Saturday, 28 April 2012

Love and Death

Something of a deeply personal post, this one. It is strange, being an anonymous presence on the internet and sharing something deeply personal with a potentially massive audience, however I’ll just let it be strange and not think about it anymore.

 May 10th will see the 1st anniversary of my husband’s death. I’ve mentioned before that it was a good and holy death, but I have not said what a profound effect it has had on me, I am more changed by his death than by my becoming accustomed to widowhood. It is about love and sacrifice. At some point, when you are watching a loved one become more and more seriously ill, the balance tips and you know they will die. We’d started the novena together to Blessed John Henry Newman and I’d said to him, ‘Paul, if you want to serve and please the Lord in the land of the living, you only have to ask and it will be given to you.’ By about day 6 of the novena it became clear to me that his heart was set on bigger things; he was in pain and he was aware his body was wrecked, he wanted to meet the Lord. However whilst he lived, we were one flesh, and I knew that I’d have to play my part in preparing his path. I’d have to jettison any ideas of a miraculous recovery, any thoughts about the future, any thoughts of self and anger with doctors and fear of being alone, in fact I’d have to die to self, to help him die. It is the only thing I could do, to offer myself to God as a sacrifice for Paul’s holy death. I’m not the healthiest individual, but supernatural strength came my way, my closeness to God through prayer was intense.

Paul’s last few hours on earth were grace filled amid the horror of Intensive Care. A priest I vaguely knew came to anoint him. We prayed together, then he left. I called frantically for a priest who was Paul’s friend to come, but there was no reply, we’d be alone together at the end. Singing “Lead Kindly Light” and “Praise to the Holiest”, and reciting the Psalms, the saints and angels gathered round his bed. Demons were vanquished. Paul opened his eyes and slipped away as I recited a particular psalm (145: Lauda, anima); the heart monitor “flat-lined” as I said “and He will support the fatherless and the widow”.

I don’t actually want to ‘recover’ from an experience like that. I want to live it every moment of my life. I start to desire that closeness to God (that was palpable as Paul handed over is life), in every moment of the day and night. This involves a constant dieing to self and giving in love, in one way or another. Sometimes it is waking up at strange hours totally elated and needing to recite some more Psalms. Sometimes, it is forming new friendships and sensing real goodness in others. Sometimes it is fighting for the souls of those I care for. Sometimes it is just living the sheer tedium of illness and an unfulfilling job, but doing it well, doing it with praise and thanksgiving. This state underlies everything I do. I’m still a sickly, grumpy, intellectually arrogant, highly critical individual but I don’t care anymore. I’m not always feeling that close to God either; there are many ‘dark nights’, but they hold no fear, there are also few consolations, but that doesn’t matter anymore.

And yet in the midst of all this, I have found another love. There is one soul who has touched me so deeply. But, how to love? Everything is so different. The heights of love have been revealed as disinterested, self-sacrificing love. I can’t love for the sake of my future happiness or for companionship, they are strangely inadequate and 2 dimensional. I just pray continually that this person will grow in knowledge and love of God and find on earth that which he is looking for and that which will be of benefit in helping him get to heaven. It doesn’t sound romantic, I can’t do romance, but this cuts very deep, very deep indeed.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Under April Skies

Those of us of a certian age who grew up on the West coast of the UK from Glasgow, down to Liverpool, Manchester and on to Bristol grew up with rain. Lots of lovely, soft, wet, drizzly, warm rain. It has come as a bit of a shock to the system to suddenly realise than I'm now finding rain a bit of a novelty. It had been ubiquitous and predictible; a given in life.

Indeed it was part of the youth culture, so much so that you could quite literally fancy a boy based on the quality of his umbrella and his umbrella handling techniques. Every boy apart from the ones that looked like Michael Foot and wore donkey jackets (and therefore were'nt fanciable) carried an umbrella. The small but perfectly formed DA probably overcompensated for his lack of height with a magnificent, rolled, black umbrella of real class. We girls all wanted to get under it with him, even if we were several inches taller, we knew the umbrella would cope....A less good looking lad could be equally desirable if he could carry his umbrella well, unfurl it gracefully and offer you some shelter under it as you waited for a bus into town from Rusholme.

Ah the simple delights of proper rain. Not the mean rain that is accompanied by some evil little wind which makes umbrella usage so difficult and which is more common on the East coast of the UK and contributes to the completely different character of the people from the other side of the Pennines. I'm talking about the generous, gentle soaking rain straight from the Gulf Stream that gave us West coasters our identity.

To end with here is a wonderful video of Sister Rosetta Tharpe singing about the rain, in the rain, in the UK,(rather bizarely) on some "Beechinged" station to a group of revolting students (in donkey jactets).  By the way did you know, Dr Beeching was a PhD Physicist, oh the shame....

I'm happy when it rains.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Galilee and Jerusalem

The Easter Vigil homily I heard was on the theme of Galilee and Jerusalem and I've been musing on this ever since.  I've been wondering if my "not feeling the Resurrection" has anything to do with not meeting the Risen Lord in the right place.

The gist of the homily was that Jerusalem stands for the institution of the Church, and everything that we recognise as part of the Church including its churches, tabernacles, sacraments, priests and charitable work (and I'm not in any way implying this is a perfect institution).  Galilee is the "beyond the pale", the rag bag of unbelievers, believers and scraggy, chaotic half-truths with constitutes the rest of the world.  The homily went on to say that whilst the first appearances of Jesus after His death were in Jerusalem (and just outside); certainly in these appearances in Mark and Matthew he exhorts the brethren to go to Galilee and meet Him there.  Jesus in not to be found exclusively in Jerusalem.  Go about doing your disciple thing in Galilee and you will meet him there.

It is almost as if Christ brings about a marriage between "Jerusalem" and "Galilee", the Risen Lord appears in both.  You can't pick and choose whether to be in one or the other exclusively.  You are expected to be up in "Jerusalem" at certain times, but don't stop being a disciple when you return to "Galilee".  The two, whilst different in nature and essence are made one through the presence of the Risen Lord, the two are enriched and united through the presence of Christ in both.  Before you claim I'm swallowing some "Spirit of Vatican II" and actually finding it good taste, let me just make it clear: I am talking about the disciples finding Our Lord in Galilee, they are already the faithful, the mutual enrichment isn't "Jerusalem" opening up to the secular world, but the enrichment of both "Jerusalem" and "Galilee" through the presence of Christ working wherever His disciples are.

I can find my Lord in church.  When I'm there I don't want to leave (unless it is perishingly cold).  It is good (even vital) to spend time with Him and come to His holy place.  But am I therefore neglecting the opportunities of finding the Risen Lord in "Galilee".  Or perhaps I should rephrase that: am I blinding myself to His presence and appearances to me in "Galilee" simply because I'm not longing for Him to be with me there too?

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Topical joke....

Heard this joke on BBC radio many years ago and it still makes me laugh.

An American Jew and a Chinaman are getting increasingly drunk at a bar.  After a while the Jew goes up to the Chinaman, hits him in the face and knocks him off his stool.

Chinaman:  Ahh, what you do dat for?
Jew: Pearl harbour
Chinaman: But I Chinese not Japanese
Jew: Pah, Chinese, Japanese they're all the same to me

A little while later the Chinaman goes up to the Jew and delivers a solid right hook that leaves the Jew on the floor.

Jew:  Man, what ya playing at!
Chinaman: That for Titanic
Jew: What!!!!
Chinaman: Goldberg, Iceberg it's all the same to me.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

This is the day....

Here we are in the Easter Octave, 8 days celebrating and re-living the One Day. Is there euphoria chez Rita, I hear you ask? Well, not exactly. The Triduum went better (more prayerfully) than expected. I'm rather exhausted after it, but I have to say things "feel" much like they did last year. There is now an emptyness where once there was the discipline and exile of the wilderness during Lent. I think you are supposed to have some "Eastery" alleluia feelings now and I just don't have them.

 Then again is it all very Protestant to associate feelings with faith? I don't know.

But surely, I should feel "something", rather than a profound emptyness and stillness, which whilst it isn't at all negative, it isn't exactly positive either. My late mother-in-law always called Monday's evening meal the resurrection meal becuase that is where the Sunday roast meat would resurface either as a "tater 'ash" or as cold meat and chips. And on those occasions when the meat ran out, the meal would be known as "resurrection without father".

 I think I'm having a "resurrection without father" experience.

What gives me hope is that I can still stand by my little oratory in the bedroom and proclaim the Te Deum in the morning to the sparrows assembled on the balcony outside. They chirp back enthusiastically.

 I firmly believe that true freedom is the praise of God. All creation is made free to praise God, each according to its kind. If God controlled everything in the universe like it were some great big train set of His making, then there would be no praise and no love; both praise and love have to be freely given and can not be forced or engineered. So the task for me is not to let health and work and other issues associated with the world subsume me and overwhelm me with chains. Provided the praise of God is loud and clear and heartfelt then I am free and nothing else matters; as a wretched sinner I must work with God to aquire the grace to do this, unlike the sparrows, mountains and hills, dews and snows, beasts and cattle, for whom it all comes quite spontaneously.

If the boys in the Nebuchadnezzar's firey furnace could praise God, then so can I.

Thursday, 5 April 2012


I made it to Tenebrae at Blackfriars this morning, and as the last of the unbleached candles was snuffed out and as 4 Dominicans lay prostrate before the altar, the stillness and greyness of the moment were nearly unbearable. It really felt like a battle was about to be fought and these were the last moments to draw breath and contemplate one's mortality before the inevitable takes place.

Christ is hidden behind the veil. We put on our armour, we are His soldiers and whatever we go through Our King will go through worse. We know under whose banner we will fight and how paltry our efforts will be. But Our King is alone, supremely vulnerable, silent and passive. The world will do its worst and Our King will die.

And what about us, are we really up to this? Are we really going to do the Triduum or will it be so much theatre for us to attend and shift uncomfortably in our seats,full of half remembered excitement from Holy Weeks from long ago, criticisms of priestly "preformances" that aren't quite up to scratch and anticipated boredom at the length of the services.

This feels like religion for grown ups, people who have felt pain, betrayal, isolation and stared death in the face. But this is almost to miss the point, for it is the Lamb who will be slain and even the most child like amongst can feel the horror in that.

The horror is universal, the greyness and silence unbearable and this is as it should be.