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JOURNAL GLEANINGS
 


 
 

uaker women and men , as had the Desert Fathers, and as had the English exiled Benedictine nuns who preserved Julian's Showings so reverently, kept journals, journals about their spiritual pilgrimages. Those of the Benedictine nuns were sewn together in fascicles, like these booklets, to be found at their deaths in their cells. Those of Quaker men and women were read from at their Memorial Service. Some of this booklet was first published in Friends Journal , June 1, 1978, and uses the Quaker term 'First Day', Friends not using pagan gods' names for the days of the week or months of the year. Tony St Quintin e-mailed the medieval apple poem. Both Dante and Julian speak of the individual and the general as one. So what an Augustine experiences, what a Boethius experiences, what a John Woolman experiences, what an Elizabeth Fry experiences, can be read by us today, bridging centuries and continents. This is a sacred conversation outside of death. Join in.

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'All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well', Julian wrote in the fourteenth century, in the days when Lollards in Norwich would soon burn in pits. She got that phrase from 2 Kings 4.23,26 where the Shunammite woman used it in irony, with the greatest bitterness - for her son has died. Then lives, like the widow's son of Nain. In Hebrew that phrase is shalom , peace in Hebrew also meaning wholeness, unlike its Greek counterpart, eirene, which means a temporary cessation to perpetual hostility.

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I had taken to giving leaves from an olive branch to people, from an olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemani whose roots are carbon-dated to two thousand years ago. But, because I have so few left and I am unlikely, given the Vow of Poverty, to return to Jerusalem, the olive leaves I now give are ones blessed here in Italy. I shall give you one for each tale that you can tell, a Holocaust tale, an Irish Famine tale, a tale of child abuse, a tale of terror. Our currency is love, not money. When I give these leaves of healing, I wonder if the receivers, too, think of that bitter despair of Christ in that Garden and on the Cross. When it seemed they killed God. Do you remember - no, you must not ever forget - Elie Wiesel in Night describing the day they hanged God.

We can drink from chalices of bitterness, share in agony - and only then bring God back from the dead on Easter Morn. Julian does all that.

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Julian describes God as telling her that he shall do a deed at the end of time that shall make all things well. She knows what it is from his Showing to her. But she may not tell tales.

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Could it be that God at the end of time will give each of us the right not only to tell our tales, but to retell them, having them run backwards, unravelling the cruelty we have wrought to others, and making all things well? In such a retelling, the executioner puts down the hammer, rather than striking the nail into the hand, loosens the knot in the noose so that the child with the face of the angel does not hang, drops the bomb into the ocean or the desert, not upon cathedral city. Could Judas, rather than hanged upon the tree, become again the child in his mother's arms?

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Albert Camus in his Notebooks wrote that each of us is free to stoke the crematory fires of Buchenwald or nurse lepers in an African hospital. He also described the Franciscans in their monastery at Fiesole each having a skull in their cells at their prayer desk. If we greet our own coming to dying with knowledge and love, rather than in our fear meeting it out to others, then 'Shall all be well'?

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A Prime Minister knew a cathedral would be bombed, the enigmatic code being cracked, but did not prevent it. A German Officer and an Italian Bishop chose to blow up an ancient Roman bridge, sending its photographs to HQ, and save the lives of the women and children of Sessa Aurunca whom the Officer had been ordered to execute.

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Catherine of Siena in a garden in Florence was not murdered, in the martyrdom she sought, and wrote to her great friend, 'God has played a cruel joke on me'.

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Gandhi conquered his conquerors with women's weapons, anorexic fasting, and spinning and weaving cloth. But when he heard of Hiroshima, he said 'The world is grown yet more terrible'. The Irish began to be free from the English at the Easter Uprising - while the terror of Terrorist bombs fails. They are not Christ's weapons. His are the nails of the carpenter, driven through his own hands.

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It was a beautiful blue sky towards evening, with white clouds. My Italian friend commented, 'That's a Della Robbia sky!' And suddenly in my mind it became filled with cherubim and seraphim singing 'Holy, Holy, Holy'. A 'HeavenWindow'. The day before Padre Nolan had us read of John's Baptism of Christ in St Mark's Gospel. I glanced at the Greek. The word there is that the sky was 'torn' by the voice saying 'This is my beloved, my son', and by the dove descending. Our walk under that blue sky took us past where a flock of white doves perch amongst Cedars of Lebanon. In my thoughts Florence became blended with Jerusalem. I never forget the drops of water on my brow in the Jordan River, when on pilgrimage there, though I do not remember my baptism in the Church of St John the Baptist in Westfield, England, by my uncle, the Jeremy Taylor scholar who became Dean of St Lazerian's Cathedral in Ireland.

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I like that quotation. How did it go? 'Each day you live becomes a larger fraction of what is left'?

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On a Sunday, climbing back up my mountain in a mist, the cobwebs were exquisite, outlined in seed pearls- and reminding me of Julian's meticulous cross-weaving, her self-referential structuring, gyring and arabesquing back upon itself in sixteen different ways. She was a consummate preacher. It's an oral style. And it's glorious. Why does mist make a cobweb distinct?

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Yesterday was the day of rotten apples. Baskets of them in different stages of decomposition. But my landlord, who knew real hunger in wartime, insists that nothing be wasted. So I took all the bruised rotting windfalls found on our mountain and carefully cut away the rot from the good, and mixed the good with chopped walnuts, cinnamon and yoghurt. The rotten parts are compost for the garden. My contemplation was on Judgement Day, Julian style. She says that there is a secret, and that each having God's word in them shall be saved. And I thought that each of us, no matter how rotten to others, or bruised by others, has part of that good sweetness still left in us, the image of God, and that that part, even if it gets to be a smaller and smaller fraction, shall redeem the whole. What I could redeem was a half of the whole. And a fraction of each and every apple. So none were totally damned. Reminds me too of the collection of books the Archdeacon had me bring to Holmhurst St Mary from another convent, of St Elizabeth of Hungary (we used to call them the 'Hungry Sisters'), and that I found in one book, used as a bookmark, one very dried old apple core! And I laughed!

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(from Sloane MS 2593, with thanks to Tony St Quintin)

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I'm not sure why, but these booklets, these quaderni, are like the puppets I used to make, which would tell me how they were to be made. That was back in the days when I was teaching three- and four-year-olds. They, the glove puppets, said they were to be a family. And that the mother and the mean-baby-sitter puppets were to be the same, except for their faces's expressions. As the wicked godstepmother, but more American. The children loved them. Excellent therapy.

Have children write books. Even the smallest ones. Before they can read. Listen to their tales. Type them up. Have them draw or paint the picture for their story. Watch the child become Godlike, the Word come forth from within. They are already all of that.

I was teaching in a Catholic school. A Jewish child, son of a doctor, told me this tale and we wrote it down together as his book:

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What Julian and her Portfolio booklets are telling me is that there ought to be one about Alcoholics Anonymous, aleph/ alpha , - John the Baptist's metanoia, there ought to be the telling of stories that heal even those abused - and even their abusers, for they need the same healing from terror. Julian seems to be for people who have hit the bottom, or are at the bottom, the Magnificat/Beatitudes people. I have tried to write such a one in 'David and Solomon'. There is one a school friend is writing on Juan Luis Vives, on the dignity and worth of each person. And another, now done, by Rose Lloyds , her book she wrote before she died, raised in an orphanage, then in service, God helping her through hell, so beautifully written that Virago rejected the manuscript saying someone like that couldn't write that well. But she did! I think it's time more people got in the act of writing these booklets! Chaucer quotes Paul saying that everything that is written is about God.

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On St Francis' Day, the Comunita` dei figli di Dio went careening down into Florence to have Mass in St Maria Magdalena de Pazzi's cell-cum-chapel, which has a painting above its altar of her in a trance, dictating to two other nuns, on the spot where she had. (Just the day before I came across and bought a set of remaindered postcards of Pietro Lorenzetti's scenes from the life of Beata Umilta `, a Florentine wife, who built a monastery, healed the sick, raised the dead, and dictated to her fellow nuns from the Holy Spirit.) Following that Mass we sang Matins, including Francis' Canticle in his medieval Italian, in the stalls of the Carmelite Monastery of which Santa Maria Magdalena had been a nun. The young monks' and nuns' voices, always excellent, here in the large stone structure were glorious, foretelling Paradise.

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The sky's getting darker and darker before a thunderstorm. It is the Vendemmia, the harvesting of the grapes, the making of the wine, the Chianti wine, of mixed red and white grapes. Tomorrow at St Mark's English Church in Florence is the Harvest Festival and I have found windfall apples, and olive branches, and a loaf of Tuscan bread, lacking all salt, and a bunch of grapes. God gives us so much, and Julian's Prayer is about just that, giving back with thanks what is already a gift. 'Thou art enough to me and only in thee I have all'. In church we say David's Prayer, 'Everything that we have is thine and of thine own do we give thee', that he said while dying. And now our church bells here in Montebeni are pealing joyously, for Vespers and Rosary in preparation for tomorrow's Mass.

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Mother Agnes Mason, C.H.F., told her Community: 'Rabbis say that God rested on the Seventh Day, because at last he had made something he could forgive. He could rest from all his toil because he had finally made something he could forgive'.

They say if we do not forgive, we do to others what was done to us. Love the enemy. And listen to his tale. The Wedding Guest's Tale, the Ancient Mariner's Albatross. In that can be the unraveling of evil, the falling away at last of the great haunting heaviness, and the reknitting into goodness, the 'oneing' again to God.

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Simplicity. Ruth gleaned in fields of wheat, gathering dropped stalks behind the harvesters binding shocks, the laws of the lands of Israel and England allowing this. Christ the Carpenter, on a First Day blowing the chaff away; left in his palm - through which would be pierced nails - the kernels that stay hunger. In the fields, the tares of scarlet poppies; in the hand, iron and gold. Complexity.

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Quakers. They were farmers and shopkeepers, ordinary people, peculiar people. Like the Israelites of old, they lived close to the elements: wheat, milk, honey, wool, leather. Their frugality brought corrupting wealth.

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We need to tell tales, the terrible tales even of the Holocaust, of the Famine. Anna Freud learned in London's bombing how 'behovely' it was, how necessary it was, that children tell the tales of their terror, that evil be brought out into cleansing and healing light. I was staying in Sister Anna Maria Reynolds' Cross and Passion Convent in St Bridget's Kilcullen. I knew Ireland and Ireland's history too well. But I had come as an English Anglican nun turned hermit. And the welcome was so warm. I did not dare, until the last day, mention the Great Famine. Though I knew that in that terrible winter of 1849 Ireland's population, from famine, went from six million to three million people. While the English economist David Ricardo, the Thatcherite of his day, advocated that nothing be done, let market forces prevail.

One of the Sisters in the passage, a liminal place betwixt and between where true things are told, told me of knowing as a school girl a cripple in her town. Why was he shuffling and needing help with each step? He had, as a small boy, been thrown as one dead into a plague pit. Then they had tamped down the earth upon the bodies. The spade had broken his knees. He lived to tell the tale. Like Lazarus. The Sister, like Lazarus' sister Martha, told me. And I went home to London and kept telling that tale to Anglican clergy, in Westminster Abbey, in All Saints in Margaret Street, in the Bishop's Palace in Florence. We need to hear these tales. They need to tell the tales. Then the bombing can stop. Listen. Ascolta!

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The Emmaus Pilgrimage. Two disciples meet a stranger. They tell tales. In Dutch paintings, in a peasant room, the two then are caught unawares by the breaking of the bread. One comprehends, the other not. They are each and every one of us.

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Aquinas said, 'God is Simplicity'.

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In a Breughel painting, 'Christ Fox in Leather Trews' preaches outdoors to disciples and a gathering of others who diminish him by their multitude. Near us is a weary pilgrim, shells on hat and script, clad in skins, with staff. He is us.

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St Patrick, the early Irish lives of him say, was a Jew. They add that this was right since he was Ireland's Apostle. Christ and his Apostles were Hebrews. So did early Quaker writings speak of the Religious Society of Friends as a new Israel.

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In Yorkshire there's a Quaker Meetinghouse on the moors where the shepherds bring their sheep dogs. Meeting proper is upstairs beyond a gate. The dogs, below the gate, bedded down on straw, await their masters. First Day is theirs too. Penn said Fox was a shepherd. Like David, who composed the Psalms.

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When James Joyce in Ulysses used the term 'Christ Fox in Leather Trews', it was in disparagement. A Quaker librarian had reproached him. The term is Joyce's proud vengeance amidst his poverty. It is a good term. Fox preached in simple leather garb. Thomas More garbed Utopians so. Pilgrims dressed in this way; so had John the Baptist and Elijah, God himself have sewn skins of animals for his son and daughter, Adam and Eve. In medieval art and story the fox is diabolic, a trickster hero. Christ Fox is Quaker paradox. Blake's Christ is such, the revolutionary Orc defying legal Urizen with 'No Cross, No Crown'.

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And blow all class walls level as Jericho's.

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Quaker Gwen in Princeton is fierce and Welsh, a tough fighter in the Lamb's War. I come home to find, nailed to my door like Luther's theses, a newspaper clipping about a demonstration against war, blood poured on income tax forms. I am uneasy. I think my door bleeds and has a Tau upon it, I can never wash off. The blessed Jewish door Tau encapsulates the scroll from Leviticus on the Love of God and One's Neighbour.

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An Egyptian monk on Mount Sinai wrote: 'Let your prayer be completely simple; for both the publican and the prodigal son were reconciled to God by a single phrase.' He added that God had said: 'Learn not from an angel, not from man, and not from a book, but from Me, that is, from Me indwelling, from my illumination and action in you'.

There is the story of the Desert Father asked by a young monk how to pray. The old man stood up against the sun, stretched up his arms and said 'Pray until your hands raised to God become like flames'. The young man was in the presence of the fiery fingers. The Burning Bush.

Which I have seen .

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The Desert Fathers lived in solitary silence. Monks and nuns, after Compline, enter into the Great Silence, and go their separate ways. Friends instead come together on their First Days for their most simple sacrament of silence. In that silent waiting the Spirit speaks, and speaks with clearness, because of the gathering of souls, each with that of God within. Julian of Norwich, long before George Fox and Elizabeth Fry, explained all this. The soul is God's City , we gather to be his City, and we best hear in silence and understand in simplicity.

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There's the story of a child in Quaker Meeting whose parents thought she was bored. So they took her out. In the silence of the Meeting could be heard the departing child's wailing words, 'But I want to go back into the quiet'. And all smiled.

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It was after Communion in Florence, at St Mark's English Church, and I was coming home on the bus. A woman got on, speaking angrily to the driver, to the passengers, cross with the world. I was cross too at the peace being disturbed. At first we tried to continue in our Sunday silence and peaceableness. But gradually gentle smiles stole over the other passengers' faces. It was a long journey. By the time we were climbing the hill, even the angry woman was laughing, feeling the loving laughter about her, knowing she was being heeded, in charity.

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I was teaching a student-initiated seminar at Princeton, Problems of World Hunger. We asked for an ecumenical service in Chapel. And the Hillel Rabbi came with an incongruous brown paper bag and when it was his turn he told a Holocaust tale, of someone who one day brought - and gave - to another woman, one perfect raspberry, lying in the palm of her hand. That gift saved the other's life. Then the Rabbi drew out of his bag a bottle of wine, a loaf of bread, and we Christians with him shared in the Sabbath Blessing.

' Blessed art thou, O Lord, King of the Universe, who hast given us this fruit of the vine and of the earth and the labour of our human hands'.

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In Florence, since the Black Death, people look after the ill and the dying as a pious act, belonging to Confraternities called 'Misericordia '. Today they have paramedical training and run the ambulance service. But they equally care for their patients' spiritual needs. They, like Quakers, are secular monastics, monks in the world, raising families, loving God and their neighbour.

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Alcmeon the Physician said, 'Man dies because he cannot join the end to the beginning'. The first shall be last, and the last first - in a unity - a commonwealth of the soul.

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The battle's lost if the swords are not become ploughshares and the spears pruning hooks, and the world fed with the pearls that are rice, the gold that is wheat , and all garbed in clean white linen, good red wool, woven and sewn in each house, at peace with one another. Shalom.

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Blake knew Babylon and Jerusalem to be one, both London.

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Ploughmen and shepherds in their simplicity, rendered complex by prisons and zealous persecution.

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My great-grandmother and my great aunt, a Dublin Quaker mother and her daughter, nursed those ill with typhus - and themselves died of the disease. The rich for their wealth pay a terrible price - that of others' poverty.

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He was anointed Christ by a fallen women, not by a virtuous man. He raised from the dead a leprous beggar while the rich young man went away sorrowfully. The early church knew that woman to be Mary Magdalen, her brother that Lazarus.

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Florentine Della Robbias are fashioned from red clay, terra cotta, our mortality, like Adam, then glazed in blue and white, the colours of the heavens, of Heaven. Prayer changes our mortal clay to heavenly clouds of glory.

Andrea della Robbia, Christ in Prayer, 'Padre Nostro', Santa Croce Sacristy, Florence

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On Friday evening, the Sabbath Eve, in Jerusalem, at the Western Wall, a Florentine Sister Peregrina asked me to ask a young Jewish mother to read Hebrew to her from the Bible. The Israeli woman explained to me that she could not as reading it to us would not be in the state of prayer. I vowed then and there to learn to read Hebrew. And I ask her forgiveness. For I have painted her and her young male child as a Byzantine icon, in white purity against gold leaf, the Mother and Son having conquered their Roman conquerors with the message of mercy and humility and love.

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If we retell the Crucifixion it becomes the Resurrection. The Shunamite woman's child is restored to her by Elisha. The widow's son is restored to her at Nain (Luke 7.11-17). The leprous beggar Lazarus is given back to Martha and Mary and does come back from the dead (Luke 16.29-31, John 11.1-12.11). Michelangelo's Pietą is restored, though destroyed by madness, its Madonna's face again that at Bruges.
 


See also Family and Convent Albums:

irena-alice     
Mother Agnes


Mosaic; Gandhi; BBC http://catskill.gcal.ac.uk/repository/repos-fs/gcu/a0/a1/gcu-a0a1k7-b.mov recording of many voices 'Talking of Gandhiji', my father's voice being one of these; Death Valley Incident; Family Album; Halbert Harold Holloway, The Woman, the Sun, the Flowers and the Courage; Sir James Roberts; My England (in progress); Morris Dances of England; Nigel Foxell, Amberley Village; The Joy of the Bicycle; Richard Ben Holloway, Together Let Us Sweetly Live; Jonathan Luke Holloway, Home Birth Can Be An Option; Holmhurst St Mary; Mother Agnes Mason, C.H.F.; Rose Lloyds, Rose's Story; Deaf/Death; David and Solomon; How to Make Cradles and Libraries; Hazel Oddy, Martha's Supplication; Tangled Tale; Oliveleaf Chronicle; Vita


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