Tag Archives: angels

Angels and the third man


About twenty years ago a veranda on a house in Wellington collapsed under the weight of a Christmas party and all the revellers were hurled to the ground some way below.

I kept the newspaper clipping of this accident for some years to show my grandchildren. Not for any ghoulish reason, but for the story a pregnant partygoer told. She landed upright, unharmed, unlike the others, many of whom were injured. She said she felt absolutely no fear, because at the split second the veranda began to fall, a great white being held her, and deposited her safely. I wanted my grandchildren to hear from another source than their Grannie, about the reality of angels.

My lovely cleaning lady Rebecca also told me about her encounter with an angel. She was a tiny little thing, and at the time she was working on a fishing boat. It was hard physical labour for a woman trying to keep her end up in tough male society and on this voyage, she developed excruciating toothache, as well as a really bad back. Sitting on her bunk on her six- hour sleep shift, she began to weep from pain and exhaustion. Suddenly a column of light appeared beside her, and she felt enveloped in love and peace. She drifted off into a deep sleep, and when she awoke her toothache and bad back had gone, and she felt strong, happy and revived.

There are many stories of angels, and they always fill me with joy. I find the mysterious story of the extra presence on Shackleton’s expedition, when they were in dire straits very moving. As he and two other exhausted starving team members struggled over glaciers and mountains in South Georgia to get help for everyone else stranded on Elephant Island, having just endured an eight-hundred- mile voyage in an open boat through mountainous seas and hurricanes, they reported that there was always this extra person, and yet when they came to count it, it was never there.

Yet the presence was continually there, sustaining them throughout their dreadful journey, on which the lives of everyone else depended. Shackleton wrote: “during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia, it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.”

TS Eliot alludes to this in ‘The Waste Land.’

‘Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
— But who is that on the other side of you.

This is sometimes called the Third Man Factor, and many survivors of shipwrecks, avalanches, fires, polar expeditions etc, describe it. Scientists and researchers rationalise that this is some sort of projection of the mind to protect us when we are in danger, or at the last gasp of our strength, which is why it happens for so many explorers, mountaineers, and in the case of the last man out alive from the World Trade Centre. That man, Ron Di Francesco described a Being who led him out of the inferno just before it collapsed on 9/11.

But what happened in what I am about to describe was different to the Third Man phenomenon, for I was in no danger, and was being cared for.

I have never seen an angel, but I felt their magic Presence on this occasion. It happened a few years ago, when I came home from a dinner party, deeply upset by the way a group of old friends had ganged up on one very vulnerable person. It was totally unlike them all, but puzzlngly, it had happened. Too churned up to go to bed, I decided to make a cup of tea, but didn’t bother to switch on the kitchen light, since the hall light dimly illuminated the space.

This was my downfall, because in the half light, I poured the boiling water from the kettle over my hand. I stepped back away from the scalding water now running over the bench, and my high heels slipped in the water spilling onto the floor. I fell backwards, pulling the kettle on top of me, thus scalding my stomach as well as both hands.

Almost insane with the pain, with the skin hanging off my fingers, I somehow rang a help-line for advice on what to do, and they sent an ambulance. Morphine and more blessed morphine got me to hospital, and once there, the doctor treating me warned me about the seriousness of the burns, and the likelihood of long-term nerve damage. My arm would be in a sling for three months and I would need long-term treatment and physiotherapy. Then I was wheeled into a side room until someone had time in Emergency to transfer me to a ward.

I lay there for three hours, during which I experienced the most blissful moments of my life. As I felt the company of heaven enveloping me in an un-earthly love, peace, joy, glory, I thanked them ecstatically over and over again for the accident, which had brought me to this place.

When I was wheeled into a ward, I felt quite wild with bliss. Back home the next day, when the nurse called to change the bandages, I knew when she took them off, there would be no wounds, and I was right. The burns were completely healed apart from some sore red patches on my stomach, on which the nurse smeared honey every day for a week, which completed the healing.

The few people I shared this experience with were divided into those who believed it, and those who said it was the effect of the morphine… except that I never needed even an aspirin for pain afterwards, since I had no pain or scars. And when I shattered my leg last year and was in hospital and on morphine for months, I never felt how I had felt that night. The Company of Heaven cannot be explained away.

So now, Christmas is here again, and probably Christmas angels are with us as usual, even though we may not see them, or feel them, or believe in them, and I remember the lovely lines of Francis Thompson:

‘The angels keep their ancient places;

Turn but a stone and start a wing!

‘Tis ye, ’tis your estranged faces,

That miss the many-splendoured thing.’

And though we may not see the many-splendoured thing, we can take comfort if we wish, in knowing that the angels do still keep their ancient places… that ’angels and archangels and all the company of heaven’ in the words of the Anglican prayer book, are not just a fancy, but a truth.

A Happy and a Merry Christmas to all my friends who read this blog.

The picture is by Guercino. An angel in flight, c.1648. Red chalk, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

We had a little party to celebrate arriving in our forest two years ago… I cooked these little cheese biscuits to nibble, these amounts make about twenty. You need four ounces of butter, eight ounces of finely grated cheese, 3 ounces of plain flour, half teasp English mustard powder, quarter teasp cayenne pepper, and salt.

Cream butter and cheese with a fork, and add flour a tablespoon at a time, then the other ingredients. On a piece of baking parchment roll the mixture into a sausage about one and a half inches in diameter, and chill in the fridge. This can be made in advance and frozen if need be. Before baking, cut the roll into thin pieces the size of a coin, and cook on a baking tray for eight to ten minutes at 190C or 375 F… cool on cake rack. They’re best baked the day you need them.

 

Food for thought

Loveliness does more than destroy ugliness. A mere touch of it in a room, in a street, even on a door knocker, is a spiritual force. Ask the working-man’s wife, and she will tell you there is a moral effect even in a clean table cloth.

Henry Drummond, Scottish inspirational writer.

 

 

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Gossip is good for us

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I am an unashamed gossip. Gossip to me is the spice of life, a valuable tool of information, and the oil that greases human relations.

Years ago I was shocked when an acquaintance said to me in reply to my query, ‘what’s going on for her?’ – “I’ve given up gossip”.

I was so taken aback that I retreated, feeling in-adequate and really rather nasty, as though I had been caught out in some secret disreputable, or unmentionable sin.

I thought about it for some days, and then my common sense re-asserted itself. If someone didn’t pass on to me that a mutual acquaintance had a life threatening illness then I could miss out on the chance to support them. If someone didn’t tell me a couple were breaking up, I could tactlessly invite the couple for dinner, and rub salt in their wounds with my ignorance. If I didn’t know that a child had gone off the rails or was in hospital I could be blithely unconscious of their need for help, whether emotional support or a hot meal delivered to a family under stress.

Too often gossip is confused with back-biting, whereas to me, gossip is passing on information that is useful or even valuable in our inter-actions with each other.

And there’s another aspect to gossip – not just useful vital information that enables us to respond appropriately, but sometimes it also gives innocent pleasure !

Yes, I remember the fascination with which I listened to the story of a party where two guests had had a row, and one had tipped a glass over the other…and wished I had been there to see it… drama always happens when I’m in the next room, I felt. So is this voyeurism or schadenfreude I asked myself?

And I also remember reading years ago, that Lord Butler, an English stateman who knew the Queen, reported that like ‘all intelligent women’, she enjoyed gossip. First, I was delighted to think that an enjoyment of good gossip was almost a virtue, and meant that I was intelligent, but it also made me look at what gossip actually is.

It’s the tiny facets of personality or of life that can illuminate a whole character, or light up a situation by showing the human interest behind the dry bones of fact.

When reading history, it’s the delicious details of human conduct that rivet me – reading that Charles 11 loved his cavalier King Charles spaniels so much that he allowed them to whelp in his own sumptuous four posters beds… causing distaste and disgust among his courtiers – ‘God bless the King and damn his dogs,’ one quipped. This gossip made me love him.

I loved to read of George V fulminating about his son wearing ‘vulgar turn-ups’ on his trousers, and loud checks, and Queen Victoria complaining about her second son’s sartorial habits too. Even better is the unexpected and almost outrageous, like hearing of the love between Nehru and Lady Mountbatten, which gossip had informed me of long before the current spate of film and biography.

Just knowing that this beautiful high -minded man who ruled India, had fallen in love with the elegant witty aristocrat married to the semi- royal Viceroy, made them both so much more human, and therefore interesting. To read that she was found dead with all his letters opened on her bed, to be re-read before she went to sleep, and that the heart- broken statesman had sent a destroyer to her committal beneath the sea, to sprinkle showers of marigold petals on her coffin as it sank beneath the waves, was beautiful.

And to discover that the Queen Mother – who gossip tells us had a wicked tongue – quipped that: “dear Edwina always liked to make a splash,” gave me another frisson of pleasure.

‘One shares gossip as one should share good wine. It is an act of pleasure,’ wrote Sarah Sands, a journalist in an essay on gossip ‘There is an art to gossip, which is really a moment of memoir. Philosophers of the human heart… or heartless but comic diarists … tell us more about social history, politics and humanity than autobiographies of public record… I always learn more from a gossip than a prig. Life is a comedy…’

This is gossip as fun. But gossip is also the passing on of important information that we may need. Not the cruel behind their backs stuff, but the details that may help us all. We can be kinder and more tolerant or even forgiving, if we know the pain or difficulties behind some-one’s inconsiderate or strange behaviour.

Women have a well-deserved reputation for gossip, but it’s often this sort of passing on of useful information. On the other hand when I was the only girl in an all-male officers mess, I was shocked at the sometimes cruel and careless gossipy remarks of the men I overheard. Yet my experience of living in an all-female community had been that kindness was acceptable, but catty comments were not.

So yes, I am a defender of the art of gossip…I relish the flashes of insight which an apt morsel of gossip can bestow. This is not gossip as slander, back-biting, envy, jealousy or small mindedness that so many arbiters of human nature have condemned. This is gossip demonstrating the endless fascination of human nature, and as an aid to understanding ‘what’s going on’ for each other.

And if, as Socrates said, strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people, there speaks a man who doesn’t understand the value of emotional ties and the genuine connections between people which make the world go round.

The picture is Chatterboxes by Thomas Kennington

Food for threadbare gourmets

We were meeting friends off the ferry, half an hour’s drive away, and bringing them back home for lunch. Which meant being organised. So while a hot winter’s lunch was heating up in the oven, I needed a little something to keep them going. So spicy pumpkin soup which could be quickly re-heated, it was.

Steam chunks of pumpkin, and scrape it off the skin when soft. Fry some onions and garlic until soft, and add the pumpkin. In the whizzer put portions of this mixture, adding enough warm chicken stock to make a thick smooth mixture, and then return to the pan.

Add salt and pepper and either nutmeg or curry powder to taste, and heat it up. Just before serving, add cream to taste, and serve with fingers of crisp crunchy fried bread, fried in olive oil or hot fat.

 

Food for thought

The angels keep their ancient places–

Turn but a stone and start a wing!

‘Tis ye, ’tis your estrangèd faces,

That miss the many-splendored thing.

Francis Thompson

 

 

 

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Voices from the Void

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My accident was a fascinating experience – in retrospect! I was driving happily down the main highway to the village crossroads in my little silver car about ten years ago, when a large, heavy old car – solid as – shot out of the side road, without stopping at the Stop sign.

 

The daffy woman driving it was oblivious to me, and was going to hit me right in the driver’s seat. I had less than a second to brake, turn the wheel to the left to try to lessen the impact and hurl a prayer into the void as I faced what I thought was certain death. “Help me”, I silently implored. The braking meant that she hit more of the right side of the bonnet than me, and the deafening sound of the impact nearly shocked me into the next world.

 

In what felt like slow motion my car ricocheted away from hers, with my hands still on the wheel, and I just wanted to hit the brake and stop. But if I did, I was going to hit a line of parked cars. As the impact shot my car towards a parked blue car, I heard a voice say: “keep going, keep steering”. I did as I was told, using every ounce of my shattered will power to do it, and as I longed to stop, a red car loomed in front, and the voice said: “keep going, keep steering”. I thought, at the end of my endurance, surely I can stop now, but another car loomed. “Keep going”, the firm imperative voice instructed. I did as I was told, and finally, still steering, still going, came to rest safely 180 degrees from the impact, on a  side road where there was nothing. And by now people were running out of their shops having heard the big bang.

 

I was reminded of that Voice last night, when I was re-reading Joe Simpson’s incredible account of nearly dying, and surviving, on a Peruvian mountain. He had broken his leg and his ankle, and then slipped into a crevasse, so deep and dark he had no idea where it ended. His climbing partner thought he was dead and cut the rope between them in order to survive himself, and Simpson fell even deeper into the terrifying black space.

 

Somehow, using climbers’ skills I don’t even understand, using his ice axes, he eased himself endlessly up the icy sides of the crevasse and out onto the cruel mountainside. Then, without food or drink for over three days, he dragged, hopped, and hauled himself over rocks and glaciers, ice and snow; he got himself back to base camp about eight miles away over terrain, and through cold that I cannot even imagine. And he would never have made it without the Voice.

 

” It was as though there were two minds within me arguing the toss. The Voice was clean and sharp and commanding. It was always right, and I listened to it when it spoke and acted on its decisions. The other mind rambled…. as I set about obeying the orders of the Voice….”

 

When he wanted to rest or sleep, the Voice would wake him : “go on, keep going… faster. You’ve wasted too much time. Go on before you lose the tracks”… Later, as he fumbled blindly, wanting just to sink into the snow and sleep, the Voice urged him on: “don’t sleep, don’t sleep, not here. Keep going. Find a slope and dig a snow hole… don’t sleep”.

 

The Voice got him back to base camp the night before the other climbers were leaving first thing in the morning. The rest of the story is in his book ‘Touching the Void.’

 

His story reminded me of Charles Lindbergh’s experience when he flying The Spirit of St Louis over  the Atlantic on his historic 34 hour flight across to France. Lindbergh, not noticeably a spiritual man, but one who was very impressed by the Nazis, had a unique experience, in which, unable to keep awake, his conscious mind fell asleep, while a mind entity standing “apart” held firm.  This state gave way to a new extraordinary mind, which at first he feared to trust, and which took over.

 

‘He became conscious of other presences, advising him on his flight, encouraging him, conveying messages unattainable in normal life… He felt himself in a transitional state between earthly life and a vaster region beyond, as if caught in the magnetic field between two planets and propelled by forces he cannot control, “representing powers incomparably stronger than I’ve ever known”.’

 

Battered by winds and storms, and guided and supported, he arrived safely in France. This was like the experience of some of Ernest Shackleton’s men. As they struggled through the Antarctic snows at the extremity of their strength they became conscious of another member of the party, ‘who could not be counted,’ but who was always with them.

 

Whatever we call them… angels, spirits, voices, these visitations are always helpful and benevolent. In each of these cases – and there are many more – these unseen energies are rescuing us from situations in which we are powerless. Regardless of belief in a god or not, these inexplicable and indefinable happenings make me feel that the world is a supportive and benevolent place, with Resources to help us all, whatever our beliefs, if we are open and available for help.

 

Sometimes we ask, sometimes the help comes unbidden, as when an accident happened in Wellington at a Christmas party a few years ago. A balcony collapsed on a two story house, hurling all the party-goers to the ground. A heavily pregnant woman said she felt perfectly safe because a great white angel was holding her, and put her safely on the ground. She was unhurt.

 

Some people find it hard to believe these things. But it doesn’t really matter. When they happen, they happen because they’re needed. But a faith that there is help available does seem to make things fall into place quickly and more often. I sometimes think that there is more preventive thinking in that other Reality than we realise, so that we don’t have to be rescued from the big dramas. So deciding to drive another way today, may mean we’ve been prodded to avoid an accident. Locking a door we never normally lock, may be a message from our helpers because we need protection on that day. When we listen, there are so often messages to hear, and when we look, so many subtle signposts.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

 

Not much in the house until I go shopping, so I’ll cheer us up with a cheese soufflé – quick, cheap and easy. The most difficult thing about it, is tying some greaseproof paper round the outside of the soufflé dish so that the soufflé stands up above the brim of the dish, and looks spectacular.

 

Next step is to separate three eggs. After greasing the dish, I make a thick white sauce, with two ounces of flour, two ounces of butter, and half a pint of milk, salt and pepper. When it’s bubbled a few times, so you know it’s cooked, stir in four or five ounces of grated cheese with a pinch of cayenne. I often add Parmesan to strong cheddar.

 

Stir in the egg yolks. Putting this aside, whip the egg whites until stiff in a large bowl. Then gently stir in the cheese mixture in three lots. I use a slotted spoon to make this process as gentle as possible. All you have to do now is pour it into the soufflé dish and cook in a moderate oven. Serve at once. I often make a little tomato sauce to go with this, and maybe some thinly sliced green beans. Salad if you’re feeling healthy. This is enough for three, and masses for two- but easy to eat too much…

 

Food for Thought

 

Notice in the grandest and stuffiest club in London, the Athenaum: Will the clergyman who stole my umbrella kindly return it. This club consists half of gentlemen and half of clergymen, and it is clear that no gentleman would steal an umbrella.

 

 

 

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