August 2013


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It always seems as if the spirit of the river was speaking to me, and telling me how, in its rapid, continuous course, it is setting an example to man how he can most wisely and happily regulate his life.  The water is so wise; when it comes to little banks and uneven places in its bed, it gently flows over them without making any bother about it, and this, says the river, is just the way that men should treat little unpleasantness’s and smaller misfortunes of life instead of allowing such things to distract and worry them and perhaps even to alter their whole course of existence.

Then, when huge boulders of rocks stand out into the stream the river glides quietly around them accepting them as necessary evils which must be endured, since they cannot be cured, which is the way in which men should treat the greater difficulties and hardships of their lives, instead of fuming and fretting, or sitting down in despair.

These are the things that rivers never do says the spirit, and moreover, as they move constantly forward, they explore with their water every hold and corner within their reach, neglecting nothing, giving a kindly wash to everything that comes in their way, and holding a pleasant conversation with all objects, living or inanimate, with which they come in contact.

So a wise man, and one who desires to make his life useful and pleasant to himself and others, will always seek for information as he goes along through the world, will ever have a cheery word for his fellow travellers, and be ready to do a kind and friendly action to any that require it.  And, if he does so, just as the river grows broader and wider as it nears the ocean in which it finally loses itself, and merges its wasters in the infinite space of the sea, so the man’s life will become grander and more noble as it approaches its close, and he will have gained the affection and respect of all whose respect and affection are worth gaining, before the stream of his life, too, floats out upon the ocean of eternity.

Extract from the Legend of St Derfec c. 566-660

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r-s-thomas[1]

The priest picks his way

Through the parish. Eyes watch him

From windows, from the farms;

Hearts wanting him to come near.

The flesh rejects him.

 

Women, pouring from the black kettle,

Stir up the whirling tea-grounds

Of their thoughts; offer him a dark

Filling in their smiling sandwich.

 

Priests have a long way to go.

The people wait for them to come

To them over the broken glass

Of their vows, making them pay

With their sweat’s coinage for their correction.

 

He goes up a green lane

Through growing birches; lambs cushion

His vision. He comes slowly down

In the dark, feeling the cross warp

In his hands; hanging on it his thought’s icicles.

 

‘Crippled soul’ do you say? looking at him

From the mind’s height; ‘limping through life

On his prayers. There are other people

In the world, sitting at table

Contented, though the broken body

And the shed blood are not on the menu.’

 

‘Let it be so,’ I say. ‘Amen and amen.’

RS Thomas

Kauffmann-Jorda_Essential-Guide_978-1-84905-335-8_colourjpg-print[1]

The Essential Guide to Life After Bereavement

Beyond Tomorrow

Judy Carole Kauffmann and Mary Jordan

Paperback: £12.99 Jessica Kingsley Publishers

2013, 176pp
ISBN: 978-1-84905-335-8.

 

 

In pastoral ministry there are many encounters that remain in the memory of the pastor. These find their way to speak about human resilience, our encounter with pain, the occasional impossibility of resolving conflicts  and the need always to be open and honest about our needs. The death of a loved one is always traumatic and how this loss is dealt with during the first weeks of bereavement can often shape the quality of life for families in the years that follow. We need to embrace the vulnerabilities of loss and find help to discover how best to live with our mortality and the challenges of change.

 

On this journey we shall need skilled friends. Those who seek guidance about bereavement will find a good guide and friend in the pages of this book. It is written by two women who have deepened their emotional intelligence by listening both to themselves and others. They have reflected with care on what we might need when someone dies and organized this advice with care and great clarity.

 

It is organized into nine chapters. The first two handle the difficult subject of breaking bad news and this is followed by a further two that open up the subject of grief. The book deals with conflict (in families) in chapter five. There are also chapters on personal effects, memorials and anniversaries. Chapter nine looks to the future with a chapter entitled ‘Beyond Tomorrow’ which holds out the hope of reconstructing living in the face of loss.

There is an especially good resources section and the book is strengthened with the provision of an index.

 

The narrative of the text is grounded in experience with short reflections that earth conversations in the reality of bereavement. There are gentle but searching questions of the reader in the text. The writers have a gift for a concise and clear expression of thought.

 

My shelves are full of books on death and bereavement but this one will stand out as a useful starting point for someone who might benefit from support and advice in the shape of a short book.

 

 

 

 

 

sunflowers[1]
Helen says heaven, for her,

would be complete immersion

in physical process,

without self-consciousness—

 

to be the respiration of the grass,

or ionized agitation

just above the break of a wave,

traffic in a sunflower’s thousand golden rooms.

from Mark Doty, Heaven for Helen

green-plantalgaeherbal[1]

The beautiful changes as a forest is changed
By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;
As a mantis, arranged
On a green leaf, grows
Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves
Any greenness is greener than anyone knows.

from Richard Wilbur, The beautiful changes

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Our sense of these things changes and they change,

Not as in metaphor, but in our sense

Of them. So sense exceeds all metaphor.

 

It exceeds the heavy changes of the light.

It is like a flow of meanings with no speech

And of as many meanings as of men.

 

We are two that use these roses as we are,

In seeing them. This is what makes them seem

So far beyond the rhetorician’s touch.

 

Wallace Stevens, Bouquet of roses in sunlight

The_Cry_of_Our_Heart[1]

What then is our human relationship with a universe that is not human? It is a relationship of time, it seems, of time and eternity. Because our lives are in time, we are in the world, but because we are not just in time but also in eternity, we also somehow transcend the world. Time is mysterious, “a changing image of eternity,” a human experience that we use nevertheless to measure a universe that is not human.  There is a con­nection here. When reading becomes “divine reading,” lectio divina, letting words speak to the heart, and when reading changes into singing, as Proust says, and the way of words be­comes the way also of music,
then the past becomes present, becomes as Proust describes it “the Past familiarly risen in the midst of the present,” and something more than the past comes to light, something timeless, eternity itself, and time gives way to heart’s desire. I think of Augustine’s own hymn about our restless love of “this” and “that.” It is all we have left of his poetry, three lines quoted in his City of God. It is an evening song to be sung at the lighting of the candle.

No doubt, to speak of a city of the heart is “poetry in the dark ages,” to speak of it as a city not only of action and enjoyment but of contemplation. Nonetheless, the life of contemplation is as real as the life of action and the life of enjoyment.

Do we love with a love we know or with a love we do not know? What difference does love’s direction make? Do the voices that are heard in poetry tell us of the essence of things? What does the heart’s desire look like in the mirror of death, in the magic of transfiguration, and in the mystery of eternal life? Is the love of God simply attention, the natural prayer of the soul? Is there a city of the heart?

There is an answer to all these questions that is “no answer in logic, but in excess of light.” It is the love Dante ends with, “the love that moves the sun and the other stars,” the love the old man of the desert spoke of to T. E. Lawrence, “The love is from God, and of God, and towards God.” We meet the love most often, though, as “negative love,” as restless longing. I think of the melancholy you can sometimes hear in Mozart’s music. If I listen, I can hear the unrequited longing of the heart,

 

Done in, done with, done for,

I live inside a tale

of letting be,

of openness to mystery,

and walk love’s road

like no fool

like an old fool,

loving Holy Wisdom,

learning her eternal music,

getting rid of love I haven’t got

to find the love I have

to love heart-free in time.

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