Lenten chocolate

I love op shops and Sunday markets. They inspire me with the hidden possibilities of someone’s once-upon- a- time treasures and must-haves. The piles of books particularly draw me and I go home with yet more for my overstocked bookcase, as well as a crick in my neck from trying to read titles sideways. books-in-home-library

I’m a reader from way back. In fact I was conceived in the residence behind the little lending library that my parents bought soon after they were married. As soon as I could read my dad took me to the municipal library for a borrower’s ticket. Week by week I read my way through a shelf length of Enid Blyton titles before moving on to something with a little more substance. Christmas presents always featured a brand new Annual, full of stories that I would gobble up, like ice cream on a hot day.

Several years of unrestricted reading came to an end when I entered religious life. There would be no more reading in bed or losing myself in the English novels I was discovering. For the next six years all fiction was out of bounds. I ploughed through lives of saintly people, stories of Marian apparitions and wordy spirituality written by elderly male clerics a lifetime away from my young adult understanding of life, let alone my self-knowledge.

Then I swapped city living for the Australian Top End, and in my Mission convent I discovered a collection of Georgette Heyer romances and Agatha Christie whodunits. But convent discipline was entrenched in me by now and for the next twelve years I restricted my fiction reading to the thirty minute midday siesta. Through the years of parenting and full time employment that followed and into retirement I have continued to treat time to read as a kind of reward – a bit like allowing myself a couple of squares of chocolate with a suppertime cup of coffee.

Maybe it’s a Catholic thing, guilt that is. If it feels good then it can’t be good for your soul. Lent with its buzz words of prayer, fasting and alms-giving so often turns what can be a positive time, into a negative. It’s the kind of attitude that restricts my reading time. All the dishes must be done, the benches sparkling, the furniture dusted, the ironing basket empty and the dinner planned – and so on. Only then do I allow myself some unrestricted reading time – that rarely happens.

For me, books are like chocolate. I love chocolate and I love the written word – modern fiction, poetry, essays, scripture, spirituality and theology. I skim websites and read my Kindle on the train, but nothing can replace the feel and smell of a printed book. I read to escape from my everyday and into someone else’s, to find out what I’m thinking and what it means to me. Tucked away in other people’s words are insights and motivations that lead me deep into personal and unexpected possibilities and connections.

Reading opens up spaces in me, spaces where God waits in blessing and sometimes challenge. It puts me in touch with my God-given uniqueness and sometimes jolts me into recognising the compulsions that block my way to living out my God relationship. My reading, in all its variety, has become contemplative.

My Lenten practice this year is to spend more time, a lot more, re- reading books that have nurtured my spirit in the past and reading quite a few more that will inspire, nourish and free me to find God in the material of my own life. As I write these words I remember Lazarus moving stiffly out of his burial cave and Jesus saying, “Unbind him.” I’m looking forward to doing a little unbinding of myself – accompanied by the odd piece of chocolate

Judith Lynch

Click on Connexions to find a Gospel reflection for the 8th Sunday of Year A.

Religion matters

rocksIn January, tucked among the repeats of repeats that dominate summertime TV, I watched something new – season 2 of Shaun Micallef’s Stairway to Heaven. Over three one hour episodes he explored differing ways of living out religious beliefs. He spent time with Mormon families, travelled to Brazil to be participate in a healing ministry that was a mish-mash of Christianity, badly digested psychology and new age practices, and ended up traipsing around a large part of the world with fundamentalist, cultish kind of groups, all with a common belief that the end of the world is near and only true believers like themselves will join God in the afterlife we call heaven.

In Australia it hasn’t been a good week to out oneself as a Catholic.  In a report released by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, nearly 2000 Church figures were identified as alleged perpetrators. Throwing our hands up on horror and walking away from the Church of our baptism is not going to fix it.  

 

Like me, Shaun is a cradle catholic, baptised as a baby. Unlike me, he is an actor, an interviewer, a comedian while I could be described as a professional Catholic. I was educated in the Catholic system and spent all my productive years working in Catholic institutions. Catholic values and beliefs and practices were an integral part of my life.

 

I say were, because over the years thinking about religion, learning more about scripture, the Gospels in particular, delving into Church history and struggling to integrate Catholic theology with standard  psychological and scientific beliefs has become difficult.  Religion has had a love affair with words and correct ideas, whereas Jesus loved people, most of whom  never quite measure up.

 

It has seen to me that along with other Christian religions, Catholicism is more concerned with organizational structure and getting people to behave in a certain way, than working in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth.

 

 The hierarchical Church labels Catholics who move beyond acceptable boundaries of practice as lapsed, or fallen-away Catholics, even heretical, that not following man-made rules and regulations implies a lack of faith. When I was already a woman in my fifties, full of the frustrating aftermath of Vatican 2 and the struggles of being a woman in a religious environment dominated by males,  I remember a passionate moment when I stated that if I could have a second chance at  living I’d choose to  be a non-Catholic male.

 

Well, that was then and now I’m more sad than angry that the religion that has been the mainstay of my life leaves me with more questions than answers.  I’ve been labelled a cafeteria Catholic, questioning s or challenging beliefs or practices held dear by other Catholics, choosing to keep some, put aside others.

 

And I do. I’m no longer a child sitting in class while Sister Marcellina scared Grade 2 with stories about purgatory and hell and a God who punishes. Childhood faith is like a laid aside wedding dress, beautiful, but it no longer fits. We might get nostalgic about it, but we’ve moved on from the days of our romantic youth in more ways than one.

 

 If faith is to become adult then the way we understand and express that faith, the way we deal with 2,000 years of Catholic tradition, papal declarations, rules and hearsay will change,  coloured by the world we live in and our own life experience. We have to ask questions and keep asking them. We could do well to re-read the Jesus story, as story that has been swallowed up by religious bureaucracy and institutional inertia. The one constant we have is the life of Jesus. 

 

Judith Lynch

 

 

 

Books I’m reading

Teresa of Avila, in her book The Interior Castle says: This Lord of ours is so anxious that we should desire Him and strive after His companionship that He calls us ceaselessly, time after time, to approach Him. These appeals come through the conversations of good people, or from sermons, or through the reading of good books; and there are many other ways, of which you have heard, in which God calls us. (The bold print is mine.)

For Tarella Spirituality this week I thought I would share with you some of the books that have touched me over the past twelve months, the words that have helped me to understand myself a little better, cleared the cobwebs away when I was in danger of getting stuck in a rut and often dissolved into prayer. No poetry or specifically spiritual books– maybe another time. I hope this is what Teresa had in mind when she spoke about ‘good books’.

reading-in-bedGratitude by Oliver Sacks

A slim little hardback that I read about on a website called Brain Pickings. It’s a reflection on aging and getting ready for death, written when he had just turned 80. The writing is simple and focuses on gratitude for all that has been in his life.

Next of Kin by Joanna Trollope

Joanna Trollope writes like a novelist who has a social worker background. I look for her books on op shop shelves, read them and return (to a different op shop) when I finish. She writes about real people, mainly women, facing the issues and experiences such as second marriages, small children, death and unemployment and the boredom of everyday. She nurtures my compassion.

Lazarus by Morris West

Recently I re-read the Morris West memoir A View from the Ridge and it led me to re-read another of his books called Lazarus, first published in 1990. As I read I realized how prophetic it was. The main character reminded me so much of the present Pope.

The Religious Imagination of American Women by Mary Farrell Bednarowski

This is an academic kind of book and I brought on the internet. The print is small the matter fascinating but dense and I read it with a highlighter in hand. All up it took me several months to finish. The chapter I’ve been back to several times focuses on the revelatory power of the ordinary and the ordinariness of the sacred. I have a suspicion that a similar book about Australian women’s religious imagination might differ from that of the American experience.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

I picked this up at random at the library, attracted by the title and the back cover blurb. He writes about small town America and ordinary people, in this case a lonely woman and man who tackle their loneliness quite creatively. I’ve since gone on to read two more by this author and appreciate the beauty of the words and the grace and hope that sings through every page.

The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble

The author is well known, and this is her latest book. Like a lot of the books I’m drawn to lately, it’s about aging. The plot was mildly interesting, especially as the main character was herself a woman who would be seen as elderly, but I was mostly interested in the ripple effect that aging has on the community as a whole, its universality

In the Image of Christ by Phyllis Zagano

In words that are always to the point Phyllis tells what it is like to be female and Catholic in the twenty first century. She writes a fortnightly column for the American paper National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and most of the essays in this small book are taken from there. Her words encourage, enlighten and support me when I ask questions of the Church, questions so far they aren’t answering.

The Forgotten Notebook by Betty Churcher

I suppose it’s a coffee table book – wonderful paintings from other centuries and places,  accompanied by the sketches Betty  made sitting in front of the original, supplemented by her musings and knowledge of the painter and the sitters. I’m not particularly into art galleries but this very tactile book has stimulated an interest in paintings, which is probably a good thing, a gift.

Becoming Wise  An Enquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living  by Krista Tippett

Krista Tippet interviews interesting people, women and men who are invited to answer her gently probing questions and uncover the depths that lie beneath the way they live their lives. It’s a spiritual book, full of deep insights and the wisdom that comes from her own reflection on what others have shared with her and the way she picks up what I would understand as the small, still voice of God or a voice wanting to be heard in the wilderness that is sometimes modern life. It’s a book I will re-read, a book that I’ve  already highlighted here and there. You can listen to her podcasts at http://www.onbeing.org .

Thank you to those who took the time to respond to my request for some feedback. It was very helpful. 

LectionaryAs a beginning Connexions is back on line.

Click on Connexions to find a reflection for the fourth Sunday of Year A.

Judith Lynch

New Year musings

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Today, as on so many other days, I sit in front of my laptop wondering what to write about. I look out the window and the skinny gum trees that fill my horizon wave silently back at me. They speak of something green and living.

But my mind, or maybe my imagination, seems more like a Mallee wheat paddock stripped of its grain, dry and vastly empty. img_1119

Tarella Spirituality dot com is nine years old now. During those years I have dared to write about everyday things and experiences, to explore them at a deeper level, to move into their heart.

As the only experience I can really talk about with any validity is my own, I write as a woman, an Australian, a mother, a lay person and a catholic.

My relationship with God and the way I experience God cannot be disconnected from where, when and how of my everyday.

But whether I’m writing a Gospel reflection for Connections or a piece that explores stumbling upon a snakeskin in the dry grass or putting into words what it was like to be an onlooker at the ultrasound of an unborn grandchild, I try to express it in words that are theologically sound and scripturally based – without the church- speak.

Since the mid-fifties I’ve been part of a world that gradually led me to understand that women live their lives, and express their spirituality, differently to that of men. I believe that the religion we have inherited, and the way we catholics still hear it expressed, is a one-size-fits-all, men’s sizing. It’s cerebral rather than embodied.

When I write about the ordinary stuff of life I want women to recognise in it as their own, to value the God-speak it holds, be open to being surprised by God.

The website Tarella Spirituality is like each of us, a work in progress – able to evolve and change to meet real needs. So I’ve just one question:

What would you like to read more about?

prayer or scripture,

church matters or family matters,

an occasional book or website review,

poems that take my breath away or verbal wanderings through the landscape of everyday,

or maybe something more challenging.

Help me out here. Send me your thoughts about what you would like to read about on Tarella Spirituality, so that next time I sit wondering what to write I’ll have a few ideas. You can reach me at judith@tarellaspirituality.com

Judith Lynch

 

 

Welcome 2017

Where do diaries go when they have reached their use by date? Mine are stored in a drawer, sometimes for years, until I have a clean- up and out they go. My 2016 diary is quite handsome; not very big but with a cover that is reminiscent of a medieval manuscript with a toning marker ribbon and a dinky little fold in the back cover just right for storing reminder cards for the doctor, my current hairdresser, the car mechanic and other essential services. I’m going to miss its elegance. diaries

My 2017 diary is distinguished by a slim little biro that fits snugly into the spine of the book, very handy for on the spot notes, phone numbers and email addresses. I am computer literate and my phone is one of those smart ones that does everything – well, usually- but I prefer pen and paper. So next week I’ll spend an hour or so writing in the family birthdays and anniversaries and checking the dates for my pre-booked Melbourne Theatre Company performances. The rest will be blank, waiting for what might come.

The dates and times, the names, the abbreviations in my 2016 diary are shorthand for the stories they hold. 11am coffee with Teresa was way more than coffee. It was a safe place to talk about the concerns we have for our adult children. Chiropractic appointments eased my arthritic joints and wriggly spine, reminding me of God’s physical healing in another’s hands. There are due dates for bills, wrapped in a silent prayer of gratitude that there is enough money to cover whatever is owing. A cryptic single word, Sydney spoke of a long-anticipated trip that didn’t live up to expectations. It was like Emmaus all over again, “I had hoped, but . . . “   The older I get the more often those words could fill in the spaces in my diary.

The spaces in my diary are the ordinary times, the days when the only thing that differs from the day before might be the weather or whether or not we need milk. It’s easy to say that God is found in the ordinary of my life but living inside them can often feel very flat and uneventful. I know the theory but in practice I fall into the trap of believing that the little details of my life are beneath God’s interest. Lost in dreams of what might be I fail to recognise God’s presence in the tedium of deciding what to cook for dinner or cleaning the bathroom.

Paula D’Arcy, a US writer and retreat leader who often works with Father Richard Rohr, says “God comes to you disguised as your life.” It reminds me of that verse in the Gospels when Jesus says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock”. Well, most days no one knocks at my door, and the phone doesn’t ring, and all my emails are ho-hum. Nevertheless. God stands there waiting for me to open up and let him in – into the commonplace, the mess and the uneventfuls that make up the ordinary of my days.

However you mark your days – on a frig calendar, on your phone or ipad, or like me in a day by day diary, and whether your days are cluttered with appointments or full of what seems like nothing, may you recognise the God who is waiting to find you there every day in 2017.

Judith Lynch