Monday, 31 May 2010

Rosary Cross




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.

St Joseph




I love St Joseph.

Statues of St Joseph come in several main types:

Holding the infant Jesus with one arm and a white lily in his other hand.

The white lily is the symbol of purity, innocence and integrity. It is often associated with Mary the Mother of Jesus, so had an obvious connection with Joseph who became her husband. But the other saint often depicted with a white lily and holding the infant Jesus is St Antony. He was a preacher (a Franciscan friar) and so this depiction of him carrying the Infant Jesus shows him as a bearer of the Word of God. In the case of St Antony, there is also a story of him having been seen with a radiant light emitting from his cell, holding the baby Jesus on his knee and chatting to him.

We are all aware of the problems within the church about child sexual abuse, and that is not a modern danger. Children have always been vulnerable to predatory adults. St Antony and St Joseph carry the lily as a sign that they are trustworthy: that what is innocent, pure and fragile can be entrusted safely into their care, because they are people of integrity.

Kneeling to adore

Where you see a statue of Joseph kneeling to adore, or standing and bending forwards holding a lantern, you’re probably looking at a figure from a Christmas Nativity set, where Joseph is shown adoring the newborn baby Jesus, and holding the light in the stable. What an honour, as Christ who is our light comes into the world, to be the one who is chosen to hold the light for him.

Striding along with a walking staff

In the gospel stories, Joseph makes three important journeys: to Bethlehem, where Jesus is born; to Egypt, in flight from Herod’s massacre of the infants; back home to Nazareth when it is safe to return. In each case he is shepherding his little family, taking care of them and protecting them.

At his carpenter’s bench

These are the statues of Joseph the worker: the man who fulfils his vocation and provides for his family by the practical skill of his trade. Experience, pride in his work, patience, perseverance, application and aptitude are all implied: and these statues remind us that our plain everyday work is holy; that trade is holy; that putting bread on the table is holy; that muscle and sweat and rolled-up sleeves and learning a craft are holy – it’s not all eyes turned heavenwards and incense wafting in the morning light.

Simply holding the infant Jesus

This is my favourite. This is the statue of Joseph that speaks to me. The infant Jesus here is the Word of God, and Joseph is the bearer of the Word: he carries the Word through the world.

The French poet Paul Claudel says:
The Word is the adopted son of silence,
for St Joseph passes through the pages of the gospel
without uttering a single word.


And that’s what I love: the relationship between silence and the Word. That the Word of God is carried and nurtured by silence and in silence. The Word of God is held and loved in silence. The Word of God cannot flourish in a life that is contentious or gossipy or garrulous or always drawing attention to itself.

The quietness of St Joseph: walking alongside the donkey so others can ride; bearing his staff to defend them; holding the light for them; refraining from accusing or complaining or criticizing; accepting responsibility; holding on to integrity; sheltering and upholding innocence; working steadily at an honest trade; and having the humility to recognize in a little child something greater than himself, which he kneels to adore – I think even if I live to be a hundred I will never cease to love and learn from the beautiful example of St Joseph. And Joseph is often shown as an older man: which is to suggest to us that he is wise: that silence, forbearance, kindness, sheltering and protecting and nurturing others, understanding, humility, working to support our families – these show us the way of wisdom.

When I posted yesterday, I said I didn’t have a statue of St Joseph, and that’s true: I don’t yet have one that is my own and that I can relate to. But I realized that I do believe we actually have one in our house.

Tony the Badger (my husband!) had a sea-faring grandfather, who brought home curiosities from the Far East, including the statue posted here, which came from China. We think of China as an atheist country, but it does have a strand of Christian tradition, and its other religions have been Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism.

It could be that the statue we have is just a pleasing representation of a grandfather and child, or belongs to a Confucian, Buddhist or Taoist symbolism that I am not familiar with: but until I manage to find a statue of St Joseph that shows him how I imagine him – and just carrying the baby Jesus, not cluttered with the other accoutrements of lantern, lily, carpenter’s equipment, walking stick or anything else – this Chinese wood-carving has the honour of representing beloved Joseph, the man whose gentle quietness carries and nurtures the Word of God.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Skyping God




Our Hebe hung about for ages by the back door, skulking furtively out of sight after putting down tempting bird food, to get this snap of one of the visitors to our garden.

We have a few statues around the place. The one in the picture sits in the yard outside the kitchen window. We have a bodhisattva outside the front door. We have a colossal terracotta sleeping buddha up on the fridge.

I have a couple of statues of St Francis, one of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, one of Our Lady, one that's supposed to be Our Lady but in my head she's Saint Clare (because the actual statues of St Clare I don't like very much, they are all stiff and stern and not much like her).

There's also a little set of sculpts that our Alice made - the archetypal figures of the Celtic Year: Oestre, St John the Baptist, St Michael the Archangel and the Christchild.

In our hallway hangs a resurrection crucifix, and I love the crucifix on my rosary.

One day in our home we shall have a statue of St Joseph - but I haven't found a good one yet.

Not everyone likes the statues: specifically, evangelical Christian friends sometimes have a hard time with them - 'Your idols' as a neighbour used to refer to the buddha figures; but, see, she hadn't understood.

An idol, strictly speaking, is a representation which is believed to be in actual fact imbued with the divinity it represents - that's why idols are worshipped.

But I don't worship the buddhas and the saints! They come in handy for skyping God.

When I am trying to get a clear connection with God about some aspect of his nature, or some aspect of the way I am trying to walk, it helps me to have an image as the carrier of my thoughts and God's thoughts on the subject.

I'll tell you more about the other figures on a different day, but for now just to think about the buddhas.

Apparently, at some point in his life some people came and asked the Buddha: 'What are you? Are you a God? Are you a King?'

And the Buddha replied: 'I am awake'.

Sometimes I have heard the kind of Christian preacher who likes to play at 'My religion's better than your religion' crowing about the fact that Buddha is dead where Jesus Christ is risen from death. But those preachers don't get it. There is no competition. Jesus is doing something different from the buddha. So, the statues in my garden are not failed gods that I (sad person that I am) worship. They are reminders.

The Buddha did not make his teaching centre around himself; it was a teaching of ideas and principles - teachings of a Way to live that would help us find equilibrium and peace. The Buddha showed his followers how to come to terms with life and walk in serenity. And I think he did a good job.

He cautioned his followers that everything he said could be wrong. He encouraged them to do their own thinking and find their own way. And far from expecting them to worship him, he taught them that the Buddha, the real Buddha, is not external, not a person we can meet or idolise: the Buddha is within each of us as buddha-nature. That's what he taught. He taught that somewhere deep within every heart are the beautiful realities of Wisdom and Compassion. In most hearts they are dozing; in many they are spark out - blotto - out for the count - fast asleep.

And the task is to wake them up: to go through life with one's wisdom and compassion awake and active. In Christian terms, I guess that our buddha-nature is like our soul or spirit. St Paul said our bodies are Temples of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells us: or , to use different language; we have buddha-nature.

When I look at the buddha statues calm and serene, sitting quietly, radiating peace, it doesn't make me worship them - it reminds me of the potential in me; the bit that needs waking up, revealing, activating, so that I too become a realised (rather than merely potential) image of God, reminding others by who I am and how I am of life's beauty and the possibility of peace.

'Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace...' my heart says to God when I see the peaceful Buddha.

Or I think of the words of the Metta Sutta, the Buddha's words on loving kindness.

The representations of the Buddha are not vying with Jesus for my attention. Jesus is Lord - so chill out! There's no need to get paranoid about a concrete statue!

I always find it a bit embarrassing, that bit in the Bible (Isaiah) where the prophet pulls out all the stops deriding people who worship idols of wood and stone, and he sneers at them, because a lump of wood can't save them or hear them.

I really wish they hadn't put that in the Bible, because the prophet seems to me to have not really got it.

Sometimes a person will keep a photograph of someone they really love and are separated from. And maybe when they go to bed at night they will kiss the photograph, and say 'I love you' and 'Sleep well'.

So we could jump in quick and sneer at them and point out that all the have there is a piece of photographic paper that can't hear them or reply hahahaha!

But, who would be the stupid one? It was only ever a means of keeping love alive, of touching with reverence and tenderness the person from whom we are physically separated just now.

And when I look at the Buddhas, settled and centred, peaceful in meditation, gentle and quiet of face, I touch with wonder the live germ of quietness and kindness in myself - and so begin to wake it up.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about the statue I haven't got yet - the one of St Joseph; which provides the hardware for me to skype the loving silence of God.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

General news & hi

Been writing writing writing.

Have nearly finished the second novel of the new trilogy I've set out on, and have begun notes etc for the third.

They feel good - kind of real and what I want to say.

Scrambling to get book 2 finished so I can complete The Road of Blessing,due in to the publisher within a month.

I've given myself bursitis doing this, which is a bit of a bummer! My left arm is all but out of commission & my right elbow creaking badly. Thanks be for Ibuprofen, which is my breakfast dinner & tea at the mo.

Still working through building issues & house repairs, making slow progress - two steps forward, one step back.

Waving to y'all from England. Bless you bless you xxx