Saturday, 27 August 2005

Late have I loved Thee..

"O Lord, do I love Thee. Thou didst strike on my heart with Thy word and I loved Thee.... But what do I love when I love Thee? Not the beauty of bodies nor the loveliness of seasons, nor the radiance of the light around us, so gladsome to our eyes, nor the sweet melodies of songs of every kind, nor the fragrance of flowers and ointments and spices, nor manna and honey, nor limbs delectable for fleshly embraces. I do not love these things when I love my God. And yet I love a light and a voice and a fragrance and a food and an embrace when I love my God, who is a light, a voice, a fragrance, a food, and an embrace to my inner man.... This it is that I love when I love my God...

That same voice speaks indeed to all men, but only they understand it who join that voice, heard from outside, to the truth that is within them. And the truth says to me: "Neither heaven nor earth nor any body is thy God." Their own nature says the same They see that the substance of a part is less than that of the whole. And now I speak to thee, my soul. Thou art my greater part, since thou quickenest the substance of my body by giving to it life, which no body can give to a body. And thy God is the life of thy life to thee....

Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new! Too late have I loved Thee. And lo, Thou wert inside me and I outside, and I sought for Thee there, and in all my unsightliness I flung myself on those beautiful things which Thou hast made. Thou wert with me and I was not with Thee. Those beauties kept me away from Thee, though if they had not been in Thee, they would not have been at all. Thou didst call and cry to me and break down my deafness. Thou didst flash and shine on me and put my blindness to flight. Thou didst blow fragrance upon me and I drew breath, and now I pant after Thee. I tasted of Thee and now I hunger and thirst for Thee. Thou didst touch me and I am aflame for Thy peace...."

Undoubtedly, I shall be writing more of my good friend Augustine in honour of his upcoming feast. For today, I (who only read this passage 100 times a year for the past three decades) am thinking that Augustine captured the essence of detachment in this passage. I'm sure it would have occurred to him that Jesus of Nazareth's curing the blind and deaf on earth, wonderful though it was, was an action more pointing to how divine grace can remove our own, figurative inability to hear and to see.

(Slight diversion which a medievalist cannot resist: Augustine would say that the Incarnation came about through Mary's hearing. Those more literal than Augustine would adapt this into fanciful and delightful pictures of the tiny Jesus-foetus sliding down a beam of light into Mary's ear as she encounters Gabriel... so, now we know how the virginal conception was managed...)

Now, shall I detach myself from mediaeval fancies. :) The very word 'detachment,' which was stressed by every great spiritual writer since the catacombs, always made me shiver a bit. Candidly, I have known a few religious in my day who used 'detachment' as a way to glorify their own coldness and indifference to others (God protect anyone from superiors who brag of their detachment... and indulge their cruelty saying it is 'good for the soul.') Far more commonly, and as anyone who's spent time in convents knows, the concept as explained in noviciate was (in practical application, not necessarily 'text') likely to produce a wimpled Stepford Wife. None of us had the slightest concept of detachment then - and my earlier confession about Augustine's words shows that, well into middle age, I'm only beginning to 'get it.' It seemed to mean that one loved no one, and insisted that one's own family did not really matter (even if we made the sacrifice, for their edification, of seeing them on visiting day.) It meant living with raging hunger yet pretending one did not want the apple - being dead on one's feet, and making sure one signed up to sit the vigil from 3-4 AM - of having an expressionless face that was supposed to be recollected but made one look more like a frightened, prissy little fool.

(By now, it is probably apparent that I was never the darling of novice mistresses, but that is another topic for another day.)

My own spiritual director (who shall have a seat in heaven next to Francis of Assisi for not giving up on me) speaks of detachment as being freed from distractions. "Late have I loved" even making the effort of being freed, though this is the true ascetic life. Ever since Satan whispered to Eve, "is it true you cannot eat of any tree in the garden?," distortion and fear are the main distractions. I know that I can be sent into a near panic, whilst offering prayers of gratitude for my solitude, fearing that no one will ever love me because God wants me behind a grille (of sorts), or that I'll lose my warmth and caring for others...

My rare display of humility this evening (...please, don't be so literal... I know full well that humility is not my strong point...) is intended for those readers (who write the loveliest e-mails) who are just getting past their honeymoon period in the life of prayer. (Don't think I should not like to recapture mine! However, I have had a sense, from dealing with my married friends, that honeymoons do fade, and that anyone seeking a perpetual one is soon acting like a half-wit. In the end, it is all about covenant and responsibility.) I can write of 'my' mystics, and of Francis, et al, see their insights, and believe every word. (That anyone, knowing Francis, could think that one's warmth, love, or passion will fade with growth in the spiritual life is amazing. I just hope, with all the sad state of the Near East at the moment, I do not take Francis' tack and try to convert modern day equivalents of the Sultan...)

Why is what is simplest beyond us? The best capsule course in ascetic theology which I have seen was Margaret Mary Funk's "Thoughts Matter in Practising the Spiritual Life." Using John Cassian's principles, she explains the gentle moderation that actually underlines clearing us from distraction. (Fledgling religious may skip this sentence: I am only beginning to see that it is work for three lifetimes. I have this vivid mental picture of how people who are drowning will struggle in such a fashion that they sometimes need to be knocked out for a companion to save their lives...)

Augustine always pined for the control of reason and will mankind would (in his estimation) have had in Eden. He ached for that intuitive longing for God's will, knowing how much we do fall short. The error which we all tend to make is to believe that there was a Paradise (in the sense of perfect bliss on earth.) We long for that form of Paradise - believing that a world without pain, suffering, evil, and so forth would make us respond to God's will. (Didn't work too well with Adam, did it?)

Sigh... I'm going nowhere, or perhaps in too many directions. "Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped..." Perhaps Augustine, even as early as the Confessions, had the inkling that (as Thomas Aquinas would later well express) it is the will which can choose and love. I'm only beginning to truly see this - and it is off-putting. God seems vague, remote, so incomprehensible that all there is can be silence.

...Silence is hardly my natural state. Quiet until tomorrow...

Sunday, 21 August 2005

The Sound of Music

Clearly, the sound of music is something which I could not go without for a day... but this post, uncharacteristically, refers to the dreadful musical "The Sound of Music." I appeared in a production of this play, as the Mother Abbess, some years ago. It was not the easiest role for me, given that the nuns in this show are along the lines of cartoon characters. During both "How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria?" and "My Favourite Things," I felt my dignity was severely compromised. But the director wanted an operatic singer for the "Climb Every Mountain," and I was happy to oblige.

The theatre company's director also happened to be a teacher in a Catholic, women's college, of which I was a graduate. As a treat for the nuns there, she had invited all of them (and it was quite a large number) to be guests at the first performance. They were lovely ladies - but led to two of my most uncomfortable 'stage moments'!

The first was during the scene where the stern Abbess is reminding Maria that disappearing on the mountain (...I'd like to see a convent where that could even happen, let alone be tolerated...) had caused great worry to the nuns. I am very short, have the cheeks of a cherub, and was perhaps 23 at the time, and it indeed was quite an effort to get my pint-sized self into the demeanour of an aged Austrian Benedictine. (As well, though any child could see that I am a marshmallow in ten seconds, I am somewhat stern looking now and then.) Well, when I (as the Abbess) informed Maria that she was going to be the Von Trapp governess, Maria's response was, "A Captain in the Navy? Oh, Reverend Mother, he'll be very strict!" The audience of nuns roared with laughter.

Yet the worst was yet to come. Silly though this show can be, it is far from that in the climactic scene where Maria speaks with the Abbess and acknowledges her love for the Captain. For those who have not seen the play, I'll mention that, at that point in the action, Maria has left the Von Trapp home, with no explanation, and has been at the abbey for several days, refusing to speak to anyone. (As is sadly the case with adaptations of the life of Christ and other historical incidents, the impact can be slightly less than adequate because everyone knows how this story turns out.) When the Abbess questions her, Maria, who still intends to be a nun, speaks of how her conflict is "torturing" her. Maria mentions that she would be "ready at this moment to make the vows..." The nuns in the audience broke into such uproarious laughter that I think both the actress playing Maria and I were a bit thrown!

To prevent this entry from being purposely useless, I shall add: it is a good idea to remember that perspective colours everything. :)

Wednesday, 17 August 2005

Group reunions

This shall be one of my more frivolous posts, though I'm sure I'll manage to tie it into some relevant matter along the way. I am at the age where thinking of the past generally falls into three categories. The first, which I call 'rose coloured glasses syndrome,' paints a vivid picture of one's earlier days as a time of esteem from others, happy times, and successes of every variety. I suppose this is all right, provided it does not make one's life seem either to have been a string of failures since or lead to the creation of a world where everyone whom one once knew is sitting in the evenings, reminiscing about how wonderful one was and what influence one had.

The second is regret for the past and all of one's mistakes. Oh, some of this is quite useful, in the appropriate dosage - I think even the general confession has its uses. But this approach tends to either cast one in the role of a villain when this was not the case - or to fill one with regret for missed opportunities which, in all likelihood, did not exist.

The third is nostalgia, which I'm sure was characteristic of mature years, and not a problem in itself, since shortly after mankind left Eden. (Pining for Paradise is an unequalled regret which, most fortunately, few of us, except for Augustine, would have imagined since.) There are many changes in the world which I sadly, even bitterly, regret, and I'm sure I am not alone. The only danger in nostalgia, when not taken to extreme, is that one may believe one could recapture the happiness by re-creating the circumstances of 30 years ago.

I have often said that, where many people in middle age and beyond have memories that are in 'photograph mode,' my own mind is a video camera. It is possible to look at a picture of a 'senior party' and remember it as an enchanting occasion - a prospect which is impossible if a video captured the image of one's having been in tears or telling jokes which one thought hilarious at the time.

I suppose that part of the reason I can miss things about the past without glorifying my youth is that my areas of special interest (humanities, music, theology and so forth) require many years to develop. I doubt I'll ever acquire wisdom, being far too romantic at heart, but know that those who do are only getting started at age 50. I valued maturity and still do, so I was spared the pain of weeping for my lost youth at 20, then living in a state of anxiety, at 40, that I may have lost my youthful beauty and charm.

I have never attended a group reunion, but know many people who have. It does contain an element, normally reserved to one's young adulthood today but nobly enshrined in the courtly love tradition of the Middle Ages, where the anticipation far exceeds the fulfilment. I'm sure we all remember the formal affair, masquerade party, whatever, which we so eagerly awaited at 16. I have noticed that reunions give promise of a delighted time with old friends (and rekindling of old friendships for today), seeing one's school chums share one's delight in what has transpired in one's life since, and, best of all for those with minds which are not only 'photographs' but taken with a series of complex filters, being reminded of how much one was admired by the others.

When others who have attended reunions tell me of it later, the most common comment is along the lines of 'after five minutes' (sufficient time to show photographs of one's children and grandchildren, and to perhaps mention one's current address, occupation, or cat's name) 'there was nothing to say.' I've known cases where, if "Alice" is aglow thinking of seeing "Shirley," her closest friend at 15, again, Alice will later be saddened to realise that Shirley has not thought of her in years, and does not even remember the time they shopped for silver shoes together.

Of course, sometimes to have people barely remember one is quite merciful. All too often, one indeed shall be remembered... and the memories consist of whatever one would most like to forget (and, indeed, probably did manage to forget.) I have no answer for this one, though it is a topic worthy of pursuit should I ever fully develop my philosophical sense: people not only tend to remember the worst of things about others, but seem to assume that the other will greatly enjoy being reminded of them. Memories of the more positive matters often backfire as well. One lady I knew, who was quite a beauty in her youth but is not particularly attractive today, was saddened at how several people said she 'used to be so pretty,' made the worse with the comment about 'how did she let herself go.'

Perhaps it does happen, but, to date, I have yet to hear of a reunion which led to joyous resumption of past friendships. (Cases where people actually have been in touch over the years, or have had continued involvement with a school, are in another category.) I suppose that, by the half century mark, we should be resigned to that, even when we liked people and enjoyed their company immensely, often our extensive social contact was an indirect result of being involved in the same school, organisation, or other pursuit. Yet I have known those who had such experiences as having a brief hello from a girl to whom they once proposed marriage.

Some of the people who were considered 'winners' during their youth (or who no one would ever have admitted were trying, given the need for group approval at that age) would be exasperating today, assuming they still are as they were then. I remember one fellow, actually quite a good comic actor, who could be hilarious to watch on stage. In social settings, he was always 'on,' and it was de rigeur to rave about just how much he was the best thing about a party. I am sure I am not the only one who found him tolerable for about five minutes. Every other person, it seemed, was merely a starting point for his ridicule, and perish the thought he was not at centre stage for every moment. Heaven knows what he is like today - but one can only hope that he is not still the sort who, during a performance of Frank Langella's 'Dracula,' would shout (at the critical climax when Dracula hurls an object and breaks the mirror in which his reflection cannot be seen) "Seven years bad luck!"

Much as we'd hate to admit it, we really never did know what others thought of us at that age. (We may not now, but that is another topic.) The devoted friends we try to remember from our teenage years were far more likely to be a fickle bunch. The obligatory laughter at the sort of clown I mentioned in the previous paragraph would turn to discussions of what a fool he was in a later conversation. My generation was not one for Victorian traditions of introductions, 'beaux,' and dance cards - and one knows full well what was said about the girl who was 'popular.' This is a mere fact of life, also as old as the earth, but, where we would not be likely to be surprised at this action in our friends' teenaged children, recognition could be sad if, since we were that age, we thought we'd had undying admiration and loyalty.

A few years ago, I saw an Internet discussion forum for 'baby boomers' advertised. I paid the site a visit, imagining fun in sharing memories of the Beatles, fashions, films, and the like. The reality was a collection of frumps, discussing such exciting and fun topics as 'preventative health care' and saving for retirement. I'd be totally out of place at a reunion. I tend to inwardly laugh at people who are trying to be impressive in any case, but would not be able to dispense the expected applause to anyone whose 'accomplishments' had to do with developing hypochondria, exploring the 'self help' aisle, or deciding to wage war against the evils of asparatame. Anyway, even assuming anyone had memories of when I was, for example, a very promising musician would be far more likely to either comment on how fat I am or (based on reunion stories I have heard from friends) remember the time I cried after a performance far more than the performance itself.

Lest this silly entry not contain at least one religious reference, I shall add that, one of these days (probably within a century or two), young scholars will be looking over accounts of things liturgical (or otherwise churchy) and wishing they'd been around during the 1970s. And well they might have such a feeling - because there indeed can be benefits from even the weirdest situations that are recognised only with hindsight. I wonder what they'll be thinking in 500 years? I've studied the mediaeval period in far too much depth not to wonder why people, much later, had happy dreams of knights and ladies... no Plague, no peasants' revolt, no sewage in the street...

Tuesday, 16 August 2005

Yet another silly fashion observation

Bear with me once again. :) Occasional lapses into the realm of silly are quite necessary to the spiritual life and any other, a fact sadly neglected since the demise of the miracle play and 'boy bishop.' I am in the midst of having a marvellous laugh at the concept of Wait Wear, of which I'd seen mention on another site. (Don't miss it - it should be your best laugh in weeks.) Apparently, many of the young interpret chastity in quite another manner than was traditional. Not that anything about lapses in chastity is new - but I do not recall, in my youth, that the version of not having sex that is ... similar to that used by Bill Clinton was considered particularly pure. Many of my generation - post-contraception, pre-AIDS - laid everything but the Channel Tunnel, but at least called a bonk a bonk.

"Wait Wear" is a selection of knickers with a message. What a fool I am... here I would have thought that women who were silly enough to think it appropriate to broadcast chastity (don't read my words here with uplifted eyebrows - see the Wait Wear site first) would equally broadcast such ... messages. Innocent that I am, I would have thought that those trying to be chaste would not have had anyone reading their underpants in the first place.

My love for fashion is no secret, even if my own sense is totally centred on personal style (which I'm sure, in my case, some would think weird - I know not all women my age would cherish the tie-dye velvet I'm wearing in the photograph.) My sense of justice also reminds me that comments from the middle-aged on the fashions popular with youth, which never were accurate, are particularly inappropriate from those of my generation. (I suppose I could sub-title this post "brought to you by the makers of 'evening hot pants.') Yet I have noticed a very recent and apparently popular trend, I'm sure encouraged by the fashion industry, that has me exceedingly puzzled. Though I doubt advertisements for this style use the phrasing that I shall employ, why is it suddenly considered attractive, and presumably alluring, for young women to walk the streets in their underwear? I saw a group of pretty young things this week, wearing underwear for a blouse and making certain that observers also had a clear view of their thongs.

This does not happen to be an expression of outraged modesty. Modest I am indeed - and I'm romantic enough to think that modesty would have the potential to be quite alluring properly used, not that I would have that goal. :) It is a sigh from an outraged fashion sense.

I am far from being any authority on things romantic, and such knowledge as I may possess is purely theoretical. It is my theory that silks and laces for lingerie could have great potential for making a woman feel more attractive, sensual, whatever. (Oh, good heavens, don't shake your head so! There is more than one meaning of sensual - and the sensual is important in any life. For those of us in 'anchorholds,' it centred on classical music, paintings, and aromatherapy baths.) I have the idea that such items as a pretty chemise can, in the appropriate circumstances, be quite valuable in the manner in which presenting a gift is all the more delightful when it is in lovely wrapping. (I have a vaguer sense that the male will have the exact same attitude towards the gift wrapping that people have towards the wrappings on other gifts, and use precisely the same action, but am not qualified to expound.)

Somehow, the gift wrapping loses its appeal when it is ten for a penny. The present then is placed on a level with the free samples of cheap bath gel that are passed out in front of stores.

I weep for this generation. It is not their morality that brings the tears, but the sad conviction that they have no style. ;)

Saturday, 13 August 2005

A most valuable Assumption

That pun is one of my worst, but I shall let it stand. I'm a bit worn - moving house is exhausting for the best of us, and the 'advice' (...that is, gloom of the 'always expect the worst' school, which people somehow so love to dispense) is more exhausting yet. I'm sure I shall be forgiven if I get a little creative in my thoughts about the feast of (take your choice) Saint Mary the Virgin - the Assumption of Our Lady - the Dormition. By all means, see Father Gregory's very insightful words on the subject. They are relatively brief, but capture more about what is essential in the ascetic vocation than I normally manage to fit on a ream of paper.

For all my love of the patristic writers, I know relatively little about Orthodoxy. (Most of that I learnt from Gregory, but that's another topic for another post. If I ever should drop out of minor stiff upper lip mode and decide to become totally Italian for a few posts, I'll undoubtedly start blubbering about my two co-contributors and how valuable they have been in my spiritual life to a degree that would be quite excessive - unless I chose not to write in English.) Yet a few things do strike me. In the western Church (Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and whoever else is Catholic out there), somehow the ascetic vocation is slightly embarrassing. :) I'm not about to expound here on the history of this (though, fear not, snippets will appear in later entries), but our preoccupation with original sin and fallen nature tends to bring images of hell and punishment. The East has an advantage in another area as well. I do not sense the uncomfortableness with the physical aspects of creation (the Incarnation at the top of the list) which always dims the Western perception of the Light of the World. (I cannot imagine that, were Edward Schillebeecx Orthodox, he'd ever have been acclaimed for reducing the Resurrection to the disciples' 'experience of forgiveness,' for example. But I don't want to be unkind... I've disliked his 'disincarnation' views ever since he said that monastic life could die out with a proper understanding of the theology of marriage... Get me another gin!)

For all my deep affection for Augustine, his preoccupation with our fallen nature left the western church with an uneasy approach to creation. (I'm not referring only to Augustine's using sexual images to illustrate just how far we had fallen. Unlike Augustine, that area is not what the mediaeval theologians would have called my 'principle defect.' However, I suppose Augustine's longing for a world where he'd have total control over his sexual urges, thereby not having passion compromise his use of reason and will at any time, is not so far from my own version, where everything is Victorian, romantic, tea gowns and champagne - no sweat, grunts, or the nuisance of such things as menstruation and labour pains. It is fortunate we both ended up celibates.) We believe creation is good, indeed, but that it could have been perfect - no pain, no earthquakes, etc. - had we not fallen. Thomas Aquinas (and don't think I don't love him) gave an impression that mankind, in falling, messed up the original plan, requiring the Creator to move to an alternate...

The Dormition, as Father Gregory explained, does not need to be connected to original sin, and to death as some sort of failure. All right, blame the Franciscans (my own Order) for the Immaculate Conception... got Aquinas on that one, did they not? :) But Franciscans, awkward though their preaching could be in catering to the popular market, always did emphasise the Incarnation (and our deification) more than concepts of atonement. They glorified Mary as one whose body was a tabernacle, and connecting the Dormition with the Immaculate Conception would not have had the element of salvation from hell fire and the like. (Be kind to Francesco in calling his body 'Brother Ass.' He was preoccupied with his sins, often excessively so, and was concerned with how he'd misused his own temple of the Holy Spirit.)

In all Marian devotion, there are two elements which must be considered. First, all beliefs about Mary are connected directly with Christology. Second, Mary represents the Church. This is not to say that I disbelieve in the literal truth of such dogmas which date from the early centuries of the Church. Yet I believe they have their depth only when we recall how Creation, magnificent but glorified all the more in Christ's assuming the nature of a creature, can be (I'll borrow this from the Orthodox, perhaps wrongly) an icon. Truths which are beyond us can be made clearer, with allowance for our human limitations, when expressed in the physical.

Mary's perpetual virginity, an embarrassment today to those who want to blame the doctrine for every sexual hangup and act of misogyny in history, is very powerful, if we remember that virginity (of the perpetual and committed, not 'true love waits' variety) is eschatological, pointing to that there is more to our existence than what is on earth alone. I'm not suggesting, of course, that belief in this dogma is essential in the manner that truths about Christ and the Trinity are - nor is it part of our creed. Yet what a wonderful image! In this virginity, Mary (who, you'll recall, always is an image of the Church), reminds us of the Church in eschatological expectation, waiting for all to be glorified at the parousia.

I cannot hope to match what Gregory wrote of the Dormition. However, it moves me deeply to think of Mary's being an icon yet again - a reminder of what is eternal, how we all can expect the resurrection, how our bodies shall be glorified in Christ.

I'm getting too disassociated here, so I suppose it is best to stop for the moment. Yet, when I get to the Eucharist next, I'm going to call the Dormition to mind when I recite, (I believe) "in the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting."

Awkward and brief tribute to Lady Poverty

Happy, indeed, is she to whom it is given to share this sacred banquet,
to cling with all her heart to Him.
Whose beauty all the heavenly hosts admire unceasingly,
Whose love inflames our love,
Whose contemplation is our refreshment,
Whose graciousness is our joy,
Whose gentleness fills us to overflowing,
Whose remembrance brings a gentle light,
Whose fragrance will revive the dead,
Whose glorious vision will be the happiness of
all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem.
-Clare of Assisi

Indeed, this life is unpredictable. I had fully intended to develop a (long overdue) essay on Clare, or, at the very least, to prepare a meditation for the blog. Yet my mind is rather muddled today. The strain of moving house is exhausting, but nothing compared to the images in my mind after watching today's world news, and wondering if a certain world leader is about to seek to use atomic warfare to prove how powerful he is.

I'm too weary to develop a full reflection, but, ever since Michael ('who is like unto God?') cast Lucifer from the heavens, why has the nature of created, intelligent beings always been twisted by the desire for power?

I remember, some years ago, some creative ramblings (the name of the book I do not recall) to the effect that Francis and Clare were rebellious kids, somewhat on the order of 1960s protesters. (That I should like to see more spirit in protest, and not on 'safe' topics such as eliminating smoking, I shall save for another thread.) Though both, to borrow the apt words of Mother Mary Francis ("A Right to be Merry"), walked at right angles to the world, my inclination is to think that Clare, like myself, was quite a sanitised hippie. :)

Clare's embrace of poverty, at first glance, can seem chilling to most. I did not grow up in extreme poverty (though my parents had), and always had necessities of life - though I dare say not what those from more prosperous homes would have considered 'necessary.' I suppose I always was puzzled by those who devote themselves to the pursuit of wealth - they never seem satisfied, and will make anything take second place to having more material goods. But poverty, even when one was not dying in the street, had a bleak side. It meant having no choices - even those like myself, with university degrees, seldom had the ability to use true gifts, because of the pressing need to take any job just to survive. It too often became just working and working and working - not in a creative or satisfying mode, not even with avenues for service. Everything was sheer survival.

The core of vowed poverty is eschatological - with the lives of those so consecrated as icons to the oft-forgotten truth that there is more to creation than this earth. The poverty of the Poor Clares was (and is) beyond that which most would care to embrace. My own convent days (though I was not cloistered), for all of their good aspects, nonetheless involved constant, ravenous hunger - weakness and fatigue - taking three times as long to complete (for example) simple household tasks because, by the time a cloth was granted the high status of 'rag,' it was transparent.

Sorry to make this post so miserable - that is not my intention. I am trying to express that Franciscans really do 'live poor.' At its best, this is very liberating.

The 'other side' of poverty, and one which can grow only quietly (extremes destroy it), is gratitude. It tends to foster an awareness of all of the good of creation, and thankfulness for the simple things we do have.

I am beginning to see that gratitude is the way to the sort of detachment that is holy. That is a topic I must pursue... but, again, that may take another quarter century (if I live that long.) The convent version of detachment meant pretending that the bit of time with family on visiting day was a sacrifice for their sake - excessive rigidity and formality - cultivating the expression of a sphynx to give the impression of being 'recollected.' May I know what any of that means before I die! (And know all the more afterward.)

Blessings for the feast of Clare.

Thursday, 11 August 2005

Argue 'by the rules'

I was looking at Father Gregory's blog today, and would encourage those who wish to see an Orthodox (capital O) viewpoint regarding the C of E decision to ordain female bishops to visit.

There are many reasons why one might support the ordination of women or not (and since priesthood is an extension of episcopate rather than vice versa, it follows logically that, if women can be priests, they can be bishops). The path of this argument, which position one chooses, is well worn, so I'll not explore it today. My 'topic' is two-fold. First, by all means argue any theological point in creation - but use the proper basis. Second, do not hide behind my 'old friend' Freud and decide that those with a point of view differing from one's own are using their contrary position as a 'subconscious' cloak for a defect on their part. (Positions on the order of 'Suchandsuch surely would agree with me were s/he not flawed' are odious.)

Individuals who support or oppose the ordination of women may have perfectly solid theological grounds (based in sacramental theology, ecclesiology, or both). I myself have never seen a reason that women could not be ordained, though priests, of either sex, need to be accepted as such by the Church - there is no 'right' to priesthood. (I mention this only because I read something by Andrew Greeley, an occasional bag of wind who is intelligent enough to know better than to make such statements, which pleaded that the reason US nuns cannot be priests is that they cannot violate the sacred 'separation of church and state' and sue their employer for discrimination...) Yet I find it highly irritating when anyone who opposes women's ordination is tarred with a brush of 'he uses theological grounds - but they are only rationalising - he subconsciously is a mysogynist.'

As I've treated of in other posts, I believe that self-deception is the key reason that any one of us falls short of virtue. Indeed, we do need to explore our personal motives for our actions. Yet deciding what is going on in another's 'subconscious' (is that possible? not that I really care) is nonsense.

I frankly am sick to death of quasi-theological arguments which fit everything into one mould. For example, the Roman Catholic positions on contraception, priestly celibacy (in the Latin Rite), the ordination of women, and divorce all have different reasons - they were not cooked up in a vicious kettle of 'let us see what we can do to oppress women today.' (I am a mediaevalist and have studied the patristic era in depth, so this must not be taken to mean I am ignorant of misogyny. But it must not be assumed that Rome opposes divorce because patristic hermits, who had complex ideas about our growing closer to God if we only could be like angels, saw women as a threat. You'll ask what the logic is in that... my point is that there is none.)

It is fine with me if the last sound on this earth before the last judgement is that of well-reasoned theological arguments. (At the general judgement itself, I suppose, the last words will be largely either "but the bugger had it coming to him," "I thought I was justified," or "but we didn't really do it.") Yet I wonder if my own purgatory would be to sit in the company of those who play to the popular 'market' - spouting political correctness, pious sentimentality, or clichés. Using the words of the Bible to justify what the Bible says - using 'fidelity to the magisterium' to justify the same - tucking controversial issues (and I mean 'issue' in the true sense, not as the current and annoying euphemism for 'problem') into a package of "oppression of women" or other politically correct jargon.

If one's actions indeed make one guilty of oppression, it does not matter whether the one oppressed is male or female. Cruelty is not less so because the target has light skin. The poor do not suffer less because of their race or sex. Critical (or fatal) diseases are not less important, or less the reason for compassion and service, if they do not happen to be breast cancer.

Hating or oppressing another for any reason is deplorable - please do not think that I am minimising the evils of true racism, sexism, and the like. But such hatred must not be assumed because one's views do not coincide with what is currently considered 'inclusive.'

...sigh... Had God not placed certain gifts in a flawed vessel (I'm referring to health, not sex!), I might have been a wonderful priest... :) .... but I would never be envious of anyone who had the peculiar burdens of being a bishop.

Monday, 8 August 2005

I know you believe you understand what you think I said...

but I am not sure you realise that what you heard was not what I meant.

I cannot recall where I read the line I used to begin this entry - it sounds like the sort of thing I must have seen printed on a shirt or something. Yet, though it momentarily seems silly, it reminds me of a situation I have seen on countless occasions. People seldom really listen, and confuse 'listening' with just picking up on key words in order to share their response.

In "The Spiral Staircase," Karen Armstrong writes of symptoms she had during and after her time in convent life, and about which she consulted various psychiatrists. Karen is not mentally ill at all, but has temporal lobe epilepsy, and her symptoms were 'textbook' for that problem. Yet the psychiatrists, who undoubtedly could have spouted off the symptoms for temporal lobe epilepsy with no provocation, not only did not pick up on the ailment but would not let Karen discuss anything else of her choosing. Freud has been king for nearly two centuries (yes, often in the church as well - what on earth did this man do that made him so influential?). Since Karen entered a convent at age 17, and remained there for seven years, she was immediately 'boxed' as having problems stemming from childhood, etc., etc.. After all, what could be a greater symptom of mental illness than becoming a nun?

I am no expert on Freud, though, from what little I do know of him, I dare say he was more twisted than most mental patients. Who, for the past century, has been able to even write honestly of the human condition, without wondering what Freudian interpretation readers would give the words? Lord have mercy, I can just imagine if Julian of Norwich saw some shrink and spoke of her visions of Christ's blood. (Christ's blood, I must add, does not revolt me... besides its being a symbol of redemption, I recall that I just drank some this morning.)

Within the pastoral realm, it is most unfortunate that 'boxing' people, and deciding that 'this must mean that,' is no less common than it is elsewhere. Few people would understand my life of prayer - and, indeed, even the devout would see it as negative. After all, why would someone with my education not be after making the most money possible? It is assumed that celibates (well, when it is not assumed they are crazy - being a heavy woman, I've been asked if I'm hiding behind a wall of fat because I'd been raped - and there is not a word of truth in that!) have 'nothing to do' if they are not constantly chained to office desks. (Scholarly pursuits, apparently, are 'doing nothing.') Honestly, there are days when I think I'll spend forty years in purgatory if one more person tells me I need "something to do." (I dare say I 'do' more in a day than most in a week, even if it has not lined my pockets with gold.)

I apologise, dear friends, for the poor quality of my writing at the moment. I'm in the midst of moving to a new flat. Though I am quite satisfied with the place I found, the exhaustion of all that goes into moving is compounded by puzzlement over why so many people just love to see the dark side. I've heard, just this week, every possible thing that can go wrong. Pessimistic by nature, the last thing I need is fuel for the fire - but one question I'll take to the grave is why people take such pleasure in trying to make others more tense and worried.

I've been a scholar for many years, and there is nothing I have learnt more than that one never has all of the answers... more learning means more questions. I think, deep down, that those who do not listen but spout clichés, and those who love to trouble others, would like to be thought of as having superior knowledge. Why is the implicit condescension not apparent to them?

People who are trying to convince me that all sorts of catastrophes are ahead, or that the right doctor could cure me of my religious commitment, are an annoyance. I have stuffed none of them up the chimney, largely because I never did have a fireplace. Yet, again to refer briefly to the pastoral realm, it is extremely dangerous to make generalisations or 'box' people. All communication and understanding is cut off as a result.