Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Year's end: All Hallows' Eve

Ready for the beginning of the Celtic year (according to some, anyway) tomorrow. What has come to fruitfulness? What needs to be carefully stored against lean times,  and what needs pruning or even burning away in a November bonfire?  The beginning of winter; the beginning of the new year in the darkness of growth and gestation. A lovely thought in all my busyness: the new year is born in a time of rest, renewal and dreams...

Bird and pumpkin in a market in Stockholm, Hallowe'en 2010

A Compline prayer for tonight:

Lord Jesus Christ, light in our darkness, peace in our storms, protection against all that frightens us, calm our hearts that we may rest in peace in your presence through this night, who live and reign with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.


Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Praying for trees

Pray for our beautiful, threatened ash trees and those who work to save them. The ash symbolises the linking of earth and heaven - as indeed all trees may be said to do - because of its massive root system holding it firmly anchored in the earth, and the soaring height to which it can grow. A reminder of our need to be earthed, rooted, grounded, and that "our conversation is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20)

In Norse myth the World Tree, Yggdrasil, was an ash. With its roots deep in the underworld, its crown in the heavens and its branches overshadowing all humankind and all earthly creation it linked the realms of the living, the departed and the life to come. Perhaps something to meditate on as November, the month of remembrance, draws near?

The ash was believed to protect from harm, and the tree's sap was given to newborn infants. That makes me think about our connectedness with all God's creation right from our birth - a covenant of protection that works both ways, which brings us back to our stewardship of creation, and our accountability.

The day here is bright and sunny, and I want to find time to walk among trees and enjoy the colours while they last. On an autumn day which is mild and radiant where I live I pray too for all caught in the devastation of wilder weather brought by the great storm in America. This morning I lit a candle for everyone affected by the storm, at, and I invite you to join me.

A poem by Ruth Fainlight:

Trees, our mute companions,
looming through the winter mist
from the side of the road, lit for a moment
in passing by the car's headlamps:
ash and oak, chestnut and yew;
witnesses, huge mild
beings who suffer the consequence
of sharing our planet and cannot move
away from any evil we
subject them to, whose silent
absolution hides the scars of our sins,
who always forgive - yet still assume
the attributes of judges, not victims.

Yes, please pray...
Autumn ash from forestry

Monday, 29 October 2012

Preparing for winter

A prayer by Michael Leunig, from his book A  Common Prayer:

Dear God

Let us prepare for winter. 

The sun has turned away from us and the nest of

summer hangs broken in a tree.  

Life slips through our fingers and, as darkness gathers,

 our hands grow cold.  

It is time to go inside.

It is time for reflection and resonance.

It is time for contemplation. 

Let us go inside.


Stockholm, October 2010

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Mellow fruit

... Before we move from autumn to winter, here's a beautiful autumnal Burne-Jones from the Pre-Raphaelite Art blog: Frieze of Eight Women Gathering Apples

And here's another Atkinson Grimshaw: October Gold

It's about time 2

A PS to last night's post... I don't quite know what time it is because, of course, we forgot some of the clocks. Canis Minor decided it was getting-up time (he heard a fox), and my body clock decreed it was time for a cup of tea (I have a sore throat. I think I'm getting a cold...)

Out for a quick peek at the first frost, but too cloudy to see any of the early-morning stars I hoped for, which I'm normally up far too late to see. It's just starting to get light and there's already traffic moving in the distance.

Whatever the time is, it's the weekend after all and I shall take my tea back to bed.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

It's about time

Dali's famous clocks

The clocks go back tonight... HALO has a bit of a " thing" about changing the clocks (admittedly we have quite a few at home) and has already started. We're now living in a surreal conflation of two different time zones: I'm hanging on to my watch which won't be changed till bedtime.
Of course, changing the clocks is a purely human construct - an attempt to control the growing darkness in this part of the globe as the year moves on. A bit like Canute with the waves, really. Every year there seems to be a debate about whether we should change the clocks by one hour or two, or at all. Is it better, or safer, to have dark mornings or evenings? For myself, I don't mind dark evenings  (as you can tell from this post). I don't much like waking up in the dark, though - it reminds me of times when I've been anxious or depressed and have woken full of dread in the early hours. But like it or not, the hours of daylight have been growing shorter since the Equinox - even though tonight (and arbitrary date though it is) seems to mark a real change in the seasons.
Here's a prayer for this time of transition:
Wheels turn,
The seasons turn,
The Earth turns,
And the stars turn.

The universe turns,
And I turn with it.
Lord of the turning,
I turn my face to you in wonder.
(Adapted from a prayer by Ceisiwr Serith)
And for more philosophical musings about Time, who better than The Goons? "What time is it, Eccles?"

Monday, 22 October 2012

Piecemeal Peace

A "working-at-home" Monday - an occasional gift, and a slight gloss over the word "working" (still in my pyjamas, on my second cup of coffee, reading and blogging...)
The first really foggy morning of autumn - here, at least. I know it causes difficulties for people travelling and I pray for their safety, but when viewed from home the fog has a stilling, meditative quality (for me, at any rate) and its own seasonal beauty.  I sometimes think it's part of my mission in life to bless the weathers other people curse... Or am I just an awkward, contrary so-and-so?

I'm remembering my visit/pilgrimage to Rome in the autumn of 2008. We were staying just a few minutes' walk from St Peter's and I heard by chance that there was an early evening Mass at a time when we were free. I was with a group of Anglicans who were so kind and welcoming - a real gift and blessing for me - and I also yearned to go to Mass in St Peter's: I'd been received into the Catholic Church eight years before and this was my first (and so far only) time in Rome.

 So I walked across the piazza as all the tourists were drifting away, discovered that the Mass was in Latin, which I could follow and join in with more easily than Italian, and received Communion in the glow of the evening sun streaming through the alabaster of the beautiful Bernini dove window. A moment of peace, consolation, grace and home-coming.

Ignatius counsels us, in times of consolation, to savour every morsel of the experience to strengthen us in the time of desolation which will surely come. But I find it hard to remember the flavour of consolation when I'm in desolation, just as it's difficult now, on an English autumn day, to remember just how hot it was in the freak heat wave which hit Rome when we were there. The "sol" bit in desolation is connected with solus - alone - for one of the hallmarks of desolation is that it turns us in on ourselves. (See QuinnCreative's story about her poor frightened cat and the paper bag for an example of how in desolation we "defend ourselves against all that might do us good", as C S Lewis put it.)
Just at the moment my inner life feels quite foggy, and I do find it hard to remember at a deep level moments of consolation such as that in St Peter's. But I had a little splash of consolation last night as I listened in bed to Something Understood on the radio and heard this poem, which has meant a lot to me in the past but which I'd somehow forgotten: Peace, by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It sparked the memory of that dove window.

When will you ever, Peace, wild wood dove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows        
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?
O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,        
He comes to brood and sit.

These, of course, are not "wild wood doves" but London pigeons. But they too have work to do...

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Sour grapes or red, red wine?

I was strangely moved today while listening to Desert Island Discs with the Muslim academic and theologian Mona Siddiqui. Among her records, the one she chose to keep while the others were swept away by the hypothetical tidal wave was the song Red, Red Wine. She laughingly pointed out the irony of choosing that song as her favourite although, as a Muslim, she does not drink wine.
 It was the lightness of this that touched me. Something about being authentically faithful to living out one's beliefs yet finding enjoyment in others' joy in a different lifestyle. (Not very coherently put, but I hope it makes some sense!). When we join the family of a faith community it will inevitably involve some rules, some ways of "walking the talk" (I write this hesitantly, as a not-particularly-good Catholic!). It's easy to slide from embracing this willingly for oneself to becoming like whoever-it-was in Aesop's fables and claiming that the grapes we can't have ourselves are sour for everyone else. I know how seductively simple it is in everyday life to say "that's wrong" when I really mean "I don't believe it"; "that's bad" when I mean "I don't like it". Part of the same slippery slope!
Some of those big Ignatian words like discernment,  indifference and  detachment can sound hard and heavy. I need to remember their true lightness: they are all about growing into freedom, and when I discern for myself and for now (which is all I can ever do) I'll leave others free to discern for themselves what will bring them life and freedom.
As Margaret Silf puts it in Landmarks, am I a spider or a bee? Do I seek to snare and consume and tie up in knots - or do I take without harm what will nourish me, giving service in return and leaving all parties in the encounter gifted and enriched?

So here's my own red, red wine - and Bertie*, an early Hallowe'en present from HALO as therapy for my arachnophobia...

*In case the photo's not clear, Bertie is a spider-shaped tealight holder. Does that sound a bit Beaker?

Friday, 19 October 2012

Going Home At Dusk

Going Home at Dusk by John Atkinson Grimshaw
It's a real Atkinson Grimshaw evening. Lights from buildings glistening on the wet pavements, the
daylight fading, and me struggling with my umbrella (though not as elegantly as the lady in the painting) before heading for the Tube and then the train home.

On the train: raindrops coursing down the windows, sodden autumn leaves, tantalising glimpses into the lighted rooms of houses where people are arriving home to get warm and dry and enjoy a steaming cup of tea, the sky gradually changing colour as evening continues to fall.

"What a miserable evening!" said the woman sitting opposite me. I made a polite noise, but couldn't agree. I like wet autumn evenings, especially when I'm on my way home to change my wet shoes, put on a warm jumper and enjoy my own steaming cup of tea (smoky Lapsang Souchong please!); especially on a Friday with the weekend beckoning, and Miranda on telly tonight. A very pleasant
evening indeed!

LATE EDIT: I've discovered that rainy evenings are good for age-related "power surges" too. A few deep breaths and cold water under cover of darkness work wonders. I'm always careful to stand near the bins, though, so that it looks as if I'm putting out the rubbish - so the neighbours don't think I'm completely insane.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012


I've just come home from a walk with Canis Minor , to be met by the little boy from next-door-but-one, pedalling on his new bike with great excitement. He watched us turn in to our driveway. "You live in the odd numbers" he announced proudly. "The other side's even numbers. We've just done odd and even numbers at school!"

At this autumn, new-beginning time of year it's good to be reminded of the joy of learning new things - and the wonder of realising there is more still to learn.

How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them,they would outnumber the grains of sand – when I awake, I am still with you. 
Psalm 139:17-18
Remember learning to count?