War, Lent & Lament - The March Beagle


"The fight is here, I need ammunition, not a ride".

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in response to the U.S. offering to evacuate him.


"To believe the truth that beauty tells: this is our great struggle from the depths of our grief.

To trust the hope it teaches us to hunger toward: this is our fierce battle.

To craft the world it helps us to imagine: this is our creative, death-defying work.

Sarah Clarkson, This beautiful Truth.


"Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted."

Matthew 5:4

 

Greetings friends,

Welcome to the March issue of The Beagle and a special hello to all the new faces here.


I hope this month you'll find the usual basket of beauty, personal musings and encouragement. I also think you might find it different in tone to previous editions. My hope and prayer for this Beagle is that it will help us explore the feelings we might be having and put into context the place of suffering in our lives. I'm sharing personal thoughts and feelings and aren't wanting to lay a burden on anyone else, these are my burdens, but possibly you feel the same way? I hope I can both comfort and compel, soothe and stir.


I'm going to be observing Lent (more deeply) this year for the first time, probably not in the traditional sense that might suggest but simply as a practice of shedding the distractions and accessories, think of it as clearing a cluttered room so as to see its full potential. I'm doing this through literature, art and poetry as well as my own bible reading and prayer. I'll share these below and tell you the really fun and brilliant way I found one of my books in a phone box! I have some Cotswolds and London adventure pics to show you and many goodies to inspire and encourage. This Beagle will be a mixture of heartbreak and the wholesome but I believe it will enrich your soul.


As with Advent, Lent provides an anchor for intentional devotion, it is a quiet inlet along the busy stream of life. I know many will forego chocolate or coffee during this time of self-denial but I'm not going to do that as I still want to be able to love well 😉 I am however arming myself with the thought to abstain from anything I perceive as a luxury (this I know is in itself is a luxury), but I believe it is a start. So often I mindlessly purchase that extra item, eat that extra thing, spend time excessively wastefully on that, am too busy and aren't mindful of others etc etc etc. I don't believe Lent should be about inducing guilt or causing shame but it should be about a fresh gratitude for grace and redemption, what that cost for me to enjoy, and a renewed awareness of how I might continue to pay that freedom forward. I think it was Sarah Clarkson who said that to observe lent is to strike at the root of complacency.


I understand that for many we are in an overwhelming season of despair and that Lent might seem like a mistimed prank adding sorrow upon sorrow. Honestly, I'm tempted to look away. 'I've been through so much deprivation already these past two years' I tell myself over my oat latte. Lent would be so much easier to embrace if all was right with the world, right? But for me, it's because of the closeness of all the horrors of war that Lent seems even more alive to me this year, we are walking shoulder to shoulder with death on so many fronts. We are reminded in a reel by reel way that, 'from dust we come and to the dust we will return'. And of course these atrocities are not new, there have been and are wars and oppressions raging in other countries for years. This in itself convicts me. Is it only in the drawing closer to home, my comforts, my environment, that I'm moved to deeper action? I need to be vocal about all oppressions not just the ones that resemble my own world.


I think I've been 'holding space' for the horrific reality other humans live with on the planet we share but it's been too measured. This space is being stretched. It feels uncomfortable, I don't like it, I want to shrink from it, I want the cup to pass by me if it can. My giving at times has seemed like a salve to appease my own discomfort. I honesty don't feel too put-upon, all is measured, all is manageable. But I surely must feel a stretch somewhere? This is the tension, another tension of the walk of faith, I seem to constantly be weighing the tensions.


"The war creates no absolutely new situation, it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice."

C.S.Lewis at the beginning of WWII


In those new empty spaces I'd like to posture heart and mind towards those around me and my response to them, opportunities to love. I hope that like an overinflated balloon once deflated, I will never return to my previous shape, that I'll remain enlarged. "Lord, increase my capacity to care." Followed closely by, "Lord, help me keep my capacity to care".



I have said before that I'd like to keep the spirit of Christmas all the year, I've gone on to say this regarding Advent and here we are, I feel the same way about Lent. So what am I really feeling and saying? I'm saying, "Lord, keep my heart in your heartbeat. Keep my eyes on the things the matter, break my heart for what breaks yours. Save me from the apathy that comfort and ease offer and prompt me to charity often, make me uncomfortable."

Interior Strandgade 30 by Vilhelm Hammershøi



“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:

to break the chains of injustice,

get rid of exploitation in the workplace,

free the oppressed,

cancel debts.

What I’m interested in seeing you do is:

sharing your food with the hungry,

inviting the homeless poor into your homes,

putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,

being available to your own families.

Do this and the lights will turn on,

and your lives will turn around at once.

Your righteousness will pave your way.

The God of glory will secure your passage.

Then when you pray, God will answer.

You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’


“If you get rid of unfair practices,

quit blaming victims,

quit gossiping about other people’s sins,

If you are generous with the hungry

and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,

Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,

your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.

I will always show you where to go.

I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—

firm muscles, strong bones.

You’ll be like a well-watered garden,

a gurgling spring that never runs dry.

You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,

rebuild the foundations from out of your past.

You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,

restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,

make the community livable again.


Isaiah 58:6-12, The Message

 

Lent will be a time of keener ears and deeper listening.


August 16th 2021, following a mass shooting in the UK and the withdrawal of U.S troops from Afghanistan, I write:


This is one of those days where the shadows seem to cut deeper. I turn off the music as I want to write.

I need to think, to reach into the swirl of words and calm the troubled waters.

I need silence.


There’ll be a minute’s silence today, somewhere in a beautiful seaside town.

Where families play and sandcastles are made, silence.

Silence is the gateway drug to transformation.


Somewhere this morning in a distant dusty city families are hiding, fleeing,

scrambling, worrying, praying, sitting quietly, turning the what-ifs over in the fingers of their mind.

I have no words for them, all utterances are inadequate.

And maybe lips should still, because too often they move close while hearts are far away.


There’ll be silence in heaven one day, thirty minutes.

Half an hour of silence that breaks in on a mass of noise and jubilation.

Can you imagine how stark that silence is after such a celebration?

It’s as if God walked into the underage party and flicked the lights on.


“Stop your noise!” God once declared.

'I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.

When was the last time you sang to me?

Do you know what I want?

I want justice—oceans of it.

I want fairness—rivers of it.

That’s what I want. That’s all I want.'


Our hearts ache and groan like the creaking hull of a ship on a storm-tossed sea.

The ocean labours with us, we’re all in pain. I wish that ocean was crashing in

with waves of justice, the rivers of fairness feeding it.


One day. That hope anchors me.

 

Did you know I link every book, film, recipe etc in the Beagle? Where you see words highlighted and underlined simply click the link.

 

Still Life

Lament

I took this image last August at the same time I wrote those words, they seem applicable again. Taken on my then older iPhone it's not fancy or over styled. I encourage you to take a few minutes in quiet contemplation and see how it speaks to you.

 

Lent is a tree without blossom, without leaf,

Barer than blackthorn in its winter sleep,

All unadorned. Unlike Christmas which decrees

The setting-up, the dressing-up of trees,

Lent is a taking down, a stripping bare,

A starkness after all has been withdrawn

Of surplus and superfluous,

Leaving no hiding-place, only an emptiness

Between black branches, a most precious space

Before the leaf, before the time of flowers;

Lest we should see only the leaf, the flower,

Lest we should miss the stars.


- Lent, Jean M Watts


I need to remind myself that Lent is a precious space.

 

Listening

My monthly Lentish roundup can be found here as well as a beautiful Lent playlist called Lent at Ephesus. I've also really enjoyed this mix - A Playlist For lent & Holy Week.

 

Podcast


I've been a big fan of Speaking With Joy (Joy Marie Clarkson) since its inception but don't always get the time to fully enjoy it, I did however recently relish this conversation on a long drive. Speaking with artist, poet and author Casey Fritz, Tell Yourself A Good Story was a delightful conversation between two very good thinkers and conversationalists. I very much agree with their outlook on how stories can teach us to fight dragons! You can also listen on Spotify.


And on the theme of stories and how they frame worlds - Stories in WAR. Some food for thought, whether those stories be true or false they hold power. Who controls the narrative?




Song - Who Lives Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story (Hamilton)



"Beauty and brokenness told me two different stories about the world.

I believe that beauty told true."

Sarah Clarkson, This Beautiful Truth.

 

Artist

Maria Primachencko, born in 1908, was a peasant woman who lived her whole life in the Ukrainian village of Bolotnya, siutated 30km (19 miles) from Chernobyl. After suffering from Polio as a child Maria was influenced in her outlook and became a thoughtful person of compassion and appreciation for the natural world. Self taught she produced many works in the folk art style representative of naïve art.

Maria's special gift and talent captivated Pablo Picasso. Sadly, many of Maria's works have been destroyed in the war on Ukraine. The Ivankiv Museum was destroyed in an attack on Kyiv last week. I don't know what the commentary is saying but they sound angry. I'm ok with anger, anger can be a holy response it's what we do with it that matters. See how beautiful and vibrant Maria's work is, it seems so joyous.




In great news, a stolen piece of work during WWII by Dutch Master Jan van Huysum has recently been returned to its rightful place of ownership in a Florence museum. "Vase of Flowers" was stolen by retreating Nazi's and later taken by a German soldier to gift to his wife.


 

© Becky Barnia Comics

 

On Anger

By writer Jenai Auman. You can read Jenai's full post on her Instagram from where these are taken with permission.



Maybe you're angry right now? I know I have been. And it's ok, I believe that's the heart of God stirring inside of us. I'm angry at injustice, abuse, hatred and death. I'm angry at partiality, favouritism, discrimination, in all the ugly shapes it takes through war, the media, relationships, sanctions, lack of sanctions, aid, lack of aid, politics. I'm angry that children are used as pawns of war and politics, I'm angry and so is God. And I'm heartbroken. I'm heartbroken at the brokenness of God's dream, of the lives He created and meant for good.


Of course not all anger is redeemed. There is an anger that comes when we don't get our own way, when we can't control the narrative. There's an anger that's birthed in the seeds of selfishness, pride and unforgiveness, a sinful anger. There is an anger which drives war and an anger which enlists to defend against those same wars.

 

Beauty from the Ashes; Polina Rayko (1928-2004) Kherson, Ukraine.

Polina began to paint the interior of her home at the age of 69 following the death of her daughter in 1994, followed shortly after by the death of her husband and eventually her son who was overwhelmed by these tragic losses. To process her grief and create a space of beauty Polina would close the shutters from her neighbours at night and paint by lamp light. She sang and cried as she created her haven. Using basic brushes and materials purchased with her small pension, it took 4 years for Polina to finish her work. Every surface was a potential canvas from the cooker to the ceiling. Can you imagine painting a ceiling with limited resources at aged 29 let alone 69! Polina took inspiration from religious postcards, old chocolate wrappers and wine labels, decorating her home with Christian icons, Soviet propaganda, Slavic folklore, animals and angels. Polina's house is in the town of Olensky which today has fallen to Russian troops, we don't know if her house has been affected.

 

Reading

I have no idea where I saw it recommended but I believe it was a trusted source, a good read for Lent called The Book of The Dun Cow. It's part of a series, which I didn't know until the bookseller sent me the wrong title (The Book of Sorrows). I meant to send it back but in the melee of my admin lists I clean forgot, that is until I found it in a phone box in the middle of the English countryside! I love these phonebook libraries and felt a little kiss of heaven that day, I also grabbed a Philip Yancey book as a bonus.


Continuing to fill my bookcase, this year I've bought The Art of lent by Sister Wendy Beckett. I have a beautiful picture book by Sister Wendy called A Child's Book of Prayer in Art so was thrilled to see this other title available by her.


I've almost finished the first book of Dune and my re-reds of This Beautiful Truth and Keep Going.



 

Poetry


by Borys Humenyuk.


Poetry turned black

Wore mourning clothes for forty days

Then it was covered with earth

Then with ash

Forty days poetry sat in the trenches

Clenching its teeth shooting back in silence

Poetry didn't want to talk to anyone

What is there to talk about?

Death?

During those forty days poetry saw many

deaths.


Borys Humenyuk was born in Ostriv, Ternopil oblast, in 1965. He is a poet, writer, and journalist. He has taken an active part in Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity of 2013. Since 2014, he has been involved in the anti-terrorist operation in the Ukrainian Donbas region. He now serves in a self-organized military unit composed mainly of volunteers.

 

We are all poets, writers, journalists, photographers and, soldiers. What does that look like? It means to be a person who follows Jesus' example in love, service, of doing good, speaking truth, of prayer. It means to embody the love of God in our homes, to curate and create beauty and goodness within the walls of our address and the boundaries of our community. We bear witness to the existence of goodness in a broken world. We post, share, tweet, blog, letter write, text, the ongoing existence of God's goodness and presence, we craft the world it helps us to imagine: this is our creative, death-defying work.


 

Recipe

This makes a wonderful light lunch. The low-carb Konjac noodles add few calories to the dish. They are made from yams and have been eaten in Japan for centuries. If I can't get those I use courgettes and either make my own courgette using a spiraliser or I buy it pre-made.

Vietnamese Pho

Serves 2


Ingredients

2 tsp coconut oil

2 cm root ginger, grated

2 spring onions, chopped

1 litre vegetable stock