When there are no words…

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How do we respond when our vocabulary runs dry? Words such as awful, atrocious, terrible, horrific, needless, senseless have littered our media, both public and social since March. And yes I am aware of the irony that insists on using words to express myself.

I have posted ‘There are no words’ on face book after Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge and on the wall of a friend whose niece is still missing after the fire in Grenfell Tower. This morning I awoke once more to the attack on a Mosque in Finsbury Park.

What began slowly has escalated to the point where I wonder just how many more mornings I can awake to another tragedy, to another senseless death or injury of innocent people going about with the intention of living another day.

My thoughts move on to those who live in Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Turkey, South Sudan, the Yemen, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines to name but a few, for whom this is a daily reality, and I am reminded to be thankful once more.

We are an Easter people – I am called to be a sign of the Resurrection in the world today. Resurrection is to be fully alive, to share in the love of the Triune God.

In the weeks leading up to today I could have been forgiven for beginning to doubt the reality of this. I have never felt less like an Easter people in my life. I know God is here with us, and yet I want to shout long side Thomas ‘Show me’.

Yet The Joy of the Gospel  of the Gospel tells us that “However dark things are, goodness always re-emerges and spreads … beauty is born anew, it rises transformed through the storms of history … Such is the power of the resurrection, and all who evangelize are instruments of that power.” 276

Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, talks of our relationship with the Living Lord making a difference in the world today.

It is because of our relationship, this invitation to share in God’s love that we are able to respond to the Spirit when she says ‘I tell you get up’.

 

This good news that fills us with joy is not something that is simply talked about, it is a way of living. If we are to live as Easter people, people who believe in the Resurrection, then sharing the love of God is not an option. We are called to bring the about the Kingdom on earth. We are to share the glimpses of heaven with those we meet.

In Paul Valelly’s book ‘Untying the Knots ‘ Pope Francis says:

“Dialogue is born from a respectful attitude toward the other person, from a conviction that the other person has something good to say.

It supposes that we can make room in our heart for their point of view, their opinion and their proposals.

Dialogue entails a warm reception and not a pre-emptive condemnation.

To dialogue, one must know how to lower the defences, to open the doors of one’s home and to offer warmth.”

We do not need plans drawn up by a few for the few, or an enlightened or outspoken minority which claims to speak for everyone. It is about agreeing to live together, a social and cultural pact. (p.239)

And so when there are no words I turn to the Gospels and prayer. As a woman of faith I know that the Spirit prays in me when I do not know how.

I pray for those affected, that they may know that God is with them in their suffering, their loss, their fear, their anger.

I pray for those who see violence and greed as a legitimate way to live may have their hearts changed.

I pray for those who hear and respond to the Holy Spirit’s urging ‘I tell you get up’ and be the Good News that their actions may inspire others, especially me.

I pray for those who who are paralysed by grief that they may see glimpses of heaven and find God is there with them.

I pray for those who, day after day, work to keep us safe, that they may know our gratitude.

I pray for those who make future decisions that whatever their faith, they may be guided by a common concern for the dignity of all.

I pray for those building bridges in the face of opposition and cynicism may never lose heart.

I pray for those who when words run dry may take comfort…

In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express.  And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will.’ (Romans 8 26-27)

 

The shifting shape of family traditions.

All of us have many traditions for Christmas, some we carry on from our family, some we grow ourselves and some have to be negotiated with others.

Ever since my children were little we went shopping so they could each chose a tree decoration to add to the family collection. It was interesting to see how their choice often reflected parts of their developing personalities and interests.

Each decoration was carefully described and added to the list, first hand written then moving to a Word Document in recent years.

You see the point was not simply to add to that year’s decorations but also for when they had left home to provide decorations for their own tree.

The first year I decorated my own tree I had only just started work and after buying presents and an artificial tree (wow they’re expensive) there was little money left to decorate it. I remember buying one bag of mini red baubles and one of mini gold parcels!

As our family grew we loved making tree decorations to grace our tree. Each year they were put away as carefully as those they chose to buy of glass and porcelain.

And this year those home made decorations take on even more significance as there will be space on the tree.

Last week I gave my eldest two children a box, each containing their chosen ornaments. For this year they have their very own tree.

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I removed each ornament from the family boxes, tins and paper tattered from years of use and carefully re-wrapped each one slowly, lovingly with memories and new tissue paper. Each decoration made me smile as I remembered why it was bought, often simply they likedthe colour or shape, and just as often it had a story, food, animals, musical instruments, favourite books or characters.

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I knew this day would come of course, but not how bitter sweet it would be. My darling children are ready to fly, to be independent, to begin their own traditions, to celebrate Christmas the way they choose. All of which make me profoundly grateful and immensely proud. Yet, I am sad too, I grieve those long ago Christmases: the wonder, the excitement, the making.

On reflection I realise that Christmas and its’ traditions was never static. It grew and developed as did my family: the artificial tree gave way to a real one; reading the Night before Christmas with hot chocolate after the Vigil Mass became putting out presents together with mulled wine after midnight Mass; opening presents as soon as it was physically possible on Christmas morning now happens after a late lunch; Oh and the Kings, that’s another post in itself!

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And the tree? Well it transpires that putting it up and decorating it with on my own rather than being a three line whip of a family affair listening to carols with the arguments and stress that inevitably ensued…(why do the lights never work the following year? And why don’t I buy a new stand rather than making do? and just how much does a ‘son’ have to saw off the bottom of the tree so it fits?) is a new tradition in waiting.

While we will be together for Christmas only 2 will wake up here at home, the older ones will arrive Christmas morning after waking up in their own place.

I hope they’ve remembered to tell Father Christmas their new address!

A happy and holy Christmas to you all.

Advent: a time of joyful waiting and Holy longing.

Talitha Kum

A year on, but the truth remains…

Advent: a time of joyful waiting, of Holy longing.

So far, this season of Advent has brought into sharp focus those for whom the waiting is not joyful…

…for those waiting for the bombs to drop

…for those waiting to fly over combat zones

…for those waiting for asylum

…for those waiting for a border to open

…for those waiting for their next fix

…for those waiting for to be evicted

…for those waiting to be made redundant

…for those waiting to die

…for those waiting to hear from an estranged child

…for those waiting for a spouse to come home

…for those waiting, waiting.

Or for the longing that seems far from Holy…

…for those longing for someone to love

…for those longing to be loved

…for those longing for a lover’s touch

…for those longing to be a priority

…for those longing for the grief to pass

…for…

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Hear me out, don’t shout me down.

Today I began to pray about the issue of abortion.

Asking for the courage to speak truth to power, to find words that are kind and able to challenge the current polarised thinking around the debate, to find a way for my faith and feminism to be congruent and that will allow those with whom I speak to continue to engage even if they deem me a bad Catholic for not being able to be absolutist but relative in my feelings over the issues.

Let me be clear, I am not advocating abortion. It’s just… I can’t condemn it either. it’s not as easy as or as clear cut as that. So it’s time to come clean: I simply can not align myself to one camp. I need the space to meander, to lay down my thoughts and if that means I am unfriended, judged, condemned then so be it. But please, at least hear me out.

When ever the issue of abortion comes up, it engenders feelings of embarrassment, of not being able to live up to the expectations of my religion. I know that I am supposed to think of abortion as intrinsically evil, that somehow it is shorthand for Pro-life and all that that is supposed to mean. But it is only one thread in the seamless garment. The minute I do not wholeheartedly reject abortion out of hand, I am in certain circles condemned. I have already lost the right to have an opinion, to engage in the debate, to call myself a woman of faith.

But there are things I feel need to be said, that in fact can only be said from a faith perspective, from a female faith perspective.

And so in no particular order, here are my thoughts on early stage abortion as allowed by law in the UK…

To criminalise women who have undergone an abortion (as was tried to do recently in Poland and one of Trumps promises) is to reduce it to a woman’s problem. It puts women in the wrong, as though all pregnancies are immaculately conceived, which we know they are not. If we acknowledge that both men and women are needed to create then it can not be just to hold only one side up for condemnation or punishment. It is easy to punish the woman, after all it is obvious whilst pregnant that she is the mother, but that does not make it right.

The world is still a patriarchal place and we are all, women and men, victims of misogyny. Through this lens, any deviant sexual behaviour is always the woman’s fault. From rape, prostitution, and abortion, to the child abuse scandal (girl altar servers) . This lazy blame game has to stop and we must teach our young men to take responsibility for their actions and not blame the way she was dressed, or came on to him, or how much she had had to drink.

I would like to think that all young people wait until they are married before embarking on sexual activity, but my experience of working with young people in and out of the Church tells me that this is not so. Consent needs to be discussed openly and when we refuse to see that young people do have sex outside marriage we can not have a full and frank discussion.

Often (note the restraint) it is men who feel they have a right and a duty to tell women what to do when it comes to an unwanted pregnancy. Rather than trusting us to discern and use our conscience to come to a decision before God in whose image and likeness we too are made.

When we limit the Seamless Garment to one thread we are being morally relativist (something I know I am).

Life of the unborn needs to be seen within the context of life of the born. When we (as the Church) force every pregnancy to term without considering what happens after then we can not be pro all life. When we are not welcoming to single mothers who struggle to bring their noisy infants to church; when we do not offer adequate catechesis to those with special needs or learning difficulties, when we allow the issue of entry to Catholic schools to reward those who know how to play the game, rather than supporting those in genuine need, we are only pro life in the womb.

When another mouth to feed is the last straw, putting so much strain on a marriage that it breaks up the family, when the couple are told that this child too suffers from the same disability as their 3 other children, when it drives a mother to suicide rather than face another pregnancy, when a pregnancy is the result of rape, or an abusive relationship, or even God forbid a one night stand at the threshold of a young girls life, what then?

Yes my faith does tell me that God brings about good in every situation, but in the panic and fear of finding oneself alone and pregnant this might not be an easy thing to keep hold of.

And yes I know this is not the fault of the unborn either. And I know that there are many, many couple who face the scenarios above with faith and courage and go ahead with their pregnancy to full term. And I wonder if left to our own discernment just as many women and couples might still choose to do so. If we trust then we need to trust completely.

So whilst I believe abortion is not the answer, I also do not believe it is the easy way-out it is touted to be. The majority of women who choose to undergo an abortion do not do so lightly. They do not deserve our blame of condemnation. The shame and guilt they already feel can not be added to by those on the outside who have never and can never walk in their shoes. These women live with their choice every day. They need our prayers and support. They need us to be merciful as I believe God will be when they are called home to meet the child they never had.

 

 

 

 

 

Sing a new song

Throughout Christmas we have sung the same psalm. Now for many of us this is Liturgically incorrect. Yet hearing it sung 3 or 4 times in succession meant that it seeped into my mind and heart, and a little like an earworm has had me humming…

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While I am not speaking to Him (my prayer life leaves a lot to be desired) at the moment, my faith had kept me a float. I have found myself thinking of this psalm and am grateful that even through my stubborness, my heart hears His call.

In the light of my last post, through the lens of the death of my dear friend, I know that this psalm enables me to pray, that it eases my pain, that there is a new song being sung to the Lord. For Jane as well as all the many wonderful qualities she displayed, was also a talented Liturgical musician. Infact that was how we first met, many many years ago on a CPW (Catholic Peoples’ Week) I was the Liturgist and Jane had come with her guitar. She had an innate sence of what was needed and we worked well together not only that week but year on year.

So I know that if not a completely new song, there is at the very least a new timbre, a deeper quality to those sung by the choirs of Angels with an even greater beauty as Jane joins their number.