Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Amo amas amat

Lewis & Short. I've still got mine (it makes a good door-stop)

Happy St Ignatius' Day! It's another "at-home" day for me, and I'm using my mid-morning coffee time to ponder how to spend celebrate the remaining hours of the day. I'm all for being idle and blessed, but sometimes too many concurrent ideas and distractions can fritter away the time and cause me to miss the blessings. I'm learning it's good for me to do one thing at a time..

I think of Ignatius having to go back to school and learn Latin with a class full of schoolboys so that he could be ordained. He wrote of having to push aside even holy thoughts in order to knuckle down and learn his verbs. I imagine him reciting "amo, amas, amat" and becoming distracted by thoughts of the love of God - "no, I must get on... amamus, amatis, amant".

It's a good verb to start with, amo. Nice and simple, and follows the rules. And love is a good place to start, whether we're doing theology, philosophy, or the weekly shop. I love, you love, he/she/it loves... The love that moves the Sun, even.  (Now I'm doing an Ignatius!)   Kathleen Raine wrote a beautiful poem called "Amo Ergo Sum" (I love therefore I am), including the lines:

Because I love
      The sun pours out its rays of living gold
      Pours out its gold and silver on the sea...

Read the whole poem here.

Some have commented that  her title could serve as a motto for God the Holy Trinity: I love therefore I am. Can I claim it as mine? I don't dare; something comes first. It's easy to think that I am the loving centre of the Universe - a harder bit of grammar is learning the passive voice. "Amor, amaris, amatur..."  I am here because I am loved - amor ergo sum. "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19)

Ignatius knew this. It's what the whole Spiritual Exercises, from Principle & Foundation to the Contemplatio are all about.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Tote that barge

My "train book" at the moment (well, for quite a while actually) is St Augustine's Confessions, in the the translation by Henry Chadwick.  I was lucky enough to attend Henry Chadwick's Patristics lectures in Cambridge: his huge scholarship and wisdom, and occasionally wicked sense of  humour, kindled a life-long passion in me for the Early Church. And a love for St Augustine.

Anyway, I share today's gem with you as a spiritual nosegay. Who knew that the song Old Man River (from Showboat) contains a direct quote from Augustine?

"I gets weary
And sick of trying
I'm tired of living
And scared of dying..."

Honest! Have a look at Confessions IV:vi. ("I found myself heavily weighed down by a sense of being tired of living and scared of dying" - after the loss of his friend and when his Manicheeism failed to comfort him). I do wonder if using those exact words in his translation was Henry C's little joke... 

So I now have an indelible mental image of Augustine breaking into song in the rich tones of Paul Robeson. Well, he did say that whoever sings prays twice!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Dog Days - Sunday Snippets

Look at our regular visitor, sunning himself on our garage roof. I reckon he has the right idea about how to spend these hot, sticky dog days... I think of him when I want to learn how to relax and simply be...

It's been a while since I joined in with the Sunday Snippets Catholic Carnival, but greetings to you all, whatever the weather where you are!  If you want to have a look at some recent posts:

Happy summer days (if indeed it is summer where you live). Happy days anyway!

Unam Sanctam Catholicam...

Pope Francis in Rio
A week of juxtaposition (if that's the word I want). The shock and tragedy of the train crash in Santiago de Compostela just as pilgrims - some of them among the victims - gathered to celebrate the feast of St James. I leave it to Digitalnun to voice the pain and questions more eloquently than I can...

Pope Francis in Rio for World Youth Day, mobbed by the crowds, speaking out against injustice, posing with football shirts and taking part in exuberant liturgical extravaganza...

And having watched these events unfolding on television,  yesterday I went to the ordination in London of four deacons for the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.  Splendid liturgy, music by Byrd and Tallis, rousing hymns - and the huge joy of seeing four servants of the Lord anointed by the Holy Spirit as heralds of the Good News.

Catholicity. The suffering, compassionate, challenging, joyful, humble, serving worldwide Body of Christ. Sometimes the wonder of that just hits me between the eyes. And I'm a tiny, unworthy part of it. Deo Gratias.  

Tuesday, 23 July 2013


Swedish storm cloud.  Not my own picture -I wish!
Well, you know I like weather. But I find it very hard to like heat and humidity, of which we've been having plenty. So I was glad the air was just a little cooler this morning. As I sat reading in the garden the clouds, God's ambassadors as Mary Oliver calls them, gathered in heaps, rolls and swells. The breeze freshened. I tipped back my folding chair and watched the colours marbling the darkening sky. Soon the grey underside of a cumulonimbus cloud was overhead - amazing to think of the energy and weight just above me, reaching up perhaps to the very edge of weather.  Dogs barked, swifts screamed and then the thunder began.

I put away what I was doing and, just as I always did in my schooldays when there was a storm (once I'd discovered T S Eliot) I read What The Thunder Said.Datta, Dayadhvam, Damyata - Give, Sympathise, Control.  I remember how those words struck me (I was an impressionable, some might unkindly say pious, child) as expressions of our relationship with God - and I listened for their echoes in the rumbles of thunder. I still believe that, and perhaps now understand it a little more deeply: we first encounter God as giver - a sense of gratitude at the wonders of creation; we experience God's compassion, often mediated through the care of others as we grow into relationships; somewhere along the line we are invited and challenged to allow God to be in control of our lives. A resonance there, perhaps, of the dynamic of the Spiritual Exercises?

An idea for an Examen after a stormy day: what have I been given today? Where have I shown, and received, compassion? Have I lived in acknowledgment that God is in control?

And after the thunder came the rain - at first just a few heavy, precious drops, then more... and more. I hurried to put the books and technology under cover and then went back and walked in the garden (the neighbours already have grave doubts about my sanity so I don't care any more...)  My coffee grew more diluted as I watched geometric ripples on the birdbath and spiders curious to see what was shaking their webs.  Then the clouds sailed on by and the rain stopped. Not enough to quench the parched grass and earth, but it did make them smell sweet.

Do follow the links and read the poems!

Friday, 19 July 2013


I've written before about the beautiful shift in perspective of seeing our planet home from outside. So I was thrilled to read about something exciting (but which I'd never have noticed) that's happening today. Read about it here.

So, smile today... Take time to smile, genuinely and joyfully. If today is sad, hard, painful (and I don't want to trivialise that) is there a memory that makes you smile? Make time for yourself to remember, relish and relive it.

Maybe even wave to Saturn if you feel light-hearted enough and are happy to be part of the Silly Season.*

Oh, and in the words of Anthony de Mello: "Behold God beholding you - and smiling."

*LATE EDIT: Here are some people doing just that!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

A displaced weekend

The view by the wheelie bins
I'm teaching on Saturday and Sunday, but by a little careful planning and a lot of serendipity I have today and tomorrow as my "weekend". So here I am in the garden, coffee by my side, books at my feet and my iPad in my lap. Displacement activities officially allowed!

It's amazing what you learn... Yesterday evening I cooled off with some very gentle pottering in the garden, i.e. pulling out some strands of bindweed. I find it quite therapeutic: it's fun to see how long a bit you can unwind before it comes away. I'm not very thorough or systematic, though - I don't mind not getting it all (sorry, I know that's gardening heresy). It may strangle more delicate plants but the flowers can enliven a dull shrub and the bees seem to like them. But who'd have known it isn't really called Convolvulus?

And who'd have known that the thing we've been watching at Wimbledon isn't called tennis?

Oh, and I've just discovered that my chemical element is Xenon. Apparently it's "noble but inert", can emit a "lavenderish" glow and is or has been used in arc lamps, general anaesthetics and the thrusters of spacecraft. 

A straw-h/t (and once the Sun is over the yardarm a raised glass of blackberry Pimms) to A Reflex Anglican, the Inky Fool and A Letter From Home - links above. 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Alternative blog titles 2

I was writing something serious, but trying to do it in a hurry. Not a good combination... I was saying something about "negative cycles of thought" but I must have typed the word "cycles" wrongly and my good old iPad tried its best to make sense of it. A quick glance showed no red lines under any of the words so I hit Send.  Later, much later, I realised I'd written about

Cupcakes of Thought

I'd read about that, wouldn't you?

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Alternative blog titles 1

I like the name of my blog - I wouldn't change it. But now and again I come across a phrase which I think would make a fantastic title for a blog, and which might just deserve to be shared. So here's the first in what might become an occasional series:

On The Cusp Of Normal

It's what my GP said when she last took my blood pressure. A realm I inhabit much of the time, in more ways than one!

Monday, 1 July 2013

So loved

Proof, if it were needed, that time-wasting being "idle and blessed" is good for the soul. I was playing, as one does, with Google Maps (other online maps are, probably, available). I confess it started when I realised, while watching the news, that I didn't know exactly where Kazakhstan is. Zooming further and further out I saw this beautiful blue globe against a backdrop of stars, still with that pulsating blue pin to show where I'm sitting on the sofa. Kazakhstan isn't that far away after all. It stopped me in my tracks with a gasp of wonder. God so loved the world...

And here's David Fleming's paraphrase of Ignatius' first contemplation of the Second Week of the Exercises:

I try to enter into the vision of God – the mystery of divinity shared by three Divine Persons – looking upon our world: men and women being born and being laid to rest, some getting married and others getting divorced, the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the happy and the sad, so many people aimless, despairing, hateful, and killing, so many undernourished, sick and dying, so many struggling with life and blind to any meaning.  With God, I can hear people laughing and crying, some shouting and screaming, some praying, others cursing.

The leap of divine joy; God knows the time has come when the mystery of salvation, hidden from the beginning of the world, will shine into human darkness and confusion.  It is as if I can hear the Divine Persons saying, ‘Let us work the redemption of the whole human race; let us respond to the groaning of all creation.’