Monday, 31 May 2010
Here’s the little cross from my rosary.
When I chose a rosary, its form was not a matter of indifference to me. It has dark red wooden beads which I think are very beautiful, and I like the feeling of them in my fingers. The rosary medal that acts as the bead for the first Our Father, on my rosary is for Our Lady of The Rosary - ie our Lady of Fatima - which I don't live with very comfortably because the story of the Fatima apparitions is not really my idiom and does my head in a bit.
But most of all what I chose it for was the cross.
Rosary crosses vary immensely of course. Some are very plain and simple: just a wooden cross. Some are intricate and ornate, very pretty. I am not comfortable with the pretty ones; it seems a bit inappropriate to try to make a cross pretty!
Many rosary crosses are crucifixes, as mine is. Some crucifixes show a resurrection Jesus (we have a wall cross like that in the corridor downstairs – I’ll tell you about that one day) while others have the usual crucified Jesus. Some crucified Jesuses (Jesi?) are arranged with taste and elegance on their crosses, looking more like rather doleful sunbathers, and I’m not quite comfortable with those either.
I love mine because it looks a bit extreme; and in particular because the figure of Jesus does not look tastefully arranged but hangs without dignity, utterly spent.
Dignity and resourcefulness are very important in the family in which I grew up. To be right, to be restrained, understated, capable, knowledgeable, well-behaved and dignified; these attributes were valued. Not to break or spill anything; not to speak out of turn or behave incorrectly; to use correct grammatical forms and the vocabulary of the upper middle class – these were our aspirations. Decorum, unobtrusiveness and dignity were what we were aiming for. Sit nicely, don’t rock the boat, and all of that.
The Jesus on my rosary cross has forfeited all that baggage. He can’t have anything like that. Beyond trying or caring or maintaining appearances he hangs in agony, his joints dislocated, from the nails on his cross.
When I was a teenager I went to a Good Friday Stations of the Cross at a Catholic church in the market town near our village: they were using the prayers written by, I think, Cardinal Newman.
Each meditation, on each station of the cross, started with the phrase: ‘Ah, my darling Jesus…’
In the home where I grew up, nobody kissed or cuddled anyone – or even touched them. Nobody ever said ‘I love you’ to anyone. Very Northern types: reserved, understated and aloof.
So it came as a shock to me to hear ‘my darling Jesus’ said of the Lord I always heard referred to as ‘Jesus Christ’, in a distinctly formal manner (if at all); or ‘Christ’ in my Religious Knowledge A level course at school (more formal yet, the ‘Jesus’ part vanished from view); or as ‘The Lord’ in the sermons of Arthur Blessit on vinyl disc that I insisted on listening to despite the strong reaction of distaste these occasioned in my mother and sister. I think they didn’t like the things he said along the lines of:
Why don’t people get excited about the Lord like they do about football? Then every time someone got saved they’d ride down the aisle on the preacher’s shoulders shouting “Go! Go! Go!”.
I was required to stop playing this record: but too late! The story had sunk into my heart, and is still there almost forty years later!
But ‘ah, my darling Jesus…’ was in another bracket altogether, because it is the language of love. Without the distance and formality of a title; tender, adoring, without restraint. ‘Ah, my darling Jesus…’ Yes. That was what I wanted to say.
When people pray the rosary, each bead marks the saying of a prayer. You hold the bead between finger and thumb as you say that prayer. Each rosary has on it five ‘decades’ (sets of ten beads) which are used to pray into the mystery of aspects of the life of Jesus and the faith story of the Bible. These are referred to as the Sorrowful Mysteries, the Joyful Mysteries, the Glorious Mysteries and the Luminous Mysteries. I love those names but I can never hold in my head the list of biblical events I’m meant to be remembering. That’s my problem with religion: it’s full of complicated data and I ain’t really that kinda gal. But if you are, or if you’re just curious, you can read about it here. Anyhow apart from the five decades of beads that go round the loop of the rosary, there’s that little tail on it that has five beads for prayers, and the cross. The rosary prayers kick off on the cross, with the recital of the Apostles Creed.
So I fall at the first hurdle because I can never remember the creed – well, I remember the gist of it, what it actually says; but not the exact words. It’s too long for me. Even a shopping list is too long if it has more than four items on it. Unless someone sets it to music and turns it into a hymn, I can’t remember it. I mean I can manage Firmly I believe and truly (here - run Windows media to hear the tune), which is probably in fact longer than the Apostles Creed, but that’s because it’s metrical and has a tune. So I when I pray with the rosary I don’t say the Apostles Creed when I start with (and often never get beyond) the cross. I just pray my own prayer. I look at that tortured figure who has lost all dignity; and I say ‘ah, my darling Jesus…’ and I thank him for what he has done for me (for all of us), and I adore him in his suffering and the agony of his redeeming love.
I bring him my pain and the pain of the world. I bring him the tears of my friends who are strung up in situations they cannot escape; who are facing circumstances beyond what they can bear, but cannot control. And I bring him those who have lost their dignity… whose families malign and deride them… who have lost their job and livelihood and home… who have been caught out and exposed in wrongdoing… who are persecuted and terrorized and rejected because of their sexuality… who are reduced to a quivering mess by bullying and rejection… who are tortured and tormented… who are refugees, frightened, alienated, without hope… who are afraid and left alone… ‘Ah, my darling Jesus…’
And my creed is that no matter what our circumstances, if we can somehow find our way to creep into the company of that man dying naked and without dignity such an unthinkably cruel death, we shall have reached the touchstone of transformation; for his cross is at the heart of creation and is the wellspring of the new creation. By his death and passion, he has redeemed the world.
‘Ah, my darling Jesus…’ And I kiss the cross. And that’s my creed.