This first reflection introduces the topic of caring for others – and how the one cared for can be a carer for her carers. Tomorrow we’ll start a short season about L’Arche.
After a fall that made walking and moving difficult, my mother returned home with help from ‘carers’ – mostly young women with families – who would help her with dressing, bathing and getting back to the shops. They were also able to observe her recovery and how she was getting around the house and to the village shop.
This was an excellent way of getting out of hospital earlier than she otherwise would have done. I’m sure she got better a lot sooner. In fact, she soon found that she was getting most things done for herself before the carers came: ‘I didn’t see why I should stop in bed until they were able to come and get me dressed, so of course I did it myself.’
The carers would then spend a few minutes chatting over a cup of tea. They were still working, noting how she was both physically and mentally. She, in her turn, was caring for them by listening to the news of their families. Those ten minutes were a respite for the carers before the next call, perhaps to someone needing more of their time for those basic needs.
Our family are grateful for the dedication of these lowly-paid workers who bring real loving care to their work, even though their time is micro-managed by desk jockeys at their agency HQ and at County Hall. At the care-face, it is face-to-face work, person to person, loving kindness.
My mother will remain in her own home as long as she possibly can. Tomorrow we’ll read about a caring way of living with people with learning disabilities.
I’d rather show you this than a motorway junction! We are at Ashford International station in Kent, where I change trains on my way to work most weeks, and where occasionally we change trains en route to France, Belgium or beyond.
A junction on the motorway does not give chance to stop and stare, as one can at Ashford International. Where is that woman going, I wonder? My son’s friend from school greets me as he goes about his work on the platform.The sparrows chatter over a few crumbs tossed around one of the benches.
The non-stop Eurostar roars through to Paris, a life-changing trip for some. And those alighting from the inbound Eurostar: will they feel welcome on English soil? I once met a former pupil who had completely changed his name – not even using the same initials – to start a new life here with his young lady, forty miles from where he had lived with a neglectful mother and stepfather. Every day is new!
And always there are the anxious ones who do not trust the departure boards or announcements, sometimes with good reason. They ask the platform staff, is this the right train? They get on board, they ask their fellow passengers, is this the right train? If the guard comes by, they ask, is this the right train? On the train they make for the door as soon as their station is announced, unaware it is five minutes or more away.
My friends, there actually is time to stop and stare, so sit back and relax!
Oh, there’s my train coming in: I’d best make sure I ‘join the correct portion of the train’, or who knows where I’ll be! Safe home!
‘Twas on a Monday morning the gas man came to call.’ (Flanders and Swan). But this one knew just what he was doing, changing the meter and leaving all safe and sound.
He called me to witness that all was safely sealed at the end of the job by observing the manometer connected to the equipment. ‘We don’t like excitement,’ he said, as the level stayed exactly the same for the required times.
‘Those rubber washers are possibly the most important part of the whole thing, they guarantee your safety. Yet they are cheap, so cheap that they send them out in packs of a hundred. They wouldn’t do that if they cost pounds each.’
Who do we rely on but never give a thought to? Make sure you acknowledge them, pass the time of day, give them a smile. I am very glad our house is safe from gas leaks and all appliances are working; thank you, Martin the gasman!
As long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.
After a big Christmas meal among a crowd of adults, some of them unknown to him, 18 month-old Abel was getting restless so he went and found his wellington boots. It was time for some fresh air.
By the corner of the park he stopped. He pointed at the lilac tree and shook his finger – a gesture he uses if he hears a loud noise like a siren – or grandad sneezing. Grandad’s sinuses were not challenged on this occasion; the noise was coming from the tree: Robin playing his part in the dusk chorus.
Abel watched and listened till Robin changed his perch, then said, bye bye. Off he went into the park and straight up onto the old abandoned railway line. At the top he paused again, listening. Singing close by were a thrush and blackbird as well as another robin. After listening for a while, it was bye-bye to these birds too. We were unable to see them.
We did see the gulls flying below the clouds on their way to the coast: bye-bye to them too.
It was dark when we said bye-bye to Abel, but he pointed from his car-seat to our own robin, still singing, still patrolling his boundaries by street-light. Bye-bye Abel, thank you for listening with me!
We would like to invite you to the Advent Retreat on Saturday December 3. Please reply to Christopher Chapman directly at the email address below.
Waiting, Watching, Awakening
A retreat day for Advent
Saturday December 3rd, 10 am to 3 pm
At the Franciscan International Study Centre, Giles Lane, Canterbury, CT2 7NA
The Christian year begins not with the great feasts of Christmas, Easter or Pentecost but with waiting. Advent is in many ways a stark season – a time to be in touch with our deepest desires and needs. It is a season of longing directed towards Christ, revealed as God-with-us, Emmanuel. Advent is a season of waiting, but in hope and in expectation.
The day will be led by Christopher Chapman, an experienced retreat leader and spiritual guide. He is the author of Seeing in the Dark [Canterbury Press 2013].
Programme for the day
Coffee and tea will be available from 9.30am
10am Introduction to the day
10.15am Waiting with Creation
10.45am Quiet space with prayer exercises provided
11.30am Watching with the Prophets
12 noon Quiet space with prayer exercises provided
12.30pm Lunch [please bring your own]
1.15pm The awakening of Christ within
2pm Quiet space with prayer exercises provided
2.40pm Gathering and prayer
3pm Tea and depart
Suggested donation for the day £10, or what you can afford.
To help with the organisation of the day please let us know that you intend to come.
Contact Christopher Chapman: firstname.lastname@example.org 01227 479498
Although NAIB has an Anglican door of mercy just outside her front door, I never expected to pass through one myself, but we entered two of them in Poland, the first at the Sanctuary of the Holy Family in Zakopane. A beautifully carved wooden frame had been constructed around the West door of the Church: you’ll have noticed that we have been using their version of the Mercy Icon when our reflections touch on the Year of Mercy. Look carefully and you’ll see it on the left of the frame.
Where should a Door of Mercy lead? This one opened onto a crucifix just inside the door, a manned confessional, then a beautiful interior, with the birds of the air upon the ceiling and scenes from local history in murals above the nave. Here, next to the altar, was the font with John baptising his cousin and Our Lord. Here was the Blessed Sacrament exposed, half a dozen faithful keeping watch.
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts. Psalm 84:3
But where should a Door of Mercy lead? It leads us – not just the Old Testament High Priest – into the sanctuary, but also out of it.
We have [hope] as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm, and which entereth in even within the veil; where the forerunner Jesus is entered for us, made a high priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech. (Hebrews 6:19-20).
We have hope and entering a door of mercy is a sign of that hope but as we exit the door we are called to be instruments of mercy, not passive recipients of it. We are called to forgive seventy times seven (some people I know can almost be that annoying!) and to have compassion on our fellow servants; to feel for them and to build them up. (Matthew 18). So now, as the Year of Mercy ends, go out through your local door of mercy and get at it! (Your door of mercy is the one you have the key to and where your letters and visitors arrive; your front door.)
Blackthorn opens at the end of Winter, but never one flower alone, always a constellation of Hope.
… waiting, as at the end
of a hard winter
for one flower to open
on the mind’s tree of thorns.
I could not shake off yesterday’s image of a fleshly body, hanging on that tree. Waiting for a flower to open in my mind, I recalled this tree of thorns, the lynchings of black men in America: Strange Fruit:
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
While the song was written in response to lynchings in America, we are more than aware that the sudden smell of burning flesh could appear on any breeze, anywhere in the world.
Bitter crops come from bitter seeds. Let us pray for the insight to see how to relieve whatever bitterness we encounter in our neighbours, and the courage to reach out to do so.
 Waiting SP p137
A walk in the woods with Abel, now 16 months old, is another story. I’d greet all the dogs as a matter of course, but he enjoys them to the point of bubbling with laughter; there is disappointment that the brambles are now bare of blackberries, but even so he (and I) appreciate the seasons; puddles are for throwing stones into and exclaiming ‘splash’, or as near as we can get, while a big pine tree is for hide and seek.
Laudato Si’ !
The first thing that happened was that Mrs Fox, another of T’s human friends, arrived in her car to take the boys to Cornwall. T thanked Mrs Fox, and silently arranged a telepathic conference with the dogs on August 10, when astronomers would be looking for meteorites and willing to attribute any unusual signals to the asteroid belt.
Ajax and Alfie were anxious at leaving their familiar town, and even more so when Mrs Fox stopped at a motorway service station. Was this their destination? A monument to human craziness: cars, cars, cars, a smell of exhaust, warm metal and hamburger, a far cry from the scientific food in the safe, encapsulated world of Ossyria.
T had sent a big bag of earth’s version of scientific food – ‘A Complete Diet for Your Small Dog – Who could ask for anything more?’ After all those fish and chip suppers on the beach, the boys could! Their new carer put down a bowlful each and plenty of water, while she sat on the grass and passed them morsels of her Cornish Pastie. ‘If her name is Fox, does she understand dogs, do you think?’ asked Alfie.
There was great relief when they were led back to the car, and off to the West. That evening they drew up at a cottage on top of a hill, with the sea at the bottom of it. There was no need to expend energy on telepathy to persuade Mrs Fox to go down there. ‘Maybe we can just sit back and enjoy the next few weeks and forget about observation duties.’ said Ajax. But it was not quite so simple. ‘You can’t be a part-time Ossyrian,’ said Alfie. ‘Just watch Mrs Fox for a start.’
Ajax shuddered. Mrs Fox was very organised, a character trait much in evidence in Ossyria, and not always endearing. ‘Look at you! Your nails need clipping, and I do believe you’ve picked up some little visitors. It’s the vet’s for you tomorrow morning.’
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?
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.