Thursday, 13 November 2008


Last night, Ari and I were MSNing, as we do at least twice a week. We discussed the usual: religion, academia, boys, Harry Potter Puppet Pals (Snape, Snape, Severus Snape), as you do.

Then I had what I call an 'electric shock' moment. It's the moment when your eyes meet someone's that you know will be important in your life; when you realise something BIG; when you see a picture of a place and think 'home'; any time you just *Know*, with no facts, nothing, but you know something with that certainty beyond science.

As Ari was typing in her MSN window, my eyes idly flickered to the top of mine, where the song she was listening to was displayed - "Weeping". And my heart - and time - stopped.

It wasn't a song I knew, so I couldn't understand *why*. It was sung by Josh Groban, someone I like a great deal, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a group I've loved for more than half my life. Most of the time I would have made a crack about how that could be really good but would more likely be hideously awful.

Instead, I KNEW I had to hear this song: Knew in the way I Knew when my maternal grandfather died; Knew when I had to move out of my parents' house whatever the cost; Knew when I was 8 that I would live in Oxford.

I asked Ari about it and found it on youtube. Now now, not just now.

After listening to it at least a dozen times, I looked it up and learned that it was originally a protest song sung by Bright Blue in the closing years of apartheid, incorporating strands of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, when playing the latter in public could get you thrown in prison. I still need to listen to the original. That explains a great deal about why I felt l had been slammed in the solar plexus when I first listened to it.

But I didn't know that when I first found the song, and all great music works on many levels, from the most deeply personal to the universal.

I pressed 'play' on youtube.

And spent 4:45 breathing through the pain, it hurt that much. Then I listened over and over and leaned into what Martha Beck terms the 'ring of fire'. Hard.

I knew a man who lived in fear
It was huge; it was angry; it was drawing near
Behind his house, a secret place
Was the shadow of the demon he could never face

God, how many men do I know like this, in so many variations? How many has my heart ached for, have I reached out to, have I felt helpless next to? My family, friends, men I have loved. One of the reasons I find ordinations so difficult is that almost every one makes me feel like that verse. Once, I nearly stood up and yelled at an ordinand, "Don't do it. It's WRONG for you. It will break your heart and destroy you." I remained in my seat, shaken. But every ordination after that has gotten harder, and now the only ones I will attend are those of close friends.

This time, my mind flew to only one man - the one who asked me to marry him, and to whom I might well have said yes, had there not been that demon behind his house that he refused to face. I would have stood by him, fought with him, moved heaven and earth, done anything to help him look it in the eye. I'd have walked through hell with him to help him heal.

Instead, like my father:

He built a wall of steel and flame
And men with guns, to keep it tame
Then standing back, he made it plain
That the nightmare would never, ever rise again
But the fear and the fire and the guns remain

But tame it wasn't, rise again it did, and fear, fire and guns choked the love between us, though from time to time, when the air was clear, we caught a glimpse of what could be. Those glimpses kept me in place for years, even as friends told me I wasn't myself, used phrases like 'emotionally abusive' and told me to run. Even when one of my male mates, Jack, grabbed me by the shoulders and said, "Babe, he's driving you CRAZY, there's nothing to hang onto. Get out," I couldn't hear.

I couldn't hear until I realised:

It doesn’t matter now
It’s over anyhow
He tells the world that it’s sleeping

It was over, and had been for a long time. If I could have lived on the surface, it might have been fine, but I am a creature of the depths. I need the closeness that only comes with real communication. I need to be allowed to ask the real questions and be asked them, knowing there will be real answers. I need someone not to be spooked when I say, "That must have hurt," or "Hey, you seem stressed/sad/upset."

I know a lot of relationships survive because of lies partners agree to tell each other. I can't live there. I especially can't live with the lie that a demon is sleeping and can be ignored. It can't.

So, I walked. Not immediately, and not without looking back over my shoulder, but I left and started to feel alive again. As I passed his back door:

But as the night came round
I heard its lonely sound
It wasn’t roaring, it was weeping

Much as I wanted to run to and hold that imprisoned little boy, I kept walking, though it was one of the hardest things I've ever done.

I knew I wasn't the person the little one needed comfort from.

From there, my thoughts spiralled outwards to the people in our lives and how we draw those with similar demons and those who will ask questions about the smoke rising from behind our houses...and how well we hide our demons...

And then one day the neighbours came
They were curious to know about the smoke and flame
They stood around outside the wall
But of course there was nothing to be heard at all

...our demons. When we are attracted to people and places, are we attracted because they have similar demons? Complementary demons? Or because they are people with whom and places where we can exorcise them?

I wonder that about my relationship with the Oratory and the Catholic Church. Last week, I said to one of the brethren, "I've just remembered how much I hate this place." I meant every word.

Yet I stay. Why?

The facile answer is that there are people I love there. When I go to mass, I go to see them - on the sanctuary, in the congregation. But that doesn't outweigh everything else that so often leaves me twisted inside: the open contempt for women, the aversion to healthy conflict, the people-pleasing and hypocrisy, the seeming placement of the liturgy before the people.

So the answer is not so facile.

Last Thursday, when I expressed my joy at Obama's election, Fr Catechism rolled his eyes and dismissed my happiness with the words, "Moving swiftly along from that..." It was compounded by the presence at mass of almost every parishioner who stands for everything I don't: the letter of the law over the spirit, priestly approval, comfort over passion and life, mockery and ostracism of those not like them. I looked out at them during my reading and hated them with a passion that I couldn't keep from my Oratorian friend after mass.

Looking back now, I know that like all hatred, mine was born of fear. Fear of being like them. Knowing I could have been like them, afraid I could still be. Fear of having them suck the life out of me.

So again, why stay in the Oratory? Why stay in the Catholic Church?

Demons and exorcism.

Though I hate to admit it, we share demons: a need for approval and comfort. My complementary demon is my need for resistance and a good fight, and to be fair, the Oratorians have indulged me tremendously with affection, amusement, and plenty of views to make me go, "WTF?" and gird my loins for that good fight.

But above all, both the church and the Church give me a far safer place than my family to exorcise my demons: my need to prove my worth as a woman, my need to resist openly, my need to prove to myself over and over again that I can live in an environment that isn't easy for me.

Perhaps that last is the most important, considering the family I grew up in. I am reminded of Rachel Remen's story of one of her patients who spent his whole life living on the edge. What lay behind it, she wondered? The answer finally came when he remembered hearing his father, furious at him being a sickly child, say that if he had been an animal, the father would have done what he did with all runts - left him to die. And so his surviving dangerous situations was his way of casting the deciding vote to live, over and over again.

Growing up in an extremely controlling household where children were simply extensions of the parents, I needed to cast that hidden vote every day. Whether it was reading romance novels, not doing as well at school as I could have, moving out when I did, I made the choice to LIVE in an environment hostile to who I was and am.

The church and the Church allow me to cast that vote over and over again: I AM a strong woman, I WILL say what I believe, I WILL wear fishnets to an ordination because someone needs to talk about sex, I WILL be myself in spite of your attempts to make me someone I'm not. I will LIVE and be passionate amongst these souls who choose not to.

Perhaps I deeply hate them because I know how deeply I need them. And perhaps I'm angry at them because they've been untrue to themselves and their God by choosing not to be wholly themselves and really live, all the while angry at myself, wondering if I've made the same choice.

Which brings us back to Fr Catechism. I thought, "Why do you always have to be, as a friend once said, immoderately moderate? Why can't you let go and *live*?" And in these words I heard his voice,

"My friends," he said, "We’ve reached our goal
The threat is under firm control...

...and along with so many in the Catholic hierarchy, the Pope, and so many governments, continuing,

As long as peace and order reign
I’ll be damned if I can see a reason to explain
Why the fear and the fire and the guns remain"

But it is our right to question that uneasy co-existence, and wonder if true peace is possible whilst fear remains. We deserve an answer - and it is one we should fight for.

Because in the end, only wholeness brings true peace: tameness alongside wildness; joy and sorrow; anger and compassion; passion side-by-side with reason; angels dancing with demons.

Anything less brings apartheid. When we cut off parts of ourselves, we cut ourselves off from others. "We the people" becomes "us" and "them".

Apartheid begins from within and is only then imposed from without.

And so, one night, several weeks ago, I found myself in the secret place behind my own house, since that is where we must always start. I dreamt I lay with my head against an amphora in the graveyard at St Giles' Church at night with a good friend anchoring me as I took a soul journey forward into the morning and woke dressed in white.

Suddenly, I was with my panicked 5-year-old self in the cacophony of the first grade classroom, knowing the kids hated me and that home would never be a sanctuary, and I heard her primal scream


which shook the adult dream-me to the depths of my being. I had the presence of mind to hold her and rock her and simply say over and over again, "I love you. I will always love you."

Then I woke, knowing I had found the demon that drove - and often still drives - me. The demon that makes me spiky, edgy, pushy, aggressive, clingy, needing to anticipate everyone's desires, often untouchable, everything that makes me cringe about myself. The demon I had hidden behind fear and fire and guns, so afraid of how big it was. Yet when I discovered it,

It wasn’t roaring, it was weeping

It was time to bring her home. It's time to end the fear and bring them all home.

Once we do, perhaps we all need to spend a long time sitting on the floor holding them...

..and weeping.

1 comment:

Ariel said...
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