Saturday, 28 June 2014

   Thanks be to God, my flat in Berwick was just empty and waiting for me to give it some use. There were also two excellent books on Mother Teresa that had recently been sent to me, which needed reading: I loved Jesus in the Night, a collection of her spiritual writings, and a short biography, Come be My Light, which contained this most illuminating and heartening observation:
   “…complete trust in divine providence for everything, even for her spiritual needs, was a hallmark of her life.”  

Most striking from the former volume, compiled by Paul Murray OP, was a note she once sent to a priest: 

“Father, please pray for me – where is Jesus?” 

This crie de coeur would seem to find an echo in the anxious searching of Mary and Joseph, when Jesus stayed behind in the Temple in Jerusalem, unbeknown to His parents: 

“Now every year His parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but His parents did not know it. Assuming that He was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for Him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for Him. After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.  When His parents saw Him they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, ‘Child, why have you treated us so? Look, Your father and I have been searching for You in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’ But they did not understand what He said to them. Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”  (Luke 2:41-51) 

In The Infancy Narratives, the third and final part of his ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, Pope Benedict XVI has this to say about the above passage: 

“The three days may be explained in quite practical terms: Mary and Joseph had spent one day travelling north, a further day was needed in order to retrace their steps, and on the third day they eventually found Jesus. While the three days are thus a perfectly plausible chronological indication, one must nevertheless agree with Rene Laurentin, when he detects here a silent reference to the three days between Cross and resurrection. These are days spent suffering the absence of Jesus, days of darkness, whose heaviness can be sensed in the mother’s words: ‘Child, why have you treated us so? Behold, Your father and I have been looking for You anxiously’ (Lk 2:48). Thus an arc extends from this first Passover of Jesus to His last, the Passover of the Cross.” 

Furthermore, perhaps this trauma of losing her Son in His childhood served to prepare, or rather fortify His mother’s heart, enabling her to withstand the harrowing death of Jesus on the Cross, and the fulfilment of Simeon’s prophesy: 

“Then Simeon blessed them and said to His mother Mary, ‘This Child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be rejected, so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul also.’” (Luke 2:34-35) 

…or else conversely, was it more that the memory of finding Our Lord again, after losing Him, when He was twelve, equipped Mary with the courage (from coeur, meaning ‘heart’) never to lose hope, even as she was compelled to endure His cruel passion and death? Finally, the outward similarity of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s anguish takes on a deeper significance, perhaps, in light of the knowledge that she had placed her order, the Missionaries of Charity, under the protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

   Besides a better rest, what my knee actually needed was the anti-inflammatory properties of ibuprofen, though I only took this on board properly after a visit to the doctor in Berwick. Deciding to give this pharmaceutical a fortnight to work its magic, I was presented with two weeks in which to read about Mother Teresa and David Livingstone, and make biscuits; and while I was at home my new passport arrived, so in fact I would have had to return there at some point in any case. I also took the opportunity to see a superb production of Nikolai Gogol’s ‘The Government Inspector’, from the Aberystwyth Arts Centre, at Berwick’s neat little theatre – the tale of a fraudulent young rake from St Petersburg, who finds himself in a provincial town and leads the local officialdom a merry dance. Another highlight was an excellent talk from Northumberland’s own real-life Indiana Jones, county archaeologist Chris Burgess, to the Berwick Historical Society, in which he cast fascinating light on the Battle of Flodden. It was from him that I learned about the four-pronged formation of James IV’s forces, but in addition, he went into fascinating detail about the water-logged condition of the ground. Apparently, the first Scottish schiltron (division of pikemen) – and only the first – passed over a patch of ground that was just slightly above the level of the water-table – an isthmus in fact, for which reason it was not affected by mud in the same way as the others. And he was adamant that given the size of the force James IV had mustered, and the weight of cannonry he brought in tow, the Scots must have come to England with the intention of fighting a battle – not merely to raid and thus divert English resources in seeing them off. So the question arises – what was James’ strategic goal? Or to put it another way – what was in it for the Scots? In fact, in the preceding weeks, James was wont to speak of a triumphal entry into York by the end of that September, but in this he may have been deliberately over-egging the pudding. In a similar way, Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) had spoken of capturing Edinburgh in 1482, but in the event was perfectly happy to settle for Berwick as the final reward for that year’s campaigning. So it appears that in 1513, yet again, just as it had been for Richard of Gloucester and for so many of both their various royal forebears, James IV’s overriding consideration was almost certainly the auld prize of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

The Twizel Bridge, over the river Till
   In the second week of my short-term sick leave I had the pleasure of a visit from my Dad, whose plan to come up and use my flat as a base from which to research a local archive pre-dated my knee trouble. On the morning of St George’s Day, Tuesday 23rd April, I ‘Phoned Kaye’ on BBC Radio Scotland, taking the opportunity to scotch the idea that English people were indifferent to the question of Scottish independence. Dad and I then went off by bus to find and photograph the beautiful 15th century Twizel Bridge over the Till, across which the Earl of Surrey’s army stealthily stole in the decisive gambit of that fateful day in 1513. I left my bag with precious camera on the bus however, but Dad was able to contact the relevant company, from the walkway of the bridge itself, using his clever mobile telephone device, and it was possible to intercept it when it came back to Berwick later in the day. In the meantime we called into a pub for coffee, whose walls were lined with framed picture boards, containing information about local personalities and history. One of these related to actor Henry Travers, who grew up in Berwick, and played guardian angel Clarence in the 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life. A famous line from that film, “Atta boy Clarence!”, incidentally, is important for the way it illustrates the meaning of a phrase in Russian, ‘Molodyetz’, that people there use all the time; ‘Atta boy’ is the exact English equivalent.

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