Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Knit with love

Several weeks ago, I was invited to a tea to celebrate a friend's daughter's first communion. I was fortunate enough to make the 09.30 mass just as the first communicants went up to the rail to receive for the first time, and my breath caught as I caught a glimpse of C from the back, remembering my first communion after my conversion years ago.

As the 0930 was wrapping up, my friend passed by on her way to change the youngest's nappy, and invited me to tea at theirs afterwards. I hesitated, because I didn't know how many people would be there, how many I would know, and I'm not at my best in large gatherings (well, that's an understatement). An introvert by nature, I do best in small, intimate groups with those I love and trust. But I did want to go, and knew I'd be ok if I was sure someone I was close to was going, so I checked with my favourite 83 2/3 year-old German. She was, so I would definitely go.

So after snapping a pic of my favourite first communicant (telling her 'You don't have to be holy for me' when she posed by folding her hands prayerfully before me - she picked up her handbag and I got the little girl shot I wanted), the 11am mass, coffee and a quick dash for my friend to pick up her car, we were off.

I found myself apprehensive as we approached the house - I was expecting a load of kids (not a problem) and a load of church peops (possible problem; I get very prickly very quickly around too much religion/piety), so I prepared my defences...

...which dropped the moment I stepped into the house. Sanctuary - I had found sanctuary.

The afternoon was magic, a bubble out of place and time. I often find being with happy families exquisite agony, but this Sunday afternoon, it was simply exquisite. People weren't just on their best behaviour; there was room for everyone to be real, and therefore, at their best.

It was an afternoon for lazy conversations, intense conversations about Iraq (my animated narration to Jim gaining me an indulgently amused look from the master of the house), wandering back and playing with the kids - all 15 or so in varying combinations, and taking lots of pictures. 

Pictures of children on swings, babe in arms, father-daughter moments, children being children and a mother-daughter moment that reminded me of the icons of Our Lady with the infant Jesus - behind her sunglasses, Mum wasn't looking at the camera, she was looking at her daughter with the utmost pride and love - she was pointing to her daughter, whose day it was.

Oh, and best of all, holding the baby most of the time (no competition), just watching her be: intensely focusing as only babies can on nearby plants as she reached for leaves; tugging my hair; grinning broadly at me; sleeping; just being her.

At some point, in my languorous sense of well-being, I noted an absence of something. As I listed the things I wasn't doing - looking for subtext, constantly monitoring emotional temperature, monitoring dynamics, working out ways to avoid any eruptions - I realised I could sum it up in one sentence:

I was no longer seeking - or chasing.

No seeking and chasing the smallest thread of potential affection; no fear of having love/affection cut off for the tiniest mistake; no need to preclude/contain emotional spillage; no working out and fulfilling unspoken emotional needs for a crumb of affection and a calm, if not safe, space - at least for a little while.

Not here. Here, one just needed to bask in the profligate love that flowed like a fountain from those who loved each other unreservedly and freely, encompassing anyone else in their orbit. In this love, freely given, one is held in relationship - no need to fear being cut off from love, no matter what. Problems will be taken in their stride, expectations will be stated, compromise will be negotiated, and no matter what, one will always be in relationship - withdrawal of love or approval is never even an option. Love is an ocean which holds us, not a cat toy we need to perpetually chase.

It was in this moment, with my chin on Jim's shoulder, as the communion cake was being cut,  that I noted the sheer joy in the afternoon's sanctuary. He said, 'That's because this is a family knit with love. Not all families are.'

'I know,' was my heartfelt reply. I closed my eyes and offered a prayer of gratitude for this afternoon of being able to rest in a love so palpable that I could wrap it around me like a duvet, where it acted both as a shield and comfort and as something that could be shared, where a whole load of us could huddle under on the proverbial sofa connecting and keeping each other warm.

Being able to rest in love allows one to just be - and it is when we are human beings that we can be who we truly are, who G-d meant us to be, allowing us to be vessels for G-d's infinite love...

...which, in the end, is the whole point of the sacrament of communion.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Si vis pacem, para bellum

It was Monday night, three weeks ago, that I first heard these words. 

What was to end up being the best episode of Grimm so far had just begun. Edgar Waltz had just dropped in for an unexpected, rather tense visit to inform Captain Sean Renard (whom we now know is a member of a Royal House) of the presence of a member of the resistance in Portland. He warns Renard:

Si vis pacem, para bellum.

After Waltz leaves, Renard looks out the window, drink in hand, thoughtfully repeating, 'Si vis pacem, para bellum. If you seek peace, prepare for war.'

My blood sang. THIS. I have always sensed this in myself - in Grimm, the character I gravitate towards is the dangerous, powerful, lazily graceful Sean Renard, and my real-life preferences mirror that. Men with intensity, with a hint of danger, with power or power in potential - alpha males or incipient (because of woundedness) alpha males. I can sniff one out from miles away, or nearby, when no one else can spot him.

Rebel that I am, I was, of course, on the side of resistance, but the shadow of war woke me like nothing else has, reminding me of an edge that generally lies dormant, or only finds its outlet in anger.

Afterwards, I processed with Ari:

me: This episode of 'Grimm' has thrown up a huge issue for me.
Ari : Which one?
me: I am a massive, massive liar. I WANT to be a pacifist. I WANT to be anti-violence. But that quote? 'If you seek peace, prepare for war'? That was like...a drug.
: You're a natural warrior, she'enedra.
me: I understand that. I just realised that it's a part of me of which I am ashamed
b/c I feel it makes me like GW Bush and the Rethuglicans, some bloodthirsty violent barbarian. I want to be Mandela. I want to be Gandhi. But.
Ari: But you're not. You're a paladin, so to speak - and that is okay. It takes all sorts.
me: It's the part of me that shows up when I challenge others
: Some people will never listen to non-violence. That is a valuable skill. It's NOT something to be ashamed of. It usually comes out when you want to help the innocent or learn the truth or right a wrong. I respect pacifism greatly, but I don't think it's the only possible way, and I'm bothered when people imply it is. I'm too pragmatic for that. You aren't a hawk. Not exactly. You're not aggressive for the sake of aggression, and you aren't a bully.
me: But part of me is bothered that war can feel like a natural state. Thank you.
But we are ALL capable of that [being a bully]. And I think it's because I know it's how I can be if that unhappy and angry, if my warrior skills are misdirected or can't be channelled properly.
: If your energy gets blocked, if you can't be who you're going to lash out.
me: Ja, I think that for far too long, I've seen my tendency towards war as...a side effect of my father. I'm less sure of that now. I reacted to him the way I did because of my nature, not in spite of it. My brother hid. I could have done that too; would have done, had it been my tendency.
: But it's not who you are.
me: My father didn't FORM my warrior nature - m
y warrior nature reacted to him. And I have spent so much of my life being ashamed of it, hiding it, trying to 'fix' it. Jesus Christ, no wonder I'm paralysed. It's how I act and I'm fucking sitting on it. I'm not OL. I LOVE her and I will always partner Her, but I'm NOT HER.
Ari: No. You're Judith or Devora. There is NOTHING wrong with that. Oftentimes the world /needs/ people like you. You hold a balance.
Think about the mother. The mother often has a healer's duties, but what about mother bears? There is no creature in nature more ruthless than a mother whose young are threatened - BECAUSE she is a mother. But she is also healer. See, to me, your gifts have never seemed at odds with each other. You embody that, all of it, from the nurturing to the defending. I might even say that you are the archetypal mother. You don't feel that way merely towards your own children, but towards all humanity.
Don't feel ashamed of it. I honestly don't think you even need to worry about reconciling anything. Your gifts are all whole already; you just need to accept them for what they are and what they mean. Just let them be, and let yourself be.

Quantum leap forward in self-understanding, though applying it is far more difficult. But that leads to the question - what does that mean to this warrior?

For me, peace is not avoidance. Peace cannot rest on the shifting sand of a tacit agreement that the truth remain unspoken. Peace is not a lack of conflict. Unresolved issues will rise to take on a life of their own so that entire families through generations to institutions act them out in ways where there may be no open warfare, but death by a thousand cuts, through relentless anger, pain, toxicity, dynamics that unnaturally twist those participating in them, making it impossible for anyone to grow. Oh, and don't believe that it's always quiet - there are often eruptions worthy of Eyjafjallajökull that one runs around trying to prevent. 

Trust me, I grew up there.

(Just to drive the point home, in this week's Once upon a time twist on Red Riding Hood - Red's grandmother's lying, hiding Red's true nature as a werewolf from her, costs countless lives. Avoidance brings as many casualties, if not more over time, as war.)

Peace, true peace, must have its foundation in the bedrock of truth, what is real. It must be anchored in the depth of truth and love, not the turbulent shallows of worldly appearances. Getting to that truth may require war: pushing against resistant dynamics, breaking out of agreements, or leaving. War strips everything back, distilling everyone to their essence: pulling away masks, facades, facing that which we would keep hidden.

There will be casualties - relationships based on silence, appearances, shallow similarities, denial, that which is unspoken, those built on a fault line or shared wounds rather than genuine love; one's reputation; the personalities we created to survive where we lived, so we lose our sense of who we are; or as in my case when I left home, the ability to stay.

But in the end, there will be genuine peace - not a lack of conflict, but conflict dealt with in truth, in love and in the appropriate time, with organic change arising naturally - a dynamic process that allows everyone who steps into the dynamic to speak honestly, to be themselves, to grow - or to step out of the dance if it doesn't suit them. People stay out of love - not fear, not need, not control, not comfort. And they leave in love to join the dance that G-d meant for them.

Nothing is ever perfect, but things can be whole and act from that wholeness. Peace, like equilibrium, must be dynamic, constantly aware and correcting itself as one does when riding a bike or driving a car, through the little movements with the occasional larger correction. 

This is my cause - for this, I will take up arms. Do I do it well? Not by a long chalk: as my therapist friend T pointed out, I am hobbled by desperation: "What I see in you is: The family I grew up in wasn't open. THIS one WILL be." So my tendency is to move too quickly, too full on, because I have sat for too long and suddenly the pressure is too great. I'm far better in individual dynamics - hence my work as a therapist - than I am in the collective, because I am so sensitive to the dynamics around me that I mirror/act out and become part of them - and by the time I extricate myself, there are far fewer options for acting because doors have closed, ways are more entrenched, and structures are precarious - and the action must be more extreme.

Quite often, my strength is in using anger - my own and others' - as a catalyst, but had I moved earlier, more options would have been available. Like the peace I seek, my warriorhood is dynamic. I am learning. 

Anger makes war inevitable - and I suspect it need not always be so. After all, the saying goes: If you seek peace, prepare for war. Not that war is inevitable, simply that one must be ready for it and not flinch from it and its aftermath. Then, one can do the hard work of picking up the pieces of something unsustainable and starting anew to build a true peace.

Si vis pacem, para bellum.

Let us make ready, tirelessly move towards truth, and together build a true peace that passeth all understanding that we now have of the nature of peace.