Tucked away in an upper gallery of the V&A is a tapestry. You can see it peeping above a stairway from the entrance hall, but from a distance it looks dull. It is the story of the Life of Man by Giorgio Vasari 1511–74. The tapestry shows man midway in the pilgrimage of life, climbing the mountain of salvation accompanied by two female figures – Faith and Innocence – and a winged child representing divine love.
It is from the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. It is only up close that it comes alive and only when given the explanation can one make sense of it. With a glance from afar, it is just another faded tapestry, but in reality it is a moving all allegory of life formed by many thousands of delicate threads. Not one in a hundred passing through the busy entrance hall give it a second look, but if you sit and ponder it for some time it comes alive. Such is life.
A line from the Mass readings stuck in my mind.
If you are a speaker, speak in words which seem to come from God. (1st Letter of St. Peter 4:7-13)
Alas! How very seldom have I ever done that!
By chance, I went to mass today at the Brompton Oratory and found it was the feast day of St. Philip Neri (b. 1515). A man of exceptional charm and a child of the Renaissance, he spent hours in the streets of Rome talking to young people. He is the founder of the Oratory.
As I sat and prayed there, I looked at a large picture of him in the sanctuary preaching in Rome. I had never noticed it before. In this time of uncertainty it struck me that the root of happiness was in doing what ever the Holy Spirit requires. We do not know where it will lead us and can only accept what happens to us. Others are often a better judge than oneself.
After the excitement of Easter, we are back to ordinary time and green vestments. This can be viewed as ‘boring time’ or as a time of growing. The gospel of today always strikes me as pointing to our greatest problem. The young man in the story has done everything right, but one thing he cannot do.
Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. (Mark 10 17–27)
So we too go away sad and do things in a small, un-heroic way.
Much of the Tate Modern is designed to shock or at least impress. Much of it is self obsessed or even vulgar. But in one of the galleries you will find this picture by Stanley Spencer.
It is a modern view of the healing of the Centurion’s servant from St. Luke’s Gospel. In the mute features of the participants the women praying and the man ill on a large bed is a powerful evocation of faith in prayer.
I wish I could say that the Gospel reading on the breath of life made the most impression on me today (and this is a most wonderful feast day). I always wonder what languages the disciples went out to speak. Presumably it was Greek and Latin as well as Aramaic.
But what struck me most today was that upon leaving our cottage at lunchtime, the children had been playing on the swing. As we left it was still gently swinging. Very soon it would stop and our memory of it gone – an allegory of our passing influence on events.
We went to a most wonderful event: the seventieth wedding anniversary of Ray and Dora Hart at Holy Rood Church, Market Rasen. Seventieth wedding anniversaries must be exceedingly rare.
I can’t imagine more than a handful take place each year in the county if not the country. I have calculated that if ever I were to achieve such an amazing goal, I would have to be married for another 45 years and live to 104 — tough challanges for anyone. The priest said that in forty years of priesthood, he had never presided over a seventieth wedding anniversary.
Marriage is the very cornerstone of society. Ray and Dora may have lived ordinary lives, but they are an extraordinary testament to faithfulness and a virtuous society. They were married in May 1940 — a few days after Winston Churchill became Prime Minister.
I was trying with difficulty to sleep so I attempted John Paul II’s decade of light in the Rosary on the life of Christ. I could remember the order to some extent:
-The Baptism of Christ
-The wedding feast at Cana
-The Institution of the Eucharist
But what was the fifth mystery? I decided to contemplate the raising of Lazarus.
A picture came to mind in Downside Abbey found in the guidebook, ‘optimistically’ attributed to Bossano, of the raising of Lazarus, but the face in this picture of Christ is so tranquil and beautiful it always stays with me. The legs akimbo of the dead Lazarus are like the legs of a dead friend I once witnessed. Here was hope for the future of life after death.
I was dreaming that I had to climb a mountain to see. I’m not sure who we were. We found an easy way up by going inside the mountain and pushing against a series of doors to make progress. When we emerged on the other side of the mountain there was an easy road and a bicycle to take me where I wanted. The dream seemed to be a very good metaphor for trust in faith.
While I was with them, I protected them in your name that* you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost.
I was having trouble sleeping, so I started saying my rosary. It was calming, but I noticed that by the time I got to the second sorrowful mystery, I was falling asleep. I should have been meditating on the agony of the garden, but I was asleep, just as the desciples were.
But life to me is not a thing to waste words on, provided that when I finish my race I have carried out the mission the Lord Jesus gave me – and that was to bear witness to the Good News of God’s grace.
(Acts of the Apostles 20:17-27)
We went down to Downside for the day. It is always a pleasant break from London, especially in warm early Summer Sunshine. I found these good words in the parish mass book there:
God be in my head and my understanding
God be in my eyes and my seeing
God be in my mouth and my speaking
God be in my heart and my charity.
These words stuck in my mind from the gospel.
Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
I read from three of my favourite novels in the Chapter House of Lincoln Cathedral: J.R.R Tolkien – ‘The Return of the King,’ Hardy, ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and AJ Cronin, ‘The Keys to the Kingdom.’
There is a particularly moving passage at the end of the latter work, when the aged protagonist, Fr. Francis Chisholm, an aged and largely unsuccessful (although much loved), Catholic missionary, is told by his friend Mr. Chia that he wishes to convert. It is moving because although seemingly a failure, he has, in the most important aspects of life, been a success.
In the first room of the Renaissance gallaries of the V&A are the inlaid, bound covers of the Lorsch Bible. It is extraordinary to gaze at the intricate workmanship of this Dark Age artefact from the Court of Charlemagne. Now, over a millenium later, the beautiful workmanship is curiously evocative of a vanished spiritual age.
The first of three birthdays in May of my children. It was nice to get out of the house and be with the family. A day with the family is never wasted, unlike many in the office.
A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.
Great excitement – the first day of a new government! I went to a quiet mass and thought on the gospel.
I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now.
We have been asked to sign up to a coalition and have a referendum which will change a centuries old voting system. I cannot, in all this excitement, concentrate on a word of the Mass.
Not one of you has asked where I am going
It strikes me that we all too rarely ask where Jesus went and where we are.
Days come when nothing feels right and Man makes little difference.
I do not feel troubled, but rather uncertain. Having caught a chill on the railway platform yesterday, nothing could warm me up — even in the Gospel words which passed me by:
I have told you this so that your faith might not be shaken.
Only one phrase from the gospel sticks in my mind.
Peace I bequeath to you, a peace the world cannot give. This is my gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
In the afternoon, I went to a moving ceremony on the platform of a very quiet Market Rason Station. No trains come on Sunday. Worse luck. The service was in memory of an RAF Valiant bomber which crashed nearby in May 1964, killing the entire crew. It’s good that so many years later we remember just one training accident.
A quiet day. Only the gospel and church.
If the world hates you remember that it hated me before you. If you belong to the world, the world would love you as its own, but because you do not belong to the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
Hate is perhaps too strong a word in the modern western context. ‘Misunderstood’ is a better description of Christians in the world.
My local Catholic church has started a nice habit of Mass and Adoration of the blessed sacrament on Friday Evenings. I missed the mass in all the running around and picking up and dropping off at stations, but it was curiously soothing to go into the church at twilight and just sit in complete silence for half an hour in the lit up building.
After about twenty minutes I noticed how fidgety I was starting to get. Thoughts started to race. I’ve got a lot of progress to make.
Amidst all the frenetic activity, a momet of peace.
I did a tour of 20 villages in the ‘battlebus’ with Dominic on the Loudhailer and me walking about saying hello to the few people I met at Pilham.
I stood for a moment in the tiny church. There are more important things even than a General Election.
At the back of St Andrew’s church in Stainton le Vale there is a printed notice from 29th September 1901 that is witness to the vigour of the Anglican revival in rural England in the nineteenth century. The notice advertises not one but two harvest festivals on the same day, celebrated at 9:30am and 6pm, with another service in the adjourning village of Kirkmond le Mire at 2:30pm and collections for Lincoln and Market Rasen hospitals and the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Society. The Rev. Winterbourne invites everybody in the parish “earnestly… to give thanks for the God’s love.”
This notice is an example of the vibrant rural life of the time and is contrary to the image of some dark age that we are led to believe was the case.
Coates is a tiny, sleepy hamlet where one can find one of the finest examples of a surviving mediaeval church, St Edith’s, in the country. Its most striking feature is its’ extremely rare, still intact, glorious rood screen. Most of these screens were ripped out during the Reformation. This specific example only managed to survive because of the hamlet’s remoteness.
Rood is the old English for ‘Cross’. The screen would have been topped with an image of Christ crucified, flanked by Mary and John and latterly replaced during the reign of Elizabeth 1st by the Royal Coat of Arms, which now hangs at the back of the church. It is in this quiet spot that one feels strongly the echoes of centuries past.
From atop the balcony of the rood screen the Exultet would have been sung in Latin during the Easter Vigil, always one of my favorite moments in the liturgy.
Every year on the first Monday in May our parish of the Holy Rood undertake a pilgrimage to Walsingham in Norfolk. Regarded as England’s Nazareth, it was founded in the eleventh century when Richeldis de Faverches, a local noble-woman, had a vision of the Holy House where Mary had the incarnation. It was dissolved in 1538 during the reign of Henry VIII and re-founded in the nineteenth century.
It is a very long drive, but there is something magically inspiring about the place. After mass in the Roman Catholic shrine we walked from the medieval Slipper Chapel, where pilgrims took off their shoes to walk the last mile to the old shrine. This was done whilst saying the Rosary and we then visited the Anglican shrine which is a place of real beauty and calm. Inside is a replica of the original Holy House. In my view the Anglican shrine is one of the finest modern churches in the country and certainly worth a visit.
The weather makes today a good day not to be canvassing.
I give you a new commandment
Love one another
Just as I have loved you
You also must love one another
By this love you have for one another
Everyone will know that you are my disciples.