Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Ancient divination cards and sand dune mountains (Dream log)

I dream vividly every night. Most nights, I can remember parts of several dreams, often all of more than one. But even amongst the vivid dreams, there are dreams that stand out, that are like being completely in another reality. Last night was one.

I was sitting outside, Indian style, looking out at a dark, surreal landscape. Trees were silhouetted against an eerie blue-green glow in the distance as I looked down at the cards in my hand, which looked like Tarot, but weren't quite. The artwork almost lived. That they were very old, I knew - and I also knew that though I had never used them before, I *knew* them. Knew them as if they were a part of me.

And I knew without a doubt that they were more than just cards as they slipped sensuously through my fingers - that as beautiful as they were, there was a dark side to them.

I heard a voice say, "Every mage across time has owned a set of these. If you have found them again, then you were a wizard, a sorceress, a witch, a priest or priestess - someone who worked with magic, and worked with it deeply."

Suddenly, I was flying over the most beautiful landscape, part the dark lush landscape, but increasingly one of deep blue sky and sand dune mountains. I knew I was flying over inland South Africa, and as I passed over a dune mountain that seemed as high as Everest, I noticed that some of my people were trapped on the narrow summit of one of them - a summit that was like a razor's edge, with barely enough room to hold one's balance.

I landed in the valley with others to make a plan, and suddenly Saffa Greg was there, trying to tell me something essential to the rescue effort but I couldn't hear him over the wind. He repeated it several times and I finally caught it, though I can't remember what he said now. Using that information, we managed to bring the others down - though that part of the dream was sketchy.

Then, as suddenly as it began, the dream ended with me in a library, looking at the cards in my hand and the same voice saying, "The challenge and the difficulty is to use them - without controlling what happens through them. Very few have managed it."

Then my eyes opened to a familiar magnolia ceiling, sunlight and the rush of wings flapping outside the window as I was jolted back into my body. And I wondered.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Pakistan - a personal reflection

The sky is nearly black and thunder echoes overhead. I sip orange juice as I gaze out the back door, watching fat droplets crash into vividly yellow flowers, sharper in colour because of the charcoal grey sky.

But though it's what everyone else would see, I'm not looking out at an English back garden. My eyes - and heart - are elsewhere. Somewhere where the sharp smells of woodsmoke and duputtas being dyed mingle in the summer air.

Somewhere I haven't talked about in a while, though everyone else is.

Hazel was first, followed by a slew of friends. "I've heard about the floods in Pakistan, do you have any relatives there? Do you know if they're ok?" I made vague answers; said what little I knew. Trying not to face the fact that I DON'T know how the people I really love are.

I'm not one for avoidance. In fact, my friends would probably tell you I'm relentless about seeing the worst possible option as a reality: someone I've trusted for years might be a sociopath and I could be totally wrong (almost always false); if a guy seems interested, he's either a player or gay (ok, yeah, he's staring at my chest, but he's faking it); a pillar of society is a liar/sociopath (that one is far too often true).

My favourite word? Look. Look at what's real. Look towards, don't look away. Look at the shadow. Look into the darkness.

When it comes to my world, it's one of my few unbreakable rules: things AREN'T what you hope they are. DON'T pretend. Look. Look. LOOK.

But every single one of us lacks integrity in at least one aspect of our life. Welcome to one of mine.

I should have known. Should have known when my answers were short; should have known when I felt defensive; should have known when I couldn't speak. I'm the one who always modifies the triage rule by saying that what one refuses to speak about is where one is most traumatised, that which most needs to be expressed. I, who turn my face towards everything, force myself to watch programmes on some of the darkest parts of human history, have turned my face away from Pakistan.

I have refused to look. Refused to watch its descent into anarchy. Refused to know about the daily bombings in Lahore. Refused to look at the natural disasters.

I can't look.

Why? Pakistan is...not this. Not this failed state, not this horrible mess, not this mass of suffering nor this inevitable descent into chaos. Not this, please. Not this.

Pakistan is...being greeted at Lahore by as many of my mother's brothers and sisters who could make it. Being wrapped up in big uncle bear hugs. Laughing till I'm sick at my mother's cheeky, smartass younger brother who probably had far more to do with forming my love map than my father did.

It is being surrounded by a gaggle of cousins; playing 'Pitu garam' barefoot on a hot brick backyard; time on the train; whispered conversations under the razai; cricket on the television. Sudden torrential rain; trips to Shalimar Gardens and Anarkali; blinking sleepily, then rolling over and snuggling further under the razai as the Azan cuts through the dawn sky.

7UP cubes; Enid Blyton; crap Punjabi pop music; trying on Aunty Razia's burqa. Grandpa's twinkling green eyes and white beard and sheer gentle presence. Laughter, parathas, Mom and Aunty Razia in the kitchen making chapatis. Pakistan was a trip to the Kaghan Valley, the breathtaking gateway to the Khyber and Hindu-Kush Himalayan subrange, with one room housing ten of us snuggled under razais as Uncle Javed regaled us with stories that kept us in stitches till well after midnight...and waking to the same uncle being shaved with a straight razor.

Bright sun, bare feet on dusty roads, golguppes from street vendors, the smell of Imperial Leather and sandalwood on men, the scent of food mingling with...

...woodsmoke and duputtas being dyed.

Pakistan was family. Pakistan was love. And its rawness, its place on the edge of life, clicked with its counterpart in my personality, changing me forever - meaning that I ever seek people and places that resonate with that.

That's where I want to freeze it - in that time, in that place - where aunts and uncles were young, strong adults who could carry us easily and hold us safe; where cousins were carefree and dreaming of the life they might live. Where one knew what the political reality was from day to day. Where the kids could walk down to the market without fear. Where international arrivals at Lahore airport was full of young faces shining with love and expectancy.

Don't make me look.

Don't make me face an international arrivals area at LHE that's far too empty, with far too many of those I love gone too early. With uncles and aunts who need my assistance to walk; with cousins careworn from unhappy marriages, infertility, or babies who died too early and a land falling apart around them. Please, don't ask me to look at cousins who are now strangers - in part, because of family choices I've made; in part, because of thousands of miles.

Don't make me look at the fact that the choice I've made with my immediate family means that I have no idea how people I love are doing in this time of bombs and floods.

Because if I look, my heart will break. Break for those I love; break for a people suffering and dying by inches and by the millions; break for a land birthed in so much pain. And I'm not sure it'll ever be whole again.

Yet look I must, and break it must- frozen may be beautiful, but it denies life: the life I've lived and the lives they've lived. To love them truly, to heal, means I must look. And eventually, I must go, hold them and know them again - as they are now, not as I've kept them imprisoned in my heart. Eventually, perhaps I can even take the trip that might symbolise healing for all of us - a trip from Lahore, Pakistan to Jalandar, India - the reverse of the trip they made during Partition.

But I must remember the line from Contact I quote to my friends when they're working things through: small moves, Sparks. Small moves.

First, open your eyes, turn your head - and look.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Speaking up for freedom

Thank you, President Barack Hussein Obama, for these words:

Let me be clear. As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.

A Capetonian Facebook friend posted her support of his words. An American from South Carolina posted the following: More see it as a personal stance then [sic] a politcally correct one since his father was Muslim. Too bad for him that he couldn't keep his opinion to himself.

I BEG your pardon? Since when is supporting someone's right to freedom necessarily narcissistically tied to YOUR history? I support gay rights, rights for prisoners held anywhere in the world, the freedom of speech for the BNP (so I know what they're saying, of course) - but I am NONE of these things. And I would hope that every single one of us supports the rights of those not like us.

Why SHOULD he keep it to himself? It is his SWORN DUTY and moral obligation (as it is for all of us) to stand up for the freedom of ALL Americans, everywhere, whether it's popular or not. How does creating an 'Islam-free zone' and further alienating moderate and relaxed Muslims help anyone?? Marginalising people will radicalise them - trust me, that's the last thing you want. We would do well to remember that there is no exception under the First Amendment: all religions are allowed to practise freely.

And if anyone is to epitomise my favourite poster, which states, 'Stand up for what's right, even if you're standing alone' - it should be the head of our nation, who speaks for all we stand for - our president.

Frankly, I am *ashamed* of the political climate in the country of my birth. That is NOT what America was created for or what it was about when I was growing up. Be against something, fine. But be civil, gracious and empathetic. I do NOT remember this sheer ugly, nasty, shrill narcissism pre-GW Bush. And I'll call a spade a spade: it's evil.

The United States was created as the antithesis of narcissism. THIS is what America is about: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Not 'only allow the people like me to breathe free.'

I'm with The Independent: It is regrettable that Mr Obama felt he had to underline the need for religious tolerance as he did, but admirable that – despite the sensitivity of the mosque's location – he nonetheless went ahead and gave it the seal of presidential approval.

It is more than regrettable, it's HORRIFIC and UNTHINKABLE in a country with America's constitution.

You know, Europe 'kept it to themselves' in the 30s and 40s - and six million people died. I'm not willing to take that chance.

Are you?

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Assumption Sermon

Today's preacher, close friend and confessor, stopped by my pew before mass. This is a usual weekly face-to-face catchup, and I always keep my head tilted for his familiar tread up the side aisle. This time, he mentioned that he was thinking of ad-libbing the sermon, as he had done at the 09.30. I firmly came down on the side of him taking the risk.

He did. And how it paid off.

I'm not sure if he was aware of the elegant completion his sermon brought: on this same feast a year ago, another priest spoke of suicide from the point of view of doctrine. Today, so did he - in a way that made it clear that he understood the fear and hopelessness that underlies that drastic decision, in a way that held those who had either been there or are there. His point was that the Assumption is a feast of hope - and we all *need* hope, even when it is the tiniest silver thread through the darkness which we find ourselves in. One of the most powerful points he made was that when we are in that darkness, it is impossible to see past the present moment: but it is in THAT moment that we most need to look beyond that moment - which brought him, most naturally, to Our Lady.

I wasn't sure whether to cry or cheer - maybe both. What had felt sharply poked at or necessarily hidden now felt safely held.

He also talked about how we tend to emphasise soul over body, but that we are both - and we need to remember that no matter how our bodies can seem to hinder us, they ARE part of us and we can't disown them - and that we need to bring body and soul back together, using Our Lady as a template and a sign of hope.

And in that hope, in that looking to Our Lady, we - as she - need to renew our 'Fiat' to God, with life and our faith every single day of our lives.

It was, without a doubt, one of the best sermons I've ever heard.

Weaving the threads of his sermon, he held us, his flock, compassionately whilst offering orthodoxy, which is what shepherds must always do - from the public pulpit to the private confessional. But it was the fact that he ad-libbed it, which allowed him to be really present and emotionally engage with us, that moved it from great to one of his best.

The person I saw in the pulpit was the person I see across the table at La Cucina.

He was practising what he preached - integrity of body and soul.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Integrity and darkness

Today, I got a brilliant email question from a clerical friend, which arose from a note I sent him. As I wrote, I thought, 'Blog post!'

So here goes:

By the way, why does integrity involve seeing the dark side too?

*Tilts head, wondering where to begin*

If we think of integrity as wholeness, then by definition, it has to encompass everything. It doesn't mean integrity has to EXPRESS everything at all times, but one needs to know everything intimately and *integrate* it.

I'm going to use myself as an example because it's what I know best - I'm not saying I'm the only one like this or that I'm better, it's just that I live in my own skin and can best explain it that way.

Yesterday, when I asked you [that question], I asked you in full awareness of the fact that sometimes, my triggers with men and kids are hair triggers and might well be wrong. I can't remember if I made it explicit, but I hope I did - and I consider that tendency part of my darkness. Now, I don't ever NEED to express that hair trigger by jumping up and accusing someone - in fact, my being aware of it and allowing it to be what it is makes it less likely that I will.

On a deeper level, I know what my darkest fantasies are - and they're not covered by BDSM, LOL. My darkest fantasies involve what I would do to every member of the Taliban if I got my hands on them, or as I said to Nick once, "Do you KNOW what I would do to protect a child?" I also know that there are occasions, like last November, where a dark night of the soul is SO dark, I have considered suicide - and that coming back from that, recommitting to being here can be very difficult.

But it's only through KNOWING those fantasies and that dark emotional landscape intimately, knowing that THAT darkness is me as much as my light; acknowledging it and loving it enough to integrate it, rather than exile it, that I can actually create a solid foundation built on truth and love and what I AM - not a shaky foundation, a lie based on what I think I should be or others think I should be or some limited concept of a relationship with God.

It's only through that absolute truth/honesty that I can have a real relationship with God or anyone else.

I can't hide that darkness or eradicate it or imprison it: it will always leak out. I see it in myself and - to use our common landscape - I see it leaking everywhere in church and Church - because so many see a relationship with God as one where they have to be a 'Procrustean bed' good, rather than whole. Running from our darkness, repressing it, makes us rigid, unable to see clearly, unable to live. It makes us...one-dimensional; a shadow of what God dreamt and meant for us to be.

Good, if it doesn't emerge from the whole, is a self-serving lie: it is a quest for approval; it is a need to feel good about oneself; it is a way of denying one's darkness. Me, me, me. Only when it arises from the whole can it be goodness for goodness' sake, with no agenda or need attached.

If I embrace the dark, it becomes available to me with all its gifts: empathy and the ability to sit with anyone as they struggle through any darkness; compassion; it gives me depth, even as I can be wild, chaotic and fiery*; it gives me nuance and texture; it affords me myriad ways to deal with anything life brings my way; it allows me to trust God through the most difficult of times; it allows me to love wholly, deeply and in all sorts of ways (e.g., unresolved grief makes us numb/hardens us) through all sorts of things. It gives my relationships, my life, authenticity, depth, colour. It also means that I'm in control of HOW the darkness is expressed: as a thread in a more complex response, to strengthen/nuance it or in cases where necessary, on its own.

If I integrate everything, move towards wholeness, it makes me utterly trustworthy; a sanctuary; a clear, strong vessel for God to fill. There is nothing hidden, no lies to make me weak. I can hold any space and anything God chooses to pour through me.

Do I manage it? Maybe sometimes, if I'm lucky. But God created an alive, diverse universe moving towards dynamic equilibrium. It's about relationship and process. And knowing that we're all in process and all of life is holy ground...

...well, that's integrity too. Why?

Because it's what's real.

*Three adjectives Ari used for me last night. Integrity is also giving credit where credit is due. :-)

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Losing my tattoo virginity

I can't remember when I first went from "EWWWW, tattoos, pool room sleaze!" to "Tattoos! I want one!"

When I made the switch, I REALLY wanted one. But I'm not really good at lifetime commitments. We could say that it's because I'm a Gemini with tonnes of planets in Gemini. Or we could say it's my family history. But I prefer Eric Foreman's take on it:

"People who avoid commitment are people who know what a big thing it is."

And having seen people in (or in the process of making) lifetime commitments that destroyed their soul, I am most certainly aware of that.

So I wasn't going to make this lifetime commitment without being deeply in love with the design I was marrying. I knew I wanted a wolf and a moon. Liked this, considered that, until one day, early in 2009, I came across this and fell in love: a wolf that was PART of the moon, looking out at the world, veiled in mystery by wisps of cloud.

But having been messed around by lust at first sight before, I needed to be level-headed about this affair. It was a bit early in the relationship for a declaration of love. So I did what any woman would do: I talked about it. I posted it on my facebook page; I sent it to friends who didn't have fb and asked their opinion; I talked about where, when, how size mattered, anything.

In June 2009, I made my first visit to Evolution Tattoo to talk about it with someone briefly. Didn't have the £20 to make the appointment, but meant to do it shortly thereafter. Never did, thus convincing most of my friends that the affair was over and that I didn't have the staying power for this relationship.

But I kept looking at it: through the summer and the slide into darkness in the autumn. As I moved out of the land of the dark sun and recommitted to the world above, things started changing. When Sophie K-S wanted to get her tatt done and suggested we go together for an initial consultation in July, I looked at the picture again, realised I was in love, and proposed.

When we got to Evolution this time, and it was time to make a firm appointment, I went out to get the £20. Whilst Soph still hadn't decided on her Arabic script, I was ready to go. Funnily enough, Soph got hers done a fortnight before I did. C'est la vie; all good things come to those who wait.

On the eve of my lifetime commitment, I had an anxiety dream where I told Saffa Greg (who just materialised next to me, as friends in dreams do) that I'd given blood and had tested HIV-positive. He hugged me, told me it would be all right and asked if I'd checked whether it might be a false positive. I was doing that when the alarm went and woke me.

Nervously, I skipped breakfast, decided what to wear, put up my hair and hopped on the bus so I was there about 30 minutes early. Small waiting room meant I moved a lot as people walked in and out around me, including my tattooist (known to one of my colleagues/friends at work). He clearly knew what he was about as he printed off the tattoo for the stencil, asked if that was the size I wanted and moved smartly to his studio. But I didn't relax till one of the artists slipped behind the reception desk and said to one of the others, "I'm not taking her back this time," and received a sympathetic response and a 'go ahead' head tilt.

And I thought, "Yeah. People who relate like this are people I want doing something like this for me."

Finally, Jack called me into the studio, with his stencil ready, his dark inks lined up and needles at the ready. Having at first thought shoulder blade, the size now made me think midback, so I asked him his opinion. He said, "I like things centred," which went with my instincts. "It depends on what else you want done."

"I don't know," I responded.

We agreed, and he placed the stencil on my back, had me check it in the mirror and then it was time.

I had brought a magazine with me to read, but decided not to, in the end: if he wanted to chat, I wanted to have a conversation; but far more importantly, it was essential that I do something I don't usually do - be in body and be in the experience.

In went the first needle: it felt like vibrating sandpaper. It ached, but it didn't really *hurt*. Early on, I asked Jack how he got started as a tattoo artist and was rewarded with the coolest story ever: he used to draw all the time, and first wanted a tattoo at 13. He couldn't get one, so he MADE a tattoo needle himself: using the innards of his walkman and a guitar string. He did tattoos for himself and friends until his mother helped him with a loan for proper equipment - and then his room at home became a tattoo studio. And now, he works in England (he's originally from Poland), doing what he loves.

We compared opinions on cold coffee and discovered that my home state contained a number of his relatives. Others came in to borrow his camera or to ask him to fix a machine - many of which he has made. At one point, the artist who took my booking popped in, looked over Jack's shoulder and went, "Cool."

I couldn't resist. "That sounds like the ultimate in male approval."

Pause. "It is." He perched for a few. "How is it?" the tattoo veteran asked the tattoo virgin.

"It's ok. Not bad," I responded.

Respect flared in his eyes. "Really? I find my back the worst. Jack is gentle, but even so, it hurts."

"It does in some places, especially along the spine." And, as I was to discover shortly, with smaller needles that I had to breathe through. He must have known, because at one point, when he paused, he said, "Almost finished."

Then, like a proper Catholic nuptial mass, 1.5 hours later, the lifetime commitment was made, and the honeymoon had begun - with slatherings of salve and cling film...and Bepanthen.

Sometimes, you discover things living with a partner you didn't know before: you need to shower facing the shower head, because your partner hates getting soaked. Your partner needs soothing regularly, and you can't forget and scratch (brief moment earlier today, just at the edge). No swimming for a month, but you want a beach holiday.

Then you discover that you actually enjoy taking care of your partner through the high-maintenance period - taking the time to slather on Bepanthen, the soreness, the no soaking. The tradeoffs - that it's your choice for your body; having an excuse to take care of yourself; the 'oohs' and 'ahs' of others when they meet your partner; and most importantly, the sheer pleasure of HAVING your partner are more than worth the early graft.

You've met me. And so, without further ado, meet my partner:

Don't worry, he doesn't bite...except when asked.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

His truth is marching on...

Today, it's just a link. Well done, Judge Walker.

California, congratulations. I couldn't be happier for you.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Selfish much?

Every so often, I pick up a women's mag and indulge one of my little guilty pleasures.

Equally often, I remember why I don't do this more often. Today was one such day.

I made the mistake of reading the agony aunt column (which I can never resist). Most of the questions were *amused eyeroll* questions.

And then...there was the *WTF-my-blood-pressure-just-hit-the-roof* question:

I have two best friends and we've been very close for years - I've asked them to be my bridesmaids. Last year, one of them lost a baby and then her partner, and we were there for her. But now she's never there for us. She didn't turn up for my birthday party and if we arrange a night out, she either turns up for five minutes or not at all. I want her as a bridesmaid, but I'm not sure she'd even turn up...

And if THAT QUESTION wasn't WTFable enough, Irma Kurtz's response is even MORE of an epic fail:

She can't be depended on as she can't depend on herself. Misery overrides her best intentions. You could uninvite her as your bridesmaid, using the excuse that it's too much for her. That puts the ball in her court and you may or may not lose her as your friend. Or you could go ahead as planned, giving her time to cheer up or drop out - perhaps even at the last minute. But what difference does that make. All that matters is your loving marriage ahead.

Yes, of course, that's all that matters. Because Irma is feeding the idea, you selfish waste of carbon molecules, that all that matters is you.

Why don't I take the time to do you a favour and tell you like it really is?

Your 'best friend' - in inverted commas because you are clearly no friend of any kind - has just suffered two of the *most devastating losses anyone can suffer* (even if the partner left rather than died - the latter being what is implied). You and your friends were, of course, 'there' for the requisite - what? fortnight? - till the funerals and then expected her to buck up and be the person she was two years ago, before she lost her child (read that again, her CHILD) and the partner she loved.

And of course, equating her not being able to attend your little 'birthday party' and the odd social gathering with 'not being there for you' makes so much sense. Because you need her to be there for you and support you whilst you're eating, laughing and necking shots. She, of course, doesn't need YOU whilst she's grieving (oh, I'm sorry - you think she should be over it), trying to fathom a life without her baby and her beloved, whilst she's struggling to keep her head above water. She has to show up, happy, chirpy, thrilled for YOU. I mean, how DARE she continue grieving eight, ten, twelve months on? It's impinging on YOUR perfect little life. So what if your marriage reminds her, like a knife twisted in the heart, of what she's lost? Who cares about her? You've done your 'pat her on the back and hand her tissues' quota, now she should forget about it all and be there for you as you eat, drink and get merry.

Bite me and every woman who knows what being a real friend is about, c***.

Let me tell you what a real friend would know, so maybe you can be one someday.

Irma is wrong. Your friend is not going through 'misery', she is going through deep, intense grief that is complicated because of the depth of the ties, the fact that she is suffering more than one loss, and that the losses are unexpected, at least in terms of order. She can't 'cheer up or drop out' (WTF, Irma??? 'Empathetic' in your vocabulary at all?). Children don't die before their parents. Partners don't die young. She has lost her FAMILY.

Grief doesn't have a time scale. It's not 'a few months and it's over', or 'after the funeral, she'll be back to her normal, tequila shot drinking self'. It is a cycle that can take YEARS - her life is completely, utterly shattered. She has to accept the loss, go all the way into it and feel the pain, then begin to re-organise her life. That is going to take time.

And even when she re-organises, she will never again be the carefree friend you had two years ago: she'll be deeper, stronger, darker - she'll know a pain that most people will likely never know.

One of the things she'll need to get there is more than a little help from her friends: friends who will let her grieve; who will gently guide her to CRUSE or therapy if she gets really stuck; friends who will understand when she can barely stay for a night out; who will listen. No, it won't be all girly giggles and drinking; but then real friendship isn't, is it?

Sorry, what was I thinking? You don't know what real friendship is. Selfish much?

My agony aunt advice to you, which Irma - whom Cosmo needs to fire before she can do any more damage - apparently couldn't think of?

Listen to her. Love her. Be there. Yes, your wedding is coming up, but guess what? Even at a time like this, the world isn't all about you. Because what's your wedding really about?

Relationship - for better for worse, dark and light, laughter and tears. It would behoove you to learn how to do that.

Right now, you need to start with your best friend.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Reflections on August at the O and the Missa de Angelis

1 August - Lughnasadh, the beginning of the old autumn...and, if it's a Sunday, the beginning of a choir-free month at the Oratory.

Pure and utter bliss.

I'd forgotten how much my blood pressure drops when the choir leaves and we get to sing the Missa de Angelis. Normally, I'd dismiss it as being because of a mediocre choir and an annoying choir director. Today, for the first time, I finally went deeper: what is it about that first Sunday in August that makes my heart lift when the single priest, the MC and a minimum number of servers come out of the sacristy during the first hymn?

First of all, it's the sheer simplicity: there's space on the sanctuary; there's space in the liturgy. During the year, there's NEVER silence: either the choir is singing the mass setting or a motet. It's never STILL; the choir, though not present on the sanctuary, crowds it more than the 12-13 altar servers who can sit on it in addition to the MC and clergy at any one time.

That lack of stillness and space inhibits the natural movement of the mass, since liturgical flow - indeed any flow - needs an ebb. The extra music stops movement on the sanctuary dead, making it hard to start up again. E.g., at the end of the Gloria, it's difficult for the MC to know when to bring the collect up. My preference is that it is in front of the celebrant on the last note, so there's no pause, no kerfuffling, just a smooth transition. This is a dance; any break in it is jarring. Most of the year, the MC is late, which has everything to do with not knowing when the interminable 'Amen' is going to finish. Today, it was perfect - on the last note of the 'Amen', the missal was there, and liturgical flow was as it should be.

If we talk about the liturgy as flow, pattern and dance, then we cannot ignore the fact that there are partners: this is not something happening in isolation. And it's also important that the partners be fully engaged in the dance; fully present. The mass is a dance between sanctuary and nave. When the choir dominates, as it does 11 months of the year, the people aren't engaged and the dance falters.

Today, you could feel the shift in energy as the people remained standing to sing the Kyrie and the Gloria. I couldn't stop smiling: you could feel something click into place, an emotional engagement, a real dance partner, a presence. And the whole was more than the sum of the parts. For the first time in a long time, it felt *real*.

As you can tell from what I've written above, I resent the choir's domination of our service: I am coming to this mass to be a part of the worship, not a bystander. The Kyrie is OURS to say; the Gloria, OUR praise to God. It is NOT for anyone else to sing it for us. It's OURS - and singing it with those in the sanctuary creates the prayer, the mass, that rises like incense to its destination.

And then...and then, there's the Missa de Angelis. I'm sure the Oratorians will roll their eyes when (if) they read this, but I absolutely adore it.

The Missa takes me back to my pre-Catholic days, when I would visit my (soon-to-be sponsor) friend, Anni, at Catholic University on a Sunday. At 13.00 in the crypt church (don't waste your time looking at the basilica, go straight down to the lushly dark crypt), there was a Latin mass, most often sung by the ponytailed Fr Marc-Daniel Kirby, O.Cist. Not only did he sing beautifully, but he was absolutely on fire with the love of God - his sermons were passionate pleas for love of God and neighbour, for compassion, for mercy towards one another. And it didn't hurt that I often saw him in his biker leathers around campus, which just made him utterly cool.

If it wasn't Fr Kirby, it was often Msgr Renato Volante. OH. MY. GOD. OH. MY. GOD. There is nothing, NOTHING so sensual as Latin spoken by an Italian. Every time he said mass, I went weak in the knees. And I'll tell you, I peeked through my hands during the Eucharistic Prayer just to watch those Italian gestures. His sermons were almost always wistful ones about loneliness; more often than not, as I passed him on my way out, I just wanted to wrap my arms around him and tell him I was sorry and that I wish I could make it okay.

So, occasionally in August, the church seems to dim and there seems to be a black marble overlay over the late Victorian interior with which I am so familiar.

Then, there's the Kyrie. For me, it will always be THE Kyrie - no other will stick in my head. My first brush with the phrase 'Kyrie eleison' came with Mr Mister's haunting, emotional, opening cry of their song of the same name. I remember having to go look it up, loving the meaning and loving the fact that it made sense in their chorus. I used it as a prayer years before I converted. Even now, when I'm lost for words in prayer, their chorus comes back to mind:

Kyrie eleison - down the road that I must travel,
Kyrie eleison - through the darkness of the night,

Kyrie eleison - where I'm going, will you follow?

Kyrie eleison - on a highway in the light.

Only the Kyrie in the Missa de Angelis approaches this for me: plaintive, yearning, reaching. Maybe it's because it's stripped right down, like the mass in August; maybe because it's the first liturgical Kyrie I ever heard; maybe because it's the one I get to sing. But I put my whole heart and soul into it when I get to sing it, and it's the one that will move me to tears every time.

And the moment I do that, I'm there. At mass. Totally and completely - which allows me to be part of the whole mass, even my little idiosyncrasies, like watching the MC - which today left me in fits of giggles as I watched him use 'Achmed the Dead Terrorist' eyebrows in an attempt to get hapless servers to perform the most basic of tasks. At one point, when he was trying to get them off the sanctuary after communion, the expression was so pronounced, I could hear 'SILENCE! I KHEEL YOU!' - which just made me completely useless. I also engage with the sermon, rather than shutting it out, because I can't afford to be irimtated by one more thing, since the choir has used up my irimtation quota. Good thing today, as the sermon was well worth engaging with.

That engagement and that laughter is part of the holy experience - because you have to be fully present, fully engaged, to worship and be in relationship with God. That is the gift of August at the O for me.

I'm thinking of suggesting an Indian summer, and extending August till the equinox - at least.

Rock on.