Tuesday 29 June 2010

Pilgrimage withdrawal symptoms

It feels like an age since I last went on a good long pilgrimage. I just read about a friend who is setting off to walk the Via Francigena. That's Canterbury to Rome. It takes about 85 days if you do not stop. I am, admit it, very jealous. I would give anything to have the time, money and opportunity to pack my bag and hit the road.

I have made a nod to pilgrimage this year. I walked the Student Cross pilgrimage to Walsingham for Easter. There a several routes, or legs, which each approach Walsingham to meet on Good Friday. I was with Essex leg, and our journey was about 125 miles. For me this pilgrimage was a different type of experience to the Camino de Santiago because I traveled with a group. Also, we were carrying a life sized cross which was very heavy. The journey was marked by the pace of the group, sometimes this was faster than I liked, and sometimes this was slower than would have been ideal, but it was the group which mattered most. That was a learning experience for me, I have never walked like that before. On the camino I would meander along like a snail some days, and take off into the hills with an admirable pace on others, it all depended on my mood. Sometimes I would meander off the route altogether to go and take a look at something that distracted my attention. Learning to walk with others was quite a humbling, but rewarding experience. I loved being out all day, and I enjoyed the camaraderie of chit chat along the route. I loved to watch the different relationships between pilgrims unfold and develop as we went along, old friends catching up, new friendships forming. Sometimes there were tensions between people that needed to be resolved; sometimes people shared so much with another it was truly touching. But, I am not naturally gifted at walking with others. I spend too much time on the outside looking in, get distracted by my own rambling thoughts and retreat into the cavernous recesses of my mind.

I planned but did not go to Santiago de Compostela last year. I planned to go again this year, but again I will not go. This makes me sad. I have the freedom to just pack my bags and head off, but I do not have it. That is the worse thing about being your own boss and doing your own work. The responsibility to just get on with it leaves very few opportunities to take a month off for walking across Spain. And, I definitely do not have the money. Not that that should stop me, pilgrims have always been poor. So, I am left with the memories of pilgrimage to keep me happy. And what great memories they are. The best thing about pilgrimage is that it is a great leap into the unknown, and you do not know what is going to happen. Taking that leap is always completely life changing. To all that are brave enough to do it I give my utmost respect.

Thursday 24 June 2010

Bookish Smells (a reprise)

I found this from the old blog archive today, and went to check on the smells. They haven't changed to much actually. Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness, smells of cigarette smoke. Herbert McCabe, Law, Love and Language, smells of wax.
I got a book I have been waiting a long time for today. It has been shipped especially from India for me. Whenever I buy new books the first thing I do is smell them. The time has long since past that I could afford to buy many books first hand, and so mostly I collect second hand publications in good condition. The best thing about these books, when they first arrive is their smell. Paper takes on the odour of its surroundings very quickly, and mixes it with a dusty, musty smell all of its own. Weirdly, I often organize my bookshelf by smell - musty on the left, dusty on the right, smells of persil in the middle, hippy shop that burnt incense at the top, was left out in the rain and then dried on radiator at the bottom. There is a special place on my bookshelf for Adam Bede (George Eliott), which was kept in the kitchen of a student flat full of heavy drinking, drug taking, under graduate smokers (all my friends), got Vimto spilled on it, was dried out in the microwave and then hung out the window in Aigburth, Liverpool on fireworks night. It has a unique smell of its own.

Anyway, the book I got today, Under Satan's Sun - Georges Bernanos, smells. There is an undertone of mothballs, which I haven't smelt since I was a child. Frankincense, possibly, and something much more chemical, like a newly opened jar of paint. I am not sure where it will go on the shelf. The Intimate Merton smells of a hot pavement in the city just after a summer storm. I 'liberated' Jesus the Liberator (Jon Sobrino) from school when I was 17, and it smells of classroom. Perhaps I should bring it back? Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal (J K Rowling), was the first book I bought in Salamanca, Spain and I walked around the city gardens with it for weeks trying to read in a language I hadn't learnt yet. It has crushed jasmine in it from my favourite walled hideaway courtyard in the shadow of the Cathedral. Tom Sawyer (Samuel Clemens) belonged to my dad, he got it for Christmas in 1948. It smells of wood, as though the paper still hankers after the branches it was cut from. I suppose paper refinement was different back then.

I guess the way you organise your bookshelf is personal. I read in The Guardian once about a woman who organised her books according to which books would 'get on' with each other. John Donne next to DH Lawrence because their conversations would be interesting. Leave Jane Austen away from Henry Fielding because he would bully her. For this the books have to be alive. I am sticking to my system, smells and size. I like the place to look neat, after all.

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Theological Joke

WARNING: By definition theological jokes are not funny. This one comes to me by way of my good friend Angharad and her rather marvelous blog. I like it, but then again that is probably another sign of its definite unfunniness. No laughs here. None. :)

A man dies and goes to heaven. Of course, St. Peter meets him at the pearly gates. St. Peter says, "Here's how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you've done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in."

"Okay," the man says, "I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart."

"That's wonderful," says St. Peter, "that's worth three points!"

"Three points?" he says. "Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service."

"Terrific!" says St. Peter, "that's certainly worth a point."

"One point? Golly. How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans."

"Fantastic, that's good for two more points," he says.

"TWO POINTS!!" the man cries, "At this rate the only way I get into heaven is by the grace of God!"

"Come on in!"St Peter replies with a grin.

Monday 21 June 2010

The Happiness Project

This book looks good, a bit self - helpy for me perhaps, but I am no snob. Gretchen Rubin claims that St. Therese of Liseux is her inspiration, although she attaches herself to no particular religious tradition. She nicks JP XXIII's list of 'Just for today I will....' (known as the daily decalogue of John XXIII), and suggests it is a good way to go. Have you read that? It is on the Vatican website, about halfway down. Actually, I will publish it over on Tumblr as a poetic piece. Look here, if you are interested.

Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. The days are long, but the years are short, she realised. Time is passing, and I'm not focusing enough on the things that really matter. In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project. In this lively and compelling account of that year, Rubin carves out her place alongside the authors of bestselling memoirs such as "Julie and Julia", "The Year of Living Biblically", and "Eat, Pray, Love". With humour and insight, she chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. Rubin didn't have the option to uproot herself, nor did she really want to; instead she focused on improving her life as it was. Each month she tackled a new set of resolutions: give proofs of love, ask for help, find more fun, keep a gratitude notebook, forget about results. She immersed herself in principles set forth by all manner of experts, from Epicurus to Thoreau to Oprah to Martin Seligman to the Dalai Lama to see what worked for her - and what didn't. Her conclusions are sometimes surprising - she finds that money can buy happiness, when spent wisely; that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that 'treating' yourself can make you feel worse; that venting bad feelings doesn't relieve them; and, that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference - and they range from the practical to the profound. Written with charm and wit, "The Happiness Project" is illuminating yet entertaining, thought-provoking yet compulsively readable. Gretchen Rubin's passion for her subject jumps off the page, and reading just a few chapters of this book will inspire you to start your own happiness project.

Sunday 20 June 2010

The Long Loneliness - Dorothy Day

The introduction of this book is so atmospheric, from a place which reaches backwards in time. To me it was beautiful, like a film. I share it here only to hope that others will find it beautiful too. It illustrates a deeply Catholic scene, but I think the mystic of it all could appeal to anyone - especially those interested in creating visual images in their mind's eye. I bought this book on Amazon for £1.20. Bargain.


When you go to confession on a Saturday night, you go into a warm, dimly lit vastness, with a smell of wax and incense in the air, the smell of burning candles, and if it is a hot summer night there is the sound of the great electric fan, and the noise of the streets coming in to emphasize the stillness. There is another sound too, beside that of the quiet movements of people from pew to confession to altar rail; there is the sliding of the shutters of the little window between you and the priest in his 'box'.

Some confessionals are large and roomy - plenty of space for the knees, and breathing space in the thick darkness that seems to pulse with your own heart. In some poor churches, many of the ledges are narrow and worn, so that your knees almost slip off the kneeling bench, and your feet protrude outside the curtain which shields you from the others who are waiting. Some churches have netting, or screens, between you and the priest and you can see the outline of his face inclined toward you, quiet, impersonal, patient. Some have a piece of material covering the screen, so you can see nothing. Some priests leave their lights on in their boxes so that they can read their breviaries between confessions. The light does not bother you of that piece of material is there so that you cannot see, or be seen, but if it is only a grating so that he can see your face, it is embarrassing and you do not go back to that priest again.
Day continues to make some brilliant observations about the sacrament of reconciliation. They are of their time; I do not know what she would make of the face-to-face option preferred in many parishes today! For the record I have never come across a confessional with a shutter - it is always in the movies, I know - I guess I just think it must be American? This book is great, an account of Dorothy Day's remarkable life in her own words, everything from the difficulties of raising her daughter by herself, to the challenges of living out a vocation for the poor with the poor. Inspiring stuff.

Thursday 17 June 2010

My way, God's way

A short advert for a blog called My Way, God's way by two brothers in the Dominican order, Peter and Isidore Clarke OP. Their reflections on the world, religious life and life in general are very cool. With one of them based in Leicester and the other in Grenada, the blog also has the flavour of family communication, which I like - the personal sharing of daily lives, the you'll never guess what has happened to me! Well worth your time.

Wednesday 2 June 2010

Between two: a beginning and an end

The Words

I want the words to light on your shoulder

like a hand: touch but not take hold.

You understand they are no more than a gesture

between us and I have tuned my voice so low

no one else shall hear them: they are just for you.

Do not mistake them for intimacy however.

We are a long way off still - we have

a long way to go - the words may contain

an immoderate danger: words are so dangerous.

But if we are careful, if we do not make trouble

between us we shall learn to give them a name.

grey gowrie

Tuesday 1 June 2010

In the beginning was the Word...

So, my friend Tracey quoted Ernest Hemingway recently. He said: 'All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.' This is the sort of sentence that strikes me as a challenge. It gets me thinking. A true sentence about what? About life? About others? About me?

There are many true sentences out there, not all of them meaningful. To me the sentence, 'All bachelors are men', is true, but not meaningful. I do not think that is what Ernest meant when he said 'true'. Truth is more than clever tricks and the recitation of facts, it has to mean something, and for it to mean something powerful to another, it needs to freely give something of myself to those who hear it.

Raimond Gaita, the Australian philosopher, argues that we only see someone as they really are when we see them in the light of those who love them. The same is true of all things, we only really appreciate their value when we see for ourselves the passion they can excite in others.

Timothy Radcliffe OP associates truthfulness with language that helps people to flourish, develop and grow; falsehood with words that belittle, denigrate and undermine. Truthfulness is speaking in the light of love, desiring the good of another.

Language is not an individual phenomenon, it belongs to the community, and not to the individual. Herbert McCabe OP said that. People are born into language, they have to learn to use it, and continue learning its nuances all their life. Different communities use language differently, we speak and write differently for different audiences. I wouldn't speak to my friends as I would to my teachers, or to my family as I would to colleagues. The words we use depend upon our relationships with those to whom we speak.

The truest sentence I know would have to be spoken in the light of love; it would need to help those who hear it, and myself as speaker, to flourish and grow becoming who we are truly meant to be together; and, what it expressed would have been, be, or become, an integral part of the community to which it was spoken. What is it though? A challenge certainly. Perhaps it is a secret. I will seek it.

Here is my starting point, it is traditional.....

In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God.