following the star…

We are having a large star put up on our roof today. On our street everyone really goes to town with their decorations but we have never joined in before. The Other Half of Our Street takes it all very seriously, with a big co-ordinated effort and white lights only, whereas for the riff-raff on Our Half Of The Street, anything goes. Its like Fairy-light Fight-club. But our plain white star is quite restrained.

I feel quite emotional about it. It feels, well, hopeful. And hope is tricky isn’t it? I am aware that as a woman of faith, I always have hope. But its a deeper, darker kind of hope. Not a its-all-going-to-be-ok hope. Not a guided-every-step-of-the-way hope. I suppose following a star must have actually  been pretty bleak. I mean, if you actually wandered towards a real star, it would be very dark and you wouldn’t have a clue where you were going, just a distant glimmer. Maybe that’s what this time of year is all about.

I have written before about how Christmas represents the hope that everything really can be different. That power can be born in the vulnerable, a king in a manger, a young woman believed. And while that can be true, this year I am painfully aware that it isn’t always. The angry child inside me, inside so many of us I am sure, stamps her feet and shouts “why isn’t it better?”, “why can’t someone fix this”, “surely if people knew the truth then all of this would get sorted out?”. But the adult knows that the child on the waiting room floor, the people waiting for universal credit, the woman whose house has been destroyed to build another pipeline, all these people want someone to fix it for them. Deeply, deeply shitty things happen all the time and no-one puts it right.

Especially not God. God can do solutions, he can do everything, but he doesn’t always. People of exceptional faith seem better at dealing with this. Look at Mary. She had it really rough, but, knowing that she was going to get the only soundbite that would come from a poor woman for pretty much centuries, she managed to fire out some belting lines about how God sends the rich away empty and destroys the might of princes. Facing a pregnancy that was going to look illegitimate, a future of all kinds of persecution, and eventually having to watch her son die in brutal and humiliating circumstances, her hope was still perfect. Based, probably, on the knowledge of her son as God-is-with-us. With us and in us, as in everything.

Because I have come to understand recently that God is in the storm and not just the voice that calms it. In the water as well as the walking on water. A few weeks ago we listened to Haydn’s creation in the church. I thought it would be floaty and serene but it wasn’t, it was turbulent. The music was crashy and angry in places, and the wind howled around the building at the same time. And in that slightly jarring and uncomfortable place I found a new peace. The peace of knowing that God could be in my own darkness as well as my good bits, in pain as well as healing, in anger as well as kindness, when anger is wounded love, and God is love.

He is, of course, in everything apart from lies. That’s the one place He Simply Cannot Be. Which is rotten when we are all so surrounded by lies at the moment aren’t we? And its inevitable. Because wherever there are people who can’t accept their vulnerability, who can’t look in the mirror and see their wounds and own them as part of their God given loveliness, we will have to have lies to cover it up. We will have to shunt the misery down onto those more vulnerable. We will have to have power that only exists by making others powerless.

So maybe that’s what the hope of Christmas is. That we can enter that stable, and see the child lying in straw, and the child lying in coats, as totally vulnerable, but totally visible. And know that when we speak the truth, and keep our eyes on those in most need, those with the least armour, we will set our selves up for things to not always end well in the world’s terms. But that the worlds terms are not, ultimately, all there is. We can lift our eyes to the stars. And we can cry out. Knowing not only that we are heard, but that God is as much the cry as the one we cry to, because it was him who put the cry there in each of us as surely as he planted each star.


On Holy and patient toasters…

I have been alone in the presbytery for a lot of the summer, between priests, as I inadvertently managed to tell a telephone salesman.
“Mummy, when Fr Martin is away, are you the priest?” My daughter asked me.

“Is that because you and Fr Martin aren’t married?”
Oh Gosh. I thought. Really not the case. “Erm…no. Mummy can’t be a priest because she’s a woman. And Fr Martin isn’t allowed to marry anyone”. Bloody hell, I thought. Our religion makes no sense at all.

Read the full article here

families at Mass together…

“We went to a rubbish church when we were in [English town redacted],” my seven-year-old son is telling my eight-year-old daughter. “Zero points out of 10.”
Blimey, I thought. My son is notoriously not a massive Mass fan, and has been known to etch-a-sketch ‘church is boring’ by halfway through the Kyrie, but by anybody’s standards, scoring zero is harsh.
“What score does Mass at our church get?” I asked.
He thought for a moment: “Five.”
I’ll take that, I thought, but there is plenty of room for improvement. I kept the thought in mind as I prepared for a ‘family Mass’ at our church.

Read the full article in the Scottish Catholic Observer here

Seeing Jesus and listening to George Michael…

I saw Jesus on my street the other day… Well, sort of.
Not like that time when I saw Prince William in Newington. Or Neil Tennant on platform six of Leeds train station. I didn’t see Jesus quite like I saw those two. But I saw him. And he stayed for a while and rolled a cigarette on the bonnet of a car, just opposite my window. Which seemed a bit out of character but who am I to judge?

It reminds me a bit of the warden when I was in halls of residence who wouldn’t let me get into trouble for anything because he harboured some strange belief that I was an angel. I never liked to burst his bubble that real angels probably don’t disable their fire alarms so that they can sit and smoke cigars while they listen to Bob Dylan, so perhaps I should have been eligible for the fine or reprimand after all…

On loss…

We are incredibly good at dealing with death in the Catholic Church, but what of other losses we live with? Loss of health, identity, homeland, youth.
What about those things that are painful in a messy, undefineable way? Relationships that failed for reasons we don’t understand, people who walked out of our lives deliberately, not taken by death.
Or, people who are still with us bodily, but the persons we loved left some time ago. After all, we are living longer but dying slower, people can leave us in cruel increments rather than all at once.

Read the full article on the Scottish Catholic Observer here

On broken tellies and the resurrection…

…So, back to those tellies, we broke the first one drawing the curtains. Knocked it right over and the screen smashed. So come Easter Monday, facing a rainy day of school holidays, I went to John Lewis to purchase a new one. Came back all pleased with myself, all hunter gatherer and provider, then KNOCKED THAT ONE OVER AND SMASHED IT TOO. And it felt like no greater depth of despair could have been plumbed. I completely fell to pieces with it. I am rubbish. I am a terrible person. I can’t do anything right.

read the full article here


Shedding a little light…

There is a service at our church in a couple of days. It is for people who have been abused while in the care of the church. It’s a bit controversial really. Might make people uncomfortable. But I tend to think that Jesus had a habit of making people uncomfortable from time to time. And we would all be in a very different situation if He had shied away from the painful bits.

And I think it’s important, really. Because sometimes not mentioning things is damaging. Secrets are damaging, in all kinds of ways. And silence can be healing, but it has to be the right kind of silence. I think that sometimes when you make people keep quiet about something, you are telling them its their fault. You are telling them they have something to be ashamed of. You might think that some things ought to be private. But people who have been abused don’t always have the luxury of knowing the difference between what is private and what is secret. That was taken from them. I think we need to honour them by giving them the right to choose what they make visible, what they make heard, even if its anonymously or collectively.

It wasn’t anything to do with any church or institution, but I myself was abused at the age of fourteen. As I type the words I check and find that no, the sky has not fallen in. Yes, the world is still spinning on its axis.  I type it again, because it has cost me hundreds or thousands of pounds in therapy to be able to do so and I want to get my money’s worth: I was abused. It wasn’t, comparatively speaking, such a traumatic experience.  At the time, I just thought I had a much older, charming boyfriend who I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about. I only started to question it a couple of years ago, when he went to prison for abusing other girls, some of them even younger than me.

Even then, I fought the realisation hard. I read recently that, after death, the second thing we are programmed to fear most of all is loss of identity. To come to terms with abuse is to face this fear. Not simply because – as with all assaults on person-hood and acts of violence- we are challenged to accept the identity of victim or survivor, to cast ourselves in light in which we would massively prefer not to be seen. But because abusers and groomers take control of your identity. You are special and beautiful because they tell you. You don’t know who you would be without them. I genuinely believe that this can be a huge part of why people keep quiet for so long. To strip yourself of the identity passed to you as a young person or a child is terrifying.

I do sometimes wonder if I would have been better not knowing. But over time I have come to realise that the cost of keeping secrets, which I was compelled to do, is huge. Once you start holding things in you can’t really stop, and you end up spending a lot of life feeling either angry or lonely or both. Or you just disconnect altogether, by whatever means suits you best, whatever your particular poison is. And a world that you have always known to be dishonest will always be an unsafe place.

Perhaps most seriously for me, I had always thought that I had grown up because of what happened to me when I was small, that was the basis of my adulthood. But that isn’t really growing up at all. So I have ended up as an impostor, angrily looking around for a real grown up to help me out at every turn. Which is particularly difficult when you have kids yourself. Raising two babies is difficult for anyone. But it is really, really hard for a child.

Of course, I can only speak for myself. I am well aware that there are untold numbers of people who have suffered much, much worse than me. I can only express what I need, not imagine what they might. I have a strong sense that I need to speak out about my experience whenever I want because I have done nothing wrong. What would help me most of all is a simple “that’s shit. It shouldn’t have happened. We want you to know we don’t think any the worse of you for it”. And perhaps, most crucially, “you don’t have to hold this in anymore for fear of making other people uncomfortable”.

It occurs to me that might not be a bad starting point for how to respond to other survivors, just in case the same would be helpful for them. I feel deeply, deeply blessed to be able to share these thoughts with a community, and with so many people who love me. I will stand and sing and light candles on Sunday for all those who I know are not so fortunate. Saying “this is shit, and it shouldn’t have happened, and whatever we can do to stop you having to hold this, we will.”