Tuesday 29 April 2008


Originally uploaded by gemma.hutton

Let us get right into the detail of being optimistic now. You see for me, the easiest way to stay joyful in daily life is to pay attention. Most of what worries us in life is big, non specific, an unknown looming creature. The truth is that in life's detail we find the most joy, and conversely the most sorrow.

Gemma took this picture of the apple blossom. It could have been taken in our garden, but I think she may have snapped it at the local nature reserve. To me it is a picture of optimism and happiness. I can be happy everyday when I look at the detail of Creation: the clouds, the wind against my face, the sunshine or the rain. But, when I try to think big, about the future, or the situation of the world I find optimism much more difficult. I do not think I can be alone. This does not mean that we should dis-associate ourselves from the bigger picture, but that we should always remember to give proportionate attention to the detail. In doing this we can remember that there is divine care for the world, that the little things are looked after, and if we play our part, people far away will be looked after in the detail too.

In an excellent article about the role of attentiveness in poetry Ed Block comments: To pay attention, then, is our task. It is a challenge to live in that present that Lewis says is our only - though transitory possession; striving wakeful attentiveness that is openness and receptivity, and is also peace and selfless joy; as translucent (if not transparent) as the light of God that shines on all. And we take heart when we remember that, as Lewis says, "Joy is the serious business of Heaven."

Poetry, Attentiveness and Prayer
Ed Block
New Blackfriars: A Review
Vol 89 No 1020
March 2008

Wednesday 16 April 2008

To Eberhard Bethge

Today has been a long day. Tonight there is at least time to consider a letter, a letter which means a lot to me.

                                                                                                       Tegel 21st July 1944

Dear Eberhard,

All I want to do today is to send you a short greeting. I expect you are often here with us in your thoughts and are always glad of any sign of life, even if the theological discussion stops for a moment. These theological thoughts are, in fact, always occupying my mind; but there are times when I am just content to live the life of faith without worrying about its problems. At those times I simply take pleasure in the days readings - in particular those of yesterday and today; and I m always glad to go back to Paul Gerhardt's beautiful hymns.

During the last year or so I have come to understand more and more the profound this - worldliness of Christianity. The Christian is not a homo religiosus, but simply a man, as Jesus was a man -in contrast, shall we say to John the Baptist. I don't mean the shallow and banal this - worldliness of the enlightened, the busy, the comfortable, the lascivious, but the profound this-worldliness, characterized by discipline and the constant knowledge of death and resurrection. I think Luther lived a this-worldly life in this sense.

 I remember a conversation I had in America thirteen years ago with a young French Pastor. We were asking ourselves quite simply what we wanted to do with our lives. He said that he would like to become a saint (and I think that it is quite likely that he did become one). At the time I was very impressed, but I disagreed with him, and said, in effect, that I should like to learn to have faith. For a long time I did not realize the depth of the contrast. I thought that I could acquire faith by trying to live a holy life, or something like it. I suppose I wrote The Cost of Discipleship as the end of that path. Today I can see the dangers of that book, though I still stand by what I wrote.

I discovered later, and I'm still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must abandon completely any attempt to make something of oneself, wether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (the so called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. By this-worldliness  I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experience and perplexities. In doing so we throw ourselves completely into the hands of God, taking seriously not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world - watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and Christian (c.f, Jer 45!) How can success make us arrogant or failure lead us astray, when we share in God's sufferings of a life of this kind?

I think that you see what I mean, even though I put it so briefly. I'm glad to be able to learn this, and know that i've only been able to do so along the road that I have travelled. So I'm grateful for the past and the present, and content with them.

You may be surprised at such a personal letter; but for once I want to say this kind of thing, to whom should i say it? Perhaps the time will come when I can talk to Maria like this; I very much hope so. But I can't expect it of her yet.

May God in his mercy lead us through these times; but, above all may he lead us to himself.

I was delighted to hear from you, and am glad that you are not finding it too hot. There must be a good many  letters from me on the way. Didn't we go more or less along that way in 1936?

Goodbye. Keep well, and don't lose hope that we all shall meet again soon. I always think of you in faithfulness and gratitude.

Your Dietrich

Today, I saw a lot of bravery in my pupils at school. Life is not as dramatic now as it once was, but tragedy still happens. Dealing with it well is a mark of excellence.

Tuesday 15 April 2008

On being a NUT!

Next Thursday - 24th April 2008, my teaching union, the NUT, will strike in response to fair pay and working conditions for teachers. For the last three years pay for teachers has not increased with inflation. Teaching Unions have all expressed their concern that, outside of London (where there is a London Pay Scale), it has become increasing impossible for new teachers to the profession to finance their own accommodation and generally make ends meet. It is certainly true that the cost of living has gone through the roof. I am lucky enough to live at home by choice, but doing the sums it becomes quickly apparent that, having been teaching for 4 years, I would not be able to afford the rent and council tax on a local two bedroom flat.

This is all very worrying for teachers, but it is not unique to that profession: nurses, police officers, emergency services staff and many other council workers have suffered the same pay 'cuts' in recent years. Indeed, many of their pay deals have been considerably worse than that of teachers. 

There is something in me that is embarrassed about talking, and striking, about money. Also, the NUT is the only teaching union that has voted to strike so in many schools the staff are divided. All teaching unions have agreed that they will support the strike action; their members will not agree to cover the classes of those who are on strike. This means that schools may be forced to close.

On this occasion I do not think I agree with the reason for the strike. I realize that pay in the teaching profession is not adequate when you consider the cost of the housing market. However, most people starting out in the public sector are in the same position. I will strike next Thursday because there are more important principles at stake. I would, as a union member, want the NUT to come to my aid if I were to need them. Therefore, as in most reciprocal arrangements, I am duty bound to support the union when they ask for a show of unity. Everyone needs working unions to be strong. They play an important role in protecting the most vulnerable workers in our society. Indeed, when I look around the world and recognize areas where workers have no recourse to a professional union, I am deeply critical. 

This Thursday I will be very sad to be on strike. But, for me at least, it will be a day to recognize the importance of ensuring that working people everywhere have a voice. 

Monday 7 April 2008

William Byrd

I have been to Lincoln Cathedral today. I think I went for two reasons, firstly tomorrow I am going back to school and will be in the rat race for the coming months, and secondly because I wanted to learn something more about William Byrd. Lincoln Cathedral was beautiful, and well worth the visit but I did not succeed to in satisfying my desire to know more about their elusive treasured musician. There was just one small plaque to honour the organist and choir master of the Cathedral between 1653 - 1672.

William Byrd lived a complicated life with a myriad of confusions and contradictions. Religious life was particularly difficult in these turbulent times. Willam Byrd remained a Catholic throughout his life, although a secret one as he served as a gentlemen of the Chapel Royal under the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I from 1572.

Byrd was popular in the Royal Court and composed music which has been used in Anglican Church worship for four centuries. But, he also harboured a faith which other people found difficult to fathom, heretical almost. Throughout his life we walked a tightrope, staying faithful to his own beliefs while doing his best to please those around him with his public persona. For me his most compelling music are his Masses for three, four and five voices. These were compositions designed to be sung in intimate settings, in private houses, where Catholic Mass could be celebrated away from prying eyes and the threat of persecution. I have only a few experiences of hearing Mass celebrated in a group of less than 5 persons, and each occasion is very special in my memory. New relationships and friendships are forged in these settings, and you never forget the faces of the people you were with, the things you prayed for and the reason there were so few of you. I can hear in this music the echoes of what it might have meant to be hidden away, but revealing to those you trust that most precious part of you, your faith. 

In his later years Byrd published Gradualia, a compendium of Catholic music for the liturgical year. This work, in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, was banned under threat of imprisonment.

Sunday 6 April 2008

The Duty of Delight

On 23rd April 2008 the diaries of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg, will be published in America by Marquette University Press. I am excited! Dorothy Day is one of the most 'normal' holy women I have come across. She was full of contradictions having a reputation for attending daily Mass, saying the Rosary and praying the breviary and getting arrested for acts of civil disobedience.  I like her.

Day was raised in the Episcopalian Church, but in her early adult years was agnostic towards her faith. She attended the University of Illinois, but dropped out and never graduated. She moved the New York with her parents in  1916 and pursued a career as a revolutionary journalist on the Communist left wing. She had many different lovers as a young woman, became pregnant by one and underwent an illegal abortion. Shortly after this she married Berkeley Tober, but this only lasted one year. Later she lived with her lover Forster Batterham, a committed atheist, and together the couple had a daughter called Tamar in 1926, but split up in 1927. She fought bravely with loneliness and is recorded with the saying: We have all known the long loneliness, and we have learned that the only solution is love, and that love comes with community.

Day converted to Catholicism, but she maintained her radical nature and committed herself to living a life in which she treated all people equally even if that meant making great sacrifices herself. 'Our faith is stronger than death, our philosophy firmer than flesh, and the spread of the Kingdom of God upon the earth is more sublime and more compelling. As for ourselves, yes, we must be meek, bear injustice, malice, rash judgment. We must turn the other cheek, give up our cloak, go a second mile.'  Day struggled with the Church, vehemently disagreed with it at times, and famously quoted Augustine's description 'she's a whore, but she's my mother.' But, her faith was her inspiration for the work that she did, and she recognized in the Church her salvation: 'Without the sacraments of the Church, I certainly do not think that I could go on.'

I think Dorothy Day is most famous for living a life radically true to her convictions and without compromise. She was notoriously stubborn to work for. She founded the Catholic Worker Movement, and gave hospitality to many of the poor and homeless who came to her in need. She wrote all her life, in newspapers and in journals, and only put her pen down a few days before her death on 29th November 1980. Having lived a life of voluntary poverty Day left no money for her funeral which was paid for by the Archdiocese of New York. 

Dorothy Day was very clear how she wanted to be remembered; 'Don't call be a saint. I don't want to be dismissed so easily.'

The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day will be published on April 23rd 2008. It was anticipated in the lead article of The Tablet on 5th April 2008

Tuesday 1 April 2008

A turn for the girly....(perhaps the worst)

New Books! I can't believe I have new books considering my current financial position. However, I have decided to go exploring on the dark side. I have never much been into anything which purports to present a feminist critique. I am not quite sure what my reluctance was, but perhaps it was just that deep uneasiness which religious women feel when confronted by the claims of modernist and post modernist feminism. Many of the more forceful and publicized feminists argue from a deeply secularized perspective through which not only man, but God is villainized. When I have consulted the work of some, Mary Butler for example, I have come away with a label - 'fembot' - the willing victim of a patriarchal society. That is not very fair. I am not a deluded creature who has accepted the construct of a patriarchal wisdom. Faith is not like that.

Tina Beattie has been writing about how prayer, revelation and mysticism have been missing from feminist theology. Without these she is frightened the feminism may reduce theology to theory. I am entranced by her work because she is seeking to understand the sacramentality of the female body. It is a work of exploration and mystery which pushes gently on the sensual symbolism of liturgy and probes how people understand the sexual dimensions of Catholic life. Sometimes she is a bit weird and wades in waters too deep and dark for me to venture into, but overall I am learning and I am entertained, engaged.

My new books then, a walk on the wild side:

Woman: New Century Theology - Tina Beattie
New Catholic Feminism: Theology and Theory - Tina Beattie
Sex, Gender and Christian Ethics - Lisa Sowle Cahill