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Shakespeare said “What is the city but the people? Michelangelo said “I have never felt salvation in nature. I love cities above all.” Many of us feel we belong to City communities.
This week’s Words of Connection is about Cities. 55 per cent of the world’s population occupies cities, and the pandemic has hit this sector so very hard. Our hearts go out to all of those across the globe locked away in flats and restricted living spaces unable to see any green or leave their homes other than in emergency. For City dwellers – ourselves included – these nine months have been tough, and so our readings are directed at honouring city dwellers in general — and our city of Brighton and Hove in particular.
So today, we open with two heartfelt prayers. These are followed by a cheerful 200 year old poem dedicated to Brighton. It’s by the 19th century entertainer and poet Elizabeth Beverley, penned at the height of the Regency era. In total contrast we have a children’s poem called Block City by Robert Louise Stevenson, extolling the virtues of staying in and building cities. We close with a perfect piece of nostalgia — John Betjeman writing in 1956 about a wintery week in Brighton, recovering from the flu.
Once more, thank you so much for your enthusiasm and support. Words of Connection is about connection in every sense.
Stay well and strong during these wintry days,
Very best wishes
PRAYERS FOR COMMUNITY LIFE IN THE CITY
God of our daily lives,
we pray for the people of the cities of this world
working and without work;
homeless or well housed;
fulfilled or frustrated;
confused and cluttered with material goods
or scraping a living from others leavings;
angrily scrolling on walls,
or reading the writing on the wall;
lonely or living in community;
finding their own space and respecting the space of others.
We pray for our sisters and brothers,
Mourning and celebrating —
may we share their sufferings and hope
Women of New Zealand
Guide us that we may be more sensitive to our neighbour’s needs.
We pray for awareness of those needs:
the need of the old to know they are wanted,
the need of the young to know they are listened to,
the need of all people to know if they are of value.
Lord, keep us aware.
Elizabeth Beverley (1792-1832)
Hail, favor’d spot, divine retreat,
Sweet refuge from sol’s scorching heat;
Here, balmy zephyrs waft their wealth,
And impregnate each breeze with health.
Hither, the sick and gay repair,
To breathe thy sweet salubrious air.
Here, harmless pleasure holds her sway;
Each face we meet is bright as day—
No gloom—all joyous as the morn,
When sol’s first rays the sky adorn.
Well may our much lov’d Regent here,
Unbend awhile from state and care;
Thrice happy spot, long may thou give
Sweet health to him who bade thee live;
Who, from the village, rose thy state,
To be a town superb and great.
Here too, with joy, doth oft repair
The world’s pride—England’s matchless fair;
Their sylph like forms each eye delight,
With beauty too, they sense unite;
No upstart pride in them we find,
Sure index to an empty mind;
But in each look true sweetness dwells,
And throws around its magic spells.
Blest place, at once, in thee we view,
All fancy’s pencil ever drew.
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 –1894)
What are you able to build with your blocks?
Castles and palaces, temples and docks.
Rain may keep raining, and others go roam,
But I can be happy and building at home.
Let the sofa be mountains, the carpet be sea,
There I’ll establish a city for me:
A kirk and a mill and a palace beside,
And a harbour as well where my vessels may ride.
Great is the palace with pillar and wall,
A sort of a tower on top of it all,
And steps coming down in an orderly way
To where my toy vessels lie safe in the bay.
This one is sailing and that one is moored:
Hark to the song of the sailors on board!
And see on the steps of my palace, the kings
Coming and going with presents and things!
by John Betjeman (1906-1984)
The Spectator 1956
Out of the Southern Electric, into the salt sea air, I went last week to Brighton to recover from influenza. Street lamps shining on pebbled walls reminded me I was in Sussex; coloured lights in oyster bars, shops and public houses reminded me I was in a town of pleasure; along the front the lamps just showed up the white foam and shiny shingle while a lighted window at the end of Palace Pier, that fantasy looking rather like the royal residence of the Empress of Abyssinia stretched on stilts into the English Channel, told me that even so late as this someone was alive out there above the heaving water.
Then there were the warm, almost empty, hotels, with old ladies discussing knitting patterns and retired colonial governors reading ‘The Spectator’. There was the pleasantness of the staffs in shops, hotels and restaurants and public transport. There is a whole race of seaside people, who, whatever may be said about their money-making propensities, are out to be pleasant to visitors and who are traditionally friendly.
How restful it was to go to sleep to the sound of crashing waves and rattling shingle. And in the morning, what pleasure to see the sharp winter sun on a grey season and reflected on creamy stucco terraces and squares, to visit second-hand bookshops and antique shops in the Lanes, to see the Pavilion and Art Gallery and the great Victorian churches, St Bartholomew’s, St Martin’s, St Michael’s, and St Mary’s, four of the grandest churches in England, rising like huge red battleships over the chimney pots and Georgian crescents. Of all the towns in England, Brighton is the one where I can honestly congratulate the Mayor, Corporation, and officials for what they do to keep the character of the town and make it cheerful and welcoming.