Thursday, 20 July 2017

Greetings from Stockport

Before my sister's boyfriend takes possession of my car when I venture abroad, I'm visiting places associated with my youth.  Stockport is the nearest "crap town" to where my parents live and I've always had a soft spot for it. The impressive viaduct dominates the town, and we all knew as children (though had no proof) that it was "the largest brick structure in Europe", and that was something to be proud of. Stockport has dominated my dreams and nightmares.  My dreams have always contained very vivid, detailed architecture: brick, concrete, leaded glass, marble, dark wood panelling, stainless steel.... cinematic long-shots and close-ups, sometimes with sumptuous detail, often historically accurate; Jacobean, Victorian or post-War and mainly originating from things seen in this town. The people in the dreams are little more than shadows, it is the structures that stand out.

Perhaps that is the thing about towns; they are about structures.  They are constructed, brick on brick, and the people come and go, the bricks hang about a lot longer.

Above is an old photograph of a still recognisable site in the town: water for the mill (the start of the River Mersey), the mill, the viaduct built over the mill and gantries for the electrification of the railway line bolted onto the viaduct. Construction on top of construction.

Nothing lasts forever.  I suppose one day the viaduct will be no more and trains South from Manchester Piccadilly will take a different route. But Stockport would still be Stockport without its viaduct. One day there may be no more trains.

I do think there is a danger that we often view the Church as a town.  We wish to construct, we wish to renovate and conserve, we wish to tear down the the brutalist monstrosities of the 1960s and 70s, we want to build something great. Towns are politics made solid and they stand or fall through politics.  The Church is the Bride of the Word made flesh.  The two couldn't be more different.

The Church is living.  Living things are not constructed.  They respond to the environment they are in but their behaviour is not predicated by their nature; their site, substance or situation. Living things are far more marvellous than that. The Church is not about construction or expansion or progress or design or a better future. The Church will "outlive" time and the Church is timeless.

Too often we are seeing the Church from a political point of view and wishing to make it a better Church.  We are missing the point.  The Church cannot be made better.  You cannot design or construct a better hand, a better eye, a better nervous system, a better body.

We have lived too long under the shadow of atomism. We see things as built of small units, like bricks. We see ourselves as building and making progress.  We see ourselves as bricks in the body politic of the Church or as biological cells in the living Body of the Church.  These are wrong notions.  Each person in the Church has the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity, therefore each is Whole and not a separate entity.  Each may have a particular function, a particular task to do, but these actions are incidental to that Unity and to the love of God. God loves unconditionally.

The love many of us have for the Older Rite and for the Tradition of the Church will become as meaningless as my architecturally sumptuous dreams if we forget the reality of what the Church IS and God's desires for Her..... the desire of no less than full and total unity with Him.

What are you/we going to do about that?

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Covenants, games and contracts

Games have three possible outcomes: win, lose or stalemate.  A zero-sum game is a game where the gains of one side exactly equal the other side's losses.  These are usually only entered into through a contract between mutually consenting parties and mostly the stakes are abstract (the win itself - and possible trophy for doing so). Dueling is a notable exception to this rule, the stakes are life itself.

There are also lone player games.  These can be in the form of a challenge to find a way through a set puzzle or they can be a response to some random command say thrown up through the the roll of dice.  In the first case, the direct involvement of a second human party in not necessary, in the second, an audience is usually liked, tomfoolery is enjoyed and outcomes can be extremely hurtful because third parties will be roped in for the entertainment, often unaware that they are part of the game until they have invested something emotional in it and been made a fool of. The "pleasure" to be obtained from them is the adulation of your peers and the fulfilling of a personal challenge for the sake of it. Both these types are simply an excuse to avoid the serious business of living.

Contracts involve a formal process whereby two parties agree to give to each other usually for their mutual gain.  Contracts are temporal and have a legal framework to them in terms of what is and what is not allowed.  I use the term legal loosely.  In my chequered past I had the "good fortune" to be taught the mechanics of the gay clubs.  It was fascinating to see the signs that people would exhibit to show what they have on offer: from simple dominant or submissive to hidden signs detailing really specific sexual preferences. Once the signs were on display, the people were in the market and those desiring such goods, with complimentary goods on offer in return, could engage in contracts for their mutual pleasure. Sadly, what was on display in the gay clubs in grimy Northern England was simply an extreme, colourful and dangerous manifestation of what happens in most relationships between consenting adults that are looking for love.

There is no love to be found in contracts.

Love is essentially a covenant. This is because God's love is covenant and God is love.  It is a promise that cannot be broken and is not dependent on the behaviour of the other. It is an act of the will, it is never an overbearing burden.  It is meaningless without God as a transcendent third making Himself manifest through the covenant. Because it has love at its heart, the freedom of the other party is absolute, there is no coercion, no flirting, no acting, no desire for anything other that what is best for the other. Covenants do not have measurable, predictable outcomes. Covenant simply is.  Covenant is not a game and it is not a contract. Though there may be contractual elements to a covenant (say in marriage), they are not essential.

Why bother?  To engage in a covenant looks on the surface to be self-defeating and pointless and counter-intuitive (like hunting unicorns- you don't catch a unicorn by simply chasing it) perhaps this is so.  However games and contracts will never come close to revealing the essence of our existence but immersion in covenant and study of God's covenant with us may just bring us closer to Him.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

End of an era

I had all sorts of plans to write one of my deeper and more "brainy" posts this evening, but I'm tired and sweaty and my thoughts can wait. Ordinary life is too full-on for philosophical musings.

This time next week, my few remaining things will have been packed into the back of a foreign registered van and I'll have started my fortnight of "sofa surfing" before my departure from these shores.

Today I've had my last day at my current place of work.  I've spent most of this week binning 9 years of paper based resources and doing my best to ensure my successor does not have to be reminded of my presence. The plastic wallets have been kept, my work has been shredded. I couldn't help asking myself which had more worth; the wallets or the work that went in them.

I do have a fondness for the place I have left and there were some glassy-eyed farewell hugs with colleagues and pupils, but there was no looking back, nothing to think lingering thoughts over. It is simply right to be leaving and right to be taking the path I am embarking on.  Just don't ask me to explain it because I can't.

What has been brought home to me is how we never do what we think we are doing.  A girl wrote this in a card to me:

The best science lesson I have ever had was when our teacher told us to make posters on the rainforests and that teacher was you.

I have no recollection of doing that and indeed it sounds like the sort of lesson I'd do in desperation when I was too ill to stand up and "teach".  The note made me smile as it wasn't my Physics but my Biology that had left an impression.

And this is the way of things: never quite knowing what we are doing but doing everything with attentiveness, sincerity, openness, honesty and a smile where possible. That card is a reminder to continue to dwell in ignorance about the effect I have on others... it is always dangerous to start believing in yourself or your abilities, you might cease to do the things that actually matter.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Best ever .....

.... leaving present (2017 style)

80 x top quality English Breakfast Tea bags

Courtesy of a girl in yr 10. Genius, sheer genius.
It is not often I am given something so thoughtful, cheap, portable and useful.

Now all I need is a new kettle and a flex with a 2-pin European plug.... tea drinking will not be hampered by change of location.

Monday, 26 June 2017

la revedere

Not for ever by still waters, 
would we idly quiet stay, 
but would smite the living fountain 
from the rocks along our way.

So goes the hymn "Father hear the prayer we offer" that I heard sung for the first time in ages this Sunday. You may have guessed by now that I inhabit waters that are tigerish rather than still and this old hymn has always been been like my signature tune.

I was down on the South Coast saying goodbye to friends and the liturgy we attended was "Ordinary" but beautifully and simply done.  This type of liturgy means loads of hymns and I am happy to sing, provided I don't make a habit of it. The church we attended was simply so beautiful it was a joy to be in it.  The beauty was not just architectural, but angelic.  They were there in force! I suppose they always are, but this weekend they were palpable. The friend I went down with noticed it too and it was in stark contrast to the wholesale crappiness of the town itself. I'm sure they weren't just there for our benefit, the people of the place need their love too. Our friends in that town most certainly do.

There are lots more "goodbyes" coming up.  I hope they can all be as carefree and unsentimental as the ones this weekend.

Mass at that delightful church ended with Newman's "Lead Kindly Light", which seemed a little sombre and out of place. The hymn seems to be all about the loss of the angels and a hoped for reunion with them, not about their palpable presence.  However, it didn't make me pensive or think there is some impending foreboding darkness. The hymn is potently linked to my past as I had sung it to my husband as he lay dying and I'd made the nurses cry.  But there is no sentiment there, I'm not thinking about the future or the past with any feeling.  I'm just to enjoy the company of the angels in the present and in the midst of all the mad rushing about getting stuff sorted and tidying up my current job and workspace, I am still.

My friend photographed me on the pier at the seafront.  I received a copy via e-mail this morning. I'm not used to pictures of myself, especially ones of me in profile: a nose that doesn't know if it is Irish or Chinese, a badly surgically reconstructed ear (I'm not Vulcan), the large bottom lip that looks like it is missing a cigarette hanging from it, the chins inherited from both sides of the family, the slightly scruffy hair.... no oil painting, but as I look at this image of someone whom others would recognise as me, I am content to stare at her as she stared at the sea knowing that waters around me will continue to be tigerish and I am happy that they are.... and in all probability, the next sea I will stare at will be the Black one. Deo Volente.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

C60 fwd

The converted cow shed where I've lived for the past 10 year is beginning to look a bit empty. Most of the furniture has been given away, most of the books likewise.  The cassettes and the tape deck have made it to the tip.  I kept the obscure Pakistani and Sudanese tapes, I couldn't throw them away.  They are in a box that my parents took to their house along with old family photographs (I'd become the archivist).  The only tape that I have replaced as a CD is Lee Morgan's Sidewinder, it is playing as I write.  It was just about my oldest and favourite tape, a bootleg from my best friend at school taken from her dad's extensive Jazz collection.  My parents never went near the stuff, but my friend's dad was determined his daughter and her friends would like Jazz... it worked on me.

The children at school were fractious, grumpy and determined not to work in the summer heat till I played it whilst they did some practical work.  What is it with Jazz and hot weather?

Not long now till I depart from here.  I am already wondering if I'll return.  I'm planning a retirement in some remote mountain village with a few hens and goats for company and a nearby monastery to see to my spiritual needs. I'm sure hens appreciate Jazz on a summer's day, goats will probably prefer Bruckner. And yes, I know it makes God laugh to tell Him our plans, but I'm laughing too.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

St Raphael- healer of human helplessness

Saturday, 10 June 2017


Democracy, is never a thing I've been passionate about.  However, even my cold heart warmed to the democratic process this week as the UK General Election produced something only the British seem able to do with style : failure.

The Labour Party are victorious in failure.  The Conservatives are failures in the most sour and narrow of victories.

The British press are failures once again, and rightly so.  It is wonderful to see the odious rag, The Guardian look so stupid after having written off the increasingly left leaning Labour Party under its leader Jeremy Corbyn. It is also good to see that the incessant and increasingly unpleasant campaign against Corbyn in the right-wing press, that had more than a twinge of Soviet-era defamation about it, failed to turn him into the bogeyman they had invented.  I hold no flag for what he stands for but the campaign against him as been vile and disgraceful and it has failed: there is justice in that.

We have witnessed the failure of the one party state.  We now have 2 political parties once more. Parties with identities.  This is good for politics.  It is the final failure of all that Blair stood for and that is a very good thing. It isn't a victory for anyone.  The Labour Party has a long way to go, but the parasite has been removed from the host, Blairism is over.

The victory of the referendum over the EU has become a failure as nobody seems to know what it means anymore or what to do about it. There is a very British fuzzyness and incompetence about this. Hurrah for failure.

Then there are the glories of the candidates who stand for election in order to fail: souls who dress in silly costumes, knowing full well they will loose their deposits. But democracy allows  a candidate with a bucket on his head to stand next to the prime minister and there is nothing anyone can say or do.  There is a failure of dignity, a failure of common sense, a failure of logic and it is all rather lovely.

This has been politics at its best.  The political process is 100% worldly.  We do not need religious political parties, indeed the idea is so very Protestant. What we need Catholics to be involved in all areas of politics in all major parties.  A manifesto is not Dogma or Doctrine and should not be confused as such.  Catholics need to be able to be part of the political framework on all sides when party manifestos are drawn up and in the workings of government afterwards.  If Catholics are who we say we are, then we will be convincing and we will have a good effect on the party we are involved with. When voting, we are not voting for the Truth (and there can be no best approximation to the Truth.... that idea is abhorrent). We cast our vote in order to make the democratic process work. That this election has been such a very British farce means that despite its worldlyness the whole system isn't entirely in the hands of the Evil One.  He'd not like the outcome, it is not tidy or nasty enough for him, it has too much irony and humour: he too has failed. Britain still has her identity, her DNA of heroic defeat remains intact. It is what makes this island nation great. She will muddle through as only she can, stronger because of her errors of judgement not despite them. Hurrah for failure.

Friday, 2 June 2017


This time next week all the citizens of the UK will know the results of their General Election and it is most probably that we will know who will be Her Majesty's Government and who will be the Loyal Opposition.  I find it all a bit of a farce.  For me, healthy politics consists in two parties with considerably different views and with considerably different interest groups slogging it out every 4 years for government.  Each have a roughly equal chance of getting in and they do so roughly alternately.  No party is ever in long enough to do any damage or believe in its right to rule. Ideology is kept to a minimum and pragmatism wins the day. Sadly this doesn't exist.  On the national level, we are effectively a one party state and it simply isn't healthy. That the overriding ideology of this nation is essentially Whiggish depresses me no end.  As an old fashioned Tory, I find it a loathsome politics. 

It is also abhorrent from a Catholic point of view.  Subsidiarity and all the Catholic Social Justice ideals that spring from it are the only ways to ensure the dignity of the citizens of the land.  There is no "best fit" with these ideals within the current political climate to any of the political parties.  People need to be making things, growing things and rearing things, inventing and designing things. People need a closer relationship to the land, the seasons, their locality and each other if it is ever going to be more than a nice idea. I find it a bit of an irony that the closest any society ever got to the ideals of subsidiarity were the Zemstovs in the Russia of Tzar Alexander II. It grew out of a feudal structure not a democratic political process. And yes it was very faulted; attempting to remove usury was a good and Christian  thing but the ill treatment of those who provided credit was not excusable. However, there was more than a spark of something good, and that is why it had so many enemies.

So I have very little faith in the political process. When married I'd vote the way my husband was voting.  All processes start with strong united households and I remember the petty squabbles my parents would have around election time with their opposing political views, it was all very childish. Next Thursday, I'll probably just enter the booth and my repulsion to all things Whiggish  and the candidate with the blue rosette is very much that way, will be so great I'll end up voting Labour.  It is however all pointless.  If my yard brush had a blue rosette on it and stood for election in this area, it would win. And I am more than happy to vote for the Conservatives in local elections....

I was dining out the other night with a former pupil and successful Physics graduate who has gone into the world of finance and is capable of making serious amounts of money.  We spent a lot of the evening talking politics from a non-party political standpoint.  The tables were rather too close and I'm sure our conversation carried. We were having fun.  I think we we curdled the food of the other diners.  We were talking about the fact the NHS isn't viable, that the welfare state isn't viable, that comprehensive education doesn't work, that university should only be for at most 20% of the population, that Trump isn't stupid and is actually quite refreshing in his approach, that Obama was dreadful, that free speech is under threat, that the France-Germany European vision is stale and going nowhere  ...... Not the sort of conversation to be enjoyed by liberal North Oxford types.

My former pupil insisted on paying and tipped in cash at 30%.  I was perplexed.  The reply was interesting: these people have dreadful jobs, there is no dignity in what they do, I couldn't do what they do, if I can give them some dignity, I will.....  I was humbled.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Unmasking the enemy

We seem to spend a lot of time forging and then defending our identities and succumbing to a sense of victimhood whenever our identity is under threat.  We want to defend our right to an identity, and often we take pride in our identity and want to be recognised for what we have forged in ourselves.  Sometimes our identities are hidden due to their being unacceptable in the society in which we live, we have to forge them in secret and they may find outlets in exquisite creativity, subversive activity and or depression. Often we gravitate towards others who seem to have a similar identity to ourselves, finding mutual support and being comforted by a sense of belonging.

Identity in itself is not a bad thing.  Nevertheless it is a thing and as such we can't take any of it with us when we die.  Our souls are ring-fenced, they are God's property but like a living thing they need to be nurtured and protected.  Indeed it could be argued we have living creatures to care for throughout our lives or in order to give us a type, an example, of the care we should take of our souls.  Our identity is not protected by God and His Angels, indeed the hardest spiritual lessons we learn have are those involving the erosion of our perceived identity, when we are stripped right back and faced with the reality of what lies behind and beyond these identities we have been so careful to nurture.  The problem comes when nurturing an identity becomes more important than the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity.  And indeed the problem looks absurd when viewed from that perspective because the Blessed Trinity is all: but how easily we are distracted....

Because our identity is not ring-fenced by God, it is the playground of the Devil.  He will do all he can to ensure we take our identity ever so seriously and spend an awful lot of time and effort defending it and nurturing it.  It is he who offers sympathy whenever our identity is under threat, it is he who nurtures our victimhood when the "bigots" and "-phobes" crowd in.  It is he who wants us to take great pride in our identity and to parade it and to be consumed by it.  We must have a healthy and cheerfully detached attitude towards our identity or he gets what he wants. He wants us to be consumed by our identities because when we are we let go of all that is good, we worship ourselves, we become our own idol.  He will take great delight when time, nature and fate transpire to ruin us because we've stared at our identity and found it empty but found nothing to fill the void.  One day we can be a celebrity, one day we can have the adulation of the crowd, the next day nobody recognises us and our adult children are dragging us out of gutters and into re-hab after prolonged drinking bouts.....

We need an identity, or indeed multiple identities depending on who we are with and their relationship to us; masks are necessary to denote rank and authority and to offer us some ease through life so that things can be left unsaid yet understood. However an identity based purely on leisure, based purely on using our bodies rather than the giving of them in service is a thing of great danger, but it is also the only identity the world recognises as something of its own and the laws of the free world will enshrine its right to exist because it is doing no harm... it is a sign of our liberty and freedom and we are asked to defend its right to exist at all costs because there is something "oppressive" about those regimes where such liberty is not acceptable.....

It gets worse.  Those who don't see the world from the world's perspective because they have set their hearts on higher things, get bundled together with those who whilst utterly worldly are on crusades against identities that they see as threatening to their own identities in the name of something that the world recognises as religion.  All are seen as enemy to the identities forged in "liberty" and "freedom".

It gets complicated. In each of us there is a desire to protect identities which we are sympathetic towards.  It is impossible for us truly to separate our duty to defend God's property and our desire to protect a particular identity which moves our sympathies. It can also be very difficult for us to see God's property in those whose identity we find repugnant. This is our battlefield, both spiritual and temporal, engagement is vital, but there seem to be so few who are willing to fight.

Strip away "identity" and what remains?
Strip away "identity" and what remains?

Friday, 26 May 2017


I spend a considerable amount of my time in the company of teenage girls.  It is my job, not my choice.  They are one of the strangest tribes on the planet and one I never understood even when I was one myself.  There are unwritten rules of unimaginable complexity, there are meanings within meanings and everything must be taken soooo seriously; feelings, suspicions, needs, relationships, culture, fashion ...... But nothing is static and if you can't keep up and read the unwritten signs about what is right and what is not, then you are nobody..... 

However, these girls do have a lot to teach us about identity and what it means, and for this I have been grateful to have to mop up after them and the absurdities of the hurts they cause each other.

I think that in the not too distant past, our identity was not much of an issue.  More important were our duties of state; most probably the state which we found ourselves born into. It would be our integrity which determined how we fulfilled those duties.  There would be some mobility and flexibility in those duties but on the whole your "caste" determined your life.  Once secular egalitarianism became enshrined in the fabric of society, identity became important. If all are "equal" and have "equal opportunities" then forging an identity is incredibly important. It makes you identifiable, it makes you other (different from the rest), it makes you special, it gives you belief in yourself and something to cultivate and nurture, and it is all a mask. Ultimately it is something to hide behind. Fashioning an identity hides our insecurities.

This is where "my girls" have taught me so much. The only way to bring them on, to make they feel like they can flourish, the only way to humanise the petty insanity in their lives is to completely ignore their identity.  One day they are "gay", the next "bi", one day vegan, the next on a paleo diet, one day flowing long hair, the next a crew cut.... I exaggerate, but only slightly.  Their identities are both fickle and seriously real to them and it is simply best to ignore. What must be done is to defend them when they can be defended and reprimand when they can't, listen to them, but chiefly one must ignore the identity they are forging.  There is something deeper and more real than the identity we forge and that is what we must all try to reach in each other.... anything else is insanity as it involves trying to respond to something that only really exists inside the other person's head, it involves us trying to nurture it and help forge it, shielding up that person's insecurities, making them believe their own fantasy.

I have been thinking a lot about this as I look at pictures of this week's suicide bomber.  All I can see is an insecure youth.  Someone with body language that suggests he really doesn't fit in or feel at home with himself.  Someone on the edge of a group of friends, unable to pose with confidence like them, someone lacking the necessary social skills to feel quite at home in his tribe, someone desperate for an identity of his own.

You see, I'm not convinced that "radicalisation" is a major factor in turning someone into a suicide bomber.  I think identity is a far more important factor; something we choose to cultivate because it makes us feel better, it makes use feel excited to be us, we can perceive ourselves as a hero because we are forging an identity where others will see us as a hero. And so much the better if our identity is dangerous and is under threat, if it pits our identity against somebody else's conflicting identity.

And all the time society is escalating the identity crisis. Making us choose tribes. Making us forge meaning out of image. Making us all different but in such a shallow way.  We are losing the ability to look deeper into each other's souls because we are avidly trying to pigeon hole the other, place them in a tribe, make them different and judge them to be good or bad depending on which box we've stuck them in.

It is supply and demand.  If the teenage girls didn't have so much spending power to forge their identities and fantasy worlds, if they could find something beyond trying to cultivate an identity, they'd flourish and their culture of fakery, sexualisation, manipulation and promiscuity would lessen.  Could something similar be said for wannabe suicide bombers?  I think so.  But there is serious money invested in supporting and nurturing the whole teenage girl thing and it will not go away. And the same can be said for terrorism.

Mr Benn: he could change his identity whenever he wanted, just a short walk down Festive Rd and a visit to a very strange shop.

Monday, 22 May 2017

something to chew on

I'm a bit of a novice at attending the Greek-Catholic Liturgy, but I find it a profoundly moving and indeed draining experience.  As yet I have not received the Eucharist.  I am not yet ready for that.  Indeed receiving the "antidoron" after the Liturgy has such incredible significance that approaching Communion seems beyond me.  For those who don't know; several loaves of leavened bread are baked, one is chosen to be the Lamb, the rest remain on the altar, are blessed and returned to the congregation in chunks.  Some take it home to break the night fast with, the rest is consumed there and then at the end of the Liturgy.  The precept is to attend, not to receive each and every Sunday.

Chewing the antidoron I'm meditating about service in the country where I will be living; my service to the people there and God's acceptance of that service and His working of that relationship within me.  I will receive Him one day, beyond the the profound spiritual communion that is already taking place during the rite, I just don't know when. The antidoron seems to be a blessing on the future.  When the future life becomes the present, then it makes more sense to Communicate.

I was at the Greek-Catholic rite yesterday, before the anniversary of the night when one of my "holy helpers", King Henry VI was murdered and the day before the feast of my Patron, St Rita.  22nd May has a significance for me; it is about beginnings and ends and death and stuff though it isn't morose or dark in the slightest.

This year, there is simply an emptiness, a "sated" emptiness.  I do not need to know anything. I'm not searching for anything.  I have a sated exhaustion that things have indeed run their course. A friend said that I've been granted an "honourable discharge" from my fight (whatever it is/was).  However, I'm not sure it is that simple.  Every prayer is a battle, the fighting never stops.  I think I've just moved into a zone where my response is purely reflexive, I'm not having to think about what I'm doing, and I can't see the muck and bullets.

I deliberately visited the shrines of both King Henry VI and St Rita last year (imploring their help because things seem so impossibly unreal and daft and plain wrong) and they are with me, especially today and I must attribute my health to them, I've left my vocation for them to work out. I used to know what it is with certainty, but now I no longer know what it is.... but like St Rita, carried over the convent walls by her patron saints to fulfill her vocation, this is entirely in the hands of my patrons, whatever it is.

Now off to the Novus Ordo at the nearest church on my Patronal Feast ..... and receiving the Eucharist will not seem inappropriate.....

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Bad Science

I am writing about the characteristics of good and bad science because I suspect we are living in a time of unprecedentedly bad science.  The sciences have lost their way and this has far reaching consequences.  More particularly there are many unsuspecting souls who are using the methodologies of bad science to prop up their world views and this is little more than a house of cards that is getting increasingly unsteady.  Why should we care? We should care because Theology is a science and Theology is a practical science: you have to engage with God to grow in understanding of God, you can't "do God" purely from the text books. It has always been my view that it isn't so much heresy that we are seeing in the Church in these challenging times, but bad science. To be a heretic is actually quite demanding and requires a level of determination and self-justification (and consistency of thought) that is simply not present in those culprits many would deem to be heretics.  Being bad at science is as easy as s**t off a shovel because being a good scientist is nearly impossible.

Science involves "first principles" and things not open to question.  There are things whose existence you have to buy into if you are going to study science and operations they can and can't undergo within prescribed boundary conditions.  The vista then opens up as levels of complexity are introduced, boundaries and variables altered, observations made and predictions of future behaviour accurately described or refuted. Science involves elegance and beauty.  Science is dispassionate.  Science reveals herself in the doing of science. Replace the word Science with the word Theology throughout this paragraph and you will see that Theology is a science.

Bad science is passionate.  Bad science is often painfully sincere. Bad science relies heavily on experts rather than on science.  Bad science gets emotional.  Bad science thinks it has the answers.  Bad science is rigid in the wrong ways and flexible in the wrong ways.  It is rigid in its belief that it has the correct methodology and all other methodologies (historically well founded)  are wrong.  It is rigid in its belief in progress.  It is rigid in its passionate belief that it is right. It goes down rabbit holes.  It takes itself too seriously.  It is flexible with those "first principles". It likes to destroy the past rather than build on it.  It is flexible in its ideas about the truth which it sees as a movable feast rather than an eternal, ever present reality that we simply see through a glass darkly.  It is very human centred and seeks to define who we are by the challenges we face in our understanding of science. The more challenges that are thrown at us, the more we adapt to juggling increasingly contradictory ideas, the more uncomfortable it gets, the better it is for us. Bad science sees humanity in a process of "synthesis".  Bad science loathes or simply doesn't get metaphysics.  Bad science does not know the history of science. Bad science is purely atomist and constructivist.

Good science keeps its "first principles", good science is not grand or full of end-times prophecies. Good science is light, elegant and beautiful. Good science remains dispassionate. Good science isn't trying to change the world, just delight in it.  Good science knows it can't change the world though like bad science it can have a dramatic effect on the way we think about things and how we act on them.  Good science knows no human "progress".  Good science knows its limits. Good science is often not exciting.  Good science can be very dull indeed ..........   And just perhaps these are things the Church Militant should keep in mind too.... because to some extent we are all scientists.

 If you are a theologian you truly pray. If you truly pray you are a theologian- Ponticus Evagrius

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

ad Orientem

Psallite Domino, qui ascendit super coelos coelorum ad Orientem, alleluia.

It is more than a solar year but less than a liturgical year since I last heard those words.  They are the Communion Antiphon from the Feast of the Ascension (and from psalm 67, which I find a great source of strength).  Something very odd happened when I last heard them; I knew I would be going out East.  I shrugged it off and the conscious part of me laughed at the stupidity of this.  I was very sick and hiding just how sick I was.  Life was simply a struggle from day to day and beyond that there was no further reality. Death seemed far more likely than travel. I started putting my things in order, including righting the odd wrong from way back in my past, though still not sure if this constituted preparation for death or travel.  Best live every day as if it were the last..... and pray as if every prayer would be the last one said....

Now that everything is indeed set for challenging but wholesome employment in Eastern Europe, perhaps there is a little "see, I told you so" playing around my subconscious. I am grateful for the prayerful calm and complete lack of drama associated with what is happening.  It feels like the most ordinary thing in the world to be doing; getting rid of most of my stuff, leaving my routine and going to work for souls who seem so genuinely pleased to have recruited me. The "known unknown" that is leading me on is simply a somewhat abstract yet very human smile, but not one I'd dare ignore.

It seems no coincidence that so many of my friends are also heading off away from the UK.  We all feel like chess pieces being moved into position.  We know our limits, we know we will do nothing out of the ordinary, we know life will continue in a strangely familiar but uniquely uncluttered and concentrated way.  We all feel prepared, alert and humbled by God's love for us.

And as I familiarise myself with the Greek-Catholic rite, I am struck by an often repeated cry of the priest:

Înţelepciune! Să luăm aminte!
Wisdom! Be attentive! 

Indeed! God does indeed want my full attention, the spiritually refining days of passive sufferance are over for me; there is work to do. Work that is neither heroic or earth-shattering.  And the nature of this work will probably be hidden from me.  This is for the best, I work best in ignorance.  As a priest who knows me better than most said to me, "if you actually knew what you did, you'd be a menace!"... 

Monday, 17 April 2017

Hell's mandarins

The gods of Hell consider themselves to be the most benign  and generous of hosts.  After all they give their "guests" exactly what they want; exactly what they preferred over and above the Love of God. In a parody of the Mansions of the Father, the mandarins of the underworld fit out with excruciating precision and attention to detail, personalised teenage bedrooms of  vice, where their guests will have an eternity forced to entertain their lust, gluttony, avarice or whatever cocktail of vice they chose for themselves.  The claustrophobia and misery are exquisite.  These mandarins are happy in their work, they have devised a Blairite Meritocracy for which they are the overlords and they are in love with their own ingenuity.  They have conveniently forgotten the One who has allowed them to exercise such power.

It wasn't always like this.  For thousands of years, their job was far simpler and they were more like Victorian clerks.  It was all ledgers and ink wells.  Scrupulous records would be kept.  There was an inevitability about the job.  The books always balanced. Actually that isn't entirely true.  The books had not balanced on three occasions.  They conveniently like to forget about Enoch, Moses and Elijah whom they had never welcomed to their realm.  Accounting oversights or gentle reminders that ultimately they had no real power over death.....?  The gods don't like to think about such things.  They had their empire to run.  Mistakes can be erased from the memory and there was much to be busy about making sure their guests were comfortable.

When a man called Abraham checked-in they knew they were dealing with somebody a bit different.  He was almost unbearably polite and gracious and yet all he would do was wait.  He treated their empire like a waiting room.  Waiting for something better.  But what could be better than what they had to offer? Other souls gravitated round Abraham.  The mandarins were unhappy about this but they would not be out-polited by a mere man so they let him be and many grateful souls found their way to his bosom.

It all really went wrong for them when one of their guests disappeared.  It was unheard of that a man whose body had begun to putrefy on earth could go awol from their realm.  But that is what happened to Lazarus.  He wasn't an oversight in the ledger.  His name was there, clearly written by one of the most experienced and well respected of the mandarins, but he had gone.  Something had to be done.  The laws of death had to be obeyed.  He must die again.  They had contacts on earth, it could be arranged.  Then news came through that they might do even better.  The Author of this great travesty Himself might be theirs for the taking.  Yes, forget Lazarus, they thought, the Man responsible for this outrage can balance the books instead.  So every force united to bring about His death.  The singular moment of unity.  A Cosmos shattering upheaval from which there was no return.

When He arrived, it wasn't as they expected.  The tasteful, strong and somewhat lavish doors to their realm lay in splinters.  Clerks were running about in a frenzy, the ledgers were in tatters on the floor.  The machinery of their empire was crumbling.  The Man was preaching to the dead. They listened and many followed Him back out again. The clerks were powerless, though they were pleased that some chose to remain behind and not follow this Brigand.

The gates of the underworld were shattered. The mandarins were a laughing stock. The gods on earth were mocking them about having a glass revolving door fitted. It was all too much, but hurt pride is a great motivator.  Fom now on, they would concentrate on those who freely chose to check-in with them, they would entertain them royally.  No more Abrahams to deal with.  They would have guests over whom they had complete control.  There would be realms for the dead over which they had no jurisdiction.... but they couldn't care less about that.  They had a job to do and they would do it to perfection.

So when That Mere Woman also did not obey the laws of death and went straight to Heaven, the event passed by our mandarins with hardly a second thought. It was the gods of the world who were smarting this time. The implications of the Creator's eternal love for her will always be beyond the comprehension of the gods of the underworld. And whilst souls on earth stubbornly fail to grasp the significance of His love for each of us, these mandarins will have work to do.  Work is always better than thinking.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Holy Saturday and the Dead

I'm thinking about the generation born between 1914 and 1924.  They include my grandparents and my late husband's parents.  The people I am thinking about are all dead.  They would have had no memories of the pre-Pius X church.  That was the world of their parents.  The first real change to the liturgical life of the church that they would have witnessed were the "reforms" to the Triduum instigated under Pius XII.

These changes were enthusiastically embraced by the in-laws and others I knew.  In the 1990s I recall two elderly gentlemen from Salford who had done the Triduum together each year without fail since they left National Service.  Their lives drifted apart but they came back together for the this: especially the watching and the nighttime Easter vigil.  My in-laws loved it too.  They loved the drama of the vigil that the pre-Pius XII liturgy did not have. They loved the emptiness of Holy Saturday and the anticipation of the Vigil.They were active stalwarts of their parish.  I really feel that for them it symbolised a post-war freshness and hope.  These were souls who found the changes really positive and therefore when further changes happened in the 1960s, they absorbed them enthusiastically too. I got to know them when the full consequences of the Novus Ordo and its often disastrous manifestations (along with slum clearances and increasing "individualism") had emptied the parishes.  They genuinely believed (because they'd been told) that the "Old Mass" was wrong.  They would be in horror if they knew we'd ever gone to the Tridentine Mass at the Holy Name in Manchester. I think they would have been happier if we'd embraced Buddhism.  My husband had watched the slow removal of the old liturgy with a more critical eye.  He told me that even in the mid-70s many parishes were still using the '62 for one of their Sunday Masses at least once a month.  Everything was at the discretion of the parish priest and the Bishop, until Bishops decided to engineer a "bright new future" and obliterate the Vetus Ordo completely, and the legacy of Cardinal Heenan too.

Over the other side of the world was my grandfather.  He was very well educated and something of a Latin scholar.  His faith was the faith of a convert and it ran deep.  He had no concept of cultural Catholicism. Malaya was not like that.  Being an active stalwart in a parish meant nothing to him.  Priests said Mass, women (mainly missionary sisters) kept the church nice. Grandfather had the shortest of tempers.  He liked the lowest of Low Masses. If there was any fuss, if he could sense the presence of a person performing at Mass (especially theatrical singers), he'd be cross,.  Mass wasn't theatre. The Pius XII reforms to the Triduum meant nothing to him.  He wouldn't have attended much of it before, he wouldn't be attending much of it after.  He also hated the 1960s liturgical changes.  Once, when he was over in Manchester and we took him to the Holy Name, he really hoped it would be the last Mass he would ever attend.  It was a joy to him, even though it was a High Mass, at least it didn't hurt like the Novus Ordo.

Tonight I've been asked to attend a Novus Ordo Easter Vigil.  I don't want to go. It lost its appeal a few years back when I sat a bit too close to the sanctuary and was horrified by the bad temper and complete lack of reverence of those in the sanctuary: they were putting on a show and it was not going well. I, like my grandfather, dislike Mass as performance.  I too am happiest with the lowest of Low Masses. The person who asked me to go is the mother of a girl for whom I am the sponsor. I feel I ought to go as I won't be around next year.

I will go.  Writing this has decided it for me.  It is not in the church that has bad memories.  Mass is something that is there and that absorbs you when you are there.  It could be behind a dense roodscreen with only a squint to peer through or behind an iconostasis for all I care.  The transcendent is always there and the performance is secondary and by comparison, insignificant.

To all my readers, Paşte fericit!


I'm back from the Vigil.  That was beautiful.  Slightly shambolic but beautiful.  No campness, no clinical precision, no professionalism, just sincere faith and joy!

Hristos a învitat!

Adevărat a învitat!