Monday, 20 July 2009

Blowing Marcel Marceau out of the Windmills Of My Mind.

Mime, with very few exceptions, fails to ring my bell for some reason.

Actually, I think I know the reason.

This is the reason:

Marcel Marceau .

I grew up in the Marcel Marceau era.
His body was, as they say, his tool.
His gurning and 'trapped in an invisible box' antics inspired drama teachers the length and breadth of the country.
I still wince when I think of the performances I gave, clad in minimalist black leggings and tee shirt.
I was painting invisible pictures, grasping at invisible shackles, stroking invisible animals, climbing invisible ladders, not to mention feeling the walls of the ubiquitous invisible box inside which I, the artiste, found myself trapped.
I seem to remember that the soundtrack of choice was 'Windmills of Your Mind'.

Round, like a circle in a spiral Like a wheel within a wheel. Never ending or beginning, On an ever spinning wheel Like a snowball down a mountain Or a carnival balloon Like a carousel that's turning Running rings around the moon Like a clock whose hands are sweeping Past the minutes on it's face And the world is like an apple Whirling silently in space Like the circles that you find In the windmills of your mind

It was the song that made hippy drama teachers everywhere swoon with pleasure in their alpaca cardigans.
Whenever I hear it, I'm right back there in my black leggings and socks, stepping purposefully, but strangely around, like someone from Monty Pythons Ministry Of Silly Walks.

All this is to say, that when a friend sent me a link to a youtube video of a mime/dance today I gave a little inward groan.
My heart sank even further when she said it was about Jesus, which meant that it was safe to assume the cringe came with a double portion of cheese on the side.

I watched it out of curiosity nonetheless.
I didn't think it was bad at first, at least it wasn't over acted, and I liked the simplicity of the arrangement. The absence of narration did have a dramatic value, because it made me pay attention to the meaning of the actors movements and it piqued my interest.

I wasn't expecting to cry though.

About half way in, I felt a big fat tear roll down my cheek.
I just found myself very moved by the most incredibly simple enactment of something which is profoundly true about our human condition.
I watched it again and started blubbing even more.

I dunno, maybe I'm just a hormonally challenged silly billy at the moment.

Watch it and see what you think:

Friday, 17 July 2009

Newsflash. Clare stung by wasp. She is in a stable condition.

I have a distinct memory of standing beside my father when he chatted to a neighbour about a sting he got from a wasp. I was about 7 or 8 years old.

The precise words he used were "It was like the kick of a mule"

This made a great impression on my young mind. For a tiny wasp to give a grown man the size of my father a shock equivalent to the kick of a mule was something to ponder.

I became quite phobic and completely obsessed with avoiding EVER being stung by one of these power packed little demons.

I freaked out if one came near me. The slightest buzz was enough to send me running for the hills as if my hair was on fire .

Whilst others would sit calmly unflustered telling me "It won't sting you if you leave it alone" I would lose all dignity and reason and run around flailing every limb, tearing at my clothes and shouting "getawaygetawaygetaway!"

Once, a friend who was adopting the cool unflustered approach was actually stung while she sat there urging me to calm down.

Meanwhile, my approach, continued to work. The wasps left the crazy lady alone.

Until today.

Had I known that my dreaded nemesis had crawled discretely under my skirt I would have adopted my usual, highly effective, tearing at my clothes and running around in circles method. But when I crossed my legs it was too late. The sudden sharp thorny sensation I felt on my inner thigh caused me to leap up and the rude intruder flew out from under my skirt.

Sadly dear reader, not being a fully fledged 'Lady' the first word on my lips was the word that starts with 'sh' and ends with 'it'. And heedless of the watching little children I found great relief in gripping my 15 year old sons arm and saying it over and over until I returned to my senses and equlibrium was restored.

I am happy to report however, that my first wasp sting, though unpleasant, was nothing like I imagine the kick of a mule to be.

Not, now I come to mention it, that I have ever actually been kicked by a mule.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Contraception, the Passover meal, and the beginning of my coming home

Wordpress post from 15th July here.

Before I left the Catholic church I often used to sit in mass thinking "WHAT is this all about?"
Surely if Jesus made a return visit he'd be baffled.
What was with all the 'smells and bells' and scripted prayers and responses, and sitting and standing and kneeling to order like we were all playing a grown up game of 'Simon Says'?
It became pretty obvious to ME that if God and Nice Mr Jesus Meek and Mild were, in fact, REAL, rather than pleasant sociological constructs to give our lives a little shape and order, then that was BIG NEWS. Surely it had to be the most significant and enormous revelation of our lives.
So how could we be so 'ho hum' about it?
And why on earth would they want us going through these rather samey motions week after week?
I concluded that they wouldn't. That what we were doing week after week at mass was the combined result of centuries of religious practice, during which time we had moved further and further away from the "simple truth of the Gospel".
Does this sound familiar?
At the time I thought I had come to these conclusions all by myself and was becoming more and more quietly frustrated with what I saw as the complacency and dullness of 'organised religion'. Perhaps you can imagine my fascination and relief, in meeting other Christians who felt the same.
They wanted their faith to be the centre of their lives and weren't satisfied with just getting their church attendance card stamped on Sunday.
The sense of enthusiasm, not to mention the feeling of community and friendship was attractive and heart warming. It didn't take long for me to make the move.
I didn't miss mass at all. I had been so frustrated there. I used to think that I could be rotting away spiritually and no one would catch the smell.
I didn't go all 'anti Catholic' like some ex Catholics I knew ( my auntie being one) I was just glad to be free range.
I got to hang out with the Christians whose company was agreeable to me, energising even . There were no 'passengers' in my new church. there were no people there who were signing up to do catechism classes to have something to put on the school application form. I didn't hear any dodgy ideas about reincarnation, or how this story or that story in the bible was a myth invented to mollify the simple minds of superstitious peasants. Plus, they all were as familiar and easy with scripture as I was with the songs of Johnny cash. These people were serious! I was impressed!
Everyone was vital and involved. I loved the church. I felt a good 'fit' there. I liked the music, the preaching, the children’s work, the people. It was all good. Well, Mostly.
I had noticed that there were lots of different views about some things which, as a Catholic, I had assumed were pretty nailed down. Like baptism and women priests and, of course, the Eucharist.
It's funny looking back. I'm not sure why those inconsistencies didn't bother me more than they did. But they didn't. I just decided that God hadn't made it crystal clear. So he surely couldn't mind all that much whether we got it right or not.
But over time, these abstract questions became urgent questions of HOW TO LIVE. Today.
I wanted answers. I was always asking myself the 'what about?' questions. I wanted to know if there was a definitive answer to some fundamental questions.
The most pressing and fundamental seemed to be " Is contraception ok?"
This was important to me because if I was meant to be walking by faith and not by sight, and trusting in the goodness of Gods plan for my life...could I be throwing a spanner in the works by contracepting?
On this key issue, the question of 'openness to life' and what to do with my 21st century freedom of choice in the matter, my mind wouldn't stay shut.
It really bugged me that we would all agree about the necessity of walking by faith and not by sight, and of the need to be generous with our tithe ( whether or not that meant a literal 10%). We were unanimous that we were to fully trust in Gods perfect will for our lives, lives which were hidden in Christ to whom we offered ourselves as a living sacrifice.
And we certainly all agreed that God, the author of life, the Alpha and the Omega, could be trusted to manage His creation very nicely thankyouverymuch.
So why were we contracepting?
How should we live TODAY? And who was reliable enough to please work it out and tell me?
And while my mind started on that topic, it would quickly turn to myriad others.
What about salvation? Were we saved 'once for all' after a confession of faith in Jesus, or could I fall from grace and lose the prize?
And what about tithing? And what about healing? Does God want us ALL well? Does " By His stripes we are healed" mean that none of us need to get sick anymore?
So if the bible is all sufficient, what do we DO about questions that the bible doesn't explicitly address because they weren't issues back then?
Who could have envisaged stem cell research and human cloning?
It was all so confusing. I asked lots of people. There were many people whose lives were ample evidence of their sincere and devoted Christian faith. But often I got conflicting answers. Or they weren't sure either. Mostly we agreed that it was a good idea to pray about these things and ask the Holy Spirit to convict me of the truth.
I put some of these questions to the back of my mind. I liked what J John had to say on the matter, which, from memory, went something like " When God says 'Yes' he means 'Yes'. When God says 'No' He means 'No'. But when God doesn't say anything HE DOESN‘T MIND!"
The other issue that was kept cropping up for me was tradition. I have a deep, affectionate fascination with Judaism. Gods ancient people make me feel awed and it touches me that, despite the centuries of struggle, they are still here, still unique, still bringing something distinctive to the world.
A few years ago, as a home schooling teaching opportunity mainly, I decided to hold a Seder meal. I found it so intriguing. God really is the perfect teacher. Everything that I was starting to understand about how we learn, about different approaches and learning styles, was neatly encapsulated in that little ceremony.
The repetition of the familiar story. The multi sensory experience of tasting, hearing, seeing, smelling... Eat the green vegetable dipped in salt water and remember that as good as life is, it is often mixed with tears...Taste the salt water and remember the bitter tears our ancestors cried when they were the charoset and the matzoh bread and remember their back breaking work in the sand dunes of Egypt building pyramids for pharaoh...see the roasted lamb bone and remember the blood of the lamb, posted on the doors, saving us from the angel of death...clean out the leaven as a sign of our willingness to root out sin...light the candles to symbolize the presence of God with us...and so on.
These aren't in the correct order, I just jot them down here as they occur to me. But you get the picture.
In addition there is the place of importance given to the youngest child, who asks the questions. the importance of having guests, the priestly role of the father. I could go on and on. Suffice to say I was deeply struck by the beautiful simplicity of using a meal as a way of teaching a profound truth to be passed on through each generation.
I thought " No wonder the Jews are so smart, they knew how to learn. God taught them!"
And then I compared that with the way I sometimes found myself teaching my children about God, which was usually reading a little bible story aloud and then talking about it. It seemed a bit lame by comparison. I thought about how well God had set it up for His people to remember. A way in which even the youngest could enter in, by this multi sensory, repetitious experience.
Then I thought back to my old irritation with the scripted rubrics of the mass, of the uniform sitting standing and kneeling as one. No spontaneous self expression required. Or wanted.
Funny, how I rolled my eyes at that. And yet I revelled in the depth of meaning, in the richness of the symbolism in the Seder meal. How helpful it was in entering into the mystery of the Passover, re presented in every generation.
I sat thinking about this in silence and I remember the moment when the penny dropped and I heard myself saying "Oh.My.God" under my breath.
It was a proper 'light bulb' moment. At that point though, I would have been aghast to think that it was the point at which I would start turning back to all that I had left behind.
Just as well. Having no clue where my new insight was leading me, I forged ahead in confidence.
Had I known , I might have been considerably more trepidatious.

Free Rice


Another handy educational website. I'm starting to create a list in the sidebar here. Hopefully keeping them together like that will make it easier for me to find them again when the urgent need to occupy children in 'something remotely educational but not requiring mothers input' strikes.

This one comes with the added Feed the World impetus. "No, Gabriel, you HAVE to keep going! A starving person somewhere is depending on your correct identification of the artist who painted this masterpiece!" Whipcrackaway!

Virtual pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint Peter

Wordpress post from 11th July here.

This is pretty cool, and since travel is off the agenda for a bit, I may have to content myself with virtual tours such as this.
I'm putting it here because then I won't lose it ( my bookmarks are totally bloated, it's hard to find anything I've put there these days)
Besides, some of you might find it worth a look too.

Interesting story of a conversion in progress

Wordpress post from 7th June, here.

I have been reading an extraordinary story on one of the Catholic forums.

It concerns a young Jewish woman in her thirties who has been sharing some of her past and her current sense of being drawn to the church.

She initially posted on the forum because she was wanted to attend a Mass as an 'interested observer' but wanted to know if there was anything she should know about it beforehand. She expresses some reservations about the church, but says that here are some things she finds attractive also.

It has become a completely compelling story, as she has shared more, and others have commented on the growing thread to add their own thoughts, encouragements and experiences.

Especially poignant is her account of her homeless/transient childhood with her mentally ill mother. She doesn't know the identity of her father.

Together with her mother, she accessed the services of the Sisters of Charity who ran a soup kitchen in her city. The sisters were very kind to them and this has been an enduring memory for her. After her mother died, she was placed in foster care, but habitually ran away and turned up again at the door of the missionaries of Charity.

A visiting priest took an interest in her and arranged for her to go to a private school run by the Ursulines.

There she thrived and went on to carve out an extremely successful academic career. Having recently completed her PhD, she has started a new job in a new city. She regarded herself as agnostic, but has recently been feeling an inexplicable 'pull' to the church.

This is all in her introduction, but after this, the story just becomes more and more interesting. Her atheist, psychologist friend counsels her to avoid the church and seek couselling for her 'issues' instead. Her decision to go ahead and investigate her interest further has been a stumbling block for her friend, who has, it seems, shunned her.

It turns out that Mother Teresa had taken a special interest in this little girl and corresponded with her. She provides excerpts of some of the letters but prefers to keep most of them to herself. Those excerpts that she does share are extremely touching, and astonishingly mature, and even demanding, given that Mother was talking to a child.

This all leads into a very interesting discussion on the communion of saints and the efficacy of prayer.

Very early into the thread she does indeed go to Mass, and it turns out that one of the few individual in her new neighbourhood with whom she had made a friendly connection, was none other than the Parish Priest himself. This 'coincidence' makes a big impression on her.

It is fascinating to read her thoughts and responses to 'Catholic stuff' like Adoration and the Rosary.

It is very special to read a conversion story unravelling in 'real time'. There is a real sense of authenticity which I find can diminish somewhat with the passage of time, when a story is told in retrospect. Naturally enough I suppose, because it is told through the lens of the new found faith.

With this story, we see it all happening at once, the hesitation, the uncertainty and the wonderful lightbulb moments where something makes perfect sense.

If it piques your curiosity too, go and read it here . Be warned though, it's hard to stop reading, and there are 17 pages so far. You may find yourself up past midnight. I did.

I hate judgementalism, it makes me very judgemental

Wordpress post from 1st June here.

Sometimes it's hard being Catholic . I find the company difficult sometimes.

Yesterday I was at my husbands neices Confirmation. I was there for most of it . Although I had to leave about 45 minutes in owing to Honors patience having run out. I did get to see Frances being slapped ( ever so lightly) by the Bishop before I left though. So I can confirm that she was indeed confirmed. She is a lovely, elegant little thing and I love her and her two sisters. I do especially love her mother who has been the truest sort of sister to me and is probably one of the noblest and kindest people I know.

That was the good bit.

The less good bit was another encounter with my own less than impressive advance in the area of personal sanctity. To wit, a tendancy towards irritability and judgementalism when I'm at these kind of 'churchy do's'.

I used the time outside feeling frustrated and penitent at my own judgemental attitudes. Why did I think it was my business what that girl in the next pew was wearing? And how much balconette cleavage she had on display was NOTHING to do with me. Ditto the adults outside who were hanging around in their best bib and tucker chatting and having a smoke while waiting for the ceremonies to move on, so that they could progress to the party bit afterwards.

I HATE judgementalism. I am SO disappointed in myself that I slip back into mentally totting up the SQ ( spirituality quotient) of other people.

As if MY OWN was giving Mother Teresa a run for her money.

So I beat my chest and prayed and apologised to God for neglecting the log in my own eye.

And then, in the soiree afterwards I got chatting with someone who gave me a whole new challenge altogether. She was a confirmation catechist. She was a bit sniffy about some element of the practice in that church and told me loftily that in HER church, catechists are VERY closely vetted and have to 'go on a course'. Unlike 'other parishes where they take anybody'.

SHE was clearly not 'anybody'.

I enquired what sort of qualifications were required in her church. The answer to that was that they had to be weekly mass goers. Oh. A basic minimum I would have thought. But hardly a demanding one.

I shared with her some of my own cynicism about confirmation programmes based on reports of the children of friends who have been on them, I take a dim view of the 'weekend away' which often turns out to be a tempting challenge to some wags to get up to high jinks. Which include smuggling in fags and booze and letting off fireworks in the dormitory corridors.

And then there are the 'discussion points' which apparently have included Jesus's s*xuality ( "Was Jesus a s*xual person?") a topic which I suppose grabs the attention of even the most feckless youth, which perhaps is the idea.

Another one was the showing of a video last year about a boy who wears make up to school and is teased for it by his peers. The discussion afterwards centered, I am told, on the importance of not being judgemental, and issues around homophobic attitudes and why we shouldn't hold them .

My friend the catechist thought this perfectly marvellous, citing the urgent need to combat homophobia and to teach the youngsters about how awful it is.

I don't care for discrimination against any group of people so we were approaching common ground here. Except I feel that it's a missed opportunity not to discuss the churches much fuller and more coherent teaching on the dignity of every human person. To boil it down instead to a discussion on homophobia, which, quite frankly, the local authority probably explains much better in their leaflet on homophobic bullying, seemed like a wasted opportunity in my view.

I mean, if we're going to talk about person phobia, why the narrow focus? How about ugly phobia? Fat phobia? Poverty phobia? Or slow witted phobia? Because in my opinion, if you are unfortunate enough to be poor, unattractive and a bit of a dim bulb, you don't have too much going for you in the way of spokespersons, role models or fashionable causes. In fact, you are probably amongst the most discriminated against people on the face of the earth.

And hey! what has all this got to do with the sacrament of confirmation anyway?

But I digress.

My point was that I was starting to take a dim veiw of the catechist. A view that wasn't helped much by her trumpeting of herself as being a class act catechist and her sniffiness at those parishes who 'just let anybody do it'. And the other little matter of her enthusiasm for a medium on the telly who contacts those ' on the other side'. She got tickets for a big show at the Gaumont for her and her husband because this medium definately has 'the gift'

I was starting to get judgemental again. My bad.

And then she said this

" The biggest problem our church has got at the moment are the Africans"

"I'm sorry...the Africans? How?"

"Because they have a different culture"

"But the catholic church is a universal church"

"Yes, but most of them also go to a Pentecostal church, and Pentecostals aren't Christians"

"Oh, they are. they most definately are Christians"

"No they aren't. I know them. They are in my church. Pentecostals don't believe in the Holy Spirit"

"But they certainly do! That's why they call themselves 'Pentecostal' "

"Oh...yes, i meant the Trinity, they don't believe in the Trinity"

"Are you talking about Jehovahs witnesses?"

"No. Definitely Pentecostals. They just want to go off and praise the Lord" And she said this with a 'praise' hand action and a little mocking roll of the eyes.

*Sigh* I was getting all judgemental again. And this time I was loftily being judgemental of HER judgementalism.

And all this on the back of my not very much earlier prayers apologising to God for my bad attitude.

Sometimes I find myself so annoying.

First post

Wordpress post from 9th May, here.

This isn't my first blog. I have an old one that was sadly neglected for a couple of years. Not being quite sure how to introduce myself here, I've decided to copy and paste my 'hello again' post from there.
Since this is a new beginning, I felt it was time for a new, fresh blog.
Bear with me while I tinker.

I'm sorry.
I know it's a terrible breach of bloggy etiquette to just disappear with no word of explanation.
it's a long story.
I hardly know where to begin. The past couple of years have wrought many changes. The most significant of which is the birth of my twin daughters, Olivia and Honor.
Honor is nearly 19 months old now and the darling pulse of my heart. Olivia, a dark, curly haired angel with a rosebud mouth, was born into heaven.
I had a very difficult pregnancy and simply couldn't bring myself to blog about it. I was sure that when I had got through it, I would post a picture of me with my two beautiful twinkles and say "Ta da! THIS is the reason for my long absence!"
Of course, it didn't happen like that, and I couldn't bear to write about it.
I was depressed when I was pregnant and I complained about how pathological it felt to be carrying twins. I didn't realise I was getting sicker and sicker. I just thought that was how pregnancy with twins felt. I was complacent too. I 'knew' that when they were born I would have the chance to make it up to them, but when I was carrying them I complained and fretted about how bad I felt.
I couldn't pray either, I felt further from God than I have ever felt before.
Now I am reading Dark Night of the Soul I recognise so much of what I experienced back then during those bleak, fretful months.
I have no words to describe the contrition and remorse I felt when I held my little lifeless baby. I had no way to smooch her and make up for my moaning whilst she had been inside me.
Had she felt rejected and unloved? My heart is pierced with sorrow and regret for my fickle complaining, and for my lack of trust and confidence in God.
It's harrowing to be confronted with ones own wretchedness.
A friend who led our small womens bible study told me that she believed that by complaining, I had cursed myself. It was a little comment that she tossed out by way of explaining how 'difficult' she had found it. We were on the phone at the time so she couldn't see me. It was probably hard for her to imagine the effect that her commentary was having on me, speaking as she was, into my deepest, darkest dread. I felt as though a cold hand was grasping my lungs. It was hard to breathe. I wondered if I might actually stop breathing and pass out. It's strange how strong emotions are actually experienced in a very physical way.
I managed to squeak out that " I have to go now". She was breezy, she had no idea. People can be strange. This is what she said:
" OK, well can I pray for you?"
"No, no, not now, I really have to go"
" I see" she said, her voice clipped now, I had offended her " How interesting. I find that very interesting that you won't be prayed for. Goodbye"
She also shunned Olivias funeral because it was held in a catholic church. She discouraged the other women in the group from coming. She acknowledged, and hotly defended all this because " The truth is very important".
When I protested that Jesus ate with tax collectors, she shot back " Not while they were actively defrauding people" She wanted to know why we hadn't had the funeral service in HTB, the Anglican church that we attended ( Although catholic from my youth, I no longer considered myself a Catholic, I was 'just a Christian', with no denominational affiliation as such. I was happy that way and had no axe to grind with Rome. I was just completely disinterested in what I saw as the folderols and complexity of inherited religion )
The truth was, the funeral was in a catholic church because my husband organised it. I was just a sleepwalking, albeit assenting, passenger. My husband, although he really appreciated the vibrant faith evident in our 'new' church, had never really lost his sense of Catholic identity, and when it all hit the fan, his default port of call was our local parish priest.
Fr John was a man who knew all about my walking away from the church. I had met him over other business related to the school my children used to attend, and had been upfront from the beginning as I didn't want to mislead him about where I was. We hit it off well from the beginning, perhaps he appreciated my honesty, he certainly didn't bat an eyelid and seemed to accept my position. For my part, I was happy to meet a catholic priest who unabashedly loved God and was a man of prayer. Nonetheless, I didn't feel I needed to go to his church which, I felt, couldn't hold a candle to HTB in terms of vibrancy and enthusiasm.
Still, when it came to our daughters funeral, my husband knew it had to be Catholic.
Deo Gratias.
The story of my return home is one that I want to document for my own sake, so that I will always remember the 'treasures of darkness' and how God really is a God of surprises.
There is so much I want to write about. It's a process of catharsis I suppose.
It's good to be ready to talk about these things.
It's great to be home.