Tag Archives: water

August 17: Water of life

fountain.st.peters.rome

It was my joke, when I was researching in Rome, that my constitutional walk was down the Via Aurelia, round the fountain and back to the HQ of the Missionaries of Africa, and the (thankfully dust-free) files in the archives. The fountain was a good goal to aim for: you could hardly miss it, unless you mistook it for the one on the opposite side of the piazza. And a thing of beauty it is with the water playing in the sunlight.

This summer it is not playing. When the old popes brought water from the hills to furnish these fountains and many others throughout Rome there were many fewer people drinking less water, using less for washing and all the many processes that need water. The spring rains have not come this year: the City of Rome may soon ration water, so the Vatican City has turned off the supply to many of its fountains in solidarity with the Roman people.

People come before ornamental fountains, though even in April I was glad of the drinking fountain in the wall of the Vatican. I hope that is still running in the heat: my friend Fr Dominique Arnauld told me that the water in the fountains of Rome is reliably fresh and drinkable; and cold. You could spend a small fortune buying bottled water!

Let us not take water for granted – nor the needs of our fellow human beings, brothers and sisters. Nor indeed all the creatures that depend on water from the hills and from springs and rivers and the clouds. I’m sure I could use a little less each day. And you?

Laudato Si’ !

 

 

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15 August: The flooding of the Nile

lakewavesb.w

The Assumption of Mary and the Flooding of the Nile: two feasts on the same day, can we connect them?

The Nile, of course, is life to Egypt, water and fertility. Here is Arthur Hughes, Missionary of Africa, just arrived in Cairo in 1942 after working in Ethiopia, then often called Abyssinia:

The heavy rains of Abyssinia run down from her mountains and hillsides in torrents and go to swell the River Nile as it flows out of Lake Tana. I thought how those Biblical years in the Old Testament – the seven years of thinness and famine in Egypt – were due of course to seven years of slight or no rains in Abyssinia. This year here at Cairo the River is very high: August the 17th is Feast of the Nile and has been for thousands of years, since for thousands of years the month of August brings down to the Nile Delta the torrential rains of Abyssinia and the Nile overflows its banks and waters the lands and forms that green belt of vegetation in the middle of the desert which is Egypt.

valencia.mary

Mary provided an oasis of love where her son could grow into boyhood and manhood, for the first few years in Egypt, traditionally in the Cairo area. Imagine her in the market, buying food grown in the fertile soil of the delta, just as we do – though she would not have bought Egyptian potatoes or tomatoes, as we have done this Spring.

Let us be grateful for the food we receive from Egypt and around the world; let’s pray for true peace in Egypt and the Middle East; and let’s thank God for Mary’s loving care of her Son, and the true peace which he brings.

MMB.

I do not know why we have two slightly different dates for the Nile Feast! MMB.

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August 13: H is for Holywell.

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There are Holy Wells all over Britain, most more than half forgotten. But people still leave little offerings and prayers tied to branches or stuffed between stones at St Nôn’s Well in Pembrokeshire. Even in Rome, coins are tossed into fountains to bring people back to the eternal city. Are they trying to force the hand of God or some lesser local deity?

R.S. Thomas, the Welsh priest-poet, had a holy well in his parish where he would pray. Whom did he and other visitors pray to there?

‘ where the coins lie, the tarnished offerings

of the people to the pure spirit

that lives there, that has lived there

always, giving itself up

to the thirsty, withholding

itself from the superstition

of others, who ask for more.’[1]

Holy wells challenge me, if no-one else! Whatever lies behind the legend of St Winifred’s well springing to life where her severed head fell, water has bubbled up here, people have prayed here, people have been cured and have left their crutches behind.

Is it superstition to ‘ask for more’? And is seeking bodily healing asking for more – or less – than a draught of ‘the pure spirit that has lived there always? More than likely people came to the holy well before the Welsh saints gathered around it.

Certainly water was a powerful sign to people before the coming of city plumbing and clean water on sale in plastic bottles. Here is Philip in the earliest days of the Church, riding in a chariot with a potential convert (Acts 8):

Philip, opening his mouth, and beginning at this scripture, preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came to a certain water; and the eunuch said: See, here is water: what doth hinder me from being baptized?

 And Philip said: If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answering, said: I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still; and they went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch: and he baptized him.

May we never take water, or the Spirit, for granted!

Find out how to share the benefits of reliably clean water here: http://www.wateraid.org/uk

Winifred and her Holywell depicted in a window at her church in Plowden, Shropshire.

 

 MMB.

[1]R.S. Thomas, ‘Ffynnon Fair’ in R.S. Thomas, ‘Collected Poems, 1945 – 1990’, London, Orion, 2000.

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Inter-galactic Explorations XXVI: The Black Dog.

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‘You heard that?’ said Alfie, as the dogs, T, Abel and Will walked back to the railway station. ‘Abel said bye bye, black dog.’

‘His language is coming on,’ remarked T, ‘but did you see him scream and kick? He is so pleased when he says something new, but he gets frustrated when he cannot make Will understand.’

‘Even though we can read his thoughts without words,’ flashed Ajax. ‘Why can’t humans just do that?’

‘Sometimes they can. Will knows when Abel is tired and needs picking up. But this afternoon Abel wanted to play on the lift at the gallery, and the gallery is closed. Abel likes the world to be predictable. When he comes to Margate he likes to eat fish and chips with Will, to play in the lift, and to splash in the pool on the beach. He’ll be working the lift at the station right now.’

T realised he was talking to himself. The chihuahuas had put a safe distance between themselves and the pool, and were no longer listening.

‘That was predictable,’ mused T. ‘I guess there’s predictable and predictable. We came to bring peace, but I’m not sure we knew what peace on earth would mean. Some Earthlings would go along with pod life, safely fed and entertained, no quarrels because there’s nothing to quarrel about.

‘Even though he likes working the lift, I don’t think Abel would enjoy being cared for by sensitive robots. But then we’ve not bred for centuries, which has stopped quarrels about mates; so what do we know about children?  It’s there in the libraries, how to love a child and share life with it. That would rock a few of our citizens.

‘Mind you, sharing among ourselves is changing those two, and maybe me as well.
‘Hey, who’s that Alfie’s talking to? I can’t pick up his vibes at all!’

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July 18: A walk on the flat side.

swans.stodmarshThe marsh walk was  chosen not because it was flat but because there was a pub at either end. George was home for a few days gardening leave between jobs, his gardening consisting in sunbathing on the lawn that his mother tends with this activity in mind. Stodmarsh feels further from London than 70 miles.

Nonetheless, this is a post-industrial landscape: Chislet colliery lay under here and as land in the Stour valley subsided water and reeds took over. Paths allow dryshod walking from the Red Lion to the Grove Ferry Inn, especially after a dry winter and spring.

Mrs T is shorter than her husband and son, just below the tops of the reeds, so her view was restricted. But she enjoyed the birdsong – including two cuckoos and a booming bittern. The cuckoo is becoming rarer; there were many more when we came to Kent some forty years ago. Bitterns are a different case, no more than birds of passage back then.

Back then the old field fences could be seen from the train, gradually sinking into what was at first seasonal open water but has now become reed beds, favoured home of bitterns. Back then – even just a couple of years ago – we would have expected swallows and martins as well as swifts chasing flies. It cannot be just lack of mud for nest-building that kept them away this year.

Although young Abel will appreciate the birds he gets to know, he may never be familiar with swallows and martins, or even song thrushes. Thank God he has sparrows under his roof.

I don’t need Mr Trump’s climate change denial. I saw how entranced Abel was, aged 18 months, by the song of a robin in a nearby bush. I would like to think that, aged 18, he will enjoy the song of a nightingale from a Kentish bramble patch.

Laudato Si’ – but also – miserere nobis.

George’s picture of the swans -there were two parents and seven cygnets – shows how well the wildlife is hidden out on the marsh.

 

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July 4, readings from Mary Webb, III: Feel the Zest.

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When participation in man’s keen life is denied, it is not strange if laughter dies. In the sirocco of pain it is not surprising if joy and faith are carried away.

So many sit by the wayside begging, unconscious that the great Giver is continually passing down the highways and hedges of nature, where each weed is wonderful. So many are blind and hopeless, yet they have only to desire vision, and they will see that through His coming the thickets are quickened into leaf and touched with glory.

samaritanwoman

Out in this world the spirit that was so desolate, lost in the strange atmosphere of physical inferiority, may once more feel the zest that he thought was gone for ever. And this zest is health: sweeping into the mind and into those recesses of being beyond the conscious self, it overflows into the body. Very often this great rush of joy, this drinking of the freshets of the divine, brings back perfect health. Even in diseases that are at present called incurable, and that are purely physical, no one will deny the immense alleviation resulting from this new life.

Zest – the grated rind of lemon or orange – is a small ingredient with a big punch. Let’s use our imaginations when our friends are ill. A letter can be put by till they are ready to read it, but it may be read many times; a picture postcard can be propped by the bedside; a visit of a few minutes may bring a rush of joy; as might sitting outside with a friend. Mary Webb had been there, and her disease was called incurable.

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July 2: Introduction to Mary Webb

 

Mary_webbMary Webb, 1881 – 1927, the Shropshire poet and novelist, suffered from Grave’s Disease, a thyroid problem that is much better understood and treated today. The introduction to her book, The Spring of Joy reveals:

One to whom life was pain, and death a charnel-house, came under cloudy hollows stained with sunrise into a country pleasant as lilac in the rain. Wandering down aisles of birdsong to the brink of a river, she drank where the ousels and the stars had been before her, and found comfort and joy. So she brought back in the palm of her hand for those in need of healing a few drops of the water which sparkled and held the sky.

Some readers may find her writing sentimental, but it is nevertheless authentic and from the heart, and Franciscan in its living in God’s Nature. An ousel is a water blackbird.

WT.

 

 

 

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12 May: Reflection: The river of life

river.monnow. 

I remember spending a week in the house of a friend, on the bank of the river Monnow, in the Welsh borders. The sky arches over rich pastureland and rising hills. As the light of day fades, bats tumble and spin across the darkening sky. And night and day the river runs, playing over the rocks and shaping the land. I remember and am stilled by the sound of that river. The river is movement and presence: always new, yet older by far than I who hear it.

The prophet Ezekiel, writing in exile from his homeland, wrote of another river, flowing from the Temple, the dwelling place of God:

water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple…and it was a river that could not be crossed…This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river flows, every living creature that swarms will live…everything will live where the river goes. On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food…their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.

  Ezekiel 47

The river of the life of God brings life to the place of death and decay; it is always creative, fruitful and medicinal.

Perhaps one way of thinking about the incarnation is as the pouring out of the life of God into all being like Ezekiel’s river. This river of the Word made flesh flows not only through green pastures but desert places, and because of the river, barren wastelands live. Because of Christ’s life, suffering, dying and rising there is no place of human struggle and despair where the river of hope will not and does not flow. This does not mean that we do not continue to experience pain, or no longer struggle to make sense of suffering. Christ still feels the pain of nails in his hands and the rejection of those who had been his followers; yet Christ is also risen, the tombstone rolled definitively away. In the Gospel of John, as Jesus dies, blood and water flow from his side. This moment of death is also the outpouring of life. A river flows.

The river always runs, and we are caught up in its flow; more than this, through the gift of God we discover this same river flowing within us. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman:

If only you knew what God is offering…you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water…Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again; but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again; the water that I shall give will turn into a spring within, welling up to eternal life.

John 4: 10-14

It was at night, when the last sheep call faded into the twilight, and the earth stilled that I heard most clearly the river running. Not that it wasn’t always flowing, but the sounds of the day, and the noise of my own activity prevented me from hearing it clearly. There are moments in the world of here and now when we hear the river flowing within all things and know this same river is the source of our own being, becoming and giving.

The river flows from the Temple of God, and sometimes, sometimes even at night, we hear it running. Wherever the river flows, through our own meanness and narrowness of heart, through the pain of loss or cruelty of others, unexpected trees grow with fruit for healing: – for our own easing, and to be shared with others.

CC.

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19 March: 3rd Sunday in Lent, Jesus and the Woman at Jacob’s Well.

 

samaritanwoman

We were bowled over by the beauties of the Baptistry of the Abbey of Saint Maurice in the Swiss town of that name. It is worth a detour, or spending a couple of hours between trains to make a journey into a pilgrimage.

In John’s Gospel, chapter 4, Jesus was returning to Galilee from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem when he sat down by Jacob’s Well and asked a Samaritan woman to give him a drink of water. The well, of course, was there before the Jews and Samaritans went their separate ways: ‘Our fathers adored on this mountain, and you say, that at Jerusalem is the place where men must adore,’ said the woman.

Instead of getting into an argument with her, Jesus tells her:

 The hour cometh, and now is, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeketh such to adore him. God is a spirit; and they that adore him, must adore him in spirit and in truth.

This text is used for one of the Scrutinies – special prayers within the Sunday Mass for those preparing for Baptism at Easter. We can pray these words for ourselves, too:

God of power, you sent your Son to be our Saviour. Grant that these men and women, who, like the woman of Samaria, thirst for living water, may turn to the Lord as they hear his word and acknowledge the sins and weaknesses that weigh them down. Protect them from vain reliance on self and defend them from the power of Satan. Free them from the spirit of deceit, so that, admitting the wrong they have done, they may attain purity of heart and advance on the way to salvation. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Let us pray, too for the grace to treat as sisters and brothers all the baptised, of whatever Church.

Let us pray for the freedom of everyone to adore  God, in church, mosque, synagogue or temple.

 

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February 21: Inter-galactic Discoveries XXIV, It’s cold outside.

 

It was cold, too cold for pseudo-Chihuahuas to do more than put their noses outside the door but they were enjoying people watching from the bay window.

 

‘Look down there! It’s little Abel on the sands. What is he doing?’ Alfie was half wrapped in his blanket which had become a shared blanket, as so much was shared, freely, by the Ossyrians in dogs’ clothing, almost without their realising it was happening.

T got out his binoculars and soon focussed on the toddler, clad in blue wellington boots and a warm all-in-one suit. ‘Very interesting. We should go join them.’

‘But what is he doing?’ demanded Ajax, who could read the amusement shaking T’s shoulders, but not the reason for it.

‘Come and see,’ said T, shaking the dog leads, and off they went, past the Waste Land shelter and along the prom. Just by the Jubilee Clock, the dogs yanked their leads from T’s hand, turned tail with one accord and refused to go on to greet Will, Abel and his mother. T had to follow. When something made Will look up he just caught a glimpse of the dogs mounting the steps to their front door, with the Director some yards in the rear. He did not realise they were avoiding Abel, and T never told him.

Indoors, Alfie shivered: ‘Abel was wading about in that cold water at the edge of the sea and splashing rocks and laughing! I’ll never understand humans. He was enjoying it and his mother and Will were letting him do it, and they were laughing too.’

‘They can’t help sharing his fun, and they aren’t the sort to stop him doing it completely. Sun, Sand and Sea. That’s why we came to Margate.’

‘But not Sun, Sand, Sea and Splash!’ grumbled Alfie.

‘Lighten up boys,’ said T. ‘Laughter is part of being human. Why the wife of Abraham, mother of the great religions, even laughed at God and called her son ‘laughter’ or Isaac. But I don’t think the humans totally understand it themselves.’

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Sunset over T and Alfie and Ajax’s house, Margate, January 2017.

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