St Francis of Assissi used these phrases to open a door into the Kingdom of Heaven, and to sit a while in the space where God dwells.
My friend Margareta would say, very emphatically on occasions, “Know who you really are!” And I thought it about time I gave the issue some serious thought.
The cause of this spiritual introspection? I am due to reveal the meanderings of my spiritual journey to the world, that is to say those members of my Church interested and brave enough to. turn out on a November evening, and I need to think about what I'm going to say.
So who am I REALLY? (Here I find that repeating the question, doesn't necessarily get me any closer the answer … ) The biblical text that comes to mind is a rather unsettling, “I am called Legion, for we are many!”
I am enthusiastic about the self-revelation, and have been practising it over and over. I am rather startled by how different each iteration is and I have concluded that I will need to write a book.
Margareta came very much to the forefront of my mind this week. After her death, her son, Br Loarne, invited me to take anything from the house to remember her by. I took Patricia, one of her dolls, because I would always remember where she sat in the Workroom, and recall the intense discussions Margareta and I had as we journeyed together … and a fine china mug, because of the tea.
On Tuesday, dropped the mug. I dropped it on a my foot, hitting toes that I had injured rather badly in the summer, and that still gave trouble. Here's the thing: if the mug had hit my ceramic floor, it would have smashed to smithereens, a small miracle but one I appreciate, AND a rather more significant blessing, since the blow, no pain in the injured toes! I have rubbed them and wobbled them, pressed down on them as hard as possible: not even a twinge.
I am no closer to knowing who God is, or who I am, but I think I'm getting there …
I'm getting rusty. Writer's Damp? It's a while since I've sat I front of my keyboard and watched my fingers fly easily over it. Might be something to do with engaging so wholeheartedly with Twitter, my muse has gone on strike for shorter hours and 240 characters.
As the best way to finish a post, is to get started, here goes. Forgive me, it's all over the place.
There's a chill in the air this morning, the leaves are reddening on the dogwood, Autumn is steaming in.
Nearly two weeks since I returned from Canada. I have come to understand how important it is to make memories, now that Autimn is more than a change in the weather, it's a stage in my life. . Three weeks in North America with Darlene and and Steve provided a wonderful opportunity to make a few.
Eating a performance meal at a Japanese Steakhouse in Woodinville, Wa. Imagine a banqueting table for eight, that is also a sophisticated hotplate. Steak, seafood and slivers of veg tossed and spun for entertainment, before landing an eager plates. Unforgettable and quite delicious.
Winding through the Rockies on a train, subjected to first-class service, regaled on every side by stunning views of mountains, rivers, and lakes, listening to travellers takes of the old days when miners and fur-trappers came and went. Just like me.
Walking on a glacier.
A Tech Convention where art and AI came face to face, and where we met up with Jeremy, Our friends' son.
Port Algeles, Redmond, Forks, Banff, Vancouver, Jasper, Calgary … I need to write these places down before I forget them.
There is a poignancy to this trip. I have a sense of an ending, but that, I believe has more to do with the passing of summer, than any premonition of parting, besides impermanence is as much a gift as a cause for sorrow, how would a poet survive without inconstancy?
I have to say it ,or I will burst. It isn't my own passing that is on my mind, but that of my world. The planet, as I frequently remind people, is in no danger at all, it will whirl unheeding around the sun until it crashes into it, entirely unmindful of the insignificant lives lived out on it, but my WORLD is dying.
Canada is on fire. The mountains and lakes were shrouded in smoke, the glacier melting under my feet, the animals in the lakes and forests suffering from the effects of climate change, the trees In the forests stressed, millions dead.
It was possible to look away from the devastation wreaked by the pine bark beetle, and to ignore the stories of the Orca starving in the Sound, but it wasn' possible to stop breathing the smoke-polluted air and to wonder: am I here at the ending of it all?
Flat-As-A-Pancake Day, bereft
Of froth and babble full of dread Mundane work-a-day
SOMETHING must be done!
Let's do it!
Smile. At everyone, some will stick … And come flashing back.
Run up the stairs
Make coffee and
Hand round a crisp, white paper bag
Full of very sticky toffees.
Tip a beggar
Listen to a concerto
Or a rock band and
At the beginning of every email
Say something …
Different. Kind, perhaps.
Remember, when you
Actually finish something,
How it felt when you were in the Juniors and your teacher
Pressed a gold star on your
Pick a moment when everything
Would otherwise be too tedious to bear
Take yourself off to tthe Caribbean
Lie on on a beach with your lover
Let the surf nibble your toes …
Or, if this is too much,
Be ten again and play
Hide and seek in a bright Spring wood
With your sister …
See! It's working isn't it?
Already you're looking forward to Monday,
And have change jingling in your pocket
To buy toffees
And tip a beggar
Making Real The Mystery
Most weeks I attend Mass.
The priest, amongst the ringing of bells and cries of alleluia, makes Jesus real. On the altar. In me.
To ingest the Creator is a selfish act at best, but a worthy one, I believe. Yes, I do.
To dare to declare this mystery is a seditious act, fact, , in these days, when men employ
Other ways to dance with the divine, but mine, is age-old, and yet, as I God beget, ever
I tell you, I am changed, every single time: my soul is rearranged.
I am mystified by the others, sculpted in stone. chose to hide away their souls as if
They were mere flesh and bone, and they, despiite the vastness of our humanity are
I did a rather creepy thing the other day – I read my daughter's blog ('Days Of Grace') account of her first date with her husband, Martin.
I am not a particularly interventionist parent, though I did slip up once, rather spectacularly, and I could recount the tale of the kick-boxing instructor and the garden hedge, but I am resolved not to, because it doesn't make me look good. My watchful maternal eye occasionally looked the other way, and there was a certain curiosity at points in my daughters' lives that went unsatisfied… . On the whole, I was respectful, though I did make it clear that if they were on the 'phone in my hearing, I WOULD be listening. (To be fair, who,wouldn't be?) By such a means did I learn that by the age of thirteen my children were making a pretty good job of running their own lives, and meting out some pretty good advice to their contemporaries in the process.
So, I read my eldest daughter's blog. In the interests of transparency and reciprocation, I left a comment, “I'll blog the story of the first time your father and I met.” So, for my children and descendants, here's “The Tale Of The Fish Slice and The Pair of Socks”
Five young women shared the upper room in Wingfield House, a dormitory facility for Bingley College of Education, where we were starting out on our journey into Teaching.
My bed was far left, away from the door and close to the huge window. Tina's bed, under the window, was to the left of me, Claire's to the right, Carolyn's on the far side of the room, and Viv's next to the door.
Wingfield was a huge pile, a kind of second-division mansion, built in the ne 19th century for a local mill-owner. It had featured in the 1960's movie, 'Room at the Top”, staring Laurence Harvey, which I may have watched long ago, I forget, and will certainly Google when I'm finished here.
On with the tale. To ensure your continued reading, the rest of the story incorporates the only student party I ever went to, a blind date, a flight of stairs, a fish-slice (spatula) and a pair of socks.
I was late returning to College that January, and did not know that following evening, everyone else was off to a party in Bradford. My arrival was greeted with delight, and an invitation issued to join the merry throng.
I absolutely hate parties, there's no point in trying to hide the fact, but I am also curious, and in the interests of student experimentation, after all, I was here to grow up and learn things, I consented to go.
At some point, I hear that Viv's fiancé Brian is over for the gig, and he is bringing a date for Tina-in-the-next-bed, named, Raymond Francis.
Every good story needs some jeopardy, and here it is. See girls? Without fate performing some sleight of hand, you're not going to be here! Quick resolution, or we'll be here all day: Tina sidles over to me at some point and says, “I have a boyfriend in London, you may have Raymond” To spare your father's blushes, this was BEFORE she'd met him.
Diffident, good-looking (long-hair, big brown eyes, tall … ) Raymond Francis makes a good impression. My whirlwind romance with a Canadian called Jim, had ended before Christmas on his return to Canada, so, you know, I was open to possibilities… .
The party leaves no impression, but Ray and I hit it off. He had tales to tell of his excursions on the Greyhound buses through practically every state in the USA which I listened to with some fascination. Back in 1969, a trip to America was very exotic, it could only be undertaken (affordably) by the hoi-polloi through membership of a club which chartered a plane. You also had to stop at least twice to refuel, probably Dublin and Gan. To think! If I hadn't met Ray, I would not know this!
I also learned that he lived in the largest social housing project in the country, 'Harold Hill' (named after our last English King) in the London Borough of Havering. He was, and remains an Essex man.
To be frank, he really didn't seem all that bothered about taking our relationship to the next level … This rather piqued my curiosity, and made him seem even more interesting. To gain his attention and win his affection became a bit of a game …
Just to be clear, and to ensure I don't freak out any of my offspring, there is nothing remotely intimate in the remainder of the story, just the: flight of stairs, the fish slice and the pair of socks.
The boys bedded down elsewhere with other boys, but we meet up the following morning for breakfast and the parting. I am getting desperate to make some headway with my 'new boyfriend' project, so having discovered that Ray has only two pairs of socks, I offer to wash his spare. At this juncture, they are drying over the radiator.
He says something amusing and slightly derogatory, I laughingly pick up the spatula, he runs out of the room heads for the stairs, I follow him, it's a three flighter of a staircase he's heading down the third flight I am on the second, his head bobs beneath my right arm and, “Wham!”. There is no excuse, it was pure instinct, a kind of autonomous reaction, I was barely aware I was doing it, it was too good a chance to miss … I knocked him out. He stumbles to the bottom of the stairs, I follow horrified. This, you might think, is the end of all hope!
Everybody, even Ray, sees the funny side, and the story passes into College Legend, but isn't over yet.
We are parting, amicably enough, there is a modicum of attraction, but Ray, who to this day is apt to miss the social nuances in any relationship, makes no attempt to suggest another meeting, he doesn't say, “This has been fun!” Or, “Let's do this again!” Nothing. You have to remember that though the 1960's are awash with Women's Lib, asking a man for a date is still at least two decades away! What's to be done?
I surreptitiously knock the socks to the floor, and kick them under my bed. I now have a first-class, top-notch excuse to write to my intended. Oh! And how I write! You can tell. I'm irresistible aren't I?
We married in 1971 and here we still are.
This will be a very different Christmas this year. Ray and I are spending the festival away from home for the first time! Christmas Day and Boxing Day with Hannah, Luke and one-year old bibliophile, Finley, followed by a few days with all the family at Kate’s home with Darren, nearly two- year old Frank and Jen and family.
Since Jen, Kate and Hannah moved away to their own homes, the Christmas Holidays has been evolving.
I remember the childhood years, when everybody believed in Santa. Santa was allowed to show up whenever he liked, but the rule for the children was, “Play in your rooms until 8am, THEN get us up!” Santa had obligingly left stockings at the foot of beds for the purpose.
Having secured a bit of a lie-in, we the parents, then presided over the grand opening of the big presents around the tree at a reasonably decent hour. Dolls, bicycles, electronic toys and books gradually giving way over the years to scarves, different kinds of books, and beauty products … One constant though, was Santa’s Little Helper, otherwise known as Dad, passing around the black plastic rubbish bag for immediate disposal of the discarded wrappings.
Preparation for big dinner always began during, Carols from Kings College, Cambridge, on Christmas Eve. I would return from Midnight Mass and peel, scrape chop and slice to the accompaniment of divine music from a heavenly choir.
The dinner menu was unvaried, capon, (or turkey in latter years) Betty Crocker’s bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, roast parsnips, sprouts and carrots with cranberry sauce and gravy. Pudding was always the same too – everybody got to choose. So for the week before the Big Day I would be baking: Sticky Toffee Pudding, Texas Millionaire Pie, Pecan Pie, and traditional Christmas Pudding with THICK custard (for Dad). I rarely made the Christmas Pudding, I admit, it was usually a bought one soused with extra booze.
Boxing Day was leftovers and Tuna Plait.
Wonderful, wonderful memories!
And now, our one family has become four families, and it’s a delight to watch them make their own Christmas traditions, and wonderful to be able to share them.
I still get to do the puddings though.
Merry Christmas Everyone!
A.report published by the British Medical Journal exposes the sheer horror of the British Government's assault on the poor. Since 2010 there have been over 120,000 'unnecessary deaths' of sick, disabled and unemployed people.
Suicide. Starvation. Chronic diseases exacerbated by poverty. One hundred and twenty thousand.
A mother who can no longer care for her adult disabled son kills herself.
A former soldier dies because he can't keep his insulin at the correct temperature because his electricity has been cut off.
A woman dying of hypothermia in a home she can't afford to heat.
A homeless man freezing to death in a car park, because the night shelters have closed.
One hundred and twenty thousand.
Had these fellow-citizens died of influenza, it would be a public health emergency.
The Department of Work and Pensions, embarrassed by the statistics showing how many people have died within weeks of being declared, 'fit for work', no longer collects them.
Celebrities engaging in massive tax avoidance schemes go on television asking those of us without clever accountants to give to help children in need.
Does anyone believe this is right?
I tell you what gets me really, really, mad. The OUTRAGE by the right-wing media that Greggs the bakers replaced the infant Christ in a manger with a sausage roll. Not a WORD about the professor's report on the 'unnecessary deaths', mind you, forget them, here's a real issue …
This is what I think, and it might shock you:
If your 'Christ' doesn't compel you to feed the hungry, tend the sick, help the vulnerable and shelter the homeless, you might as well worship a sausage roll.
I hit myself on the ankle with the Paschal Candle, an extraordinary event that arises from Fr Aidan being on sick leave and myself, ever helpful, lending Fr Barnabas a hand (last Sunday) with a Baptism. (Welcome, young Charles David, to the fold.)
“Ouch, that hurts!”I protest, silently, as I process up the aisle with the Paschal Candle, which is considerably taller than me, and features a heavy brass base. Note the absence of profanity. A cause for pride.
The upshot of this minor injury is, yesterday, I stayed in the Mission Hall instead of doing my usual, which is roaming the streets of Gloucester with a trolley full of drinks and sandwiches for the 'Not Actually Managing At All' segment of the population. The drinkers, addicts, mentally ill and others with complex problems, that beg and borrow to keep their heads above water, and don't get much to eat or drink without the charitable efforts of the rest of us.
An eventful morning ensued. I have been away since early April, swanning across the USA, then catching up at home, doing this and that. Dave, Our Leader, greets me warmly. He used to be a Catholic, so he would understand my happening with the brass base of a very large candlestick. He now belongs to one of those independent churches that do so much good around the place. I like him. He hugs. Pope Benedict didn't approve of hugging, so we tend to shake hands now. Rather a pity, I think.
There are a few changes. Michael the community artist is absent. Cancer, I hear, not doing so well. Not coming back. He used to take a group for pottery, he will be missed. Some discussion about what to do with his materials. I am sad. I liked Michael's quiet unassuming presence, I admired his gentle refusal to get saved.
Cafe Guru are still providing a nourishing stew. Lots of organisations express interest in what we do. This small business actually does something. Week after week, year in, year out, the cafe sends in a hot meal for our sixty or so takers. They don't advertise the fact, they just do it. I tell everyone I know to go there.
It's a fraught morning. One young man thinks another young man is trying to take his stuff. Shouting and a punch-up, quickly resolved. Sam, with his underpants on the outside of his trousers, gives an impromptu sermon on the fact that all Christians are hypocrites and are going to hell: some good-hearted applause, including from the Christians. Then I chat to Maggie.
She speaks softly, I have to move closer to listen. We are friends. As her story draws to a close I'm in tears. It has taken her four years to open up and it's no wonder.
“I kept my daughter away from men, no father, no grandfather. No uncles, for fifteen years.” Oh my God! Fifteen years??? “She's married now, and has children.” Maggie beams with pride. Can you guess why I'm weeping?
“Don't cry, don't cry for me!” Maggie has not asked for sympathy, she has just asked for the right to tell her story.
No name, Maggie is not her name, no location, this did not happen here. Just her story:
“I wasn't put in the laundry, because of my chest. You know what that was like, you've seen the film. All that steam! I was in the orphanage until I was sixteen. We worked all day every day, from the time I was thirteen, and were given £13 a month.” …
“When our abusers became grandparents to girls – we went to the police. We couldn't let what happened to us happen to another child … ”
A ghastly story, Maggie didn't go into a lot of detail. She, her and her sister, won their case and received compensation. A lot of it. But:
“I couldn't let go of it, the compensation didn't help, not for years and years, not until I got cancer. Funny. I thought I was going to die, and I let go. Now, I'm free.”
“For years and years.”
The next time I hear another abuser gather his family around him and swear his innocence, I'll remember Maggie, and how HER innocence was stolen, her body used for the gratification of perverts employed to take care of her, her peace of mind destroyed, her mental health never fully recovered.
“I'm not crying for you, Maggie, but for the children still suffering from bastards like those.” I said, which was partly true.
So a piece that started with a light-hearted run-in with a large candle, ends sombrely. I think that's the point. In the middle of the ordinariness of my lovely quiet life, a brutal reality intrudes, and I weep.
I have one of my signature chest infections, and it's jolly inconvenient. At least it frees me up to blog.
Most of the Triduum will pass me by this year, I am not even sure that I will make the Easter Vigil on Saturday night, which is going to be a problem, because I am Flower Monitor and the flowers are placed in the church immediately before the Gloria and if I'm not there, WHO'S GOING TO ORGANISE IT?
I fetched the flowers from the wholesaler yesterday, and dropped them off at Gail's house. She is an artist, and what she does will be uplifting and amazing. I just put them in pots.
Gail is, like me, a convert to Catholicism, and the shine hasn't worn off. I often feel I need to apologise for being a Catholic, because everybody knows that since the Church become a corporate arm of the state in three-hundred- and-something, very bad things have happened. Still are, I expect, I make no excuses.
“Bad Day?” Gail was looking frazzled.
“My boss (An Evangelist) won't come tomorrow because we're idolaters.” Eye roll. So this Man of God had spent the day bending Gail's ear, with, basically, “Why You Shouldn't Be A Catholic For Dummies.” No wonder non-Christians laugh at us. What a plonker.
Not going to fall into the trap of passing any (other) judgement on him. I give Gail a hug, and leave to go to bed with paracetamol and a gallon of water.
It was my turn to preach at Outdoor Church on Tuesday. I say, “Preach” but it's a lot less grand than that really. Outdoor Church meets in Gloucester Park on Tuesday's, and is pretty much just that.
I'm nervous. The last time I preached it all ended in tears (mine). Our people are not pretty people, and sometimes the sheer hopelessness of their lives spills out as anger. I get it. Or, I got it, both barrels, and, 'fessing up, I deserved it.
So I'm sitting on the steps of the bandstand stilling my mind, quieting my heart ready for the service to start.
Kurt and Graham are letting off steam. Some Christian had told them they couldn't be friends with them because they're 'clients.' And they are angry. “They're fake.” Says Kurt. “Never met a true Christian!”
I don't intervene. If I had, I'd have said,
“We're ALL plonkers.”