Bare Ruined Choirs

In Sonnet LXXIII Shakespeare wrote

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long

Not one of his happiest, but it accords well with my feelings, this fall. It hasn’t been a year I would wish on anybody, but this is the season when I understand why All Hollow’s is sometimes called Totenfest by those of German heritage. Tomorrow is the Feast day of Our Lady of Walsingham, and for me, that has significance as well. Six years ago, I had never heard of Walsingham, let alone this representation of Mary, but One summer day in 2012, Jessica became my dearest friend at almost the moment she lit a candle for me at the shrine. The main part of the story begins here. I have ever since found Mary a worthwhile conduit for my prayers. But for me, it’s specifically the Walsingham representation. Earlier this year,  Fr Matthew Pittam wrote in the Catholic Herald about his feeling for the Shrine.

 

Whilst visiting this year I met some other pilgrims who were unfavourably comparing Walsingham to other well-known European Shrines that they had visited. It is true Walsingham is no Lourdes or Fatima but for me that is part of the appeal of the place. It seems right that the English National Shrine is understated, reflecting the character of the English themselves.

The story of Our Lady’s Shrine and the meaning of its message demand a much tenderer charism than Walsingham’s more flamboyant European cousins. Above all Walsingham is a memorial to the Annunciation. The whole place speaks softly of Our Lady’s ‘Yes’ to God. Mary’s encounter with the Angel Gabriel was abundantly full of humility, generosity and peace. The quieter pace and rhythm of our National Shrine really can take us to the heart of this life changing and life-giving moment.

The location of Walsingham is also understated. It is not set amidst mountain grandeur but nestles within the pleasant rolling meadows of the Stiffkey Valley, echoing the gentleness of the shrine’s own spirituality and Our Lady. The whole place seems to be set apart for peaceful encounter.

He nails it for me. Without the slightest intention to be offensive, much of Roman Catholicism is too ornate, too baroque, and the decoration, like some of the verbiage, is over extravagant for me. That’s not a knock on it, it simply doesn’t fit with this working guy of Lutheran Scandinavian heritage. I’m no iconoclast, but enough is enough. Both the Roman Catholic and the Anglo-Catholic shrines at Walsingham have a northern European feel about them, which I find comforting. I’m still of my roots, I have found it comforting to talk with Our Lady, as Jessica once said, it feels rather like talking to Mom, which in a sense it is.

And then there is the relief, that I have felt on several occasions, after talking with Her, usually not the formal Rosary, although I do that sometimes as well, mostly sitting here, meditating silently directed towards Her. The old man’s knees aren’t really up to kneeling much anymore, anyway. 🙂

Strangely, it is only 3 years, nearly to the day, since the Abbess from Walsingham came to Jessica’s hospital bed to pray over her and sprinkle her with Walsingham water, giving her some ease, and then again a mere two weeks later, just after she received the last rites, she again prayed over her and sprinkled her. Two days later she was out of her coma, without pain and cancer free. A remarkable testimony to the power of prayer.

A year after that Mary Katherine Ham lost her husband,  Jake in a bicycle accident while pregnant with their second child. It was one of those things that shocked many of us, this young vibrant couple, and him suddenly gone. She wrote about it this week at The Federalist.

I love the idea of the divine spark. It crosses a lot of cultures and religions, the idea that you carry a bit of the Creator inside you, that it animates your life.

Jake’s life always brings to mind a spark and then some. Jake’s soul, to me, was a bonfire. He was here and he was in your face and he was warm and bright. He roared with enthusiasm at the beginning, even the hope of something new, sometimes a little too much. His glow was infectious, throwing sparks into the night air, silhouetted against a dark sky before they landed on everyone in his vicinity. He mellowed to embers as the night wore on, usually over a glass of bourbon or a beer.

I lived seven years of my life looking into a bonfire. I warmed my hands and found comfort in its flame. There were times when I damn near burnt myself or got a giant waft of smoke at exactly the wrong time.  Because that’s life. And that’s fire. It’s not all s’mores and sweetness.

Everyone who’s loved someone knows that light and warmth. Everyone who’s lost someone knows the feeling when it goes dark and cold one day.

When that happens at any time, it’s jarring. When it happens without warning, even more.

The light went out. This fire I’d stood next to for seven years just went out, like a flood light on a switch. Boom. Imagine staring into a fire, and then suddenly turning 180 degrees to survey the woods behind you. I couldn’t see. I was standing in what otherwise was my life, and I knew all the other parts of it were there, but I couldn’t understand its contours anymore. I was standing in my own life, blinded, blinking away those disorienting shimmery green spots.

Brilliant, simply brilliant. But you know when we lose someone we love, not even always to death, it’s like that as well. It was for me when my marriage broke up, and even though my sisters, parents and brothers-in-law lived full lives, in truth as much as could be expected, they have left a hole, that cannot be filled.

And so it was for me, a year ago today, when I received the last email from  Jessica, who as far as I know is healthy, happy, and busy. Too busy or some other unexplained reason, to maintain the friendship that turned to love on my part, more than I ever felt for another human being. And get your mind out of the gutter, yes she is beautiful, but I loved her before I knew that, far more a case of Agape than Eros. She was my friend, the best one I’ll ever have. And even Our Lady of Walsingham has found no way to comfort me. I’m reconciled that I must go on more alone than I have ever been, but have little appetite for it. Which is why that sonnet speaks loudly to me.

Walsingham, and Our Lady are her legacy to me, and I thank God for them everyday. But it does make me think of another poem.

Weepe, weepe O Walsingham,
Whose dayes are nightes,
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to dispites.

Sinne is where our Ladie sate,
Heaven turned is to hell,
Sathan sittes where our Lord did swaye,
Walsingham oh farewell.

But it is true that while Eliot was writing of Little Gidding, I’ve always thought that this applied as well to Walsingham

           If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

We merely have to trust God that Dame Julian of Norwich was correct.

‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’

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About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

19 Responses to Bare Ruined Choirs

  1. Nice post NEO! Yes, lot’s of mystery in this our Christian Life ‘In Christ’! But always our GOD is good, even in the dark places He puts or allows us to tread! Indeed we both miss Ms. Jessica, and I have not known her near as long and well as you. But God Bless and keep her wherever she is, and whatever she is doing?

    Btw, I have been to Walsingham, a beautiful place, many Christians of all stripe’s enjoy it there!

    *See too Shakespeare’s Sonnets of Love!

    Liked by 2 people

    • NEO says:

      Thanks, Fr. Robert. Yep, she’ well and truly missed. Yep, interesting that both the Orthodox and the Methodists also have presence there. One of the reasons I continue hoping to make it to England one day.

      Hard to go wrong with ‘Old Wil’ in any case 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, the Orthodox have a small chapel there, an ecumenical Christian place for sure! I have noted that some Methodists (in Britain) have become much more High Church like, or better liturgical. Btw, the study of the so-called Liturgical Movement is most interesting, the Oxford Movement, etc. True Christianity in its inner essence is not just a doctrine but a life, the life of Christ in the baptized Christian-Redemptive. The sacramental mystery realizes the divine in the human, the eternal in time!

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          BTW are you aware that there is a coffee shop in Oxford that sell the same coffee under two names: Newman and Pusey, one is to stay and one is take away. Wherever I read that, they told it better. 🙂

          Yep Methodists are pretty liturgical, especially in hymnology. They’ve always been my back up, as I traveled, if I couldn’t find a Lutheran type around, they fill in well.

          Like

        • Yes, there was one American Methodist Church when I was in California that was simply High Church like! I went once incognito, and I was thinking the whole time of the Wesley brothers. I love those two Anglicans!

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          A lot of us do!

          Like

  2. the unit says:

    What is life, but a poem itself anyways.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      True enough

      Like

  3. the unit says:

    Ah, feeling a little bit of that depression we mentioned some time ago?
    http://www.angelfire.com/on/labellevie/daytoday.html
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Indeed. It comes, but it never entirely goes, and I doubt it will.

      Liked by 1 person

      • the unit says:

        Yeah, I was left by a girl I loved so much. I did remarry a couple of years later. Ten years later the one that left attended the funeral of my son, who she had been a step-mother to. I told her I still loved her and she said she recognized she had loved me too. But yesterday was gone. That was 25 years ago come October.
        Same for me…it won’t.

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Yep, it was 10+ after my ex left that I had any interest at all. And Jessica was the first that penetrated enough for me to care. Doubt I have time for that cycle again, although one never knows.

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          Yep, penetration. Before I could help myself I was back penetratin’ again. Trump probably has a tweet concerning that. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Likely so! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • Look back, but also look forward, perhaps the best is yet to be? 😉

          Liked by 1 person

        • Btw, I was 38 when I got married. A late bloomer I was! And the best came late for me for sure! Still in love these years later too, seems like yesterday! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Strangely, I was 40. Too bad she didn’t commit the way I did. Ah well, water under the bridge, as they say.

          Like

        • I was lucky, cause I was a bit of a player myself when I met my wife to be. But I finally fell hard in love, and it has only grown! But again, ya just never know when you might meet the right one?

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          True dat!

          Like

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