Tuesday, 28 September 2010


בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֶלוֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם שֵהֵחְיָנוּ וְקִיְמָנוּ וְהִגִיעָנוּ לַזְמַן הַזֶה

Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha'olam shehehiyanu v'kiyemanu v'higiyanu lazman hazeh.

"Blessed art thou, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season (also translated as 'moment' or 'occasion')."

This gorgeous prayer is known as the Shehechiyanu, a prayer said in moments of great joy or upon experiencing something good for the first time. So it is said at the beginning of a holiday, the first time a ritual is performed in a year or a lifetime, the first time food is eaten in a season.

But most Jews I know use it at so many other times - when a child is born, when a difficult time is over, at any moment where they feel moved to thank G-d.

It is one of the prayers said over the lulav and the etrog at Sukkot - it was as I was looking these up last week, as Sukkot began, that I really started thinking.

What if, even in the most difficult moments, when it seemed darkest, I recited the Shehechiyanu - as a reminder that whatever G-d has brought me to, I am grateful that He has brought me to this moment, that I am not alone - no matter how painful, no matter how hard the moment may be?

What if I said it EVERY DAY - no matter how ordinary the day, no matter how frustrating, no matter how simple the pleasures? No matter that I wish for much that I do not (yet?) have?

Would life look different? What would shift, change? How would I live? Who would I become?

I've decided to give it a try. I may not have everything I want, but I have so, so much. It's time I said, "Thank you": because to everything, there is a season - and I have, through countless others, been brought to this one - whatever it may hold.

Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu...

Thursday, 23 September 2010

In response to a pro-life blog entry

The entry is here.

My response:

Beautifully said, Cloister.

I grew up in a country where 'pro-life' meant clinic bombings, murder, frenzied abuse of women entering clinics. What pro-life really meant was "Once you're born, we don't really care what happens to you. We're pro-war, so we're happy for you to be cannon fodder; we'll cut social services, so we're happy for you to abused or neglected; we'll make sure you can't get proper health care or schooling if you're not affluent, so we're happy for you to have no opportunity or die early once you're out of the womb; oh, and if you get arrested - we're happy for you to die via injection or electric chair. And if you're not like us, we don't want you near us: we're pro-segregation, anti-gay, anti-anyone who isn't our clone."

So the real definition of pro-life is thus: "We're pro-life if you're white and middle-class; if you're not, you can have as many abortions as you like - we don't want more of you."

The shrillness, bullying and lack of integrity with which the campaign is run is breathtaking. You see the same with SPUC and its like: lovely to people who agree with them, abusive to those who don't. And pretending to be 'advice services' when what they do is force women to do what they want is just despicable.

I AM Catholic and pro-choice. I don't sit here easily, but I sit here with absolute conviction. As a cleric with far more empathy than you show here once said, "I don't agree with you - I don't think abortion is part of God's plan. I think we need to love and support the women who are considering this."

Ah. A *truly* - and far too rare - Christian, pro-life stance. And one that allowed us to lean on the fence and really talk - and discover that our values are, in fact, extremely similar, though our expression of them may not be. Unfortunately, reactions like yours shut off conversation and encourage polarity and entrenchment in extreme positions.

It occurred to you to be smug and self-congratulatory, patting yourself on the back for your orthodox stance. It occurred to you to be rigid. It occurred to you to question her right to be in God's Church - which is not YOUR place or business, but Christ's - but it never occurred to you to find out what her story was. As Cloister says, making a decision about abortion is difficult and heart-breaking. No woman does it for a good time, and the last thing she needs to do is be bullied. She needs *love*, *support* and someone who will *listen without judgment*.

That is something that will be your job as a priest. You need to reflect deeply and decide if you can do it. If not, then you have some hard thinking to do. Because let me tell you, if you find that response 'horrendous', you are in no way ready to deal with what your parishioners are living through.

Perhaps you need to go and learn from some of your Dominican brethren who, in my experience, are exemplary pastors - thoughtful, compassionate, orthodox, always charitable - and above all, ever aware of the spirit and nuance of the law.

Remember - For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
To assume you know God's will for anyone - and whether or not they are 'imperil[ing] their supernatural destiny' is the ultimate in arrogance. None of us has any idea of the mind of G-d; how He is choosing to work out His plan for any and all of us. To assume so is to worship an idol by creating Him in our image.

Instead, your encounter with that girl's comment should have been treated as holy. As a moment of meeting, as a moment to wonder what her story might be, as a chance to reach out to her with compassion and show her that the pro-life movement may not be the monolith of intolerant, misogynist religious weirdos she may imagine them to be.

That was a missed opportunity. Don't, in your need to be right, miss the next one.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Fragrance and self

It was nearly 2pm by the time I managed to prise Mazz off my arm.

I met her in Debenhams at 10.30 on a day when I just felt fat and ugly. I couldn't bear to look at myself in ANY of the mirrors I passed (it didn't help that I was wearing a sweatshirt that made me look the size of a house). I was happy to walk around with her as she chose clothes, but I was utterly uninterested in anything but her company. I HATE shopping, but that's another post.

Things started to perk up when she decided she was looking for a fragrance: that, I could get behind. I grabbed Obsession, which I haven't had since March and sprayed it on my wrists. Mazz really liked it on me, but she was going after Dior Addict - a new version that a Saffa friend had worn and she had loved.

We were disappointed in Debenhams, so we went wandering. We were on our way to Primark when we passed The Perfume Store in the Clarendon Centre and I suggested we give it a whirl. It looked like a cheap discount outlet with sales clerks who knew nothing about the product. She shrugged and we went in.

We couldn't have been more wrong about the sales clerk - perfume, heartnotes, basenotes were clearly her passion. She made it her mission to move Mazz from her single-minded pursuit of Dior. When Mazz demurred, she said, "Ah, I thought the same - until I tried..." She took bottles off right, left and centre, trying to find ones Mazz would like. She hit it right on the nose with some, less with others; Mazz finally settled on one of her usual faves: Armani Code.

Then it was my turn. *I* wanted to see if I could move from CK Obsession - or at least have another choice. Again, she sprayed several, some of which were options, including Armani Code. "You'll love the Gucci," she said. Finally, as she rang up Mazz's purchase, she was by the Gucci and sprayed it on a card.

Mazz loved it; I was less sure, so she sprayed it on both our skins. On Mazz, it smelled like soap. On me...

OMG. Sharp at the top, then settled into the lovely smell of fruit stew wafting through the house, with a lilac bouquet undertone. Slowly, amber and patchouli (though not as strong as I'd like) bubbled up from the bottom.

It smelt like a rich sunset. I'm still a nighttime girl, but this is gorgeous. There's a great review of it here.

Mazz wouldn't stop sniffing my arm, saying, "This just makes me want to hug you all day." Considering that neither one of us would kick Chris Evans (the seriously hot American actor, not the Brit git) out of our bed for eating Death by Chocolate, that's saying something.

Then she said something that made me think: "I can smell the Obsession on you, but I can't keep smelling it. It's sharp. This [Gucci Guilty] is so you. I can just keep smelling it all the time."

"Sharp?" With an implied 'hard' and an explicit 'edge'? Hmmm. That was very much how I wanted to project myself - not to be messed with, dark, with an edge. Wearing a scent that projected such an image was, in part, intended to do what wearing baggy clothes does for me: warn you that if you can't get past the packaging, you don't get to find out what's inside. Move on. Don't waste my time; don't ask me for anything; do NOT touch me.

Gucci Guilty smells, as 'The Scented Salamander' says, of a cornucopia - the gift of the Mother. It is a generous, warm, inviting scent of fruit with a hint of naughtiness in the amber and patchouli foundation. It says, 'Come closer, touch, nestle,' whereas Obsession says, 'Go on, I DARE you.'

It's not an either/or for me; it's a both/and. Beneath the prickliness and the edge, you find the nurturing and warmth - and beneath the nurturing, well, I'll leave you to guess at what you might find - hinted at by Guilty's touch of overripe blossom and the strengthening patchouli about 3 hours in.

I'll always be an Obsession girl.

But for now, I give in to sin...

...because you have to make this life livable.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Rosary

"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.

Happy birthday.