Tag Archives: writing
We see above a pillarbox at Centraal Station in Amsterdam, nicely bringing together two strands of today’s reflection from GK Chesterton’s Heretics. Of course, railway signalmen – and they were men in England a century ago – needed greater vigilance then and could not offload much responsibility onto technology. But both postmen and signalmen had to be men of integrity. Over to GKC:
The word “signal-box” is unpoetical. But the thing signal-box is not unpoetical; it is a place where men, in an agony of vigilance, light blood-red and sea-green fires to keep other men from death. That is the plain, genuine description of what it is; the prose only comes in with what it is called. The word “pillar-box” is unpoetical. But the thing pillar-box is not unpoetical; it is the place to which friends and lovers commit their messages, conscious that when they have done so they are sacred, and not to be touched, not only by others, but even (religious touch!) by themselves. That red turret is one of the last of the temples.
Posting a letter and getting married are among the few things left that are entirely romantic; for to be entirely romantic a thing must be irrevocable. We think a pillar-box prosaic, because there is no rhyme to it. We think a pillar-box unpoetical, because we have never seen it in a poem. But the bold fact is entirely on the side of poetry. A signal-box is only called a signal-box; it is a house of life and death. A pillar-box is only called a pillar-box; it is a sanctuary of human words.
Not just an excuse to share two favourite photos! But this 19th Century box (at the top VR means Victoria Regina, or Queen Victoria) is at Sabden, Lancashire. Text from Project Gutenberg. It’s no good imagining the Brownings posting their letters into such a box: they were not introduced for some years, although the penny post was speeding letters around the country from 1840. More from the Brownings soon. ‘Heretics’ is available on Kindle or Project Gutenberg.
Elizabeth Barrett is writing to her dearest, Robert Browning, telling him something she had been unable to put into spoken words.
“Dearest, you know how to say what makes me happiest, you who never think, you say, of making me happy! For my part I do not think of it either; I simply understand that you are my happiness, and that therefore you could not make another happiness for me, such as would be worth having—not even you! Why, how could you?
That was in my mind to speak yesterday, but I could not speak it—to write it, is easier. Talking of happiness—shall I tell you? Promise not to be angry and I will tell you. I have thought sometimes that, if I considered myself wholly, I should choose to die this winter—now—before I had disappointed you in anything. But because you are better and dearer and more to be considered than I, I do not choose it.
I cannot choose to give you any pain, even on the chance of its being a less pain, a less evil, than what may follow perhaps (who can say?), if I should prove the burden of your life. For if you make me happy with some words, you frighten me with others—and seriously—too seriously, when the moment for smiling at them is past—I am frightened, I tremble! When you come to know me as well as I know myself, what can save me, do you think, from disappointing and displeasing you? I ask the question, and find no answer.”
On the firm basis that the good things of this world point us towards the eternal, let us take to heart some of what EBB says here. I daresay something else will strike you, dear reader, but I will reflect on: if you make me happy with some words, you frighten me with others—and seriously—I am frightened, I tremble!
Either Elizabeth took Robert’s promises and proposals seriously, and trembled, or smiled and dismissed them. Either I take God’s promises and proposals seriously or …
From “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning, available on Kindle and on line.
Image free of copyright via Wikipedia
Friar Austin is back, talking over what Theology has to say to us today in the area of morality and responsibility.
A similar development to that around original sin is found in Church teaching on personal sin, our understanding of morality. We have had to ask how to decide what is the right thing to do in matters as yet never experienced – organ transplants, ways of controlling the frequency of births – as well as questions concerning the morality of public life. In a society that doesn’t change much a code or commandments for people to obey suffices; even without people knowing why something must or must not be done. Obey the rules and you are in harmony with God.
In the past Christian theology compiled its code, and it became very elaborate and detailed. We had volumes of moral theology textbooks. First, they were intended for confessors, to help with actions already done. However, the manuals affected preaching. Preaching and teaching are very different from what happens in the confessional. The Church turned to two sources in compiling the manuals – one was the already existing Church teaching; the other was common sense or right reason. The reason they appealed to common sense [natural law] was because morality is not arbitrary. God doesn’t invent rules at whim. The right thing to do is what is always in harmony with the plan of creation. Life is not absurd and eventually everything will make sense. Because we have reason and practical common sense, we thereby share in the creative wisdom of God, and can figure out what to do.
What we call natural law is accessible to everyone because it is a matter of reason, but it became evident that highly intelligent people did not always agree on the right answers to moral issues. Catholic theology says that our intellects are clouded by Original Sin through our involvement with the sin of the world; an unbiased judgement is by no means always possible – uninfluenced by personal likes, convenience and sympathy. This is a matter of observation – and is another aspect of our need for redemption through Grace.
Caernarfon in David’s corner of Wales.
Please pray for David Powell, our contributor DBP, who is gravely ill.
It was David who invented the Ossyrians for Agnellus Mirror– aliens who disguised themselves as T, a male human and two male chihuahuas, Alfie and Ajax, when they were sent to earth as, in David’s words: ‘a special observation unit established to closely watch the earth and its strange inhabitants.’ 1
Of course they have been learning lessons in life ever since they pitched up in Margate. An inspired vehicle for reflection on all manner of things. Thank you David!
1See April 26 2016, ‘Peace on Earth I’ and subsequent posts by various writers.
The Contents of the Library.
Chapel and General Fittings
The Organ has gone to Fr. Stefan’s Conventual Community in Romania. Many things including the altar and lectern have gone to Ramsgate (the old Benedictine Abbey) which is now The Divine Retreat Centre run by the Syro-Malibar community. They also took most of the furniture from the main building. The Stations of the Cross will remain nearby: the University of Kent Catholic Chaplain, Fr Peter Geldard, has accepted these with the stand for the tabernacle, to furnish their new chapel. The statue of St Francis will be erected within Saint Thomas’ Church, Canterbury.
And various other items have found homes.
Thank you Pat, for your efforts in gathering this information.
where my sentence ends.
I have run out of words again.
Again my sentence ends
at a full stop.
Will you not take my waiting pen
at this full stop?
Then you and I shall write again.
But all I can give you
is my full stop,
and my waiting pen.
Sometimes life seems to come to a full stop. Something ends and we don’t know what comes next. Or perhaps we just recognise the need for a pause before we set out again
In something written – as with this piece – a full stop marks the end of one line of thought. If we are reading aloud, a full stop allows a breath – a pause – before we begin again. Full stops might seem to oppose the natural flow, but we need that breath. When writing it gives space to consider what it is we want to communicate and the ways we might do so. When reading we gain the time to take in what we have read: what is being said and what is its significance?
Like a piece of writing our life with God will have plenty of full stops. They exist not to impede our activity but to empower it. Some are like the ending of a chapter. We retire or change jobs, or move home, or experience the difficult ending of a relationship. Or perhaps the full stop feels more as if it is inside us: we sense it’s time to stop something that has been significant in our life. It’s time to move on. But to what? The pause invites us to let God in. We might be tempted to rush on to the next sentence – any old sentence – to avoid this uncomfortable halt in progress. But that would be a mistake. We need a deep breath of God; it will help us see where we have been going and where the road might now lead us.
Some full stops are smaller: not the end of a chapter or even a paragraph but a break within the activity of reading or writing. ‘Sometimes’ Etty Hillesum wrote in her journal, ‘the most important thing in our whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths or the turning aside in prayer for five minutes.’ These full stops are the intentional way we abide in Christ and draw life from Christ’s abiding in us. We have space to listen to the events of our day and what has been happening within us. We remember that we move forward together. As on the written page the stops are small but frequent. They help rather than hinder the flow of our activity, giving meaning and shape to what we do.
So as you write, or read, or live this day, put in the necessary punctuation.
When I was first teaching at the Franciscan Study Centre, in the Nineties, this first room was my office, and the second, a classroom. Individual attention was our aim, whenever that seemed likely to be beneficial. Students from the University and the Study Centre occasionally asked for scholarly supervision. But each person’s circumstances were different. Topics were diverse, and the conversations very dissimilar.
I recall, for instance, an Ethiopian Capuchin Franciscan talking about his family’s hard times, his experience of being ostracised, and the breakdown of Christian sympathy between Catholics and Copts in his home area. A caring manner and willingness to listen counted for more than his items of academic reading.
On another, much more cheerful occasion, I remember the bright-eyed enthusiasm of a third year BA student, relating to me her chosen dissertation topic: depictions in religious art of the angelic Annunciation to Mary. I had very little to do. She had found abundant material, and it was obvious that her keenness would produce a fine piece of writing, as it proved to be.
A third consultation involved a young man with no faith background. He took theology as his course, but he wanted a journalist’s career. He expected to transfer enjoyment of symbolism and storytelling to writing for GQ magazine! Christians use images and metaphors from Homer: surely more of such themes would prove commercially profitable! He asked me to suggest further reading. There was a kind of deadness in his voice: a sad memory for me.