Lent Thoughts -Hospitality

Today’s Lent reading, squeezed in between much Holy Week preparation, was a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye from 19 Varieties of Gazelle.

Red Brocade

The Arabs used to say,
when a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking him who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way he’ll have the strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.

Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine nuts?
Here, take my red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water 
to your horse.

No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armour everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.

I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.

Image result for red brocade pillow

 

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!

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 Lent… again

On going through my ‘Quotes Journal’ for something on trust I came across this poem by the wonderful Madeleine L’Engle

For Lent, 1966

It is my Lent to break my Lent,
to eat when I would fast,
to know when slender strength is spent,
take shelter from the blast
when I would run with wind and rain,
to sleep when I would watch.
It is my Lent to smile at pain
but not ignore its touch.
It is my Lent to listen well
when I would be alone,
to talk when I would rather dwell
in silence, turn from none
who call on me, to try and see
that what is truly meant
is not my choice. If Christ’s I’d be
it’s thus I’ll keep my Lent.

In which Ruth ponders the fact that she is not God

I am not God.
I am busy, and I can do much.
But I am not God.
I can command many,
I can do powerful things.
But I am not God.
At the end I will go back to dust.

Really I am not very powerful,   crocus_snow
really I am rather fragile,
helpless, even.
I’m not even in charge
when I like to think I am.
Without my little flock,
without my family, my ‘help me’ friends,
I would quickly wither away.
Without God
I would simply fade away.

This Lent, God,
you tell me to set down your world,
to set it down
and let you carry it for me.
Thank you God.
I wish I listened to you more often.

In which Ruth ponders Lenten fasting

I’m not giving anything up for Lent, you know. Did I mention that already? I will eat chocolate if I feel like it, bread with my soup, the occasional biscuit in company. For anything else is just dieting but kidding on God has something to do with it. So when I came across this poem it made my heart sing.

THE HYMN OF A FAT WOMAN

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 fervour.

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.

Joyce Huff, from Gargoyle magazine (Vol 44)

botero_woman_eating_an_apple

Reflection on Christ Church’s silent retreat

One of the participants in our wee parish silent retreat a few weeks ago shared with us her reflections. She has given permission for them to be shared here too.

Morning has broken; the second day
Inspiration
Imagination
Reflection
Paintings to focus our thoughts
Poems to deepen awareness
Spiritual truths embedded in
Word
Silence
Walking through trees and shrubs.
The wind whistles at this season of Pentecost
Blowing where it will through our inner being
The heart
The mind
The spirit
Searching for our inner response.

At our Eucharist the candle flickers
Then leaps into being with a sudden breath of air
Only to die down just as suddenly out of sight
But the flicker is still strong
A continual presence
Our togetherness in silence is the essence.
The overwhelming sense of each journey is strong
Private, individual,
Yet each heart beating at an inner level
yearning for communication
searching for a destination.
Or maybe the journey itself is enough for now
On-going
Fathomless
For God to mean more to us
not less.

Trinity Sunday
Father and Son
The Spirit’s grace
in the smiles of each face.
The Peace.
Hands clasped and touched
The unspoken expresses so much.
The bread and wine shared
The Christ who cared
enough to die for me
The Agony but oh what ecstasy
That he rose for all eternity.

And finally
A blessing.
The face of Christ on our TV screen
Reflects our own faces
Calm
Serene
A profusion of green
From the trees in the garden beyond our wall
The wood of the window
Like the cross behind his head
Drawing us into his sphere
Of love so near.
And as we pray together
our journey continues
in word
and in silence
from here.

by Gillian

I think I’m getting to like poetry

I’ve never been a huge poetry fan. At school it was Robert Louis Stevenson and the Lady of Shallot. Oh there was some Burns thrown in for good measure and there must have been some in Secondary school but whatever they were, they’ve long gone. I loved reading as a child but managed to get an English teacher who almost put me off for life. (Mrs Rozga, why did I end up in your class every year of secondary school?)

I think my problems with poetry stems from having to work at it. And I am at heart a lazy old sod. So I glance at some cleverly crafted words in wiggly waggly shapes and I give up almost immediately. And why do some of them not use punctuation  What’s that all about?  And then there are the poems where the line continues on the next line… why not put it all in one line? You read it as if it is, so why not write it that way? Sometimes it is just too clever for me and I can’t be bothered working it out.

I did try writing some poetry when I was much younger and full of angst. There was one called Mother’s Little Helpers, I seem to remember, and one on The Fireworks which I couldn’t attend because I didn’t have a babysitter. You’ll see there was a theme going on there.

My eldest son writes lots of poetry. Some have even been published in obscure journals. They are pretty heavy, mind you. And not really suitable for reprinting here on such a delicate blog. I feel they should come with a health warning.

However, of late I have found myself lingering on the occasional poem and sometimes even smiling. I quite like some by Liz Lochead and Carol Ann Duffy. Mrs Icarus doesn’t fail to make me grin, for example.

Today I came across this one and I rather like it. Never heard of Billy Collins, the author, but I might look for some more. I see he was an American Poet Laureate from 2001-2003.

Man in Space

All you have to do is listen to the way a man
sometimes talks to his wife at a table of people
and notice how intent he is on making his point
even though her lower lip is beginning to quiver,

and you will know why the women in science
fiction movies who inhabit a planet of their own
are not pictured making a salad or reading a magazine
when the men from earth arrive in their rocket,

why they are always standing in a semicircle
with their arms folded, their bare legs set apart,
their breasts protected by hard metal disks.

Lenten thoughts of a High Church Anglican

by Sir John Betjeman

Isn’t she lovely, ‘the Mistress’?
With her wide-apart grey-green eyes,
The droop of her lips and, when she smiles,
Her glance of amused suprise?

How nonchalantly she wears her clothes,
How expensive they are as well!
And the sound of her voice is as soft and deep
As the Christ Church tenor bell.

But why do I call her ‘the Mistress’
Who know not her way of life?
Because she has more of a cared-for air
Than many a legal wife.

How elegantly she swings along
In the vapoury incense veil,
The Angel choir must pause in song
When she kneels at the altar rail.

The preacher said that we should not stare
Around when we come to Church,
Or the Unknown God we are seeking
May forever elude our search.

And I hope that the preacher will not think
It unorthodox and odd
If I add that I catch in ‘the Mistress’
A glimpse of the Unknown God.

 

Poems in the Waiting Room

During my recent stay in hospital I picked up a leaflet entitled Poems in the Waiting Room. What a lovely thought, I thought. Some poetry to soothe the troubled breast or whatever part you’re in for. As some of you know I do struggle a bit with poetry but I really don’t mind the odd comforting couplet. And I certainly don’t mind looking for some comforting words while waiting to be operated upon.

I have just come across the leaflet and once more I am intrigued as to the choice of poems therein.

  • There is a portion from Pope’s Essay on Man which includes the line:  ‘some sunk to beasts, find pleasure end in pain’.
  • My Heart’s in the Highlands by Robert Burns
  • Hope by Emily Dickinson – Yes I can see why that might be in here.
  • The Place where we are right by Yehuda Amichai which includes ‘The place where we are right is hard and trampled like a yard.’
  • Lifting Anchor by Stephen Wilson which is about sailing.
  • A portion by Shakespeare from Taming of the Shrew – ‘for so your doctors hold it very meet, seeing too much sadness hath congeal’d your blood, and melancholy is the nurse of frenzy…’
  • Sometimes with the line ‘Sometimes things don’t go after all, from bad to worse.’ So that’s a comfort then.
  • My New Bowl by Sue Burge which is about a bowl of flowers but could be a fruit bowl.

And this is why I don’t understand poetry for clearly I have missed the point of all of these.