Friday, 24 December 2010

Tonight the wind gnaws
With teeth of glass,
The jackdaw shivers
In caged branches of iron,
The stars have talons.

There is hunger in the mouth
Of vole and badger,
Silver agonies of breath
In the nostril of the fox,
Ice on the rabbit’s paw.

Tonight has no moon,
No food for the pilgrim;
The fruit tree is bare,
The rose bush a thorn
And the ground is bitter with stones.

But the mole sleeps, and the hedgehog
Lies curled in a womb of leaves,
The bean and the wheat-seed
Hug their germs in the earth
And the stream moves under the ice.

Tonight there is no moon,
But a new star opens
Like a silver trumpet over the dead.
Tonight in a nest of ruins
The blessed babe is laid.
And the fir tree warms to a bloom of candles,
And the child lights his lantern,
Stares at his tinselled toy;
And our hearts and hearths
Smoulder with live ashes.

In the blood of our grief
The cold earth is suckled,
In our agony the womb
Convulses its seed;
In the first cry of anguish
The child’s first breath is born.

Christmas Landscape: Laurie Lee

A Happy Christmas to you all. May the Peace of Christ rest in your hearts.

The unloved village cat has come into our house for the night and it is so cold, I think if I found a rat in the house, I wouldn't throw it out.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010


As a result of the fall, what exactly did God say would happen to Eve and her descendants?

To the woman also he said: I will multiply thy sorrows and thy conceptions. In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee? Gen 3:16

Some biological observations spring to mind. Firstly, no other moderately intelligent mammal, has such a short (28 days) cycle for fertility, correct me if I’m wrong but I’m sure the elephant only comes into season once every 4 years (lucky elephant). Is this our multiplication of conceptions? Who knows? Secondly, childbirth can be considerably more traumatic and painful for women than for any other animal, or are we just more rubbish about pain? Is this the sorrow of childbirth? I’m not convinced, surely the real sorrow is entailed in helplessly watching our children when they themselves are suffering or are making bad choices.

I know someone who won’t buy large sized eggs because of the pain the hen must have gone through to lay them. However, I can’t say I’ve seen a hen strain to lay an egg so bad that they looked like they needed gas and air.

There are perhaps 3 types of pain we can feel: pain caused by hurt to the body (a hammer dropped on the toe, for example), the pain caused by our suffering due to our own misdeeds (an injury or illness caused by our poor lifestyles) and the pain caused in us through the fallen state of the world (a childhood victim of abuse, for example, or more controversially perhaps, as a sufferer of an inherited disease or mental illness or mode of living).

One of my favourite bloggers, Taylor Marshall, has published a comprehensive list of master theologians and doctors of the Church who categorically state that Our Lady did not feel pain during the birth of Our Lord. This may or may not be the case, I’m just wary about linking the pain of childbirth to Original Sin or sinfulness in general. I’d say there was plenty of pain we can feel that has nothing to do with our own sinfulness. We are also left with the unanswered, linked, but somewhat distasteful conundrum of whether Our Lady menstruated, if menstruation is a result of Original Sin.

There is, for me, a far more important meditation that can be drawn from this. The fact that the body of Our Lady was for God and God alone. She was perfect for God’s purpose and therefore quite naturally hidden from us. Every artistic representation of Our Lady, every icon, every devotional picture is different, she is hidden from us in direct contrast to her Son. Perhaps we are just not meant to speculate about her body, despite our curiosity.

There is a big contrast here to the controversy that raged during the papacy of Alexander VI; the controversy as to whether Our Lady swooned at the foot of the cross, or whether she stood firm. The pope had to intervene to stop the burgeoning feast of Our Lady’s Swoon and categorically state that Our Lady stood at the foot of the cross; a decision reached through ancient tradition and deep meditation. ( A decision that led to a great number of staggeringly beautiful musical Stabat Maters .)

What Our Lady did, is important. She consented to the will of God. She stored things in her immaculate heart, and she could draw on the supernatural strength needed to stand at the foot of the cross. This is why she is the source of our hope and our mother. This has far more significance than whether she felt pain during childbirth.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

As someone who braved sheet ice and foul weather to attend the Rorate Mass at the Oxford Oratory, I know that you know that I love the older form. However, I feel the need to comment on the following, I remain to be convinced that the older form ad orientem is a panacea for the world’s ills. My comments in red.

What are the advantages of standing at the altar ad orientem, as I have experienced them over the past two years? I can think of ten straight off:

1. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is experienced as having a theocentric direction and focus.

What other direction should the Mass have? It is just easier to be theocentric ad orientem.

2. The faithful are spared the tiresome clerocentrism that has so overtaken the celebration of Holy Mass in the past forty years.

Not necessarily. Unnecessarily ponderous bowing and laboured movements by the priest, deacon and sub-deacon can render High Mass a little too theatrical and “puffed up”.

3. It has once again become evident that the Canon of the Mass (Prex Eucharistica) is addressed to the Father, by the priest, in the name of all.

I personally, like to hear it sometimes, it is such a rich and beautiful thing.

4. The sacrificial character of the Mass is wonderfully expressed and affirmed.

Yes, yes, yes….

5. Almost imperceptibly one discovers the rightness of praying silently at certain moments, of reciting certain parts of the Mass softly, and of cantillating others.

Now put this into practice versus populum in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. Make the Ordinary beautiful, she ain’t no ugly sister.

6. It affords the priest celebrant the boon of a holy modesty.


7. I find myself more and more identified with Christ, Eternal High Priest and Hostia perpetua, in the liturgy of the heavenly sanctuary, beyond the veil, before the Face of the Father.

How about some holy humility too? Domine non sum dignus, isn’t coming through here.

8. During the Canon of the Mass I am graced with a profound recollection.

So can the humble pew sitters, so ought the humble pew sitters…

9. The people have become more reverent in their demeanour.

How can you tell? You’re transfixed in the Mass and you have your back to them. What about the odd assortment of random kneelers, sitters and the confused? What about the Missal russlers, the response whisperers and the mantilla fiddlers? And even when the congregation comprises of little miss and mr perfect, can we not be tinged with hubris and esotericism?

10. The entire celebration of Holy Mass has gained in reverence, attention and devotion.

We all desire this. But we ought to desire it both ad orientem and versus populum.

Pre-fisk H-T to Joseph Shaw, who is quoting Fr Mark Kirby courtesy of the Rorate Caeli blog.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Picture this

Have I ever told you how much I dislike portrait photographs.

We get seduced into thinking we have a true image, an icon.

St Therese of Lisieux

Perhaps sometimes we do....

Most of the time we don't have an icon, yet we fail to see the distinction between an icon and the iconic.

Mrs Ashtiani

Myra Hindley

Our feelings and moral assessments are based on photographs; half truths, tricks of the light, fleeting expressions caught at random instances. The portrait photographer's art is a sham. Yet we make so many judgments based on the media images we are bombarded with. I mean to say; I've never heard the boy, but purely on image, this is so blinking ridiculous, false, Jimmy Osmond cheesy, there can't be any talent there, can there?

Justin Bieber

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Wish list

Mrs P aka Autumn has been encouraging us to do a Christmas Wish List. Keeping it light hearted and steering away from wanting a full diagnosis and treatment for my increasingly weary frame, here is a list of delectable consumer products that would be well received in my clammy paws on a Christmas morn:

Firstly, a country girl needs a good pair of waterproof boots and these are beauties, then I’ll want good waxed jacket and hat to match……..

Secondly, some music. I’ve recently been converted to the luxuriant, flamboyant yet unsentimental conducting of Leopold Stokowski: is there a complete recording by him of Smetana’s Ma Vlast? If so, me want…..

I’ve recently discovered this website. Among the eyepopping must haves is this twin cylinder Stirling engine; what a beauty.

Oh and if your not bankrupt after that lot, how about some really juicy, thin skinned, proper tangerines (not your tasteless satsuma and clementine imposters).

Sunday, 12 December 2010


Advice for someone who reads this blog, perhaps it is advice for myself:

When you feel the life sapping presence of the enemy, call on St Michael, he hates being reminded of his former nature, he will soon slink away, it is too much like pain and hard work to put up a fight, especially over you, you don’t really matter.

Most of all call on Our Lady. Nothing repulses him more than the gentle reminder that his head is crushed by the feet of a mere creature.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Text books

For reasons too complicated to go into, I’ve been loaned some current Russian Science text books. Even for a language dunce like myself, they make for fascinating reading (I can read Cyrillic but my Russian vocabulary consists of no more than about 40 words). What interests me is comparing them to the Science text books for our teenagers, it is a depressing comparison.

Firstly, nowhere in the Russian books are there pictures of children. Science is allowed to speak for itself, it isn’t incessantly related to “my body”, “my food” or “my trip to the supermarket”.

Secondly, there is sumptuous detail. There seems to be a real sense that it is in the detail that that scientific method can be found. The books even make botany look interesting (believe me for a physicist to admit to this is unusual). I can’t understand enough of the Russian, but in reading them like a child who can barely read, I’m fascinated and want to learn more.

Thirdly they are applied to the “real world”, there are constant links to geology, astronomy, manufacturing and chemical engineering in detail. A real world that exists beyond the narrow confines of the life of a teenager, a grown-up real world.

Fourthly, they are proud of their scientific heritage and the pages are brimming with historical context and pictures on men with sumptuous beards who were responsible for this or that discovery. In the UK we shy away from this, it is believed it will put pupils off science.

I don’t know anything about the education system in Russia, I don’t even know how successful it is, but I just find it refreshing that there are still countries that don’t patronise their young by presenting them with text books that have all the depth and brash sensitivity of Kids TV..

I’m grumpy. Today I was doing a moderately good job of trying to instill in my 12 year olds the wonders of biological cells, their infinite variety and specialisms. Then the darned text book goes and introduces, quite unnecessarily CANCER. Young people in panic mode, wanting to tell anecdotes about dying or dead relatives, asking questions that most doctors would struggle with, teacher wanting to scream “I’m a physicist, get me out of here”, teacher desperately trying to protect the feelings of one pupil whose mother died of cancer last year (but the other pupils don’t know), all beauty and fascination in the subject lost.

Trust me, to actually try to use a text book to teach from…mustn’t do that again, well not in the UK.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Communication and Good Words

I do wonder if there has been something a bit wrong from the very beginning. Something that was never allowed to grow and be right because of the Fall. Let me explain:

Adam walked with God in the garden, Adam was created without blemish yet he felt a certain lack of wholeness, even in paradise, even walking with God. God saw to his needs and created Eve. Adam instantly recognised that there was a wholeness about him now that this new creature walked and dynamically interacted with him as his best mate. Yet before he really got to know her (he was still learning) he went off on his own, going after one of his own hobbies, not involving his mate. She, being intelligent and therefore bored, went off on her own too, met a wiley serpent and the rest is history.

Has it not been the same ever since: men and women not really understanding each other, not ever really getting to know the true worth of their relationship? Of course the arrival of sin made the whole thing worse, work in progress stopped in its tracks.

This is a bit of a preamble to a musing I had after reading Terry Nelson’s blogpost on the holy woman Margery Kempe. I dug out her writing again (not opened since my undergraduate days) and perused.

In the section towards the end, she is hauled before an Archbishop and accused of preaching, this is part of her feisty account of the proceedings:

Then the Archbishop said to her, “Thou shalt swear that thou shalt not teach nor challenge the people in my diocese.” “Nay sir, I shall not swear,” she said, “for I shall speak of God and undernim them that swear great oaths…unto the time the Pope and Holy Church hath ordained that no man shall be so hardy to speak of God, for God almighty forbids not that we shall speak of him”

A great clerk brought forth a book and laid St Paul for his party against her that no woman should preach. She answering thereto said, “ I preach not, sir, I come in no pulpit, I use but communication and good words, and that I will do while I live”

I’d like to think that Paul’s teaching in 1 Tim 2:12, preventing women from teaching/preaching was rooted in some deep truth and not some embarrassing aspect of sexist history. I’d like to suggest that it shouldn’t be viewed without Matthew 23:8-12 where Christ forbids us to call men Father, Master and Teacher. This is clearly because our Father is in Heaven, and Christ is our Master and Teacher. Men can only teach within the Priesthood (in persona Christi): I just wish they did more of it, I’m sick of lame sermons.

Women can’t be priests so women can’t preach or teach (I mean really, deeply, as Christ teaches us, not the crass stuff I do for a living). Though by our actions and words women (and lay men) should be the best heralds and leaders to the gospels, the best missionaries in the fullest sense of the word.

What is perhaps really forbidden for women (and what was worrying Margery’s Archbishop) is women attracting followers (disciples). Priests have to preach in season and out of season, inspired or not, it is part of their discipline. Women, can and are inspired, but in our default setting we are often laid low with hormones, conflicting emotions, less than inspired feelings, rages and tempers and a gentle insanity unknown to men (who have their own insanities). God appreciates our fragility for what it is, maybe one day the world will wake up to it too.