Archive for August, 2014

Never Such Innocence Again

Kilwinning War Memorial

War Memorial: Kilwinning, Ayrshire

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. There has been no shortage of TV and radio coverage of the war and it’s context and causes but I found myself remembering the argument in ‘The History Boys’ where the lads trump the teacher’s revisionist account with this poem from Philip Larkin.


Those long uneven lines

Standing as patiently

As if they were stretched outside

The Oval or Villa Park,

The crowns of hats, the sun

On moustached archaic faces

Grinning as if it were all

An August Bank Holiday lark;


And the shut shops, the bleached

Established names on the sunblinds,

The farthings and sovereigns,

And dark-clothed children at play

Called after kings and queens,

The tin advertisements

For cocoa and twist, and the pubs

Wide open all day;


And the countryside not caring

The place-names all hazed over

With flowering grasses, and fields

Shadowing Domesday lines

Under wheat’s restless silence;

The differently-dressed servants

With tiny rooms in huge houses,

The dust behind limousines;


Never such innocence,

Never before or since,

As changed itself to past

Without a word–the men

Leaving the gardens tidy,

The thousands of marriages

Lasting a little while longer:

Never such innocence again.


Philip Larkin

Add comment August 4th, 2014

On Preaching Again: Post-Exertional Malaise

ME symptoms

A chart of ME symptoms including post-exertional malaise

I spoke too soon. Not long after saying that I was doing more or less OK the morning after my return to preaching I began to feel the backlash. They are still here today — the morning after the morning after. Tiredness, fuzzy-headedness, lack of concentration, nausea, aches, generally feeling yucky — like low-grade flu symptoms. This is a relatively mild dose of postexertional malaise (PEM), possibly the defining symptom of ME or chronic fatigue syndrome.

I always think I’ve gotten away with it when the immediate aftermath of some activity that pushes the envelope slightly isn’t a symptom flare. And then I am disappointed when PEM arrives later.

This seems to me to be the flaw in Graded Exercise Therapy as I was introduced to it (first in the FINE Trial and then in the year-long Liverpool University Hospital treatment programme). Their protocol relied on very slowly increasing exercise activity with the idea that each session would provoke symptoms slightly but that recovery would occur just as rapidly. Each day you are supposed to increase the duration of the exercise by 5%. I found that I could always start gently (10 turns of a stationery bicycle with no resistance) and build up to a certain point over a period of weeks with relatively little push-back but at some point I would always be hit with PEM, often severely, which would make me feel awful. At first the advice was to push through the malaise but that made it worse and worse. Later the advice was to wait for some recovery and then go again even more gently but all that did was postpone the point where the crash happened. At the end of both programmes I was significantly worse off than when I started.

It is interesting to note how Dr Nancy Klimas has implemented a variety of exercise therapy for her patients. It recognises the reality of post-exertional malaise and involves a heart-rate monitor and staying within one’s aerobic threshold to explicitly not provoke symptoms. I have found it much more practical (other factors like stubbed toes aside!). But the ‘exertion’ in PEM is not only physical exercise: standing up to preach does it to me; listening in spiritual direction much over an hour a day; pushing through the brain-fog to write stuff; coping with anything mildly stressful can sometimes do it too. That last one is variable: there was extreme stress living through my mother’s sudden onset of dementia a few months ago without severe PEM; but sometimes an awkward phone call can be enough.

Add comment August 2nd, 2014

Blog Archaeology 4

Pierre Favre (1506-1546)

St. Pierre Favre, SJ (1506-1546)

Some people go up in the world! When this homily was preached (to the team of spiritual directors at Loyola Hall Retreat House) on this day in 2004 Pierre Favre was merely ‘Blessed’ but last year he was declared a Saint by Pope Francis. Actually, of all Jesuits Pierre is the least likely to relish ‘going up in the world’.

For some extra reading about Favre I recommend this article by a friend of mine Edel McClean.

Readings: Jer 28:1-17; Matt 14:13-21

Here’s an image I like: Paris; Ignatius 38 years old and struggling in studies, sharing a room with Pierre Favre just 23. Pierre wrote later:

“That year Inigo entered the College of Sainte-Barbe and lived in the same room with us, with the intention of following the course in arts. And it was our master who was in charge of this course. … After it had been set that I would teach this holy man, it followed that at first we had a rather casual relationship and then I became very close to him, and finally we led a life in common where the two of us had the same room, the same table, the same purse.”

The other room-mate was Francis Xavier whose exploits turned out to be altogether showier than Favre’s but it is to Favre that we owe the work we do here. Ignatius gave the Exercises to the young Favre and then set him to find others who would benefit from them. One of the people Favre gave them to was a man named Dominic, who gave them to another man who gave them to another man, or to a woman who gave them to another woman.

For all of these centuries, someone has been giving these Exercises in person to another person who has handed them on in turn. We find ourselves a living link in that tradition.

We might not be fabled missionaries like Xavier but we bring our little loaves and few fish to be blessed and broken and shared, trusting that God will take care of the rest.


Add comment August 2nd, 2014

A Trappist Glimpse of St Ignatius

Ignatius Loyola

Ignatius Loyola

Of the many celebrations of St Ignatius to be found on the net yesterday I was most touched by this brief post from the Trappist Abbey of St Joseph in Spenser, MA.

Ignatius was so certain of the Lord’s deep love for each person, that at the conclusion of his Spiritual Exercises he invites the retreatant to ponder: quanto el Señor desea dárseme (how much the Lord wants to give himself to me.) Given this endless loving desire of our God and Lord, our only work minute by minute all day long is to allow the Lord easy access to our hearts.

1 comment August 1st, 2014

On Preaching Again

Campion Hall Chapel - Holy Spirit Baldacchino

Campion Hall Chapel – Holy Spirit Baldacchino

Yesterday was my first time preaching for several years. The hearers were a very Jesuit bunch: the summer remnant at Campion Hall, plus 20-odd youngish Jesuits here to study English for a month, plus one or two guests. I had a safety net in that the presider at Mass who asked me to preach was ready to stand in if necessary.

Writing the homily was a joy — slipping back into something I had long enjoyed but recently foregone — and, some fretting aside, the giving of it went well with the reminder of how much I used to love preaching. Later I received plenty of affirmation.

Before I stood up to preach I was thinking ‘why haven’t I done this before now?’ When I sat down I remembered! I had to stay seated through the rest of Mass — palpitations, sweats and shaky legs; dizziness, brain fog, and stomach cramps. The ensuing posh celebration dinner was an enjoyable but hard to stay focussed on. The good news is that this morning I don’t feel particularly bad beyond a fuzzy, hangovery head.

If the repercussions continue to be limited I will repeat the experiment. I have even created a blog category for ‘Homilies|Oxford’.

Update: I spoke to soon!

Add comment August 1st, 2014

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