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.