Meditation and silent screaming.

Something I’ll do tomorrow, and something I do most Wednesday mornings, is attend a Christian meditation group. Based on the teachings of the desert fathers (or, if you’re one of the three people I know who have read An Alien At St Winifred’s, the dessert fathers, with their dedicated ministry of sweet pastries…), Christian meditation is about moving beneath and beyond the chattering, daily concerns of life, away from the mental and cerebral, and deeper into the self. It is within the self that we discover Other; it is within us that we discover the Being who created us. And, in resting in that Being, we learn to be.

That’s the theory, anyway, and it’s something that resonates within me. It’s something I’m drawn to; it’s something that I need to do, a spiritual imperative. This is the manifestation of my yearning for my Source.

It’s hard though, and at times it’s scary. In meditation, my mind quiets, and I manage (sometimes) to move below the regular mundane tumult of thought and mental to-do-lists and questions and worrying and planning…and when I do, I feel. There’s ten years worth of feeling there, and often it’s painful and often it’s scary and it’s only when my blathering rationality quiets that there’s room for feelings.

Sitting in the group, in the silence of meditation and in the company of other meditators, I’ve felt a scream build up inside me. Starting deep, just below the very bottom of my sternum, its grown and strengthened until I’ve felt that only opening my mouth and giving it voice would bring any sense of relief, of release.

I haven’t, of course. I am a person for whom self-control is a basic and valued attribute, and the idea of actually shattering that sacred silence with a scream of – what? Anger? Fear? A straightforward build-up of too much emotion over too many years? – simply wouldn’t be an option. But the scream is there, and it means something, and part of the journey to within my self that is meditation is working out what that means, and how it’s a part of the healing I’m still journeying towards.

I’ve thought about just bunking off – tossing meditation, like marathon-running, into the useful-but-not-for-me basket of things I’d once thought I’d like to do. Putting it aside until things are easier, more comfortable. But I can’t. As I seek my Source, the Source within me reaches out to Itself, and draws me ever closer to Itself.

Spirit will unfold, and doesn’t seem to care that I’m digging my heels in. I guess I can trust that Spirit knows what It’s doing.


The Sacred in the superficial.

I’ve been on my own little retreat – tomorrow, though, I go home. I will drive home, pick up the cat from boarding, zoom inside, feed her, get my music, and drive to choir. Saturday will be household-y type jobs, Sunday will be Cathedral and singing and friends, and then come Monday I’ll be plunged back into the day-to-day bustle and demands and chaos and stress of my regular work life. I can guarantee that my sugar and caffeine (and alcohol – ahem) intake will increase, and my hours of sleep will decrese, and it won’t take long at all for my post-holiday calm to fray.

And here’s what I need to remember: my spirituality is as inherent in my day-to-day life as it is in the deeper and quieter times. I dwell in the Sacred as much when I’m washing dishes or fighting with the computer rostering system at work as I do when I’m singing the Mass, or sitting on the edge of a lake bathed in the beauty of the sunset which inflames the sky and guilds the water in pink luminosity.

And the superficial layers of life are important, and the Sacred is present in them as well, because all that I do is underpinned by the Source and Ground of my being.

But – and this is a biggie – the superficial can very easily lose its connection with the Sacred unless “it springs from the depth of spirit where our whole being is centred, renewed, and daily refreshed”, writes John Main – Ahh, says Naomi. There’s my problem!

My problem is that, while I intellectualise that all I do is a sacrament, I often forget. I often let myself be drawn up in the demands, in the busyness, in the need (my own need, as much as others’) to constantly be moving, constantly be busy, constantly be stimulated. Because life’s busy, and there’s stuff to get done. Because I don’t want to be left alone with my thoughts, my emotions. Because intellectualising is easier than feeling. And so I forget the depth of spirit in which I’m refreshed – I’m the person who, parched, doesn’t reach for the glass of water on the table in front of me because my head’s in the job in front of me.

I can’t say things will magically improve when I get back to my daily life. But I’m taking learning away with me from this retreat, and I’m going to try to open myself to the idea of things changing.

That’s probably actually all I have to do. I have a sneaking hunch that God will do the rest.



Richness and poverty, and what I can do about it.

When I left my ex, I found myself with a vacuum to fill: how to spend my leisure time. In all the vast, empty space of my new freedom, this was a small challenge with which to wrestle: compared to the immensity of learning safety, the question of how to choose my own activities was a walk in the park.

There were difficulties to it, and I actually felt a sense of relief when my DVD player broke, and took one choice from the terrifying new array.

All of which prompted me to have a conversation with myself: what did I want this new life, suddenly and miraculously my own, to look like. I wasn’t up to thinking about the big things – career, travel, family. I meant the little things, the day-to-day things. Those small things that go together to make up a life. And I decided: simplicity, solitude, vibrant friendships, music, hard work, and intellectual richness.

It’s been hard but I’ve built a life which – with some trial and error – maintains a balance of all of these things. It’s a sometimes precarious balance, and there are times when it feels like the merest angle’s tilt will tip the balance catastrophically, but it’s mostly in balance. With a foundation of the love of amazing people, I’ve created a life from the wreckage of abuse and violence, and it’s a good life, and I’m grateful.

There’s only one thing my life lacks, though (other than the winning lotto ticket, and the capacity to eat as much chocolate as I like without consequence): if my life is intellectually rich, it’s spiritually barren. I dwell and have my being in the loving Ground of all things, and yet, it’s an intellectual phenomenon. Head, not heart. I engage with the Sacred in the same way I engage with air: I’m aware of its flow over my body, it’s temperature, I know that without it I suffocate and die; but over the course of a month this miraculous experience might cross my mind once, if I’m lucky.

I yearn for the Sacred. To be able to live, knowingly and mindfully, in the nourishment of the Sustainer of the world: I thirst for that. And somehow, all I have to do is find a way of opening myself up to that. Of resting in that love, of submitting to that compassion. Of folding myself around the rhythms of prayer, and learning to centre myself, once more, on the Source of my life.

Not sure how to go about it; but at the moment, I wonder if the yearning might not be enough. Just for the moment.

Low at his feet…

I had a conversation a while ago with my mentor, a gentle and very wise Catholic nun. We were talking about the depth of pain I carry at times, and the weight of it. What was done to me and the burden of that. We discussed John Monsell’s 1873 hymn, Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness. One line in particular I had been carrying: “Low at His feet lay thy burden of carefulness/high on His heart he will bear it for thee”.

Every now and again, my friend Maggie, who is a cat, will come and visit me, and for one reason or another, she will need a hug. She will present herself at my feet, and sit there until I pick her up and cuddle her. If I fail to notice her, she will simply jump, in the supreme and occasionally misguided confidence that I will catch her. She will purr, comfortable and safe and cherished against my chest, my arms around her. Comforted, and protected, and loved.

That’s what this hymn says too. All of those things that are too heavy to carry, that I want to let go of, that I need to let go of – those things I can’t lift anymore, those things I have no choice but to dump, low at the feet of Jesus, the manifestation of the unmanifestable Sacred force of the Universe – he takes. They are absorbed, willingly and lovingly, into the life of the Creator, of the Source of love and life. They are cradled, cherished, as something utterly precious and worthy of protection and nurture. As precious to the Divine as my friend Maggie is to me.

I’ve carried a lot of shit for a lot of years. I’ve carried it for so long I’m only just learning how to put it down without being sent sprawling at the removal of a burden I’d grown so used to that it had become a part of my being. It’s been a horrible burden, heavy and spiky and unsightly and shameful. I’m learning to let it be cradled in the heart of the energy of life that we call God.

And yes, I realise that “unmanifestable” probably isn’t a word. It is now.

An annoying little sadness.

For a week now, there’s been two moths in my flat. I’m not scared of moths but I don’t like them in my space, especially as they’ve become more panicked in the last days and taken to flapping around my head. I’ve been chasing them around with a drinking glass and an envelope, hoping to put them outside. I’m loath to use poison but they’ve been driving me mad. I don’t understand how a moth can repeatedly bang into a wall, hard enough to make a distracting splat! noise, and yet not knock itself out. My hunch is that if they did knock themselves out, they’d put both themselves and me out of our respective misery. Plus I’d easily be able to collect them and lay their little unconscious bodies among the petunias in the window box on my balcony.

Last night I successfully trapped one of the two moths under a glass. I didn’t even need to use the envelope I’d left on my dining table ready for moth-trapping; the poor thing was so disoriented that it clung, apparently completely bemused, to the side of the glass for me to carry it outside. The second moth continued to flutter around and attempt to flatten itself against any solid surface – including the side of my head – for the remainder of the evening, resisting all my attempts to trap it or trick it outside.

This morning when I woke up, the moth was lying quiescent in the middle of my sitting room floor. Triumphantly I seized the glass and the envelope, and clapped the glass down over the moth before it could think better of stillness and start to flutter around my head again – only to realise that the moth was dead.

When they’re alive, they move too fast to really look at. And, to be honest, these two were too annoying to really take the time to appreciate their beauty. But this creature, this former tiny soul, this little insignificant scrap of the Sacred, now no more – it lay silent and still on the floor. It was big for a moth, as big as the circle my thumb and my finger can make when they come together; it was the colour of a dark raincloud in the moments before it gives up its load; its wings were dusted with silky powder. Its body was small but dense and heavy and furry and it had impossibly delicate whispers of antenna, and it was hard to believe that such a solid little creature, such a tiny force of life, was no more. This small creature, so insignificant, and yet with the tenacity to keep slamming itself into walls in its hopeless search for light and the outside world…

Of course, I had to go about my day. I have a finite amount of time in the mornings to do a number of things before I leave for work; I don’t have time to mourn moths. But as I quietly disposed of the small corpse, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad that this small fleck of Sacred life was no longer in this world.

There’s one more moth flapping about the halls of heaven. Probably annoying the life out of the angels running around with drinking glasses and envelopes…

A hurried ritual, and coming up short.

For a number of reasons, it’s been a fairly chaotic week. After my week of blissful, gentle relaxation with my parents, I returned to work and hit the ground running. This job can change by the second – one phone call can shatter a precision-planned day; a task which should take half an hour explodes without warning and takes four or five hours. Lunch gets eaten at ten o’clock or four o’clock; databases crash and notes are left undone and this morning’s now scum-covered coffee finally gets swigged (followed by a gasp and strangled noise of revulsion) after the meeting that should have finished at ten which eventually staggered to a halt at half-twelve.

One of those weeks.

It’s been a frantic week. I’ve tried to take moments of stillness, to stop and breathe and check in with my body and my mind. To find moments of grace, and gratefulness. But there really hasn’t been time. My brain has barely stopped; my body has barely stopped. Which is why I wasn’t surprised that when I arrived at the Cathedral to hear Evening Prayer before my rehearsal I bobbed a quick genuflection in the aisle and hurried quickly to the side chapel.

It was only when I got to the side chapel that I was brought up short by the realisation of what I’d done.  My body had made the observance to the altar, the acknowledgement that I was in a holy place, a place sanctified, set apart. That I was somewhere special, a place of prayer. My mind hadn’t, though. My mind had just rushed me through the small ritual like it was just one more task to get done. So, facing the smaller altar in the side chapel, I stopped. I took my time in genuflecting. Not only did I bow my body in acknowledgement; I also bowed my mind. In that action I deliberately breathed in the living peace and stillness of the Cathedral; I allowed it to permeate my roiling thoughts, to slow them.

It didn’t stop the demands of the day, of course. The gentle hiatus of Evening Prayer, with its comforting rhythms of recitation and readings, was followed by a rehearsal just as wonderfully demanding as always. But that simple action, of turning towards a created representation of the Lord’s table  and the presence of the Divine, was just the reminder that I needed. A reminder to slow down. A reminder to breathe. A reminder, wherever I am, to bow my soul in acknowledgement that I live and dwell within the Source of my being, the Creator of love and life.

Tomorrow will be just as busy as today. Sunday’s singing will be just as demanding as tonight’s. But maybe, just maybe, I can remember to find space within them to acknowledge the Sacred around and within me – space to just be.

Weighing souls.

I’ve been thinking more about the homeless woman I was chatting with yesterday. How I wish I knew her name. How honoured I’ll be if she ever decides to trust me with it. How thin and fragile and terrifyingly vulnerable she is, how one day she will simply cease to turn up at the Cathedral. Now probably no one will wonder where she’s gone when it finally happens. How as a privilleged, educated woman with a flat of my own and almost no chance of becoming destitue, I am worlds away from her and from her experience – and yet I’m not. Beneath the filth, the wandering madness, the confusion of drug addiction or mental illness or neurological damage, beneath the stench of unwashed flesh and months, perhaps years of grime on clothes and skin – there lurks a human soul. Damaged and scarred, almost certainly. Perhaps almost unrecognisable compared to what she once was – a child, a teenager, a young woman with the world in front of her, until something, somewhere, went badly wrong. But if you could quantify souls, photograph them, measure them – I suspect that hers would look identical to mine. I suspect that if you could empiracally measure their value, hers would be worth exactly as much as mine. Exactly as much as the soul of the Archbishop of Cantebury, of the Prime Minister, of the CEOs of any of the Fortune 500 companies – exactly as much as the soul of the pillar of the Cathedral community who gave me a bollocking yesterday.

And I can’t help thinking, that if it came to a comparison between this homeless lady (I wish I knew her name) and Mr Pillar of the Cathedral, I suspect I know who Jesus would most resemble. An itinerant preacher, wandering dirty dusty roads in the heat of summer without the benefits of deodorant or haircuts or even regular bathing – “scratching his lice and talking about the Kingdom of God” (to quote the amazing Laurie King), a figure barely worth noticing in comparison to the well-groomed bigwigs of his time – but for the Sacred that shone out of him. And I can’t help seeing the Sacred shining out of this homeless woman. Perhaps even more so than Mr Pillar, because she doesn’t have the trappings of wealth and importance and status behind which she can hide. Like Jesus, she’s inconvenient. Like Jesus (although presumably for different reasons) she doesn’t have the external trappings to disguise herself with.  But unlike Jesus, she’s overlooked and unnoticed.

And the Sacred is shining out of her.