Blessings are for keeps.

I’ve had a week away from choir, and after time away I always come back feeling just a little apprehensive. As though I’ll get back to find that the chair usually set out for me is no longer there. As though in my absence the choir will have closed ranks, worked out that I’m superfluous to requirements, no longer necessary. As though there’ll be no place for me in that family anymore.

I get where this fear comes from: I still struggle to trust the blessings in life, that they really are for me, that they won’t be suddenly snatched away from me, whipped out from under me, as so many other blessings have been over so many years. It’s not as pronounced as it was, but a part of me is still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Only, I’m starting to suspect that it’s not going to. Because the blessings in this new life haven’t been seized and I’m learning to settle into them. Because the friends whose love I so deeply value – and whom I love with all my heart – haven’t decided that I’m not worth having around. Because when I get back to choir after a weekend away, the group opens to include me as naturally as the river accepts another droplet of water, and I slip back in as though I’ve never been away.

Because blessings have been given, and I’m learning that the Source of compassion, the Creator of abundance, doesn’t give blessings and then hold them hostage. The Ground of love is simply that: love. And there’s no love in begrudged blessings, and so they won’t be taken from me.

It doesn’t stop that fear though, and the incredulous sense of joyful relief every time I return to the choir vestry to re-discover a sense of home. And it doesn’t stop me being fervently grateful each time I realise that these blessings are for keeps.

In my own defence, I do know that I’m an idiot.

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A book happened, and so did a prayer.

It’s been one of those nights – I started the evening with good intentions: I’d do some writing, get my blog done, do my washing up, send the emails I wanted to, go through my music for tomorrow night’s rehearsal…and then a book happened.

Oh well.

May the God of light and darkness,
of peace and turmoil,
of quiet and chaos,
of peace and anger,
be with us all, this night and always,
and may we always know the reality of being carried
in the loving hands of the Creator of the universe
who loves each fragment of creation
and who draws us to Itself.

~

I’ve finished my book, so tomorrow I won’t be tempted to read rather than doing all of those things I should be doing. Also, I have book hangover.

An old journal and a new hope.

I’ve spent the evening reading through an old journal. It’s from two journals ago, actually – the current one’s orange, started this morning. The previous one is red. The one before that is yellow, and it’s the yellow one that I’m reading. It dates from just before Christmas, and goes through until the beginning of February. Not actually all that long ago, really – but it feels like an age.

The thing that strikes me most was just how difficult everything was. Just how much I was carrying, how heavy and painful it was. How despairing I was, how hopeless – how I worried that I was falling apart, spinning out of control. Losing my capacity to keep myself together. The water wasn’t over my head – it was perhaps just below my eyebrows. Christmas was horrible – coping with rehearsals and fatigue and the Christmas Eve singing marathon while also buffeted by symptoms of PTSD – and throughout the beginning of January I wrestled with the question of whether I simply give up the choir altogether. I despaired of ever being able to sing again, of being anything other than a burden on my friends and fellow choristers, of ever finding that peace and healing I so desperately sought. At least part of my fragility was simply the raw-edged fatigue of constant, debilitating insomnia.

I’m grateful, this evening, for the chance to read through that bleak bright yellow journal – at least the half of it I’ve read so far – because I’m suddenly profoundly aware of how far I’ve come, of the fact that things have changed, just a little bit, since the beginning of January. I’m sleeping through the night now about as many nights as I’m not; and if the water was at my eyebrows – well, now it’s probably about chin level.

And I’m struck anew with the realisation that, despite the fact that I wrestled – painfully, and hard – with the question of whether to cut my losses and simply leave the choir, I am a chorister. There was never really any option other than to persevere, and to trust that things might get easier. And they have, just a little. I’m learning to live with the symptoms which present themselves when I open myself to the searing beauty of the music which is my weekly fare. I’m learning to make space for the memories which dig their claws into my mind when I allow my thoughts to still when I sing. I remember and sometimes relive each beating, each argument, each verbal and emotional flaying I took over the choir – and there were a lot – but some things are worth taking a beating over and the choir, and the music, around which my weeks revolve are one of those things. And that knowledge helps when things all get a bit difficult.

It’s not easy yet, and it probably won’t be for some time. The path set before me is not smooth. It’s thorny and rocky and there’s still a part of me which is surprised at my friends’ love for me, and at the fact that I’m still able to show up every single week to sing despite how painful it might be. But maybe it’s not quite as thorny and rocky as it once was, and that gives me hope that, by the end of this new orange journal, the way might be just a little smoother than it is now.

And I’m profoundly grateful for that.

A literal impossibility, and a moment of faith.

So today is the Feast of the Annunciation: the announcement from the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would bear the Christ-child. The moment in the story in which Mary sings what we now call the Magnificat; the great twist in the tale of the Sacred’s manifestation in the world.

A lot of people have trouble with the story of the Annunciation – myself included. Why should I, as a rational person of the twenty-first century, find meaning in a story of such blatant sexism and impossibility? The Virgin, for all she’s actually a pretty gutsy girl (when you have a moment, read the Magnificat. It turns the whole world on its head, especially when you consider it as coming from the lips of an unmarried young female, speaking from the poverty and anxiety of occupied first-century Palestine) is seen as little more than a passive receptacle for the (male) Holy Spirit to make a baby. Some homilies on the topic to which I’ve been subjected paint the whole sordid little incident as nothing more than divine rape. And what an image of womanhood to which, I’ve been told, I’m meant to aspire: yes, she’s open to the miracle of the workings of the Divine, as much as the menfolk of her day – and that in and of itself is radical, the sense that a woman can be as much an agent of God as a man. But really – the model of womanhood is both a virgin and a mother. An impossibility who has long been used – against, I venture to say, the will of the Sacred Creator of all people – as an unmeasurable standard before which 49-odd per cent of the world’s citizens fall.

Of course, the answer to all of the above is that the story of the Annunciation was written in, and for, a different world. A world in which it simply wasn’t understood that a biological mother contributes fifty per cent of her DNA to offspring: creation is not simply the act of a biological father. A world in which it was barely understood that women were people at all: the idea that a woman had the capacity not only to contribute to the unfolding of the manifestation of the Sacred, but to be pivotal to it, would have shocked early readers to their core. It would have challenged the elite in their self-contained monopoly on holiness. The idea of God being nurtured, and utterly dependant, on a woman – truly, in this story God scatters the proud in the imagination of their hearts, and lifts up the lowly.

The Creator of the universe will be born of woman, nurtured by a cookolded man who made the most righteous choice. In nine months’ time we will celebrate the radical eruption of the Divine into the minutiae of everyday life, the miracle in the mundane, the fundamental presence of the Source of life in the dark and lightness of our lives. But tonight I celebrate this story, this biological impossibility and feminist conundrum: this small, unnoticed second-class citizen in a poverty-stricken, occupied land a thousand years ago, who had the guts to say yes to God and started a divine revolution.

 

A (small) bollocking, and wholeness.

I got a bit of a bollocking today (fairly well-deserved) from my manager. Ironically, it was for becoming too tired and failing to take a reasonable lunch break. There are worse things to get a bollocking for, but I had to admit that she’s right (as, annoyingly, she so often is) – taking a reasonable lunch break is yet another of the things that have fallen off the radar.

For a number of weeks, I had been eating lunch at my desk, and then taking my “lunch break” in the afternoon: walking to a nearby park, and spending half an hour in quiet. In prayer. In the deliberate re-membering of the fact that I dwell in the Sacred, and a mindful re-centring of myself in that. Sometimes I’ve used the rosary, as a way to still my mind downwards into prayer, a way of allowing the Spirit of the Divine within me to reach outwards and upwards to Itself. Other times I’ve just sat quietly.

But today was the first time in perhaps two weeks I’ve even taken my rosary out of its little velvet bag. It felt unfamiliar in my fingers, and then abruptly familiar, as though something in my mind had suddenly clunked into place. And likewise, turning my mind inwards to the rhythms of prayer was at once jarring and free. And as my mind ran through the accustomed prayers, and the smooth beads moved gently through my fingers, and my usually-whirring thoughts slowed, I found myself perilously close to tears.

I don’t know why that would be, other than describing them as the quick tears of profound fatigue. But it was more than that. It was a sense of homecoming, of rightness. Of the first nourishment after a long time of fasting, of famine. Of being known, of being loved. Of compassion. Of surrendering to the stillness of a moment stolen from the busyness of the day.

I didn’t feel particularly bad – they weren’t sad tears – but I walked back to work feeling more whole than I have for a long time. And grateful.

 

An uncomfortable topic, an awkward question, and fear.

I spent some time today in discussion with a group of fellow mental health professionals, all from the non-government sector. Somehow, in conversation, we got onto the topic of domestic violence, and why women stay.

I spend a lot of time thinking about domestic violence and it takes a lot of energy to deal with its ongoing impact on my life, but it’s not a topic I’m comfortable discussing as an abstract – it’s still a little too close to the bone for me to hold any sense of equanimity. I especially hate the why doesn’t she just leave question. Because sometimes it’s motivated by genuine curiosity, an authentic desire to understand something almost impossible to understand from an outsider’s perspective. Often though, it’s motivated by a desire to minimise the reality of captivity and brutality occurring in our very own country, under our very own noses. It’s a short step from well, why doesn’t she just leave to she’s colluding in her own abuse, and an even shorter step from that to victim-blaming – which in turn makes it easy to dismiss the idea of domestic violence as something that we as a society don’t have to deal with.

Although maybe that’s just my cynicism.

It always makes me think, though: why did I stay? Why did I put so much time and energy, so much of myself, into a relationship of captivity and domination and abuse? Why did I give the years of  my twenties to a man who was unable to let me live outside the confines of his own needs? Why did I let one person have such a huge and ongoing impact on me – not only on my life, but on who I am?

A long time ago, I worked in homeless outreach. I’d walk – unsupported by colleagues or workplace health and safety requirements – into parks and squats, under bridges, and into boarding houses so filthy that even vermin would hesitate to enter. Partly it was because in working with the homeless, I’d entered a community of rough sleepers, mostly indigenous, who sought to protect their “little white sister” – a huge honour. But also, I knew that I could handle myself. I wasn’t afraid.

I’ve gone from that to what I am now: I flinch at a hand near my face; I cringe at the sound of angry voices and when anger is directed, even peripherally, at me I feel myself becoming smaller. I’ve gone from fearless to fearful; from upright to cringing.

It’s something I don’t like about myself and it’s something I hate about what was done to me. And I’ve had to ask the question: why did I stay? Why did a strong, capable, resourceful, intelligent woman continue as a captive for so many years?

The answer can’t fix things. It can only add to my understanding. And it’s only in understanding that I can forgive.

The radar again, spirituality and the Ground of my being.

It’s been one of those weekends: on the go from Friday after work through until now, gone half-nine on Sunday night. Time spent almost exclusively with choir friends – there is something special about being with fellow choristers, a reminder that I too am a chorister despite how hard it often is. There’s something special about being with people who sing, just because they can, and because they like it. Singing Happy Birthday to a fellow chorister with as many harmonies as there were people in the room – the joyful magnificence of this will never tire for me.

The upshot though is that those things that had fallen off the radar are still off the radar. It would be nice if acknowledging it to myself could have resulted in some miraculous restoration of what my priorities should be: suddenly I’d be back writing, ideas for my blog would be flowing, I’d have sent the letters and the emails and the text messages I’d like to. I’d be doing all the important things.

The other thing that would happen with this miraculous restoration is that my spiritual life would be back on track. Because it’s not on track at the moment. That’s something else that has fallen off the radar. Having re-discovered my spirituality, and started to learn how to hold it gently and allow it to hold me, I have suddenly become too busy – which is a horrible thing to say, and a horrible reality. How can I be too busy to hold in my consciousness the fact that I dwell in the love of the Creator? To spend time quietly sitting in that knowledge, re-centring myself on the reality in which I have my being? To continue that painful and extraordinary process of learning to open myself up to that Source of love and compassion though which all things flow?

And yet, that’s exactly what’s happened. And so this time of Lent, which I had thought to be a time of simplicity and reflection, a time of renewal of my faith and of my baptismal vows and of my existence as a creature of the Creator, has simply been a time of busyness. What should have been a time of cutting back, of withdrawing from those things which are superfluous to the reality of my life, and re-turning my thoughts and my will to the Origin of my being, has been a time of adding: demands, jobs, interactions, things to keep in my head.

Tonight marks the second Sunday of Lent and I know it will only get busier. There’ll be extra rehearsals and music to learn for Holy Week and Easter; the wonderful demands of social interactions – for which I’m fervently grateful – and work will be its usual, full-on, relentless, in-my-face self. But I have to find a way of turning away from some of that, some of the time. Turning away from all the things I must do, so that I can remember that I was created to be. Turn away from some of the demands, so that I can open myself up to the invitation of the Divine. Turn away from bustle, so that I can remember how to sit in silence. 

It seems like an impossible task and it just may be – there are only so many hours in the day, after all. But here’s the thing: I dwell in the Sacred regardless. My every move, every fibre of my being are permeated with the Sacred, held by a Force of love so powerful, and so gentle, that I can no more escape it than I can escape the air I breathe. And I’m grateful for that.