Wednesday, 27 February 2013


A cold, grey Lenten morning... And a couple of H/Ts to fellow bloggers for making me smile. Angela at Bright Star has some beautiful promises of spring today - surely on its way - in word and picture, reminding me that however it might feel, our English name of Lent means the time when days are lengthening: Lencten.

(LATE EDIT - great explanation about spring and when it starts here, from Archdruid Eileen, of course!)

And an even greater hope than sunlight: we won't be wearing Lenten ashes for ever. He has sent proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion –to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:2-3) Meditate on that, and then have a look at Ferrebeekeeper for a bit of fun, and pick out your own!

Here's Hope by Sir Edward Burne-Jones...

Monday, 25 February 2013

I wish I hadn't...

...posted that innocent-looking, butter-wouldn't-melt picture of Canis Minor yesterday. And why do cartoonists always show cats chasing mice? Terriers chasing things (especially if they haven't a chance of actually catching them) are far more hilarious to watch - at civilised hours, that is. (And a fair bit noisier.)

At two o'clock this morning we were woken by a crash and a yelp of excitement. From then until it was time to get up there were regular sounds of tearing up and down stairs, growls and whines of frustration, and things being knocked over.  All this despite some fairly strong words of admonition, and HALO searching with a torch to find the quarry.

We still don't know what it was... In the colder weather the mice under the shed have been known to come into the house to get warm. As did a squirrel, once. And one memorable night, the neighbours' cat managed to get itself locked into our house at bedtime.  In the not-so-still watches of the night, though, it was easy to imagine creatures Even Worse.  (That is a horrid value judgment, and does not fit at all well with my reading of "God saw that it was good" in Genesis. But you know what I mean.)

I'm exhausted today. And I'm up to Noah in Genesis: I imagine the nights were pretty noisy on the Ark... Perhaps not surprisingly, the "word" that struck me this morning was that Noah means rest. "He walked with God". And God gave him precise measurements and instructions for building the Ark: one presumes he'd never tackled such a project before. So why do I lose so much rest worrying about exactly how everything's going to work? As though the project is mine and I'm in charge...

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Sunday Snippets - Snow Moon

New life - snowdrops in the churchyard

Bitterly cold weather this week - flurries of snow ready for tomorrow's Snow Moon (the name of the full Moon in February - I wrote about it here last year, in case you're interested) but it hasn't settled. The wind is icy though, and makes my eyes water and sting like smoke.

It's time again for Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival the friendly blog roundup hosted by RAnn. What have I been up to this week? A couple of posts:

Have a good week! It's cosier indoors...

Thursday, 21 February 2013


That blue metal bridge-thing actually contains one of London's hidden rivers
Memo to self: another time when planning a journey, don't forget the particular character of a trip on an off-peak train at half term. Especially a District Line train going through South Kensington. Hordes of excited children being taken on improving outings to London. The decibels reached painful proportions; then one little boy piped up "we're going to the Silence (sic) Museum!" If only...

I was going to spend the kind of day to which I treat myself once a month or so. First, coffee at one of my favourite emporia. Then a leisured spell of window-shopping (and H/T to A Letter From Home for reminding me of the therapeutic qualities of this activity.  Ooh, I've been wanting to write H/T ever since I found out what it meant. Yesterday...) Actually, this time I did have some essentials, and a birthday present, to buy; and that was therapeutic too. And then a quiet, reflective lunchtime Mass in a beautiful church nearby.

I've written before about my love of the sacred, "thin-place" nature of rivers. My journey to this particular part of London takes me not just over a river (the Thames) but under one of the city's hidden rivers, as you can see in the picture above, for which a H/T to Tired of London, Tired of Life. (Ha!) A moment of reverence and an arrow prayer...

In the afternoon, a visit to my spiritual director. A precious hour of reorientation and restoration. Deo Gratias...

And a journey home among tired children clutching plastic dinosaurs.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Sunday Snippets - Lencten

Here's John Everett Millais' Ophelia - I've posted the picture before, but indulge me if I say again that while the model was of course Lizzie Siddal in her bath the river is the Hogsmill, where I walk with our dog at the weekend, to unkink my back after the hours I've spent sitting in trains, at desks, and in the spiritual direction room. And this weekend it's Lent, from Lencten, an old name for the spring - when the days lengthen and birds sing. Here's how the Hogsmill looks now...

This week I wrote a few words - more seemed superfluous - about the news from Rome. And some thoughts, here and here, about Lent. Finally, another reflection about spiritual direction, in the form of a favourite poem.

Blessings to you for this holy season!

Once again, linked with Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival, hosted by RAnn.


Well, I promised some more thoughts about spiritual direction... Just what is it we think we're doing in this ministry?  What do we want to receive?

The other day I remembered this poem by Galway Kinnell. I used it in a workshop for spiritual directors on "Beauty and Creativity" - saying that what we do as directors is often no more nor less than seeing and blessing what is good - lovely - in the other; holding the beautiful truth about them when they cannot see it for themselves. It's what they call a "big ask" (I'm really irritated by that phrase, but it popped into my mind just now as rather apt) sometimes, not because of the other person's unloveliness but because of my own prejudices and blinkers..that's where God's grace comes in. Anyway, here's the poem:

The bud
stands for all things,
even those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as St. Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of
the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking
and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

My own spiritual director has two mantras or "words" that he often offers me. When I'm in the grip of sinfulness or inadequacy; or when I'm under attack from my inner critic or the full moon of Deimos or the shadow of the Black Dog (see previous posts), or simply feeling "yuk" about life,  he'll remind me "you are more than this." And he'll also say "at the heart of the universe is consolation": in other words, all that is is moved by Love (he reads Dante too!). God is in charge, and "all shall be well". God is love, God is lovely, and I'm made in God's image.

I'm reading Genesis this Lent. Actually, I suspect I'll still be reading it at Easter because I'm going so slowly. I've got as far as the sea monsters and birds today, with a sneak preview of the beasts and cattle. We humans haven't come on the scene yet to mess things up! Though I looked afresh at the webs between my fingers (we all have them. Don't we?) and marvelled at the long journey we've come from the primeval soup and the sea...

And God saw that it was good. Amen!
Loveliness of pigs at Jimmy's Farm in Suffolk

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Remember that you are dust

Dust on a cosmic scale, from today's NASA pic
Something else for Ash Wednesday... the Orion Nebula, full of hot gas, dark dust and new-born stars. This is the dust of which we're made: "and God saw that it was good".

what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

Jan Richardson, at The Painted Prayerbook. (Once again, a link I've pinched from Greenpatches!)

Ash Wednesday

Aldeburgh beach, Suffolk
Bless├Ęd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit
of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

From Ash Wednesday, T S Eliot.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

So sad

I didn't - couldn't - write anything yesterday: too much of a shock. I thank God for the witness of this humble pastor and eloquent theologian (not just as a writer and preacher but in Evagrius' definition as  "one who prays"). As in everything, I respect the courage, wisdom and prayerful discernment of his decision - but I feel so sad. Pray for him, and for the Church.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Sunday Snippets - nearly Lent

In an episode of The Simpsons shown here last week, Grandpa was seen running down the road stark naked, with a bedpan on his head, shouting "the Swedish are coming!"  Marge gave a resigned sigh: "why do they have to keep changing his medication?" Thing is, that very day I'd nervously agreed with my doctor to change some medication I've been on for a long while and try something new. I'd just like to apologise in advance to all my friends and acquaintances...

Just wanted to share that - not quite sure what the connection is with Lent, except that one of my favourite Lenten books is The Lenten Pharmacy by Edward Hays, subtitled "Daily Healing Therapies". It's a lovely guide through Lent, especially for those of us who live and try to pray in the city among ordinary things. I wish everyone who might wander this way a blessed, surprising and healing Lent.

So, in my moments of lucidity this past week I've been blogging about anxiety and holding on to the truth, with a little PS here, and some thoughts about the Year of the Snake.

Happily and gratefully linked with Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival, hosted by RAnn.

Year of the Snake


 I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)

It's Chinese New Year - or Lunar New Year, if you prefer: the year of the snake. Snakes have a bad press generally, but there is some positive symbolism attached to them too: transformation, healing, wisdom, creativity. So here's another chance for a new start: what are the serpent-graces you want to ask for?

Gung hay fat choy!

And here's Kaa from the Jungle Book... 

PS to Deimos

Deimos (left) and Phobos, seen from Mars
As a postscript to my last, I've now found this image of Deimos, seen in its proper proportion from the surface of Mars. Not filling the whole sky at all... 

And I forgot to include a link to what Andy Otto writes in God In All Things, about a painful and unpleasant experience he had. He writes of the presence of God in the pain, feeling it with us and absorbing it.  I have found that very helpful.

This, by the way, is apparently my 100th post on this blog. I'm not the most prolific blogger and it's taken me a while to get here, but it's been great fun. I wonder if anyone's been with me from the beginning? 

Friday, 8 February 2013

Martian Moon

Mars has two moons - Phobos and Deimos, whose names mean Fear and Terror. This is Deimos. I once tried to describe the difference thus: Phobos is what you feel when there's a tiger in the room. Deimos is when the lights have fused, you realise you didn't lock the door, you'd swear you can smell tomcat writ large, and hear the sound of growling and snuffling and heavy footfalls, and you really didn't lock the door...

Deimos... Terror, dread, anxiety, panic. Are you ever struck by the beams of that particular moon?  I am... Often at night, when the "what ifs" are particularly clamorous. Or perhaps there aren't any thoughts, just the sweaty palms, racing heart, shallow breathing. Now, I don't know enough about astronomy to know if the Martian moons have phases like ours, but in my imagination they do; at such times Deimos is definitely waxing gibbous, or even full, and that blank, expressionless lump of rock fills my whole vision. Ugh.

And then I read that Deimos is actually so small and at such a distance from Mars that it would look simply like another star in the  Martian sky - no bigger than that. When Deimos seems to fill my inner sky I am seeing things out of proportion.  That's exactly what anxiety (a relative of the Black Dog - thanks yet again Greenpatches: we must stop linking like this. Or, actually, let's not!) does. Good old Ignatius - as always he knows what's going on. The "enemy of our human nature" afflicts with sadness and anxiety: that is, he/she/it snares us and drags us out of the present into sadness about the past or anxiety about an imagined future (what's known as "sensible desolation", caused by brain chemistry, hormones or whatever, gets twisted into spiritual desolation where we come to doubt God's presence and love) thus depriving us of the Sacrament of the Present Moment where we encounter the Love that moves the stars - including lumps of rock revolving round Mars. God is good and all shall be well - that refrain again. I can't stop the full moon of Deimos filling my sky from time to time, but I can know that it's not the whole truth.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Sunday Snippets - a sensory Examen

...of a walk with Canis Minor. Ignatius recommends and Examen of the senses as a way of finding God in all things.

Sight: oh, so much. Bright low sunlight that made me shade my eyes. Green spikes and furls pushing through the earth. The bright green of lichen on trees trunks. The breast of a robin caught in the Sun's rays - an unbelievable brightness. (The picture above is a robin at Titchwell nature reserve in Norfolk, a few winters ago).
Hearing: birdsong: robins, great tits, a wren... Ringed-necked parakeets - raucous interlopers, but they still make me smile. Children playing football on the playing fields in the distance.
Smell: cold air, the river, damp earth, fresh leaves.
Taste: memories of breakfast: hot, strong coffee and ginger marmalade.
Touch: mud sucking at my boots. Bark of trees.  Cold fingers.
"This is what I love when I love my God" (St Augustine)

So, in the past week I've had some thoughts about spiritual direction, to be continued this week, I hope. A reflection on the turning of the year; and a few thoughts about a controversially (to some) named flavour of crisps. Welcome!

Linked with Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival, hosted by the indefatigable RAnn.s

No more crisps

Last Tuesday I nipped out at lunch time to bring back something to eat. I'm quite fond of spicy things so I bought a packet of tomato and Worcester sauce flavoured crisps called after the non-alcoholic cocktail the Virgin Mary. I shared them with my colleagues (who include a priest and a religious sister): we chuckled about the name and wondered if they'd taste even better with the addition of vodka. I thought little more about it until later when I read from some of my fellow bloggers (no, I'm not going to provide links) how offensive and blasphemous the naming of this snack is, and how all Christians, especially Catholics, should write at once to the offending company and complain about this mockery of our faith. The comments were even worse: boastfully vitriolic quotes from emails people had sent, or were about to, to the CEO (who's a Catholic, by the way).  Then last night I heard that Pret a Manger had withdrawn the crisps. So that's that. How very sad.

Persecution of Christians is an ugly and horrific reality in so many parts of the world today. And even in places where it's safe to worship freely there are subtle and pernicious forms of persecution and we often need to speak out. I'm a Catholic; I've been on the receiving end of many anti-Catholic rants, whether made in malice or ignorance; I've sometimes had the courage to respond and  I hope I shall again - in charity, by the grace of God, whenever it will make a difference There are conversations I won't join in, and I try, for example, not to use the word hoax (do you know why?) 

But protesting about Virgin Mary crisps? Please... For one thing, the name has been around for years to describe a Bloody Mary without the alcohol (and bloody itself, when used as an expletive, is a corruption of by Our Lady). Where have these people been? Perhaps they never read the non-alcoholic section of cocktail menus. For another, Catholics above all should know how holy names and phrases have been absorbed into everyday things in our culture - do read the excellent Catholic Trivia by Mark Elvins. I may be a sinner beyond redemption, but I'll happily eat Angel Cake or Trinity Pudding, and sink a pint in the Lamb and Flag. I won't get upset when the excited voice-over cries "Jesus Arbuthnot!" on University Challenge (assuming that Mr Arbuthnot is representing Jesus College. And no offence intended to anyone called Arbuthnot).

Yes, I'm sad about the crisp affair. They were yummy. I wish I'd kept the packet now - it would have become a collector's item, no doubt. And I'd promised to bring HALO back a bag of them next week. At least the withdrawn crisps will be given to the homeless; even those congratulating themselves on their "victory" think that's a kind gesture - obviously they're not worried about offending any Christian homeless people. Ah well... Why not make a point of visiting your local sandwich shop and putting some extra coins in their charity box this week? 

Disclaimer: other sandwich shops are available. As are, of course, other points of view. Please feel free to express them, but be nice.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

The year turns

This is not my own picture (the snow has gone and my snowdrops are not - quite - out yet, so St Brigid missed them on her feast day yesterday) but comes from the Time & Date website where there's some interesting facts and figures about Candlemas.

So, Imbolc yesterday and Candlemas today. The light grows and we give thanks for the Light of the World. If you click on the little "Light a Candle" gadget on the right you'll be taken to where you can light a candle to join in with the prayers of many others to celebrate the day. And I can't resist including the Holman Hunt painting, though I know a lot of people dislike it  (including my dear friend R who accompanied me to the recent Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at Tate Britain, despite really not liking them much. She deserves a medal!). 

One of the versions of painting was made just round the corner from where I live and I sometimes pretend I can recognise the brambles and, on summer evenings, greet the descendants of the original bats. Everyone knows the symbolism of the door without a handle, so all Christ can do is knock patiently. Sometimes I can pray for grace to open the door; other times it feels more honest to plead, like Donne, for him to "batter my heart" open and let the Light in.

The year turns and spring is on its way. I've posted this prayer before, but it's one I like to use at the year's turning points (adapted from a prayer by Ceisiwr Serith)

Wheels turn,
and the seasons turn,
and the Earth turns,
and the stars turn.

The universe turns
and I turn with it.
Lord of the turning,
my face turns towards you in wonder.