Sunday, September 05, 2010

How much of this was meant to be-How much the work of the devil?

Still enjoying Dakota by Kathleen Norris. She peppers her everyday experiences with the historical context of the plains states and the memories that go back to the dust bowl of the thirties. I cant begin to comprehend what it must have been like for the small farmers to watch the earth blow away before their eyes. To watch their living and their ability to feed their families disappear in an afternoon. Reminded me of Resplendent by the amazing Vigilantes of Love. The Blog title comes from a line in the song and I'm not sure of the answer.

If you do let me know your thoughts but do check out the Vigilantes of Love - they are one of America's best kept secrets. There is a line in a song by The Frames which says "the stars are underground" and that describes Vigilantes so well. Recognised by other song writers, hence Emmy Lou Harris doing the backing vocals here. But they have never had the public recognition they deserve. The stars truly are underground but they are still resplendent.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Tis not easy

I heard Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove (click on title above to visit his website) speak at Greenbelt. He is part of the new monasticism movement and he was giving some context to his work in the states. One of the key points to his story was his learning that christianity was hard. It wasn't a simple Billy Graham moment of conversion and then life is fine. What the gospels call you to do is antithetical to a lot of middle class and church values. Christianity if you take it seriously is very hard.

I thought of this today when I was walking back from work and passed 2 Big Issue sellers, and was accosted by an obviously drunk man asking me for either a cigarette or strangely, thirty pence.

I confess that I struggle to know what to do in these situations. Part of me believes in feeding the poor and sheltering the homeless, and part of me thinks - I pay taxes and there is a welfare state - you don't have to be homeless. Its not hard to work out which is the gospel response and which is the middle class protestant response.

And its not as simple as that but I think that was the point that Jonathan was making when he talked about Christianity being hard. This is an issue I will be wrestling with every day walking through the city centre. If I find any answers I'll let you know. In the meantime here's a little blessing from the Franciscans who have a lot more experience in this area than me.

Franciscan Benediction.

“May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world so that you can do what others claim cannot be done to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor…”

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Go Sit in your Cell,

and your cell will teach you everything.
Abba Moses. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

Hallo again.

I know its been a while and I've no excuse. I've been a little bit too happy and a little too lazy.

Anyway I'm still happy but in my post-greenbelt glow its time to write once more.

Not sure about what or if anyone is even still reading blogs. Perhaps best to start with a child's description of the sky over Dakota.

The Sky is full of blue
And full of the mind of God.

Its from the book of the same name by Kathleen Norris. I've been inspired as I sit in my small plain rented weekday room in Manchester where I'm working at present. She describes how she had to travel across the state to teach poetry in various tiny rural schools. Often she stayed in terrible motels whose grim surroundings initially overwhelmed her.But she decided to embrace the surroundings by learning from the desert fathers. She began to view her tacky cheap motel room as a monks cell full of the gifts of silence and solitude. A place to read and write - to be in the desert and watch it bloom. As she describes it....
"I had stumbled on a basic truth of asceticism: that it is not necessarily a denigration of the body, though it has often been misapplied for that purpose. Rather it is a way of surrendering to reduced circumstances in a manner that enhances the whole person. It is a radical way of knowing exactly who, what and where you are, in defiance of those powerful forces in society -alcohol, drugs, television, shopping malls, motels - that aim to make us forget."
Kathleen Norris. Dakota: A Spiritual Geography.

I love that she see's shopping malls and television as being as dangerous for our soul as drugs and alcohol. And I think she might be on to something.

I plan to explore that idea for the next year- during the week I'm in exile from my love and from my home. But I want to embrace this cell and see if I can learn from the experience. Lets see what happens.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The grammar of Beauty

Read this poem tonight at team Fury and it really grabbed me - especially the line "In the meantime, she is the one today among us
most able to bear the idea of her own beauty."

beautiful stuff


Maxine, back from a weekend with her boyfriend,
smiles like a big cat and says
that she's a conjugated verb.
She's been doing the direct object
with a second person pronoun named Phil,
and when she walks into the room,
everybody turns:

some kind of light is coming from her head.
Even the geraniums look curious,
and the bees, if they were here, would buzz
suspiciously around her hair, looking
for the door in her corona.
We're all attracted to the perfume
of fermenting joy,

we've all tried to start a fire,
and one day maybe it will blaze up on its own.
In the meantime, she is the one today among us
most able to bear the idea of her own beauty,
and when we see it, what we do is natural:
we take our burned hands
out of our pockets,
and clap.

Tony Hoagland

Sunday, April 05, 2009

To Spring (and Love) - and all that will follow.

O Thou with dewy locks, who lookest down
Thro' the clear windows of the morning, turn
Thine angel eyes upon our western isle,
Which in full choir hails thy approach, O Spring!

The hills tell each other, and the list'ning
Valleys hear; all our longing eyes are turnèd
Up to thy bright pavilions: issue forth,
And let thy holy feet visit our clime.

Come o'er the eastern hills, and let our winds
Kiss thy perfumèd garments; let us taste
Thy morn and evening breath; scatter thy pearls
Upon our love-sick land that mourns for thee.

O deck her forth with thy fair fingers; pour
Thy soft kisses on her bosom; and put
Thy golden crown upon her languish'd head,
Whose modest tresses were bound up for thee.

William Blake

Its that time of year - the bike has been rescued from its winter hibernation in the garage, had its yearly service and I am once again riding through the forests of Sanctus B. And its glorious - you can smell spring in the air, the new life is bursting through the earth and everything feels new and possible and glorious. I love this time of year in Ireland when the moving from one season to the next is so clearly defined. Which brings me to my own moving from one season of life to the next. It happened like this......

On a sunday afternoon we took a drive through the rolling drumlins of County Down. The clouds scattered and the sunlight flooded the car. We stopped at a country church, built on the site of the first church established on this isle by St Patrick. Inside its simple stone walls there is an altar with a silver cross and a lone stained glass window. The Sun bled through the many colours of the saint and filled the church. We stopped to enjoy the silence and then prayed on the sacred ground. Prayed for wisdom and blessing and all that would follow in the fullness of life both in sorrow and in laughter.

A short drive up the shore to another Holy island on the lough which had been the site of an early Irish Celtic monastery. The remnants of the church, the walls and the High tower are still there and the view over the water is breathtaking. In the shelter of the tower we read some Mary Oliver .....
'You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine'

because real life is as much about sadness as it is about joy and its good to make peace with that from the start. And then we sat overlooking the Lough , exactly where we had broken bread almost a year before, on one of our first dates. And in the twinkling of an eye I knelt and asked my Anam Cara to take a risk and share our lives and our journey from here to the place where all journeys end.

With that one small word of an answer both of our lives changed forever in ways we can't yet imagine. We journeyed back to Belfast where the community toasted us with champagne and Father Padraig blessed the day in poetry and song - using the ancient tongue of our island to call down God's blessing on our new life.

And so spring is full of joy and I walk towards the future more in hope than fear.

The Blessing of St Patrick surround you.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Lenten Questions

Tis the time of the year when some give up things, others take up things and some do nothing at all. I've always had an ambivalent relationship with Lent - sometimes giving up things but not necessarily thinking deeply or entering into any new discipline beyond not eating chocolate or whatever. This year I’m trying both. I have said goodbye to all things sweet, all things alcoholic and have banned myself from Facebook. But that’s all well and good – I may lose a few pounds and have some more time but will I learn anything?

So my plan is to use the time for more reading, thinking and the occasional bit of writing on the blog. But Lent itself – almost a tithe of the year that we give to something holy. Jesus went into the desert for 40 days to ask the question of what it meant to be Jesus. Perhaps we could spend the time during Lent asking ourselves some questions. In Beyond Words Frederick Buechner gives us some ideas.

“If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money and why?
When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore?
If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would that be in 25 words or less?
Of all the things that you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you happiest to remember?
Is there any person in the world or any cause that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?
If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?

To hear yourself try to answer questions like that is to begin to hear something not only of who you are, but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become. It can be a pretty depressing business all in all, but if sackcloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end. “

I’m wrestling with these questions over the next 6 weeks. I can’t promise to post the answers to all of them but I will post some. Maybe you can join me on the journey.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

One to Ponder

3 Dollars Worth of God

I would like to buy 3 dollars worth of God, please
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don't want enough of him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want the warmth of the womb not a new birth.
I want about a pound of the eternal in a paper sack.
I'd like to buy 3 dollars worth of God, please
How much God do you want?
You get as much or as little as you desire.

Wilbur Reese