Sunday 24 April 2011

Happy Easter!

Warning! I have been reading. And, what I have been reading has impressed me. But, as usual, my tastes are eclectic. So, before I get into that and lose all your attention: Happy Easter!!! Celebrate in style with family and friends, enjoy the season and live life to the very fullest: love and take risks, give and be courageous, laugh and be happy.

Now, here is what I read:

I cannot conceive that the cross should remain, which was, after all, only a crossroads. It certainly should not be a brand mark. For is the situation not this: he intended simply to provide the loftier tree, on which we could ripen better. He, on the cross, is this new tree in God, and we were to be warm, happy fruit, at the top of it.
We should not always talk of what was formerly, but the afterwards should have begun. This tree, it seems to me, should have become so one with us, or we with it, and by it, that we should not need to occupy ourselves continually with it, but simply and quietly with God, for his aim was to lift us up into God more purely.
When I say: God, that is a a great conviction in me, not something learnt. It seems to me the whole creation speaks this word, without reflection, though often out of deep thoughtfulness. If Christ has helped us to say it more fully, more effectually, with a clearer voice, so much the better, but now at last leave him out of the question. Do not always force us back into the labour and sorrow that it cost him to 'redeem' us. Let us, at last, enter into this state of redemption.........
Christ pointed towards God. Instead of setting out from the place of the crossroads where this sign was high and lifted up into the night of his sacrifice, instead of proceeding onwards from this place of the cross, Christianity has settled down there and claims that it is living there in Christ. But they do not dwell in Christ, these stubborn of heart, who continually bring him back again and live from the setting up of the cross. There was no room for him in there, not even for his mother, nor for Mary Magdalene, as there is never room for anyone who points the way, who is a gesture and not a dwelling place. They have on their conscience this standing around in an overcrowded place; it is their fault that the journey does not begin to follow the direction of the arms of the cross.....What folly to direct our thoughts to a Beyond, when we are surrounded by tasks and expectations and future prospects!
.......The right use is the thing. To take a good hold of this life, with warm affection and wonder, as our sole possession in the meantime; this is what Saint Francis of Assisi thought to write down in his song to the Sun, which was more glorious to him as he lay dying than was the cross, which only stood there to point to the sun. But the song of the dying man, drowned out on all sides, was heard only by a few simple monks, and infinitely confirmed by the landscape of his lovely valley.
Rainer Maria Rilke: Rodin and other prose pieces 

 Now, I do not entirely know what I think about all this. I have abridged it here, of course. It is very long. But, it does strike me that there is a point to be made. I have just got back from the Easter Vigil. And that has got to be the beginning of something new, a departure from what went on before (on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday). One thing I would very much like to hear more on is living life to the fullest, as a redeemed creature in a new creation: living life to the full and rejoicing in it. I don't reckon we hear enough of that. Or look enough towards it, although I am pretty sure our preacher said something similar tonight. I am making an Easter resolution to look towards the sun.

Tuesday 19 April 2011


I love this, and felt like the chap in the box a bit today. I am not going to tell you why though. You will have extrapolate from your own experiences and see what happens.

I still love Exploding Dog.

Sunday 17 April 2011

The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked
    And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
    Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
    And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
    On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
    Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
    I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
    One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
    And palms before my feet
GK Chesterton

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Dying for love

I didn't know how much the life of Damien de Veuster had affected mine until I saw his portrait hanging above where I was stood in the underground basilica of Lourdes. I wasn't there with Damien's congregation, the SSCC, I was there with the Dominicans, but it was the SSCC that had brought me there. There is little doubt about that.

I was brought up and developed my faith amongst the SSCC, and the stories of Damien. I traveled to France, Spain, Poland and Ireland with the SSCC as a teenager and young adult. I walked around the pilgrimage sites of the North East with them; York, Newcastle and Lindisfarne. My Bible, my love and treasure, is covered in teenage stickers which commemorate these events.

It was Lourdes that brought the influence of this man home. I was excited to see his image, it had hung around my neck for so long as a teenager. Now, there he was hanging above my head in the underground basilica. For the people I was with, however, he was a stranger; I had to explain. This was the man, born with the name Joseph, who became Damien. He dedicated his life to working with the lepers of Molokai. His story is bound up with the evils of history, the slave trade and the transmission of western illnesses to other populations. Damien fought to be allowed to be a minister on the island to which lepers were sent to die; the living cemetery. Leprosy was one of many diseases which wrecked the Haiwiian Islands, the worst. To stop it spreading people were condemned to die; they were made less than human. Damien worked tirelessly to show that was unjust. The sick need care, compassion and understanding, not fear and misapprehension. Lourdes is a powerful place to learn this lesson. Explaining the life story of a witness to this truth makes this ever more powerful. I half expected one of my old friends from the SSCC to walk around the corner at any moment.

Damien went to the leper colony of Molokai, which was created out of fear and hate, to bring healing and love to those who were exiled there. The ships which brought people to the island stopped far out, requiring the passengers to swim the final distance to to the shore. They were so afraid of the lepers. Damien witnessed to the humanity of those who suffered, he tended to their wounds, built homes, schools and a church. He turned Molokai from Hell to Human, and for that he deserves his place in heaven. Damien was beatified in 1994; I was in Year 10 at school, but I remember people going from the Parish. He was made a Saint, Canonised,  in February 2009.

"Not without fear and loathing," Pope Benedict said in his homily for the day, "Father Damian made the choice to go on the island of Molokai in the service of lepers who were there, abandoned by all. So he exposed himself to the disease of which they suffered. With them he felt at home. The servant of the Word became a suffering servant, leper with the lepers, during the last four years of his life." Damien contracted leprosy and, eventually, died of the illness.

Today, Damien's symbols are a tree and a dove. In Saint Damien's role as the unofficial patron of those with HIV and AIDS, the world's only Roman Catholic memorial chapel to those who have died of this disease, at the Église Saint-Pierre-Apôtre in Montreal, Quebec, is consecrated to him. It seems to me that this is an appropriate memorial for a saint who spent his life drawing attention to a disease that no one wanted to look at and everyone wanted to blame on someone else.

Becoming aware of how people need care amidst illness is a gift and a grace. It is something I hope to grow in day by day. :)

He died on April 15th, 1885.

My wandering fool

The World is my Cloister is named after a saint for whom I bear much affection. Benedict Joseph Labre (1748 - 1783). As you can see, he only lived thirty five years. He was the eldest of fifteen children, educated at the local school, and later by his uncle, a parish priest at Erin, France. Benedict wanted, very dearly, to be a Trappist or a Cistercian, or a Carthusian or any type of monk that would allow him to live a simple and holy life in peace. However, the Trappists rejected him at 18, because of his youth; and, the Cistercians and Carthusians would also turn him away. Some biographers count eleven separate attempts to join the religious life. At 22 Benedict decided that he would let the world be his cloister (his words), and he set off to wander across Europe to various shrines and churches. He visited Compostela in Spain; Loretto, Assisi, Naples and Bari in Italy; Parav le Monial in France. He spent the last six years of his life in Rome.

Benedict's possessions were very few. He had an old coat to wrap around himself, two rosaries, a New Testament, a breviary and a copy of The Imitation of Christ. He never begged, either for money or food. And, if someone of their charity gave him more that he needed, he gave it away to the poor. He often dined on discarded rubbish, and he didn't take too much care of his personal hygiene. This attitude in life led people to avoid him, and gave him the privacy he needed for his meditations.

At 35, on Spy Wednesday, 16th April 1783, he collapsed on the steps of Santa Maria del Monte. A local butcher, passing by, picked him up and carried him to his home. He died about 8pm. Children ran through the streets shouting, 'the saint is dead'. The crowds which attended his funeral were so large, troops were sent in to maintain public order. Within a few months of his death, more than 130 miracles ascribed to the Saint had been carefully recorded. That year, G. L. Marconi, a priest who had been his confessor, published a biography. Benedict Joseph Labre was canonized by Pope Leo XIII, 8 December 1881.

So, why do I think Benedict is so great? I love him because he walks on pilgrimage, and he coined that beautiful phrase, 'the world is my cloister', turning every twist and turn of his life into a moment of prayer. I love him because of the books he had in his pocket, they are my favourites too. I love his simplicity, and the way he had TWO rosaries. Why two? And, eww, he eats garbage - that is repulsive, but I love him because of that too.

Soon some friends of mine will be setting off on the Student Cross pilgrimage to Walsingham. They will walk through Holy Week to arrive at the shrine on Good Friday. I am not going this year, and that is a GOOD thing, as I have responsibilities here. I am going to miss it though. I hope I will make up for it in future years, or by walking to Santiago in the summer, or launching a mission to Lindisfarne or some other mad adventure. Heading off into the wilds every now and then reminds me that the world is my cloister too. Whatever I dream up to cook this Saturday 16th April 2011, it will be something very simple which reminds me of this truly remarkable chap. Not garbage though. Eeww.

Saturday 2 April 2011

Guerrilla Gardening a Strawberry Patch

Out the back of my sisters' house there is a strip of land that no one takes care of. It has been wild for years. If you call Oxford University, to whom their house belongs, they say the land is not something they will a take care of, but neither is it the responsibility of the neighbours. Today we had a little guerrilla gardening party to hack back the jungle and reclaim the space. My sister hired a skip for the green waste, and wheel barrow after wheel barrow of branches, brambles and weeds were tipped into it, until it was overflowing. My twin, Gemma, made the best bird feeders, carving a rabbit, an elephant and a dinosaur from wood, and conscripting the children to paint them bright colours. Each creature had a hollow tummy, in which a hook was fixed to hang food for the birds. There were wind chime bells to hang from the trees too. I took control of a small patch, and surrounded it with big rocks. I dug out the soil in the middle, removed all the weeds, and planted a strawberry patch. It looked great and I was very proud. My sisters' husband gave the barbecue its first outing of the year and cooked up a great lunch for us all. It was a good day.

I have read a lot about many good gardeners who are taking the time to garden the land in towns and cities that no one takes responsibility for. They grow flowers and food for the local people to use. This always strikes me as an excellent use of space. Some people say this is stealing other peoples' space, that there is no such thing as land which does not belong to someone. However, guerrilla gardeners are not stealing space, they are caring for it. Anytime the owner wants to do something more useful with the space they have, it is still there for them to use. I'll nick back the strawberries first though :)

Friday 1 April 2011

Simple supper in Lent 4 -Patatas a lo pobre

This is comfort food. Again. What can I say? I am suffering from stress currently and food like this is the culinary equivalent of a great big hug. Patatas a lo pobre is an Andalucian dish which I learnt about in Salamanca. Yes, odd I know, but it is served as tapas all over Spain, and there was a really good Andalucian tapas bar near my flat in Salamanca. I spent ages there learning Spanish, and more importantly, learning how to cook Spanish tapas from the elderly couple who ran the place with their son and his family. Anyhow, this is best eaten outside as the evening cools, with a glass of something chilled and the birds singing. It is the reward of a hard days work. Some day, you can also try adding spicy chorizo sausage and a fried egg right at the end, and you will be in a sudden 'not quite junk food' related heaven. The thing about this dinner is that, so far, every Spaniard I have met has disagreed about exact technique and ingredients. It is definitely the sort of thing that is best done my mothers everywhere, and is only really perfect when cooked like it is done 'at home'. Good luck.

Anyhow, you need (for about 4 people)

4 large potatoes, thinly sliced (you can leave these in water for about 20 minutes to get rid of the starch, and then drain before you cook)
1 green pepper, cut into thick strips
1 onion roughly chopped
Garlic (if you like?) Up to 8 cloves.
about 1/2 a litre of olive oil (I know! It sounds like loads, but trust me)

In a large, deep frying pan, heat the oil. Add the sliced potatoes, chopped onion, peppers and garlic to a bowl season with salt, and mix together with your hands to ensure seasoning is even. Add this mixture to the pan and fry on a high heat for about 10 minutes, turning the potatoes over. Then, turn the heat right down. Put a lid on the pan and gently fry for about another 10 minutes. Check from time to time to make sure they are not sticking to the bottom of the pan. The odd shake does not go amiss. Check if the potatoes are cooked and add more salt if necessary. You are aiming for soft potatoes, although a little crisping adds to colour and flavour. If you think the potatoes need another few minutes or so, just pop the lid back on. It doesn't matter if the potatoes break up a little, this dish is about flavour. When done, remove the potatoes from the pan with a slotted spoon and serve.