Tag Archives: wine

December 24: Is Yours a Metal or a plastic Christmas Tree?

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I guess your Christmas tree is now indoors and decorated? Perhaps the last place you’d expect to find a metal one would be Tanzania. This story comes from the Missionaries of Africa  and is by Marien van den Eijnden, M.Afr. 

When I visited for the first time the M.Afr. house in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, [now called Atiman House] in the 1960’s, I saw in the courtyard a sort of metal Christmas-tree and wondered what one would be using it for. The top was 1.5 m high or more, and it had some 50 upending branches. The amused confreres explained that one used it to drip-dry wine-bottles after having been cleansed and rinsed. But in those days they rarely used it anymore.

The house was the procure, or distribution centre for the missions, and imported the Mass-wine and table-wine for upcountry. In addition to individual bottles one used damjan [= dame-jeanne], bottles of  + 20 litres in a wickerwork basket. Later on drums of 100 litres were used, which were bottled in the respective diocesan headquarters.

Marien van den Eijnden, M.Afr.

Father Marien’s story left me wondering at the effort that went into making sure there was enough wine for Mass so far from any vineyards, but grapes have been grown in Tanzania since soon after he arrived there. So maybe the Christmas tree is not needed at Atiman House.

We use a modern version of this once or twice a month at L’Arche Kent. Some readers may remember that it has among its activities a small brewery project. It is hoped to make this into a commercial micro brewery in God’s good time.
Unlike most UK brewers, we recycle bottles. They go through various washing and sterilising processes and are hung out to dry on this handsome red plastic Christmas tree. These are all jobs that core members of the community can do without constant, overpowering supervision, and which they take pride in.
One of our brewers, Paul, recently took some bottles to Japan on a visit to the community there.

Happy Christmas to all,

Maurice, Will and all the team.


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20 August, Shared Table XVI: A Welcome in Broadstairs.


We were in Broadstairs, my student, his mother and me. We needed to investigate the journey from home to the college he might be joining, a train ride and a walk onto unfamiliar territory for my student, who can find the unfamiliar challenging. But we were at our destination before he knew it.

On Queen’s Road where once I worked for two years, I found myself on unfamiliar territory. The Baptist Church Hall where Gill and I and our team had taught school drop-outs had disappeared, replaced by a lovely new building with a community café on the ground floor. In we went as it looked warm and by no means noisy.

A wise choice! There was time only for a welcome tea and slice of cake, but we warmed up (this was in January) and looked around. One waitress had learning disabilities but was coping fine under discreet supervision. Some of the customers clearly knew each other well, and were enjoying their meals and each other’s company.

This mosaic hangs on the wall of the café. It brings Broadstairs, represented by the beach, the harbour buildings and the houses, to the Lord, around his table: not a church table with a white cloth but a coloured, patterned one. Bread and fishes from the harbour; bread and wine: everyday fare made special by His sharing, by our sharing with him.

Another concrete prayer, that mosaic. Another concrete prayer, that café! Drop in if you are in Broadstairs.






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June 21: Shared Table IV, Bread and Wine?


Herbert McCabe O.P. was always thought-provoking. Nicholas Lash once laid these quotations of Herbert’s before his own readers:

Christ has a better right to appear as food and drink than bread and wine have. The doctrine of transubstantiation, as I see it, is that the bread and wine become more radically food and drink.

I am suggesting that the consecrated host exists at a level of reality at which questions of whether it is bread can not relevantly be asked.

Nicholas Lash, ‘Traveller’s Fare’, New Blackfriars, May 2007, pp129, 131.

Lash warns against the ‘reification’ of Christ in the wheaten host. In other words, I think, we must not see the host as a thing we can call Jesus. Despite the old hymn it does not ‘my very God conceal’, but it reveals him.

It reveals him as humble, as nourishing,  as one  who,

though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:6-8


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6 January: Epiphany



Even those of little faith are predisposed

on Christmas Eve for wonder, I suppose,

as night grows late and great with child.

Those shepherds of so long ago had trained their eyes

on earth: too much of gazing up at skies

and sheep go missing in the wild.


Thus shepherds don’t discourse with angels as a rule.

Nor I.  But I am keen on tidings yule

and probably disqualified.

Still, hear me out: I went about my routine tasks

with eyes on earth before the midnight mass,

expecting bread and wine to hide


not less – or more – than mystery.  Outside the door

the night was lit.  I stopped.  I’d not before

known midnight give a bird its note

as though at dawn, but softly as a lullaby –

and earth become all ear, with no reply

but something catching in the throat.


But if you think the wonder of the bird and song

the marvellous epiphany, you’re wrong.

It was the sky – no other place.

Susceptibility in me won’t sink so low

as claim a real miracle – oh no.

Yet, as I gazed at outer space,


I saw full mother-moon and off-spring aura bright,

and a second aura capture light from light –

with light-years singing in between:

Hosannas heaved.  I heard them.  Not with day-time ears,

but night-ears heard their music, calming fears

of aeons. So: epiphany.


I took it back inside with me as I returned

to routine tasks with thoughts of heaven.  I’d learned

to train my eyes on high surprises.




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18 December … Like the Dew-fall.



Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above,

and let the clouds rain the just:

let the earth be opened,

and bud forth a saviour.

Isaiah 45:8

One Sunday our walk to church took us across a field of crystals, each blade of grass glowing in its jewels, our path marked out by one who had gone before. I was reminded of the good bit of the new translation of the Mass, where the presiding priest asks God to ‘send down your Spirit [upon the Bread and Wine] like the dew-fall‘. Maybe the image does not work in big cities but that’s no reason to discard it.

The same verse from Isaiah is often used in Advent – ‘Heavens drop dew from above’, ‘Rorate Coeli’ and so on.


Scientifically, what’s interesting is that dew does not exactly drop from the heavens; it is water that is in the air all along, and appears when conditions are right. When the air is saturated with water vapour. And the dew is seen when eyes are open to it.

We do not need a thunderstorm to impart the Spirit. (1Kings 19:12) The Spirit is already  within us through baptism – water again! We can let ourselves be saturated, with grace, with mercy, at least sometimes. After all, it is for us to prepare the way of the Lord by letting the Spirit be visible in our lives. If one person sees the spirit of love in me today the Holy Spirit will be able to touch them, and change them a little. And maybe change me a little.

Amen to that.


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21 September: Intergalactic Discoveries, IX: California Dreamin’.


August 10 came, and with it a beach barbecue. Mrs Fox and the Chihuahuax were there, of course. Ajax worried that in Cornwall it would all be sardines and shellfish, but Larry the chef knew his market and was flipping burgers and bangers on one grill, seafood on the other. Mrs Fox made sure they had a burger and a banger to share, served on shiny new dishes that would keep their food free from sand. A gesture the boys appreciated, as they still preserved some of the daintiness of Ossyrian dining etiquette and loathed the feel of grit on their teeth and tongues.

The Doom Bar and cabernet flowed ever more freely once all had eaten. Ajax and Alfie sidled away behind a dune. Together they emptied their minds and waited for T to contact them. They could only receive T intermittently, as the meteorites that provided distraction for the watchers of the night also interfered with their own thought beams.

T had had a frustrating time. He hawked his neatly typed manifesto for the Ossyrian-Earthling Friendship Pact around the studios but those that let him past the reception desk took him for a would-be script writer and asked to see a fuller treatment of the theme. Hengecliffe Artists arranged a discussion with one of their writers, but after half an hour of his vision of the US Cavalry being zapped by the Ossyrian Gubernatorial Guards, T got up to go. These seemed no point in trying to harness Hollywood. T could take no more.

‘We know how Margate works’, he told Ajax and Alfie. ‘Let’s return to our upstairs room and wait for reinforcements, or another flight home.’

‘What are you waiting for?’ protested Ajax, ‘You’re surfing USA, sucking ice-creams, sipping cold beer… get on that plane!’

‘I can’t go till my booked flight leaves, and don’t forget I hear regularly from Mrs Fox, my friends. You are not doing too badly; ice-cream and doggy treats if not cold beer. It’s a dog’s life, as they say in England. And next week you have a special treat…’

At this point the meteorite shower combined with the midnight barking to white-noise T from the air waves. What was going to happen next week?


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15 September: Luke 14Because You’re Worth It.

RoodEngMartyrsCamb (495x700)

What people will think sometimes stops us from doing good; it can make us ashamed of our faith; it can even bring us to deny Jesus. When we are concerned about what people think we are actually asking what do they think I am worth? The answer to that question is on every altar and in every Christian Church. It is the crucified Christ. This is what you are worth. This much love. This much sacrifice. If you truly believe that then you will not give a care what people think and you will be keen to share the secret of our faith.

The concept of personhood is entirely recast through the incarnation. That is why those at the margins are to be invited to share in the banquet of the kingdom; the Eucharistic banquet which is a symbol of the values of the kingdom. Those who cannot repay are specifically invited. They are invited precisely because they cannot offer anything in return. The host’s pleasure comes from the sheer act of giving in the generous pouring out of hospitality.

That pouring out which is accomplished on the cross and made available to us in the breaking of the bread and the pouring out of the cup in the Eucharistic banquet where all are beggars, even those who minister. We all come with our hands outstretched. We are invited precisely because we have nothing to offer. It is not our banquet. The Lord is the host. When he looks at our Eucharistic banquet he sees his own life reflected back at him. It is the life of the Body of Christ celebrating one glorious free lunch.


Rood, Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge; MMB.


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April 8, Station V: Stay with Us!

RoodEngMartyrsCamb (495x700)

…He walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us…’ [28-32]

We can’t help wishing that Luke would have told us something of what the stranger said as he opened the scriptures to them, but he doesn’t. Instead he has him walking ahead, as if to go on, and the disciples begging him to stay. And that really takes us to the heart of what this Gospel is about. The disciples don’t want the conversation to end, while we may feel we are still waiting for it to begin: and the point being made by Luke is that it is not ‘a conversation’ so much as a process that continues, only in a way that neither they nor we could have expected.

‘So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognised him…’ The conversation continues now not in words but in action. Up until this moment they have been listening to a stranger who has slowly been opening their understanding, and stirring their memories. But it is only when he does something when they are at table with him—he takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them—that their eyes are suddenly opened and they recognise him in what he has just done. His presence is revealed, and will always be revealed, in the breaking of the bread, in the celebration of Eucharist.

And significantly, no sooner do they recognise him than he ‘dis-appears’: they no longer see him but they know he is present with them. They had begun to sense his presence while they listened to his Word [Were not our hearts burning within us…?], and now in the action of breaking and sharing bread it dawns on them: he is here, This is my body…Do this…

And just as suddenly as they realise this he ‘dis-appears’, at the very moment when they do see and fully grasp what has happened. And yet they are not in the least disturbed when they can no longer see him, because they now know that though he died he is alive in a new way, and they also have been brought back to life, this new life: seeing with new eyes, and driven by a new energy. And they waste no time: That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem.

What is this like for us today?


Perhaps there are two lessons—or really one lesson in two stages—that we can learn from this ‘Station’ as we try to connect it with our own experience.

  • Our first need is often to talk and listen to one another, read, discuss, argue…but in the end we want to move to action: what are we going to do? And that could be what would make us press the stranger to stay with us…talk to us a bit more, help us not just to understand but to see a way forward.
  • The stranger does stay, but what he now does is to bring words and action together in a powerful symbolic act—the breaking of the bread—which they recognised, and immediately also recognised him. But there is a crucial difference: they now grasp the meaning of the action and recognise in the breaking of the bread the acting out—or better, the living out—of the Word he had been explaining to them: This is my body, this is what I have done and now do again here for you and with you, so that you may continue to do the same, take this bread/my body and do/live for others as I do for you.


The Rood Screen at Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge, explicitly links the Cross and the Eucharist. MMB.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caravaggio#/media/File:Caravaggio_-_Cena_in_Emmaus.jpg


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