Tag Archives: Yorkshire
Zechariah quickly becomes the focus of St. Luke’s narrative:
Now it happened that it was the turn of Zechariah’s section to serve, and he was exercising his priestly office before God when it fell to him by lot, as the priestly custom was, to enter the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense there. At the hour of incense all the people were outside praying (1:8-10).
Here is Zechariah, an older man, exercising his priestly duties once again. I see him wearing the priestly robes, silently entering the sanctuary and carrying out the rituals prayerfully and in the prescribed manner. He does this, perhaps rather slowly due to his age, but also beautifully, with innate grace of movement and dignity of bearing. This has happened many times and Zechariah knows all the prayers and actions by heart. Everything flows smoothly. He reverently lights the coals; the incense fills the holy place with its fragrance. He loves this religious duty and never tires of it. He is alone with his God and prays fervently for his people.
There are never any surprises here for Zechariah. Ever. Perhaps this is another clue to Zechariah’s character. He knows what should happen next. Maybe he knows this a bit too well. Ordinarily, for frail human beings, our greatest strengths have a flip side, when our greatest weaknesses take over. We usually have a hard time being balanced. Zechariah is like all of us here. His great religious devotion, and his familiarity with what was prescribed by the Law in exercising his priestly office, might not have prepared him for what would happen this time. New ideas are never easy to absorb, especially new ideas about religion. And what would happen this time to Zechariah, as we know, was not merely a new idea, but an entirely new experience of the numinous, and a new revelation of God’s will.
ZMaybe this is a good place to stop and pray. Is this a time in my life when God is asking something new of me – for which I do not feel prepared? Advent is always such a time. The Incarnation is something so new that it cannot be imagined: God’s very Son is born. The Eternal Word of the Father becomes an infant. Have I lost my sense of how astonishing this is? Am I somewhat entrenched in a religious mind-set that I have acquired and maintained for years now? Can I imagine letting go of this so that God can lead me to something I have never experienced before?
At the end of the eighteenth century, Xavier de Maistre found himself locked up. He was more comfortably off than most prisoners, but still bored. He used his time to write a little book which he called A journey around my room. It can be found in the original French: here.
If for some reason we cannot go out – weather, illness, time of day, domestic duties – we can sit comfortably and begin our own journey, not just around the corners of the room but around the corners of our heart.
The lamp above my shoulder I made as an exercise on a college course many years ago in Hull, Yorkshire. That reminds me of my fellow course members, my tutors and friends, as well as Paul, a Hull man I often see down here in Kent. Thinking of them soon turns into a prayer.
Then there is the piano, not used much these days, but a bargain buy from a neighbour who was moving away. Think of her, and her son, exiled, perhaps for ever, from their native land; but at least she can walk along the street alone in Britain, free from fear and bare-headed, and still count herself a faithful Muslim.
The fire! We were glad to replace the ugly gas fire with something more in keeping with the house; everyone enjoys it on the special evenings when it burns.
Next, a nineteenth century engraving of a mother bathing her child before the kitchen range where elder sister, aged maybe seven, is warming a blanket, while father with an arm around mother, looks about to tickle the baby’s tummy. That was found in a Belgian flea market, brought home and remounted in a new frame. My wife’s keen eye at work!
To one side, an African carving of the Holy Family where Joseph is twice the size of Mary protecting his wife and the infant Jesus. But those two objects invite so much contemplation that I shall leave you there; perhaps to return to that corner another day.
Take a trip around your personal space and see where it leads you!
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.
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!
What did we read yesterday: we should be grateful to Thomas for his doubts – people do not come back to life, do they?
Thomas wanted facts. Well, more facts. That his friends, whom he trusted, were so changed by what they had seen and heard that Easter day, that was not enough. He probably saw himself as a prudent, thoughtful chap. And then when the evidence is flesh-and-blood before him his prudence throws him on his knees.
He should have read Sister Johanna; she has got me thinking. I trust she’ll get you thinking as well. Her series of reflections on the Virtue of Prudence might sound a bit dry, but take it from me, you’ll find well-presented food for thought. And Thomas Aquinas follows on nicely from Thomas the Twin.
I got to choose the pictures this time – a privilege, because Sister has a good eye for a picture herself – so I allowed myself the luxury of using this one. The houses at the back of my mother’s place represent Prudence since their builders chose a site and aligned the building with prudence to capture as much light as possible for the weavers at their looms upstairs. Of course there would have been no sycamores to overshadow them in the 18th Century, but no decent artificial light either.
When the series ends, I’d recommend you go back and read them all consecutively.
Early Franciscans, such as Blessed Agnellus of Pisa, our patron, often preached in the open air, maybe at a cross erected as a town’s Speakers’ Corner, like this one, reconstructed in Altrincham, Cheshire. The Reformation saw most of them demolished in England.
When we travelled to the North of England recently there were the usual old trailers, parked in fields beside the motorways and advertising anything from the local builder to sofas or insurance on-line. There was a cluster in West Yorkshire that reminded me of the ‘Wayside Pulpits’ that non-conformist churches display, with their elegant calligraphy proclaiming a Bible verse or seasonal message. ‘Prepare to meet thy God’ read one of these trailers, with a lot more text besides, too much to take in with a passing glance.
One of the firms that arrange these ads boasts that they offer 7-10 seconds of dwell time guaranteed. That’s 7-10 seconds of a driver not fully aware of the road – guaranteed.
The weather was worsening; just a few miles up the road we witnessed a collision.
I don’t suppose the church or individual who had these billboards parked there intended readers to be meeting their God so soon after reading their message, but this is irresponsible and dangerous preaching. It is also illegal. Time to stop it!
Our sequence of posts from John Masefield is interrupted by anniversary reflections from another great poet.
We came to Our Lady, Star of the Sea, in Staithes in time for evening Mass six weeks ago. I was rather disappointed that the statue of Mary inside was of Our Lady of Lourdes, but when we passed the church in daylight, there was Mary, Star of the Sea, gliding calm against the storm, reassuring us that despite the tempests that come our way – and the statue feels the full force of the gales, up there on the hilltop – her prayer will lift us up to her Son.
I was reminded of a great storm which hit the Thames Estuary on this date in 1875, causing the Wreck of the Deutschland, rendered immortal by Gerard Manley Hopkins. A powerful prayer, wrestling with the mystery of inescapable death before one’s span is over. Hopkins focuses on five Franciscan sisters, refugees fleeing to exile in England from oppressive laws in Prussia, only to die on a Kentish sandbank. He challenges himself (and the reader) to:
Grasp God, throned behindDeath with a sovereignty that heeds but hides, bodes but abides;With a mercy that outridesThe all of water, an arkFor the listener; for the lingerer with a love glidesLower than death and the dark;A vein for the visiting of the past-prayer, pent in prison,The-last-breath penitent spirits—the uttermost markOur passion-plungèd giant risen,The Christ of the Father compassionate, fetched in the storm of his strides.
Grasp God! Perhaps a little finger or the hem of his garment? But may we be listeners, heart and soul, humble enough to board the ark.
Let us pray for all in peril on the sea, as they did recently in the local Middlesborough Cathedral when they welcomed a Lampedusa Cross, made from timbers of a XXI Century Refugee boat that landed in Italy, remembering those who do not survive the voyage to Europe. Middlesbrough Lampedusa Cross
And here you’ll find the text of the poem, Wreck of the Deutschland .
Middlesborough’s Bishop Terry Drainey commissioned port chaplains on the Feast of the Star of the Sea in September.
Hilda was another of those formidable princesses who influenced the growth of the Celtic and Saxon Church in Britain. Indeed, she lived at the meeting point between the two traditions – Roman and Celtic – in Whitby, Yorkshire, then in the Kingdom of Northumbria.
A teenage convert, she lived her faith to the full, eventually becoming Abbess of Whitby, a double monastery where women and men lived in their own communities, side by side, coming together for daily worship and no doubt for study; Whitby was reknown for learning, though the Viking raids would put paid to that.
Being high on the cliff-top was not sufficient defence; books and plate were stolen, the monastery destroyed. What we see now is the ruined Norman Abbey, destroyed at the Reformation.
But before all that, it was at Whitby that King Oswy held a Church Synod in 664, attended by delegates from across England, where it was decided to celebrate Easter on the same day as the Church in Rome, a conscious effort to maintain church unity.
Hilda also encouraged the first English hymn writer, Caedmon, who was a groom in the Abbey stables, and was heard singing his songs in the stables.
This carving of Hilda stands above the town, on the high cross just visible to the right of the hilltop. The five bishops around her are the five bishops the monastery provided for the early Church in Northumbria. The snakes at her feet? Well, they do say that Hilda sorted out a plague of snakes around the area, turning them into stone in the shape of ammonite fossils. We found a little ammonite in a rock, and the segment of a bigger one that we carried home from a local beach does a serpentine quality about it!
Dear Lord, in the name of Saint Hilda, we pray for girls throughout the world who would like to study more; may we learn to encourage each other to develop our gifts, as Hilda encouraged the groom and poet, Caedmon. Amen.
The Builder’s Dog
It was Thursday before anything at all exciting happened, although it was clear that Mrs Fox was not quite her usual self, mumbling under her breath, writing lists, washing the dogs’ bedding, buying more treats and wet food packs, and gathering clothes into suitcases. Thursday was a whirlwind of last minute laundry, sandwich making, and packing up the car. Since their things were put in the boot it was clear that they were going somewhere. But where?
On Friday morning they made an early start from Cornwall, retracing their journey back towards Kent. Margate at last? No. But when they woke from a fitful dream they were at a familiar place: Will Turnstone’s House in Canterbury. This was good enough till T got home, though the Builder’s Dog was in residence and barely tolerating these interlopers on ‘his’ territory.
The Builder’s Dog was going home the next day, but neither he nor Ajax and Alfie knew that. BD was not much bigger than a Chihuahua, being a Yorkshire Terrier, though without the Tykish belligerence that usually goes with the breed. He was just stubborn that possession was nine points of the law, and he was here first.
On previous visits to Turnstone Towers, first Alfie and then Ajax had misread the duckweed covered pond and plunged in, Alfie walking out on what seemed to be an extension of the lawn, and Ajax jumping after a frog.
Now they felt they could pull BD down a peg or two. Ajax went around the back of the pond and began digging. ‘Come over here’, he signalled. Alfie ran around, positioning himself so that the easiest way to reach the hole was across the pond. ‘Wow! BD! Look at this!’
BD is one of those dogs that knows when he’s being laughed at. It happens with humans, and is one of the downsides of canine life. He’d never been laughed at by dogs before, and he did not like it.
There are objects round our house and garden that remind me to pray for people. Outdoors we have Siberian iris, given to us by the Dominican friar who blessed our wedding, Aidan Deane. A couple of years ago we were able to give a crown to the Dominicans in Edinburgh for the garden around their new chapel.
I like Bro Guy Consolmagno’s comment, linking such things to our pre-Christian roots:
Our knick-knacks define home to us; they are, echoing the practice of ancient Rome, our ‘household gods.’ 
I recently had an exchange in verse with Frank Solanki about this. He wrote:
Without you here
This ain’t a home
Not even a house
They’re just walls
(See more of Frank’s work here: https://franksolanki.wordpress.com/ )
My reply may tell you that my mind is more cluttered than Frank’s – or is it just my house?
Walls and crannies.
But now, reflect, all these years on,
Each room still breathes my girls, my son,
Though from our home they all have gone.
Photos stand among my books,
Seaside shells in little nooks;
Serving spoons on kitchen wall,
And, dear friend, that is not all.
Stored for years in the loft above
Are things they need not but can’t shove:
Toys that whisper words of love.
What objects might the holy family have kept around the house? I expect the Magi’s gold was used to set up home in Egypt. Is that where they are in this picture? Mary has a rose around the window to help make the house a home.
We can pray to the Holy Family, that our home may be a safe Ark for all our family:
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul, I give you my family and loved ones.
Holy Family Window, Catholic Church, Saddleworth.