pain.  I remember asking a priest why the process of healing seemed (and was) so slow.  He said, wisely, that God usually works within the usual human processes and time-frames.  Time is needed for growth and healing.  There is no “fast-track” here.  We wait.  This knowledge was helpful to me at the time, but still, there is no sense in which this is an easy wait.

Finally – or, better, gradually – and in God’s time, we begin to discover that through this experience of suffering, a new “door” is opening into a new depth of relationship with God.  All the pain has not been meaningless, and it has not been fruitless.  The nail has unlocked a door which could not have been opened but for the pain we have experienced.  The very experiences that we thought would be our undoing, have, in fact, shown themselves to be of crucial importance in our life with God and with people.  They have been key experiences, full of meaning and life, without which we would not have advanced in our relationship with the Lord.  “The nail that pierced has become the key to unlock the door.”


St Mary Magdalene, Davington. MMB

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26th April: Peace on Earth? I

IMGP1797The Ossyrian Grand Council was in session. They had been debating for lourds and lourds the motion whether to send an exploratory mission to Planet Earth.

The Grand Overseer blew his trumpet. His long neck was fully extended to over five metres and his ears were flapping wildly whilst his domed head was literally pulsating. ‘Brothers and Sisters,’ he cried, ‘we have debated this motion for over a wok and now we must come to a decision. If we wait any longer our space flights will not be in the right orbit to access Planet Earth. So my friends, is it to be yea or nay?’

There was a great shout and the Grand Overseer could see immediately it was for going.

‘My Brothers and Sisters, this is a great enterprise, requiring enormous skill and sophisticated work by our engineers and much forethought by our philosophers, in particular by the chosen flight crews. There will be two Kardor spacecraft each with a crew of twenty led by Capteasins Pedo Vassilmaddy and Volly Blasmakov. Training will last one yown and will commence toddy.

‘Now let us sing our joyful anthem “Peace and love to all the ubiverse.”’

A sweet sound arose as all the Ossyrians raised their tuneful voices.

Later there was a small gathering in the suite of the Grand Overseer who was having second thoughts about the whole enterprise.



‘We know so little about these earthlings who are at one time professing peace, love, goodwill to all creation and then preparing for war with dreadful weapons and damning their fellows in the most virulent language. Moreover, their whole planet is threatened by drought and pollution about which they keep debating but do very little because the wealthy nations who control the vital resources are not willing to provide for the needs of their poor and under resourced neighbours.

‘This is of course very short sighted and could lead to a very destructive war. So are they on a course to self destruct, in which case are we wasting our time? Is our object to help them or to prevent them from damaging our planet by pollution or war?’

‘Surely’ said an eminent, thickly haired Ossyrian who spoke in deep reflective tones,’ we have an inter-galactic duty to try and help these earthlings who seem so muddled in their thinking.’

‘Well, naturally you would think so Ductur, We appreciate it is the special prerogative of your sect to argue for the most hopeful and peaceful outcomes always, but as I said we do not know if these earthlings will, or indeed if they are capable of responding to the sort of help you would offer. But you must follow the promptings of your God,’ Susjee’.

The meeting broke up and the work commenced whilst a special observation unit was established to closely watch the earth and its strange inhabitants.


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April 25th: The Best Laid Plans: II


We climbed into the plane. Zak started to go through all the checks and I logged on the radar control and entered our coordinates so the flight controller could direct our interception. The engines revved up and we taxied on to the runway, gathering speed as we went.  We waited whilst the engines roared to full throttle, then we and our ‘wingman’ were racing down the runway with seven feet between wing tips. Another minute and we were detached from terra firma and climbing through light cirrus cloud to our interception point. The American flight controller confirmed our interception co-ordinates and we signalled that our guns were’ locked on’.

We received the message that the interception had been successful, ‘dead turkey in the run’ and were awaiting our next interception co-ordinates when there was a short sharp whistle. RAF Central Control cut in to tell us that the training exercise was terminated because a flight of Russian ‘Bear’ bombers had penetrated our airspace west of Uist and we were ordered to proceed at ‘best speed’ to intercept them and chase them out of our skies. Zak responded immediately and we were soon heading up the East coast as fast as we could go.

I asked if we should not tell RAF Central Control that we were not ‘armed up’. Zak’s reply chilled me somewhat.

‘I shouldn’t bother, old sport, because if I get the order to attack I shall ram the b***’s anyway’.

I just sighed deeply.

We started to receive messages that the Norwegians had alerted two squadrons, the Belgians three, the Dutch four and the French ten. ‘It seems to me’, I said quietly,’ as though we are quite superfluous and indeed we shall be in the way Zak, so why don’t we just turn round and go home’. But Zak was adamant, ‘No can do sport! I have been given a direct order by the top brass, to chase these b***s out of our skies’.

Then we saw them, three huge bombers, with two turrets on each side carrying as, we knew, two 650mm heavy machine guns, plus a top turret with two cannon guns which kept swivelling towards us. They were certainly ‘armed up’.

Zak again, this time very quiet and intense: ‘D’you know what I ‘m going to do which will definitely upset them? I’m going to do a belly roll right underneath their old tub.’

I replied, ‘I definitely don’t second this move, it smacks of showing off.’

Zak flew straight underneath the nearest Russian bomber and I was horrified to see that the bomb doors were half open and that the bomb racks were full.

Drama on top of drama! There was a sudden silence. I realised that our engines had stopped.

Zak’s voice hit me, ‘Sorry old sport you will have to do a dive, are you ready to open the cockpit hatch?’

I was but I knew it was all hopeless, no one had ever escaped that way because the back draft resulted in impalement on the rear fin. I tugged on the hatch release: nothing moved. Did anything work on this **** plane ?

Then a miracle occurred, the engines suddenly fired and Zak’s voice was as confident as ever. ‘I knew the angels were on your side, Dave.’

We said the ‘Hail Mary’ together with great fervour.

The Russians apparently didn’t like our manoeuvres, or maybe our devotions, they just vanished, sure that we were raving mad.

A video of a Gloster Meteor NF 11, night flying variant of the only jet fighter used by the Allies during the Second World War.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wemjUKPXSx4
“Tu-95 Bear D”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons –                                          https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tu-95_Bear_D.jpg#/media/File:Tu-95_Bear_D.jpg

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April 2: The Apostles’ Dog and the Doors of Perception.

upperroom tomdog

We have seen most of this picture before: the disciples crowding around the risen Jesus with Thomas among them, touching him, supporting each other as they come to grips with this unlooked-for reality. The Church comes to birth in solidarity.

The right hand frame though shows how determinedly the disciples kept themselves safe: that massive door, fit for a castle keep, and their dog, faithfully guarding the threshold. His ears are pricked; he knows something is going on inside, but wears the resigned look of a puzzled dog who knows he does not understand, although he’s been among them on the road, eating the scraps that fell from their table (Matthew 15:26).

Just once open the door and watch him bound in, greeting his old friend without inhibition, without question, without needing to understand. He would know with every doggy sense; now, with the door shut, he knows that he does not know!

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

So, let us pray that we may open ourselves up, or better allow the risen Lord to come in through the chinks of our cavern, bringing with him eternity, infinity, joy; that we may rejoice, even if we do not understand.

Strasbourg Cathedral.



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O, that you would tear the heavens open and come down



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From where we stand, the Cave is dark.

We wait in this valley of darkness; this night

of shadows and echoes from the past.


The Father is aware, but silent;

the Watchers are there, mute and still;

the Holy Ghost broods with quiet joy.


Moses is there in a cleft of the rock;

 Plato observes the images thrown on the wall

by the fire outside, near the sheep-fold.


In this silence and darkness is no threat,

for waiting there is right; without signs.

Mary has said her Fiat and it shall be.


 The door pushed open by the shepherds,

casts another shadow on the wall;

image of a cross, for pain is there before birth.


Then, at the breath of a new Creation

uttered by the Father, the Holy Ghost stirs;

 Jesus slips into the waiting world.

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The Father tears open the curtains of heaven,

 beside Himself with the weight of joy

at this first glimpse of His only Son,


Child, you shine at your birth, translucent

   with love of the Father, who sees even now, how

 the veil of the temple will be rent at your death.


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Mary’s Song

NASA image

I woke, containing you, singing a new song.

Fire’s element mastered in flame, fashions a form;

love’s pulse within me shall be shaped a man, but

can spirit be birth-bound; merit a mother and warm?


White winter falls silent and cold;

we wait loving, and still I sing but more

turn in to my womb where silences eddy,

gyrate, and soundless break on an unseen shore.


 Quick child within the dark, does know, sees,

hears;  must never lose myriad wonder of flower-

colour, chromatics that counter and fuse, nor

rise out of reach moon and his bright star.


You win me earth’s essence and warm.

Lunar beauty is bliss, and cannon in far skies

those singing stars I know may now be dust.

 No matter: I saw my child in the angel’s eyes.


Creation spirals, rounds, barely I touch

eternal  its rim with quiet fingers. On tips

of silence that angel is poised beyond darkness,

yet I shall suckle at my mere breast his lips.


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