Monday, 28 December 2009

On the feast of the Holy Innocents

"A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, for they were no more."

I read a piece today that was linked to on MommyLife.
It is the response of a Rabbi to a question from a mother who has learnt that the baby she is expecting has Downs syndrome. She wonders whether she should end the pregnancy.
It is a beautiful response. This especially touched me:

Since this will be the soul of a child who will need special care and who will know the world differently than others, she has a special mission. She is chosen to ignite the kindness that lies dormant in people's souls and plant the seeds of empathy in their hearts; to teach caring, patience and tolerance in a way no other teacher could. She will enter the world armed with lessons and tests for all who will come to know her—and she will leave it a much kinder world, a world blossoming with compassion, a world where people can feel for one another and put aside their own concerns and comfort to run to help. She will leave behind a touch of the heaven from whence she came."

Read the rest here.

Today the church honours the memory of the infant victims of King Herod.
It's a sombre reflection, and it would be hard to believe that such savage cruelty would be possible, were it not for the daily reporting of similar horrors. Horrors against which we mostly become inured in order to protect our hearts and perhaps also to preserve our sanity.
The normal instinct responds protectively to weakness and vulnerability.
Where we see innocence, we sense something delightful, liberating and true.

When power is turned
against the helpless, rather than in defence of them, our hearts are unsettled. Sometimes it is simply too much, too intractably difficult, too sad for us to contemplate.
And we turn away.

Today, I am thinking about the weak, the vulnerable and the innocent.
My prayer is that they inspire in me always an impulse to cherish, to protect and to humbly learn from "the least of these".

I am thinking also, of those parents who have known the loss of a child. My prayer for them is that they have the assurance and comfort that God gives to the completely weak and defeated.

I am thinking especially today of Olivia, my own 'holy innocent'. Whose short life wrung out my heart.

The pangs of sorrow are immeasurably eased by the blessing of Marie-Aibhlinn. Nonetheless, I miss her. And I know that without her, inwardly, I will always be walking with a little limp.

Dear Olivia, loved and carried always in my heart, until we meet in heaven, pray for me.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

7 Quick Takes. The very late edition.


Behold the crib! A very plain version this year , but I've decided that plain is the way to go since I have it at child's 'fiddling height'. My previous attempts at more elaborate nativity scenes have made me very possessive of the 'look' and twitchy about little fingers constantly giving it a makeover.
This year, assembly was fuss free.
  • Dark felt backdrop tintacked to underside of bookshelf suggesting a dark Bethlehem night: Check.
  • Fairy lights hitched crudely onto tintacks suggestive of twinkly Bethlehem skies: Check
  • Nativity figures awaiting the darling promised baby: Check
Done in five minutes.

Oh, and Honors subsequent not so final touches:
  • Woolly sheep from farm set: Check
  • Plastic cow also from farm set: Check
  • Plastic polar bear from zoo set: Check

Be it ever so simple, the crib is the loveliest of all the Christmas decorations. When everyone has gone to bed, I love to just sit with a glass of wine and stare at it. And of course, tweak the polar bear a bit and move the angel just a touch. It's like a holy dolls house.


I get a lot of inspiration from other bloggers.
Here is a photo of Gabriel and Colmcille last night which handily illustrates three advent activities all going on at once, all of which owe in some part to various lovely blogs.
See the lovely tree on which hangs some Jesse tree symbols? I got that tip here.
( click on the photo to see how tres tres 'rustique' the symbols are)

See the advent candle ring in the foreground? Got that recommendation from here ( although sadly the seller was out of stock and it only arrived a couple of days ago, so it is still sans greenery at the moment. It will be greened up tomorrow)

Notice the papers that the children are busy working on? They are the most lovely O Antiphon colouring pages which I found here.
We used metallic gel pens in lovely colours and then I laminated the pages. They look wonderful, like illuminated manuscript. The boys love using the gel pens, and even though they sometimes go on 'colouring in strike' they happily did this while I read to them and were happy to do it again this evening.


Just after I took the photo of the crib, Honor dropped the camera and I notice that there is now a shadow on the bottom left of the screen. At first I thought it was my thumb occluding the window, but I now realise that it must be damaged from the fall. What a pity.


I don't watch the telly much, but caught the tail end of this new sitcom on BBC2 the other night. It's called Miranda and it tickled me so much that I was still snorting after I had finished watching it. I only saw the last 10 minutes, so I looked it up on iplayer and spent a half hour at lunchtime, while Honor was napping and Colmcille was doing something with a pair of scissors and a cardboard box, watching it again.
And just incase you think I was recumbent on the sofa at the time, in a Juicy Couture tracksuit eating bon bons. I was not. I was peeling potatoes. I think that laughing and peeling vegetables counts as multi tasking.
And I don't wear Juicy Couture tracksuits. I have standards.
If you are tempted, here's the link. Go on, laughing is good for you It's like a massage on the inside apparently. All your internal organs get pleasingly jigged about. And that's a Well Known Medical Fact (TM)


The actress who plays Mirandas mother is Patricia Hodge. I briefly looked after her after she had her second baby when I worked on the private ward at Queen Charlottes. I recall her being charming, and well... younger!
Much younger. Whoever said Tempus Fugit spoke the truth. And I think it is fugitting faster every year.


Has anyone tried this? Do I need it? Will it change my life?
I certainly DO find myself losing track of my life. I identify with the foolish man in the video.
I need to know if it's the next thing that I have to have. Advice please.


Do I have to always post 7 things?

( more quick takes here.)

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Hate debate?

I enjoy a ( friendly) argument. But it can be hard to find a willing partner.
With my husband, whose temperament is completely different, I have to temper my natural impulse to toss every question back and forth several times and examine it from every angle. To him, this is being picky and splitting hairs.
I think it's energising to have a spirited debate. He finds it draining, isn't excited about the minutiae that I find so stirring, and prefers what he calls a 'live and let live' philosophy ( not, despite the implication, that mine is conversely 'kill or be killed' lol!) and he is not fascinated by following minute points to their ultimate conclusion in the way that I tend to be.

I realise how irritating my 'arguing hobby' must be to some (ok most) but in my defence, it does come with a plus point in that I'm not touchy or easily offended when people disagree with me. Au contraire! Another opportunity to indulge in my favourite hobby!

On one of the home ed email lists I subscribe to, a question was posted about some 'friendly banter between the poster and her good friend who is an atheist.
This is what he said to her:

Is that the sort of love that leveled Sodom and Gomorrah, flooded an entire planet leaving only two survivors and committed various other genocidal atrocities eg Judges 19:29 , 20 , Numbers 31:18 , 25 and various others? Oh yes, Old Testament god, before the image makeover."

She wondered if anyone had anything interesting to say.

One of the responders said that it was better not to engage him as he was probably only wanting to make faith look foolish and to win the argument. She suggested praying for him instead and offered some very lovely suggestions for how to pray very specifically for him.
Her response got me thinking. Because of course she is right. But she probably isn't an 'amiable arguer' and, like my husband, tends to see comments like this as contrary and even hostile.
I don't. Because it's the sort of thing that I would say and sincerely not mean any offence at all.
So I thought I'd respond giving the perspective of an amiable arguer, because we are a sadly misunderstood and dare I say it, even unappreciated lot.
(Of course I don't know if the chap in question is in fact 'amiable' but since the poster describes him as a dear friend, I'm going to assume he is.)

Here's what I said:

Can I offer another perspective from someone who enoys the cut and thrust of friendly argument?
Sometimes this kind of provocative rhetoric is meant to actually drive the conversation forward rather than stop it in a hard place.

I've been around the tracks a bit in my spiritual journey and when I was questing it was a real treat to meet someone who was bright, articulate, willing to engage in some banter without getting easily offended and not afraid of tackling the hard questions.
I often asked hard, possibly offensive questions myself, not with the intention to provoke or to win the argument ( even though it may have looked like that) but because I really was sincerely interested in whether there could be a reasonable answer, however unlikely that may have seemed to me at the time.

I think a discussion of this nature can easily run all over the place and when it does it loses it's focus and therefore it's power to help us to think and even change our minds.

With the atheism/theism discussion I would use a similar approach to the one I use when discussing the issue of abortion. Be willing to discuss the hard issues, but first clarify why you believe your baseline principle or belief is reasonable and valid.

For example, with abortion, I start by explaining that I believe abortion is wrong because it involves killing a baby, and it is always wrong to do that. Then follows ( hopefully) a spirited discussion on the nature of what it means to be a baby or even human, in order to elaborate further. Once we have established that, it is easier to discuss the hard questions like abortion in the case of rape or fetal abnormality. Or at least, the discussion makes more sense.

Likewise, when discussing the issue of belief in God, I would first want to nail down some of the reasons why I believe it is reasonable, sane and logical to hold this belief.
The bottom line is that Gods existence isn't really something that we reasonably accept or reject because we like the sound of Him and approve of what He does.
We are free to accept or reject the idea of God based on those feelings, but the existence of God, or the non existence of God doesn't change according to our view.
It's either true or it's not.

And that's another very good question for another day.
Please leave me your thoughts, contrary or otherwise. I know you'll be amiable!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Today the church celebrates the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Having, until fairly recently, been standing on the other side of the theological fence, I feel sensitive to the ickiness, perplexity and even downright offence that this teaching provokes.

When I was 'away from the church' I never felt repulsed by the Marian doctrines, as I know some are. I was just completely disinterested in them. They seemed odd and irrelevant. How could we possibly know? Why did it matter?

Today I still feel surprised by how different the view looks from this new perspective.
Reflecting on my new acceptance of the authority of the church to teach ( something I have come to understand as being entirely scriptural and related to our trust in the competence of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth ) the dogma of the Immaculate Conception now seems to me to be a part of the seamless theological garment which, rather than deifying Mary ( which is how it appears to some of my protestant friends) in fact upholds and emphasises the deity of Christ.

I've been thinking about Moses, who was instructed to remove his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. And about Uzzah, whose unfortunate fate underlined the undefilable holiness of the ark of the covenant.
Anyway, while my mind is turning on these things, I'm planning to listen to this talk tonight.
The speaker is
Professor Lawrence Feingold of the Association of Hebrew Catholics and his lecture is on Mary’s Immaculate Conception and her role as the New Eve . He sounds suitably boffinaceous for bedtime listening.

On a more practical note, I've been thinking about how on earth those mummy bloggers who post delightful pictures of liturgically themed teas and arts and crafts do it. Do they have an army of domestic staff in the background doing the washing up and wiping bottoms?
I went to mass this morning with the children and we stayed for 10 minutes afterwards for adoration. The children were uncharacteristically quiet and biddable. Marie-Aibhlinn slept in the sling and Honor and Colmcille knelt in an attitude of picture postcard piety before the Blessed Sacrament.
Rather than maximising this little heavenly opportunity for personal contemplative prayer, I spent the ten minutes being fascinated by the childrens behaviour and wondering how long it would last.
After ten minutes I figured any longer would be pushing my luck so we left while the going was good.

When we came home we made some spiced biscuit dough, and a banana cake in honour of the feast day. The biscuits never actually got baked, but the dough is sitting in the fridge so we'll get round to that over the next few days. This colouring page is still in the works.
While we made eggy, floury messes in the kitchen, we listened to this:

Because of all the baking ( which,
owing to all the 'help' I have in the kitchen, always takes far longer than I ever imagine it will) supper was yesterdays leftover bolognese. None of the planned read alouds got read. Apart from a little handwriting practice and ten minutes German ( thank you Rosetta Stone) we didn't get any of the other planned home ed stuff done.
Even the laundry didn't happen until this evening after Honor went to bed. I'd love to watch a video play back of my day, because I want to see how it is possible to move around so much, and get so little actually done. I must be being uneconomical with my time somewhere. Perhaps I do need one of those home management binders that I keep reading about?

Badman review press release

On Tuesday 8th December from 6.30p.m. home educators are holding a vigil in Old
Palace Yard opposite the Houses of Parliament.
Inside, history is being made as home educators begin to petition the House of
Commons to get rid of Clause 26 of the Children, Schools and Families bill.

More than 250 identical petitions from constituencies all over England, an
overwhelming record in parliamentary history, are to be presented to Parliament
over the next few weeks.

Under existing law, Local Authorities have powers to take action if they have
reason to believe home educated children in their area are not receiving a
suitable education, according to their age, aptitude and ability. Under section
47 of the Children Act 1989 they also have the power to intervene and gain
access to the home where there is evidence that a child is at risk of
significant harm.

However, under clause 26, the Government is seeking to dramatically extend State

· The Bill requires that all home educators apply annually for
permission to continue home educating.

· Local authorities will also to have the right to enter the residence "where
the education takes place" and potentially to interview children without the
parent present.

· Home educating parents will be required to formulate an annual
educational plan, which must be approved by the Local Authority. Parents will
then be assessed in accordance with the plan.

· Non-compliance with the demands of the Local Authority will result in a
Statutory School Order being issued.

The proposed legislation is in direct opposition to Section 7 of the Education
Act that it is the `duty of parents to secure education'. For the first time in
British legislative history, the Government will become responsible for
children's education instead of parents. This represents a fundamental shift in
power, allowing the State to intrude yet further into family life.

Currently home educating parents take full responsibility for their children's
learning, at no cost to the taxpayer. They are sensitive to the shifting
developmental needs of their children. However, the proposed legislation
threatens this educational approach, as parents who diverge from the enforced
plan will have their children forcibly sent to school.

The Government is proposing to spend £1000 per child per annum on just
monitoring each home educated child (no funds are earmarked for providing
support or improving access to services for home educated children). As there is
no evidence that this monitoring will improve
educational outcomes for children, this is an unwarranted additional expense at
a time when massive cut backs in existing services are necessary to stem
Government debt.

Radio London's Drivetime 5 -7 p.m ( GMT). will be covering the demo outside Parliament tonight and is likely to cover the political angle more.