Lines from a poem

Cornwall Cogitation #12, Sunday 26 April 2015–We’ve just over a week left to wrap up three months in Cornwall.

It’s so tempting to pick up the pace in our last week, but the preacher today said to slow down, to look to Jesus to be our pace-setter. We’ve kept a fairly steady pace this past week, even a day of doing nothing to recuperate from a cold, yet the word to go slow bears minding.

Friday morning it seemed like we walked the coast path to St Ives for the first time. We hadn’t gone that way for several weeks. We were newly enveloped in the greening, flowering, budding, blossoming of spring. Birds, a misting rain, light shimmers over sea, earthy smells praised and prised the morning.

One of our Friday tasks was to take a backpack full of books to donate to Oxfam. Wouldn’t you know it, after Oxfam, we stopped at the library where I found a free slim volume of poetry by Ann Kelley: Because We Have Reached that Place (Oversteps Books, 2006). In the poem, “Smoke Alarm,” Ann likens a fire alarm to a UFO: “The crews are nervous when we strike a match to light a candle, / or get out the bacon and the frying pan, / and are ready to release their seatbelts the moment the milk boils over / and the thick slice of toast gets stuck in the toaster, / leap to the windows of their dinky UFO and scream.” The poet finds “a stool or chair to stand on” and taking out the battery puts “the Martians out of their misery.”

What an apt image. Our UFO-like smoke alarm at Ahoy There! a few times has sounded the Martian alert, once because of too-thick toasted teacakes. We’ve kept the battery in and seemingly our cooking style has allayed the fears of these “sharp-nose aliens.” I’m sorry we missed seeing Ann at St Ives Library on Thursday night.

On Monday we walked a new footpath along the Fal River from Penryn to Falmouth (mouth of Fal, the deepest harbour in the South West).  Tuesday, another beautiful sunny day, was meant for rest, reading, indulging sniffles and a cough.

Wednesday’s walk around Truro concluded with Evensong at Truro Cathedral. It was Solemn First Evensong of George, Patron Saint of England. Music included Responses, Philip Moore; Collegium Regale, Howells; Anthem Antiphon, Vaughan Williams. We joined in singing two hymns, one titled, St George. “LORD God of Hosts within whose hand / Dominion rests on sea and land. / Before whose word of life or death / the strength of nations is but breath / O King, enthroned all thrones above / Give strength unto the land we love.”

St George Day is celebrated on April 23, not nearly like July 1 in Canada or July 4 in the USA. No fireworks, not even a wide national awareness, though celebration processions do carry on in many towns and cities. George lived in the 3rd century in Turkey. He probably never visited England. A Christian, like his parents, he became a Roman soldier. He protested against the Roman’s torture of Christians and was put to death for his beliefs. He was beheaded at Lydda in Palestine. In the 14th century he was named England’s patron saint.

Other countries and cities have also named him as patron saint, including Aragón, Catalonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal and Russia.

At Waterstones Bookstore in Truro I bought a Penguin Little Black Classics anniversary volume, Leo Tolstoy’s How Much Land Does A Man Need? It’s a parable of a Russian peasant’s bargain with the devil. From the back cover blurb I gather that the parable was “considered by James Joyce to be the world’s greatest story.”

I won’t give the story away.  It’s only 21 pages long. One standout section, though, I will share. Pakhom, the main character, is on a quest: “He started running and threw away his coat, boots, flask, cap, keeping only the spade which he used for leaning on. ‘Oh dear,’ he thought, ‘I’ve been too greedy. Now I’ve ruined it. I’ll never get back by sunset.’ His fear made him only more breathless. On he ran, his shirt soaking and his trousers clinging to him: his throat was parched. His lungs were working like a blacksmith’s bellows . . . .” I especially like the imagery of that last sentence.

I read three chapters of Tolstoy’s, The Kingdom of God is Within You, written in 1894. Bob Walson brought along a copy. Tolstoy makes the case for the practice of nonresistance, citing Quakers, Mennonites and others. The subtitle of the book (translated by Constance Garrett, Watchmaker Publishing, 1951, digitalized 2010) is “Christianity Not As A Mystic Religion But As A New Theory of Life.”

Thursday’s walk with the West Cornwall Footpath Preservation Society took us close to Land’s End. We stopped for our picnic lunch at Carn Euny village and fogou (underground passage). It’s a small Bronze and Iron Age settlement. The remains include a number of courtyard and round house. People lived here for between the fifth century BCE and 4th century CE. We sat on a grassy mown knoll among the rock remains, where a community existed for almost 900 years. It was a cold and windy day but Carn Euny sheltered us. What a privilege to pause and reflect there.

On resumption of our 4-mile walk, we came across two people in a car at the end of a rough track/lane. They wanted to know where the car park for Carn Euny was. They at first didn’t believe there is no car park at Carn Euny. Footpaths, lads, that’s how you get to these ancient sites. No roads. The guys happened to be from Colorado and had followed GPS directions in their rental car.

Natural and human-made disasters are rife in the news. Were we sitting face-to-face we’d talk about the centenary of one of the bloodiest battles of World War One,  Gallipoli in Armenia where 131,000 soldiers died. We’d talk about the plight of migrants, many drowning in the Mediterranean, displaced by violence and persecution in their own countries. We’d talk about the quake and avalanche in Nepal. We’d talk about elections, We’d talk about martyrs, saints and God. We’d talk about God’s kingdom here and now. We’d talk, pray, commune. We’d sit in silence. We’d intercede for those suffering and bereft. We’d thank God for sustaining spirit, mind and body.

Gordon Gibson was the preacher today on the Good Shepherd. A shepherd lives at a slow pace. While we need someone to love, guide and rescue us, we also need someone, a pace-setter, to slow us down. Toki Miyashina wrote a paraphrase of the 23th Psalm: “The Lord is my Pace-setter, I shall not rush; / He makes me stop and rest for quiet intervals. / He provides me with images of stillness, / which restore my serenity . . . /  for I shall walk in the pace of my Lord, / and dwell in His house for ever.”

Finally, a poetic word on pest control. Ann Kelley, thanks to a pest control expert, wrote, “This Much I Know.” It ends, “When a German cockroach mates, / the female lays an egg-case / with thirty young. A rat / couple can have an extended family / of 15,000 within a year. / You’ll always need people like me.”

May your pace this week propel you into mindfulness, purposefulness and God’s peace. -John



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