Month: May 2013

St John of the Cross at Pentecost

candle flame



1. O living flame of love
that tenderly wounds my soul
in its deepest center! Since
now you are not oppressive,
now consummate! if it be your will:
tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!

2. O sweet cautery,
O delightful wound!
O gentle hand! O delicate touch
that tastes of eternal life
and pays every debt!
In killing you changed death to life.

3. O lamps of fire!
in whose splendors
the deep caverns of feeling,
once obscure and blind,
now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
both warmth and light to their Beloved.

4. How gently and lovingly
you wake in my heart,
where in secret you dwell alone;
and in your sweet breathing,
filled with good and glory,
how tenderly you swell my heart with love.

St John of the Cross



Because I’m rereading The Iliad and  stopped in my tracks again and again by all that I don’t understand, can’t grasp, the shower of fragments and  guessed-at allusions. Is this as far as I can get? Are no closer readings possible?  I find the classics scholar and poet Anne Carson wondering about another inaccessible  tradition.


No. I think of myself as being particularly baffled on the one hand, by the whole question of God and the relation of humans to God, but also, possibly because of lots of empty spaces in my life, open to exploring what that might mean. I have open spaces where I put that question and just see what happens. Going to church is one such space, though I don’t go with any expectation of fulfillment or illumination. I just go because I have gone, and my mother went and her mother went and there’s something there that happens to all of us. A kind of thinking takes place there that doesn’t take place anywhere else. No matter how unattractive the service—and nowadays the mass is rather unattractive in its modern translation—no matter how brainless the sermon, there is a space in which nothing else is happening so that thinking about God or about the question of God can happen. So I go there and let it happen. Nothing changes, I don’t become wise about this, I don’t become ethically better or more interesting. I’m just the same person, I’m that person with this space open and I do think that for me, in this life, that’s as far as I’m going to get with spirituality.

Denouncing the Golden Calf

How Pope Francis speaks to my heart:

…our human family is presently experiencing something of a turning point in its own history, if we consider the advances made in various areas. We can only praise the positive achievements which contribute to the authentic welfare of mankind, in fields such as those of health, education and communications. At the same time, we must also acknowledge that the majority of the men and women of our time continue to live daily in situations of insecurity, with dire consequences. Certain pathologies are increasing, with their psychological consequences; fear and desperation grip the hearts of many people, even in the so-called rich countries; the joy of life is diminishing; indecency and violence are on the rise; poverty is becoming more and more evident. People have to struggle to live and, frequently, to live in an undignified way. One cause of this situation, in my opinion, is in the our relationship with money, and our acceptance of its power over ourselves and our society. Consequently the financial crisis which we are experiencing makes us forget that its ultimate origin is to be found in a profound human crisis. In the denial of the primacy of human beings! We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old (cf. Ex 32:15-34) has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.


Francis on subway

Feast of the Ascension

Ascension 3



When I was a small child I  imagined that a group of us were standing in the dusty veld waving and shouting ‘Goodbye for now!’ while a smiling  Jesus in pristine white robes skipped up a rope ladder that  eventually led into  puffy white clouds with silver linings. He was going home and we were sorry to see him go, but glad for him. He’d had a tough time with us and wasn’t sorry to be leaving.

Some of this understanding no doubt came out of my rare attendances at Presbyterian Sunday School and  from reading the 12 volumes of Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories, a popular children’s religious book first published in 1924 that gave me nightmares for years. I am probably still unlearning some of the disturbing sacrificial tendencies and self-punitive theology found in those curious morality tales.

Uncle Arthur was Arthur Stanley Maxwell, a British  administrator in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. I doubt very much that my parents knew he wasn’t a solid Protestant (defined back then as Presbyterian, Methodist or middle-of-the-road Anglican, definitions and types that no longer exist). They were  agnostic, with a nominal idea that religion was good for people, mostly other people, and for children. My mother had  been through some mission schooling with German nuns who taught her to knit (badly) and she had a rosary kept in a box with her  jewellery. My father was Scottish, not at all interested in churchy stuff,  and  said that people had the morality they could afford.

Our education was scant and eccentric. I was sent off to a convent school for one term  and then  subjected to years of ad hoc correspondence schooling. We had a Bible somewhere in the house, black bound with coloured illustrations (Daniel with a black beard, swathed in  blue and  red drapes and gesticulating wildly in the lions’ den) marred by tiny print, incomprehensible and never read although we would look at the pictures and make up stories to fit the garish scenes. For  good in-depth  biblical understanding there were the terrors of Uncle Arthur and what happened to bad children.

Anyhow, my early understanding of  the Ascension didn’t include any idea of the Messiah returning and there was no mention of the Comforter or Paraclete being sent to us. It was all about a departure, slightly unreal and  bewildering. Belatedly, I now understand that the  Ascension is about  presence rather than absence. The Resurrected Christ ascends so that the Paraclete may come  to dwell within and amongst us.


Karl Rahner:

Because he wanted to come close to us definitively, he has gone away and taken us with him.  Because he was lifted up (on the cross of death and to the right hand of the Father) he and everything in him have become near.  The reason for this is that his Spirit – the Spirit in whom Christ is near to us, the Spirit upon whom Christ from eternity in eternity bestows the eternal fullness of life from the Father, the Spirit over and above which there is nothing that Christ could give in all eternity – this Spirit is in us now.  He is in us as the basis of the nearness of eternal contemplation, as the basis of the transfiguration of the flesh.  We notice nothing of this, and that is why the Ascension seems to be separation.  But it is separation only for our paltry consciousness.  We must will to believe in such a nearness – in the Holy Spirit…..When we are apparently estranged from the nearness of his earthly flesh, then we are the more united with him…..He takes on our semblance only to give us his own reality – the eternal, inexpressible reality that he received from the Father, that he gives us in his Spirit, and that we can receive because he, returning home with all that is ours, made it possible to share in God’s own life.

And May is Mary’s month



This old reminder, from  the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins


May Magnificat

May is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
Her feasts follow reason,
Dated due to season—

Candlemas, Lady Day;
But the Lady Month, May,
Why fasten that upon her,
With a feasting in her honour?

Is it only its being brighter
Than the most are must delight her?
Is it opportunest
And flowers finds soonest?

Ask of her, the mighty mother:
Her reply puts this other
Question: What is Spring?—
Growth in every thing—

Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together;
Star-eyed strawberry-breasted
Throstle above her nested

Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within;
And bird and blossom swell
In sod or sheath or shell.

All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathising
With that world of good,
Nature’s motherhood.

Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind
How she did in her stored
Magnify the Lord.

Well but there was more than this:
Spring’s universal bliss
Much, had much to say
To offering Mary May.

When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
Bloom lights the orchard-apple
And thicket and thorp are merry
With silver-surfed cherry

And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
And magic cuckoocall
Caps, clears, and clinches all—

This ecstasy all through mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth
To remember and exultation
In God who was her salvation.