Saturday, 30 December 2006

Hi-ya, Monkeydoodles!

What has happened - that I cannot write some marvellous reflection on Thomas Becket today? Well, I suppose that I occasionally must go from the sublime to, if not the ridiculous, at least the less than ethereal. Christmas is a wonderful season, but, I suppose inevitably, it can lead one who is well past the halfway mark of life to nostalgia, memories of good times that cannot be recaptured. How often I miss the 1970s - when I would have had no shortage of others with whom to share laughter, tobacco, a few drinks (well, for me - some of my companions had far more than a few), steaks and plum pudding and the like.

It is rather hard, at my age (since I am not old), to see that a number of ones friends have died, and that others have been drawn far away, not by conflict but by circumstances. This Christmas is a lonely one for me, because I am far from most of my friends (for reasons I'll not get into here.) But, on another level, the fact remains that the baby boomer generation have largely evolved into overly earnest, conservative, fearful frumps. I was trying to divert myself from being a bit down, and found a 'baby boomer' site, at which I'd hoped to see humour, memories of the Beatles and tie dye and protests... and what I found were endless posts on health and retirement savings, and, for those who got a late start at parenthood, "our children." (Apparently, 'our children' are eternal infants who need to be protected from all of the world - though I, the most innocent of creatures, was more sophisticated when I was five.)

So, if I cannot be with most of those whom I love, I can still share the memories - and this of people who were not frumps. :) I am thinking of Tom right now - a dear friend from thirty-odd years ago, and indeed a man I loved. (We had a number of good times - but he left me in the dark because of a maddening habit of inviting my younger sister along on occasions which otherwise would have been very nice 'dates.') Tom was a sentimentalist - the sort who would begin crying over Christmas songs (especially after a bit of wine.)

I'm remembering one New Year's Eve, which we celebrated in my home. It was quite lavish (though no one else besides us was there, save for my omnipresent younger sister and one of her boy friends.) Tom was from a family of six children, and the age difference between him and his youngest brother was enough for them to have been father and son. Tom thought the baby was the most wonderful, beautiful child on earth (a topic which was his constant megillah.) At midnight, Tom phoned his mother - and it happened the baby (aged perhaps six months) had awakened. I still remember Tom, weeping with sentimental fervour, speaking to the baby over the phone, beginning with, "Hi-ya, Monkeydoodles!"

In case this sounds like mockery in any sense, be assured it is nothing of the kind. I wish I had someone capable of being in a condition to say Hi-ya, Monkeydoodles, on New Year's Eve this year. (Of course, another dear male friend, whom I rarely see but whose company I enjoy immensely, does manage to weep a bit at the thought of Mary Poppins and "Feed the Birds, Tuppence a Bag." I'd love for him to drop by...)

Perhaps part of why I mention this is that my avid devotion to prayer, theology, and the like has no element of Calvinism - I believe the pleasures of the earth are gifts of God, and that our attraction for them need not be feared because of suppositions about our 'depravity.' My life indeed has its ascetic side, but this in a sense of removing distractions from love of God or neighbour, not excessive deprivation, certainly not punishment.

I wish to raise a glass to those whom I love, living and deceased, with whom I have shared good times. Any of you who might be reading this blog - know that I cherish the memories, and wish they had not faded into the past. Cheers.

Thursday, 28 December 2006

Christmas Musing

The link in the title is to Pope Benedict's sermon from Midnight Mass this year. This being a time of year when, between reflection, prayer, sentimentality, waiting for Father Christmas, and so forth, anything, including such a delightful sermon, can led me to record vaguely related thoughts. :)

Here is an excerpt from the sermon:
"God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenceless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practise with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him....The Son himself is the Word, the Logos; the eternal Word became small – small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the Word could be grasped by us. In this way God teaches us to love the little ones. In this way he teaches us to love the weak....How are we to love him with all our heart and soul, when our heart can only catch a glimpse of him from afar, when there are so many contradictions in the world that would hide his face from us? This is where the two ways in which God has "abbreviated" his Word come together. He is no longer distant. He is no longer unknown. He is no longer beyond the reach of our heart. He has become a child for us, and in so doing he has dispelled all doubt. He has become our neighbour, restoring in this way the image of man, whom we often find so hard to love."

I believe that Benedict is one of the greatest theologians of the past century. He could deliver a talk on the Incarnation which could win applause from every doctor of the Church in the heavenly courts. Yet here he is writing as "Papa," and indeed, for a moment, practically sounds like a Franciscan. (For one of my favourite recollections of a friar's sermon at Christmas, see this past post. ) God's 'becoming small' and being 'no longer distant' has many implications, and I shall mention a few ideas (more feelings... at Christmas, I allow myself to display those publicly) which entered my own mind.

Francis of Assisi's devotion to the 'babe of Bethlehem,' honoured to this day in the nativity scenes in parishes and elsewhere, is well known. Some of his contemporaries note that, when he spoke of the poor child in the manger, Francis would be so moved that he would begin to dance for joy. Personally, and nearly always, I prefer the gospel of John to Luke or Matthew. I feel the tears and awe far more at the image of "In the beginning was the Word..." than at thoughts of mangers and the ox and ass (possibly because I'm a city girl who shrinks at the smell of animals and at how dreadful it would be to give birth in a stable.)

I love my Franciscan Order dearly, but my intellectual side (which predominates - I have plenty of feelings, but do not trust them) :) always did concede that, popular and widespread though Franciscan preaching was and is, it tends to reduce the Incarnation to a babe in a manger and a desolate man on a cross. The Logos can get lost somewhere. But 'the Logos' can often be too remote for us, where a helpless child, a Galilean carpenter, bread and wine which somehow is His body and blood, can speak to the heart.

My own spirituality tends towards the apophatic. It is inconvenient at times - I should like to tell Jesus of my woes and have him embrace me, but I am left with the Logos in a cloud of unknowing. I believe every word of Christology and doctrine, but don't think we can understand what it means. As I've said in the past, I have no notion of who God is, yet believe I received his body and blood this morning. It inspires awe, adoration, worship indeed, but it can be qutie lonely. In the very awareness of how beyond us is true perception of divinity, God can seem very far away.

I have no idea what the total connection is here, but I shall share an experience which is loosely connected to this general post. Yesterday, I received a wonderful birthday surprise. A dear friend sent me a collection of CDs, recorded by an order of Sisters of which I'd never heard (but whose voices were angelic), which included many a popular hymn from my youth. I'm a musicologist, trained as an operatic singer, and, were I to remain totally 'true' to this background, I'd have to say the music (though not its performance) was dreadful. (I'm not going to do so - bear with me a moment.) Most of it was a combination of poetry which could come from the hands of Father Faber or Victorian ladies with vapours, and music which all calls to mind "Come Back to Erin Mavaurneen."

Listening to this music brought me to tears (and those which spring from warmth, memories, and even that sentimentality which scholars and musicians are supposed to eschew. I'm giving myself permission to record this publicly because even Papa Benedict did not wince at "God becoming small.") It removed the remoteness of the Logos for a moment (though I cherish the Logos immensely), and brought back memories of a God who eased our pain, wished the adoration with the warmth of a little child. "Speak the word of comfort; my spirit healed shall be." "How can I love Thee as I ought? And how revere this wondrous gift, so far surpassing hope or thought?" "Of all friends, the best thou art. Make of me thy counterpart."

It just occurred to me, only in writing this, that those simple hymns captured a great deal of what 'it's all about.'

Happy and Blessed Christmas.

Saturday, 25 November 2006

Sailing on the wide accountancy - a Christmas story

(Apologies to Monty Python - but 'sailing on the wide accountancy' is probably not the worst pun you'll hear from me today. If you wish to see more profound words about Advent and Christmas, click my archives for November and December of 2005.)

Yes, it is awful but inevitable - with one month till Christmas, I once again am pining for boughs and holly (the latter not to be brought in because it would be the cat's snack). I long for stacks of presents (more for the love they show than their financial value, but one who is in my state of life, and relatively poor, just loves having a few items which are not bare necessities but are fun. The first thing I bought with my inheritance money was a cheese.) I'm already figuring out how to most lovingly, tastefully decorate my tiny tree and wreaths with the cherished ornaments I've collected through the years, many of which are attached to memories. Yet this week was already ruined, because, for the first time in 2006 (undoubtedly the first of many), I heard someone say that "Christmas is only for the children."

Of course, as my readers know, I have no addiction whatever to children, but I do think it unlikely that they understand the Incarnation or parousia, so I'm wondering how Christmas could be 'just for them.' I do know, and this with certainty, that none of them could possibly cherish their presents as much as I do. For me, time with friends, being remembered, perhaps having a friend with greater means give one a treat they know one would love but cannot afford, calligraphing Christmas cards to send blessings to those whom one loves, all are very important to the Advent and Christmas seasons. I do not have nostalgia over a bunch of (to borrow my late friend John's term) sticky little bastards who are pretending to believe a mythical creature brings them all they want... because who could disappoint them if they really believe this?

Admittedly, I'm an oddity for my family. (Maybe that was already obvious, but bear with me as I explain.) Their approach to Christmas, as to everything else, had an extreme degree of pragmatism - common to southern Italian peasants, who have refined the pragmatic to an art. Sorry to say, though they indeed were very concerned with family, and generous people when someone was in serious need (they'd have worked three jobs if their kids were needy), holidays and gifts were pure bother and obligation.

I shall explain the details, for the sake of the uninitiate. (Excuse me - I coin words when I am upset, and few things get my romantic back up more than that old "Christmas is for the children.") We did receive some presents (including underwear in our stockings) from our parents, but other family members (1)gave only to children, with one becoming disqualified once one was of age to be employed, (2) gave only money gifts, which were immediately turned over to one's father, never to be seen again, and (3) had a dreary system of accounting which not only took any spirit of love and joy from giving but... which I shall explain.

Presents were in no way based on love, what item might delight the recipient, or that poor Aunt Lizzie might go into gushes of pleasure over a cheese. There were no 'gifts' - only loans. So, if you are my sister and have three children, I owe a certain amount per head to the kids (depending on the family, there may not be anything given to one's siblings who are past employment age), and 'you' owe my kids that same amount back. Deplorable! Had there been a concept of Father Christmas, I suppose an accountant might have donned his costume to manage the books. (Of course, if there were anything left over... that would be capital.)

My generation of the family, some of whom ended up comfortably middle class, sometimes were a source of distress, purely because they messed up the balance sheet. My dad's family had no taste for the aesthetic, certainly no love for luxuries (by "luxury" here I mean a bar of Yardley soap when another brand was less expensive by pennies). Anything that was not an absolute necessity was a 'waste.' Presents they might receive, useful and appropriate though they were, became a burden. First, the value had to be calculated to determine how much was 'owed back.' Second, the gift might be worth more than one had intended to give, and therefore was seen as placing the recipient under an excessive obligation. (Little things could unbalance the system. Bring someone a box of strawberries, knowing she loves them, at a time when no account receivable was on the books, and this caused undue stress until the perceived debt was paid.) Third, and this perhaps worst of all, Melillos (excepting a few... one of whom writes the blog) had an attitude of "if I have a cardigan already, I do not need another, much less a pretty shawl." Ergo, the person who gave them the lovely cardigan or shawl was seen as giving the recipient the burden of taking it back.

I was just looking about my flat, thinking of a few presents which I cherish, so much so that just looking at them warms me with the glow of friendship (and I haven't even had a sherry today.) One friend, who knows I love royal memorabilia, has sent me items from every monarch from Victoria's day onward. I have a wonderful medieval plaque another gave me for a housewarming gift - and which my friend knows full well I could not afford to have in my payables section. I have lots of things I love, which most of my family would have considered wasteful. In fact, just those remembrances I cherish most would have prompted my dad to tell a friend, "don't send me anything." He would have thought this was proper, so no one had the obligation to reciprocate.

On another note, I believe that adults tend to greatly overestimate the delight they think they remember from childhood, or which kids experience now. (Well, granted, I doubt too many kids fall asleep with visions of underwear dancing through their heads...)There is an Internet forum on which I participate, and I'm sure within a week or two there shall be the annual whinge contest ("I don't need all the presents, people should just give them to charity where they would do some good.." - as if the love for friends is worthless.) Others will want to eliminate adult presents so the children have everything - though those who start this usually make it obvious that their kids have a great deal coming to them already. Others, thinking their kids have too much, will want to ruin the kids' Christmas by having no presents or dinner and spending the day in a homeless shelter. (Yes, I spent seven Christmases cooking for the homeless, but I was a middle aged Franciscan Sister.) I wish they'd focus on gratitude rather than guilt.

Do they really think it's 'all for the children'? (I hope not - I'd like a few presents this year...) Or is it just nostalgia for a time when (at least in memory) one had a chance of getting something one wanted? Most of the people who go on like this are in a situation totally foreign to me: there seems to be nothing at all they need, and nothing much they want (at least, not that they could not obtain if they wished.) The few things for which they might pine (a new Rolls, perhaps?) obviously are not going to be in their stockings, so they resent the gifts which others' love might prompt because they 'have no value.'

My family was far from over-privileged. Yet they did not even have the joy of appreciating what they were given, because it was turned into a dreary obligation. The well-heeled depress me all the more. My family's approach was not joyous, but, in their simple way of seeing things, it meant guidelines for obligations. Hearing people moan 'give it to charity' when the reason behind this is that they have a great deal and have no hopes of getting the Hope diamond in their stockings is somehow all the more bleak.

Thursday, 9 November 2006

So little is really in records

One with my passion for history always would be sadly aware that there is a good portion of it that one can never know, because the majority of people affected would not have been so important that there words would be recorded. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I often wish I had a gift for writing fiction. There is much I could have treated of in a novel (pretending, of course, that no one in it was 'real') about the religious life in my earlier years. Much, which I heard at 'workshops,' read in articles one could never locate in an archive, or, most of all, observed personally and heard in conversations with many Sisters and friars, one would not find in official documents.

Yesterday, I received an e-mail about a blog entitled John One Five, which is maintained by a priest in California. I am not acquainted with him, and, though his blog is interesting, some of the views expressed would differ from my own. There are matters of which he writes of which I would have no particular knowledge. Yet I did want to note here that it is worth a visit, to see (for example) the struggles of one who is dealing with a crisis within his sister church. I'll comment no further on the content - but did admire the soul searching expressed.

Wednesday, 8 November 2006

Generation gaps

The heading on this post is not to suggest that I believe there ever have been anything except generation gaps. Since ancient Rome (at least, as far as documents to which I have access show - I cannot read cuneiform, but it must be there as well), each generation fears a moral collapse of the next, and cries out how dreadful things have become. The business about "our children" needing protection is much later in its current incarnation, but the sentiments must predate Alexander the Great. And now ++Rowan is saying children are forced to mature too quickly. (Well, I suppose I'm sympathetic, being his contemporary. Our generation showed little desire to mature at all, and I'm not sure we have.)

The trouble with many of my own generation, and even more so with those who are perhaps in their 30s today, is that many of them got started late with having children. Too many are so fearful of their children being corrupted or harmed that they create a magical, idyllic view of childhood, from which no one should emerge until it is time to receive one's Masters, and tremble to think that their son of 12 does not believe in Santa Claus, or that their teenaged daughter has noticed the existence of boys. I gather that many people have such paranoid fears that everyone past puberty is a paedophile that they fear having kids (including those who of the age when, in my mother's day, they may have been married) out of their sight for ten seconds.

My life has been light-years away from being wild. Yet, compared to the over protective, 'let her be a child' (at 16), standards of some parents today, one would think I was something bordering on licentious. (I am a shocking example for children, of course - especially when I do not happen to be in church or the library, where I am about 75% of the time. I smoke, drink a bit of wine, do not consider Shakespeare or Chaucer to be offensive.) Then again, many of my generation indeed were involved with much wilder pursuits than my own, and I suppose that they have mental pictures of how their mistakes (who has made none?) harmed them.

The Victorians made much of childhood innocence, of course - I suppose that the little ones, just having come from heaven, resembled a pretty version of angels or nymphs and could satisfy romantic visions. Yet I'm surprised that the Archbishop of Canterbury (who is in my age group and who, like myself, has been known to retain religious commitment and respectability) recently preached on not letting children 'grow up too fast.' I would hate to see this ever happen again, but, again in my parents' time, many a youth of 14 was already employed in the factories. Amongst lower class people, marriages before 20 were hardly unusual. My own impression, frankly, is that too many of the youth today are not 'growing up too fast' - they are not being permitted to grow up at all.

When I was very young (in fact, before I even was a teenager), I often discussed neighbourhood happenings or items in the news with friends. Unless I have lapsed into senility and my memory is totally gone, the young could converse about the less-than-pretty side of life with a realism which those who want to paint them as flower faeries would deny. I was - and am - more innocent than average (more because of my own romantic inclinations towards the ethereal than because of ignorance), yet I was not troubled by knowledge of the full scope of the human condition. In fact, those who pretended to be shocked at everything often were the ones to watch - it was calculated, to win the approval of adults.

I'm inclined to agree with Augustine - if children get into fewer messes than adults, it is more weakness of limb than purity of heart. Kids can be very cruel, deceitful, delighted with others' misfortune, etc., etc.. The childlike innocence seems more a cherished myth of adults than anything about reality.

I'm going to be silly for a moment, and recall my own fearful mother's steps to keep me from turning into what I believe at one time was called a 'flaming youth.' (It's funnier if one realises that, then as now, my pursuits were cultural and intellectual, and I spent a good deal of time in church. I later would become a nun.) I had a curvy figure - the sort which resembles a sack of cantaloupes at 50, but quite attractive in one's first youth - which I sought to flatter when I made my clothes. Chip, who (without understanding or seeing their inadequacies) occasionally dipped into the 'wisdom' of armchair psychologists, was troubled because, according to said charlatans, a young woman is supposed to be embarrassed about, and try to hide, her breasts. Though mine were hardly on display, indeed my clothes were designed to set off the curves - so I suppose that tagged me as one who was looking to bonk the neighbourhood.

I smiled, when I read Susan Howatch's "Glamorous Powers," at how well she captured how generation gaps can be huge in relation to fashion. Jonathan Darrow, hero of that novel, enters his second marriage when he is well over 60, and his new wife is slightly younger than his own children. Jonathan, prior to meeting Anne, spent 17 years in a monastery, which followed time in military service in India. He has not been in the company of women for a full generation - and styles in 1938 are drastically different from those in 1915. Anne, whom he initially takes for 45 (she is 30), is intentionally frumpy because she's had a bad time at the hands of men after her money. Ruth, Jonathan's daughter, is dressed fashionably - but Jonathan finds Anne to be elegant, where Ruth's high heels, lipstick, and curled hair he finds 'cheap.'

My own mother, though well dressed and impeccably groomed, had a fashion sense which stopped around 1940. (Her only concession to later developments was wearing trousers, which she preferred because she was always cold.) In Chip's time, women wore lipstick, but, if they wore eye makeup at all, it was only mascara, and that only for evening. Any other makeup was supposed to be undetectable, and was used solely to hide the effects of aging. If a woman coloured her hair, it was a secret on a par with the plans for the D-Day invasion. Perish the thought one actually changed one's hair colour, even if only to recapture the more flattering shades one had ten years earlier. Colour (again, a secret on a par with sneaking opium) was only for covering grey hairs.

My generation, of course, wore colourful, dramatic eye makeup - day and night. (One without it was either a plain Jane or trying to be prepubescent... with the rare exception of those who wore neither makeup nor shoes and had just changed their names to Star Glow.) We had great fun with hair colour - green mascara - and so forth. Did my mother, who wanted me to wear no makeup and have my hair chopped like a baby's, really think she was fooling me when she'd pretend to fashion magazine terminology and say, with what was supposed to be appropriate dramatic emphasis, "I like The Natural Look." In truth, she feared both that I'd be thought a tart (young men are equipped with radar, and there was no danger that I'd be any sort of blip in that department) and that I was "growing up too fast" (when my problem was that, since my full height was very short, I was often mistaken for being much younger because those of taller stock thought I was still growing.) More so, she feared that others would think she was making me grow up too fast. (My mother, herself, never did grow up - and she lived to be 84.)

Her much older sister, Mary (who first saw the light of day circa 1903), was more intelligent than the other sisters, and indeed had quite a flair for fashion in her day. As is often the case when one sibling has gumption, interests, and intelligence beyond that of the others, Mary was the family oracle. I loved Aunt Mary, but often had to stifle a giggle when she would show me how to 'sit' - the way girls were taught who went away for 'finishing.' (I never did ask her where she met any of them... I knew it was nowhere near the old neighbourhood, but I digress.) Indeed, the pose she demonstrated may have been flattering with the floor length skirts of 1915, but, in my own time (or even my mother's), it would have made one seem artificial and affected.

Mary's own daughters were quite a bit older than I. It did not occur to my mother or theirs that their not having worn eye makeup during the 1950s did not mean that they were the 'nice little girls' where I was the budding slut. Or that the awful socks women wore during and after the war were a fad prompted by silk's being unavailable, not the mark of the perpetual sweet child. But it made my mother fear criticism all the more. My cousins (to whom I was and am close, by the way) would brand me (the daughter of the 'baby sister' of the family) as the 'little cousin' in perpetuity. To this day, I still am viewed as a precocious child. Seeing me in nylons, lipstick and the like was a shocker, though most of my school chums would have thought me to be a late bloomer. (I am not sure I ever did bloom....)

My suggestion to parents of today would be to remember one's own youth - and stop expecting young adults to behave as if they were not out of the cradle. Then again, that shows my own innocence still. Probably most of those who are fretting indeed do remember their own youth...

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

Smashing the "Rolex"

In my travels, I find, as most urban creatures do, that one encounters delays with the train or bus, or has 'waiting room' time before appointments. I therefore often have the disadvantage of reading whatever materials are at hand. (Serves me right - I should always be sure to have a book with me - but most of mine are a bit large to fit in my bag.)

I cannot recall in which magazine I read this gem, but it incorporated two of the least attractive qualities one may have. First, though I am all for 'causes,' and have a number of my own, I dislike when a cause is (1) illustrative of having little common sense and (2) a preoccupation which one inflicts on others. Second, as my readers know I have little tolerance for those who do not mind their own business - nearly as little as for those who do not tell them to go play in traffic.

The woman who was more or less honoured by the media exposure is so troubled by 'fake brand names' that one would think life, death, and salvation depended on this. She proudly spoke of how a friend of hers purchased a 'counterfeit' designer watch. This meddling pest brought in a hammer and would not leave until her friend smashed it. (Nowadays, one must be careful with figures of speech, lest anyone shout 'violence' and call for police - so please understand that what follows is purely a figure of speech. Had anyone pulled that nonsense with me, I would have - figuratively speaking - smashed her.)

I am fully aware, of course, of rules about intellectual property (I was not a web designer for nothing) and copyright, trademark and so forth. But the 'crusader' whom this article sadly profiled seemed little acquainted with the realities of life. She seemed to have an idea that cheap plastic imitations of Gucci handbags were taking huge profits away from Gucci.

My idea of an expensive handbag is... well, on a par with what one might pay for a pub lunch, without even considering the cost of the pint. Yet, being a working class kid, it does seem to me that those who buy the plastic "Gucci" would never be so stupid as to mistake it for an original. (Once, a cousin gave my dad a "Rolex" imitation as a joke. Not only was it clearly a cheap imitation, but indeed a fine joke, because no one who has the real thing was wearing it with a grocer's apron.) Viewing both sides of the issue, I am inclined to doubt that those who pay a fortune for a genuine Gucci would have the thought, "Oh, here is a plastic imitation for about the cost of Tea Tree and Mint Bath Gel ... I think I'll pick up one of these and not spend what I would have on the real one."

On the rare chance that anyone out there thinks the faux model (it always amuses me when people who do not know the meaning of the word are impressed with that adjective...) will fool anyone - that is impossible. I have no counterfeit 'designer' things, but do have rather a nice wardrobe, which is largely a tribute to my having a good hand with a needle and not sparing the starch and iron. I once walked through Harrods, impeccably dressed (by my standards), and no one mistook me for a real customer. (Maybe I should have borrowed dad's "Rolex.") On the happy occasion when I managed to amass enough travel miles to have an upgrade to business class, and sat in the Club World lounge savouring the sandwiches and gin, one of the staff delighted me by bringing me a tray of wonderful snacks from the First Class lounge. She obviously had similar class origins to my own, and had recognised the common one and given me a treat. No one, I'm sure, mistook my sueded rayon for real silk. (And I talk posh and all...)

Nagging friends means that one is not a true friend in the first place. Save the messages. Refrain from ego games along the lines of 'I know better than you.' Don't mistake a playful action for fraud (on the part of a buyer.) And leave the policing to those who are in that business.

As a side note... even if I could afford designer items, I doubt I'd wear them. I have no desire to walk around with emblems and such, becoming a walking commercial for the designer.

Odd thoughts about Nostradamus

I shall concede that Nostradamus long has fascinated me. The subject is one, like varied others that stir my curiosity, where my feelings are totally ambivalent. I suppose I enjoy the mysterious - and also have to admit that I believe there may be much we do not know about 'what is out there.'

My rational side (and apologies to Nostradamists who write many scholarly works on the subject) tells me that Nostradamus wrote in total riddles. Impressive ones, indeed, and with a tone of wisdom about them - but no coherence. To compare him to a prophet of the Old Testament would be quite off track, and not only because of questions about from where the inspiration came. The prophets were celebrating divine fidelity, God's acting in history, how the divine kingdom would be an inspiration to the world, and so forth. They were writing mostly of what already had happened, and of conviction that the power of Yahweh would endure forever.

I have no idea of whether Nostradamus truly believed he was predicting the future, or whether he was a charlatan, social commentator, or odd individual. I read his works with fascination, but believe every 'interpretation' of them is a huge stretch. Still, a part of me will give him benefit of the doubt. The only time I was absolutely certain a prediction of his was untrue (and indeed it appeared in none of his writings) was, around the time of '9-11,' when Nostradamus' supposed prediction of Osama's action was circulating on the Internet. Suffice it to say that even one who believes there just might be faeries and unicorns is not about to accept a prediction made in 1645 by a man who died in 1566.

I know I am saying 'the grass is green,' but anyone (who is not specific about names, places, and times) who predicts world catastrophes, wars, natural disasters, tyranny, and so forth naturally (however tragically) is going to be correct. Such have always existed. It is for later enthusiasts to decide who 'the old lion and young lion' are, or that Hister (the Danube) is Adolf Hitler.

The prophets of old were calling people to trust, gratitude for creation and salvation, fidelity, and repentance. This too, of course, is timeless. Of course, during the patristic era, Christians perhaps were a bit too enthusiastic about seeing every line in the Hebrew scriptures as having been about Christ. :) They were not talking in riddles.

That, perhaps, is why romantics such as myself need to dabble in reading about Nostradamus, astrology, and the wee folk (and this whilst admitting that there is no scientific proof for a bit of this.) We love our Christianity with a passion, but it really seems so banal at times. (Wryness tag is on here!) It is far more fun to look for secret knowledge and the mysterioso than to merely accept that calling which the prophets knew so well.

Tuesday, 31 October 2006

All Hallows' Eve thoughts

The link in the title is to last year's post, Dwelling on the mysterioso, which is a bit more theological than tonight's probably shall be.

My taste in clothing is far from conservative (fifty does not mean frumpy, and my tastes are half Paris, half Woodstock.) One of my prized possessions, being a medievalist, is a purple cape, the front of which is decorated, right near the closures, with the symbols of alchemy. I well remember when a young man, seeing my cape, told me he sensed that I was "a very powerful witch." Stifling a giggle, I told him I was not a witch at all. He then asked me if I could predict the future. Smiling now, I said, "I am Christian - that's not in my line." He responded, "But that is very powerful, too! Do you do laying on of hands?"

With the combination of romantic and mystical that beats within this heart, I'm the last person who could do laying on of hands. I'd probably try to raise the dead or something. No - I'm someone who has to stay with liturgical prayer, lectio divina, and all that other boring and banal business. :)

My wicked side will share a story from my convent days. We still wore the 'old habit,' and I must say that our congregation did not have one of the more attractive models. Our dress was a near duplicate of the garb of the Friars Minor, and the veil was very unattractive - stiff headband across the forehead, a coif that came round about the ears.

My congregation was based in Italy, where I hoped to remain, but I was stationed at a mission in the States. (Serves me right for speaking English well... but at least it wasn't the leprosarium in Africa.) Halloween, at least then, was the time of avid 'trick or treating' for the younger set. Coincidentally, it was the 31st of October when I had to go grocery shopping with Sister C.. I'm not being unkind saying this, because it must be mentioned if the rest of this tale is to make sense: C., though she was probably aged all of 32, was one of the ugliest women I've ever known - the picture of the story book witch.

We were waiting on the queue for the till, and a young mother behind us was horrified when her daughter, aged 4 or so, saw C. and piped up with, "I'm going to be a witch for Halloween, too!"

November is a wonderful month liturgically - beginning with the remembrance of the communion of saints, ending with the feast of Christ the King (the latter an image I dearly love.) Advent to follow is better still. But the part of me that loves folk tales and the like does see an appeal that is not... specifically liturgical in All Hallows' Eve. I'll spare you the history of the holiday (there are sites which can show you that far better than you'd find in my impromptu writings.) I'll just make 'public confession' of what I'm doing this week. :)

I have a great fondness for the monster films (the entire Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man bunch) produced by Universal studios during the 1930s-40s. I cannot abide later 'horror pictures' - they are too gory, frighten me terribly, and (using, as one example, the theme of exorcism, which I wish were as popular now as anything related to the reign of Christ) too often draw on what is just too explicitly 'real.' I'm having a little film festival now, watching those films once again.

They have great humour in them - police tend to be very colourful cockneys, which is quite interesting for Transylvania and Germany, and I suppose I'm always happy to hear someone whose accent is worse still than mine. The history behind the legends is often interesting. The films do not frighten me, because they remind me of the reality of life rather than merely evil. Many of us struggle with the problem of evil - the sense of sources beyond us that we cannot control - the uncomfortable awareness that fear (of death, of being separated from those whom we love, and so forth) can become an idol and drive one to desperation. As long as I don't dwell on genetic engineering and cloning and to what they may lead (that really frightens me, though I hope that my own life will have ended before the results are produced - I'll be gone within fifty years at most, and far less than that unless I take after my mother's family), I can weep when Frankenstein's monster cries, "Friend! Friend!" when he seeks love and inspires terror. In fact, I can almost feel sorry for Victor Frankenstein (renamed 'Henry' by Universal, for reasons I've never discovered), who is so wrapped up in the thought of a scientific breakthrough that the outcome of his experiment is far from what he'd expected.

Of course, my greatest sympathy is reserved for Laurence Talbot (the Wolf Man), and I'm glad that, in "House of Dracula," he finally is restored to health. I find the gypsy woman's wisdom, and "The way you walked was thorny, through no fault of your own," very moving.

How is "Spirituality in Universal Monster Flicks" as a topic for my next dissertation? Blessings to all. May the saints, in heaven and on earth, be bound with the love to which Christ calls us tonight... while Gloriana takes a night off with the monsters.

What is the attraction of bullies?

This is not likely to be one of my more insightful posts. I live in a basement flat, and the cat has been in one of the windows, howling in a manner which makes me think there is something to black magic at this season. It's more likely that a stray found his way to the outside, but the annoyance of the noise is worse than that of my CD-ROM drive, which also has gremlins and has been opening and closing, of its own accord, for three days.

I never was one much for varied Internet fora. In the earlier days of the Internet, I did belong to some highly interesting mailing lists, about theology, books, humour, and other areas that I love. Yet it takes very little for some pest to derail entire lists. Nonetheless, now and then I drop in to Yahoo chat groups and the like... I seldom stay long.

I have stayed long enough to see that (regardless of the list topic, since any bully can derail a thread) there are many people out there who thrive on being bullied. It seems to boil down to "this is what I am 'supposed' to be doing - I hate it - so, if someone abuses me, treats me as if I were a liar, traps me in every word I say, this will 'motivate' me to spend my time on what I hate, out of fear of the abuse. Someone who treats me like trash must really care."

Yes, that is true charity and friendship... to destroy other people's sense of self-worth, play ego games, help them to feel terrible about themselves, perhaps doubt their own integrity. It makes me shiver to see how popular this can become. It reminds me of a sad but prevalent idea that dominated my own youth. Many people in authority (not only 'high up,' but parents or teachers, for example) were interested only in conformity to rules and standards. If the person under authority did not comply, it meant that he was not afraid of the authority enough - so he had to be brutalised.

I heard a very sad story recently. A young man, in his teens, has bipolar disorder. He has been doing what the self help books would call 'acting out.' His insomnia disturbs his parents - the profanity that sometimes spews from the mouths of the mentally ill is 'disrespectful' - the anxiety is taken for an act - the depression for not realising what a wonderful home he has. He probably is crying out for help when he shouts, but it is mistaken for a desire to 'scare' his parents. They are trying to find ways to be more brutal because 'he has to learn.' (If their child had cancer or heart disease, I suppose that he could get that to disappear with sufficient punishment.)

How narrow and self centred we mortals are capable of being! We cannot see the suffering of those around us, because all we see are the effects on ourselves. Sadly, too many of us have a notion of God that is of a bully who will punish us unless we do what we hate. Perhaps that forces many of us to turn, not in love but in fear, to an image of God which makes us want (and often create) punishments for ourselves.

Though I had seen such examples, many times, in my youth, I was amazed to see that, on Internet fora with people much younger, the idea of 'temporal punishment in reparation for our sins,' asking God to increase pain for the sake of one's salvation, and so forth apparently are still in fashion. To return to the idea with which I began today, no one would want to be mistreated unless one hated what one was 'supposed' to do in the first place. What is this, in the spiritual life? The practise of virtue? Seeming deprivation? Wanting to suffer here lest we have to suffer in eternity?

I received an e-mail today with a quote from Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe. It is quite lovely, and also reminded me of a truth I'm slowly learning. Gratitude, not guilt, not fear of punishment, tends to foster love of God and neighbour, and true worship. I should like to share the quotation with you"

"To see ourselves as gift from God is just to look deeply into ourselves, to see ourselves for what we really are. You cannot love yourself, your real self (as distinct from valuing your price or what you will fetch) without being grateful to God, without thanking him, thinking him through yourself. And it is only when you do this, when you thank God for yourself, for the gift of existence, that you are released from the prison of self-seeking to value others for their own sake, which is to value them too as gifts of God. That is why Jesus tells us to love our neighbour as ourselves. He is asking us to love our neighbour in the way we love ourselves — in gratitude to God.

But there is much more to it than this. For when you do it, when you actually thank God for your being and for others (not just when you think about it but when you do it), you discover a further truth: that the thing you are most grateful for, the greatest gift of God, is the gratitude itself. The greatest gift of God to you is not just that he made you, but that you love him. The greatest gift of God to you is that you can speak with him and say ‘thank you’ to him as to a friend—that you are on intimate speaking terms with God. God has made us not just his creatures but his lovers; he has given us not just our existence, our life, but a share in his life.

Saturday, 21 October 2006

Media should love this one

I shall caution my readers that, contrary to custom, I shall not be having great theological reflections today. I'm going to indulge my rather naughty side for a moment. I just read that there will be a webcast, plus satellite coverage, for the installation of ++Katharine Jefferts Schori as presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States. I know nothing of Washington DC, but recall watching the broadcast of Ronald Reagan's funeral from that cathedral - a singer who sounded as if he belonged in a tavern, jokes, an odd treatment of the 'city on a hill' gospel as if the evangelists had Reagan in mind. I am hoping this service will be dignified, glorious - everything that Cranmer plus the Oxford Movement would have intended. (I doubt it - a Washington e-correspondent led me to anticipate a far different picture.) And I do hope it is treated, liturgically, no differently than were it any other bishop. I saw too many 'relevant' liturgies turn into circuses in my day. It certainly is a monumental event, and one which should be quite interesting in the right hands of the press.

My immediate thought was the potential for boring, predictable media statements from those who believe themselves to be newsworthy. Not to mention any names, of course, but I can think of at least one US priest and Sister (prolific, if not deep), both "American Catholic" (therefore technically Roman), who would love a spotlight to go on about how Catholic women have to endure job discrimination (not being priests) because the eleventh commandment (US separation of church and state, which somehow is more sacred than anything at Sinai) prevents their suing employers and demanding equal rights. Then there are those, along the lines of Falwell (who somehow thought Osama bin Laden's action five years ago were divine punishment - God having lifted a 'veil of protection' - for the US being a place where abortion is legal and gays exist), who can see anything involving the Episcopal Church as somehow connected to abortion and gay rights, and therefore the work of Satan. (Sadly, there is another variety of Roman Catholic - as some web sites to which I'd never link would show, which would be Falwell with a rosary in hand.) And I'm sure there will be some loud-mouthed ECUSAns who will relish the thought of a split with Canterbury because it is a remnant of 'colonialism'...

...Yawn... Talk about old news... :) .... Considering that, from all my studies, I have seen that, in the first generation after Jesus's earthly life, apostles (beyond the Twelve, such as Paul) were specifically those who gave witness to the resurrection and all that this meant for the new church. The first witness to the resurrection, and the one who shared this news, was Mary Magdalene, so women as apostles seems a longstanding tradition.

Sunday, 15 October 2006

Spare me "God's will"!

Note that the link in the title is to last year's post about San Gerardo Maiella, whom I am recalling on his feast today.

Gerardo had a childlike simplicity which it is difficult for me to grasp. I heard something quite interesting about him just this week. A Redemptorist Father, who wrote a biography of his Order's most famous saint (yes, perhaps more famous than Alphonsus Liguori, as far as devotion goes), stated affectionately that Gerardo was a child of God - indeed, a spoiled child. Consequently, he tended to get that for which he asked. I heard that, in praying with a dying woman, Gerardo told her basically - "let us get God to do what we want."

How refreshing! How often have all of us been exposed to the idea that there is a dismal, unknowable oppression called "God's will." One never knows what it is, until one become heartbroken, gravely ill, sees everything one cherishes taken away - whatever.

Note here that I am not speaking of God's true will - or denying that this is beyond our grasp. God truly willed creation, the Incarnation, the resurrection, our deification, his presence in Church and sacraments. We have no answer to the pain and suffering in this world, but what I resent more than an idea that everything is God's will (with Archbishop Runcie, I'm agnostic about Auschwitz) is the one about how God sends us suffering.

Gerardo was a simple man - and he was young enough to be my son when he died. Unlike most saints of the modern era (he died in 1755), he was known for many miracles during his lifetime. My family was from the neighbouring diocese, and all thought of him as a very powerful saint, to whom they turned with woes, unembellished, and their needs, unashamed.

Since whatever wit and insight I possess has been sadly lacking in my recent posts, it may be apparent that I am troubled at the moment. I mention this because, contrary to my usual theology and such logic as I possess (let alone the fear of "God's will"), I lit my candle to Saint Gerard this week, entrusting my worry to him. I wish I had my mother's faith - she'd be sure she'd get her petition answered... and would.

Sufficient to each day is the trouble thereof!

I have to admit that, whenever I read the scripture passages about 'consider the lilies of the field,' I wish with all my heart that I could believe God provides for our temporal needs. (For the benefit of someone just dropping in to this blog, I am not speaking of lavish spending, but of basic needs.) Unfortunately, I worked with the homeless for seven years - saw the homeless huddling together trying to not die of cold near the office where I worked - and knew, all too well, that this was in the 'prosperous west.' I am too aware of poverty (disease, war, etc.), not to mention the horrors humans can inflict on one another, to have that sort of trust.

Yet Jesus (who 'had no place to rest his head,' and was undoubtedly dependent on others for his subsistence when he was an itinerant preacher... I wonder how much his family complained about his abandoning carpentry) certainly was spot on with his question of to what it avails us to be anxious. I'm a case study in anxiety, so I am hardly suggesting that I have an answer for this one. Still, it amazes me (since I deal with fear every day of my life) that I often encounter people who, rather than wishing diversion from anxiety (as I do), seem to relish discussing not only how bad things are but how much worse they could be.

In recent weeks, I have been at what one would think were celebrations of happy occasions - a christening party, a feast at a church with many Italian immigrants. They were the sort of settings where I can picture the wise Jesus of Nazareth changing water into wine. My spiritual director keeps trying to get through my thick skull that much of what is most valuable in our relationship with God is trust and gratitude - and the occasions I mentioned were just the sorts where one would think gratitude and joy would be prevalent.

Instead, the conversations (which were among people at celebrations, not military leaders...) tended towards the dangers of germ and chemical warfare; it is a matter of 'when, not if' Iraq, Osama or whomever wipes out the west; that social services are going bankrupt.... and so forth, and so on. Some days, there is not enough gin in the entire world...

Why can we not enjoy the joy that might be on hand today?

Admittedly, I might be too earnest and scholarly (as my father used to say, 'book learning, but not the ways of the world') to see that some of this talk is... well, just talk. It is possible, I suppose, that people bring up such topics because it makes them look well informed. (I noticed that my nephew - the one very learned in current affairs, whom I mentioned in a previous post - had the good sense not to participate in this conversation.) Perhaps not everyone who is talking about such things as germ warfare is thinking about it later in the day.

Years ago, when I first studied the Holocaust, which took place in the decade preceding that in which I was born, I was stricken with such horror that it took me years not to awaken in fear of ending up in a concentration camp. My horror is no less today, but I think it best not to contemplate the transportation when it is highly unlikely to ever happen. Still, I remember a wise comment from the Diary of Anne Frank. She was hardly more than a child, and Lord knows, with Bergen Belsen ahead, this poor girl soon would know hell on earth. She mentioned, in one part of her diary, 'how does it make anything better today to think about how much worse it could be?!' Her family already was in constant danger. The outcome would be a horror. Yet making the best of the time in their 'secret annexe,' and hoping for safety in the future, was far wiser than adding the terror of the future.

I wish I myself could attain this degree of separation from anxiety, so please do not think my comments to be smug. I've dealt with a great deal, throughout my life but particularly in recent years, and I sometimes awaken with nightmares of some of what happened, terrified of being in the situation again. I saw the horrid suffering of my mother's final illness, and shiver at facing the same myself. (I probably don't think much of having the atomic bomb dropped on me, only because, to my way of thinking, it would be nothing to fear since I would be dead. I sometimes forget that, for many people, the worst thing that could happen would be death. Not me - I think the worst hells are right on this earth.) I'll not mention any more of my personal experience here, but I dealt with fears for good reasons. Nonetheless, there were worse things that indeed could have happened that did not.

Deep down, I wonder, do people feel so guilty that others have it worse than they do that they cannot give thanks for today?

Monday, 9 October 2006

A word about 'the present moment'

Just recently, I was reading a treatment of the approach of Pierre De Caussade, in a book which was summarising various approaches to spirituality. In a nutshell, the brief treatment of DeCaussade spoke of how he focussed on worshipping God in the 'present moment' - which, of course, is the only place we can find God at the time. A dear priest friend of mine is very much one to refer to this spirituality - where thoughts of past and future can blind us, whether through desire, discontent, fear, anxiety and the like. (This, of course, is far from an exhaustive treatment of DeCaussade - I never favoured him much, because he seemed chilly to me, and I saw dangers of quietism... but neither is that what came to my mind today.)

The dangers for a Romantic such as myself is that, much as we pine for heaven, we always tend to feel, deep down, that we can find a better 'place' than where we are at the moment. This can inspire a great deal of creativity but, in the spiritual life, it tends to cause pain, jealousy, and, at the top of my own list, dreadful fear. I think one of the hardest things in this life is its total uncertainty. None of us know if we'll be here tomorrow - yet it is not death that I fear. (If my religious beliefs are true, I'd be closer to God - if I've been totally wrong, at least it would mean no more suffering since one would have no existence.... that is, oh please God no, unless those who believe in reincarnation are correct...) My fear is suffering, here - of wishing one could die just for the pain to cease.

It occurs to me, thinking of some wonderful, highly artistic people, some spiritual into the bargain, who are Romantics like myself - and the 19th century had a great many. The sort of knots of fear into which we can tie ourselves make me think that, for all that I despise Freud, a Romantic era may have been one that led him to assume everyone was neurotic.

Yet what I wish to share for a moment was a thought I had about DeCaussade's own time - post revolutionary France. It must have been frightening, with the (real) monarchy and Church having tumbled, and a few weak imitations of both coming forth. But a very sad part, focussed on 'merit' and 'reparation,' was clear in some of the works I studied about the 19th century. The Counter-Revolutionaries sought to replicate the suffering of Jesus Christ, and thereby save the nation which participated in the revolution’s crimes, and particularly murder of the monarchs. (Ideas of this type still emerge, albeit in an altered form. Just study any site today where people see the sole mission of Catholics, Baptists, whomever as to be to make reparation for abortions - which they did not have, but which seem to be on their conscience if they live in nations where it is legal, as where is it not? And I say that as one who does not believe in abortion.)

Perhaps DeCaussade's stress on the 'present moment' has larger dimensions, if we consider that he lived in a time and place where people were looking for 'vicarious suffering' left and right. It must have been difficult to remind people of the present moment - where they could meet God, but also where they could confront the distractions, weakness, and sinfulness which hampers such intimacy - in a time when one could be a noble victim in one's own mind by making supposed atonement for 'national sins' which dated to long before one was born.

Thursday, 5 October 2006

Francis, poor and humble, enters heaven a rich man

Well, I just carted out the rubbish (yes, for all) once again... and, as if on cue, found that the cat had taken an untimely crap, which necessitated my cleaning her box again and making another trip to the bin. I then found that, possibly because there are gremlins on the property, my casement windows were stuck open, and managing to close them meant cranking as if I were pulling up the anchor on the Titanic. I then prepared a cup of hot tea, only to find that the milk had curdled when I dropped it in. Small things, I know - but such is the world of Franciscan poverty on the practical level. (If you are looking for words on Francesco which are slightly more edifying, and certainly more warm, click the link in the title to this post to be transported to the essay on my site.)

I love Francis with all my heart, though he and I are hardly alike. Yet two things about him, currently popular (and one long popular) seem quite distorted to me. First, why do statues, pictures and the like of Francis make him seem (not only tall and handsome, when he was short and ugly) like a slightly 'spacey' dreamer whose main companions in life were birds? (Actually, a few of his companions were vultures, but I'll leave that for another day.) Even the rare picture of him with the stigmata would make one think (apologies to Padre Pio) that they were for decoration.

But the second is from the "Oh, I love what that mediaeval saint wrote... but s/he didn't mean that, now?!" It is popular now to say that Francis believed in only spiritual, not material, poverty. I doubt that any reading of Francis' works, or of anything written of him by his contemporaries, would make that interpretation possible. I would be the first to say that the degree of poverty which Francis observed would be unwise for most - but he was totally serious (even if impractical on some levels) about "Lady Poverty" whom he revered.

I have not the slightest desire to sleep in the street or have lice crawling over me - Francis would not wince at either. Yet he was essentially right, for all (Franciscans or not, called to high poverty or otherwise) about how possessions can possess us. I am not referring only to extravagance. I am of a working class background, have no notion of what a lavish life is like, and one does not miss what one never had. Still, I ache for a lost 'possession' - the respect and esteem which I had when I was a promising young musician, writer, and scholar / lecturer.

Francis was no stranger to material wealth - indeed, he would cost his father a fortune, and not only when he took it upon himself to distribute priceless silks from the Orient to beggars (who undoubtedly had a good laugh within the next ten minutes.) He knew full well that having property meant taking care of it... having arms for its defence.

I am very happy to have decent food, running water, enough heat so that I only have to climb under a duvet during the day time in winter. I have no desire to live the extreme poverty which was suited to Francis. Still, I have enough of the Franciscan spirit in me to know that vowed poverty can be liberating, if sometimes difficult. (I know what it is to lose everything, to have anxiety tearing one's body over poverty, so I hope this does not sound glib.)

The value of poverty is that it smashes idols and teaches us gratitude. One can enjoy whatever is at hand - there is no indication in Francis' life that he did not believe in companionship, or that he imposed excessive austerity on his friars (even if he did on himself.) As for humility - it is a difficult virtue to practise (aren't they all?), but is truth, not the humiliation, derogatory nonsense passing as 'correction,' or instruction in self hatred which I learnt in my convent days.

How I long to be witty and insightful today, as I reflect on my dear Francesco! But it is one of my off days for this, so I'll just close with a funny story from the days in which I served in a Franciscan parish.

The cook, Mary, was a talkative, no nonsense sort - possessed of a certain folk wisdom. The chief sorrow of her life was the corns on her feet, a woe which she shared, upon meeting, with all and sundry.

Well, someone had told me a stupid joke which I shared with a few parishioners. It was about a man who always made the wrong decisions. Once, when he had to take a flight, he was relieved that only one aircraft went to his destination - without a choice, he felt safe. Sadly, he ended up having the little aircraft falter and toss him out the window. As he fell, he called out "Saint Francis, help me!" A big hand came from the sky, grasped him, and asked, "Did you mean Francis Xavier or Francis of Assisi?"

One hearer said to me, "It must have been Francis of Assisi!" The next said, "Oh, whichever Francis it was, do you think he would have dropped him?" (You now know a bit more of what Franciscan poverty can entail... Lord, can I be a little snob...)

But Mary, in no nonsense tones, had the most interesting response to the joke. "It's no use talking to Saint Francis! Do you know how many times I have told him about the corns on my feet?!"

Pax et Bonum. And pray for this lady who once said that she "a poor sinner, begs for a life of penance." Little did I know just how true that is... :)

Saturday, 30 September 2006

Ah, how rubbish can be troubling!

For once, this is not a wry statement or pun. It is genuine rubbish which is troubling me, as I shall related following the customary spiritual reflection.

Thérèse of Lisieux was often remarkably candid - if, in the process, sometimes revealing she'd been a bit spoiled - in her autobiography. I well remember her writing of a particularly disagreeable nun, who found fault with everything and everyone. On one occasion, Thérèse was placing an artificial rose at a shrine. She saw the other nun approaching and, knowing her to be one to complain a good deal about allergies, was momentarily relishing having the whinge bag complain, then informing her the rose was fake. Being one who has lived in a convent, and who can be emotionally edgy, I can fully appreciate just how saintly it was when Thérèse approached the other Sister before she had a chance to speak and, showing her the rose, commented that it was remarkable how art could imitate nature these days.

How is this for a marvellous quotation for Thérèse's feast? "I sense in myself the vocation of Warrior, Priest, Apostle, Doctor, and Martyr. In the heart of the Church,
my Mother, I will be love."

What a woman! Yet she'd admit that something as silly as the rose incident so troubled her - and even speak of her 'conversion,' in quite dramatic terms, as a time when, as a teenager currently storming heaven to enter a highly austere Order, she managed to keep calm when her indulgent Papa commented that she was getting a bit old for Pere Noel.

This might seem a trivial matter, but I'm going to ask Thérèse to intercede for me. I may not be saintly, and hope no martyrdom is on the menu, but at least I am a Doctor - I've had to be a warrior (how else could I have persisted in the Church ministries all of those years?) - I've had my share of being apostolic - and would that I had the health to be a priest (though I've been a useful servant to a few.) But I want to 'be love' - and how hard it is!

My current peeve in the 'gets my back up' category has to do with rubbish. Not just the figurative rubbish which irks me day by day. No, this is genuine garbage.

My flat is in the basement of a Victorian home which was converted into six small apartments, and the building's total occupancy is nine. So far, I'm contented that no one seems to bother anyone else. Yet it so irks me (my grumbling to myself at this point usually includes "are people so stupid...?") that, though each flat has its trash can, and there are bins for the recycling right there, most of the others let their bins grow to a height of ten feet before they drag them to the kerb!

I wish to live in a clean house - think the heaped rubbish makes the building look like a slum (it is not) - and have no desire for the company of uninvited visitors with more than two legs. Fool that I am, I thought that, if I dragged out all of the garbage for a week or two, people would catch on... be grateful all was cleaned up... and be more inclined to just place the bins out for pickup. How wrong I was! (Here you'll see my naive nature.) The result, of course, was that, at this point, if I don't take the bins out they don't get out at all. And I find recyclable materials piled on top of my bin, though the bins for recycling are an arm's length away.

I know this will not change my practise. Some of the others in my building are young, and their bins will contain packaging from such items as 'take away' pizza. You know as well as I what cheese can attract... and what, of a similar species but larger variety, remnants of meat can attract...

Thirty years ago, I thought I was prepared to do anything short of martyrdom for the sake of charity and the kingdom. (Bear with Thérèse. You'll recall she never was much more than thirty years younger than I am am now, so her youthful fervour would endure. It was the much older Teresa who reminded God that, with how he treats his friends, it is no wonder he has so few.) Today, though I'm still a kind sort, I think I'll be canonised if I can hold back the anger that I feel, twice each week, when I see those overflowing bins... or the recycling piled on top... or the wrong type of recycling in a bin...

It can lead to the trashiest thoughts and language...

Thursday, 28 September 2006

Hail! Hail! Hail! Saint Michael!

The words which head this post admittedly are far more effective in Italian, preferably with the accents of a rough, peasant dialect. (Before it seems that I am being disparaging, please note that I speak Italian with a peasant accent, and, despite my many years of schooling, and that my English is perfect except when I flaw it deliberately, my accent in speaking English is worse still. Jesus of Nazareth was a Meditteranean peasant, whose accent held the slur of Galilee, so the first sentence of this paragraph is written with warmth.) I believe that, especially as we grow older, we can see just how many facets there are to our selves. I always was very intellectual, somewhat drawn to contemplation - and one for very formal, magnificent liturgy. But, more each year, I see value in folk religion and practise.

I always wished I had my mother's simple, trusting faith, and her ability to turn to our heavenly friends (sometimes quite brusquely - and you should have heard her shout at God at my dad's funeral) as a large, sympathetic, extended family. Of course, Italian peasants love being 'well connected.' They generally favour petitions to those from the same town as themselves. But Saint Michael, dweller in only heavenly courts (and quite a one for winning battles...), was a general favourite.

When my parents were young, their parish church (and many others) had quite a bit of feasting in honour of Michael. One highlight was that a large rope was erected, in the manner of a clothesline, between two of the buildings. One of the boys from the parish would be dressed in full angelic regalia - white robes, wings, and a long wig in that blonde shade which southern Italians so cherish for its rarity. He would be sent 'flying' across this clothesline-cum-path for angelic messenger, as the crowds below shouted, "Hail! Hail! Hail, Saint Michael!"

Memories of this, predictably for two who were so emotionally different and complemented each other so well, were quite different for (my parents) Chip and Sam. Chip, whose devotional ways lent towards the Infant of Prague, Saint Anthony's oil, and water from the sea on the feast of the Assumption (I've never discovered why pouring it over one's feet was good luck), used to get misty eyed, speaking of how beautiful the Saint Michael celebration was. Sam, pragmatic to the core (superb in his vocation, but one who undoubtedly held rosaries in his hand only when the undertaker placed them there), used to scoff. In his version, which I somehow am more inclined to believe, it looked rather stupid, and, most of the time, the 'angel' got stuck in mid air en route.

It is only in recent years that I can see how very healthy it is for me to reclaim my Mediterranean, peasant side to a greater extent. I have been privileged to study the works of many great theologians - people of whom my parents had never heard, and who would of been of little interest if they had. (Anthony who came to Chip's aid would not have been recognised as one of the greatest theologians of the Franciscan Order, though she would have loved the tale of his preaching to the fish.) Many of the theologians I love best are patristic or (surprise!) mediaeval, though I devour the later works as well. Yet, somewhere in history, things did get twisted. There was too much emphasis on 'the fall,' the crucifixion as focus, our weakness, dangers of falling into hell or, at the very least, having to take temporal punishments.

My family, and their friends, would have thought of none of those things. They had a strong moral code, indeed (even if it differed in some respects from that of nations farther north), and a very strong sense of responsibility. Yet I never once recall any of them seeing God as anything other than Father. Yes, one's dad may be disappointed in one, or be irritated or angry, or even give one a smack here and there - but it is unthinkable he would send his child to hell. Nor would he require his firstborn to be sacrificed in 'atonement.'

There was no guilt (even if a bit of it might have been appropriate for some of the crowd), no fear of God in any way, no fear, as well, of the powers of darkness. In fact, I doubt that anyone watching the angel fly above ever thought of 'be our protection against the malice and snares of the devil.' (Come to think of it, in Italian folk tales, when the devil appears he is either an outsmarted, comic figure, or someone useful when God needs to punish - well, educate - someone such as the girl who opened her door and made a lovely dinner for the handsome young man when she'd turned away the old man in need. They respectively, of course, were the devil and God in disguise.)

Were I 'in character,' I suppose that, tonight, I could have written of theophany, or of revelation, or of how the powers of good shall triumph, or even of divine glory. Yet I think I'll go to sleep with a smile now, picturing a blonde awkwardly flying across a clothesline as the crowd (who, in many cases, will not actually be in the church, save to light candles, until six men carry them out) shouts the praises of holy Michael.

I'll close with a prayer Saint Francis loved - and which I think I'll say a bit more often: "Lord, who are you? Lord, who am I?" When the peasant, renaissance lady, and scholar in me all are very close friends, I think it will be a very happy outcome.

Wednesday, 27 September 2006

Of ecclesiastical polity and such

My nephew, Christopher, who is in the course of law studies, has an astonishing interest in and gift for things political. His knowledge of 'current events' is so vast that I daresay one could ask him about anything happening from Brussels to Hong Kong to some obscure city in the midwestern US and he would know every detail. In my own case, though I cannot be faulted in historical knowledge (provided, of course, the events took place at least a century ago, preferably five or more), my natural inclinations are related to culture. I also can be handicapped by that liturgy, ascetic theology, and what I'll term a patristic emphasis tend to colour everything with an attitude of 'let us see just how writers were encouraging the practise of contemplation and virtue.'

This naturally means that I can know minute details of certain historical periods, but unintentionally become so selective (I do not understand politics, war, conquering lands or seeking gold) that one might think I observed earthly history from a position on a distant planet. (Probably Saturn. Not only because it is the ruler of Capricorn, but because I always was so taken by those glorious rings. Ah, the heavens declare the glory of God... now, see what I mean? My readers will also begin to grasp that science eludes me as well. I can nearly levitate if I view a model of the DNA molecule...)

In recent weeks, I have been attending a lecture and discussion series about Richard Hooker. I find it extremely valuable that those conducting the programme include a theologian and a professor of law. I am hardly unfamiliar with the Elizabethan area - I am not Gloriana for nothing. During the past few years, it happened that, as part of my studies, I presented papers on the Elizabethan Settlement, the Book of Common Prayer, and the fate of the 1549 Prayer Book. But I suppose that one with a certain awe at the development of the Church of England (which was an historical accident, after all, if a most providential one) is hampered (even while understanding the importance of the unity of the state church) when she not only stumbles in the dark at things legal but had so much Roman Catholic experience (I do not mean in relation to marvellous works of theology which I've devoured - this is parish and diocesan nitty gritty) that she inwardly, if without realising this at the moment, winces at the words 'obedience' and 'authority.'

I have great respect for Richard Hooker, even if his writings sometimes give me the impression of a man who was overly fond of the sound of his own voice. It is no secret (to anyone who has read either this blog or any paper I wrote about the Reformation) that I loathe Calvinism - I'm still completely puzzled at a post I saw on a forum, from a devout Catholic in the northern United States, who seems to have adulation for the very Puritans who would have despised huge components of his faith. I have no philosophical objections to theocracy, but am not inspired by Geneva. Yet I do have an underlying sense of how carefully Hooker had to tread.

Whatever long lasting, beneficial effects the English Reformation would have (for example, I think the Prayer Book is a liturgical masterpiece, even if I do not see Cranmer as having possessed heroic sanctiry - and I even can be carried off by what a superb version of reformed Catholicism Mary and Cardinal Pole could have seen had Mary ever really listened to what anyone else had to say), it was a wicked time. (Find me any era which was not.) I have no illusions, either, about the holiness of Spain or the approaches of Pius V. I know the situation around the Elizabethan Settlement very well, and would hardly have wished to have been in the position of the original Gloriana - needing to unite the nation against enemies, and having the reigning pope give her Roman Catholic subjects the mission of overthrowing their heretic queen and uniting with nations of the true faith (...Spain, perhaps?). Theologically, and as far as long term conformity was concerned, I see the brilliance of the Settlement being in its underlying pragmatism. The Prayer Book services, in total, are sufficient for one following, perhaps, a vocation as a Benedictine monk - it is a Rule. (That this was on Elizabeth's mind was unlikely... bear with me, since I'm slipping into my usual mode again.) But the brilliance was in accepting that, even if there were many subjects whose theology would lean more to Geneva or Rome (and undoubtedly many, many subjects who weren't thinking of theology at all), a unity in worship was possible - and still is - despite controversies over doctrine and the like.

In last night's class, I, who can see many elements to just about everything but seldom see the obvious, found an explanation valuable. Where I see the Prayer Book as a means to orthopraxy (after all, how much can we really know of God - yet practise, recitation of the Offices, attendance at the Eucharist, means acting with worship - and, in the course of this, developing true worship), the Puritans saw a lack of sincerity. I am sure I'll be forgiven for wondering how a viewpoint that so stressed the gap between the status of the elect (whoever they were) and the depravity of human nature (deification would never have the popularity of 'the fall') could incorporate, at least implicity, a sense that one must have the virtue in the first place in order for worship to be sincere.

I also valued a previous class explanation related to how the positive anthropology Hooker expresses has an affinity with that of Thomas Aquinas. (I've never been one for depravity.) And this in an era where heads might decorate London Bridge, the Elizabethan reign (later to be seen as rather glorious) was shaky, uncertain, and threatened, and dreadful sinners (such as Roman Catholics) were in strong enough supply.

There is a paradox, common today but universal to all periods. The idea that one's current time is far superior to that past, yet that things are so much worse than they were forty years ago, ever shall endure. In Hooker's day, it must have been horribly confusing for the truly devout! I wonder if they had to check the calendar to see if they were Catholic or Protestant today, or it this was the season for erecting or smashing the rood screen.

Whether this was explicitly in Hooker's mind or not, I did have a thought which may be worth sharing. He treats of how, though all essential to salvation is in the scriptures, there are Christian beliefs not explicit in the gospels and epistles. Liturgical fan (...or wind machine) that I am, I naturally was thinking of how frequently Christ's Church grasped truths of revelation in the liturgy before they were 'codified.' Certainly Paul's epistles give a hint, and early liturgical manuscripts a strong one, that recognition of the Trinity, high Christology and the like were expressed in worship before ecumenical councils and creeds made them explicit. The Book of Common Prayer includes much scripture - but not without elements from the liturgy through the ages. A totally 'sola scriptura' approach, with liturgy downplayed or disdained, can keep one both from cherishing elements of such revelation, and from the very orthopraxy (however some might mistake it for a lack of sincerity) which draws one to God, however unaware.

Thursday, 21 September 2006

Perils of 'class participation'

When I was a young woman, I was privileged to attend one of the (rare enough) Dominican 'liberal arts colleges.' Classes were relatively small, so one could never fade into the background - a good thing, because it demanded proper preparation. The programme was very full. Each of us, for example, had to take four courses in philosophy, theology, English literature, history, etc., regardless of what subject was our concentration.

Much of our grade was based on participation in discussions - I recall one professor of philosophy who gave each pupil a daily mark for this. I would never be shy about participating, and have no doubt there were times when I had valuable insight to contribute. Yet, for all that I value this training, it left me with an affliction that it took years to overcome. :) (Don't let me even get started about what it is like to be a young PhD, where one feels one has to show a vast scope of knowledge about very narrow topics.) Taught to always find a reason to make a comment or ask questions, and indeed knowing that I had to do so to show I had read and analysed the material, even being naturally rather reserved did not prevent my feeling I always had to say something.

In an otherwise not notable book (high on style, low on content), "The Tulip and the Pope," author Deborah Larsen writes of her convent days. She does not identify the Order, as I recall, but they clearly were possessed of both intelligence and style. One wise teaching was 'do not think you always have to say something brilliant or witty.' How true! Feeling one must can make one seem domineering or tiresome, but it also is quite a strain. As in class, one can always be looking for the opening to make a comment. At worst, an innocent reference from another can make one begin to show one did extensive reading, indeed exceeded the requirements...

I must write an entry about how always having to be witty can make one a tiresome comedian in social settings, but I'll save that for another day.

Blessings to all.

Tuesday, 5 September 2006

Admitting a weakness for Maeve Binchy novels

Well, why not? I've already admitted my affection for A. J. Cronin.

Maeve's books would win no literary awards. Plots, such as they are, are very realistic for perhaps half of a book, but Maeve then does not seem to know how to resolve the action, and the endings are boring or melodramatic. Themes are undetectable. Maeve's strength (and, at her best, one most notable) is for depicting relationships of all kinds (especially between friends), folk wisdom, and circumstances which, in one form or another, have been a part of every life.

Maeve often captures how misunderstanding and assumptions cut off communications. Sister Madeleine, the village's confidante at large in The Glass Lake, cuts people off before they can say what is troubling them - but, since her reputation is for being 'a living saint,' they accept this. Leonora in The Copper Beech is aware of a murder - when she attempts to speak of this to a priest in confession, her tentative 'testing the waters' leads to his assuming that what is troubling an adolescent must be uneasiness about sex. Madeleine, another character in The Copper Beech, is trying to be supportive and close with a school friend who enters a convent - and is cut off for being 'too intense.'

This week, I was using Maeve's "Light a Penny Candle" for my 'wind down late at night' reading. Maeve captured perfectly how tortuous it can be to have a problem one fears sharing - and how the hearer can both 'cut one off' and make things worse. Aisling has married a handsome, prosperous man who is quite charming, and she is the envy of the village. She is confused and deeply pained because her husband, Tony, is an alcoholic, and the marriage has not been consummated after 17 months. Finally, Aisling tries to confide in her mother, Eileen.

Eileen indeed cares about her daughter - but, as is even more common in families than at large, she falls into assumptions. Aisling's tentative mention of a personal problem leads Eileen to think that her daughter, whom she knows to be an innocent sort, is worried about details of sex in marriage (and takes Aisling's mention of there being no sex at all in her marriage to be a subtle way of speaking merely of a lack of pleasure.) Eileen cuts off the opportunity for a confidence by saying that telling people things can make us hate them for knowing them, and by adding that, when she had doubts about sex in the early months of her own marriage, she is glad she did not 'betray' her husband by consulting anyone else. Worst of all, she sees evidence of Aisling's pain and depression and calls her a 'lazy slut,' leaving her only with the (old, tired, but still common) reprimand not to 'feel sorry for herself.'

In the end, Aisling takes off, cutting herself off from the entire village including her family, because she knows she cannot be heard, let alone understood.

Such things happen in every life, of course. Families, in particular, often form a sterotypical image of a family member which no evidence to the contrary can shake. All of us have had times when we ached to share pain, or thought that an explanation could restore understanding with those whom we love - but, once people think they know the answer (or think that anyone who, for example, has the material security and handsome husband an Aisling has, should be glowing with contentment), there is no shaking this.

I believe the rarest of human gifts is that of truly being open in listening to others.

Sunday, 3 September 2006

Why is every problem taken to have a physical cause?

I read many a link, and I am totally puzzled as to why I often see assumptions that every problem (many assumed to be imaginary, like Scrooge's undigested bit of beef) has a physical root, and can be cured by doctors, nutritionists, exercise, vitamins. Emotional problems are not assumed to have any connection with circumstances, save that one who is kicked down the stairs and feels hurt should recognise this as an imagined slight and get rid of it with Prozac. One who has marital problems just needs some endorphins, which pumping a bit of iron shall supply.

For the record, I believe it is important for those physically or mentally ill to obtain the proper medical treatment. I am in no way denying that illness of the body can affect the mind as well. My complaint is that thinking tofu, aerobics, or doctors are the cure for all ills.

Perhaps it gives people a sense of control. Many problems have no solution available - others are too painful for us to face. Or trusting all to some latter day magician, who takes one under total control whilst convincing one that all the problems lie in these herbs or in not eating meat, gives a sense of security. All I have seen it lead to is self absorption, misunderstanding of true illness, and a sad tendency to ignore what might be essential spiritual problems or difficulties in relationships.

What if, for example, deep down we know we are wronging others? Isn't facing this much healthier than reading self help books which will convince us they 'chose' to be harmed, or thinking we can eliminate the problem with a run?

Wednesday, 30 August 2006

Much truth can be captured in fiction

It often has amazed me how much the great writers of literature, poetry, and theatre can capture truths about life - or even the metaphysical. Yet even those who are not a Shakespeare or Chaucer, and of any period, sometimes are able to capture elements of a period or situation which those like myself, who have no gift for fiction in the least, would not be able to express.

I'm not suggesting this is the only area, but, as one example, I have seen religious fiction - some not great literary work - which expresses much of what religious Orders or the "church at large" has faced in our own day. I can see the truth in this - but it occurs to me that much of what I know came from extensive contact with communities, personal conversations, presentations, 'workshops,' attendance at charismatic prayer meetings, what-not. Were I to try to write a book on some of these matters today, it would be unlikely that I could do so. Much which I witnessed would not be enshrined in documents, available in published collections, referenced in interviews. The 'anecdotal,' even if one could fill 1,000 pages, cannot be used.

I am far from being any fan of Andrew Greeley's - in fact, the sort of Catholics he depicts (self-centred, greedy, often devious sorts, whose main occupations in life seem to be playing the stock market and having sex, mostly with women who are magnificent Celtic goddesses...Lord, bless the girl who never married him) would exasperate me. His plots tend to get out of hand about halfway through a work. However, some of his earlier novels did strike a chord with me! As a simple example, the melodramatic "Virgin and Martyr" had a section presented in the form of a young woman, in noviciate, corresponding with others. One could see how some of the convent practises, intended to instil obedience and humility, could be vehicles for teaching one to hate oneself.

As another example, the Australian mini-series "Brides of Christ," much as it left me wondering just where the spirituality was, was in many ways an excellent depiction of what communities faced. Yet Sisters who were in the same situations would be unlikely to volunteer the information (unless they were the bitter, 'no longer believing' types who love to write and smear the church.) Nuns tend to be fiercely loyal to their communities, and, even if they believe developments were negative, will resent anyone's saying so.

If I had a gift for fiction, there are many characters I could present in religious writing. Not a word of it would not be based on what I myself saw or experienced. But I do know I'm not going to find certain comments in official documents, much less in interviews.

I just may develop this topic along the way.

Monday, 21 August 2006

Mal occhio!

One thing for which Franciscan poverty equips one splendidly is enjoying days out (which I sometimes call 'playing tourist'), though one can spend perhaps enough for a coffee. I spent a peaceful few hours reading on Sunday, looking out at the river (which I always enjoy doing), and naturally pretending to be a shopper in nearby stores (which probably fooled no one.) I saw a vendor with goods of which I'd never before heard - all sorts of "Angel Eye" products (jewellery, largely, but clearly also something on the lower spectrum of 'home decor'), which were presented as having a special function of protecting against the evil eye - those dangerous, envious looks!

I should not have been surprised, I suppose. My grandmother had a horn in her home, and I knew people who wore miniatures of same around their necks (often next to the cross), for such protection. If a headache persisted, or constipation, one knew who still knew how to 'pass' the mal occhio and enlisted such services. I blush to admit that, if I feel the hostility which obvious envy (of any kind) brings in others' attitudes, or if I say anything favourable about myself (therefore fearing it will be taken away - one can inadvertantly envy oneself), everyone who knows me is aware that I make the sign of the horns with my outer fingers and immediately, in Italian dialect, say the words to 'burst' the evil eye.

By now, I'm sure, unless you do the same, you are shaking your head at the superstition. Yet I do not know that this, as with other superstitions, is not founded on a truth. Envy towards oneself is hostile - and that which one directs towards others can be a form of idolatry. A dear priest friend of mine, who I hope will not mind my quoting a brief and important fact of which he reminded me, put it well in saying that idolatry (envy, frustration, fear, and rage that we generate by our fascination with the things others seem to have that we do not perceive ourselves as having)is a grandiose form of ingratitude, true denial that we are or have enough, or that God loves us.

I wonder if my fear of the mal occhio is founded in that I have had to fight envy (with anger, my 'principle defect') all of my life. It can be especially subtle amongst those who are a bit bohemian, the more if they have strong religious commitments, and particularly if they are Franciscans (where there is such stress on poverty.) I am by no means one who cares to live in the street, yet my envy is not always easy to detect, because it is not about wanting material riches (well, all right, I envy the old rich, but not those who have houses full of great stuff but no time to enjoy it) , or about covetting my neighbour's spouse (whom I probably find to be a bore), or about wanting fame (Lord have mercy, if I had to worry about being in tabloid headlines, I'd have a bed in Bedlam.)

It is never this blatant, of course (if so, I might recognise it), but it takes different forms. I'm irritated with God at times, because I thought I was giving up so much to serve him... and, had I known the situation I'd be in when I was dismissed from the convent (and that it would be as bad as my dad's, when he had hardly any education and had slaved that I might have my own), I'd have driven off a cliff. I envy the 'old rich' not because I want mansions, servants (...though a charlady would be nice every week), posh gatherings and the like, but because I see them as having had choices, and not being forced into dreadful jobs they hated out of the sort of desperation one has who sold all she had, gave it to the poor, and then found herself chucked out by her community.

I had many gifts as a young woman - for music, the other arts and humanities, writing, lecturing. I'd won awards for some of these things, and had a splendid academic record. My intention was to be a university professor. I'm in the odd situation, at the half century mark when every dream is crushed, that I'm envious of my young self! Lord have mercy, the time I spend tossing about 'if only I'd done this or that differently.' (Yes, typical of the half century mark. Had I ever been married, I would probably be envying my kids.)

I offer prayers of gratitude daily - carefully coached, thanking God for creation, the Incarnation, the resurrection, our deification, the sacraments... because I fear thanking him for my own good fortune. He might smack me for thinking I'm better than someone in Biafra for having more. Mal occhio!

Still, I know, deep down, and will some day come to show in my own practise, with God's help (...he is patient even with those who keep making the sign against the evil eye), that the only place we can meet and serve God is where we are. Once we start looking for a different time and place, we cannot find him if he is staring us in the .... (oh, Lord!) eye. And the remedy for envy is gratitude.

Thursday, 17 August 2006

"Bonds" in gossip

It is amazing what one can find oneself reading when a bus or train is delayed. I found myself looking at a woman's magazine (which I shall not distinguish with a link, because its huge popularity must be among people of low intelligence) which had a brief article about how sharing conversations which consist in criticisms of others lends to 'bonding,' because the two 'friends' are sharing a sense of being superior to the others.

If it were not that I have become aware that the term now has a widely accepted meaning quite other than what I intend, I would have called shared superiority of this type, with its blinding effect on any sort of decency, justice, or charity, bondage rather than bonding. Lord knows I have had enough times when other women, I suppose trying to make some initial gesture of 'friendship,' have taken every opportunity to criticise other women (usually about their appearance) to me. Even apart from any consideration of the virtues, I have no desire to be friendly with people who do not have better things on their minds to discuss.

Still, there is one trait, in the same vein, which I find even more irritating. Its identifying trait usually is a tendency to say "but I'm trying to help you!" - and invariably in situations where the other party has done nothing which could be taken as requesting help. The unsolicited "help" is always a criticism, and always has the element of "I know better than you do what you should be doing."

I suppose the other side of this nonsense is a desire to be special. I'm thinking of some particularly annoying women I knew through the years (and fortunately with whom I have no contact now.) One, who had a peculiar and inexplicable obsession with doctors (every other word out of her mouth was about either doctors she knew or health items of which she'd read), never listened to anyone - she was only warming up to urge them to have physical exams. Another, who for reasons I could not fathom always made herself up to look like Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, thought she was the ultimate glamour girl. She'd approach every woman at a gathering with, "I've been looking at you, and I've decided...", then tell the other what she should do with her hair, makeup, or whatever. The list could be much longer... I remember one who used to weep and, as it turns out, the reason for her upset was that no one noticed her 'new look'... and, when the weeping subsided, she'd urge the other women present to adapt whatever her own new look was that week.

Well, now I know the reason that mutual nonsense of this type is so popular - it's such fun to feel superior as a group. And here, considering some of my background, I thought the competition was about who could be perceived as the holiest, greatest in self denial... and God keep us from those who wanted the prize for humility.