A Weeping Woman, A Girl And A Three-Legged Dog

I’ve taken lately to spending some mornings upstairs in my local McDonald’s. It’s warmer up there, away from the constantly opening automatic door, and it’s a lot quieter, too. Most of the time I have the room to myself while I drink a coffee and read a book.

Yesterday morning, however, a woman came upstairs, placed her tray down before her on the table and took a seat. As she opened the sachet of milk to pour into her tea, something tore a sob from her. At that very moment she became aware of me, and held up a hand that quite clearly said I’m alright as I am, leave me be.

The gesture allowed no approach, so I simply nodded. She continued with her morning meal, her mind evidently focused on some inner conflict. I continued to read for a while, then finished a final chapter and rose to leave. As I put on my jacket I looked out of the nearby window, down onto my town outside, and saw a child-a young girl, with presumably her mother. Suddenly the girl snatched her hand away from the adult and hurried towards a man with a dog, ignoring the calls to come back.

The dog was one of those Staffordshire bull type dogs, nothing remarkable in that, but one of its front legs was missing. It gave a shuffle-hop as it moved, and the girl, obviously moved by the sight, crouched down and gave it a hug, wrapping her arms around it and holding it close to her chest. The man was speaking, perhaps telling the girl’s mother that the dog was friendly. The dog stood there, rapidly wagging its tail.

When I turned I saw that the woman who had been weeping was also watching this encounter, a thin smile upon her face. On making eye contact with me she quickly turned her attention back to her breakfast. Perhaps that girl’s act had moved her, gave her fresh insight and perspective. Who knows?

I left but kept thinking of that scenario: the woman and then the girl, the weeping and then the embrace.

We are all in the same boat here. Some are broken; some are ready to help others put the pieces back together again. But I think it has to be by consent-we have to be invited in.

I had a conversation once with a local priest.

“I thought there’d be more vegetarians within the church,” I’d said. Apart from myself, I knew of only one other.

“Why?”

“Well, I think that, both morally and spiritually, the strong have a responsibility towards the weak. Be they people or animals. Also, if, as we are told, that we are called to lead a life of compassion, then I don’t know how we can if we are eating the flesh of slaughtered animals.”

I’m no activist. And it is not my place to moralise, and far be it for me to preach to a clergyman! It was just a thought I’d had. He replied that maybe it was a deeper kind of faith that I practised.

But I was thinking beyond religious faith, more as a rule of thumb as we go about life. Of course faith should inform all areas of your life, not something you pick up again when you go through the church doors on a Sunday to set back down again on the way out.

We can attempt to live a compassionate life, but we can’t go around forcing compassion upon others. That woman was quite clear about what she needed and wanted at that time.

And I think she may have got some of it unexpectedly, from watching that little girl and the three-legged dog from a window in the local McDonald’s.

Welsh Odyssey #3

Descending once again the conical hill of Mwnt, I was pleasantly surprised to see a small church below me. Bone-White, sun-bleached, it contrasted sharply with the green field it was situated in. I made a bee line for it.

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Unable to resist old churches, and also old cemeteries, the Holy Cross Church ticked all the boxes: the building dated back to the 13th-14th Century, and traditionally a church had stood on this site since the age of the Celtic Saints in the 5th-7th Century. And it was an open, cool oasis in the heat of the day.

I had the church to myself, the only sound was the buzzing of a bluebottle trying to find its way back out into the light. Dust motes span in cobwebbed windows.

The dedication of the church to the Holy Cross is a sign of its antiquity, and just inside was a font from the 14th Century, verdigris-tinged, in need of a scrub. How many babies had been baptised here? From those first, blessed ripples, where did the tide of life take them? Did any of them lie in the cemetery outside these walls?

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Also of interest to history buffs like myself was a the remains of a 15th Century timber Rood-screen. The carved heads of what are probably the twelve apostles can still be made out, though the one that I studied looked more like a boxer with a flattened nose and cauliflower ear.

St.Rocky, perhaps?

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I sat for a little while, soaking up the atmosphere, thinking of time and wishing for whispers, when the wooden door behind me suddenly opened and my friend entered.

“I just knew that this is where you would be!”

My wife and kids were in the car, and it was time to head back to our caravan. And so I did, but pushed things by having a quick walk around the small, enclosed churchyard first. Luckily, (for my overheating family in the car), there were many graves but few headstones, and of course the old ones were written in Welsh. It seems the graves of the newly dead had conceded their epitaphs to the English tongue.

History; Natural history; this place was a wonder.

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On This Day:England’s First Historian And The Fleeting Sparrow

In 686, plague broke out at a monastery in Jarrow, north-east England. There were only two survivors, one being a young boy who we now know as the Venerable Bede. He went on to write many books, and the one for which he is most famous, The Ecclesiastical History Of The English People gained him the title of ‘The Father Of English History’.

He died on this day in 735, and a few years ago I visited Durham Cathedral where he is buried, along with St.Cuthbert and the head of King and Saint Oswald.

I’m one for deep and hypothetical conversations, especially in the wee small hours, and whenever the subject of our existence comes up, where we came from and where we are going to either end of this short life, the following passage of Bede’s always comes to mind. It reflects on the Christian faith when it was being presented for the first time to the people of early England:

Another of the king’s chief men signified his agreement with this prudent argument, and went on to say: “Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thegns and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside, the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing. Therefore, if this new teaching has brought any more certain knowledge, it seems only right that we should follow it.”

Today, in an older and more rooted England, if we call ourselves Christian or not, I love the image of that one, fleeting sparrow, passing through between storms.

On This Day: The Wolf And The Head

On this day is remembered Edmund, (c841-869), King of East Anglia from around 855. He was killed after being taken prisoner in a Danish incursion, when he refused the Dane’s demands to denounce Christ. This seems enough to qualify the King for sainthood.
He is often depicted pierced with arrows like a bristled hedgehog as, according to tradition, his captors tied him to a tree and used him for target practice before beheading him.

According to one legend, his head was thrown into a forest, but was found safe (as safe as a severed head can be) when searchers were drawn to it by a wolf that was calling “Hic, Hic, Hic.” It was not an alcoholic wolf with the hiccups, rather the three hics meant “Here, here, here.” My wife could use a totemic wolf when hunting for her car keys.

I have read of another version of this tale, where the wolf protected the head, and it was the head itself that cried out “Hic, hic, hic.”

A talking, severed head, though? That’s way too far fetched. I believe it was a talking wolf.

The place that he was buried (that is body and head together) became a great abbey around which the town of Bury St.Edmunds grew. Nothing enigmatic about that literal place name, is there ? It is a town that I have never visited. I have been to one about twenty minutes away from where I live that is called Bury. Instead of being a last resting place of a King and Saint, rather its fame lies in the selling of black puddings.

Tourists queue here.

One last point: it can be noted how Edmund’s death is similar to the fate suffered by St.Sebastian, St.Denis, and St.Mary of Egypt.
I’m not sure if they had a wolf though, speaking or otherwise. That’s a job for Google.

 

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The Grave Of Kazantzakis

This photograph was taken at the grave of the writer Nikos Kazantzakis, in Heraklion, Crete.

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The epitaph, taken from one of his books, reads “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”

I have read most of his books. Although his style may be a little dated now, I enjoy in them their universal themes of existential and spiritual struggle, and the creative tension this creates. His most famous works, with help from the media of film, are Zorba The Greek, (remember the Anthony Quinn dance?), and The Last Temptation. That last one was made into the Martin Scorsese film The Last Temptation Of Christ, which was condemned by the Church Of Greece. His reply was:

“You gave me a curse, Holy fathers, I give you a blessing: may your conscience be as clear as mine and may you be as moral and religious as I.”

I posted this today as I thought it an appropriate photograph to share.

Happy Easter to you all. Go easy on the chocolate.

Symbol

Everybody uses symbols. Religions, businesses, organisations, sports clubs, football teams, television channels, I mean everybody. It seems that we need something to represent everything that we stand for. An emblem to incorporate the ethos and identity of the various organisations that we belong to and binds us together.

A visual representation for something that becomes immediately recognisable.
Sometimes everyday objects, too, hold a greater significance for us. Maybe as an ideal, a target to aim for, a sentimental memory.

You take your ash wand and carve your rune. You find a space to hang your coat of arms. You open your trunk and take out that heirloom. You hold that old framed photograph and remember. These things become so much more.

The Palm Cross in the photograph was given to my daughter when she went to church with her school for her Easter assembly.

Most people know that the cross as a symbol represents the Christian faith.

But what exactly does it symbolise to people, personally? We cannot help but bring to it our own prejudices and concepts.

Where some may see it as a source of comfort and strength, others may see it as a symbol of torture and oppression. It is the same symbol, but coloured by our own perspectives.

To me the cross is a symbol of transformation. Transformation from despair to hope, from suffering to comfort, from death to life, from defeat to victory.

It also serves as a reminder to hold true to what we believe in, and value, until the end. Whether that is in a religious context or just an attitude towards life.

Whatever life should throw at us, and difficult though it may be, we use the tools at our disposal to fortify us and try to stay true to ourselves. To try not to change our true nature.

Faith unto death, if you like

No matter what our faith is, what our beliefs are, what our differing values may be, we all need something to focus on from time to time. Something to pour our energies into.

To all of you reading this, whether you regard this as a special, holy day, or whether you are spending time with your loved ones, enjoy your day. I hope the sun shines for you.

Sometimes, we pin all of our faith upon the weatherman.

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The Prodigal Son

I know I have bid you farewell for the weekend, but I just wanted to share this with you. Even if bible stories are not your thing, the way the story is told with sand is amazing. I would get it everywhere-in my hair, my eyes, and that’s just doing a smiley face!

Mushy Cloud

If you have never seen this before, you will be blown away I promise. Even if Bible stories don’t do it for you, the sheer talent and artistry will move you in this video. Give yourself 10 minutes to sit and watch this. It’s worth it.

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