Saturday, 20 December 2008

Cheap night in

As a poor, impoverished student, many years ago, I had several favourite cheap nights in alone. There were times when the emptiness of student life would drive me to screaming pitch and I wouldn't have been much company anyway.

A good night in for yours truly would be to read the whole of the Duchess of Malfi, or follow a Beethoven symphony on LP with a score, both could be purchased for peanuts from the countless purveyors of second-hand culture in the city. Then I discovered this in a book on non-European Mathematics:

You can read about it here, though I have to admit, its mystical significance was never of much interest to me.

It is a remarkable object and one I was determined to get to know better. In true physicist style, I set out to try and draw it myself, surely, I reasoned, with a ruler and a pen, it could be redrawn, after all it is just a series of triangles. Maybe I'm not a good draughtsman, but it is not possible for me to draw it. I could copy it, I suppose, but that is not the same as being able to draw it, having a feel for the ratios of lengths and angles, understanding it....mastering it.....

Nevertheless, there was something deeply satisfying in my numerous failures. The object became more beautiful and more remarkable. I found that I understood it better because I couldn't master it.

I've read somewhere it is a symbol of non-dualism. It is a meditation on the non-duality of male/female, body/soul, good/evil... I like that, an object that looks simple, geometric and Descartes-friendly and that ends up sticking two fingers (in the English bowman sense of the gesture)at his philosophy.

I mention this for Tom and suggest he turns to the Catechism:

365 The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the body: i.e. it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.

Science just can't take you there!

Incidentally, doesn't our failure in scientific progress and understanding make the Nativity all the more wonderful?

Verbum Caro Factum Est

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

A prophetic quote?

It isn't very festive but it may explain my inattentiveness to the blogging community, I've been doing some work for a friend on the implications of quantum theory to belief in God. I've been looking at the Solvay conference of 1927, where the greatest Physics brains of the time were gathered to discuss the emerging science of Quantum Theory. On one side were Einstein, Planck and de Broglie, who although they first quantized matter and light into "chunks of energy" were deeply opposed to the randomness and wierdness inherent in the development of quantum theory. On the other side were Dirac, Pauli and Heisenberg, many years younger and willing to embrace anything the new theory had to throw at them.

From Heisenberg's memoirs comes this quote from Pauli, late one night at the conference, I hadn't seen it before and it made me shudder. We are living in the world he describes.

It's all bound to end in tears……society is in such danger whenever fresh knowledge threatens to explode the old spiritual forms. The complete separation of knowledge and faith can at best be an emergency measure, afford some temporary relief. In western culture, for instance, we may well reach the point in the not too distant future where the parables and images of the old religions will have lost their persuasive force even for the average person; when that happens, I am afraid that all the old ethics will collapse like a house of cards and that unimaginable horrors will be perpetrated.

This from a man who, though baptised a Catholic, was not much of a lover of religion. I can't help thinking that the Church's embrace of modern science under the maxim "Truth can not contradict Truth" should be more widely known. Too many think that the separation of faith and knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, is a reality and not a construct of the Enlightenment that went on to pollute most of 20th Century thinking.

Thursday, 11 December 2008


Before we start, Mr J. Smith of Toledo seems to be having one of his spells again, don't click on his site, just pray. We've been here before and no doubt we'll be here again.
St Michael Pray for Us

This 6 things that make you happy tag is a good tag and I'm touched by tagger, Kirk's kind words. Nevertheless I'm feeling a bit guilty about not doing La Mamma's book meme, the problem with is that apart from Old testament prophets, I'm not reading anything else in Advent, and they just don't fit the meme!

Anyway here goes, things that make me happy:

The Beginning to John's Gospel Shut your eyes and it transports you simultaneously to the furthest reaches of the universe and into the bosom of our loving God. A taste of heaven.

Dawn, I'm a morning person which is a good job as I get up at 5.15 am. Dawn round here is poetry you can drink. It is flat and the skies are big and there is just enough of a slope down to the east to get a beautiful sunrise.

The rare pleasure of walking in unsullied moonlight not something I can put into words, it is just very special. Living without streetlights is a luxury but a foolhardy one.

Watching husband serve Mass Doesn't happen very often since we moved down south....this is a shame as I've not seen a better thurifer, though I suppose I'm biased.

Good Ol' funky music: Apart from Ska (for which I'm getting a little old), nothing is more likely to get me thrashing round a dance floor (actually the carpet in the living room these days). Keep on steppin' on- Fatback band, Up for the down stroke- parliament, Funky Kingston- Toots and the Maytals, Ball of Confusion- the Temptations, Skin I'm In- Chairman of the Board.

Ball of Confusion- The Temptations

The Films of Oliver Postgate RIP My blogging has been light of late, too busy watching his stuff on you tube. I'm getting the feeling he was my earliest political influence.

The Clangers- Probably my favourite Postgate creation

Now, who to pick who has not done this already?

Autumn Rose
oh yeah and the Barclay Brothers- just what makes you happy? All that "toys out of the pram" silliness effects poeples'lives, remember, boys, Feudalism- it's the future, you heard it here first.

Sunday, 7 December 2008


DH is now doing some part-time lecturing. He came home from work the other day with a comment from a student that I found very interesting.

I really like your lecturers. They're depressing and I don't mean that in a bad way. On this topic you are challenging me. I'm finding my view of the world very limited and I'm realising how little I know.

We live in a world where we are becoming increasingly conditioned to have goals in life. To achieve these goals all we need are a step of achievable targets and if we achieve these everything else falls into place and we reach our goals. Universities are now for most students just places where, provided you jump through enough hoops, you get your worthy degree and that is just another target to tick off the list. Thinking for yourself is not on the agenda. Being challenged to alter one's perceptions is an alien concept and one this student had obviously not considered before. The use of the word "depressing" is very interesting.

The effervescent Young Fogey, Fr. Jay Toborowsky has a good post where he contrasts the attitude of parents to catechism classes to attitudes towards sporting commitments. Basically, in general parents will bend over backwards for sporting coaches but not for a priest and his catechists.

Isn't the issue here that the sporting coach has goals, targets and all manner of incentives to get the parents and youngsters motivated. The Church only has the goal of Eternal Life and that just doesn't attract! Few these days seem so motivated. What is wrong with folk??! The Church has the ultimate goal and few seem able to comprehend it because it can't be broken down into bite sized targets that stir ones motivation.

The problem is targets. The journey of the pilgrim is an internal one; getting closer to God in one's heart. It is not something your parents can brag about to the neighbours. You don't get any medals for it. There is no graduation ceremony here on earth. Confirmation itself (the enrollment to the whole proceedings) so often is seen as a cultural rite of passage or just something to please grandma.

Ironically, in yester year the Church had more managable targets; novenas, chaplets, plenary indulgences, pligrimages, Trinity walks, guilds. These are now so unfashionable with the local heirarchy as being somehow primitive and even bad. On their own they probably won't get you to Heaven, but they can't hinder your progress, so how can they be bad?

What do the wise ones give us in their place: Live simply! Recycle some paper and buy some Fair Traid products and think about poor people far far away, cook a trendy meal, have a walk with some friends...lame isn't it? Well it is worthy in a small way, but can all be done without any recourse to Holy Mother Church (Triumphant or Militant)....that is why it is lame. The Body of Christ is almost excluded from the proceedings and the proceedings would probably work quite well without this inconvenience. If this seems like I'm venting my spleen and I'm being unfair, please let me know and I will remove this paragraph.

The Church can't compete with soccer coaches because the language of the Church is now so alien from the everyday speak sporting coaches use:

Souls, resurrection of the body, Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, sin, passion, caritas, the Fall, redemption, intercession, obligation, grace, peace...I don't think any of these are on Auntie Adrienne's list of inaccesible works like concupiscence or hermaneutic, but they might as well be as our youth have been strangualted by a curriculum of relevance and blandness that has obliterated their vocabulary.

We just look a like a bunch of weird nut cases....What can we do? Our catechisis can almost seem aimless because the language of salvation is not special, desired or known by our youth.

Monday, 1 December 2008


It is not very nice watching someone fade away. I’m not sure the person is dying as such, but the ropes are slowly loosening from their moorings and there is an accompanying death of spirit that is frightening to behold.

Imagine a woman who has been through many struggles in life but was always determined to retain her dignity. There was the time when they were too poor to buy coal and her children would be sent out to scavenge for it from the railway embankments (not that she would ever divulge this story, you understand). There were the many times the children may have behaved less than perfectly as they grew up and caused embarrassment, grief and pain and gossip amongst the neighbours. There were her countless trips to hospital with one serious problem or another, always undignified and humiliating for such a prudish woman.

She is a gentle creature and prone to follow other people’s wishes for her, never sparing a thought for her own wishes and desires. She meekly does what she thinks she ought.

Now she spends most of her day, every day, sitting in her chair, being poached alive by the suffocating heat of her sheltered accommodation, having no company but the over loud telly. Her teeth don’t fit, but you’re not allowed to trouble anyone to get her new ones. Her hearing aid is crap, but don’t you dare trouble anyone for a better one. There are plenty to care for her and yet so little care is implemented. Yes the smells, leaks and creaks are cared for, but somehow I wonder if that is what she has become, just a series of ill fitting plumbing pieces. How often does anyone have tea with her? How often does anyone visit her and talk to her about adult things as an adult to another adult. My own visits are frustrated, there is so much I want to say but it gets lost in a vacuous sea of talk about family and their achievements. She is more than capable of good and fun conversations face to face, but most visits nowadays usually involve the smoke screen of a cute infant to dandle on the knee. Diverting, and joyous yes but not enough, not adult enough. Adult company and companionship, a recognition of a joint spiritual journey, wisdom and fear of the unknown, prayer and heartache, talking about matters of the heart and soul, lighthearted and serious….

She is electing to eat very little, she is electing to find no pleasure in anything, she is giving up. This is not helped by a frightening chemical cosh supplied by her doctor for pain management, it is impossible for her to think straight for any length of time. Are the drugs worth the side effects?

She is a woman who has been a faithful Catholic all her life and been an inspiration in the faith in so many ways, this makes her current state so very distressing. Has her determination and love of life come to this? What were a lifetime of “Hail Marys” about if this emptiness is the last days you have on earth?

We ask if she wants to see a priest?

Oh no, she’s not ready for that, she says.

Maybe that’s it, maybe she isn’t loving life enough to face death. She isn’t in a living purgatory, that would be redeeming, there would be a positive element to her suffering. Is she creating her own hell on earth by neither owning up to living life or owning up to facing death?

Why are there no formal missions to the elderly? Isn’t evangelising a priority? When the onslaughts on you body and mind (through no fault of your own) are so great why is there so little spiritual help for you.

As an aside, the meals on wheels man can enter her flat when he needs to, the man who brings her pills can enter when he wants to, so can the carers…..but a priest….oh no, he needs to be let in by the occupant, he can’t make a call because he wants to…..she has to let him in herself, but she doesn’t seem able to do that….

Pray for the lonely elderly, who are waiting this Advent.