Category Archives: Faith

The First Time Ever ….. or a folkloric tale with a fantasy leitmotif

I know! I know! I told you last month that I was one step closer to  a special occasion involving  a little someone and her new friend. But here I am in September, still not ready, and still not properly dressed in purple, for our get together.  My friends and family will tell you that’s typical of me. These days I take forever to get ready for anything,  because I am easily distracted, as per my previous post where Mrs Cockalarum suddenly waylaid my attention.

And, now, thanks to a couple of queries from my lovely commenters, concerning the whereabouts of Mrs Cockalarum’s other half,  I am skipping jauntily down memory lane in search of Mr Cockalarum, almost entirely forgetful of present and future social engagements.

I can’t be sure where Mr Cockalarum is today, but I have encountered him ( or possibly his relatives) in numerous locations.  But  the first time ever I   heard him I would have been about this size i.e. pint-sized.

Mother and Child, Lautoka 1956. Churchill Park in the background.

The first time ever I remember hearing Mr Cockalarum I would have been about this size and revelling in a fantasy world  (what’s new!); that of Toad of Toad Hall.

Badger

And the first time ever I tried to record those remembrances I was in my late thirties, and living in Cairo. I typed them into our smart, new computer, and later read them as a bedtime story for my two children.

“In the half-dark of early morning I heard a rooster crow.  Dear Daughter, you said you heard a rooster crow in the summer, but I don’t remember hearing him. A rooster crow is not a normal sound for our part of Maadi. It made me wonder if one of our neighbours were fattening poultry for a special dinner.

When I was little I often heard a rooster crow in the early morning. It was a sound which belonged to my waking. In the summer, or the rainy season, a rooster would crow about 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning. I remember that time as the half-light of early morning. In the colder season, or the dry season, the crowing started at about 6 o’clock, just before the sun rose. That time always comes to my mind as the half-dark of early morning.

The other sounds, which were in my waking, for a few months of the year during the cane crushing  season, were those of the sugar cane trains.  The sugar cane trains clanged and made a ch-ch-ch chuddering sound as they prepared for work each morning. Photo by C R Auckland, August 2008 Loco no 11 entering Lautoka with a long train of approximately 45 loaded wagons.  

I hear the sound of the trains here in Maadi, too, but it is not the gentle, warming-up sound of slow, old trains which I knew as a child. Rather, it is the high speed whistle and whine of a fast, modern train. ( In fact, they are so fast we haven’t seen them, have we? Perhaps the sound we hear floats all the way from the Metro Line next to Road 9, and not from the tracks next to Kimo Market.)

Another sound of my morning, more regular than the trains or the rooster, was the call to prayer from the mosque.

Although we seem to be surrounded by mosques in Maadi, I have yet to hear an early morning call to prayer. I hear all the other calls, but not the first one. In Lautoka, I often heard the first call, and, sometimes, the evening call, but I don’t remember any of the others. Perhaps I was busy at school or swimming at the club, or playing with friends during the day. I liked the first call of the day. The mosque was on the other side of Churchill Park, catty- corner to  our house.

Home, Verona Street, Lautoka

The call floated clearly over our neighborhood. I didn’t know what was being said, but I liked the song of it; the way it wove through and over the early morning air and out to an endless beyond. Later, when I was slightly older, the call changed in tone because it was delivered through loud speakers. The sublime purity of the call was masked as it struggled with the crackles and harshness of the new technology of speakers. The change made me sad for a while.

In Maadi, the mosques have loud speakers, too. Sometimes, I wish I could hear the solitary, unaided call of the muezzin again. I miss its beauty; its resonance.
What do you hear as you wake in the morning? ” Maadi, Cairo, November, 1994.

There was no YouTube in 1994  to give my children an opportunity to hear a call to prayer similar to  the one I knew as a child. Today I found this clip.

This  took me home again to a time of great happiness and love; a time when, by and large, my small world was a friendly, welcoming place, rich in experience, and a delight to play in.

As for the elusive Mr Cockalarum; perhaps you hear him, or have heard him, in your neighborhood.

 

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Silence ~ an Advent Quest ~ at rest

My garden: festive feijoa

I retreated into silence last night to consider whether it was time to end my quest. My original intention was to post every day of Advent. But that has not happened to this point and, during my little retreat, I decided  there would be no more posts after this one.

After 15 posts (16 including today’s) on silence, my quest seems to have come to a natural conclusion. For now, I am replete with silence. I feel no need to continue.

My quest has been an enriching experience. I am immensely grateful for your participation in my search for silence. Through silence and contemplation, and with your wonderful companionship, I have for the first time, in a long time, been able to create an accepting, peaceful, space in my heart and home for Christmas.

As Linda (Shoreacres) writes in her post Homes Made for the Holidays ” Christmas is coming, after all, and its spirit will find a dwelling in even the smallest or poorest of spaces.”

And so it has, already. In the silence, it came to me.  From my humble home to yours, I send love and best wishes for peace and goodwill now and always. Happy Christmas.

 

The interfaith tree in my dwelling space, 2018; this tree, fully decorated, was given to me in 2016 by a Buddhist friend. The skirt of the tree and the embroidered white cloth come from Christmas celebrations in Cairo. The green prayer beads were a  Hajj gift from a friend in Egypt. The beads help to remind me of another Christmas tree; a fully decorated  Christmas tree given to us by a Muslim friend for our first Christmas in Egypt.

Silence ~ an Advent Quest ~ Silent Night

Deep silence, deep sorrow, some peace:  Commonwealth War Cemetery, El Alamein, mid 1990s

Silent Night! Holy Night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon godly tender pair
Holy infant with curly hair
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Translated by Bettina Klein
© 1998 Silent Night Museum
A-5024 Salzburg, Steingasse 9

No Advent Quest  would be complete without acknowledgement of Silent Night.

This  Christmas Eve will mark the 200th anniversary of the first public performance of Silent Night in 1818.  It was written by Joseph Mohr in 1816, partly as a way to celebrate  peace and freedom, and to encourage joy, following the end of the Napoleonic  Wars.*

A hundred and four years ago on Christmas Eve in 1914, German officer, Walter Kirchhoff, a tenor with the Berlin Opera  “came forward and sang Silent Night in German, and then in English. In the clear, cold night of Christmas Eve, his voice carried very far.The shooting had stopped and in that silence he sang and the British knew the song and sang back.”

Silent Night has been translated into  hundreds of languages and dialects.  The carol was  declared an intangible, cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2011.

When I listen to  Silent Night, I remember  the Holy Family’s search for peace and sanctuary. And I hear the yearning of most every one of us for  the deep silence of peace.

 

ps

*For an accurate account  of  why Mohr wrote Silent Night, please read the comment by Shoreacres.

For more information on the recording in the final link please click here

Silence ~ an Advent Quest ~the web of years

In silence, understanding, the tapestry of my life

In my quest, I begin to understand how the woof of many  silences is woven through the warp of my life. The  unfolding pattern surprises me, delights me, comforts me, saddens me, enriches me.

 

In the light of the silent stars that shine on the struggling sea, 
In the weary cry of the wind and the whisper of flower and tree, 
Under the breath of laughter, deep in the tide of tears, 
I hear the Loom of the Weaver that weaves the Web of Years. 

from the The Loom of Years by Alfred Noyes (1902)

ps The image features a selection of gifts received over many years. The wooden sculptures come from Malawi.  They were given to me over 30 years ago and have travelled to many countries with me.  Faithful friends, I call them Thomas and Sarah.

Silence ~ an Advent Quest ~the silent guest

 

the unseen guest, the silent listener, be present at my table

Who is the unseen guest at your table, the silent listener to every conversation?  The traditional response is Christ; “Christ is the head of the home, the unseen guest of every meal, the silent listener to every conversation.”

My silent guest list changes for almost every meal. Sometimes the guest is an absent family member, or a far off  friend. At other times, I eat in the company of  loved ones who are no longer living.  Often, it seems to me, my little table is a host to a multitude of  absentees. They outnumber those who are physically present.  It would be crowded and noisy, if it weren’t for  the guests’ gentle, profound, and caring, silence.

 

This post is dedicated to Eileen at Laughter: Carbonated Grace , and to all those who will be missing a loved one at their table this Christmas.

 

PS This is my attempt at a flat lay photo. The two flower photos in the centre of the image are not mine. They were a gift from my photographer friend, David Dobbs.

Silence ~ an Advent Quest ~ silent stars

How silent to me, yet heard by the bee

 

Borage is the silent star of my garden. Silent to me, but a siren song to the bee. How  differently we hear silence.

“How can one who does not hear a sound contrast noise with silence? Most people use their ears so constantly, they do not realize that the skin of our bodies is so sensitive that we perceive countless vibrations in the air and in objects we touch. For instance, I am extremely susceptible to the noises of machinery, whistles and the irritating jar of multitudes out of step. In the peace of my little garden I usually can escape from disturbing vibrations, but at present I am greatly annoyed by the metal hammers pounding on the new subway that is being constructed through Forest Hills.”

from The Beauty of Silence (1935) by Helen Keller

PS I will be silent again until Monday. Thank you for being with me on my Quest.

Silence ~an Advent Quest ~ the dark side lit

By my bed, a floral candle, comfort.

In silence there is darkness, anxiety, fear.  In darkness, lights fulfil their promise.

In silence, I remember the darkness of the first Christmas; the anxiety, the fear. I remember the Star of Wonder, the guiding light.

‘By my bed, on a little round table
The Grandmother placed a candle.
She gave me three kisses telling me they were three
dreams
And tucked me in just where I loved being tucked.
Then she went out of the room and the door was shut.
I lay still, waiting for my three dreams to talk;
But they were silent……..’

from The Candle by Katherine Mansfield