SEPTEMBER


I feel September
In my bones

The cool air of Autumn
On my skin

The colour of Summer
On my face

And peace within

The youth grown suddenly tall
Returning in the joy of festival freedom

A church bell tolls

The passing of the Hours
The turning of the days
And night lengthening

It will soon be time
To go inside
With quiet reflection

New lessons learned
And all things gathered
To the fire and to the soul

The warmth that keeps us
Through dark seasons
New beginnings and fresh hope

TO THE WATER AND THE AIR



My soul is suited
To sea and sky

More than earth
Made to sail and fly

Yet life has bound it
Rooted grounded

For the sake of Love

But if it is to live
And not to die

I must take myself
From time to time

To the water
And the air 

Beatitude



Exalted above the heavens
And deep into the stillness of God
Music of the Spirit

Beatitude

Blessed are you
Who will be seen
When Jesus returns

Heart filled with joy
That none shall take away

And hold the pain
While it remains

In Love's embrace
Steadfast Face to face

In Adoration

I will always sing Your praise
Now and ever after

You are All and all is Yours
And all that matters

To desire You in everything
In every one

Even when I stray

Your Mercy is so great
Therefore I will Trust
And not presume

ANGEL FLYING TOO CLOSE TO THE GROUND



My friends are sitting at the counter waiting for their coffees and among them is a man unknown to me but known to some of the others. He has taken my seat so I'm wandering around the shop browsing. 

The man looks the worse for wear, in need of a cure, hair of the dog which is no cure at all. I later find out that he arrived on the island some years ago, got lost as some do, and never left.

He's talking about a song, asking the others if they've heard it - 'Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground ' by Duke Special. None of them have.

"I know it" I say. They all turn round to me surprised. The man is pleased. It's like some kind of affirmation to him. An affirmation and a hope. Perhaps it is to me too because I know the song from a fallen time in my life. A reminder of falling and rising.

The version I remember is by Beth Rowley featuring Duke Special. It was written by Willie Nelson.

If you had not have fallen 
Then I would not have found you 
Angel flying too close to the ground 

I patched up your broken wing and hung around for a while 
Trying to keep your spirits up and your fever down 
I knew someday that you would fly away
For love's the greatest healer to be found 
So leave me if you need to, I will still remember 
Angel flying too close to the ground

Fly on fly on past, the speed of sound 
I'd rather see you up than see you down 
So leave me if you need to, I will still remember 
Angel flying too close to the ground
So leave me if you need to, I will still remember 
Angel flying too close to the ground

"If you had not have fallen 
Then I would not have found you"

Jesus falling the third time is a desperate station. Falling once and twice is one thing but the third and further falls are different, the rising is harder and feels hopeless. 

I used to wish I'd never fallen at all and still do to some extent but I've also learned the advantage of it, the potential in it.

Some 15 years ago I was going through a prolonged period of darkness in which I felt depressed, falling to pieces.

One day I said to God, "I need something to lift me out of this" and went to the library where my eye fell on the title 'Touching The Void'. Suitably bleak and dramatic!

Published in 1988 it tells the true story of Joe Simpson and Simon Bates who climbed to the summit of Siula Grande, the highest mountain in South America.

On their way back down Joe slipped and broke his leg, making the rest of the descent more treacherous for both of them. Climbers are connected to each other by rope.

Joe, who was ahead of Simon, slipped again and was left dangling over the edge of a cliff, gradually, slowly pulling Simon after him inch by inch.

It was certain that both would fall to their death so Simon did what climbers are not supposed to do - he cut the rope, letting Joe fall to his death. It was a natural instinct for survival. There was no point in both of them dying.

Joe fell something like 150 feet, falling a further 80 feet down a hole where he landed on a ledge. Above him was a sheer wall of ice that was impossible for him to climb with his broken leg. But he would not simply surrender to death, wait for it on that ledge so he decided to lower himself into the deep darkness below.

And there to his astonishment was a shaft of light that showed him a way out. He crawled for days on end until he eventually, on the verge of death, arrived at the camp as Simon and their companions were packing up to leave.

What spoke to me in my fallen state was that, while I wanted to be lifted out of it, it seemed God was saying I needed to go further down into it, deeper into the darkness in order to find the light, the way out into freedom. Not what I was looking for but it was necessary.

As if to bring the message home, something prompted me to turn on Lyric FM - a radio station I didn't like. And to my utter astonishment they were talking about 'Touching The Void' and the movie of it that had just been released.

If I had never fallen I would not have found the light. Perhaps I needed to fall for the Light to find me.

Falling through the darkness into the Light has given me an understanding and a love for anyone else who has fallen in any way.

And I pray for the man in the cafe on the island that he may fall soon to the bottom of his darkness and find there the Light, the Love that is the greatest healer ever found, to keep his spirits up, his fever down. 

I also have great sympathy for the man who cut the rope. The awful guilt, the inability to forgive himself. I have cut ropes too and it is another kind of descent into the void, another kind of pain but ultimately for all of us it is the same Love that is to be found at the end of it. Perhaps only at the very end of everything.


While I was thinking upward
Is the only way
I saw Jesus leaping

From the height
Down deeper down
To the very pit of blackness

And there

To my astonished eyes
The light shone to show
The exit into hope

And crawling to it
No longer able
To leap

I understood
The supreme advantage
Of falling

Into darkness
And out of darkness

Into Christ

#Angel #dukespecial #bethrowley #touchingthevoid 

AND AFTER THIS: Our Exile


"...our exile..."


Because I live in another country I sometimes refer to myself as an exile but I know that my real exile is an emotional state, a state of mind and heart and spirit. I am exiled from those I love and need; exiled from God and heaven, my true home.

Songs I find myself singing, words of Scripture that leap up from inside me speak of this way of being. Loneliness in the presence of love, emptiness in the presence of plenty.

"This world is not my home, I'm just passing through...."

And my own song of songs - Neil Diamond's I Am I Said, "...I've got an emptiness deep inside and I've tried but it won't let me go..."

"There are many rooms in my Father's House...I am going now to prepare a place for you and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I will return to take you with me so that where I am you may be too." (John 14)

How I long for this returning of Jesus.

It were my soul’s desire 
To see the face of God; 
It were my soul’s desire 
To rest in his abode.

Grant, Lord, my soul’s desire, 
Deep waves of cleansing sighs, 
Grant, Lord, my soul’s desire, 
From earthly cares to rise.

It were my soul’s desire 
To imitate my King, 
It were my soul’s desire 
His endless praise to sing.

It were my soul’s desire, 
When heaven’s gate is won, 
To find my soul’s desire, 
Clear shining like the sun.

This still my soul’s desire, 
Whatever life afford, 
To gain my soul’s desire 
And see thy face, O Lord.

(11th Century Irish Poem)

I am an exile in an Ireland of ideas, values and attitudes that my conscience cannot accept; among friends who celebrate those values, in a society that does not recognise conscience. As Catholics we are exiles in our own country, an exile that does not apply to any other religious group, Christian or otherwise.

I am an exile in those expressions of the Church that has wandered far from the simplicity of Bethlehem.

People brought little children to Jesus, for him to lay his hands on them and say a prayer. The disciples turned them away, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children alone, and do not stop them coming to me; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ Then he laid his hands on them and went on his way. (Matthew 19:13-15)

There is the exile  a Church that for so long had forgotten the absolute centrality of the child in the heart and mind and teaching of Jesus. We are drowning now with the weight of the millstone that Jesus prophesied. 

But anyone who is the downfall of one of these little ones who have faith in me would be better drowned in the depths of the sea with a great millstone round his neck. (Matthew 18:6)

I am an exile within myself, my very spirit and flesh at war with each other so that I am not who I am meant to be.

"I saw you kicking on the ground in your blood as I was passing, and I said to you as you lay in your blood: Live!" (Ezekiel 16:)

And I think of the exile of the millions fleeing war and brutality; the exile of those in my own Pallottine community, men I have admired and love who have lost their minds, no longer recognise me, no longer seem to know anything. This is the frightening prospect of what may lie ahead.

Such are the thoughts that were sparked in me at the praying of these words of the Hail Holy Queen, "...and after this our exile show unto us the Blessed fruit of your womb Jesus..."

The Blessed Fruit awaits us in all perfection when blessedness and happiness will become one. For now happiness has a haphazardness about it while blessedness remains constant. 

Blessed and happy are the times spent with the children, blessed the chance encounter with a neighbour, the ease of conversation, being with family and friends for whom no explanations are required.



And getting on the boat to Aran where a redhaired man of Manchester photographs the beached Village Queen, imagining fishing stories on the high seas hundreds of miles from home.

In the silence of Kilronan church I am like Hannah of old in the Temple, "...pouring out my soul before the Lord... speaking from the depth of my grief and my resentment." And, like her, with the outpouring done I go away dejected no longer. (1 Samuel 1:15-16)

It is important for me to name what is going on in me, to have the blessedness of laying it out before God. It makes my footstep swift as a deer, walking in monsoon-like rain to Mass in Eoghall, saturated in the abundance of it. And giving myself to the happiness of the Golddiggers music late into an August night.



Love Is Strong As Death



"You should come and stay with us", he said soon after we met. His eyes kind and happy. An open face. Gentle. He smiled easily.

Afterwards he thanked me for the service, especially what I said about about the vastness of the universe and God's Love.

He doesn't believe in God, at least not in the personal God of Christianity. This is said respectfully.

We're standing in the centre aisle of the church not far from the altar when he tells me of his encounter with the rabbit.

He found the rabbit injured and in great distress. Wanted to save it. So he took it in his hands and brought it to a safe place where it might recover and left it there. I'm not sure if this is exactly what happened but it's what I saw with my mind's eye as he spoke.

When he came back to the rabbit he realized that it was not going to get better so he decided to take it out o f it's misery, killing it with a rock. Even speaking of it seems to hurt him now.

It might be the first time he encountered death and was struck by the change it wrought in the little creature, the difference between what lives and what is dead.

"You have a kind soul" I said. "I don't think the rabbit would agree" he replied. "You were trying to save it."

In that moment I thought of how Godlike this man is and I would dearly like to introduce him to God as I have come to know Him, to help him have a personal experience of Jesus. But it's not the time. He's on his way out to the wedding reception and we will probably never meet again.

He had a tatoo of the rabbit done and this too reminds me of God carving his loved ones on the palm of His hand and the line from the Song of Songs - "set me as a seal upon your heart, a seal on your arm for love is strong as death" (Songs 8:6)

MOTHER & DAUGHTER: Hands Enfolded


The Grotto in Castlegar - a lovely place to be on a dry, cool August morning. Feast of St. Clare and Autumn seems to have arrived.

We prayed here for a miracle on May 25th - an incredibly beautiful evening - but there was none given. We came here in our youth across the fields when faith was strong and swift.

Now I'm here preparing for the funeral of our neighbour who was 103 years old, whose daughter has been part of our family for over 60 years and I have the honour of being the brother she never had.

No matter what's going on, this place delivers a peace that is to be found in no other grotto, except perhaps Lourdes.


I'm thinking of the days in the hospital. There was a short period of quiet one evening when conversation ceased and I was alone with Mother and Daughter. In the silence I observed both their hands so effortlessly and tenderly enfolded in each other. They didn’t grasp or hold on tightly; they didn't cling but there was reverence and love.

In the hands of these two great women there is the history of what I think of as a legendary life with all its wonder, discovery, its shared struggle and suffering; its laughter and a love that has progressively deepened, a love that has ascended great heights.

And when the Word of God asks us to see what love the Father has lavished on us, we see an expression of such love, we have witnessed it and felt it in them together and in their own individual ways.

Her Mother's faith is core, not just an external function but an interior, unfathomable depth, a deep spiritual well that she was able to draw from when she could no longer read or pray in the way she used to.

It was inspiring to encounter the spirit of prayer that she maintained to the end. She prayed for all of us and she suffered for us, suffered with Christ for us and it is in Him that all her years of suffering has meaning.

The regular visits of the Parish Priest meant an awful  lot to her, were essential part of the care she received and in them she received spiritual sustenance. 

Her bed was a place where the spiritual and the material came together. She held the two worlds together in balance. On one side she had Hello magazine with all its glamour and celebrity and on the other she had her prayers and rosary beads.

To be a person of faith in this life means just that - to hold two different worlds together in balance without losing either one; to be a person of faith is to be a blessing to the world and she did this because she held the blessing within herself, she had the resources. Jesus in Holy Communion was her chief resource, together with His Mother Mary and the saints. By these she blessed us, made us feel better, made us laugh and feel happier.

She gave birth to her Daughter who in time came to mother her, became her safe place, her wellbeing. The evidence of this came a couple of years ago when she was not well in the nursing home so her Daughter  brought her back home and she became well again. She may not have said it in words but her body spoke, her very being became better in the care her child gave her. 

And when the time for parting finally came her Daughter delivered her into Eternal Life by her presence, her love and her prayer. The Word Jesus spoke to her soul, “come you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.” And in dying she delivered her Daughter again into a new life of her own, a reality emphasised by the fact that the funeral took place on her Daughter's birthday. 

Together they  have run the race, fought the good fight and kept the faith. “Well done good and faithful servant", good and faithful Daughter who gave an exceptional level of care that has inspired all of us beyond what words can express. It cost nothing less than everything. Everything generously and selflessly given.

It was time, the right time and there is a lovely sense of grace but it also leaves her Daughter with a great big empty space that is her's alone to fill. And, while we will accompany her, we should not rush to fill that space for her.



BREATHE INTO THE WIND AND RAIN



Sat nav says I'll be in Holyhead at 16.10, making it a six hour trip. You wish, I say to it! But I'm going home and, setting out, I don't mind how long it will take. Its an adventure and my first time taking a car onto a ferry. The sailing isn't until 20.15. All the time in the world!

And being the Feast day of St. Alphonsus - man of beauty, poetry, music - I will admire what unfolds before me.

Lovely readings at Mass. One of my favourite passages from Jeremiah - when your words came I devoured them; your Word was my delight and the joy of my heart. Treasure in the field. Pearl of great price.

Passing near Heathrow a 747 banks beautifully and low in the sky before facing the motorway head on, descending she flew right over us. Thrilling! I'm like a child.

By 2pm I'm growing weary, not feeling too well. The virus of the spring still lingers. Not near as bad as it was but is there, nagging, taunting. So I take a break at Moto near Oxford. Strong coffee. Burger and chips. Beetroot.

My little Yaris has this cute and risky feature. Text messages appear on the sat nav screen. Not actually a great idea all of the time. Onto the screen today popped a message from Sussex Police asking me to contact them.

Police! Straight away I think I must have done something wrong and I scour the days in my mind spanning everything from speeding to safeguarding. It's too soon to stop again so I wait a couple of hours and the traffic is awful and my stress levels go through the top of my head.

I spend half an hour trying to get through but they are seriously busy so I give up.

Back on the road there's nothing for it but to let go and wait. Passing Chester my mind goes back to Maura and other times. The sign for Birkenhead where she lived for many years. The beauty of North Wales. Conway. Penmaenmawr where I gave some happy retreats and lived other nightmares.

I'm on the outside lane, legally overtaking and a white van comes bearing down upon me at an insane speed with less than a chevron between us, not to mind the recommended two. He's asking for trouble I thought. He got it a few miles further down the road. A mile outside Holyhead we came on his overturned van. There were a few cars ahead of me. People running, on phones. Enough. Too many. I enquired of him. He managed to get out. Thankfully. More thankfully he narrowly escaped crashing into a car with a family.

It became like a scene from tv. Police cars, fire brigade, ambulance, flashing lights, sirens, speed and a helicopter landing on the road to take him to hospital.

At home, as a priest, I'd have gone to him to anoint him even in these times but here they wouldn't know what you were at. I'd be in the way. So I prayed for him in the car.

It also gave me time to turn my attention to Sussex Police and we finally made contact. It wasn't anything I had done but they needed my help with a situation. They were very courteous and thoughtful, apologetic about interrupting my journey home.

The rain came down to add to the misery of what was unfolding before us on the road and it became increasingly likely that I would miss the boat so I phoned Irish Ferries who assured me I could get the 2.40am sailing. It didn't matter at all in the face of this accident, in the face of the serious stuff going on in fragile lives.

As it turned out I got to the boat with two minutes to spare. The lady in the check-in cabin shouted "Mr. Monson go directly to Terminal 3 as quickly as you can!" As she thrust into my hand the boarding pass.

And a quick thought flashed through my mind - everything is known! She knew me before I reached her; the Police knew my mobile number which is known to few.

Its all very dramatic! Done with polite and patient urgency. The guys at the ramp guide me into the belly of the ship, show me where to park. Jonah in the belly of the whale. I take my huddie and rain jacket from the the boot, put them on, go upstairs, find the upper deck and breathe into the wind and rain.

We set sail and as soon as we are moving I feel what I always feel on the sea - whole and complete. And as the night closes in and I gaze down on the dark waters I pray and think of all that transpired in the day, how you can never tell and I think of the cargo voyage that I have yet to undertake. A whole week at sea!