The Lord moves in…

I actually took my break today – towards the tail end of a busy day, I took my half-hour and walked to the park and sat with my rosary. It’s a strange phenomenon, and I remember writing the words “I’m teaching my fingers to pray”. It turns out that the teaching is a work in progress – in all the busyness of Lent, and then Easter, and then the crazy-bustle after Easter, I’ve (somewhat ironically) lost the habit of slipping easily into the deeper quiet of prayer, of dwelling gently and resting for a moment in the peace of that. Of reminding myself that I am a creature of the Creator, that I am held, always, in the love of the Source of love.

I’m trying to get back to that sense, to that spiritual discipline which was becoming such a part of my daily life – admittedly a part of my daily life that was first to fall off the radar when things got difficult. I miss it, and I feel a greater sense of completion when I do spend that time doing what I was created to do: connecting the deepest part of my being back to its own Source.

So today I took myself off to the park and sat with my back to the river (no that no one can sneak up on me, and I can hear the crunch of any approaching feet on the gravel pathway lining the river – some habits die hard) and quietly said the rosary.

It’s hard, coming back to it after so long away. Prayer has rubbed smooth the roughness of my mind, but that softness has hardened again with absence, and I struggled to find the words. Until the breeze gently touched the side of my face, and I decided that it was an apt metaphor, and found myself whispering in my mind: Creator God, sweep the winds of your Spirit through all my life, and may I dwell always in you. 

Which is funny, because while it was a convenient metaphor to turn into a quick prayer, it was so much more than that. It was reflective of what I so deeply need: a stirring breeze to sweep through my life – all of my life, work and home and writing and sleep and time with friends and time on the treadmill and gym equipment and time playing the string game with the cat – and scour away the stagnation there. To cleanse my life of those things I don’t need, that aren’t nourishing: those silly distractions which drain me of life but which somehow become first on my to-do list, foremost in my mind. To remind me of the simplicity of life: a winding river and friends with whom I share the love of God, and the vibrancy of life and the touch of a cool breeze which, without my knowing it, somehow contains the hand of God.

Mysterious ways, indeed.

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The end, and a beginning, and peace.

Someone I know died on the weekend. I didn’t know her well, but I knew her well enough to have been invited into her home, her life. I knew her well enough to admire her tenacity, her fighting spirit. I knew a little of what she’s been through, and I knew her well enough to respect her doggedness, her sheer determination to survive and to carve out for herself a life of her own choosing. I knew her kindness and her artistic talent. I knew her well enough to see, and value, the brightness of her soul.

Now that woman is no more – a whole person, a lifespan, the thousand experiences and wealth of wisdom that goes with them, suddenly ceases to exist. And the world is a little less bright, and a human-sized fragment of the Sacred – that life-spark, that breath of life, that anima which made her a living being – has returned to its Source, to the Origin of its being. Like a droplet returning to the immensity of the ocean, to be subsumed and both lose and find its identity in that great identity from which it came. And it was the gentle hands of death that guided and carried that fragment of soul to its final and true home, and I am grateful for the sudden tenderness of those hands that took her – blessedly quickly – from the darkness of the suffering she has endured for too long.

I found myself – my instinctive need – wanting to leave work when I heard the news of her death this morning, not to go home, or to drink wine or eat chocolate, but to go up to the Cathedral. That sacred space called to me as the one place I needed to be. Not that my prayers are less valid when offered from my desk in the bustle of my office. But that there is space for my prayers, for my emotions, for my heart, in that building set aside for prayer, scented with the devotions and tears of generations. So I took a work car, and I drove up to the Cathedral in my lunch break (at four o’clock – my days are nothing if not disorganised), and I spent ten minutes in the dimly-lit silence of the Cathedral. I lit a candle, and I recited the prayer for the dead, and I knew beyond knowing that there is more to life than this fragile span of years, and that the closing of her life is the very thing that opens her to true life, and in the vast space of the Cathedral there was room for everything I was feeling and everything that I couldn’t even begin to articulate, and I left the Cathedral at peace. 

Someone should warn them in heaven though: she’s a fighter, this one. A troublemaker. But that’s ok. Jesus was the ultimate troublemaker. She’ll be quite at home there.

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.