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...


  1. I thought of this blogpost today as we were "doing" the Additions on the ISC. It reminds me how subjective our experiences of different types of weather/heat/light/darkness etc can be.

    Anway, I don't know what the official etymology of consolation and desolation are, but how about con-sol and de-sol becoming "with sun" and "[away] from sun"?

    1. Hi Silvana! Sadly the official etymology of consolation and desolation (according the the Online Etymology Dictionary - see link on the sidebar) is nothing to with Sol=Sun. I do love that image though - I think John Futrell SJ coined that, or at least used it, and Margaret Silf makes much of it in the excellent Landmarks with some of her lovely drawings. The image of Sun and where we are in relation to it is a very powerful one and I suspect there may be another blog post in the offing! It's one I work with a lot with my own spiritual director as well.

      Re the Additions - yes, it can all be very subjective. Very important to encourage directees to find their own ways of helping their environment reflect the theme of their prayer.


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