Tag Archives: work

19 July: G is for Valley Gardens

berlin.charlottenberg.flowerbed

Since I was small, I had always loved gardening, so when the chance came of a holiday job at the parks in Castleford, I seized it. The town council took a pride in their parks, lung-savers in an industrial landscape. As well as the mines there were glassworks, a  factory producing chemicals such as wood preservers, a coke oven and a maltings: the least offensive smell. In a heat wave the fumes gathered in the valley where the town was built on the ford. The rivers ran black. Breathing was a challenge.

Valley Gardens was our nearest park: a good park with a crown bowling green, playground for the children, lawns and lots of traditional bedding, the plants grown in the council’s own nursery. There was also raised bedding with scented plants for blind people to enjoy. And so they did.

I’m ever grateful for the skills learnt at Valley Gardens but also for the attitude to work imbibed from the older guys I worked alongside. Many had been miners and knew how to pace themselves to be productive over the whole day. They were also humble enough to put themselves through the City and Guilds Certificate training: men who knew how to handle tools, being ‘taught’ how to dig or prune before taking on specialised skills such as caring for the greens.

mermaidrose (542x408)

Recently I read that Valley Gardens, for many years the responsibility of Wakefield City council, is run-down and the play area no longer safe. A committee has been formed to revive this park. When I was there, people knew the decision makers in town. Now they are in Wakefield and need never go near Valley Gardens.

I hope the committee is supported by the community and Wakefield council so that the gardens return to their former glory.

There are parallels in church life. We need to trust people, even  those who shun responsibilities, with a mission they may fail at. Apart from Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who were members of the Sanhedrin, Jesus chose women and misfits for his first generation of leaders. I don’t recall his disciples sitting exams.

Since writing this post I read an article describing how the people who use the parks the most are poorer people, people without gardens of their own. So it is poor people who take the brunt of government spending cuts in this area of life, as in so many others.

Our beds were every bit as lovely – and more so – than this semiformal planting in Berlin’s Charlottenberg Park. The Roses were a feature of Valley Gardens: the older gardeners taught me how to prune them. This is ‘Mermaid’, who needs very careful handling with her vicious thorns. But she’s lovely!

 

 

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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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29 June 2017: Mercy needs humans to live it.

dirck_van_baburen_saint_peter

Mercy, as we have remarked more than once before, needs humans to live it, to give it. Masefield has one merciful man, the Apostle Peter, today’s saint, introduce himself:

A fisherman, who will pull oars and sail,

Mend nets and watch the weather by the lake.

A rough man, with rude speech, who’ll follow you. Giving up all,

And after, will go telling of your glory

A many hundred miles, to Babylon;

And feel your glory grow in him, and spread

To many others in that city, far

From lake and home and the chatter, mending nets.

And after, I will see you come for me;

For all I’m rude and did deny, you’ll come;

And I shall drink your cup, Master, you helping;

And enter glory by you.

Peter had been with Jesus at the Transfiguration (see today’s Gospel, Matthew 17:1-9) and was there when his Master prayed in the Garden, saying: Father, if thou wilt, remove this chalice from me: but yet not my will, but thine be done. Luke 22:43.

Peter’s Master and ours will give us mercy to drink his cup with us: the Eucharistic cup, which we remind ourselves at every Mass we can only drink worthily though his mercy; and the cup of daily life, which can be bitter or just too much for us at times.

WT

St Peter by Dirck van Baburen

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27 June, Shared Table IX: The Blessing of Hunger.

 

nana-at-t-g-wedding

I had been ill. Ill enough to give up work and move back home to recover. I’d lost a tremendous amount of weight: an infection had gone crazy, affecting my liver function and leaving me exhausted and without appetite.

Then one day I was sitting at the big kitchen table with my grandmother – Nana to countless young people, by no means all of them her actual grandchildren. Basil and Sam the dogs were keeping us company.

Suddenly I realised that I felt hungry, for the first time in months, and said so to Nana. ‘Feed that hunger’, she said, and put bread on the Aga cooker to toast. Wow! I could taste the good bread, the butter, the marmalade. I was grateful: an informal Eucharist.

As Fr Austin (AMcC who writes here) says, hunger can be a blessing. In this case my body was well enough to feel the need of something outside itself, instead of fighting something inside itself. It took time, but I did get better.

There are other hungers too; hungers for learning, for love, ultimately for God. We need to acknowledge these when we feel them.

But as Austin would also tell us, hunger for many people is a curse; they do not have the luxury of knowing where the next meal is coming from. Perhaps, if you are a child at school in Africa, it will be from Mary’s Meals.

MMB.

 

 

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24 June: Dipped in Grey.

starburst-sjc

 

I do not

wish to write

poems dipped in Grey

that everyone

seems so wild about

today as if Grey

makes them weigh

more be more

original

have more truth

 

what about

original light?

Light is true.

So let there BE

light.  Let it pour and

let there be

more and more

 

 

lashings of it

splashing everywhere

boat-loads bath-tub loads

bus-loads of original light

slapping up the sides

sloshing over

slopping over

 

waves of it

 

flooding

city streets

mountain meadows

washing

dirty clothes

my face

streaming off

factory walls

coursing down

ditches

running off

my nose

my fingers

 

this sentiment

will not make me

popular with

other poets.

but am I

writing

for them

or for

You

SJC.

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June 18, Corpus Christi: Shared Table I, ‘Eat Such Things as are Set Before You.’

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Today in England is Corpus Christi, the feast of the Body and Blood of Our Lord. We receive this great gift at the shared table of the Eucharist – or from that table if we are too poorly to attend Mass in person. Jesus chose a meal to give himself to us. This week’s posts reflect on that from different angles. What do you think?

Into whatsoever house you enter, first say: Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you. And in the same house, remain, eating and drinking such things as they have: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Remove not from house to house. And into what city soever you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you.

This passage from Luke 10: 5-9 comes back to me time and again. My tutoring work has taken me into many homes, often where no teacher has been before, and in all but two refreshment has been offered. Instinctively, people set a cup of tea and maybe a biscuit or bacon sandwich, before the visitor. (Those two houses where refreshment was not offered, though I visited many times, were definitely not peaceful homes; my inner peace was surely hard-pressed at times.)

Setting a mug of tea before the visitor is indeed a peace offering. So, whether it be builder’s tea, with three sugars I never requested, or a greyish liquid brewed by an eight-year-old boy, keen to please, ‘Thank you! Just what I needed!’

And to be received in peace allows me to do the labour for which I was sent. Teaching English to a school drop-out may not be directly spreading the Gospel, but it is good news when the youngster responds and learns. And all good news is part of The Good News.

MMB.

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16 June: A very happy First Communion

bread-fish-strasbg

Another story from Fr Andrew SDC.

My poor consumptive girl made a very happy First Communion last Friday. I sat for about an hour yesterday with her poor little weary head on my shoulder while I read and prayed her to sleep. She cannot lie back, because she has consumption in the throat, but to lean up against someone is her best chance of getting a tiny doze. I should think another week would see her in a better world … She told me she has never been so happy before, so that is another bright shining payment from our divine Lord for work in his vineyard.

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15 June: Laid upon God’s table.

 

barley-sea-waves-b-w-2-640x477Much of the world celebrates Corpus Christi today. Here is another reflection from the early Anglican Franciscan, Fr Andrew SDC.

I have often thought of the bread we use in Holy Communion. First of all it is a blade growing in the field, and then part of a golden cornfield over which winged birds fly and amongst which the poppies and the wild flowers grow. Then it is plucked and subjected to the action of fire and water and kneaded into bread, and then it is laid upon God’s Table, waiting for the Holy Spirit to become his means of grace.

it seems such a parable of our life. We are not really put to the highest use until we have been plucked out of the world, ground and kneaded and given to God to do just what he likes with us, even as He gave Himself for us.

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June 8. Justice IV: Justice and Debt

aquinas-carlo_crivelli_007 

The virtue of justice is particularly sensitive to all forms of indebtedness, not merely monetary. ‘The just deed,’ says St. Thomas with admirable succinctness, ‘is the deed that is adjusted to or commensurate with the other’ (S.T., II.II, Q. 57:3). For example, a parent feeds baby-food to her three-month-old baby because that is what the baby needs. The rest of the family receives normal food. An employer in a large company normally would not expect the daily cleaners to be doing executive work. Justice apportions expectations, services, and wages according to the needs, services, and abilities of the other.

Justice, therefore, does not mean that everyone is treated in the same way. Rather, it is the role of justice to see that people are treated differently when they are different, when they have different needs, and exist in differing situations. The equality with which justice is concerned involves ensuring that what is done for another or given to another is duly proportionate to that person in his or her situation of need.

At the same time, when people are existing in identical situations, then it is the role of justice to ensure that their treatment is identical. Two people performing the same job in the same company should be paid the same wage, regardless of the colour of their skin, their country of origin and so on. ‘Justice’, says Thomas Aquinas, ‘is the perpetual and constant will to render each one his right. A man is said to be just because he respects the rights of others’ (S.T. II.II. Q58:1).

SJC

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June 7. Justice III: Justice and the Other

syrian-gathering

Photo: L’Arche.

A theme underlying the Catechism’s teaching on the virtue of justice, but which could easily be missed, is that justice is a virtue by which we focus on others’ rights and claims.

We are perhaps encouraged by our culture to be aware of justice or injustice in the political sphere. But apart from that, our culture today teaches us to be most aware of injustices done to ourselves. We are taught to ask “what about me?” rather constantly. Granted, in a world where we can easily be victimised by entire systems of injustice, this is an important and necessary question to ask. The virtue of justice does not require us to be victims. On the contrary, this virtue is about opposing injustice wherever we find it. But, it is possible to go overboard here. It is the justice of the nursery, of the two-year-old, and of the ghetto, that regards everyone as a potential robber and enemy. It is important to grasp that in the virtue of justice, its principal act is to honour the legitimate rights and claims of others.

So then, St. Thomas Acquinas tells us in his Summa Theologica (II.II, Q.58:1): ‘It is proper to justice, as compared with the other virtues, to direct man in his relations with others.’ The other virtues – prudence, courage and temperance – are formed within the mind and emotions of the individual. They may involve other people, but they may not. Justice, on the other hand, exists in relation to others. It works to maintain a certain equity between a need and the fulfilment of that need. The obvious example is in the payment of a just wage for a service rendered. But there are deeper and more subtle considerations relative to justice, which we shall explore in the coming posts.

SJC

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