Monday, 30 April 2007

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Give up yer aul sins...

Fr. Former Librarian popped in to do a library search with this DVD in hand, which piqued my interest. He allowed me to borrow it on the condition that it stayed with me and came back safely to him. Done.

Brilliant, brilliant stuff. I haven't stopped laughing through the seven episodes, based on Peig Cunningham's tapes of her students' retelling of Bible stories in the 1960s at Rutland Street Primary School in Dublin - found in a dustbin years later.

Cathal Gaffney and Darragh O'Connell knew a good thing when they heard it, and decided to make a short animated film - which took the film world by storm and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2002. Proof that the best work comes from keeping it real.

I'm particularly tickled by the interpretation of Salome's dance of the seven veils, and I love the animation, which still kicks CGI to Timbuktu. Enjoy!

Friday, 27 April 2007

To speak or not to speak, that is the question...

One Day Blog Silence

There has been a lot of discussion on various blogs about this well-intentioned move for a day of silence across the blogosphere on 30 April for the victims of the Va Tech massacre, and, by extension, for victims of violence around the world. Many people will be participating and are spreading the word.

A significant minority (at a quick glance) will make their voices heard on Monday, saying "no" to silence. Their reasons are equally well-intentioned: many people will go along with it as a fad, to feel part of history, to follow the crowd. Instead of falling silent, they argue, we need to speak out in rage: for gun control, against injustice, for the death penalty, against the system. At least one person has said that it will be "business as usual" at their blog. Good reasons, all of them. After all, talking (or typing) is what we do best.

But there are compelling reasons to remain silent, one of which is to acknowledge and bear witness to unbearable anger, grief and pain in a world that considers speaking of "healing" the day after a tragedy like this appropriate. We live in a world that runs away from its Shadow by repressing it or trying to reach a "higher level of consciousness" without going through the darkness. True healing only comes by being *with* our darkness and our pain, letting it crack open the walls around our heart, and allowing it to pass through us, feeling it fully.

Most of my readers know how much I love Judaism. I feel very strongly that Jewish customs acknowledge every minute of our lives here
, light and dark, as holy - and sitting shiva is one of the most powerful, giving us room and ritual which allows us to fully live our grief and paving the way to healing.

From the keriah, or rending of the garments prior to the funeral service, deeply symbolic on levels ranging from anger at our loss to the halachic requirement to 'expose the heart', to the covering of mirrors and sitting on the floor, shiva gives us permission to leave the outside world behind and completely enter the inner world of our grief for seven days. The process is allowed to begin, unhindered by the demands of others, aided by their love and support.

Shiva is also salutary for those who visit the mourners. When they come to the shiva house, they are to sit down and take their lead from the mourner. If the mourner is silent, then they remain silent - no platitudes such as "He was in so much pain, it was a blessing," or "She's in a better place," the comments so often overheard after a funeral or interment. We believe them to be for the mourners, but they're really for us, because we are uncomfortable staying with someone else's pain and grief. Shiva makes us focus on their needs, not ours. It forces us to be still and listen, and doesn't allow communication to become a barrier to communion.

The time comes when we must all rise from our grief and enter the world again, renewing our commitment to life and allowing our hearts to heal once more. Life is a cycle, and the key to fulfilling our vocation of living it authentically and in love is to trust in the cycle and
enter each part of it completely and willingly: joy and sorrow; happiness and anger; light and Shadow.

And so, even though the time will come to analyse how the tragedy at Va Tech could have been avoided and to speak out against our culture of violence and gun laws, that time is not now. Let us be with those families and friends who have lost those they love to unimaginable violence.

It is not yet time to speak.

It is time to pay a shiva call.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Fell off the wagon...

Oops, back to Personality Quizaholics Anonymous for me...

Your Love Style is Agape

You are a caring, kind, and selfless partner.

Unsurprisingly, your love style is the most rare.

You are willing to sacrfice your world for your sweetie.

Except it doesn't really feel like sacrifice to you.

For you, nothing feels better than giving to the one you love.

Your Seduction Style: The Charmer

You're a master at intimate conversation and verbal enticement.

You seduce with words, by getting people to open up to you.

By establishing this deep connection quickly, people feel under your power.

And then you've got them exactly where you want them!

Monday, 23 April 2007


I have finally arrived! My post on limbo has needled a traditional Catholic blogger named "Simon Peter" so much, he has linked to it and commented on it from where I cross-posted it on "Emerging Women", and others have joined in, calling it nonsense. Bloody brilliant. One of the regular readers on "Emerging Women" linked to an earlier post and was absolutely lovely about it...but somehow, I didn't feel like I'd arrived until I'd been properly slagged off.

And bless him, he spells phonetically..."Wimmin", indeed. Wonder if he attends the Oratory here. I'd love to shake his hand and thank him. On second thought, probably a London Oratory type.


*Does funky chicken dance and kisses own hand in self-congratulation*

Happy Monday, everyone!

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Blessed be

Recently, I've been doing a lot of spiritual reading and trying to put it into practice. My Grandfather's blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen is one of the most powerful books I've ever read and will certainly be one that I will go back to again and again. In it, she talks about blessing life and allowing ourselves to be blessed by it.

Today, I finally understood that by heart.

My housemate went out with her boyfriend, asking if I would be staying in, as the cats were out and about. As I was just planning to faff about, I answered in the affirmative. She responded by asking me to get them back in if I changed my mind.

About an hour later, I felt a bit restless and decided to nip down to the shops about 15 minutes walk from us. The cats were in, so I shut the back door and headed out.

Just as I crossed the little street before the shops started, I stepped under a tree shedding its blossoms - a 'blossom storm', as I've always thought of it. An elderly gentleman in a hat stopped me, and looking up at the tree, said in a rich, Eastern European accent:

"You know, in Japan, when the cherry blossoms touch someone, they bless them." Then he looked directly at me and putting his hand out towards me, said, "And so, I bless you."

Heartfelt, freely and spontaneously given, it was one of the most powerful blessings I had ever received. A barrier I had erected against life and its flow through me gave way.

I looked back at him, the words "And I, you," caught in my throat. Instead, I simply said what I could - a heartfelt "Thank you." And I blessed him in my heart.

How he knew that cherry blossoms were my dearest delight of a Washington spring, that I needed to be able to receive, that I most needed the unconditional love and safety that a blessing offers, I will never know. And I don't need to.

I suspect it's that he allows life to flow through him - and life knows.

And so, overflowing with the love and gratitude from having been blessed, I pass it on.

Blessed be.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Limbo in...erm, limbo

From Reuters:

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church has effectively buried the concept of limbo, the place where tradition and teaching held that babies went if they died without baptism.

In a long-awaited document, the Church's International Theological Commission said limbo reflected an "unduly restrictive view of salvation".

The 41-page document was published on Friday by Origins, the documentary service of the U.S.-based Catholic News Service, which is part of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Pope Benedict, himself a top theologian who before his election in 2005 expressed doubts about limbo, authorised the publication of the document, called "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised".

The verdict that limbo could now rest in peace had been expected for years. The document was seen as most likely the final word since limbo was never part of Church doctrine, even though it was taught to Catholics well into the 20th century.

"The conclusion of this study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in revelation," it said.

"There are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible (to baptise them)."


I'm sorry. Did I miss something here? "There are reasons to hope God will save these infants..." "Reasons to hope"? I don't need "reasons to hope" for those precious children and those parents, some of whom are my friends. I know. God is love - every baby is His most precious creation, and should one die when she has barely touched this Earth, who could believe that He would do *anything* other than sweep that soul back up into His arms?

Only people who had never loved anyone deeply could possibly assume otherwise and even dream of creating a place like limbo.

You may ask, and rightly so, "*Why* did they feel the need to come up with limbo?" Well, if the Church allowed unbaptised babies to go straight to heaven, the next question would be about good people who hadn't been baptised...and if the babies could go to heaven, then the door to heaven would be open for *them*, and what would be the point of baptism into the Church? Or, indeed, the Church at all?

Hmmm. Does that sound like a clarification of God's will? Or does it sound like a way of putting God in a box, of justifying the Church's existence? After all, if there are as many paths to God as people, with only "Remain in God, who is love, and operate from there" as the key principle...there's no need for organised religion or laws to keep the faithful 'good' and separate from their wholeness - whether it's their anger, sexuality, passion, or pain. There is just a community of people, interconnected through their humanity and divinity, helping eachother on their way home.

No way of controlling anyone, of being more worthy than anyone, of having all the answers. That must be a frightening thought for those who are addicted to a priesthood of any denomination. Maybe even for all of us, much as we'd hate to admit it.

So, goodbye to limbo, which, like the Church that gave it birth, has an "unduly restrictive view of salvation." (The "If you're not in the club, you can't come into the treehouse" view of salvation, I call it. It's difficult to hate the Church if you think of the Vatican as a bunch of adolescent boys dressing up in red robes, making up ever more complex rules for their club. And actually believing that those rules determine how God, reality and the world work.) Good riddance. Aristotle, go on up!

And hello to the little ones looking down from heaven over the centuries who've been having a good giggle about this whole concept:

"You mean I nearly spent 75 years there? Blimey. Mind you, the harp playing IS getting a bit tedious..."

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Not such a bad position to be in...

Last Thursday, I took Rachel up on a dare.

She gave me one of the qoolest cricket t-shirts ever for Christmas. It's dark blue and in big black/white print reads:

Not such a bad position to be in"

Rach dared me to wear it to church. I did one better. I wore it on a day I was going up to read.

I nipped into the sacristy to ask Fr Celebrant (a good friend) if he wanted me to do the sing-songy Easter sequence, and he answered in the affirmative. As I left to sit down for mass, he said, "I *read* that."

I looked back cheekily. "Yes, but did you *get* it?"

"Yes, I did."

A few minutes later, he toddled out of the sacristy to where I was sitting. I looked up expectantly, wary of the wicked twinkle in his eye.

"I meant to it just your t-shirt, or have you been there?"

Stunned, and grateful that blushes don't show up against my skin, I looked at him and said, "Been there, done that..."

In unison, everyone: got the t-shirt.

Wore it in public. To church.

He grinned and walked off, and to his credit, managed a straight face whilst I read. Fr Voldemort's face over the chalice was priceless. His eyebrows nearly reached the top of Our Lady's statue.

In a church where most of the parishioners are hooked on liturgy, sexlessness and humour deprivation like we wish kids were hooked on phonics rather than Xbox, it felt good.

Damn good.

And to the earnest American saying, "I can't believe the audacity..." outside church after mass:

Believe it.

I'm through pretending.

Friday, 6 April 2007

"My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

It's Good Friday, the darkness before the dawn for the Christian church. The day that the Catholic Church feels most vulnerable, with every tabernacle bare of the Blessed Sacrament and Christ's comforting presence.

After the joy and comfort of the Pesach Seder that marks Maundy Thursday, the altars are stripped bare, the Blessed Sacrament is moved to the altar of repose, and darkness, grief and vulnerability mark the Church until the candle of hope is lit, at the beginning of the Easter Vigil. The Catholic Church embodies these phases beautifully with the Triduum - essentially one liturgy over three days marking each part of the story and the emotions that ensue.

I go to Tenebrae (Latin, "darkness") each morning of the Triduum, which is essentially Matins and Lauds, including the sung Lamentations of Jeremiah, psalms, readings, and an ending sequence that is spine-tingling. On Saturday, the Oratio Jeremiae is sung. It is a beautiful way to begin each day of the Triduum and focus on what lies ahead.

Today, Good Friday, is a day of brutality, grief, silence, numbness - and fear that the light of tomorrow's Easter Vigil may not come. In a superb sermon today, the celebrant spoke of visiting Rwanda, how there are some events that are beyond words, that we must grieve, but offer the action (in Catholic terms, mass) that Jesus has given us: "Take, eat; this is my body, which will be given up for you."

A few weeks ago, my friend Jan and I were discussing Christ's words from the cross, as she was writing some meditations for some Lenten concerts she was organising. "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" took up most of the conversation, as we talked about Jesus' emotions at that moment, and I said, in a flash of intuition:

"Jesus was angry. Jesus was angry at God."

As I listened to today's sermon, that conversation came back to me. We always talk about the grief of Good Friday, and well we should. But why is it that we always avoid the *anger* in those words of Jesus? We say, "See, he felt forsaken, so it's ok for us to feel that way. He's taken it on for us," or we talk about his momentary doubt. But we never talk about what one author calls his "anguished reproach" of God, the fury unleashed in Jesus Christ Superstar's Garden of Gethsemane:

I only want to say
If there is a way
Take this cup away from me
For I don't want to taste its poison
Feel it burn me,
I have changed -
I'm not as sure as when we started
Then I was inspired...
Now I'm sad and tired
Listen, surely I've exceeded
Tried for three years
Seems like thirty
Could you ask as much
From any other man?
Why, why should I die?
Oh, why should I die?
Can you show me now
That I would not be killed in vain?
Show me just a little
Of your omnipresent brain
Show me there's a reason
For your wanting me to die
You're far too keen on where and how
But not so hot on why
Alright I'll die!
Just watch me die!

Many people were shocked by this portrayal of Jesus: we are so often presented with him as going meekly to his slaughter, and how like a lamb going to its shearing, opening not his mouth.

What, we expect this passionate man who had just upset the money changers' tables in the temple to go to his death without opening his mouth? He did, and boy, *how* did he. That anger, that reproach is embodied in "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

As a society, as a world, we have huge problems with anger: we see its destructive capability - emotionally, physically, globally, and we try to push it away, down into our Shadow, where we don't have to face it, hoping that the pressure of everything on top of it will turn it into some sort of diamond - we'll even take cubic zirconia, thanks very much!

Instead, it blows as explosively and predictably as Old Faithful, the geyser in Yellowstone Park, spraying everyone and everything in its path.

We forget that, as Jesus shows us in JCS's Gethsemane and on the cross, that an open, honest expression of anger can be controlled, *transformative* and often, the mark of an intimate relationship. Beneath Christ's anger lie the very human emotions of doubt, fear, pain, and dare we say it - a sense of betrayal: "I have done everything you asked of me, why *this*?"
And it is Jesus' intimacy with God, His complete trust in God's unconditional love, that allows him to speak so openly of his anger, fear and pain.

We forget that burying anger destroys relationships. What if Christ hadn't expressed his anger and doubt to God? It would have put up a barrier between Him and God, a
s surely as it does in human relationships.

So why can't we face Jesus' anger with God? Perhaps because facing the fact that the Son of God was angry with the Father would force us to face the fact that *we* are angry with God - somewhere, somehow, to some degree. It would make us examine our relationship with God and force us to drop that barrier with God and let our relationship with Him transform us. And that's scary. It's easier to seek the mythical 'perfect' relationship that we imagine Jesus had with God, rather than the full, deep, passionate, authentic relationship He *did* have. It's safer to approach an asymptote than to fully enter into a relationship as our true selves, willing to fall as deeply as it takes to live it properly.

What we must remember is that Jesus expresses his anger from the heart - not to lash out, not to manipulate, not sideways towards someone it isn't really directed at - and that is why it is transformative: his hands and his heart are open, not clenched. He asks questions such as "Would what I've said and done matter anymore?", and uses words such as "sad", "tired" or "forsaken". It's between Him and His Father, and that's where He works it through.

And so, He moves forward, towards acceptance and the greater intimacy with God that is His at Easter, uncertainly at first:

Then I was inspired
Now I'm sad and tired
After all, I've tried for three years
Seems like ninety
Why then am I scared
to finish what I started
What you started
I didn't start it
God thy will is hard
But you hold every card
I will drink your cup of poison
Nail me to your cross and break me
Bleed me, beat me
Kill me, take me now
Before I change my mind

but later, with absolute trust after expressing His anger and sense of abandonment from the cross:

"It is finished. Father, into thine hands I commend my spirit."

May being completely authentic and vulnerable in our relationship with God - from the joy and love to the rage, fear and doubt - give us the courage to do the same.