The space in between

The catalogues jamming my letter box suggest ways I can ‘make more of my easter’. Easter, they tell me, is for egg hunters, bunnies, heroes, the outdoors and relaxation. My church invites me to join them for three liturgies spread over four days, culminating in Easter Sunday. And once again I’m caught in a bind, because none of these invitations hit the spot.

Egg hunts are fun and already I’ve got some sneaky hiding places worked out to slow down my two young grandsons in their search for chocolate. Bunnies? Well in my part of the world rabbits eat newly-planted seedlings and dig holes where we wish they wouldn’t. The advertiser’s idea of a hero was more Spiderman than Jesus, though I suppose some connection could be made. And the long Easter weekend spent relaxing outdoors is an Australian institution.

During the couple of years I lived in a one shop and one pub town, our small Sunday Mass community planned an outdoor Good Friday stations of the cross. Beginning at the local cemetery and punctuated with stops for appropriate words, we straggled our way up a small hill and planted a rough cross on its crest. The words, the actions, the landscape, even the way the children jostled the adults for their turn to carry the cross, made it a liturgy that was relevant to those who were present.Desert bloom #10

It’s that right now relevance I miss in the church-based liturgies that mark Holy Week. I understand their symbolism, but they don’t touch my heart or move my spirit. I want to get beneath all the words, the sprig of Palm Sunday greenery, the foot washing, kissing a crucifix and craning for a glimpse of a little fire in a barbecue pan before taking my seat in the darkened church.

I long for a tangible recognition that the people in the pew and the billions across the world, like me, are all living out their own Good Friday and Easter Sunday stories. And like the Jesus story we read in the gospels, these two days are separated by Holy Saturday. Unlike the gospel story, however, our Holy Saturdays can last a long time.

We spend our lives waiting for the pain, grief and loss that go hand-in-hand with life, to abate, to go away, to ease. People living with the fallout of tragedy look for something they call closure. The Syrian grandmother whose whole family died in a bomb attack, rocks to and fro in a sea of pain, longing for the touch and sound of her dead children and her grandchildren. The people along the Queensland coast pick through their  muddy homes and workplaces, grieving the loss of possessions, longing for the clean-up to be over and life getting back into something they recognise as normal.

The followers of Jesus were plunged into a similar space after the horror of the Friday we call good. Two days later, behind closed doors, they were whispering excitedly and wonderingly about the possibility that Jesus was still among them.  Peace and joy came slowly. They needed time to come to terms with the fact that their lives had changed, that Jesus was still with them but now it was up to them to spread the good news.

The words and symbols of the Holy Week liturgy focus on the events of the days they commemorate. The commercial world ignores them all together. But all of us need more.  If we are to recognise the Easters of our life and discover the new life they hold, then we need to be reminded that God is always there, waiting with us as we face up to our own Good Fridays and struggle through our Holy Saturdays.

However you spend the coming Easter, may you find God in whatever gifts its lead-up and follow-through have to offer.

Judith Lynch

 

 

 

 

Prayer by heart

duck-pond-autumn-tree When I wrote Lenten Chocolate about a month ago, I said that my Lenten practice this year would be to spend time re-reading books that have nurtured my spirit in the past and others that might inspire me, and help me to find God in the material of my own life. I chose a couple of novels, but they didn’t make the grade, so they went back to the library. A couple more went into my op shop box for the same reason. That leaves me slowly getting through The Good People by Hannah Kent – beautifully written but challenging in more ways than one.

My re-read is the Thomas Merton book, New Seeds of Contemplation. I wanted his words to drift into my prayer. Reading Thomas Merton is like eating chocolate mud cake – best in small pieces. He makes me think-and sometimes squirm-as I recognise the places and times when I haven’t  measured up to be the person God has dreamed for me. This time, for some reason, Thomas annoyed me. I’m aware of his being a man of his times (he died in 1968), and he uses language that is religiously structured and sprinkled with he and men – never she. Definitely not woman-friendly, but I wondered why it hadn’t bothered me in the past.

I like to image women’s approach to spirituality and prayer as being like supermarket shopping., While men proceed at speed  up and down the aisle armed with a list, women saunter, up and down and back and around with a list in hand and the rest in their head, with space left for impulse buys and specials.

Women approach their God relationship much the same way. Men’s prayer and the way they talk about God-things tends to be direct and focused, quite formal, I’m tempted to say ‘man-to-man’. Women instinctively integrate the restrictions and complexities, the ups and down and roundabouts of their lives, into their prayer.

I learnt to pray in primary school, mostly in words that I was required to learn ‘by heart’ – only they didn’t touch my heart. My years in religious life were supported by a formal prayer structure and nurtured by books about prayer – mainly written by males. I learnt that personal prayer was like a ladder, and as I got older and more experienced spiritually, as I climbed it rung by rung, I would reach God right up there at the top. Praying was hard work.

Then I left religious life and with it the structured prayer that had bookended my days.  As the years have rolled on with their experiences, memories and turning points, the way I pray seems to change, just as my hair colour and styling does. But the stuff of my life was, and still is, the stuff of my prayer. Sometimes it is exciting and God feels very close, but mostly it’s as ordinary as the ever-changing clutter on my kitchen bench.

I see prayer as relationship with God.  It can be wordy, and it’s also something like my two year old grandson, home after a long day at child care, patting the sofa he was sitting on and telling Tim, his dad, “Sit here” – just wanting the closeness with his father for a little while.

There’s no right or wrong way to pray, there’s just lots of ways. Occasionally I need to remind myself that God is not timing my prayer. I might spend an hour sitting in the sun or strolling through a park, just being, letting God look after the concerns of life for me, and other days it’s a minute or two before sleep intervenes.  Prayer is like the everyday love that backs the relationship we have with those we love- 24/7, even when it’s not conscious.

So I’m back to wrestling with Thomas Merton’s choice of words as part of my prayer. If this is my Lenten chocolate, then it’s the 70 percent variety – a little bitter.

Judith Lynch

Women talk

 

Let me start with exciting news! For the past eighteen months I have been writing a book about the choices I’ve made in my life, where they took me and how they sit with me today. Writing a lot of very personal stuff has been hard work but now it’s finished.

 

Only not quite.  Its just  had its first major edit and I have some re-writing to do before its fit to be published. Hopefully by the end of the year, if not sooner, it will be available to read.  

 

 

It’s in the bag

 

Last Christmas I came across the  Share The Dignity website  and a campaign they run called It’s in the Bag. At Christmas children in need are well catered for but women who are homeless,  in a domestic bag2violence refuge or caught in a poverty trap,  are forgotten.  Their suggestion: they asked Australians to donate a handbag they no longer used, fill it with items that would make a woman feel special and even pop a thoughtful note into the bag to show her that someone cares and that she matters.

 

What you put in your gift will depend on your bag size, your budget and your imagination.  They suggested toiletries and hair products like shampoo and hair clips. Maybe some lotions or creams  as well as something pretty like a pair of earrings or perfume. You might put in a pen or a note book, a scarf, socks or undies.

 

Come mid- November the filled bags will be collected at various points across the country, ready to be distributed through a multitude of caring agencies. Or you might organize your own little distribution centre.

Vatican frustration

 

Wednesday was International Women’s Day and even though she’s well known in some circles it’s likely that you’ve never heard of Marie Collins.

 

As a child in the 1960s Ireland she was sexually abused by a priest and her adult life is being spent   campaigning for a better understanding of the effects sexual abuse on children as well as her hands-on  involvement with agencies for  women and men who were similarly abused.

 

In March 2014 Pope Francis, in an effort to  deal with the scandal of sex abuse of children that was sweeping through the Catholic Church,  set up the Pontifical Council for the Protection of Minors. Marie Collins was a member , the lone abuse survivor among a small group of clerics and experts.

 

Marie CollinsAt the time she said, “This certainly is a significant change in the way the Vatican is doing things. But there have been promises before. I get the feeling that it is different this timer. The fact that there are more lay people than clergy on the council is itself an enormous change. ..I think the council is a good setup and I hope we can bring about real change.”  

 

Marie’s hopes were dashed and the week before last she resigned from the council, the last representative of abuse survivors to do so, frustrated  by the lack of cooperation from the powerful groups that run the Vatican machine.  

 

Asked about her thoughts on resigning from the council Marie replied, “  I don’t regret resigning, because at this point I think it was something I had to do to retain my own integrity. ”

 

 In the ensuing fall-out it has been said that that Marie’s decision to resign because the council was being hindered in its work, may be a testing of Pope Francis’ credibility in the way he and the wider Church handles sexual abuse I issues.  The personal integrity of one white-haired woman has challenged the might of the Vatican bureaucracy. I for one am proud of her.

Judith Lynch

 

 

 

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