On Good Friday

Stations of the Cross #5, "Simon of Cyrene carries the cross", Notre-Dame Basilica, Geneva.

Stations of the Cross #5, “Simon of Cyrene carries the cross”, Notre-Dame Basilica, Geneva.

On Good Friday I sat in church, watching and listening as most of the congregation followed the priest around the fourteen Stations of the Cross. The woman with the walking-frame, stoically devout, completed the circuit with the others, while her white-muzzled black dog hobbled back and forth up and down the nave, stopping to receive attention from some of those who, like me, had remained in their pews.

Meditations translated from the words of French poet Paul Claudel were spoken gently by a man known for his work as a broadcaster. Between the meditations, periods of silence were terminated by spells of difficult and discordant organ music – some strident, some morose – which I could have done without.

I had earlier told the woman who had welcomed me that my parents had been married in this church, and that I had been baptized here.

I will return to St Peter’s on Willis on Easter Day, looking forward to the Eucharistic ritual I have not shared in since Midnight Mass at Wellington Cathedral on Christmas Eve.

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The tradition of moving around the Stations to commemorate the Passion of Christ began with St. Francis of Assisi and extended throughout the Roman Catholic Church in the medieval period. It is also observed in Lutheranism and Anglo-Catholicism. It is most commonly done during Lent, especially on Good Friday (from Wikipedia: Stations of the Cross).

Wikimedia Commons includes a page with links to images of twelve of the fourteen Stations of the Cross by sculptor Jean-Bernard Duseigneur. (This page gives his name as Jean-Baptiste Du Seigneur, and he is elsewhere known as Jehan Duseigneur; eg, on Paris Sculptures.) Born in Paris in 1808, Duseigneur studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, and in 1831 achieved renown when he exhibited Roland Furieux, often regarded as the first romantic sculpture (now in the Louvre). Soon afterwards he turned almost exclusively to the production of religious works (adapted from a brief article in Wikipedia).

PS – Easter Day: The old black dog, Emma, was there again today; she, like the other “regulars”, was wearing her name-tag. 

 

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Giving up the past

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

A little piece I wrote back in 2010 – Sanitation? … or sanitization? – has been receiving a bit of attention from blog-readers in recent times, so I took another look at it myself … and it seems quite an appropriate topic for the season of Lent (which began last Wednesday (05 March).

Responding to a comment on the original post, I explained that “The between-the-lines inferences and implications of my post [had] to do, on the one hand, with destroying incriminating evidence, hiding my inner life … and, on the other hand, with holding on to mementos and souvenirs, and maintaining a record of things I [wanted] to remember.”

A bit cryptic – to say the least.

In the original post, I quoted something from A. Whitney Brown: “The past actually happened but history is only what someone wrote down.” (A. Whitney Brown, in The Big Picture)

What I didn’t make clear, in that 2010 post, is that what happened in the past is still in the past – nothing of the event itself is actually happening now. In effect, all that’s happening now is that a voice in my head is reading aloud what got written down in the past, and maybe reminding me about the wrong I have done and the good I have not done … and maybe I’m cringing, feeling guilty.

An act of contrition is one thing; getting rid of the rubbish is another. But this is not a lenten sermon, so back to the crux of the matter: “Giving up the past”.

In my experience, the inclination to clutter is often the outcome of either of two impulses: at one extreme is the Proustian urge to document everything (see note 1 below); at the other end of the scale, I hang on to things I cannot find the inner resources to attend to, process, or deal with.

Of late, I’ve been managing pretty much all the day-to-day chores and commitments, but there is a persistent residue that is harder to shift. A high percentage of that stuff still clutters my living-space; the remainder clutters my mind and my heart. The physical clutter is the manifestation of inner states, and its persistence is invariably anchored in the past.

The prophet Isaiah – who, by the way, had some worthwhile things to say about fasting and repentance (see Note 2 below) – said: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” (Isaiah 43:18, NIV). Whilst digging around on the interweb, I found a nice paraphrase: “When your past calls, let it go to voice-mail. It has nothing new to say.”

So I have plenty of work to do – giving up my past, and putting out the psychological and emotional trash.
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NOTES:

1/ Proust, who claims to have no memory, keeps track of everything. His letters (there are several thousand) provide a running inventory of his bodily functions – letters to his mother providing an update of his respiratory condition, letters to his doctor listing the details of his menu, little notes handed to his housekeeper every morning reporting the number of times he coughed the night before. (Rebecca Comay, in Proust’s Remains)  

2/ The symbolism of the familiar Ash Wednesday ritual – a cross smeared on the forehead using the ashes of palms gathered up after the Palm Sunday procession – connects back to repentance practices in Old Testament times – see Isaiah 58, for example. 

In spiritual practice all religions are connected


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If you examine the great religions of the world, you can discern philosophical and metaphysical views, on the one hand, and daily spiritual practice, on the other. Although the philosophical views differ and sometimes contradict each other, in spiritual practice all religions are connected. They all recommend inner transformation of our stream of consciousness, which will make us better, more devout people. (His Holiness The Dalai Lama)

Dressing the tree

dressing the tree (19 Dec 2012)

dressing the tree (19 Dec 2012)

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The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmastime. (Encyclopædia Britannica)

Over recent years, it has been my habit to wind a green garland of synthetic pine around a cylinder of chicken wire, and to dress it with white lights and clear glass baubles. Year by year – remaining loyal to our family tradition – I have added to the collection of ornaments.

For this first Christmas in my new apartment, I wanted something sculptural and spare to complement the quiet stillness of my décor, but which would nevertheless look good dressed in glass. So I went to Trade Aid‘s Wellington store and bought a tall tree woven from bamboo.

The photo shows only part of the tree … I hadn’t yet decided on what this year’s new additions ought to be.

Cantillation signs – “black-limbed curlicues”

example of biblical Hebrew trope

example of biblical Hebrew trope (from Wikipedia article on “Cantillation”)

“In the holy tongue, cantillation signs are called taamin, which also means flavors. These little flourishes above and below the letters not only score the melody of the text, they bring out its essence. In time, you, too, will savor the holy verses.” (Zalman, in Anouk Markovits’s novel, I am Forbidden [p54])

… In Josef’s sleep, the black-limbed curlicues scuffled and spun threads he could not unravel, Zalman stories within Christ stories amid which Josef searched for a last letter, a first letter, that spelled a lost word. (I am Forbidden, by Anouk Markovits [p54])

“Cantillation signs guide the reader in applying a chant to Biblical readings. This chant is technically regarded as a ritualized form of speech intonation rather than as a musical exercise like the singing of metrical hymns: for this reason Jews always speak of saying or reading a passage rather than of singing it.” (from Wikipedia)

Anouk Markovits has such a remarkable power to weave words. “But the wonder of this elegant, enthralling novel,” as Susannah Meadows so aptly puts it in her review for The New York Times, “is the beauty Ms Markovits unearths in the Hasidic community she takes us into. She remains largely nonjudgmental about the most difficult-to-grasp practices of the Satmar sect, while showing how even the most fervent believers struggle with the letter-of-the-law faith.”

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Markovits, Anouk. 2012. I am forbidden. London: Hogarth

For links to reviews and related material, see The taste of clouds, (07 Nov 2012)

The taste of clouds

"I am Forbidden" – cover

“I am Forbidden” – cover

On the crest of the Pont des Arts, they leaned over the bridge’s railing and turned up their palms for the first drops of rain. The sky unleashed itself and they whirled as they had as children, arms stretched wide as their tongues searched their lips for the taste of clouds. (Anouk Markovits, in I am Forbidden [p138]) 

As I read I am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits – pen and paper always at the ready – the text drew me, deeper and deeper, into a profound experience. There is much to share … but not all at once.

Anouk Markovits was raised a Hasidic Jew in France, but at 19 she fled her community to avoid an arranged marriage. She went on to get a master’s degree in architecture and a PhD in romance studies. “I Am Forbidden,” her first novel in English, centers on two Hasidic sisters: one who leaves, and one who stays, shunning modernity. (from a review published in The New York Times (15 May 2012)

There’s a succinct synopsis on GoodReads, and a review with links to related material on The Telegraph.

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Markovits, Anouk. 2012. I am forbidden. London: Hogarth

Blessed are the poor in spirit

The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. (Mark 14:7, NIV)

“‘Scuse me … can you spare a few coins?” If you live where I live, you know who I’m quoting.

He’s been at it for years. He’s not representing UNICEF, Red Cross, Cancer Society, Greenpeace, the Fred Hollows Foundation, or even Hare Krishna – although they’ve all got beggars out on the streets seeking a few coins … or a monthly subscription.

I saw this fellow a couple of evenings ago, seated on a bench near the usual intersection. He stood up to approach me, but a gust of wind plucked his black billed cap from his head. The prospect of having to chase after the cap clearly proved too daunting and he resumed his seat.

“I’ll grab it for you,” I reassured him, noting that it had come to a stop against a pole, at the feet of a young woman waiting for the green man.

“Thanks mate,” he replied. And, when I returned with it, “A few spare coins?”

“I have none.”

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For a sermon dealing with this topic, here’s one from W Maynard Pittendreigh

The power of the tongue

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. (Proverbs 18:21, English Standard Version) 

cover of Michael Crummey's novel, "Galore"

cover of Michael Crummey’s novel, “Galore”

There’s a well-known proverb: “Talk is cheap.” And here’s another: “Actions speak louder than words.”

But God spoke and the heavens and the earth came into being.

The “power of the tongue” citation turns up near the end of Michael Crummey’s wonderful novel, Galore (Other Press, 2011) – which is where I rediscovered it a couple of days ago.

There’s a nice review by Lisa Peet (which I’ve linked to the cover illustration here), and another (written for The Guardian) by Liz Jensen.

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PS: “The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbours, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.” (Voltaire)

Cross light

cross light (09 Apr 2012)

cross light (09 Apr 2012)

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St Peter’s Apartments, opposite the Anglican Church, Wellington. It was this image, and not the green man, that persuaded me to cross Willis Street this morning.

Monday morning, Easter Weekend, zero traffic … who needs a green man?

Spring and autumn

fresh figs (27 Sep 2011)

fresh figs (27 Sep 2011)

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The experts say our La Niña weather pattern is coming to an end and we can expect the remainder of our autumn to be warmer than usual. We’ve certainly been having some lovely summery days lately, although the evenings and the mornings have been autumnal.

“The NIWA National Climate Centre’s outlook for late autumn, April to June 2012, indicates air temperatures are likely to be average or above average in the west and south of the South Island, and near average elsewhere,” according to Yahoo’s New Zealand News (30 March)

Looking out at the fig tree in a friend’s sunlit garden a few days ago, I recalled the photos I’d taken back in Spring. And that reminded me of the mystifying story (in both Matthew and Mark) in which Jesus cursed a fig tree and it withered.

In my experience, weather and fig trees in Wellington are equally unpredictable.

You can read about “Figs in the Bible” in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figs_in_the_Bible