"Woohoo!" I thought, as the 4B stopped next to me in the High Street. "Hi ho, Hi ho, off to Littlemore we go!" It had been a full day - talk to the Research Induction School; Dean's Forum; the usual first week frustrations with a new intake. Now off to a 7pm case study.
It was just after 6 when I got on the bus (I like early, especially in rush hour) and was rooting through my pockets for gum (which, of course, I'd left on my desk) when my hand came upon an odd texture.
I have a ROSARY in my pocket? Since when?
She is eternal:
Curious to see which one it was, I surreptitiously pulled it out - and found myself smiling. It was the one brought back for me from Israel by my beloved teaching colleague, Helen Raucher, and her husband, Steve, shortly after I'd converted. Blue crystal beads, silver chain, 'Terra Santa' where Our Lady's image usually is. Yes, I'm a wooden bead girl, but a rosary given with love - especially from Jewish friends acknowledging and wishing me joy in my conversion to Catholicism - trumps that a thousandfold. It's my favourite, and was a particularly appropriate one to find as Erev Rosh Hashanah was about to begin.
I gazed at it with trepidation. Anyone who reads this blog knows of my deep love for Our Lady, the dream I associate with her, the fact that I said the 'Hail Mary' long before I was Catholic...
long before nations' lines were drawn - when no flags flew, when no armies stood, [her haven] was born
...but I have a shameful secret. I DREAD saying the rosary. I would rather dental floss an army of cats without body armour than have to say the rosary, especially in congregation after the 10am mass (sorry, guys!).
But I feel torn. Our Lady is what holds me in the Church, and this is really THE form of prayer that focuses on her, and I can't abide it. I know I'm not alone; that doesn't make me feel less guilty. "Ok," I thought, "Let's give it a go. Best way over guilt is to stop avoiding it. You can do it for an intention, right? Just...start."
I tried the Apostles' Creed, but got as far as..."We." Hey, at least I got that far.
I looked at my phone as soon as I got off. 18.30. Not due in till 19.00. Maybe try it walking through the church graveyard at St Mary's and St Nicholas'? Had time to spare, what did I have to lose?
I wiggled through the gate and turned left, starting the Apostles' Creed, as I tried to remember WHICH mysteries...Tuesday...sorrowful. Crap, it's been so long, what ARE they?
Our Father, which art in heaven...
I passed the grave of the lad who died at 19 yrs and 6 months in France in September 1918, and though I continued reciting the rosary, my heart broke with sorrow for one lost so young, so near the end of a war.
And you ask me why I love her - through wars, death and despair. She is the constant; we who don't care
And as the beads slipped through my hands...
Hail Mary, full of grace
...I finally got it. Fr Richard told me ages ago, when I told him I couldn't do the rosary at home or in bed, that the rosary was a prayer of motion. I kind of got it at Walsingham and on Newman night walks.
In the graveyard, I *got* it. It's what any Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim would have told me. The rhythm of repetitive prayer allows your mind to let go and drop deeper into prayer - even if that prayer is the fact that the plumber needs to come and fix the sink. Even if it's about a 19 year old boy I never knew. It's all prayer.
Glory be to the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit...
As I wandered amongst the graves, beads rough against my fingers, slipping from decade to decade, I thought about love, life, loss, being forgotten and remembered, what I'd left behind and where I was going, the constant, deepening struggle between the institutional Church and my unfolding faith.
You wonder will I leave her - but how? I cross over borders, but I'm still there now.
As the sun lowered in the sky, I could feel the internal stillness deepen, and a sense of peace came over me.
Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy...aw, crap, how does the rest of it go? Fuck it. Salve regina, mater misericordiae...
Then I turned the last corner, and the gate came into sight again...and I had the answer. Well, I'd always had it; I'd just been letting too much get in the way, too many well-meaning people decide what KIND of Catholic *I* had to be: you'll be a good Catholic when you receive on the tongue; if you fall in line here; if you stop thinking about this, it'll be so much easier, dear, won't it? And if you stop looking too hard and too deeply and seeing what's really going on, it'll all be fine. Will it, fuck.
I can't say the rosary just like anyone else: others prefer kneeling, saying it together, in bed, in the car, wherever. But that's not for me. The rosary works for me when I'm walking in a graveyard: maybe it'll work when I'm walking on the railway line at Walsingham or somewhere else. I don't know. What I DO know is that tonight, I made the rosary mine. Now, it is always mine.
I need to do the same with my faith: stop looking around; stop listening to even the most well-meaning when they try to change me; stop trying to fit in a mould that doesn't work for me. The other thing I need to stop doing is getting infuriated/drawn into politics, ideological arguments, hard as that is for me, since I love a good argument. But this isn't genuine argument; it's polarisation. And I can only imagine Our Lady's sorrowing eyes as she looks down on it.
How can I leave her? Where would I start? Let [the Church's] petty [factions] tear themselves apart...
Not too long ago, a friend said that I was 'a mix' when it came to my faith. He's *right*. My faith is what it is - it's ME. Complicated, light, dark, sharp, tender, angry, loving, sad - all of it. Take it or leave it. I suspect - or rather, I hope - I know which one Our Lady will choose.
...[Mother Church's] only borders lie around [her] heart.