Sunday, 17 September 2017

Another referendum

I was out last night with very worldly, secular company.  Conversation came round to the topic of a referendum that will take place in this country on the issue of how a family is defined. You can read details of  it here.  I have already given my views on this blog concerning referenda, and how dumb I think they are: they give people  the illusion that they are exercising a democratic voice when in fact they are simply tools in the in the prevailing cultural hegemony.

Whilst the referendum has noble intentions: to block same-sex marriage from ever becoming legal in this country, I fear a disaster.  It is a foolish idea as it is giving voice to those who wish to destroy the traditional notions of family and marriage, and there is a young population out here who are only too willing to listen to this in the name of freedom, tolerance and justice. In the UK (Brexit) and in the US (Trump) where democratic votes have not given the results "the people" want we are witnessing the apparatchik of the "deep state" and the media outlets that rely on this for their survival stirring up all sorts of trouble.  The results of the referendum here, if successful, will never satisfy the vocal few with powerful friends who are determined that "equal marriage" become a flag of belonging for all truly "democratic", "mature", "tolerant", "right-thinking" nations. These are things Romania desperately wants to  be. The traditional notions of family and marrige will continue to be erroded until opposition is silenced.

For my part, it is not for me to take sides in the internal politics of this country.  However I wish to throw one very secular argument into the debate.  I implore my secular, liberal friends  to think on the following which is not an argument based on religion or morality but on the state and its powers.

If same-sex marriage is ever allowed then it would mean the state sanctioning the alteration of the meaning of a word.  Is this a power the state should ever have; a democratic or totalitarian state? Is not this a thing of horrific, Orwellian overtones?  If the meaning of the word "marriage" is altered, what meaning does the word take on when marriage becomes "equal"? It means marriage  takes on the following meaning:

A state recognised grouping containing at least one human who are "committed to each other" and wish to enjoy the protection of the state whilst they remain "committed to each other".  They wish to have their right to live together and if so desired mutually masturbate for their joint pleasure, and bring up children, known to all. 

But we live in a world where words lack the clarity they were created with and where we can live our own reality where we give things any meaning we wish them to have.

But surely, here of all places, the notion that the meaning of words can be altered by the law and the state should make people think twice about what exactly they would be voting for or against. I fear the desires of those who wish to to shore-up the notion of what family is to prevent same-sex marriage from ever being a reality here, may in effect do the opposite. "Family" is quite a losely defined word at the best of times, it is "marriage" which must be defended at all costs.


Saturday, 16 September 2017

What I have been doing this week

  • I have had my first kiss on the hand from an elderly Romanian gentleman, it is a traditional greeting and it is wonderful, those old boys have class.
  • I have kissed crosses and icons and a Bishop's ring: apparently quite normal Catholic behaviour out here.
  • Sung Vexilla Regis, even if the only listener was a rather bemused dog from the upstairs flat, I will not let Sept 14th pass without singing it.
  • Been the butt of the odd joke as the paranoid English woman who always turns up early, there is no concept of being early, everyone is simply on time.
  • Wondering when autumn will kick in.  It is still extremely summery here, but the shadows are lengthening and the lower light is penetrating the woods near where I work quite beautifully.
  • Having my annual bout of plantar fasciitis
  • Working hard and for the most part enjoying it.
  • Engaged in the following conversation on several occasions "Why come here out of choice? It is mess and nothing works", "I have left a country in a mess where nothing works."
  • Enjoying the complete lack of fuss at classical concerts.  No programmes in sight and half-time refreshments means queueing for water from a vending machine. The quality of the music is fantastic.
  • Preparing for a visit from my parents next weekend.
  • Found out that I am older than Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Poverty

There is a little old lady who often begs at the front door to my apartment bloc.  I simply can't give her anything, because she'll keep coming back if I do.  This hurts. She carries a bit of card with her sorry tale written on it and I don't doubt it is true.  There are many beggars on the streets here and most of them are little old ladies.

Then the Gospel story of Lazarus and Dives starts to sear itself to my soul.  What fate will befall me for not giving to the beggar at my door?  What can I do?

I'm getting into the routine of walking from which ever church I have attended for the Sunday liturgy to the Italian Church.  It is on my way home and its layout is reassuringly Catholic.  There is a statue there of St Rita too and we need the odd chat. This was the first Sunday the walk was actually pleasant.  The weather it not quite as hot as it was.  Anyway, in the church is a statue of St Anthony and a box for "his poor". I've taken to going in and leaving a high denomination note in the box.  And that for now is quieting my conscience, I'm letting the Church decide who are the deserving poor, I'm letting the Church distribute as She sees fit. The Italians simply have somewhere convenient for me to leave my beggar tax.

Slightly less pitiful than the beggars are the little old ladies who make a living squatting by the side of the road selling a few flowers, vegetables or herbs.  Good quality florists are plentiful and actually better value than these women, but once again, they pull at my heart strings and I will buy a bunch of flowers off them for Our Lady.

The apartment is full of little niches and alcoves for things.  They are great for icons and I earned instant respect from my landlady for having Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in the largest alcove. She gets the flowers and with them my prayers for all the little old ladies that could be so easy to ignore in this city.


Little old ladies were once pretty young girls with dreams.  Of all the citizens of this city, it is the young women who irk me the most.  They can be quite unpleasant and in a country that places extraordinary emphasis on politeness, they are rude. The locals just smile and say things like "huh, they think they are American, they watch too much television, they'll grow up". Maybe they will.  Though I do wonder whether if in all their wannabe designer gear and underneath all that overbearing make-up they are actually considerably poorer then the old ladies who have so little.


Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Bells

Often in the past, I used to get a very strong auditory hallucination of church bells.  It happened when life was particularly rough and it was a particularly comforting thing.  I love bells.  I'm sure you can tell the nationality of a bell from its ring.  Each foundry will use a specific alloy and each foundry will have a particular shaped bell.  I convinced myself that the bells I was hallucinating were French and monastic.  They were very different from the bells I could occasionally hear from the neighbouring village. All that stopped, and I'm fairly sure I know why it stopped.  That phase of my life was over, I was no longer staring into the abyss, constantly mindful of a reckless soul who was blithely endangering his life. In prayer, I was given about as strong a signal as possible that we would no longer be linked souls.  I was to move on. He no longer needed me to pray that intensely for him. Just perhaps those bells were a sign of the prayers for me from a monastic community that loved him very much..... But loving does involve knowing when to hold and when to let go.  I am not sentimental. I don't care about him any more, it is a matter of trusting God, and that is done with joy and thanks. If I cared, I'd ruin his life by interfering with it.

I now have the sound of a real bell entering the windows of  my apartment, and a Catholic one at that! This is a rare thing in such an Orthodox country.  It has a beautiful sound.  Orthodox bells are lovely too, but I feel an affinity with the Catholic bell! The bell tower has battled communism and it has survived earthquakes, modernism , post-modernism and liturgical rupture. I can time my saying of Vespers to when the bell rings and there is a simple joy in saying the old rite Latin Vespers with it tolling in the background.  This is what it means to me to be a Catholic out here. I attend the Sacraments at various Catholic churches but it is those bits of the Office that I have time to say that have become as special for me as the Old Rite was back in the UK. Something special happens in the mundane act of this middle aged woman reading Latin badly and praying distractedly......  This is a blessed state, one that won't last, but I'm here and this is my life and God will do with it as He pleases.

I'm glad I have a real bell and not an hallucination.  There is another linked soul and has been for some time now, but there is no abyss and no agony just simplicity and peace.  As the bell rings out indiscriminately on all my neighbours (more Orthodox and Jewish than Catholic), I know the surety in the link to that other, though there isn't an earthly sign of its existence and may never be. I don't care. I am not sentimental.

A "normal" relationship would be nice, I'm sure I'm capable romance (there is a glorious pun in that word out here). God has promised me I'll re-marry, but I'll leave Our Lady and Mother to make all the introductions when She sees fit.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

More thoughts on the Liturgy...

Today, I have experienced my first Greek-Catholic Liturgy that left me ashamed to be Roman.  Today's Liturgy had a distinctly postconciliar feel to it. I don't wish to go into details; place and people would be identifiable if I wrote in too much detail and that is not my intention.

The Liturgy had been "popularised"; by which I mean aligned more towards the people than anything I had seen amongst the Greek-Catholic ex-pats in London's East End or in other Greek-Catholic Liturgies I have attended.  And, unlike those others I have attended, the congregation was nearly entirely aged and female, is there a correlation here? There were some men, but the majority of them were stood by the door, half-in, half-out, waiting for it to finish. The Liturgy was dragged down to earth time and time again rather than soaring heavenward in humility and pain of separation. It certainly seemed to me that it was a postconcilair "romanisation" that was achieving this terrible effect. It was similar to attending a "dialogue Mass". I had been warned that I may experience this. It was good to be there. It was good to experience it for myself.

And yet, I am not cross, unhappy or dismayed. How can you be cross with the state of things as they are? How can you be cross when all is done with such sincerity and reverence?  I simply feel shame for being a Roman Catholic.  We suck.

I love this country and I have never felt closer to God. I think it is best to live this shame rather than ignore it and then perhaps in my shame, something truly beautiful may be revealed.


Saturday, 26 August 2017

Routine

Routine is important but when you are somewhere totally new, finding one takes time.  However it is important to me to have one. The routine of work reveals itself and that is developing nicely.  I can't tell you how good it is to be somewhere with no "Protestant work ethic".  Nobody takes the moral high ground here by trying to outdo everyone else with the amount of work they do.  Nobody believes they are indispensable.  There are no "girly swots" (so glad to get away from them): adult women who still think they are school prefects and want to be noticed and want to show you how good they are at working hard and being beautiful and brilliant.  Instead, work is treated seriously but life and family come first always.

My main concern is to develop a routine for Saturdays.  That will have to be entirely my own creation.  I'm thinking along lines of; house clean and a morning tram to one of the markets to get my fresh produce, then after lunch give myself a good 3 hour Romanian lesson.  I used to learn German for 3 hours on a Saturday, this is achievable. I have found that Saturdays can leech the life out of you if you don't control them.  Back in the UK I'd put an awful lot of church based activity into a Saturday.... that is not so easy here. [I'm learning of the importance of the sanctification of ordinary daily life; offering all in thanks to God and wearing at least some armour of blessed sacramentals to help keep me rooted to the "unum necesarium".  It is not about doing, it is about being what God wants me to be.] I can't start that routine next week because I'm determined to go over to ConstanČ›a: I need to be by the sea for a bit. I can't start this week because having got back from a party at 3am, there is no way the rest of the day is going to be "routine" even if I wanted it to be.

All but 5 of my colleagues are Romanian.  They are the most sociable, honest, genuine and fun loving people I have met.  I'm a Physicist; not a natural at parties.  Here, however I feel at home and that is all thanks to them.  The other aliens present feel the same; we are all in love with the place and the people.  It is no infatuation, it is realistic, eyes-wide-open and objective, but it is love.  We want to do what we can, we want to give our skills, time and the best years of our lives to the people here.

Somehow, somewhere, I'm going to have to learn to dance to the crazy Moldovan folk-pop they are all so fond of.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Thoughts on the Mass



Before I get down to the serious business of justifying my salary, here are my observations and thoughts on the Novus Ordo as I have experienced it to date in this city. I think there is considerable influence of Orthodox custom (at least subconsciously) in how they approach the Mass, but I’m not going to labour the point and nor do have enough evidence to justify this claim.

Observations
At the Roman Catholic churches I have been to out here, there are large queues at the confessional, and confession will take place right through Mass and after it too. They make full use of the Sacraments and sacramentals.  In my short time here, I’ve seen bread blessing and relic veneration in Catholic churches and the vessels containing Holy Water at the back of church are very large and well used. Many Masses seem to have “trimmings”: litanies, rosaries and other devotional prayers both before and after.  It is custom to receive Communion on the tongue; kneeling if there are altar rails, standing if there are not.  I have only witnessed Communion under one kind.  There appears to be no involvement of Eucharistic Ministers or lay readers, I have yet to see any evidence of their existence.  The priest will do all the readings if he has no server, if he has one, his chief server will read prior to the gospel. (This is not part of GIRM where servers can only have one function). Sadly servers are male or female but their reading has been of a very high standard. Congregations sadly are predominantly female and middle aged. There are quite a few religious sisters present, all in habits. I feel that if this were the standard of things in the UK, then we’d be quite happy. I’d say that the Novus Ordo is being executed here without the politics of protestantisation, it is said in all holiness and with all reverence.

The priests will sing parts of the liturgy where they can.  It seems to be quite normal out here and I have yet to hear one who can’t sing and there is often a competent, lay male cantor to lead the congregational singing.  Sadly what is on offer are the bland, Gellineau inspired Mass settings that sound more like lullabies than liturgical music. There seems to be no tradition of hymns writing.  I have yet to hear an original tune for hymns… most have been rousing Wesleyan numbers with Romanian words. It seems slightly incongruous to me. But the Novus Ordo makes room for hymns in the Mass, so hymns are sung.  Liturgy is all in the native tongue, but it is in the Eastern tradition too.

Thoughts
Liturgical music aside, to me there is a problem with the Novus Ordo itself. It is a Mass that insists on speaking to the people.  It is wordy in the extreme and speaking to the people also means that frustratingly (and this has little to do with my limited Romanian and more to do with a sense of the sacred) the priests will often fit in a lengthy sermon and several mini ones into the Mass at various points. There is no adlibbing during the Liturgy here, and definitely no abuse of the Liturgy, but I have yet to hear anything but the shortest of Eucharistic Prayers, and Low Mass still takes a long time. They don’t seem to understand the concept of a quick Mass here (probably because there is no Irish in them). They expect a wordy, lengthy Mass. The Eastern Liturgy is also very wordy and lengthy, but it is a song of love and humility.  It is not directed via the people to God, but directly to God. The silence of the Vetus Ordo does much the same thing as does the plainchant.  It is the Novus Ordo that is out of step and here especially where it is said so well, there is an agony for me because of the overwhelming presence of Tradition in the form of Orthodoxy. The lack of real Tradition in the Novus Ordo is strikingly obvious out here. A priest is a warrior on earth who is here battling for souls partly by singing to God for hours on end; that is his life. Orthodoxy makes this abundantly clear.  It is more difficult to listen to a priest talk to his congregation for so long, which is what happens in the newer Roman Rite. I do not doubt that this is a reason why there are so few men. Men as a whole do not like to be talked to, women usually are more tolerant. It is also difficult for the priests. The Novus Ordo is a strain and a contortion even for the most devout of priests; they are facing the wrong way in all senses of the expression.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Singurul lucru care trebuie

that is Romanian for the "unum necessarium", the one thing necessary....
It is what I needed to hear tonight ... it brought me great joy.

I went to the Greek Catholic Liturgy tonight and the gospel they have on the Feast of the Assumption is the same as the pre-Puis XII Roman rite: Mary and Martha and Our Lord at the house in Bethany. I've blogged before on why I like this reading for this feast, you can read it here if you are interested. Being at the Greek Catholic rite was a joy in itself.  Don't picture me being anywhere grand, the congregation hardly made double figures. This church, historically has suffered much; it shows.

Today has been a holiday (of sorts) in Romania; as Gregorian calendar Orthodox, this is the Feast of the Dormition.  It has been a real pleasure just walking past the Orthodox churches whilst the  Liturgy has been taking place and seeing souls doing what they do at the Orthodox Liturgy: zone in and zone out.... total awareness of something supernatural taking place, immense and incomprehensible yet so simple and not dependent on us and our understanding but given for us and our salvation.

This has been a beautiful Feast day and as ever there is only one thing necessary.

Happy Feast.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Tradition

St Athanasius, writing about the Psalms said the following:

let whoever reads this Book of Psalms take the things in it quite simply as God-inspired; and let each select from it, as from the fruits of a garden, those things of which he sees himself in need. For I think that in the words of this book all human life is covered, with all its states and thoughts, and that nothing further can be found in man. For no matter what you seek, whether it be repentance and confession, or help in trouble and temptation or under persecution, whether you have been set free from plots and snares or, on the contrary, are sad for any reason, or whether, seeing yourself progressing and your enemy cast down, you want to praise and thank and bless the Lord, each of these things the Divine Psalms show you how to do, and in every case the words you want are written down for you, and you can say them as your own.

It is worth chewing over that for some time, it is so true and so beautiful. The Psalms are everything to me precisely because of this.  I'm not sure whether I live them or they live me. For repentance and confession, help in trouble and temptation, under persecution or set free from persecution, seeing the enemy cast down and simply to praise God because He is God..... it is all there.  I would not have a relationship with God through them without the Sacraments of the Church, but they are the framework on which I hang my carcass; they support and at the same time restrict my natural impulses and direct them where they ought to go.

I am arguing here that the Rosary is a gift to us for exactly the same purpose; that through the prayers of the Mother of God we can be directed in all things to where we ought to be. The Rosary was given to St Dominic to give to the world as an alternative to the Psalter, but not as an alternative that excludes the Psalms from the life of Christian souls.  But the Rosary, like the Psalms, is to be prayed in repentance, confession, help, thanksgiving and praise. How often today is the Rosary prayed in thanksgiving and praise?  Have we lost something of Tradition. How often do Catholics spontaneously give praise to God for all things.... Have Catholics lost the Traditional understanding of Praise? Praise is Heaven, praise is the indwelling of the Trinity, praise is our essence.

And yet you go into any Catholic Church (it seems) anywhere in the world and the Rosary is intoned by those present as if it were an offering to a god who is out of reach, a sacrifice to an unknown god who has left us suffering in a cruel and merciless world. And here is where I offend most of my readers but I will say what I think needs to be said.  I think the Fatima prayer (added so often to the Rosary) has a lot to answer for.  It is not Tradition.  I have been told that one Bishop (when it first became fashionable) forbade his diocese from adding it to the Rosary. I have some sympathy with this. It turns the Rosary purely into a petition, it does not bring us to a greater understanding of ourselves and of God. The Rosary seems to be prayed purely as petition in public.... and the Fatima prayer is a prayer of petition, it makes the Rosary weighted towards petition, it shouldn't always be added.

This is a predominantly Orthodox land but I am fortunate enough to be in walking distance of a Catholic Church and to be able to hear its bell calling the faithful to Mass.  I go there and I could be in a Catholic Church anywhere in the world.  That is the beauty of the Catholic Church, but it is also a sadness. So much Tradition has gone, and with it so many dimensions to our faith.  I long to hear Psalmody ring out again in the Roman churches, and the Psalmody of Tradition not the insipid and feminine Gellineau Psalmody (it isn't designed for male voices (or contraltos) but is the default setting these days and finds its way into the Novus Ordo all over the world)... we may discover praise again, we may start to understand its incalculable worth and we may also find more men in the pews.





Friday, 11 August 2017

First Impressions

I like this city. I like the people, they are not at all highly strung and they get things done without fuss.  I'm finding everyone friendly and sincere, a little shy perhaps, but none the worse for that.  On my first night here, I described it to a friend as "a bit like the 90s but with 4G". There is rampant consumerism, the music blasting from the cafes is Celine Dione and the Backstreet Boys, and the men on the whole are very badly dressed.... yes it has a feel of the 90s.

Some things are quirky.  The zebra crossings take a bit of getting used to.  The "green man" does NOT mean traffic stops, only that you "can" cross. But they give you plenty of time to cross and for the most part the drivers stop. The cooling fans at the open air cafes are unpleasant, they insist on spraying out some sort of water vapour and I avoid them and can't help thinking "legionella". The local supermarket does not sell rice, dried pasta or cleaning products, though it is part of a chain that is commonly found in Spain where they do. But they are the only people in the wolrd apart from Lancastrians and the Chinese who can cook tripe beautifully and for that I am impressed and grateful.

I haven't taken to the Old Town much. The place needs fewer Irish pubs and kebab shops.  It doesn't feel real. The place is blandly European without an identity of its own. There seems to be a push towards promoting the leftist, liberal, metrosexual "immorality" of the "beautiful people": the "Euronormal" is like a parasite that will kill its host. Does that have to be the price for regeneration?

But all is not what it seems.  The city as a whole has more balls.  There is a genuine depth of faith in the people, a genuine sense of the numinous, a genuine closeness to the angels and saints, a genuine love of the Mother of God. I'm still exploring the Catholic churches, there will be a post about those later.

Architecturally, there are some gems, more gems than horrors.  Nothing is jaw dropping. Ceaucescu's "people's palace" was promoted to me as being rather impressive, and I walked up there this morning to find myself not being stunned by it in the slightest.  It isn't to my mind jaw dropping like Moscow State University or indeed Glasgow Infirmary. It nearly feels homely.  Indeed, I'm finding the city homely all round, which is a jolly good thing as it will be home for a while to come.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

My view for a while

Dear reader, sorry for my absence, hope you've not missed me too much.  Normal service is about to be resumed. Loving it out here ..... nothing is quite as it seems but all is good.

This is the view from the back of the apartment through the mosquito net. The view from the front is grey apartment blocs, trams and air conditioning units.



You'll be hearing more from me shortly....

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Keys

Many years ago, I worked for a Headmaster (in a large school) whose party piece was being able to say which member of his staff was the owner of a particular set of keys.  Even when unsubtle evidence like the car keys were removed, he was always correct.  The keyring would tell him a lot and then the type and nature of the keys would tell him the age of the house, the number of houses the owner had access to (own/boyfriends/parents). He would give a description of the lifestyle of the person from their keys and then say who he thought it was.

I don't suppose he was all that clever, and I can't decide whether he was caring or creepy to know us so well.

However, there is no denying the authority invested in keys and the rights they confer. Also, there is no denying how much the keys we have access to say about us.

This last month I've been denuding my keyring. First to go were my work keys: lab, filing cabinet, chapel and sacristy.  Then went the house keys.  Then went the car keys.

I'm left authorityless, save the key to the padlock on my toolbox (which I do hope I'm reunited with on Thursday). That is one of two keys that is left hanging from my University of Salford keyring. The other key, I will remove shortly, I have no idea what door it opens, in what part of the country, if indeed it is this country. It is staying because it looks "friendly".... it must have belonged to the door of someone I liked.

I'm in a sort of limbo.  There will be new keys for me on Wednesday, but in the meantime, I am "nobody".... just the rightful opener of a toolbox stuck in a warehouse somewhere in Bucharest. It is not exactly the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven...... I know my place.

As I said farewell to the Vetus Ordo today, it wasn't with a pang of sadness.  To be sure, I'll miss it.  Today I was just giving thanks for being able to get to know the older rite and for the growth I have had in experiencing it. However, the old Office and old calendar cannot be taken from me, they are my bedrock and I will continue to use them. God knows what He is doing. I am away from the easy access TLM for a reason and all will be revealed in the fullness of time..... right now is not the time to be wondering why.... besides, nothing is going to be revealed to a numpty with only 2 keys, one of which may be for a front door that no longer exists.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

... and from Manchester

The Manchester I'm familiar with is the one from before the IRA bomb ripped through the Arndale Centre back in the 1990s.  I got a job in St Helens and left to join the "plastic scousers" only a few weeks after it went off. I had been labouring under the impression that my old stomping ground had been "gentrified" in my absence.  There had been talk of something called "the Northern Quarter" where the dodgy army surplus shops and sex shops used to be.

I have been pleased to find that gentrification has not happened.  Manchester is still gloriously Manchester: a shambolic but proud, busy but laid back, scruffy yet mighty impressive and friendly city. 

I'd forgotten how utterly miserable the statue of Queen Victoria looks in Piccadilly gardens; as ever garlanded with pigeon droppings and looking decidedly overweight. I'd like to think she was the inspiration for Douglas Adam's Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz. It is an "end of Empire" statue, and the Empress is weary.  Manchester seems too brazen for her.

OK so the Corn Exchange is not what it was.  Tib St is also far tamer.  A lot of the clubs have folded or fallen down (and so they should).  No place should trade on its past.  Manchester moves on.  It nods respectfully to its past but doesn't dwell on it.

Oh and the people smile.  What a joy: to be able to smile and see others smile!

I suppose if things don't work out for me out East, I could come back to live here, I could feel at home; one mongrel amongst many.....

..... and the Manchester Oratory is the business...... it really is everything an Oratory should be....

Our Lady of the Air Con: pray for us.

Happy Feast of St John Cassian: a good boy from the western Black Sea area who helped make Europe great, at least in part by inspiring St Benedict and having a profound understanding of human psychology. He also taught me how to fight, and for that I am forever grateful.  It was only today that I found out where he came from, he will now join St Roman the Melodist as a patron of my impending "adventure".



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.
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJi03NqXfk8

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

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

Politics

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

Identity

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.....