Saturday, 25 February 2017

the Pokrov

A week ago, someone I trust and who has a habit of giving me timely and unexpected gifts, gave me a Russian icon of the Pokrov. It is a resin copy of an original, but it is very special..... The Pokrov is the Orthodox version of the Western "protection under Our Lady's mantle", but it has many levels and tells many tales. The Baptist, Andrew the Holy Fool, Roman the Melodist and a Byzantine Emperor all feature and indeed the protection of the Virgin seems open to all... and  somehow, I feel like I am living inside the icon, it has "consumed" me....The protection is timely, the friendship greatly appreciated. The shadows lengthen and there is a darkness that keeps trying to bite and it can't.... everything is so light and of good cheer.... and I can say no more until She lets me out!

Or perhaps you should join me... This isn't a journey into Orthodoxy, I am a Catholic, I have no choice, there is no choice, we're not Protestants, we can't "shop around". The Veil of the Theotokos is the Veil of the Theotokos and there are times when it is best not to question and just to accept the help that is given.

 The Pokrov I have looks nothing like this, but the sense is the same.

Sub tuum praesidium confugimus,
Sancta Dei Genetrix.
Nostras deprecationes ne despicias
in necessitatibus nostris,
sed a periculis cunctis
libera nos semper,
Virgo gloriosa et benedicta

Tuesday, 21 February 2017


Lent is approaching  and is starting to scream in my head. If I am honest, there are simply times when I can't face it and it isn't Lent itself that is the problem, it is the Easter that follows.  Each year the silence of Lent marches into Easter and my song of "love unknown" continues. Easter is as hollow as a chocolate egg for me. It is not lack of faith that makes it so.  It is my very faith, hope and love of God that make it so. I can't explain why, other than the sense that I am not where I am meant to be, or doing what I am truly called to do, though it has been expedient to be like this.  God just seems to desire I "hold on" and keep going.

To focus my mind on what really matters: love of God and love of neighbour... here are an eclectic set of quotes from my notebooks that have got me through in the past....

This year seems different. I am well, for the first time in a decade, I am well.... but for what end I do not know..... some new cross will be coming my way and I will accept it cheerfully.......

Edwin Morgan:

Love rules. Love laughs. Love marches. Love
        is the wolf that guards the gate.
Love is the food of music, art, poetry. It
        fills us and fuels us and fires us to create.
Love is terror. Love is sweat.

Hakim Jami: Ordinary human love is capable of raising man to the experience of real love.

El-Ghazali: If one loves someone because it gives pleasure, one should not be regarded as loving that person at all.  The love is, in reality, though this is not perceived, directed towards the pleasure.

Rabia el-Adawia: I will not serve God like a labourer, in expectation of my wages.

Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalene OCD: Union of love demands resemblance: love either finds two beings similar or makes them so.

Ven. Raymond Jourdain: By my love for my neighbour I shall know whether I love you, O Lord, for he who is neglectful of loving You, does not know how to love his neighbour either.

St Elizabeth of the Trinity: You will never be commonplace if you are vigilant in love! But in the hours when you feel oppression and lassitude, you will please Him even more if you faithfully believe that He is still working, that He is still loving you just the same, and even more: because His love is free and that is how He wants to be magnified in you: and you will let yourself be loved.

Friday, 17 February 2017

the Chemistry Teacher

Chemistry teachers and Physics teachers are often very different animals.  There are some interesting souls who can teach both and teach both well, but for the most part we like to steer very clear of each others subject.  The bottom line being that we don't quite get it.  Science is not a unified whole.  Science involves models and methods that simply don't transfer from one subject to another.  The models and methods of the Physicist are a universe away from the models and  methods of the Chemist.

Being a Physicist, I will now look at the Chemist through the lens of Physics, I hope to be objective, but I am aware of the limits of my objectivity and the limits of my method.

The Physicist observes the following about the Chemist: (I will use the male pronoun for simplicity):

  • The Chemist lives in a world of reactions.  Reagents come together and conditions are manipulated to produce a variety of outcomes. The Chemist sees himself as a facilitator of outcomes.  He has confidence in his model which describes the reactions because he can be fairly confident as to the outcomes that will be produced.
  • The Chemistry teacher is often a frustrated children's entertainer. He loves the wide eyed enthusiasm and curiosity of his unsuspecting audience as various interesting effects are produced. He loves flirting with danger, making things look more dangerous than they really are to  further enhance the entertainment value of what he is doing.  And he remains confident in his model because it works.
  • However he manipulates everything, his model is all about what and how things can be manipulated.  He constructs.  His model involves building blocks that fit together following known patterns.  They are neat.  There is elegance.  It is Science.  But it is not the whole story.
The wide-eyed child fresh from her Chemistry lesson wearily trundles up the stairs to Physics. (Chemistry is usually confined to the ground floor because it dribbles more than the other sciences). This Physics teacher has an invisible sign above the door that all the pupils know about, it reads: Physics is not fun.  This sign tells them that for pleasing entertainment value, they are not to expect anything from Physics.  The will secretly find it satisfying but not in a way they can admit to their peers.  Physics will entice, but her methods are very different from Chemistry.  Where Chemistry appears as the sweet counter at Woolworths, Physics is the butchers shop or fishmongers. There is something fascinating and dangerous amidst the sharp knives, chain gauntlets and lifeless displays. We rip the carcasses apart as carefully as possible, lay the bits out, prod with as much skill as our previous training will allow ...... and most of the pupils would simply rather not be there. Just occasionally it comes together, we all see something in a new light, something clicks and the routine drudge becomes worthwhile.... something beautiful is revealed.

The thing is, I am never sure the Chemist is seeking deep understanding.  The Chemist sees himself as a facilitator; his models and methods allow a whole field of endeavour to open up.  He simply facilitates and he believes his little atoms and molecules dance to his personal understanding though they are not under his control. The more chaotic it looks, the better. The outcome is assured (he thinks). It isn't about the sharp knives of logic and law, it is about process.  Process is Queen.

The Physicist is far more likely to say that process is subservient to law. Law is not as rigid as others may think it is.  Law is about degrees of freedom, not about total control.  The Physicist finds beauty in the law; law reveals beauty and truth. Models and methods will be cheerfully ditched if a greater understanding of the law is revealed.

As I said, Chemist and Physicist, two very different animals. Let each be. And heaven help us if we ever have a Supreme Pontiff who had once been a Physics teacher.

Monday, 13 February 2017

A Tiger in a Doll's House

Our recollections of our early childhood are always hazy and of we will naturally have absolutely no idea of what we put our parents through.  Like the cuckoo in the blackbird's nest, our demands can be outrageous, selfish, high volume, perhaps even cruel and we just expect  a response.  But we are no imposter chick, and our parents respond out of love as best they can, and family life struggles on. Hopefully we gradually learn what is reasonable and what is not and we learn to give and take, we lean to find pleasure in generosity and perhaps one day, we even learn to appreciate the massive sacrifices our parents made for us.

I am the eldest of three.  Apparently I was a delightful child. My nanny is still alive and still dotes on me, and I feel utterly unworthy of her unconditional love for me. Her own children are in their late sixties and keep in contact with me, they are not jealous, they know she struck up a bond with me that is special and they wish to honour that.  Again, this is humbling. My parents also took great delight in me.  I could happily sit in adult company and behave and not be bored. I could be taken to classical concerts, ballets and to restaurants form a very early age.  I'd always behave impeccably and I can remember the adulation I'd get off complete strangers.

And so the hagiography is already written!  I can't for one moment believe it is anything like the reality.

Then two things happened to change life forever; one natural, one supernatural.  The natural one was the arrival of my middle sister.  She was a kicker, a screamer and a tomboy.  She had no interest in the refined world that I was inhabiting.  I was thrust into childhood, my parents could no longer treat me like a mini adult.  I was now just a big sister.  It made me a little withdrawn, but that was no bad thing.

The other thing that happened was altogether stranger.  I was cursed.  A poor unfortunate boy in the dinner queue at school spoke in a voice that was not his own and uttered this curse: from now on, I'd never be able to have anything I wanted. And he pointed at me and said there would be a mark on my body to act as a permanent reminder of this.  I had no idea that this was not a normal thing to happen and I remember being very calm, going to the bathroom and noticing that I'd developed a mole where he'd pointed.  I still have it.  I told my mum, but it seemed all so ordinary, and I got on with life. Mum did make me change schools.  I loathed my education from then on.  I was a whole series of reading books behind the other children and never caught up.  I was struggling to write and never caught up.  I was struggling to do arithmetic and never caught up.  I could however shine at things nobody else could do so although each year I'd only have a handful of stars on the star chart, whilst every other pupil's star column reached the ceiling (and is some cases even the light fittings), I did enough and was quiet enough that nobody really bothered with me.  And I liked that.

I couldn't quite forget about the curse.  Indeed it seemed to carry some truth so I half decided that it would be best if I didn't want anything.  Besides, minima was screaming the place down, nobody would hear me anyway.

Anyway the upshot of this is I have gone through life not wanting anything.  Not REALLY wanting anything.  I can pretend and that is OK.  I get what I pretend to want.  But what I really want, if I do ever do this, is always taken from me, and it is simply too painful and is best to back away.

Finding priests who understand has been a massive help.  Lightheartedly we work together to ensure the curse becomes a blessing, revoking it would not work.  My total consecration to Our Lady was the main part of this.  I do feel somewhat impervious to the curse, though it is still there.  It still reminds me of its presence and I just have to praise God and not sink into a mire of self-pity.

We can't live in a world without desire, it kills us.  We are meant to desire and we are all broken individuals whose desires are disordered to some extent.  I'm left hanging is some limbo, now nearly pathologically unable to want things for myself but desiring things nevertheless. Knowing also that the curse cannot touch God's desires for me.

I am walking a very strange path, but I would not have it any other way. God's love shines through it all.

The title of the post is the last thing I wanted and got prior to the curse: a tiger in a doll's house. One Christmas Mum obliged and my sister got the rest of the set of plastic zoo animals to chew.  I can picture it very clearly even now and I think the tiger may be me.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Hind

I've been re-reading John Dryden after too long an absence. I'd forgotten how much I love the English of the 17th Century.  Dryden's use of language has hardly been surpassed and his Tory sensibilities and Catholic heart give his writings added potency.

The Hind and the Panther is an allegorical work about the Catholic Faith to which he had recently and sincerely converted.  The Hind represents the Catholic Church; the Panther, the Anglicans.  His vision of the Church is what keeps me within the fold.  She is Truth, though you have to seek her out.  She has a light touch and a fleetness of foot, She is beautiful and unchanging......

.... yet She is obscured in a forest of fakery; of polyester, obfuscation, ugliness, bitterness and verbiage.  We all desperately need to desire to connect with Her again.  I'll quote the first 18 lines and trust you get the message. It could have been written for these strange times.

A milk-white Hind, immortal and unchanged,
Fed on the lawns and in the forest ranged;
Without unspotted, innocent within,
She feared no danger, for she knew no sin.
Yet had she oft been chased with horns and hounds
And Scythian shafts, and many winged wounds
Aimed at her heart; was often forced to fly,
And doomed to death, though fated not to die....

Panting and pensive now she ranged alone,
And wandered in the kingdoms once her own.
The common hunt, though from their rage restrained
By sovereign power, her company disdained,
Grinned as they passed, and with glaring eye
Gave gloomy signs of secret enmity.
'Tis true she bounded by, and tripped so light,
They had not time to take a steady sight;
For truth has such a face and mien
As to be loved needs only to be seen.