Friday, March 29, 2013

After the ninth hour

Dead. That’s about it, really -
dead inside my head, dead
inside my heart as we lift the dead
weight of our friend who was more
than just our friend and take his
dead body to this raw tomb that
just happens to be waiting for him.
Was it all meant to work out
like this? What about the two
hanging, groaning, haranguing, 
praying? Praying in extremis.
Everyone does that. 

There is no feeling left
for a time like this. Only the 
raw hole where the emotion
raged and the terror flared
and burned all else to black
as the sky darkened
and the woman bustles
home and her thoughts 
turn to food and tasks
and children make their
demands that obliterate
all dialogue with self
and leave you safe
from this empty pain.

Leave the heavy weight 
of body and the weighty spice
to scent the darkness
till another day. 
Leave the dark sky
light a lamp
do not let the pictures
fill your head
the hammer blows
your inward ear
the dull thud of wood
in the hard ground.
No. It is finished.
But how, God, how
do we live now
in the world that is so changed?

©C.M.M. Good Friday ’13.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Love your neighbours?

How does a Christian know she is living out her faith in her everyday life? (I'm not excluding chaps here, not at all, but I'm a she and it was going to be tedious to keep giving both pronouns. Forgive me.) This was something that came up in discussion at our Lent group yesterday; we reached no conclusion other than that it can be difficult to have any certainty for oneself, no matter how you may look up to others. At least, that's what I took from it.

But of course one example of living a Christ-inspired life is all over the news at the moment, because the Reverend Isaac Poobalan of St John's Episcopal Church in Aberdeen has invited the Muslims from a neighbouring mosque to share his church building rather than pray outside in the snow when there were too many of them for the space available. Presumably his vestry members also approved this move, so there's some more people doing real Christian stuff. And, as Jesus himself predicted, discipleship like this brings abuse.

For Fr Poobalan is being subjected to a torrent of abuse from internet trolls, according to the Huffington Post. Apparently they call themselves Christians, these trolls. Up this way we might call them something very different, but I shall restrain myself.

Instead, I'm going to say something positive. Fr Poobalan's action and continuing determination to love his neighbours makes me proud. Proud to be a member of the Scottish Episcopal Church where such things happen, proud to say I'm a Christian.

It's as simple as that.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Yes, I'm still reading ...

It's been a while since I last reviewed a book - November saw the last, I think - and I've almost forgotten what I've read since then. However, two of the books are sitting on the desk beside me, mute reproaches, and if I deal with them now they can find a home on a shelf. If there's any room, that is.

The first of them takes up the story of Robert Merivel, who first appeared in Restoration. In Merivel, A Man of his Time, Rose Tremain shows us a much more mature Merivel, a man in his late 50s who considers himself "much decayed" (ouch) with a life to look back on and one last great adventure to undertake. There is a lover, a trip abroad, a bear. There is the King, now also much decayed, and there is the melancholy of the end of a life imperfectly lived. Merivel is self-mocking and sad, and Tremain and her hero take us expertly through a world in which glitter disguises squalor and favour is given and withdrawn in turn. I was absorbed by the writing and made melancholy by the inevitability of ending, whether of a novel or of a life. So there.

And then I read Toby's Room by Pat Barker. A strange, inconclusive story of the 1914-18 war, of a brother and sister and their friend whose face is destroyed by shrapnel, it is described as "a riveting drama of identity and damage, of intimacy and loss", and "Pat Barker's most powerful novel yet". I dunno about that; I found myself driven to explore some of the history of Queen Mary's Hospital and the work of the artists who recorded the progress of early plastic surgery there, and in some ways I wish I hadn't. Having read the bood some months ago now, I find I've forgotten the conclusion of the narrative and can recall as it were the incidentals - but incidentals that are themselves far more important than any fiction could be.

I'd saved up the fat paperback The Villa Triste by Lucretia Grindle for a trip - the other two were hardbacks - and was engrossed by her story of wartime Italy and its resulting deaths in modern Tuscany. The time-switching typographical devices became easy after the first time, and the mystery remained - for me anyway - a mystery until satisfyingly late in the story. I liked Palliotti, Grindle's detective, and I loved Florence and the descriptions of backstreets and Sunday family eating.

And now I'm reading War and Peace, in the new translation. I've read about 200 pages of very small print, and there are another 1000 to go. I'm enjoying it more now than I was at first, having arrived in a War bit rather than the opening Peace section, and I shall certainly say more once I've finished it. Suffice it to say that I've learned from a translator's note that Russians consider the book an easy read, and I'm actually seeing why ... but of that more anon. Just don't give me any more books till I've finished it!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Costly love

It seems to have been several years since we observed Mothering Sunday in Holy T - if my files of past Intercessions are anything to go by, we've stuck to Lent 4 for years, and I had nothing to plunder for my prayers for today. In the event, it took me some time to think about and produce same, but it was a rewarding sort of time. The readings helped, of course - that wonderful line at the end of the Gospel: "And a sword shall pierce your own soul also", and the story of Moses in the basket among the reeds.

Why did these strike such a chord? I was thinking of the costliness of the love shown by mothers across the ages and over today's world. I was thinking of mothers who had to watch their children die or suffer; I was thinking of the lines of women leading tired children to a hazardous safety in Jordan, leaving behind the ruination of their lives in Iraq. I was thinking of how many mothers will do anything for their child, and how letting the tendrils of love for each new life twine around the heart is taking a step that will never be retraceable. And I thought of how often we forget to tell our own mothers what they mean to us - forget until it's too late. And I thought of how that kind of love would know anyway. But I still wished I'd said something explicit.

But people like me don't say these things explicitly. Where they emerge is often oblique, there to be seen if you look hard. And sometimes poetry has to do it. It was poetry that summed up the enormity of what that Levite woman had done to save her baby son, poetry I wrote the last time, I think, that we read that lesson in church. I've published it before, on Frankenstina, along with a picture of the font we floated our messages on in paper boats, but because I used it today I'm putting it here.

ONCE ...

In the hot silence
while he slept
and only the flies sang
she made the basket
strong with love
to hold this one most precious thing
and gave it, dry-eyed,
to the waiting flood.
© C.M.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

A Lenten poem

Road through the Nevada desert
Eyes wide open

One pale, quiet morning, 
I open my soul’s eyes 
unarmed with faith or company, 
responsibility or joy, 
and see quite plain
the vastness of it all, the loneliness, 
the very impossibility of life.
A hand in the desert - 
will there be a hand? 
Someone who knows the way
to travel this grey distance
and find the distant hills?

The question hangs
in the still air. But 
in the birdless silence
is that the gentle ripple
not mocking or sardonic
but inviting, is that -
oh please, is that -
a companionable laugh?

© C.M. 03/13

Friday, March 08, 2013

A ridgewalk with the Third Age

A suitably splendid scene for a brief retrospect on last week's Argyll and The Isles Diocesan Synod, the above photo shows the moment when Bishop Kevin installed the new Dean, Andrew Swift, in the Cathedral in Oban. I was right at the back of the Cathedral, having arrived at the very last minute from Taynuilt, where we were staying and where we had gone to change into gladder rags for the Synod dinner, but a phone waved speculatively in the air seemed to do not badly, thank you.

Anyway, enough of the formalities. Argyll is unlike the more urban dioceses in that it holds its synodical gatherings over three days. After all, people take to planes and boats to get there - it seems only fair to give them a decent time to socialise, no? And anyone who cares to can attend, especially the pre-Synod day. This year's speaker, Ann Morisey, was the best yet. She talked about the Ages of our lives - not seven, as Shakespeare described them, nor the three of past generations, but the four ages we now see living: children (dependant); adults (generative, working); the active retired (new!); the old (dependant, letting-go). And of course, more than half of her listeners were the active retired on whom the church depends, and of whom, dear reader, I am one.

I'm not going for a blow-by-blow here. But I started thinking about the business of loss of status - the loss of status that is part of letting go. We all, I suppose, acquire varied status during our lives, and some people have the dickens of a job letting it go. Retirement can spell doom and depression for some, rather than joyous freedom. Men seem more bothered than women. I also thought about the things that apparently keep us going for longer - singing seems to be one, dancing another, and church membership and activity seems to be jolly good for one.

But this status thingy. People acquire status in church circles - and suffer a new bereavement when it is taken from them. We all know the criticism voiced of people who hang onto jobs in church - but do we think of why these jobs are so dear to these people? Should we all be practising letting go of things, sitting lightly on our little importances so that the wrench will be less?

Maybe it depends on why we do these things in the first place. And an echo of the instruction to pray secretly in your own room comes to me when I think of this. We do love to dress up in our church, and there is much to be said for the depersonalisation of the individual that is one result of this. But I wonder if every one of us, for our own future good, needs to think about why we cling to our assumed responsibilities.

In a voluntary organisation there will always be a need for someone to step forward. There was much talk this year of ridgewalking, with all the excitement and danger that the term implies. Suddenly it feels as if the diocese has set off on its precarious ridge walk with a song in its heart - and the Third Age to the fore.