In which Ruth ponders listening

Listening makes up a large part of my job. Listening to stories. Listening to the unspoken word. Listening to symptoms. Listening to sadness and worries and troubles. Listening to anecdotes and funny tales. Listening to overheard conversations.

Listening is really important in ministry. Listening and not leaping in with your own story. And that is sometimes hard to do. Sometimes I find myself biting my lip to prevent myself diving in with my own contribution. Perhaps it is worse when you are an extrovert, desperate to be witty and amusing and take over the centre stage. I have a tendency to do that. To wait for the gap, the breath when I can leap in. To lighten the mood, to not sit with the sadness. Someone recently told me that ministry wasn’t all about telling people that they are loved by God. Sometimes you need to sit with the dark bits.

Today I came across this poem/prayer so I share it with you (and me). (And I hope the author doesn’t mind me sharing it.)

How good are we at listening to other people? – Nov 06
I am listening to you, honestly,
But I’m also thinking about what I’m going to say next
I hate embarrassed gaps in conversation when no one knows what to say
I want you to think that I’m interesting, funny, witty
So I’m lining up my response, getting it ready

I am listening to you, honestly,
But I hope you don’t go on too long
I want to catch the final scores, to find out how my team has done
And I need to ring my friend before he goes out for the evening
Then ‘I’m a celebrity’ is on TV and I don’t want to miss that
So make it quick and you don’t need to repeat yourself

I am listening to you, honestly,
But I’m also thinking about what happened at work this week
And what I’ve got to do next week
I’m going to be in trouble if I don’t get that report written
And I need to work out why my colleague isn’t talking to me
So it’s quite hard to hear what you’re saying
over all this internal noise

I am listening to you, honestly,
But that group over there looks like they’re having a much better conversation
They’re laughing and joking
I’d really like to get to know some of them
Not that you’re not important – of course you are
I just wish I had the chance to speak to them too

I am listening to you, honestly,
But to be honest, I wish you’d really listen to me
Just for once, to pay attention to what I have to say
without jumping in with your experience and your solutions
I don’t want you to solve my problems
I just want you to hear me
To hear the me behind the words
To really listen

listening

Windsor Consultation October 2014

Every priest needs to nourish their own heart. Sadly, this is something that some of us are not good at doing. And we can be even worse at nourishing one another. I mean, if we don’t manage to look after ourselves, how can we make time to look after one another? We concentrate all our time, energy and prayers on our little flocks that we leave little time for caring for anyone else, including ourselves.

DSCF0007One of the ways we can do that is in Continuing Ministerial Development and most years I head south to Englandshire for a Clergy Consultation in St George’s House in Windsor. It all began when +Brian suggested I might benefit from attending a Consultation when I was looking for some more study. I’d thought about doing the MTh but couldn’t find the time for it, so doing a summer school or annual chunk of study seemed perfect. Over the years I’ve really enjoyed the courses in Windsor and benefited from meeting other clergy from around the UK.

This year the title was Nourishing the Pastoral Heart and was all about how we, as clergy, care for ourselves. The weather didn’t care much for us, it has to be said. with wind and rain featuring heavily. Much like home really. I had a good, fun home group in which to go over the talks we’d heard. We also shared stories of pastoral encounters which had stayed with us and offered advice and support when we could. We vowed to take days off every week, knowing that we probably won’t but know, without doubt, how important they are. (And not to be used for visiting sick parents either.) Although how my clergy friends with umpteen parishes manage, I don’t know.

One of the most wonderful bits about going to Windsor, for me, is taking part in the daily worship in St George’s. Yes, some of it is alien to me (all male choirs, evensnog in which we only get to say the Creed, and a slightly different liturgy – just different enough to make you think it is the same but then it trips you up) but then, as I’ve been over the years I have come to really enjoy it. Yes, I don’t get to say a thing at Evensnog but what a treat to sit so close to a wonderful choir and soak up the music. This year the morning Eucharist was moved out of the chantry chapel with my favourite little unicorn but it was a bit of unicorn Windsora squash and having it in the nave meant glorious views of the west window and who can resist gazing up to beautiful fan vaulting? It is all terribly macho of course. Let’s hope the next Canon is of the womanly variety.

The food is glorious, the afternoon cakes divine, the wine much appreciated, and we were always cared for by the staff. (Thank you to the lovely lady who stood waiting for me to appear for breakfast with a mug in her hand to present to me, so that I didn’t have to cope with the breakfast china tea cups and saucers!) And then there is my dear friend Canon James who provided humour and love in equal measures.

The Dean tried, yet again, to convert me to a love of poetry and almost succeeded. Although I still think that when I’m feeling low I will not rush to some sad poetry to help me sit with the pain but will phone a friend instead.

I came home, tired but refreshed, and promising to try and care for myself more.

Clergy Photo 2014

In which Ruth ponders National Poetry Day

I don’t really do poetry. I don’t get it. Well, most of it anyway. Poetry involves hard work and I’m a pretty instant kind of person. Instant food and instant gratification and instant feel good, that’s me. The problem is that lots of clergy love poetry. They read it, they quote from it, they preach it. And sometimes, dare I say it, there’s a wee bit of snobbery around poetry too. The more elusive the poem, the better it seems to be. But if I don’t get it immediately on first reading then I move on.

Mind you, I have been known to pen a wee ditty or two in my time. Not that I’d call them poems though. Just thoughts or ramblings or rantings even. But I mostly keep them to myself or pass them off as ‘meditations’. Meditations cover a multitude of sins.

However, there are some poets I quite like. Carol Ann Duffy, for one. I get her. Or maybe I don’t but think I do. You see, that’s the problem with poetry. You think you get it and then someone unpacks layers of meaning that you completely missed first time round. Maya Angelou – I love her stuff. And I’ve recently discovered Malcolm Guite and Ann Lewin. I also love Matthew Fitt and Maureen Sangster who write in Scots vernacular and make me smile.

So I’ve had a look through my Quotes Journals and here are a few of my favourite poems for National Poetry Day:

God Says Yes To Me by Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
my letters
sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

I love that poem! Love Love Love.

Ain’t I a Woman by Erlene Stetson

That man over there say
a woman needs to be helped into carriages
and lifted over ditches
and to have the best place everywhere.
Nobody ever helped me into carriages
or over mud puddles
or gives me the best place…

And ain’t I a woman?
Look at me
Look at my arm!
I have ploughed and planted
and gathered into barns
and no man could head me…
and ain’t I a woman?
I could work as much
and eat as much as a man -
when I could get to it -
and bear the lashes as well
and ain’t I a woman?

I have borne thirteen children
and seen most sold into slavery
and when I cried out a mother’s grief
none but Jesus heard me…
and ain’t I a woman?
that little man in black there say
a woman can’t have as much rights as a man
’cause Christ wasn’t a woman
Where did your Christ come from?
From God and a woman!
Man had nothing to do with him!
If the first woman God ever made
was strong enough to turn the world
upside down, all alone
together women ought to be able to turn it
rightside up again.

Perhaps poetry needs to be about the right topic to interest me? Hmm.

Waste by the Rev’d Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy (Woodbine Willie)

Waste of Muscle, waste of Brain,
Waste of Patience, waste of Pain,
Waste of Manhood, waste of Health,
Waste of Beauty, waste of Wealth,

Waste of Blood, and waste of Tears,
Waste of Youth’s most precious Years,
Waste of ways the Saint’s have trod,
Waste of Glory, waste of God, -
War!

I do like some of the war poets and this one is just so succinct and kept coming back to me on my recent trip to Normandy.

The Hymn of a Fat Woman by Joyce Huff

All of the saints starved themselves.
Not a single fat one.
The words ‘deity’and ‘diet’ must have come from the same
Latin root.

Those saints must have been thin as knucklebones
or shards of stained
glass or Christ carved
on his cross.

Hard
as pewseats. Brittle
as hair shirts.  Women
made from bone, like the ribs that protrude from his wasted
wooden chest. Women consumed
by fervor.

They must have been able to walk three or four abreast
down that straight and oh-so-narrow path.
They must have slipped with ease through the eye
of the needle, leaving the weighty
camels stranded at the city gate.

Within that spare city’s walls,
I do not think I would find anyone like me.

I imagine I will find my kind outside
lolling in the garden
munching on the apples.

No surprises with that one then.

Please Bury Me In The Library by J Patrick Lewis

Please bury me in the librarybooks and coffee
In the clean, well-lighted stacks
of Novels, History, Poetry,
right next to the Paperbacks
where the Kid’s Books dance
with True Romance
and the Dictionary dozes.
Please bury me in the library
with a dozen long-stemmed roses.
way back by a rack of Magazines,
I won’t be sad too often
if they bury me in the library
with Book worms in my coffin.

Just delightful!

Blame The Vicar by John Betjeman

When things go wrong it’s rather tame
to find we are ourselves to blame,
it gets the trouble over quicker
to go and blame things on the Vicar.
The Vicar, after all, is paid
to keep us bright and undismayed.

For what’s a Vicar really for
except to cheer us up, What’s more,
he shouldn’t ever, ever tell
if there is such a place as Hell,
for if there is it’s certain he
will go to it as well as we.

My party piece on more than one occasion.

The Late Bride by Veronica Zundel

And so she finally
after all those years
opened the box.
And out flew
nothing.
And was that all, she cried
there was in it?
Then why did I dream and yearn
scrabble and fight so long
to get my hands on it?

That was at first
it was only later she learnt,
slowly, so slowly
to fill the box with
the treasures she had
unknowing, owned all along.

Just lovely.

So there we have it, some of my favourite poems for National Poetry Day. Want to convert me? Send me your favourite then!

In which Ruth ponders what Scotland means to her

Last week the people of Scotland turned out in droves to vote for or against independence. For weeks and months before social media was buzzing with comments, threats, fears and hopes. Deliberately, I chose not to voice my opinion. Some of my little flock were expressing concerns about what the aftermath would be like and I figured that ministering to them would be easier if I was neutral. That didn’t mean that I didn’t feel strongly about the vote, however.

I was brought up in a fiercely Scottish household. By that, I don’t mean that we were all SNP voters. I just mean that we were really proud to be Scottish, we love our country and its contribution to the world stage. If asked for my nationality, I always put down Scottish rather than British if I could – and objected if I couldn’t!  When I travel abroad to Englandshire or further afield there is always a surge of passion in my heart as I cross the border back home. I love my capital city of Edinburgh, and in IonaCrosssmall doses I adore the countryside which I think is uniquely beautiful. I am a socialist at heart and am troubled about the gap between rich and poor in my country and the world. Having been homeless and poor, I know what it feels like, and I care deeply that there are still people in my land who have to rely on handouts for their daily bread. I see on a daily basis what changes in benefits are doing to disabled people and my heart aches for them.

Having said all that, I am not a politically active person and I know I should probably do much more than I already do. In the campaign leading up to the Referendum I tried to follow the arguments for and against. My initial assumption was that I would vote Yes, but I was prepared to think it out more carefully. However, I have a deep distrust of politicians and the press and found it all horribly confusing. Who to believe? Experts contradicted each other on a daily basis and I really didn’t know who was telling the truth.  I admit to being shocked by some of the things friends were saying on Facebook – on both sides of the debate – and also sympathised with others who obviously held passionate beliefs. In the last few days I actually felt ill with worry about how it was all going to pan out, and how we’d recover after. I didn’t sleep well and realised that this really did matter to me and my future.

In the end I made my vote with my heart. I voted Yes. I voted Yes in the hope of a better future for my children. It was a risk, perhaps, as all my questions weren’t answered about what that future might bring but it was a risk I was prepared to take. I didn’t believe everything I was told by either side but in the end thought that for those with nothing there was a better hope with the Yes crowd. Who knows if that was right or wrong, but my passionate Scottish heart wanted to believe that there was a better way forward for my country. And I really didn’t vote for myself because I don’t believe I had very much to lose. A couple of wee pensions and that’s it really but there are so many people who had far more to lose than me. And I’d happily pay more tax if I thought it was going to those who needed it most: the poor, the hungry, the marginalised, the homeless, the disabled.

On the 18th September I went to my polling station in the high flats near my rectory and cast my vote. There was a lovely feeling of excitement and anticipation and the whole station cheered a young 16 year old who was casting his first vote. I chatted to the Polling clerk who told me he was a Baptist and it was all in God’s hands now. I disagreed with him, but know he meant well!  And I went home to wait. Would I stay up to hear the results or go to bed? I’ve never stayed up before at an election but this felt so much more important. In the end, I went to bed for a few hours sleep and then got up about 3.30am when the results started to come in. In a few hours it was all over and the majority of those who voted had elected to stay within Britain. What I didn’t expect was how upset I would feel. I hadn’t realised how many hopes and dreams had been making up my thoughts and prayers in the days leading up to it and now they were all to come to nothing. I heard a quote which kept going round my head: I feel as if my lover is leaving and there’s nothing I can do to make him stay. Interestingly, it could have been said by either side.

Then there was gloating and reasoning and riots and resignations and it felt out of control for a while. It was a horrible feeling and it still leaves a sour taste in my mouth. My church leaders plead for us to work for reconciliation and pray for healing. Lord knows I’m trying but its the feelings of social justice which really concern me now. These same concerns are real, I know, for those who voted No, many of whom are my friends. Because in the end we all wanted the best for Scotland.

Yesterday at church I looked at my little flock and wondered how they were feeling. I don’t know how many of them voted but I do know from conversations and social media that some of them were hurting too. I felt particularly close to them yesterday. But that doesn’t mean that I loved the others less. Today we all pray for a better future. Today I feel that I might have to become a little more pro-active in making that happen.

Normandy D Day Fahrt 2014

Forty four Fahrters set off from Linlithgow on 4 September to travel together to the Chateau du Molay near Caen in Normandy on our D Day Expidition. We are Fahrters who have travelled before to many gorgeous places in Europe for fun, frolics and fahrts. (If you don’t know – Fahrt = German for travel, journey.) It was organised by my dear friend Bruce Jamieson, retired history teacher from L’gow, and a few years ago he said ‘no more Fahrts’. I suspect the organisation of these trips takes it toll on a perfectionist. However, we had heard so much about these wonderful school trips that he did with his pupils that he agreed to do one more for the 70th anniversary of D Day.

We travelled overnight on the ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge in Belgium which brought hilarity in narrow bunks and much fun in the Moonlight Bar. Lunch was at the Somme estuary with ducks and the first of many baguettes with jambon and fromage. (Why can’t we get baguettes like that at home?) Our next stop was the Bayeux War Cemetery where we laid a wreath at the memorial and poppy crosses at the graves of three Linlithgow men. Fellow Fahrter John McIntosh had brought his Bose and hid behind the memorial cross and played the Last Post when we laid the wreath. As all the war graves we visited, this cemetery was beautifully kept, immaculate lawns and clean grave stones shining brightly in the hot sun. I have visited WW1 war graves at Tyne Cot and they never fail to move you deeply as the graves stretch out forever, each one telling a story of a life lost.

DDay Baeyux cem headstones  DDay Bayeux cem me put cross  DDay Bayeux cem trees

After getting lost in the hedgerows of the countryside we eventually rolled up to the Chateau du Molay in acres of beautiful countryside. The Chateau is used for school trips so the accommodation was a trifle basic and there were competitions on who would fit into which bunk bed. But we gathered in the bar, ordered local cider, and scoffed our dinner with wine galore. Who cares about a narrow bunk bed after that?

DDay Chateau bunks

On Saturday we drove to Arramanches and visited the Diarama up on top of the hill where we saw incredible footage of the D Day landings. Staggering out into the sunlight looking down on Mulberry Harbour it seemed incredible to actually be standing there on a beautiful September day remembering the deeds of that awful time. A statue of Our Lady looks peacefully down on the beaches where storms brought danger to the thousands of men who risked their lives on that day. Into Arramanche for the museum and more films and lectures on the making of the Mulberry harbour, and then lunch and a wander along Gold Beach. There are still pieces of the harbour remaining, large jagged pieces of metal sticking out of the golden sands.

DDay Arramanches BVM  DDay Arramanches Christ  DDay Mulberry harbour remains  DDay Mulberry harbour wreck

We then drove to La Cambe German Cemetery which had a very different feel to it. The grave markers are flat not upright in dark basalt lava, not white marble. Throughout the cemetery there were groups of dark crosses and a large central memorial where you could climb to the top and look down on the graves. The memorial sits atop a mound six meters high under which lie 207 unknown dead and 89 from a mass grave. No wreaths of poppies there, but wreaths of corn and pine cones, with a harvest feel about them. Originally this area had been for American and German soldiers but after 1945 the Americans were moved to St Laurent-sur-Mer and the fallen German soldiers from there to La Cambe. There are now 21,139 German soldiers laying to rest here.

DDay La Cambe German cem overview  DDay La Cambe crosses  DDay La Cambe headstone  DDay La Cambe Memorial  DDay La Cambe wreaths

Our days were to prove very moving and breathtaking at times. Yes, there were tears at times. At times you just had to wander off on your own and spend a moment with sorrow and memories. Would I be so brave? I think not. Just before I left I had read Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, a children’s book about two brothers in the war. If you don’t know it, I can recommend it and won’t spoil the story here but it kept coming back to me as I looked at all the graves and heard the stories about incredible heroism. Whether you are a pacifist or not, you can’t help but swallow the lump in your throat.

At night, however, we gathered in the bar to reflect on the sights and stories we’d heard and then to singalong to some war songs. The young staff in the Chateau gathered at the door of the lounge marvelling at these old wrinklies enjoying themselves and singing so loudly. Gracie Fields and Vera Lynn have nothing to fear from our singing. Some of us took part in an Allo Allo sketch which Bruce had written. I was Michelle from the Resistance (‘Leezen verry carefully, I shall zay zis only once.’) with a deep and husky voice as I’d picked up a chest infection on the day before we left. More tears, with laughter this time.

After breakfast on Sunday we headed off early back to Bayeux so that some of us could visit the Bayeux Tapestry which was incredible. Not a tapestry, of course, but embroidery. I’d seen the pictures of course, but nothing compares to actually seeing the needlework up close.

We then drove on to Omaha Beach (opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan) and visited the American Cemetery and Memorial which sits on the top of the cliffs. Nothing had prepared me for the sheer size of it. As you walk from the car park you look down on Omaha beach and then walk through the Garden of the Missing where a 22-foot statue ‘The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves’ looks west on headstones. White Lasa marble crosses and Stars of David stretched in straight rows for what seemed like miles (actually 172.5 acres). Among oak trees, topiary shrubs and beds of roses they shone in the sun. There are over 9,000 headstones among whom are 45 sets of brothers, and 1,557 missing in action. Half way down the beautiful manicured paths there is a Peace chapel where Jewish and Christian iconography sit side by side. I tried sitting down there to say a wee prayer but the clicking of cameras and loud exclamations made it difficult. (Yes, I took photos too but the beauty of the Tablet is that there is no click!) At the east end of the cemetery there are two statues of Italian Raveno granite representing the United States and France.

DDay Amer Cem crosses w star  DDay Amer Cem crosses2  DDay Amer Cem Chapel  DDay Amer Cem Memorial  DDay Amer Cem chapel quote  DDay Amer Cem chapel quote2  DDay Amer Cem France statue

From there we went to the Overlord Museum at Colleville then to Pointe du Hoc.

After we stopped at Sainte-Mere-Eglise where the American paratrooper John Steel got stuck on the belltower and had to pretend to be dead, hanging there all day long, in case the Germans shot him down. At night he was able to climb into the belltower but the ringing of the bells all day had made him deaf. There is a dummy of him still hanging from the steeple! The church inside is old and shabby but it dedicated to Peace. There was some beautiful modern stained glass and I lit a rainbow candle there and said some prayers. It was Sunday, after all.

DDay St Mere Eglise  DDay St Mere Eglise belltower  DDay St Mere Eglise candles  DDay St Mere Eglise altar  DDay St Mere Eglise Mary Candles  DDay St Mere Eglise Peace Chapel

Back at the Chateau we had frogs legs and snails for dinner (deliciously like chicken and very garlicky) and then a French sing-song which provided much hilarity and even more young staff members coming to join in. There was much rolling of Rs and my fruity chest infection helped greatly with some of that.

Monday was my birthday and we packed up to move out of the Chateau as 100s of school kids were about to arrive. We drove to Pegasus Bridge and another museum. This one had lots of artefacts in cases, including an interesting one full of medical equipment. Pretty barbaric stuff. Some stayed for the film but I’d had enough and was in desperate need of a coffee so a few of us crossed the bridge to have a quick snack. There we were greeted by the grumpiest french woman I’ve ever met who practically threw the food at us, forbidding us to sit at most tables as they were set for lunch (at 10am!). No decaff (‘We only do proper coffee here.’) Then the bridge opened up to let a boat through and the rest of our party got stuck on the other side for about half an hour until the bridge opened again.

DDay Pegasus bridge new  DDay Pegasus Bridge old  DDay Pegasus Bridge cafe

We eventually went on to Ranville Cemetery which was smaller but contained a lot of Black Watch and Argyll soldiers. We laid another wreath, played the last post, and found the last Linlithgow man. Rest Eternal grant unto them O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them. May they rest in peace and rise in glory. That was all I could think of saying when asked to lay the wreath. I found a headstone for an Army Chaplain age 30, Rev R A Cape MA, and I’m going to try and find his story.

DDay Ranville cemetery  DDay Ranville chaplain headstone  DDay Ranville memorial cross2  DDay Ranville poppy wreath

From there we drove to Ouistreham and then Merville Battery where we visited the underground bunker to experience the sound and light show which recreated what happened there on the night of 5 June 1944. The sign said ‘this show is extremely realistic representation of combat and is not recommended for children under 8, persons of a nervous disposition or suffering from heart, or claustrophobia’. I risked it and it wasn’t that scary at all. Loud rumblings certainly and a wee puff of smoke and a lot of shouting but we survived.

DDay Merville bunker  DDay Merville path  DDay Merville Museum figures

Then on to Caen Peace Museum. This was the best museum we’d visited and was modern and enormous. We watched a movie of the D Day landings and then wandered through the museum. I had time to visit the other museum which focussed on the earlier war and it was really harrowing. I got lost in it because I was on my own and got a bit panicky because it was hot and dark and was so relieved to finally find my way out. At that point I knew I’d had enough of war and museums. Best framboise tart ever and coffee to recover.

We stayed overnight at the Kyriad Memorial Hotel in Caen and was thrilled to have a double bed and a shower which didn’t throw more water out of it than in. Dinner was served by the receptionist/barmaid/waitress and it was a bit Fawlty Towers but much wine was consumed for my birthday treat, as well as getting some lovely poppy pottery stuff from my friends. That night I took my swollen ankles to bed with a litre of Evian and woke up just fine.

Tuesday saw us head off back to Belgium stopping at a huge shopping mall where some stocked up on French wine and then back to Zeebrugge for our ferry home. We watched The Longest Day movie on the bus amid exclamations of ‘Oh that’s whatsisname that was in what was it called!’ There was a beautiful sunset which dragged us out of the Duty Free with our cameras. Much perfume was purchased with birthday money and Ruth is happy once more. The cabins were very hot and stuffy and I think I kept my German neighbours awake all night with my coughing which by now sounds like the worst case of consumption ever. I’m sure I will have passed it on to all 44 of my comrades and some small part of Europe.

DDay sunset from ferry  Group photo  DDay coffee in Bayeux

Wednesday was a sad journey home, watching Saving Private Ryan on the bus. Looking back I must confess that I didn’t know very much about the D Day landings before I went but it was an incredible trip. The images spoke for themselves and I know will stay with me forever. Yes, it was sad and harrowing at times. Thankfully the crowd I was with were the sort who looked after one another in the sad times and cheered one another up at other times. My team lost in the D Day quiz on the bus back home but I think we had some of the funniest answers!

In which Ruth ponders 10 books

books and coffeeFollowing Father Kirstin’s example, here are the 10 books I was asked to pick quickly that have stayed with me. It is a meme on Facebook just now and has turned out to be such fun and a welcome break from ice-buckets and Scottish politics. For those of you not on Facebook you might want to join in so please do below. We were told not to think about it too hard so these literally are the first ten which came to mind, and why. Since then I have read all my friends’ lists and could add a thousand more.

  1. Skallagrigg by William Horwood. This book was introduced to me by a friend Sheena Liddell who recommended it highly. It was such an unusual book and held me horrified and intrigued. I couldn’t put it down and have since recommended it to loads of folk. I then went on to read his Duncton Wood series which were spiritual and mole-ish and lovely.
  2. The Great Divorce by CS Lewis. Not long after I started going to church I asked my priest if there was such a place as hell and this is the book he told me to go and read. I can still remember it vividly and often do the same to my little flock when they ask.
  3. Perfume by Patrick Suskind. This was a recommendation by a work colleague Mike Nicholson, now an author himself. He said the writing was incredibly descriptive and he wasn’t wrong. That first page! The smells! And how dark it was. Delicious. Not everyone agrees with me and I’ve done it in two book groups where folk hated it.
  4. Some Day I’ll Find You by HA Williams. This one came up in a conversation with a Roman Catholic monk who couldn’t believe that I hadn’t already read it. After I did, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t on our reading list in theological college. An autobiography that was honest and so easy to read. I loved it.
  5. Alan Ecclestone by Tim Gorringe. Was this on my reading list at theological college or did I find it on my own? I don’t remember but I do remember reading it at a summer school and underlining just about every line and shouting ‘Yes! I want to be a priest like that!’ I failed miserably but he is still a hero. And then, of course, that led me on to read Kenneth Leach and why didn’t I list any of his books in my top 10 which I also adored, and now count him as a friend.
  6. Crosstitch by Diana Gabaldon. Who told me to read this one? Sheena? Sally? I know we all read them at the same time. Magic, Scotland, Highlands, Culloden, and the beloved Jamie. A great series to begin with but I did go off them when it all went to the USA. But that first one will always be the best. (Now called Outlander in some parts of the world and about to be a TV series and I can’t wait.)
  7. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I think this was suggested by a friend Irene Hutchison and introduced me to women of Arthur’s court. Love powerful women in a book and there is a whole series. Not sure how many I’ve read and still have some in my unread pile.
  8. The Once and Future King by TH White. Now funnily enough, this came up in a conversation with Bishop Michael Hare-Duke when he spoke to me on a retreat about the unicorn (don’t ask me why) and love but the unicorn got me interested.  Merlin, Arthur again and unicorns. What’s not to like?
  9. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I read this many, many years ago and fell in love with the story about how the author wrote the story. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve given it to and they all love it as well. You never look at cathedrals in the same way again.
  10. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. There were so many that I could have chosen by this children’s author but I think War Horse is my favourite. I went through a period of reading children’s books just a few years ago and was enchanted to find such good stuff in that genre: Madeline l’Engle (via Mother Kimberly); Mallory Blackman (via Louise Daly); and a host of others. 

So that was my quick ten books. Since then I’ve been reminded of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Miss Garnet’s Angel, Take This Bread by Sara Miles, Anne Lamott’s books, Nadia Bolz-Weber, The Owl That Called My Name, Birdsong, Pat Barker’s trilogy, Kate Atkinson, and of course all my lovely Phil Rickman and other clerical crime ones. OK I’d better stop there.  I could go on and on and on. I now have a bookcase jammed full of unread books and a Kindle packed with classics and bargains and other recommendations and just not enough time to read them all. I think it was last year that I made a resolution to try and get through the year without buying any more books and just read the ones I had. I think I lasted until May and it was hell.

The delightful thing about this has been reading other friends’ lists. Some familiar, some unknown but loads more to add the wishlist. I’m so glad to have booky friends.

In which Ruth ponders end times (again)

My doorbell rang. I wasn’t expecting anyone so that means whoever is there might be a pleasure or not. When I say ‘not’ I mean salespeople, who I know have to make a living, but sometimes it is just annoying. Through the glass I could see an elderly couple – strangers. In the few seconds it took me to get to the door things go through your mind…

  • They want food.
  • They want money.
  • They want the guest-house down the road which has no sign.
  • They want to tell me about Jesus.
  • They want to join the church (I’ve never actually had any of those but I live in hope).
  • They want to sell me something.

elderly-old-couple-in-love-walking-streetThis couple didn’t seem to fit into any of these categories as far as I could guess. The elderly gentleman introduced himself and told me he wanted to ask me a question. Uh-oh. Do I invite them in? Or is this safer on the doorstep? Opted for doorstep. And his question? 

Will you bury me?

What? Right now?

It turns out he used to be a member of Christ Church but stopped going some years ago. But he was worried, as he got older and his health deteriorated, that there would be nobody to take his funeral. He had asked a previous rector who had agreed that he would do it but as he was passing and saw a new name on the board (I’ve been here 4 years!) he thought he’d better check. 

I told him I’d be delighted to bury him. And yes, his wife too, although she didn’t look quite so enthusiastic. And I also told him that he could come back to church any time he liked. Neither looked very enthusiastic about that.

It is a funny old world, right enough.

Stations of War

A few weeks ago I was watching the television programmes about the commemoration of WW1. For some reason the Stations of the Cross came into my mind and I could see how many themes there were which paralleled what I was watching.
I then started to write my reflections of the war around the theme of the Stations of the Cross – I’ve called them Stations of War.

Tonight we will walk the Stations of War. There will be some stops to listen to a piece of music, and there will be some poetry and prose. I hope they speak to you.

To begin with we will listen to a piece of music by Vaughan Williams called The Lark Ascending. I have always loved this piece and wasn’t aware until recently that it was written in 1914,

‘just as Europe was teetering on the edge of the abyss of the First World War… It evokes a tranquil time when Britain was riding high, having mastered the secrets of the Industrial Revolution, and memories of Queen Victoria’s sixty-four-reign were still fresh. Yet whole countries were now sleep-walking into a conflict that would wipe out a generation.’  

Frank Gardner, Only Remembered, Ed Michael Morpurgo (Jonathan Cape, 2014)

 

The story goes that as he scribbled notes for the music while on holiday in Margate, someone mistook him for a German spy and he was arrested.

Let’s listen to it now as we think back to an innocent era just before the War to end all Wars began…

MUSIC – The Lark Ascending (Vaughan Williams) 16.08

STATION 1 – JESUS IS CONDEMNED TO DEATH

As we contemplate Jesus standing there, wearing a crown of thorns and the scarlet cloak, the crowd cried out “Crucify him!”
How many young men were condemned to death fighting in a war, not of their own making?
How many teenagers, caught up in the propaganda, caught up in the desire to escape their own poor situations to go off and seek glory?
How many fathers were condemned never to see their wives and children again?
They went, believing it would all be over in a month or so.
They went, while politicians sat in boardrooms and played with their lives.
Your Country Needs You said Kitchener.  God is on our side.
Condemned to death.
Condemned to a miserable existence of suffering and misery.

The General

‘Good morning; good morning!’ the General said
when we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ‘em dead,
and we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
‘He’s a cheery old care,’ grunted Harry to Jack
as they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both by his plan of attack.  (Siegfried Sassoon)

We pray for all those condemned to death. For the innocent, the unjustly accused, the unjustly condemned. Pray for all who are condemned.

 

STATION 2 – JESUS TAKES UP HIS CROSS

As we contemplate Jesus led to the Place of the Skull (Golgotha) he is forced to carry his own cross. 

On their backs our soldiers carried all they would need to exist.
Their kit and clothes, their food and drink, their shelter and weapons. 60lbs of solid weight.
It weighed them down and made marching unbearable after a few miles.
Young skinny, underfed men carried their burden on their backs.
Heavy weighted burdens supposed to keep them alive.
‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag’, they sang with stiff upper lip.
‘Smile, boys, that’s the style.’

And the rain and the mud made them heavier still.
Smiling was the last thing on their mind. 

from NIGHT MARCH by ROBERT GRAVES

Evening: beneath tall poplar trees
We soldiers eat and smoke and sprawl,
Write letters home, enjoy our ease,
When suddenly comes a ringing call.

‘Fall in!’ A stir, and up we jump,
Fold the love letter, drain the cup,
We toss away the Woodbine stump,
 Snatch at the pack and jerk it up.

 Soon with a roaring song we start,
Clattering along a cobbled road,
The foot beats quickly like the heart,
And shoulders laugh beneath their load.

 Where are we marching? No one knows,
 Why are we marching? No one cares.
For every man follows his nose,
 Towards the gay West where sunset flares.

 An hour’s march: we halt: forward again,
 Wheeling down a small road through trees.
Curses and stumbling: puddled rain
Shines dimly, splashes feet and knees.

 Silence, disquiet: from those trees
 Far off a spirit of evil howls.
‘Down to the Somme’ wail the banshees
 With the long mournful voice of owls…

 Our comrades who at Festubert
And Loos and Ypres lost their lives,
In dawn attacks, in noonday glare,
On dark patrols from sudden knives.

 Like us they carry packs, they march
 In fours, they sling their rifles too,
But long ago they’ve passed the arch
Of death where we must yet pass through.

 Seven miles: we halt awhile, then on!
 I curse beneath my burdening pack
Like Sinbad when with sigh and groan
  He bore the old man on his back.

 A big moon shines across the road,
  Ten miles: we halt: now on again
Drowsily marching; the sharp goad
  Blunts to a dumb and sullen pain.

 A man falls out: we others go
 Ungrudging on, but our quick pace
Full of hope once, grows dull, and slow:
  No talk: nowhere a smiling face…

 We win the fifteenth mile by strength
  ‘Halt!’ the men fall, and where they fall,
Sleep. ‘On!’ the road uncoils its length;
  Hamlets and towns we pass them all.

 False dawn declares night nearly gone:
  We win the twentieth mile by theft.
We’re charmed together, hounded on,
  By the strong beat of left, right, left.

 Pale skies and hunger: drizzled rain:
 The men with stout hearts help the weak,
Add a new rifle to their pain
  Of shoulder, stride on, never speak.

 Now at the top of a rounded hill
  We see brick buildings and church spires.
Nearer they loom and nearer, till
  We know the billet of our desires.

 Here the march ends, somehow we know.
  The step quickens, the rifles rise
To attention: up the hill we go
  Shamming new vigour for French eyes.

 So now most cheerily we step down
  The street, scarcely withholding tears
Of weariness: so stir the town
  With all the triumph of Fusiliers.

 Breakfast to cook, billets to find,
  Scrub up and wash (down comes the rain),
And the dark thought in every mind
  ‘To-night they’ll march us on again.

We pray for all who lived, even now, under the yoke of persecution. For those in prison camps, for those doing hard labour. Pray for all who are weighed down.

 

STATION 3 – JESUS FALLS FOR THE FIRST TIME

As we contemplate Jesus falling under the weight of the cross, we wonder how he can go on.

from For the Fallen

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe. 

(Robert Laurence Binyon)

 They fell. These young men fell as easily as petals from a summer rose.
They fell on the first day of war and on the last.
They fell in mud, on grass, in No-man’s Land and some never to be found again.

“On your feet!” shouted the sergeant. “On your feet! No stragglers! No malingerers! Soon as I blow my whistle, we’re going over the top. On your feet or it’ll be a Court Martial for anyone who stays.  On your feet or it’s the Firing Squad.”

Slowly they got to their feet, took a drag on a cigarette, a silent prayer.
It would be death either way.

We pray for all who fall. For those who are injured in body, mind and spirit.  Pray for all who suffer.

 

MUSIC – No Man’s Land (The Green Fields of France), words by Eric Bogle, sung by June Tabor  7.38

STATION 4 – JESUS MEETS HIS MOTHER

As we contemplate Jesus meeting his mother on the road we hear those words “A sword will pierce your soul”.

What of the mothers left behind?  Mothers who said goodbye to their babies, their brave young babies, some barely men?
Mothers who wrote with news of home and waited in dread and fear for the telegram or the knock at the door.
Mothers who poured over newspapers and every small letter from sons who couldn’t tell the horrors they saw.
Mothers who wanted to hold and protect their young from all that would endanger them, but had to let them go.
Wives and mothers bringing up babies on their own, forced to work to provide for them, fearing the worst.

I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier (song)

Ten million soldiers to the war have gone,
who may never return again.
Ten million mothers’ hearts must break
for the ones who died in vain.
Head bowed down in sorrow
in her lonely years,
I heard a mother murmur thru’ her tears:

 

I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier,
I brought him up to be my pride and joy.
Who dares to place a musket on his shoulder,
to shoot some other mother’s darling boy?
Let nations arbitrate their future troubles,
it’s time to lay the sword and gun away.
There’d be no war today,
if mothers all would say,
‘I didn’t raise my body to be a soldier.’

 

What victory can cheer a mother’s heart,
when she looks at her blighted home?
What victory can bring her back
all she cared to call her own?
Let each mother answer
in the years to be,
Remember that my boy belongs to me!

(Lyrics by Alfred Bryan; music by Al Piantadosi)

We pray for all women who wait. For all children suffering from hardship and neglect. For all the tears shed.  Pray for all who weep.

 

STATION 5 – SIMON OF CYRENE HELPS JESUS TO CARRY HIS CROSS

As we contemplate Simon, a passer-by who had come in from the country, forced to help carry Jesus’ cross we see a man sharing the load of another. 

And what of those acts of heroism? Of brothers in arms sacrificing their own lives for their comrades.
The orderlies who ran out to carry back the wounded from where they fell.  Who risked their own lives to care for others, to help carry their load.
They watched out for one another, those men in the muddy trenches, passed cigarettes around, told stories to keep away the bogeyman.
They joined up as pals and died as pals.
¾ million signed up as Pals Regiments, loyal to one another.
Whole streets, villages, towns lost all their men because of this.
Nobody ever encouraged Pals Regiments again.

From All Quiet on the Western Front

I am fighting a crazy, confused battle.  I want to get out of my hollow in the ground and I keep on slipping back in; I say to myself, ‘You’ve got to, it’s to do with your mates, not some stupid order,’ and straight after that: ‘So what?  I’ve only got one life to lose.’

 

Suddenly a surprising warmth comes over me.  Those voices, those few soft words, those footsteps in the trench behind me tear me with a jolt away from the terrible feeling of isolation that goes with the fear of death, to which I nearly succumbed.  Those voices mean more than my life, more than mothering and fear, they are the strongest and most protective thing that there is: they are the voices of my pals.

 

I’m no longer a shivering scrap of humanity alone in the dark – I belong to them and they to me, we all share the same fear and the same life, and we are bound to each other in a strong and simple way.  I want to press my face into them, those voices, those few words that saved me, and which will be my support.

(Erich Maria Remarque)

 We pray for all people of good will who help others. For those who give their time, their riches, their strength in the service of the poor.  Pray for all who care.

 

STATION 6 – VERONICA WIPES THE FACE OF JESUS

As we contemplate Veronica, stepping out from the crowd, rushing forward to wipe the face of Jesus we give thanks for the imprint left on her cloth and in her heart. 

There were many Veronicas in that war. Women who left the security they knew to go and work in field hospitals and tend the wounded. 38,000 Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs), semi-trained nurses, left comfortable family homes to tend to the wounded and dying.
Empowered in this new and horrible world, they faced sights they had never dreamt of.
Gangrene, infection, missing limbs, night terrors, and death became their daily lives.
Shell shock (‘no heart for the fight’) left them with dreams too horrible to bear. Nightmares that no amount of hand-holding would cure.
No more the social whirl, no more the simple life – death and destruction, the smell of rotting flesh and putrid blood, the coughing that never stopped. That was the life of service for others.
Writing letters at the side of a man who’d lost his sight, holding hands long into the night.

From Not So Quiet (a novel)

Cleaning an ambulance is the foulest and most disgusting job it is possible to imagine.  We are unanimous on that point. Even yet we hardened old-timers cannot imagine it without ‘catting’ on exceptionally bad mornings.  We do not mind cleaning the engines, doing repairs and keeping the outsides presentable – it is dealing with the insides we hate.

 

The stench that comes out as we open the doors each morning nearly knocks us down.  Pools of stale vomit from the poor wretches we have carried the night before, corners the sitters have turned into temporary lavatories for all purposes, blood and mud and vermin and the stale stench of stinking trench feet and gangrenous wounds.  Poor souls, they cannot help it.  No one blames them.  Half the time they are unconscious of what they are doing, wracked with pain and jolted about on the rough roads, for, try as we may – and the cases all agree that women drivers are ten times more thoughtful than the men drivers – we cannot altogether evade the snow-covered stones and potholes.

 

How we dread the morning clean-out of the insides of our cars, we gently-bred, educated women they insist on so rigidly for this work that apparently cannot be done by women incapable of speaking English with a public-school accent!

 

‘Our ambulance women take entire control of their cars, doing all running repairs and all cleaning.’

 

This appeared in a signed article by one of our head officials in London, forwarded to me by Mother last week. It was entitled ‘Our Splendid Women’. I wondered then how many people comfortably reading it over the breakfast table realized what that ‘all cleaning’ entailed.  None, I should imagine; much less the writer of the muck.  Certainly we ourselves had no idea before we got there.

 

I wonder afresh as I don my overalls and rubber boots. I wonder what to expect this morning, remembering that poor wretched soul I carried on my last trek to Number Thirteen, who will be buried by one of us today.

 

I am nearly sick on the spot at the sight greeting me, but I have no time for squeamishness. I have Commandant’s bus in addition to my own to get through.

 

The snow is coming down pretty heavily now, the waterproof sheet over my bonnet is full, and the red cross over the front of the driving seat totally obscured by a white pall.  Blue-nosed, blue-overalled drivers in knee-high waterproof boots are diligently carrying buckets of water and getting out cloths in readiness for the great attack.  The smell of disinfectant is everywhere.  No one speaks much.  It is a wretched morning and the less one talks the sooner one will be out of these whirling flakes. 

(Helen Zenna Smith, Not so Quiet, in Only Remembered, ibid (page 59-60)

We pray for those disfigured by war and those who care for them. For friendly faces and a caring touch in the face of adversity.  Pray for all who nurse.

MUSIC – Tallis, Salvator Mundi  3.59

STATION 7 – JESUS FALLS A SECOND TIME

As we contemplate Jesus in those narrow streets teeming with people, stumble and fall a second time we wonder if he can go on.

from Armistice Day 1918 – Robert Graves

But the boys who were killed in the trenches,
  Who fought with no rage and no rant,
We left them stretched out on their pallets of mud
  Low down with the worm and the ant.

 

Stretched out on their pallets of mud. They fell and they lay face down in the mud.
Deep in the dugouts, they lay still trying not to whimper with pain.
Old lags, young fresh recruits lying while whizzbangs flew overhead.
Too tired to get up again, too weary of the horror they’d never imagined when they signed up that glorious day.
They fell and they lay with the rats and the worms.
No glory now, lads. No glory now.

We pray for those who fell, innocent of any crime. For those who still lie there, row upon row, some known and many known to God alone.  Pray for all who fall.

 

STATION 8 – JESUS MEETS THE WOMEN OF JERUSALEM

As we contemplate the women beating their breasts and mourning over Jesus, we marvel at his words: ‘Don’t cry for me, cry for yourselves and your children.’

The women cried and cried, they wept until rivers ran with their tears.
They cried for their lost ones, for the brief but intense relationships, for what might have been.
A million men were missing from their lives, men these women never had a chance to meet 

Aunties

When I was a child,
there were always lots of
Aunties.
They were everywhere.

 

Some were real aunties –
Mum’s umpteen sisters,
Dad’s umpteen sisters.
There was no end of them.

 

Auntie Flo, Auntie Betty,
Auntie Edie, Auntie Marjorie,
Auntie Bertha, Auntie Jessie…
the list is endless.

 

I won’t go on,
except for Auntie Violet,
my favourite auntie,
killed on a bus in the Blitz.

 

It seemed quite natural,
didn’t give it a thought.
That was the way the world was –
lots of old ladies everywhere.

 

There were called spinsters.
Some were rather quaint.
And looked down upon.
A few were slightly mad.

 

Then, one day,
when I was grown up,
it dawned on me –

 

First World War

 

A million men were missing.
Why hadn’t I thought of it before?
Then men these women never met,
never even had the chance to meet.

 

All dead

 

These ladies were always kind,
gentle and loving to me.
Not sour, bitter and resentful,
as they had every right to be.

 

A million missing men.
A million aunties.

(Raymond Briggs, ibid (page 240-241)

 We pray for those women who lost their loves, their hopes, their dreams, their futures. For children left without fathers.  Pray for all who were left behind.

 

STATION 9 – JESUS FALLS FOR THE THIRD TIME

As we contemplate Jesus lying in the dusty road under the cross, we imagine the humility and the insults he bore.

 

from Robert Graves – It’s a Queer Time

You’re charging madly at them yelling ‘Fag!’
When somehow something gives and your feet drag.
You fall and strike your head; yet feel no pain
And find…you’re digging tunnels through the hay
In the Big Barn, ’cause it’s a rainy day.
Oh springy hay, and lovely beams to climb!
You’re back in the old sailor suit again.
         It’s a queer time.

In Belgium there’s a Peace Pool, man-made from a bomb crater.  The water is still, the reeds blow in the breeze, frogs croak and it seems so peaceful indeed.
Until you remember that this is where they fell, fell to the sound of silence as the bomb took away their hearing.

Day and night the shells fell.
Dugouts crumbled. Digging became a way of life.
Digging friends out, some suffocated, some smashed to pulp.
The noise of the shells grew into a great crescendo.
In a flash of time they threw themselves down into the mud and cringed at the bottom of the crater.
Red-hot jagged pieces of iron fell around them.

A second or two later they’d laugh, roar with laughter.
Laugh because this time your name wasn’t on it.

We pray for those who suffer humiliation from others. For all who fall daily because of disability and disease. Pray for all who live with pain.

MUSIC – O Sacred Head Now Wounded (Passion Chorale) – J S Bach    3.03

STATION 10 – JESUS IS STRIPPED OF HIS GARMENTS

As we contemplate the soldiers taking his garments and casting lots for them, we imagine what it was like to be so vulnerable and helpless.

For some, their army uniform was the first suit they’d had.  How proud they were, marching through their home towns with crowds cheering.
Proud of wearing this badge of honour, to be a soldier fighting for King and Country.
In time those clothes became something much less glamourous, stained and filthy, burned by shrapnel, seams crawling with lice, socks rotting in boots.
A far cry from that seamless garment worn by Christ.

But as death approached and they lay in a field hospital, clothes torn away, sometimes taking flesh with it, the result was the same.
Vulnerability without that badge of honour, going out of this world as they came in. Naked as a newborn babe. 

From Testament of Youth

I had arrived at the cottage that morning to find [Roland’s] mother and sister standing in helpless distress in the midst of his returned kit, which was lying, just opened, all over the floor.  The garments sent back included the outfit he had been wearing when he was hit.  I wondered, and I wonder still, why it was thought necessary to return such relics – the tunic torn back and front by the bullet, a khaki vest dark and stiff with blood, and a pair of blood-stained breeches slit open at the top by someone obviously in a violent hurry.  Those gruesome rags made me realize, as I had never realized before, all that France really meant.  Eighteen months afterwards the smell of Etaples village, though fainter and more diffused, brought back to me the memory of those poor remnants of patriotism.

 

‘Everything,’ I wrote later to [my brother] Edward, ‘was damp and worn and simply caked in mud.  And I was glad that neither you nor Victor nor anyone who may some day go to the front was there to see.  If you had been, you would have been overwhelmed by the horror of war without its glory.  For though he had only won the things when living, the smell of those clothes was the smell of graveyards and the Dead.  The mud of France which cover them was not ordinary mud; it had not the usual clean pure smell of earth, but it was as though it was saturated with dead bodies – dead that had been dead a long, long time… There was his cap, bent in and shapeless out of recognition – the soft cap he wore rakishly on the back of his head – with the badge thickly coated with mud.  He must have fallen on top of it, or perhaps one of those people who fetched him in trampled on it.’

Vera Brittain

We pray for those who have nothing, whose possessions are few. For all who do not appreciate what they have.  Pray for all who live in poverty.

 

STATION 11 – JESUS IS NAILED TO THE CROSS

As we contemplate Jesus being offered a draught of wine mixed with gall, we hear those words ‘Father, forgive them: they do not know what it is they are doing.’

They practiced with bayonets fixed to rifles running at sandbags. ‘Imagine it’s the Hun,’ they were told.
But when the whistle blew to go over the top, would they be able to look a man in the eye and kill him?
The tot of rum gave them courage but it soon wore off.
What happens when they were faced with someone else’s son, brother, father?

Father forgive them: they do not know what it is they are doing.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
and towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep.  Many had lost their boots
but limped on, blood-shod.  All went lame; all blind;
drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

 

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
but someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
and flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
as under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

 

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

 

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
behind the wagon that we flung him in,
and watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
his hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
if you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
of vile, incurable sore on innocent tongues, -
my friend, you would not tell with such high zest
to children ardent for some desperate glory,
the old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.  

Wilfred Owen

 We pray for all victims of war, for men, women and children. For the innocent casualties and for the work of the Red Cross.  Pray for all who are tortured.

 

STATION 12 – JESUS DIES ON THE CROSS

As we contemplate darkness over all the world we hear Jesus cry out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Then he bowed his head and yielded up his spirit.

Poison gas killed 200,000 men. It was a horrible, horrible death.  1 million killed or injured in the Battle of the Somme.
‘The artillery will have killed most of them,’ they were told. ‘You’ll be able to just stroll over and finish them off.’
And they lay dying in No Man’s Land waiting for a friend to finish them off.
‘Call me a coward, if you like, but I just couldn’t shoot a friend even if he was dying,’ said Robbie.
Some of them lay screaming for days.

Asleep  (Wilfred Owen)

Under his helmet, up against his pack,
After so many days of work and waking,
Sleep took him by the brow and laid him back.

 

There, in the happy no-time of his sleeping,
Death took him by the heart. There heaved a quaking
Of the aborted life within him leaping,
Then chest and sleepy arms once more fell slack.

 

And soon the slow, stray blood came creeping
From the intruding lead, like ants on track.

 

Whether his deeper sleep lie shaded by the shaking
Of great wings, and the thoughts that hung the stars,
High-pillowed on calm pillows of God’s making,
Above these clouds, these rains, these sleets of lead,
And these winds’ scimitars,
—Or whether yet his thin and sodden head
Confuses more and more with the low mould,
His hair being one with the grey grass
Of finished fields, and wire-scrags rusty-old,
Who knows? Who hopes? Who troubles? Let it pass!
He sleeps. He sleeps less tremulous, less cold,
Than we who wake, and waking say Alas! 

We pray for those who lost their lives. For young and old, for those who watched helpless, for those who died alone.  Pray for all who died.

 

MUSIC – Flowers of the Forest (Royal Scots Dragoon Guards) 2.55

STATION 13 – JESUS IS TAKEN DOWN FROM THE CROSS

As we contemplate a good man named Joseph of Arimathea taking Jesus’ body down from the cross and lay him in his mother’s arms, we think of all those who care for the dead. 

It was the job of the Royal Army Medical Corps to tend the sick and the dead.  To carry them on stretchers to hospital or to grave.
More than 9 million died on both sides in World War 1.
But there were no mothers to hold them at the end.
Far away, across the sea, a knock at the door and a telegram handed over.
‘I deeply regret to inform you… It is my painful duty to inform you…’
The women wept alone, arms empty wrapped around themselves.
Wept for the waste of youth.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

 

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmer of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds. 

Wilfred Owen

We pray with Mary our Mother, as she holds her son in her arms, for all who were denied that comfort. For women who wept alone, for all women who lose a child.  Pray for all who mourn.

 

STATION 14 – JESUS IS LAID IN THE TOMB

As we contemplate Joseph and Nicodemus taking Jesus’ body, wrapping it in winding-cloths and spices and laying him in the tomb, we think of all who lie buried in a foreign field.

Some were buried where they fell, in the battlefield.
Some in graves close by.  375,000 War Horses too were given a grave of sorts.
Row upon row of white headstones or white crosses, silent witnesses to the horror of war.
They lie in France, Belgium, Italy far from home.
Some named, some ‘known to God alone’.
Some have no grave, just names on a memorial.
54,896 names engraved on the Menin Gate at Ypres of Commonwealth soldiers who died but their bodies were never found.
Tens of thousands more in other cemeteries nearby.

“Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (To the greater glory of God) – Here are recorded names of officers and men who fell in Ypres Salient, but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death”.

Every evening at 2000 hours a bugler sounds the Last Post.

He whom this scroll commemorates was numbered among those who,
at the call of King and Country, left all that was dear to them,
endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men
by the path of duty and self-sacrifice,
giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom.
Let those who come after see to it
that his name be not forgotten.

(Rudyard Kipling)

We pray for those who fell, for those deprived of a grave. For those who mourn and grieve, that they may receive the grace and the strength to bear it. Pray for peace.

 

MUSIC – Lacrymosa (Do Not Stand At My Grave) – Howard Goodall, Eternal Light (A Requiem)  3.04

ENDING

Remember, Lord, those whose stories were unspoken and untold…

 Remember, Lord, those whose minds were darkened and disturbed by memories of war…

 Remember, Lord, those who suffered in silence, and those whose bodies were disfigured by injury and pain…

 Father of all, remember your holy promise, and look with love on all your people, living and departed. On this day we especially ask that you would hold for ever all who suffered during the First World War, those who returned scarred by warfare, those who waited anxiously at home, and those who returned wounded, and disillusioned; those who mourned, and those communities that were diminished and suffered loss. Remember too those who acted with kindly compassion, those who bravely risked their own lives for their comrades, and those who in the aftermath of war, worked tirelessly for a more peaceful world. And as you remember them, remember us, O Lord; grant us peace in our time and a longing for the day when people of every language, race, and nation will be brought into the unity of Christ’s kingdom. This we ask in the name of the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Our Father…

Lighten our darkness, Lord, we pray;
and in your mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night;
for the love of your only Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Blessing
May God the Holy Trinity
guard and defend you on every side,
strengthen you to face times of difficulty,
and keep you rooted in faith and hope;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
be with you and all whom you love and all whom you have lost,
this night and always.  Amen.

In which Ruth ponders her dad’s Life Story

There has been a project on the go now for a number of years in which old folk in homes are encouraged to put together (with help) their Life Story. The Twilight Home in which my dad lives has just got around to doing this with the inmates residents. A lovely volunteer sat down with dad one afternoon and filled in the book of his life – and very amusing it was too. 

For readers who don’t know, my father has dementia. Not Alzheimers, but dementia brought on by a series of strokes. This manifests itself in various ways: he knows who we are but doesn’t always remember our names (but then he never did and we were often introduced as numbers – I am No 1 Daughter); he doesn’t initiate conversations and dislikes questions as they tend to be a test of his memory; his short-term memory is lousy but his long-term memory is not too bad; if he doesn’t know something he has a tendency to confabulate, ie make up something plausible; he pouches food he doesn’t like (like a hamster) which means he eats very slowly because his cheeks are bulging and nothing else will fit in. (Note: he never does the latter with smoked salmon.)

Dad and tiger moth 1952The volunteer had to ask dad about his memories of childhood, school, family, homes, jobs, cars, things he liked and disliked, influential people and friends, spirituality and faith, and jokes. What an interesting read it was too! Most of it was factual but there were some delightful insights into our Walter Mitty papa. At my last visit I had to ‘red pen’ considerable chunks of it and we spent a lovely few hours adding some more memories which I was able to trigger for him. 

I also learned that Dad has spent his first twelve years near here in Polmont. I always knew he was born near there but hadn’t realised that he had lived her for quite so long. He remember where he lived (9 Whitesideloan) and went to Wallace Stone Primary which still exists. He said he’d love go back there some day to see what its like now so I’m planning to do that soon. 

Dad’s cars were a great source of conversation and it is probably a blessing that he hasn’t been able to drive for many years now. I remember vividly as children sitting on his knee being allowed to steer the car and encouraging him to go faster, faster. And he never wore a seat-belt. On journeys we played many car games – counting makes of cars, counting baths in fields (what happened to baths in fields?), guessing when a mile was up, etc. Who needs computer games? We reminisced about his Daimler Sovereign, Ford Capri, Humber Super Snipe, and the one which had a long seat in the front. Anyone remember what they were called? (Just before the Capri.)

So if you should ever read my Dad’s Life Story please take it with a pinch of salt. Especially the bit about his many wives. Not all of it might be true.

In which Ruth ponders why congregations don’t like new hymns

Two complaints came to my ears this week. The first was that we didn’t know the last hymn. Indeed, when I announced said hymn I did ask Mad Margaret, our deliciously eccentric organist, if it was a new one as I didn’t recognise the first line. Half the congregation shouted NO and the other half shouted YES, so just so be on the safe side MM played it through first. Indeed we did know it, except, it would seem, the person who complained. And her friend.

This is an ongoing problem. New hymns. And I wonder why it is that so many people don’t like them. If I thought it was because they like to sing everything with gusto and not hesitation then I wouldn’t mind. But it is rare that a congregation really lets rip with joy and abundance when singing. (Easter and Christmas being the exception and strangely enough we only sing those hymns once a year.) We like familiarity in Church. We like things to be the same. We like the same liturgy, the same pew, and it would appear, the same hymns. Nothing to disturb us. Nothing to upset us. Tosh!

hildegard-musicI mean, if we never learned any new hymns we’d still be singing some Gregorian Chant with a bit of Hildegard of Bingen for the girls. And I have one person who can’t stand the modern Iona hymns set to well-known tunes. ‘Hymns should never be set to folk tunes,’ they say. Like Vaughan Williams never did it! Ha!

Then there’s the words, the content. Some of the modern hymns (and I don’t mean those banal choruses) are really powerful and far more relevant to some of us. But its like the bible, isn’t it? Some still prefer the King James version to the NRSV – until you ask them to read it aloud, that is. We want to encourage new folk into church but we also want them to sing ‘consubstantial co-eternal’ and understand what its all about. 

Of course not all congregations are like this about new hymns. Actually, that’s not true. They are all like this. But teaching organist with fagthem takes great skill. Now, I don’t sing. Actually, that’s not strictly true – I do sing, perfectly in my head. It just doesn’t always come out the way I’d hoped. So my method for teaching new hymns has always been to get the organist to play it through first and then we all have a bash. It works. Not always well, but in time we all catch on. And often some people do know the hymns anyway. I hate it when organists or choir leaders say ‘Oh we don’t know that one’ as if they speak for everyone. They may never have sung it in that church before but people do visit other churches and places and do pick up different hymns. (I’m starting to get really angry now – teeth clenched etc.)

In Christ Church they only teach new hymns if the choir can sing it first, perhaps a few times, before the congregation is ‘allowed’ to join in. Now the choir sing/lead one hymn and that’s just after communion. And frankly, not all hymns are suitable for the post-communion slot. When I first came here I was told that nobody knew Sweet Sacrament Divine and the choir would have to sing it a few times first. How smug was I when everyone joined in? (Yes, that was considered one of the ‘new’ hymns a few years ago.) A friend was visiting a church in Fife a few weeks ago and told me, in shocked tones, that the Rector had taught them three new hymns in one service. Three! I ask you! How brave is that man?

Anyway, back to the other complaint… that the hymns were too long. This poor person was exhausted by the end of it. Really? For those of you who don’t do liturgy or choose hymns to go with it, let me give you a few hints:

  1. The Introit hymn (entrance) should be jolly and majestic, suitable for a procession, long enough to get the altar party down the aisle and to their places. Sometimes, if there is incense, it needs to be a little longer to allow the Celebrant to cense the altar too and find their seat which make time with all that smoke about. 
  2. The Gradual hymn (just before the Gospel) can be short and snappy and preferably the words should suit the reading of Scripture or fit the theme of the readings. This is not always possible but the Lord knows we try.
  3. The Offertory hymn (when the bread and wine is brought and the collection taken) should be long enough to allow all this to happen. In some churches it involves more incense and there might even be two hymns (eg St Michael & All Saints). Bonus points are given if it also fits the theme of the service.
  4. The Communion hymn(s) are just as people are coming for communion or going back to their seats. The choir may do a beautiful piece as a solo, or in our case the congregation can join in if they have got back to their hymn books. The second one is usually when everyone is back in their place and is slow and reflective and usually sacramental in nature. It may have to be long to allow the priest to also get out to those in wheelchairs and unable to get up for communion. (Unless you have an organist who can ‘twiddle’.)
  5. The Recessional hymn is the one the altar party march out to and might have ‘sending out’ words to encourage us. It should be a bit like the coming in one – fast and uplifting. You Shall Go Out With Joy is a good and bad example of this. Good because of the words, bad because it is only one verse and you’d have to make it a sprint which is never dignified. (Yes, we sometimes play it three times.)

In my defence, the hymns last Sunday had (1) Jesus is Lord! (3 verses with chorus); (2) God of mercy, God of grace (3 verses); (3) All hail the power of Jesus’ name (6 verses with chorus – but the verses had 3 lines); (4) Such love (3 verses) and then O God who at thy Eucharist dids’t pray (4 verses) and still not long enough; (5) O Lord all the world belongs to you (5 verses). Well I managed them and I have COPD and Asthma! 

So there we have it. Rant over. Want to share your love of new hymns? Any suggestions on how to share your enthusiasm?

PS MM is a lovely organist and is extremely obliging and willing to have a go at anything. Anything.