Saturday, 31 March 2007

On being faithless to be trustworthy...

I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.
"The Invitation", Oriah

This poem, which has been circulated around the world since Oriah first shared it with her students in the late 1990s, shook something loose in me when I first read it. Tears ran down my face as I read stanzas like:

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

She wrote this poem after one of those dismal parties where everyone natters on about shallow, soul-destroying subjects. Where people exaggerate that little bit to make themselves sound better than they are. Where they try oh-so-hard to sound like intellectuals, and sound like pretentious prats instead. Where they exaggerate the number of people they slept with and how their exes are all still pining after them. Where, of course, they couldn't possibly mention their shortcomings, wonder about the nature of the universe, admit that someone else is better at something than they are or laugh at themselves, because that would make them look weak. Human.

And God forbid they should ever use the words "I don't know."

The kind of party that, if you have any desire to really connect with people, makes you want to slit your wrists.

She got home and wrote the poem using a simple technique she learned at a workshop: pair a sentence beginning with "It doesn't matter to me..." with one that starts "I want to know..." And she turned it into something that touched the hearts of people around the globe.

The first stanza I quoted made my breath catch when I first read it. What fascinated me even more was that it made people *furious*. Many wrote her and told her that she meant faithful, and would list the reasons why. Instead of exploring how you could be "faithless and therefore trustworthy", people wanted to change it to fit their comfort zone. How could you possibly be *faithless* and trustworthy?

One of the first examples that sprung to mind was the Catholic clergy, not least because in a recent lunch with a clerical friend, he had said, with great vehemence, "I hate the ones that leave. I think they're traitors." I questioned whether he meant the priesthood or his particular group, and he said, "Both." I was struck by his vehemence and inwardly wondered, "Are you turning your anger outwards onto those who dare to do what you wish you had done?"

I thought about clerics I knew who had left their orders, congregations, etc. to become secular priests or to get married. The ones who had dared to face down the institution and say, "Enough. I won't lie; I won't pretend; God is calling me to something/somewhere else. I'm leaving." The ones who bore the anger, scorn, hatred, accusations of betrayal, questions about their sanity to be true to who they were and what they felt God was asking of them (sound like the Via Dolorosa, anyone?). The ones who showed those around them that you can be true to yourself and that they needed to stop seeking approval and start seeking love and truth.

I realised that I trusted them with my heart and my life. That I could talk to them at length and depth without fear of scorn or attempted emotional manipulation to get me to follow a certain way. I can feel the Spirit of God in them loud and clear and their essence sounds as true as a crystal note.

Faithless, and therefore trustworthy.

I also know those who stayed because it was expected, because they needed approval, because they were afraid. I watch them dismember themselves and become less of who they truly are as they sink into busyness, power-seeking, glib superficiality, people-pleasing, alcoholism, drugs to numb the pain of amputation after amputation. One of the saddest and most disturbing statements I ever heard was, "He told me that at first, your vows make you stay. Then eventually, you want to stay." My heart broke on those words.

That isn't truth. That is fear, comfort and the death of the spirit within you - both mundane and holy. Even God will stop whispering when He knows it falls on deaf ears:

Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.

--"Houses" from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Over time, I realise that I tell them less and less - the breadth and depth of conversation lessens; I won't go to them for confession; I don't trust them with my real thoughts and feelings.

My heart whispers, "You lie to yourself, to your Church, to all those who are close to you. Your entire life is a lie. How can I trust you?"

Faithful, and therefore untrustworthy.

But even as I use them as examples, I know that as I point one finger at them, I'm pointing three back at myself. The truth is that those lines hit me because *I* am guilty of being faithful and untrustworthy:

I am not a Catholic.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Barely able to watch the Cricket World Cup...

On March 18, just as the Cricket World Cup was bedding in, Bob Woolmer, Pakistan's coach, died. I had just sat myself down in front of the cricket on telly after a lovely afternoon with friends when Mark looked over at me from the kitchen sink and said, "Did you know? Bob Woolmer is dead."

I stared at him, uncomprehending. "WHAT?" "Bob Woolmer is dead," he repeated. I must have still looked like a gormless foreign teenager who had spent two hours, tops, at any of the schools of English in the city, because he said it *again*.

Stunned, I think I asked how. At that point, the prevailing wisdom was that it was a tragic death due to natural causes such as a heart attack or a diabetic coma. My heart went out to his family and all those who knew him - he seemed like such a lovely man, with such a passion for the game. When I read that blood and vomit had been found at the scene, my heart sank. I knew he'd been murdered.

That was confirmed on Friday, when the autopsy results were revealed. When Chris B. popped by the library, he told me that his Indian friend who runs the corner shop had said to him early last week, "He has been murdered and there's a lot more to come out." Apparently, Pakistan television had announced that Bob Woolmer had been murdered and an arrest had been made on TUESDAY, days before the autopsy results were available. Things that make you go hmmmm.

I've barely been able to watch the cricket since.

But I haven't missed all the coverage and speculation in the press...and some journalists, such as Mark Marqusee in the Guardian, are claiming 'stereotyping' of the Pakistani team and 'hysterical' reactions in the press.

Political correctness irimtates me no end - especially the "we can't say this b/c they're not white" crap rampant in the press. Had the coach of a white team been murdered, the team would have been under the microscope and no one would have turned a hair. (No Darryl jokes, please) If you'd say it about a white team, you can say it about a black or brown team - not doing so is just another form of condescension and racism.

reaction isn't 'hysterical' - Pakistani cricketers - and Pakistani men in general, really - *are* temperamental and refuse to take responsibility for their actions, because *no one ever holds them accountable*.

As the Daily Telegraph says,

"The impression is that many of the players, like the male-dominated society they come from, are a law unto themselves with allegiance only to Islam and their family. That could be why democracy has failed in Pakistan and the reason military dictatorships seem to be the only effective form of government."

In my experience, that is the truth - except that they hold to Islam b/c it justifies their male-dominated, tribal society, and as for allegiance to their families - well, there have been enough bride burnings and 'family honour' murders and acquittals when a sister was raped or married out of her own choice to show a very...unique sense of family allegiance. So really, Pakistani men's only allegiance is to themselves and eachother - as long as you're from the same tribe.

So let's look at the facts. Have Pakistani cricketers tampered with the ball more than most? Yes. Have they been involved in match-fixing? Yes. Taken drugs? Yes. Have they refused to accept responsibility for how they play and/or behave? Yes. There is evidence for *all of these*. Hence, no one is stereotyping, they're basing their comments on past experience and evidence.

Let's call a spade a spade and not give in to 'political correctness'. Bob Woolmer, God rest his soul, most likely opened the door to his killer. Thus, he must have known and trusted him. That puts the team, whatever its nationality, firmly in the frame.

And let's not forget that Pakistan Television (PTV) reported Woolmer's death as a murder on Tuesday, 20 March. Before the autopsy results were out. So somebody over there knows something.

My cousins in Pakistan are probably wondering out loud if the team had anything to do with it. They won't be offended by the thought; they're considering it as a very real possibility. If *they* can, why not the international press?

If Pakistanis don't have a problem considering the team members as possible suspects and match-fixing as a motive, neither should anyone else.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007


On lunch hour, having a bit of fun. Apparently, I'm an agnostic - go figure. Loved this one though, thought it was spot on:

Your Theme Song is Beautiful Day by U2

"Sky falls, you feel like
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away"

You see the beauty in life, especially in ordinary everyday moments.
And if you're feeling down, even that seems a little beautiful too.

and the 5 factor value test was pretty spot on as well - I value loyalty, but not *blind* loyalty. It needs to be earned:

Your Values Profile


You don't really value loyalty.
In your opinion, friendship should be earned.
If you don't agree with someone, it doesn't matter how close you are.
You'll let them (and everyone else know) exactly what you think.


You value honesty highly.
You're unflinchingly honest, even when it's not easy.
For you, integrity is very important - in yourself and others.
People may not always like what you say, but they know they can trust it.


You value generosity highly.
So much so that you often put your own needs last.
There's nothing wrong with having a caring heart...
But you may want to rethink your "open wallet" policy.


You value humility highly.
You have the self-confidence to be happy with who you are.
And you don't need to seek praise to make yourself feel better.
You're very modest, and you're keep the drama factor low.


You value tolerance highly.
Not only do you enjoy the company of those very different from you...
You do all that you can to seek it out interesting and unique friends.
You think there are many truths in life, and you're open to many of them.

Friday, 16 March 2007

Nobody expects...

...the Spanish Inquisition or what Dominicans get up to once the laity have left. Grand Inquisitors they may be, but they need just that little bit more rhythm.

Yes, working in a priory really is like this.

And I can't help but think that since St Dominic was Spanish, they might have moved more smoothly to Ricky Martin's "Living la vida loca".

Luminox review

Luminox was magic. I stepped into Broad Street and entered a fire almost expected to see salamanders (the fire elemental, not the animal) whizzing through the air. From a fire chandelier held up by a crane to streamers of fire descending to the Bodleian to a Rube Goldberg-like fire and water feature, it was a sensory delight. (And a pyromaniac's one, of course.)

Suddenly, the strong smell of burning coal took me back to winter nights in Pakistan, walking down a dark Bahawalpur street or sitting on a roof in Sahiwal...for a moment, I could feel the dust beneath my feet. As I walked down the darkest part of Broad Street by firelight, I half-expected a Juma'a bazaar to appear and to hear the Friday night haggling on a chilly subcontinental winter evening.

Fire is primal. It exerts great power in our lives and in our imaginations, bringing us comfort and fear, light and heat, life and death. It has been considered one of the four elements, alongside water, earth and air. People were drawn to it like...erm, well, I was going to say, 'moths to a flame'. The street was crowded, and faces flickering past me were smiling, engaged and enchanted, something so rarely seen in these days of post-technological ennui.

And all because of fire - as part of various structures, granted, but the structures were simple in form - a chandelier, a sphere, streamers...magnificent to behold and hypnotic, nonetheless.

As per the Orange cinema advert about the New York blackout:

Sometimes things need to switch off for people to switch on.


Just a quick note post-coffee break: this week, to kick off the celebrations of Oxfordshire's 1000th birthday, they're setting Broad St on fire! The show is called Luminox, and it began last night and ends tomorrow night. In honour of a happy medium, I'm going tonight - and I can't wait. The picture to the left is from flickr, and there are 21 more from last night here. Enjoy, and those of you who are in town, hope to see you there - by firelight, of course!

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Becoming Jane...and the four millisecond rule

I've just gotten home from watching "Becoming Jane". Lovely film, even though it was a bit odd to see one of the current villains in "24" as Jane's loving father. Casting was excellent, with only an occasional vowel of Anne Hathaway's giving her away. And very brave of Hollywood to go for the (look away now) unhappy ending.

In the film, Jane is in love with Tom LeFroy, a young barrister dependent on his uncle's purse. They decide to run off together, but Jane thinks better of it when she realises that Tom sends his parents a share of the allowance he stands to lose if they marry.

But leaving the angst aside for the moment, let's go to the delightful scene reminiscent of the ball scene from the definitive "Pride and Prejudice" from 1995 (Colin Firth, a man I wouldn't kick out of my bed for eating jam doughnuts), where the sexual tension was so intense, I snapped open my fan. In this film, Jane and Tom, each with other partners, meet in a diagonal cross during a country dance.

Reading between the lines, here's how I reckon the conversation *really* went:

Jane and Tom see eachother - their eyes widen, they blush, they grin like hyenas.

Jane: Tom! How lovely to see you!
Tom: Jane...why, you know, I never noticed what a lovely bosom you have.
Jane: Yes, this housekeeper really knows how to fit one into a corset. But, love, I have never noticed you breaking the four millisecond rule before.
Tom (blushing): Well, my darling, we do, actually. We're terribly beastly. I just didn't want you to catch me're the one woman whose good opinion ever mattered...
Jane (blushing): Well, now that you mention it...
Tom: Yes, my sweet?
Jane: I've been looking too. And those trousers...
Tom: Yes?
Jane: Well, I expect you'd have a hard time finding the proper size cricket box...and...
Tom: Why, Jane! Such hidden depths. And...
Jane: That coat makes your bum look fabulous.
Tom: Why, darling, it's getting warm in here. And my heart is beating faster... would you consider...
Jane: Yes?
Tom: Spending your life with me?
Jane: Well...
Tom: I'll have £2500 a year.
Jane: Ah. In my novel, "First Impressions", Mr Bingley has £5000. Mr Darcy, £10,000.
Tom: I see. A bit of pride and prejudice over my situation, perhaps?
Jane: (Thoughtful silence) Those figures are a bit excessive. I can dispose of myself for £2500 and affection.
Tom: Such sense and sensibility...shall we, my love?
Jane: Indeed.

I hope I've convinced you with my powers of persuasion.

*The four millisecond rule states that every man, straight or gay, looks at a woman's chest for four milliseconds on meeting her. Breaking the four millisecond rule means staring for five milliseconds or longer.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Purim Sameach

Tonight, the night of the 13th of Adar, the day that Haman chose for the extermination of the Jews, the night they were saved by G-d through Queen Esther, begins the joyous holiday of Purim. This year, with a total lunar eclipse of the full moon on its way, there is just that extra touch of magic.

On this night, when Queen Esther dared to appeal directly to the king himself for the saving of her people, Jews are commanded to drink until they cannot tell the difference between "Blessed be Mordechai (Esther's cousin)" and "Cursed be Haman." To see a world turned on its head, you need to be off yours.

This past Thursday, I was looking forward to reading from the Book of Esther during mass. It is one of my favourite chapters of the year, Esther 14 - and not least because my secret pleasure is that it always falls on the Thursday nearest Purim:

Then Queen Esther, seized with deadly anxiety, fled to the Lord.
2She took off her splendid apparel and put on the garments of distress and mourning, and instead of costly perfumes she covered her head with ashes and dung, and she utterly humbled her body; every part that she loved to adorn she covered with her tangled hair. 3She prayed to the Lord God of Israel, and said: ‘O my Lord, you only are our king; help me, who am alone and have no helper but you, 4for my danger is in my hand. 5Ever since I was born I have heard in the tribe of my family that you, O Lord, took Israel out of all the nations, and our ancestors from among all their forebears, for an everlasting inheritance, and that you did for them all that you promised. 6And now we have sinned before you, and you have handed us over to our enemies 12Remember, O Lord; make yourself known in this time of our affliction, and give me courage, O King of the gods and Master of all dominion! 13Put eloquent speech in my mouth before the lion, and turn his heart to hate the man who is fighting against us, so that there may be an end of him and those who agree with him. 14But save us by your hand, and help me, who am alone and have no helper but you, O Lord.

Unfortunately, this lovely, amazing, courageous woman got bumped by that peevish travel agent for guilt trips, St Paul, because it was the feast of St David (I'm sure the Welsh would have preferred to hear Esther). And of course, the disappointment was all the sharper because it meant that I didn't even have the smallest share in Purim this year.

I love the wild abandon and sheer joy of Adar. When I taught at the Hebrew Academy, Adar was the month teachers remembered to lock our doors, otherwise you were likely to find all your desks shoved together in the centre of the room. The laughter that rang through the hallways from good-natured practical jokes made us all grin during the bleakest of Februaries. There's an unrestrained passion and fearlessness to it that I miss in Catholicism, which feels so sanitised - an acceptance that G-d is as much in the letting go as He is in the rigid self-control. More so, perhaps.

Purim's topsy-turviness draws me in like a magnet - nothing is quite as it seems. What seems assured can disappear; what was hopeless materialises; what is hidden is revealed. It's like stepping into the chaotic realm of the trickster. Stay awake and stay alert - but step into it knowing that with G-d, anything is possible.

It is a day that has given me, a Catholic, unexpected gifts since sundown. A moment of profound sharing with someone I often see, but rarely speak to. A vision where I sat in my childhood bedroom with myself at seven and told her how proud I was of her and thanked her for allowing me to become who I am. A bus ride seated behind someone most people might avoid, probably homeless and with an unusual view of reality - but he made me laugh and dropped two comments that made me wonder how 'mad' he really was:

I commented that I was only "visiting planet Earth." He responded, "As long as you're visiting, Earth will entertain you. When your body dies and your spirit leaves Earth, you take the good you've done with you to another world."

Just before I got off, he put his hand out for me to shake, and I took it. He held onto it, looked at me and said, "Don't fall in love until your lover deserves you."

Welcome to Purim and a full moon. I wonder what the second half will bring, so I will step out courageously into Loki's land: awake, alert, fearless and hopeful.

I wish the same for you. Purim sameach, everyone.