Posted by: rosa alba | July 2, 2014

The Withered Rose of Westminster.

IN response to the article on Wings over Scotland, entitled, “Where the sun shines brightly”.
The SNP is predicated on the idea of Nationalism: therefore our SNP MSPs campaign for independence (though as the Rev points out – by omission – they are on holiday, Holyrood breaks with the schools, thoughtfully). It is there job and their raison d’être.
IN terms of the Scottish Labour Party MSPs, the referendum is of Scotland and of Holyrood. They have a job to do (I am not sure Darling does not least because of his recent faux pas, but also because he is a Westminster MP; what does it say  Scottish Labour -or indeed the whole political array of Better Together –  that they found none of their MSPs fit to figurehead the campaign?).

The MP in question here, Jim Murphy, who has taken time out of the Parliamentary Session at Westminster where he sits, to campaign for Better Together is an employee of the people, at and for Westminster (like Mr Darling). As Stu Campbell points out. But more, rightly, the referendum is not of the  Westminster government: both the official governmental take and logic suggests it is an internal matter (for Scotland to decide), for all the break of the Union does negatively affect all the constituents of rUK…if it was in their favour for us “subsidy junkies” to sever the ties, they would be sending us of with a drawer o porridge, and a “here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?” That the myth Scotland’s subsidy junkies has been brought to light as hitherto unsung subsidising heroes the understanding of Better Together for us, worse for you is clarified.

It does not stop Scottish Labour targetting the SNP with accusations of failing to mitigate the impact of London Coalition policy on the citizens of Scotland. It seems somwhat ingenue if not distinctly ans squirmingly blame-shifting for Jackie Bailley not to accept the role of Labour at opposition party at Westminster (and in tandem with SNP at Holyrood inasmuch as any implications of the Tory Cuts were devolved matters) to stand up to oppose these cuts and legislative changes.
It is what Socialism does, by the universal definition of what Socialism is; it is the movement of the people, advocating for the people.  By definition – with few exceptions – Labour has ceased to be defined as Socialist – bad enough – but has also publicised the intention to uphold any legistlative and benefit changes that impact Britain’s poorest dispossesed.  They may not go to the extent of profiteering from the system, with their own investments, like certain Tory MPs, like Benyon, or not openly.
The sole Labour voice resoundingly being seen to protest against the impacts of the Tory Cuts is Glenda Jackson, as shared on Youtube.
This brings me to my second point: in the Glenda Jackson video there is on the opposition benches a dearth of opposition MPs.   I do not know the context of Glenda Jackson’s rhetoric – but the absence of elected members who are richly remunerated to sit on their rears in the chambers was a sad indictment of democratic governement at Westminster.
Almost as bad was the phone-browsing of three of the ?four MPs in shot in that video.
By comparison, there seemed, at least, to be more bums on seats on the Government side of the chamber.
Perhaps these two events: Jim Murphy’s island-hopping jaunt and Glenda’s outraged oratory for the ordinary man (not the party activist) serve to reinforce the need for deep, indepth questions.
Not just the questions as to the UK Labour Party’s fitness to represent in opposition or to govern, but – excluding the elephant of expenses claims, the  fitness of the protocols and practices of Westminster Parliament’ a place and means of government.

We have the chance of a tabula rasa: a clean, unsoiled slate on which we can write a robust constitution and protocols fit for (the purpose of) governing our nation, and through which we can facilitate policy and practice for the people.  We can chose to replant ourselves, not in the shadow of Empire, where we will never flower, but in an Independent Scotand where as a nation, the White Rose of Scotland can bloom, with a sense of justice and self-respect, held high. in a brightness beyond this Summer of Yes.

Posted by: rosa alba | July 2, 2014

Engaged to Dance: Abstinence No – Say Yes!

Pat Kane and Peat Worrier discussed in a blog the issue of Journalism standards this week. Interesting listening (and Wings over Scotland was mentioned in dispatches, albeit to mixed review). An intellectualised conversation, but which came back to the need for the moral (or social skills) highground in media, mainstream or otherwise, while acknowleding the place of terriers to relentlessly seek and expose truths.   And I would add, a single-mindedness to ask the right questions, persistently.

In context to various aspects of this, and in response to editorial headlines that skew an initial perception of content, we need to keep our eYes on the goal in this debate. A Yes Vote is the goal; the rest (social restructuring and innovative egalitarian policy) will come after that.

With our eYes on the prize, we must not be deviated by inappropriate mud-slinging or witch hunts.  Wiles has had her 15 minutes of ingloriousness.  She deserved less as she was serially unfit to represent democracy or the people (and I would suggest to be an educator): further personal commentary is unnecessary. Not just unnecessary but unhelpful. She does not merit more attention.
What does remain at the frontline,  as a Wings Over Scotland  post today points out, is the need for deep, indepth evaluation and analysis by the Scottish Labour Party as to how the Angus Affiar (and I DO include the vandalism of the SNP Office  as I see a direct correlation) came about, and an assessment as to whether it is likely to happen elsewhere or with other parliamentary candidates.

It is already evidenced, not with Mike Dailly’s promises of McCarthy-like lists of agitating Yes Voters, (or other minor incidents) but with Darling’s comments, and the retrweet on the Kim Jong-il meme by Alistair Darling’s wife.  The easiness with which the mainstream media glossed over or dismissed these unacceptable slurs  of participants in and sullying of legitimate politcal debates is beyond worrisome, particularly from a highly placed member of the establishment, when there was a following up, and rightly so, of the online  skirmishes  over the Ordinary Dumbarton Mum’s engagement, or the Ordinary Wizard Mum’s donations.  It also legitimised this kind of engagement when that highly placed member of the establishment was the figurehead on one side of the Referendum fence.

A failure in transparency on these  matters will amplify the questions already being asked as to the Labour Party’s fitness for governance, on many counts, not least management, discretion (sense and worth, w. apologies to Rabbie) and respect.  Wings raises valid points as to the decision to disregard the easily found out Social Media profile of Ms Wiles, and as importantly whether there seems to be an abandonment of traditional socialist values.  
That she was an ingenue latching on to  the standard of discourse set by Darling might be too favourable an assessment of Wiles, and it is evident that she was  no lamb to the slaughter, but Darlings comments should have been denounced by the Labour Party, an apology issued (accompanied if needs be but a explanation of “undue stress”; not a justification but as commentators other than I have pointed out, the man is cracking up).  Three weeks on a Hebridean Island might have been advisable (armed police notwithstanding).

Social Media have changed the terms of political debate and raised the level of engagement. A’ Jock Tamson’s bairns rightly feel they have a stake worded within  a pithy tweet or Facebook page.  When virtually everyone has their own online presence, it becomes a valid reality. 
So, the tenor of online writing varies widely from uninformed and rumour monger, to satire to indepth analysis, and one specific publicstion is no guarantee of an associated style or register: even the most unabsorbed blogger wants hits (especially if they require income from their writing, in this target driven world) and hits mean being all things to all readers: sometimes satire bordering on witchy, sometimes short and to the point, sometimes legitimate – if longwinded – analyses.
The internet is interactive which means any written commentry is not set in stone but generates evolving responses (and re-edits as seen the online front pages of the mainstream media, in which alarmingly the fingerprints of the establishment can be seen) . It is debate in real time (with the denialbility of delete).   At lenght or in 140 characters. Brevity sharpens the mind, and a mind sharpened hones the point.
Just as the internet has democratised the process and fertilised the grassroots movement beyond the imagination of even, for example, Thatcher: it also leaves few corners for the incautious politician to hide. Whiter than Caesar’s wife is not a (new) aphorism, however politicians today need to be, not just white but M&S, sparkling Daz blue-white. Everyone has a smart phone ready to record literal or metaphorical banana-skins. The private views muttere in smoky backrooms in gentleman’s clubs (or miners welfares) have no place to go.   This can be good when it exposes genuine duplicity, shortfalls or hypocrisy.
Yet the failure to be aware of this, showed either a sense of “above rebuke” or unimaginable lacke of  not just wiles, but pure and simple common sense: for anyone engaged in the debate at a professional level to leave themselves open to comeback as did Ms Wiles and Mr Darling (I am more worried about the man in whose promises we are encouraged to place our trust) is beyond belief.  One would hope every poltician is scrutinising their settings, and double checking everything they post, however that create an in camera venue for views not worthy of mainstream politics, nor morally justifiable: although, we live in the era of not just PhotoShop but screen capture, so even the private post is not beyond exposure.
Ultimately though, it is about trust.  Anyone can write a blog. Anyone can express opinion: all statistics are lies or at least perspectives (even YouGov polls are not beyond questioning) and  checking facts is a moveable feast: online newspapers allow for quick comparison of different versions of the same story, even while they demand of the politically engaged a responsibility to evaluate and analyse our sources (a key Experience & Outcome rightly embedded in the Curriculum for Excellence, for our future citizens). Thankfully the new informed, and engaged electorate tend to be alert and aware of editorial perspectives and the political implications of ownership, not least in the case of the State broadcaster; especially true of the media hounds. Despite the introspection of the latter, there is, no doubt, a post-modernist epithet along the lines of engagement engendering democratisation engendering engagement…

A final caveat is that this political engagement seen online needs monitored and analysed, not by outside sources (or agencies) but by its participants, and in terms of self-evaluation. Talking among ourselves is good, but we need to ensure we are bringing a party with us to the YesParty (or subsequent parties).

The Yes Movement, National Collective and Common Weal are grassroots, are dynamic and people are coming out of their front rooms, away from the limited influence of TV broadcasters to take part – the joyous, festival nature is truly awesome to those of us who remember the hustings of old.

This is the momentum we have to keep up.  Like an old-fashioned snowball waltz,  we come together, sway to the a Bob Marley tune, come apart and seek a new dancing partner, over and over.  Movement of Yes people…

Posted by: rosa alba | June 17, 2014

Roma locuta est (Rome has spoken)?

The keyboards (or devices) are hot with the news of the Chinese Premier championing if not democracy (!) then at least the cause of the Unionists.   He has, if the press froth is to be believed, spoken for a “strong, propsperous and united UK.   But concluded his statement of “future…growth…development..stability..peace” with the words, “We certainly respect the choice you make”.   Like Hillary said, and Obama, it is, indeed for “the folks” to decide.

I have read the piece, in Spainish, in which the Bishop of Rome, Prelate of the Catholic Church was more circumspect….not dismissing the complications, bitterness and strife of a “break-up”.  He did not seem to mention Scotland’s ecclesiastical status as an independent entity before and even after both the Reformation and the Union of the Parliaments. Obviously during the penal years the clergy – trained in Rome, Spain and at one point Paris – had no visible head, but when the Catholic hierarchy in Scotland was reinstated in Rome, in the 19th C, it was with their own dioceses (as before the reformation and the demise of Cardinal Beaton in Paris in the early 1600s), Archbishops and Sees, one (Glasgow) directly under Rome. Scotland was her own country in the eyes of the Church.  However, nowhere in the interview does the Pope mention this, even so, it is important to note that the (Spanish Language, Madrid-owned) paper asked about Spain and Catalonia, and Catalonia does not share this same “independent” ecclesiastical status.

What he does speak of in the same piece is “the gap between rich and poor”:

En el centro de todo sistema económico debe estar el hombre, el hombre y la mujer, y todo lo demás debe estar al servicio de este hombre. Pero nosotros hemos puesto al dinero en el centro, al dios dinero. Hemos caído en un pecado de idolatría, la idolatría del dinero. La economía se mueve por el afán de tener más y, paradójicamente, se alimenta una cultura del descarte.

At the centre of every economic system should stand mankind, man and woman, and everything else should be put to the service of man(kind).  But we have put money at the centre, Mammon (God of Money). We have fallen into the sin of idolatry – the idolatry of money.   The economy is driven by the desire to own more, and paradoxically, it feeds a culture of rejection.

From the start of the debate – and increasingly as the lies and mistrust, the dissimulation, scapegoating, and  empty promises of  definitely more Devolved Concerns, maybe, sort of, in some form, eventually, possibly have been broadcast as loud appeasement there is a clear, poignant, melody (a Pibroch maybe, echoing, unmissable) calling us to mourn the demise of the welfare state, of humanity in politics and Politics.   The amendments, taxes, cuts in spending, benefit changes are too many and too creepingly insidious to recall fully by name; many (including the bill about which the National Autistic Society is raising concerns – capping the Independent Living Fund) are passed unnoticed.  But the tragedy left behind is crystal clear:   increasing child poverty,  food banks, lack of provision for society’s most needy, homelessness, despair, exhausted carers on the bread-line and a culture of part-time, minimum wage employment.  No one needs figures – they only have to walk through the centres of our towns to see.  Bankers, hedge-funders and entrepreneurs may sup with Tory Politicians but however lively and resounding the reel, we are not invited to dance at the ill-gotten marriage.   Sadly the screech of the fiddles and the rhythm of the bodrahn at the feast seems louder than the pibroch: it is fun to dance, you see, and easy to turn up the volume on an amp.

We are called – Jews and all Christians alike – to many commandments in terms of charity (mitzvot or tzadikot in Hebrew); Catholics speak of Corporal Works of Mercy. We can chose to avoid living these commandments (perhaps summed up in “love thy neighbour as thyself”) but  we face the consequences: they are not optional add-ons to Redemption and Salvation, and sola fides or not, our Corporal Acts or Works of Mercy are testament to and evidence of our faith.  They alone may not redeem us, but without them, our professed faith is empty, our redemption banked on a house of cards with no rafters or joists.

But we live in a society in which our tithe is our taxes, our National Insurance, as well as our donations to Charity.   We live in a world, in Modern Europe where the ministrations of the religious or other establishments are patchy and supplementary to the Welfare State. Their funding by public subscription insufficient to meet the manifold and specialist needs of those who call on them.   The Third Sector (including  housing associations not run for profit) may grow apace, however, most of the funding for their organsations  and a good tranche of funding for charities, comes from government. And it is an ever-diminishing pot with increasing numbers of hands dipping into it.

In any case, the needs of the disenfranchised of today – the seriously mentally ill, the elderly, those with dementia, children with complex and severe Additional Support Needs, the poor, the homeless, the alcoholic and the drug addicts: those for whom Christ came, those with whom he dined and about whose needs he preached throughout the Gospel of Luke, their requirements are too complex, too deep-rooted, too manifold, and too enduring to be resolved via the ad hoc nature of charity donations, whose service can be good, but variable.  The Third Sector does a good job, but has its limitations, with each organisation predicated on particular aims and service users,  beyond which fact, it is starved of funding and resources.

If we profess a faith that follows the teachings of Judasim or Christianity, we are almost obliged to stop this stem of putting money and personal gain at the centre of  our society.  We have to stand op the passage of laws that persist in disenfranchising the already dispossessed and vulnerable, just as Jesus stood up and healed the lame, on a Sunday, or cast out  Devils.   This does not necessarily mean a vote for an Independent Scotland but we must ask ourselves, in our heart, what we value: national values, a fuzzy notion of Team GB or humanity and the teachngs of Christ.

And, if we answer the latter, we need, all of us, to search and research deep and wide to assure ourselves of which result  and political landscape, after the Referendum, is more likely to enact policy which will meet the needs of those whose voices are lost under viaducts and down disused vennels.

There are aspects of the proposed Constitution I disagree with, but largely, it guarantees service provision for the needy.


“Inclusion is about all learners and about taking action to remove barriers to participation and learning. Inclusion also involves eliminating discrimination and promoting equality.”

Education Scotland (Curriculum for Excellence):


One of my last previous posts (a couple of years ago) was on the theme of “Initium sapientiae timor domini”  (the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom, a quote tied to Education in the NE)– a post I am purposefully not re-reading before adding this post, and this post may move this blog from the previous theology-based musing to something else.   The beginning of wisdom…..well, for all the role of the church(es) in Scotland in furthering education through the centuries, the beginning of wisdom as a nation is about ensuring education continues to be accessible by all and meet the needs of all: removing every, single barrier for learning on a concentrated, national level, and as much as is actually possible, for every single child within our education system.

I – you – everyone would like to believe that “for every single child” really means that, on an individual tailored basis..and of course it does, in theory. Where theory and practice chasm apart is funding and resourcing, not in terms of (the current) teaching system or teacher commitment. It is about national, political and budgetary commitment, for the people (and hopefully by the people).

The various voices of the Yes campaign at Strategic Level have made clear, that Education has been a priority for the Scottish Government, which is evidenced by the fees-free Higher Education provision for Scottish (and other EU students) in Scotland. How great is that? HOW GREAT IS THAT?  The tradition of education as a great leveller: the tradition that from as early as the 12th Century with the foundation of Aberdeen Grammar School promoted education, and through bursaries, scholarship and patronage, increasingly education for ALL.   Of course, until relatively recently (if we start at the foundation of Aberdeen Grammar School or the 300 years younger St Andrew’s University) “education for all” meant only half the population, and those male.  Of course it was of its time, and we cannot rewrite the past: we can write the future.

The future is the Curriculum for Excellence, a systematically coherent structure that values and allows for Academic Excellence and learning for its own sake but also for an understanding of learning and its purpose, and skills acquisition fitting for the modern world. In this modern world of online sources and finger-tip encyclopaediae (where winning the Pub Quiz is about having the best 3G access and the quickest google-fu), knowledge still has its place but equally, even more so,  the skills to access, analyse, evaluate and apply that knowledge productively.
The future is a vision of Getting It Right For Every Child: that vision transcends Education into integrated thinking and service provision, but in its Education component is the ultimate in not, levelling the field to the extent that the race becomes an anodyne, merit-less walk in the park with no medals, no laurels, no crowns but that each runner is given the apparatus he needs to compete equally in that race, and is lauded for his effort, participation and achievement in the race.   St Paul (1 Corinthians  9:24) writes about races and the aim being an incorruptible crown: and running with purpose in every step.   With the Curriculum for Excellence, in tandem with GIRFEC when applicable, every child will run with purpose to achieve a crown.

With the Curriculum for Excellence our country has re-modelled the system (in line with latest paedagogic theories, focused on sound educational research) but it means moving on, moving on  from that for which  many in my generation, my parents’ my grandparents had great love and affinity, and are sad to see retired.  But the new system, the Curriculum for Excellence, also allows our children, our future, the chance to participate equally on an increasingly global field of competition.  It is the dynamic continuance of a system which, with graduate teachers (Masters of Art), was the envy of the known world, from the fifteenth century onwards, but which sadly began to fail.

I am no lover of Empire or the mentality of Empire, but those who praise the Union, and the opportunities that the Empire furnished to Scots in the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries must needs also understand that yes, it was disproportionally  Scottish entrepreneurs, soldiers, teachers, ministers, administrators and even governors who ran and even benefited from the Empire, but it was also disproportionally Scottish expatriates of all kinds who hewed the way, and too often, died to further an Empire, from which, largely Scotland itself reaped disproportionately few profits on a wholesale level.

However the days of Empire were a time and era, and period now over, and we passed from post-Imperialism to the Individualism  of Thatcherism and the dismantling of industry and privatisation of resources  for individual gain.  Marx’s vision was never for Russia – a country at the time still embedded in Serfdom and Agrarianism, to be the poster child for his theories of egalitarianism and community. Like all writings of men, Marx’s were not perfect, but a approximate model, but a model that might have worked  (did work) successfully in Robert Owen’s New Lanark – feted throughout Europe, however, like Chartism, Owen’s communities did not have a basis for ongoing success within the elitist hegemony of Empire. The Quaker companies fared better, of course.  However, as Church-sponsored education, as Empire are of the past, so is a paternalistic, charity-based approach to Social Welfare and education (however much Bevin’s ideals are dying through neglect and charities are bearing the weight: do we want to return to an age of Victorian philanthropy?)

There is wisdom in the Bible: in Ecclesiastes

1There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

4a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

6a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

We have come to the time for us, not just to change  but to defend Scotland’s education system which increasingly (with the dismantling of the apprenticeship system, now replaced with modern apprenticeships, thankfully) was not meeting its goals at the level of Primary and Secondary  Education, and was not producing the likes of the movers and shakers who forged the Enlightenment and the Empire.  Increasingly less with each post-war generation are those, sons of the Manse or not, who have benefited from that system and had the opportunity to go on and do great things (or done so), but some there are.

One such was Gordon Brown. The same Gordon Brown who, not just by my lights failed to do great things with the endowment of his eduction but who wants to dismantle the sovereignty and independence of that Scottish Education System, obviously failing to understand not just the history but the renewal and revision of the system that has taken place, based on these enduring principles of equality and inclusion.

It is  time – now is the hour –  to defend Education. Not the system for system’s or sovereighty’s sake but for what an egalitarian and pupil-centred system, reflecting the enduring underpinning values of Education in Scotland, can offer Scotland’s children.  We value our men, women, children of “independent mind” which thinking skills the Curriculum for Excellence fosters, and as Burns predicted, the time has come where “sense and worth…shall bear the gree”. And with children educated to have independent mind, sense and gree, they can “reap their own harvest and ring their own tills….govern own country, wisely and fairly”; giving Scots the tools to self-manage, Scotland will, in the words of the Corries, flourish.

In the first few lines of this post, I mentioned the chasm of funding and resourcing.  If we let the Education System of Scotland be homogenised into an undifferentiated system with that of England and Wales, which has always tended to more elitist, we necessarily let go the devolution of Education to Holyrood. In so doing we relinquish the freedom to prioritise Education in terms of budgeting and resourcing.

This potential budgetary subjugation to London,  means not JUST the free tertiary education for all,  but the extra classroom assistant for the child with cerebral palsy who ends up having a toileting accident because the P1 teacher cannot leave the room – and 19 other children – to take her to the toilet; we let go of the funding priorities of free school dinners for every child to ensure a good meal in their wame and ability focus on the day’s learning; we let go of the funding priorities of early intervention; we let go the opportunity of funding  Nurture Groups to help make up the developmental delays in those who have had a rocky start;  we let go the concept of reduced class size for early years in areas of deprivation which raise attainment, and resilience  (key given the issues of child poverty in Scotland’s cities and shiress); we let go the priorities of the supplementary teachers to enable able pupils with ADHD or ASD to achieve their full-potential, rather than be exiled to two hours a day part-time education because they are “ineducable”;* we let go the budgets to fund specialist off-site education for children with severe Additonal Support Needs or therapeutic needs (funding placements for needy children is hard to secure for such provisions in England). On a very basic level, we let go the budgets to ensure each child has adequate practical resources of enough text books, working technology and even jotters.  If we give this up,  we give up on Scottish Eduction – and we give all but the most elite of children “their jotters” before some have even crossed the schoolroom’s threshold.

Am I scare-mongering? Perhaps.  But of one thing we can be guaranteed, is more budget cuts in matters reserved for Westminster.  Education – above all education – should not be the sacrificial lamb that used to separate us from the goats.

*In no location or setting, in their adult working life will children with ADHD and ASD forcibly have to function in a room with 32 other children, with all the noise and sensory input, and unpredictability of childhood and adolescent social interactions, and restrictions that classrooms entail, which restrictions are very much reduced under the developing CfE, if adequately resourced.

And now for a little Paolo Nutini:

Posted by: rosa alba | June 17, 2014

So, come a’ ye at hame wi freedom

The New Dawn in Aberdeen as the Bruce awaited unveiling on Monday. How meet, how apt in the confidence of national psyche that brought about  election victory for the SNP.  The same  confidence as that  of the Sma’ Army – the people – which brought victory for the Scots, driving their foes into the Forth in 1314  and born of a mind to fight for dignity and the right to self-determination.

But lovely though Saturday was – with capoeira dancers, healers, families of different colours and beliefs,   traditional and modern music, and seagulls, the diversity that makes up Scotland, and delightful the likes of Alasdair Gray’s cover for The Herald on Sunday, the words of Hamish Henderson’s song rang cannily true on Sunday:

“Roch the wind i the cold day dawin’
Blaws the cloods heilster-gaudy o’er the bay
But there’s mair nor a roch wind blawin’
Through the Great Glen o’ the wairld the day.”

We must not sit back and wait buoyed with optimism that the battle is won, discussing what the New Scotland could and should look like. The goal is in sight, the objective clear but the battle only now begun.

Posted by: rosa alba | January 13, 2011

Are ye wise?

“Are ye wise?” is a rhetorical question boldly asked in the North East of Scotland of someone who has leaped into a course of action that others might have had the foresight to avoid. A somewhat less harsh way of suggesting, “it is your own fault” with an unspoken, “ye eejit.”  So are you wise? And what constitutes wisdom?

Inscribed on the floor of Kings’ College Conference Hall (the old Kings’ Library with its famed vaulted ceiling)  in inlaid mosaic is the motto, “Initium sapientae timor domini;” which translates as, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  Of course this motto harks back to the origins of universities as religious institutions (and it is not a novel thought or comment to state that the modernist, the secularist might reject the precept) and is drawn from the final lines of Psalm 111:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all who follow his precepts have good understanding.

To him belongs eternal praise. (NIV translation)

The Psalm begins with a proclamation of God’s enduring power, and glory, and our dependence on Him, implicitly as a child on a father.  Perhaps – without wanting to posit a pantheistic God – the recent weather tribulations (snow at home, floods abroad in Australia and Brazil) have shown how powerless we are in the face of nature  (many of the Psalms and Canticles do draw on the power of nature: the thundering, the roaring of seas, and – ironically almost these last two Christmases, as it is part of the morning office for the Octave of Christmas – the exhortation that “frost and snow, bless the Lord” [Canticle from Daniel, Week 1, Sunday.]
A favourite prayer of mine is the well-known Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

To truly “live the prayer” means not just seeking to address those issues,  big and small, which plague us and rile us (whether it is taking steps to complain about the buses to the Ombudsman, or making an effort to objectively and critically view one’s own contributions to one’s own misfortunes and address these attitudes or shortfalls honestly, even if the initial cost seem greater than “doing nothing about it”) but being insightful enough of our own humble humanity to admit where we have little or no power and dominion, a concept hard to internalise in a modern, secular “I can/you must” productivity and targets-based society where we tend to build our own thrones of Midas gold and set ourselves to rule.  Midas acquistive nature was his own downfall (HE was not wise), while we tend to paralyse ourselves with hypertensive futile rage and bitterness.

A second part to the Serenity Prayer (I did not know until I searched for it) runs:

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

A friend recently posted online about contentment being a question of the state of one’s soul: wisdom is the route to that state. Yesterday’s Morning Office (specific to the day, 12th Jan) had a reading from the book of Wisdom:

Wisdom is a reflection of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of God’s active power, image of his goodness. Although alone, she can do all; herself unchanging, she makes all things new. In each generation she passes into holy souls, she makes them friends of God and prophets. (Wis., 7:26-27)

Kabbalistic thought in Jewish tradition sees God as being manifest through ten Sefirot, of which one Wisdom; as Catholics (and Christians) we might see Wisdom as the Holy Spirit, guiding us to God: accepting our own human limitations and acknowledging the Authority of God – and living by his Commandments (or Precepts): to return to the initial verse cited, to follow the precepts of God shows a (wise) understanding of our own human place in a world.


Wisdom as an active force draws us to a revealed God, in all his persons and in the Eucharist, as the Magi were lead in their wisdom to the Word made Flesh, God incarnate in a manger – and as  within the co-dependent relationship of the Trinity  – walking with God in his ways, brings us to the wisdom of self-knowledge and peace.


Posted by: rosa alba | May 21, 2010

Hide and Seek

Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And His righteousness…

Ask and it shall be given unto you,
Seek and ye shall find,
Knock and the door will be opened unto you,

And the song starts over, breaking off into descant rounds. A song many of us remember from our school assemblies, Brownies, Guides and – do they still happen? – evangelical  Bible camps happened upon during the Glasgow Fair on the beaches of Ayrshire. One camp tied the song into a pirate treasure hunt in the rock pools of the beach at Portpatrick, back in the days of jelly shoes towelling  jumpsuits.

While Faith is undoubtedly a treasure (a friend once said “the greatest gift  my parents gave me was to teach me my Faith,” a sentiment I hope my son will echo), and a treasure  inextricably linked to the other two theological virtues of Hope and Love, the song itself seems to have both become popularised and have fuurther popularised the “gimme” approach to prayer  (the voice of Faith), a not unusual approach to life in this post-Thatcherite society. Lack of Faith in God, replaced with Faith in individualism and “Almighty Dollar” begets increasing lack of Faith when God – confused with Santa – fails to deliver.

The New International Translation of  Matthew 7: 7  uses a present continuous in place of the present finite rendering the better kennt King James Version of:
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you,”

“Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened for you.”

I wonder if this better reflects the process of growing in Faith (and Wisdom), growing in and through all the gifts of the Spirit, that is referred to in the quotation. For while this passage continues  by referring to a father’s love for his son (or daughter), and his providing them in their needs: to ask and seek and knock and find the door opened are not perhaps items on an immediately gratified shopping list. As part of the Sermon on the Mount, the content of Matthew 7, subtitled at Effective Prayer in the Jerusalem Bible translation, (v 7-11) the verses also has to be taken in the context of the whole Sermon of living a holy and faithful life: focussing on the metaphor of “entering” the door  that we stand knocking at  and which is:

“a narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew, vv 13 &14).

Further still, I think both the phrases (ideas) of “ask and it shall be given unto you” and “knock and the door shall be opened unto you” turn on (require, even)  the process of “searching and finding” that bridges them; and, to return to the KJV translation (though it applies equally if less boldly in the NIV) in this bridging concept, the (grammatical) voice shifts from passive (be given, be opened) to active: the searching and finding involves our participation and commitment, our action.

How do we search and when: I think of the RAF Search and Rescue helicopters, based until recently at Lossiemouth, and  so often seen and heard in the skies above the North Sea: I remember Piper Alpha, the Chinook crash and other oil-related and fishing-related losses at sea;  or of those lost on the Cairngorms, found after hours of searching in snow, wind, dark by the Mountain Rescue Volunteers.  Melodramatic connotations, but yet  symbolic of the pitfalls of life and the commitment involved in seeking “the narrow road…only a few find it”, and in the process many of us have long and murky “dark nights of the soul” the terror where nightfall and fog descents and we spend hours lost on treacherous mountains or where we we swim anchor-less in stormy seas. It is not gratuitous that  many of the songs of Southern Gospel Music feature lighthouses, ships, anchors. Our Lord Himself, familiar with both fishing and farming as ways of life, used not just nets and boats as symbols, but also used parable of the Faithful, Devoted Shepherd seeking out sheep lost in some “roch corrie”: sometimes the asking is a piteous bleat, answered by a crook around the neck “howking us up and leading us back to the sheiling”.  What is remarkable is how the metaphors of First Century Palestine still hold truth and resonate in  21st Century NE Scotland.

The phrase ‘the Lord helps those who help themselves’  is not, in fact, in the Bible but originates with Aesop and yet that is the inference we can on one level take from the verses quoted; however there is another aspect in which the” asking/receiving” cannot be divorced from the  active “seeking/finding”: verse 11 of Chapter 7 of Matthew (see above) speaks of God giving us that which is good for us.. it would be fatuous to use the trite excuse of “you did not ask the correct question”  or  yet, “you might not get what you asked for”, but prayerfully considering a problem, and taking it to the Lord for a solution can often result in us finding a way to work out an unexpected solution on our own. “Lord, let me win the lottery [to pay for a new boiler/afford a holiday/fix the bathroom]” may be answered with additional offers of paid employment or exchange of goods, or if we look hard enough, other options not often involving “handed to us on a plate”.  The road is hard and does involve our effort and commitment: work and sometimes sacrifice, of an extra coat, time, love.

James (the James, author of the book of the Bible) writes in 2:14 that faith without works is meaningless: “faith, if not accompanied by action, is dead” (NIV). It is the Grace of God, Grace visited on us and topped up in the Sacraments  that calls us to believe and sustains that belief but it is not “a one time” response to God’s call:

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me;” (Rev. 3:20).

but, in our bleating human frailty, a constant “asking” “seeking” and “knocking at God’s door” in the hope of finding the key to let us in: the keys are Prayer and the Sacraments. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God says to us “come awa’ in, Ah’ve been waitin on ye;” and – in the Eucharist, “ye’ll be needing yer supper”: the feeding of the lambs, the mission given  Peter and the other Apostles by Our Lord during the time between the Resurrection and the Ascension.  There is an old Scottish joke: if you go to someone’s house at suppertime in Aberdeen, they will say, “Come in, ye’ll hae brought the supper” and in Edinburgh, “Come awa’ in, ye’ll hae had yer supper’, but in Glasgow they say “Come awa’ in, ye’ll be needing yer supper.” We can meet this further with the Highland custom of

“the guest who having taken salt, can never be ejected” (Ruthven Todd)

(the crime of the Campbells not, the slaughter of their rivals the MacDonalds of Glencoe, as the unforgiveable action of guests turning against their hosts):  once we have answered Him and sat down with Him,  the Shepherd, will not reject us – when “awa’ frae the fauld. fit-sair and wearit” we have strayed “far awa’ frae the bracken,” we only need to ask for the path back to the shieling, “the path He kens best for us” (Psalm 23). If we ask for help, in this we will receive.

Posted by: rosa alba | November 7, 2009

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

poppy dead copy

RIP Thomas Doerflinger, 11th November 2004 (Mosul, Iraq, aged 20)

RIP Shelly McKinney, 6th November 2009

Today my son and I heard the pipes as we were rummelling around the house after breakfast. We rushed through the courtyard to see the men and women of the University “Corps” marching up the street in Uniform, to practice for Remembrance Sunday.  For me the granite War Memorials are iconic representations of small town Scotland, the sun glinting on the mica in long, bored summer afternoons where the shadow  of the celtic cross stretches  over the cobbles.  I remember childhood Sundays walking past the War Memorial on the way home from Mass or on the way to the Ice Cream parlour.  Most of all I remember the names – Marshalls, Kirkwoods, MacDonalds,  Andersons  – Williams, Thomases, Roberts, Alexanders: the repetition of weel-kennt surnames and Christian names brought an aspect of “everyman” that a child could recognise.

As a child, however, the Wars (and war)  seemed distant, and the mention in the Kilsyth Chronicle of a rare name killed in action in Northern Ireland, registered only briefly.  I was sixteen and in France working, when that changed. Tante Michele (a distant relative in Normandy) drove us to one of the Normandy Cemeteries – I remember the explanation in French of the enclosure system of the farmers, I remember the khaki green BhS skirt and tee-shirt, and the white sandals, and I remember the brightness of the July sun reflecting, not off the grim granite, but off brilliant white which seared the eyes, and seemed stark against the blood red of the poppies.  Standard Grade history had not prepared me for the immeasurable quantity of headstones, Crosses and Stars of David, inscribed and nameless that filled this one cemetery, of the countless others in this small area of Normandy.

Political activism – a synonym for misunderstanding – meant that for many years I would find and wear only a white poppy.  The understanding of the horror – the extent of the death of youth – in the Wars (I had read Vera Britten) made me determined not to “glorify war” but to work and campaign against war.  What changed that was my friendship with “Thomas’ mom”.  Thomas Karl Doerflinger died in Mosul, Iraq on the 11th of November, 2004, aged twenty.  For me, the date of his death stopped me in a way no other death in war has done, and both forged a friendship with Thomas’ mom, and brought together the individual tragedy of one mother’s loss with the collective horror I had seen shining in the gravestones in Northern France 22 years before. And, for the first time  in my lifetime war dead are more numerous now, with the sad, steady increase of deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq.

While there is a time to do so,  “now” (Remembrance Sunday)  is not the place to discuss the notion of “just war” or capitalist motivations of current campaigns in oil rich countries: November  is a month to remember and to pray for all our dead, and Remembrance Sunday (and Armistice Day) a time to remember the sons, husbands and fathers who died in war, as men (though some barely) and especially in their role to others.

The death of a child – at whatever stage in their life – has become something more alien to us with improvements in neo-natal and childhood healthcare.  Although the words of Carolina Oliphant, Lady Nairne’s Land o’ the Leal, written for a close friend of hers, make it clear that the death of a child, is untimely and a pain that never fully heals.

Land o’ the Leal

I’m wearin’ awa’, John
Like snaw-wreaths in thaw, John,
I’m wearin’ awa’
To the land o’ the leal.
There ‘s nae sorrow there, John,
There ‘s neither cauld nor care, John,
The day is aye fair
In the land o’ the leal.

Our bonnie bairn ‘s there, John,
She was baith gude and fair, John;
And O! we grudged her sair
To the land o’ the leal.
But sorrow’s sel’ wears past, John,
And joy ‘s a-coming fast, John,
The joy that ‘s aye to last
In the land o’ the leal.

In another track, To be a soldier,  on the same album as the song above,  (Now Then),  Wendy Arrowsmith sings incredibly poignantly of a mother’s loss of her son in Iraq, in which we see the loss of “a child”, underscored by the lullaby tempo of the melody. Time does not heal so much as bring accustomedness to loss, the vacuum never filled but less empty, with overflow from other areas;  and yet,  in the words of Rossetti:

Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For, if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

Nevertheless, it is meet we should remember all our dead:

To everything there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under heaven….

A time to weep, and a time to laugh:
A time to mourn and a time to dance;
[Ecclesiastes 3; 1-8]

The lines from Christina Rossetti’s poem Remembrance are preceded by “it will be late to counsel then or pray” which  – of course does not reflect the Catholic (and Jewish) teaching of praying for the dead;  it is not perhaps the dead, alone, for whom we pray but the living, in their loss, often a loss of “identity” as mother, wife, sister, as that relationship ceases to exist completely or in regard to the person who has died. Thomas’ mom often mentions that she no longer knows if she should reply with the answer “three” or “four” when she is asked if she has children;  and in terms of society, even today, no longer being a wife or mother can affect one’s standing and interactions in a community, beyond that which modern society struggles with the grief of others.

Death is a natural experience in life: “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the Lord” [Job 1:21]; untimely death is, however, harder to process than a death that occurs at the end of a long illness or a long life. In Latin countries – as was heretofore the case – there is an outward embodiment of mourning (in dress and cultural customs), as of course is the case with sitting shiva in Judaism; theologically – in terms of Judaism – there is the issue of a different understanding of the afterlife,  inasmuch as we as Christians and Catholics understand it, which makes the sorrow of the death of someone close more extreme.  There is, however, a demonstrable psychological value in a degree of ritualisation of mourning, because while “there is a time to mourn”, the counterpoint of “a time to dance” bounds that mourning and limits it.  And so it should be:  as Catholics we hope to meet again with those who have gone before, and prayer can be a way – on many levels – of reminding us of that fact.

It may no longer be the case of taking up the “quarrel with the foe” as in John McCrae poem Flanders Field, but remembering both the horror that is war, in terms of loss of human life as a total, and each individual loss and the tragedy that may entail, as well as the soldiers’ sacrifice of life for the end of peace and justice.  As those who profess to be pro-life, even if – retrospectively – we may classify a war as “just”, the value we place on the sanctity of life is such that we should count and remember each man and woman who dies in war, and ensure that no loss is gratuitous.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

This post is dedicated  to the memory  both of Lee Ann’s son, Thomas and of my late friend, Shelly McKinney who died unexpectedly this past week.  Of your charity, please pray for the repose of their souls, and all those fallen in the current war, and for the healing of those they leave behind.

And let perpetual light shine upon them.
May their souls and the souls of all the faithfully departed,
Rest in peace.

Posted by: rosa alba | July 15, 2009

Cam’ Ye By Athol: Insurrection or Resurrection?

The Corries describe the song. Cam Ye By Athol as a travelogue of Scotland and certainly it mentions the homelands of the Jacobite lairds and clan leaders – Glengarry, Lochiel, Appin, the Tummel, Rannoch, as the various septs of the Houses of Donald, “leaving their mountain hame, tae follow Prince Charlie,”and as the Corries also point out, it reveals the passion with which the Jaocbites followed Chairlie, with the refrain,

“Follow ye, follow ye, wha wouldna follow ye
Lang hae ye lo’ed us and trusted us fairly
Chairlie, Chairlie, wha wouldna follow ye
King of the hieland hairts, Bonnie Prince Chairlie”.

The bitterness running deep in Scotland following the Glorious Revolution which saw the Young Pretender’s failed attempts to overthrow King William, interwoven with the  religious oppression of the period of the Covenanters, (Penal Times) and the peculiar mélange of perfidy and betrayal – of society’s code – which lead to the Massacre of Glencoe, played no small part in creating a community,  with already closely structured rules of kinship and alliegance, which bereft of a leader and  aglow strong feelings of disenfranchisement – though worse consequences were to come following the ’45 rebellion (indeed, it is still an act of treason to utter the toast. “tae him wha lies o’er the water”), so, a community ripe for a leader who would bring salvation and retribution, for it is thus it was marketed, and the Highlanders did trust Chairlie with a passion, which continued well beyond the bourach of Culloden.

A sad aside is the fate of Flora MacDonald, who after languishing in the Tower for her part in abetting Charlie’s escape to the ship lying of the shores of Scotland which would bear him back to France,  married her cousin and went with him as German George’s representative to the Carolinas where – in the War of Independence – she once more ended up on the losing side. Dick Gaughan writes a moving account of her life in the song Strong Women Rule Us All.

A modern historical view would  sum up the whole Young Pretender “crusade” as somewhat sad, ill-advised, illusionary and inevitably bound to fail from the start – and categorise his followers as deceived, if not desperate, but that is to disregard the issue of trust, in and of its place, both in the historical moments of the Jacobite Uprisings, in which there were more than one political stooge set up for the expediency of the  hegemony: Scotland seems a nation sadly fated to have enthusiastic but somewhat foolhardy and ill-advised monarchs, not least Marie Stuart;  but also to disregard the place of trust in the human psyche.

Today’s (Shorter) Evening Office (Week 3, Tuesday) focuses on the question of trust, not one of the three theological virtues, but one taking from and informing the virtues of both Hope and Faith: the motto of the United States is “in God we trust,” born initially of a nation founded on the precept of freedom of religion – and from taxes – although the irony of the motto’s first appearing on a coin is not lost.

Trust is then a fluid concept born of Self’s belief in “Other” and the belief of “Other” in Self, to use Existentialist terms – each relationship flow informs the other, inasmuch as trust must be on some level a two-way process.  Or need it be so?  Certainly in practical terms to live without trusting in this world, results in bitterness, the extremes of which are not so much the political paranoia of the survivalist, but in the disintegration of persona in not knowing who is who in terms of truth., in this two way process. While there might be some value – in terms of external relationships in that wee statement beloved of  some Cognitive Behavioural Therapists that, “what other people think of me is none of my business”, it does depend on an established,  integrated and relatively cohesive (and possibly, objectively validated) sense of Self; if one’s own sense of Self is constantly at odds – at war even – with whom one is told one is (or one is told one is various contradicting Selves) it leads to fragmentation, and in more extreme circumstances, some degree of disassociation.

There are no winners in terms of adult survivors of childhood abuse by parents – the affective bond with one’s  carer(s) is inevitably damaged to some degree, but research suggests that “the deleterious effects of destructive childhood relationships” can be overcome or repaired by, “taking into the self either admirable qualities of important others or characteristics of relationships with important others” (Jerry M. Lewis,Repairing the Bond in Important Relationships: A Dynamic for Personality Maturation Am J Psychiatry 157:1375-1378, September 2000); this internalisation is part of a process of rupture and repair, both as infant and adult (and an interesting corollary with the Sacrament of Reconciliation in its fullest manifestation).  Both rupture and repair are necessary to this growth, a normal part of childhood development wherein the child learns effective coping mechanisms, and where despair becomes joy.  Hope, and evidenced trust. It is no surprise that Lewis goes on to add, “Internalization of a pattern of unsuccessful repair leads to a limited and often later self-fulfilling relationship style”; this is so often the case with survivors of abuse – where the ability to trust one’s own innate sense of who one is (or might be) becomes eroded, and the “survivor” continually seems to seek validation of a negative sense of Self (and inhibit the reparative process).

The concept of being  “like a child”  in terms of trusting and being appears in the second Psalm (130) of today’s evening prayers:

“Truly, I have set my soul
In silence and peace.
As a child has rest in its’ mother’s arms,
even so my soul.”

And the Antiphon picks up the advice from Matthew 18: 3: “Unless you become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”; while in the case of the citation from Matthew, the reference is to humility – the juxtaposition of this quotation (as Antiphon) with the first of the evenings Psalm, 124:

“Those who put their trust in the Lord
are like Mount Sion, that cannot be shaken,
that stands for ever,”

ties in the idea of a child’s blind faith, hope and trust in a parent, as the Lost Sheep trusts in the Shepherd, as the Prodigal Son trusts in the all-forgiving and all-embracing love of the Father of whom we are all beloved Children, fashioned in His likeness.  Trust in this innate worth of each human, known to God and loved by Him, runs through Old Testament and New, and informs doctrine, as well as  Encyclicals such as Humanae Vitae.  This immutable identity of ‘intrinsic’ worth, however, depends on Faith (and so is not so much essential in terms of the individual, however much essential objectively and externally: on an individual, subjective level, Self is still, (être) pour soi): a leap of Trust

For if we are to align the theological virtues with the Persons of the Trinty, where the Spirit is Hope, the Father is Love and the Son is Faith.  The ultimate act of Trust – of Faith not the “thy will be done” of words of the Lord’s Prayer but the “thy will be done” of the Garden of Gethsemane:

“He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.'” (Matthew 26: 42).

A prayer repeated in the final moments of the physical prayer or sacrifice  of Christ’s Crucifixion, the defining act of Faith:

“Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last.” (Luke, 23:46).

That Christ in His physical humanity had to pray strenuously three times – the spiritual parallel of  His bodily falls under the weight of the Cross – gives us, in our own humanity, Faith to Trust in and through our doubts in our identity as Children of God; the confirmation, not just in the Redemption of the Resurrection, but the in persistence shown in the Garden and along the Via Crucis: at times  for us acts of Faith, but perhaps born – albeit through the labour of Despair – from more realism than the passion of the Jacobites. And in finding – and clinging to and trusting in that sense of Self in God (which might,  as in the Gospel Reading of Monday 0f the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time (Year 1), set daughter against mother) then, as with Charity – where one gives “without counting the cost, labours seeking no reward”, one can move towards trusting others freely, without the bindings of expectations.

Posted by: rosa alba | June 28, 2009

Virtually yours,

The Three Virtues, St Machars Cathedral Stained Glass Window

The Three Virtues, St Machar's Cathedral Stained Glass Window

There are three theological virtues, as three (theological) manifestations of the One God.

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love,” and certainly,  while “ubi caritas et amor, ibi Deus est (where charity and love are, there is God)”, there is -further- a fundamental interdependency between each of the three theological virtues: a mutual relationship, emanating from God,  Of course, charity and acts of corporeal mercy can exist seemingly separate from God, at least in the minds of those without belief in God, although I might argue that all such manifestations are God’s Spirit breaking through, inasmuch as God informs and drives everything, as ultimate Signifier: God is, love but one of the ways in which He shows it.

Today’s  second reading (13th Sunday of  Ordinary Time, Year B),  again from Corinthians (II Corinthians, 8: 7ff),  spoke of  love as charity in the  un-seeking sharing what one has to spare which reflects the exhortation of Christ to give to the poor,  both materially (and on the eve of the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul, one might argue spiritually in our going out to “fish for men”); but, what is love, or charity?  Not eros, of course, but agape; according to St Paul,  in the passage which begins with the words reflected in the stained glass window above,  (the passage read –iconically– at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales):

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I Corinthians, 13

Love is, therefore, of the Fruit of the Spirit, and the foremost.  It is interesting that the translations render it thus, as a singular “fruit” despite the seven elements:

“22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control.”

[Galatians 5]

A singular fruitmanifest in various ways, if indivisible in its cohesive Unity (and origins); somewhat like the Trinity, perhaps, and attributes which -all- cannot exist within us, perhaps independent of the Spirit’s working.

St Paul was, of course, a Rabbi and orthodox at that; those Pauline letters written by him or by his adherents will be informed by many of the tenets of then contemporary mainstream Judaism (for all he asserts in Galatians, that in Christ there is no circumcised and uncircumcised, circumcision being one of the talmudic mitzvot, an outward sign of God’s covenant with Israel, the progeny of Abraham; and another recent reading in this year’s Daily cycle),  and in Paul’s use of the imagery at the end of the first long passage from Corinthians – in translation at least – of mirrors and vision, we see the traditional Jewish image, kabbalistic and with echoes  to (Christian readings of) The Song of Song’s (if I remember correctly), of shrouding or obscuring – a partial view – of Truth,  with regard to the experience of God; and indeed our own identity (inasmuch as our likeness to God, in our Souls); a parallel to the lifting of Paul’s own blindness through light.  Also redolent of Paul’s rabbinic heritage, is the parallelds in the passage from Galatians with that from Micah (repeated elsewhere in Hosea too):

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

[Micah 6:8]

So, as Christians, we are called to acts of Corporeal and Spiritual Mercy, which have their roots in the talmudic mitzvot;  although colloquially “mitzvah” is translated as an act of kindness, the concept of mitzvot the plural is more closely circumscribed than that and includes the twice daily reciting of the Shema, as well as  giving thanks for blessings received, and saying “grace”, as Our Lord gave thanks at the Last Supper for the bread and wine before Him, and as the Eucharistic Prayer itself in the words “Blessed are you Lord God of all Creation”, includes a grace.  While Christ is the Second Adam, the Messiah and, so, we live in a Messianic Age (and from a Jewish perspective, the Messianic Age will sweep out many of these old Commandments – Maimonides enumerated over 613 ) where,  for Christians, his Bodily Sacrifice on the Cross is the New Covenant with the world rather than just the Chosen People,  and while Christ Himself spoke of the new commandment of loving one’s neighbour, in Mark (12, 28) when Jesus is asked which of the commandments is the most important, He replies to the questioning Scribe, incontrovertibly (citing the words of the Shema):

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

The acts of spiritual and corporeal acts of mercy are just that: manifestations of loving one’s neighbour, even if tough love sometimes, and so acts that go beyond charity.  In this respect – (tough) love of neighbour – they retain elements of the 613 talmudic mitzvot:

  • To instruct the ignorant;
  • To counsel the doubtful;
  • To admonish sinners;
  • To bear wrongs patiently;
  • To forgive offences willingly;
  • To comfort the afflicted;
  • To pray for the living and the dead

The corporeal acts of mercy are more charity-based, perhaps:

  • To feed the hungry;
  • To give drink to the thirsty;
  • To clothe the naked;
  • To harbour the harbourless;
  • To visit the sick;
  • To ransom the captive;
  • To bury the dead.

In love, through, from love of God, whose nature manifest as Father, Son, Spirit is Love (amor in Latin), is born not just  caritas but also compassion, patience, kindness, peacefulness, self-restraint, peace, and joy; Faith is enumerated as that which is Fruit of the Spirit, and Faith is, perhaps (God’s Faith in us and our Faith in God) something which cannot exist separate from Love (in a filioque manner): all that which matters.  Hope, likewise is perhaps born of love of God, of experiencing (however imperfectly, as humans) the Fruit of the Spirit,  but also inseparable from Faith.

Today’s Gospel reading (also Friday’s) recounted both the story of the  Jairus’ daughter  – and the Faith he had in Jesus ability to heal his daughter – as well as the haemorrhaging woman, unclean and destitute: an outcast in her society whose understanding of (Faith and Hope in) Christ’s healing powers (Love) such that she knew she need only touch the hem of his gown.  Equal to Jairus’ and the bleeding woman’s faith and hope, was that of the Centurion with the ailing servant (in Matthew) who understood”ust say the word, and my servant will be healed.”; words we repeat before receiving the (healing) sacrament of the Eucharist, and  it was a meet reminder at a Baptism during Mass last Sunday, when Fr James reiterated that it is in all the sacraments that Christ (God) is present (not just the Eucharist) as a healing force, where healing is unifying that which separates us from God and one another.  Faith brings hope of being healed through grace,  here on earth and of Eternal Salvation.

The Shema Yisrael of modern Christianity, might be then – not as I had been thinking the Benedictus of Morning Office, though that too has its’ undeniable beauty and its place, but  that which restores us and our world view, to its’ place in the Infinity of Universe:

Glory be to the Father, the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.

A concept perhaps beyond our human imagining, tied as we are to time and place.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »