As a child I had a great Love for nature, wildlife, animals and pets. I came from a non-faith background even though I was culturally/fashionably christened C of E. We never went to church except for weddings and christening, and as children we never went to funerals either. However as a child I had a profound sense of spirituality, of feeling alive when alone, in the woods, else with nature ~ a feeling that appeared to be filled with ‘magic’ and wonder, that appeared to be so much less ‘magic’ in the presence of others who often had their own agenda.
On my 7th and then 8th birthday my aunt and uncle brought me two different little bibles (they must have forgotten the gift the year before) and this as a child was my introduction to Jesus (other than school hymns in assembly). The man in the beautiful pictures within the books cradled the lambs, and was painted in beautiful countryside and mountain side settings by a river, I so loved these pictures, and knew them to be so full of goodness. These pictures held and captured the nice feelings that I felt when in a similar countryside settings, and were the same feelings evoked much later too, which I called my One to Ones with the universe ~ and these special feelings were what my Christian friend at a much later time (when I was an adult) called her encounters with God. This Christian God, and the personal relationship which she had with Jesus and Christianity was all new to me.
As I got older the sense of enchantment and the spiritual presence of my ‘One to Ones’ when out on my solitary walks (and so too when wandering around London) just grew even stronger. And yet in another kind of way, more frustratingly isolating, as I had no understanding or comprehension of formal faith, and at the time no friends who seemingly felt what I felt ~ the same Love ~ from the same experiences that made me feel such joy, happiness, freedom, elevation, wonder. This was until I discovered my Christians friends.
As I got older I ‘saw’ and observed snippets of information about St Francis of Assisi. I knew little about him theologically or in religious terms, but his image was one of prayer, nature, kindness, Love and freedom, that I understood in the very depths of my being, inherently from a small child. My grandparents all lived simple, humble, loving lives and this appeared similar with St Francis.
It was upon having children when that ‘magic’ became a very different magic, and then living life as a busy mother, the spiritual feelings of ‘magic’ that I had discovered pre motherhood lessened, and a different kind of wonder for a while prevailed. I am using the impoverished word ‘magic’ because in my secular upbringing that was the only word that could describe the something extraordinary which I felt, that my brothers and sisters and friends, never articulated or seemingly felt.
Part way through my journey of bearing my five children, the same Christian friend brought for my birthday The Circle of Days book by Reeve Lindbergh. It is The Circle of Days from Canticle of the Sun, written by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1225. On reading it I was staggered that St Francis talked of Sister Moon and Brother Sun, he talked of death as if a friend. Ever since I was a young woman I have written poetry and often in a similar vein to that of St Francis in relationship to the beautiful world around me. I had a great understanding of the moon as female, and the sun as male, and it frustrated me when I saw them depicted other. I have discovered a deep sense of the interconnectedness and relationship between the tides and the planets, the earths inhabitants, and creation, and of the invisible dimension which in some small way I can sense ~ and on occasions I can in some way make manifest through my writing ~ but not make tangible.
As somebody that has both had a powerful conversion and a life-long love of nature, I have come to have a warmth and affectionate love for St Francis, as someone with whom I can identify. He is often portrayed as a romantic soul, whose strength, determination and non-conformist ways had people often concerned for his wellbeing. It left him ostracized from his town, and led him upon a difficult but joyous journey. His refusal to deny the Love between him and St Clare inspires me so much, and his pure audacity in the square and then again in Rome speaks to me of someone who is inspired by God alone ~ and on mission for God.
Then one day after I converted, I went on an S.V.P retreat. By default because of another priest’s sickness we had a beautiful elderly wise Franciscan friar lead the retreat. Fr Austin took us on three talks, each talk a spiritual journey in its own right. He was a gentle, humble beautiful soul. He talked about sin being only a small part of the incarnation, for before there was Original sin there was Original Grace. He gave us the metaphor of a giant white board and in the tiniest corner he described writing the word sin barely visible, such a small part of the message, the whole of the white board being left pure white and unblemished after the sin was atoned for. He said that because Jesus came for sinners, wherever you find a sinner, it is an entitlement to Jesus Christ. Thank God. Wherever there is helplessness, there is God waiting. He described God like a helpless baby clinging to the human breast.
He talked about purgatory being like a box of tissues to take away with us, until we have regained our self-respect and can come back to the fold, tissue less. He said to refuse to be forgiven is to sin against the Holy Spirit. Jesus never pointed the finger at anyone, he never looked for someone to blame, and what a waste of time it would be for us to do so. He said like us Jesus made mistakes, he said Jesus choosing Judas was not a good move, but that each mistake made is a lesson whereby we learn not to make that same mistake again. He said Jesus had no chance of survival on this road, because when people don’t go quietly they are removed, so Jesus was removed. But not before he had freed us from fear, for fear can stop us being fully alive.
Fr Austin said that God did not send Jesus to be killed, but man killed Him by sin. He also said that Jesus did not ‘only’ die and then rise, but that Jesus is at once dead and risen, and that by His self-giving and resurrection, death has been emptied of its power. We see this when we are desperately grieving the imminent death of somebody we love, and yet when our loved one (who is ill) has accepted their imminent death; by their very acceptance they become the comforters of us in our grief. It is then something that in the world of translation becomes evidence in Love. A new kind of humanness, an otherness. Grace. We came into existence without our consent; we can only go back with our consent; we do this by the way we live. This is grace.
Grace is Love.
I spoke to him on my own for a short while about all the different inspirations and ways and how they inspire and differ. Apparently St Dominic and St Francis were friends, he said that different orders have different structures, and they often view God from a different viewpoint. The Order of Preachers (Dominicans) looks from the point of view that God is Truth. The Franciscans look from the point of view that God is Love. This resounds with me. For me God is Love . . . and spirit and truth.
I have always lived by an acute truth, so I have often in contradiction wondered whereby that truth was ever distorted, and then Fr Austin hit the nail on the proverbial head. He said providing you are honest you may not be right but you wont be wrong, he said if you genuinely walk up the road to reach your destination the wrong way, and you believed you were heading the right way, even if it were wrong, you were doing what you genuinely believed to be right. He said conversion was then turning the right way. The way of honesty and truth equals the way of conversion.
He said God doesn’t make copies, there was no blueprint, we are all unique, every life is unique never lived before, never to be lived again. Apartheid means different – apart, we are all infinitely different, and we are to celebrate, respect and enjoy those differences. Every aspect of otherness must be a reflection of the supreme otherness of God. Every single person has a part of God in them, don’t let it lay dormant.
He talked about having this eternal empty space within each of our beings that our nature constantly tries to fill up with vocations, work, study, activity and the like, but this space is infinite, it can never be filled, only the spirit will come upon us and fill us full. And when the spirit has filled us full, then we are to bring others to God, not by being a signpost, but by being a living example of the beloved of Abba. St Francis said ‘goodness is Godness. Whenever you find goodness and celebration; enjoy it. Whenever you see goodness is broken; mend it. Whenever you see goodness is missing; bring it.’
He told us he did not believe, else agree with people when they tell us ‘Not to follow our hearts desire’ because they fear our selfishness. Instead he told us with great humility and authority to go into the deepest depths of our heart and try to locate our hearts desire, and to centre our life around this, for this be the transplant that our hearts desperately need. To live life with this transplanted heart is to feel like the sunshine, the brightest white light, warming right through us. I go into the deepest depth of my heart and there it is . . . . Love . . . . in spirit and truth.
By knowing and living this way we are called to be the beloved of Abba by grace. We are assured that through being One with Him in His humanity, that we may share in His Divinity. After this retreat I felt my deep Love of St Francis grow in maturity ~ and his Gospel revelation of a God that is Love, is the same inherent way that I see God ~ God is Love and Spirit ~ and this alone will ever hold me close to the Franciscan way. As a teenager living in London I used to feed the homeless in Cardboard City under Waterloo Bridge. Franciscan poverty is something which also I can identify with, having lived for a while in N1 and been witness to, and taken food to those in poverty, it is a wealth to the Spirit ~ Franciscans can see a wealth in poverty ~ thus they turn the secular way of thinking upon its head, just as Jesus did.
The Carmelites and more importantly The Mystics
The first time that I ever walked down Kensington Church Street in London, I was brought sharply and startlingly to attention. It was Saturday 1st October. A large banner with the famous sepia tone photo of St Thérese of Lisieux looked down upon me from a huge church. A lady whom I can only presume was not English, was almost hugging a Jesus shrine outside the church doorway, deeply in prayer. The day is Saint Thérese of Lisieux Feast day.
Just the day before, I had spiritual direction and we chatted about the writings of St Thérese, and of how it was just remarkable that these writings (written inside the obscurity of the enclosed Carmelite Order) ever allowed her to become more widely discovered, and lead to her becoming a Saint. That they should be so widely known today is no less than amazing.
So the fact that I had just happened to have ordered her book online, and I just happened to have had a conversation about her writings. And the fact that the very next day, the first ever time I happen ‘to happen’ upon ‘Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church’, of all days, just happens to be the Saints special Feast day, is all pretty numinous. So timing once again led to a numinous experience which left me with that feeling that coincidences are somehow not so coincidental. On my way back past the church after my day’s study, I was drawn in. I told Saint Thérese my deepest prayers and lit a candle. I needed all the heavenly Love I could get just then.
Not long afterwards I was to do my first ever confession before being received into the Catholic Church, I went in to Westminster Cathedral in greatest trepidation and fear, and there on the wall as if waiting in comfort for me was the beautiful sculptured plaque of St Therese of Lisieux.
I had just finished reading St Thérese of Lisieux’ autobiography The Story of a Soul, having previously read the book written by Sister Genevieve My Sister Saint Thérese. Little flower seems a somewhat delicate and insipid name for someone who although physically very poorly at times, I have discovered actually had such a great strength of character. Little ox might have been more fitting.
Close to the end of the book (in the last few pages) page 161, I read this paragraph, “Swept by an ecstatic joy, I cried: ‘Jesus, my love! At last I have found my vocation. My vocation is to love! I have found my place in the bosom of the Church and it is you, Lord, who has given it me. In the heart of the Church who is my Mother, I will be love. So I shall be everything and so my dreams will be fulfilled!’”
‘My vocation is to Love’……… is the last line from one of my 2010 poems
‘I am a vessel overflowing with your promise,
I will pour the wine for many.
My vocation is to Love.’
One other line from the Carmelites Autobiography of Saint Thérese of Lisieux The Story of a Soul, that felt as if it had been taken direct, absolute and pure from my own soul was on Page 153: ‘Above all I imitate Mary Magdalene, for her amazing-or rather her loving-audacity which won the heart of Jesus captivates mine.’ Mary Magdalene is someone that I have an absolutely unshakeable devotion towards. Her closeness, perfected Love, and devotion to Jesus Christ was/is the most esoteric key to unlocking my faith from the secular world, and her proximity to Christ, I am absolutely sure in my resolution, is the answer in bringing the contemporary world closer to Jesus Christ.
The Carmelites with their contemplation led me deeper still on my spiritual quest and it is thanks to them that I discovered in a deeper way the likes of St Therese of Avila whose birthday is just before mine, and whose book the interior castle had moved me years before when I was just observing Christianity quietly from the fringes, when the stirrings of a new faith were still just beginning to arouse and reveal acknowledgment with my own intellect. I need to go back and read that book again now with greater insight and understanding now that my journey has progressed somewhat. Somebody once read some of my work and said how it reminded them very much of some of St John of the Cross’ poetry. I had never heard of him and so they brought me a copy of some of his work, and the staggering identification of what he had in detail experienced, and the comparison of what I had felt – recalled – and identified of my own painfully difficult journey was most inspiring and comforting.
The Carmelite mystics and the Dominican mystics taught me that the body in profound meditation, prayer and worship is a spiritual flight of deepest Love to unite us with our creator, and is only possible because of the reality of our humanity and spirit. St Teresa of Ávila and St John of the cross, St Francis and St Dominic in their physical and spiritual devotion and worship reveal their own Truths, all were graced with ecstatic Love.
Having experienced moments that I could identify with some of the mystics, and having felt incredibly inspired by them, I looked up St Catherine of Sienna and St Rose of Lima, both of these Saints had been sending me ‘spiritual friendship requests’ by way of inspiration :O) inspiration that I almost continued to ignore. I brought St Catherine of Sienna’s book, which I began, but mostly remains unread upon my bookshelf still to this day. Her birthday is a few days before my own. One day when I am ready I will read her work.
These women have led me to more closely observe the Dominicans ~ whom I Love because of their learnedness, for their precision and care taken over their preaching, and their homiletic skills which inspire me so very much. They point me towards great theological writers like St Thomas of Aquinas ~ whom although I have yet to discover, I very much have warmed to some of the sound bites of his words that I have happened upon. The Dominican spirituality is integral to God who is Truth, and has me bound by such fascination for one reason alone;
I discovered that the Dominicans have a deeper Love and devotion for Mary Magdalene. From the very beginnings of the Dominican Order Mary Magdalene has been recognised for her special place as True friend of Christ. She is patron saint and protectress of The Order of Preachers, and because I have spent the deepest time in prayer and meditation with Mary Magdalene, and because I feel what it is that I feel about Mary Magdalene being the closest companion to Christ, perfected in Love, taught directly by our Lord, I feel a special connection to the Dominicans. I know the fact that they hold her in such high regard stems from the Absolute Truth, Truth that I know in my soul needs to be made manifest to others.
The Dominicans say of Mary Magdalene;
‘It is a joyous thought to realise that the whole Dominican Order has from the time of its foundation, sung during Easter Week the Victimae Paschali laudes, which expresses the mission entrusted to it: “Speak, Mary, Declaring/ What you saw, wayfaring/ The tomb of Christ, who is /living/ The glory of Jesus’s resurrection/ Bright angels attesting/ The shroud and napkin resting/… Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining/ Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning/ Amen.
“And all who heard her were in admiration at her beauty, her eloquence, and the sweetness of her message…and no wonder, that the mouth which had pressed such pious and beautiful kisses on the Savior’s feet should breathe forth the perfume of the word of God more profusely than others could.” (Blessed Jacobus de Voragine O.P. The Golden Legend, Readings on the Saints, William Granger Ryan translator, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991, 1:376-77).
Saint Mary Magdalene
Because of meditating upon the Gospels, and upon the encounters between Mary Magdalene and Christ, in prayer I came to a far greater understanding of the significant scenes to which we all bare witness. These meditations ~ this prayer ~ and these insights ~ which are so clear for anyone to see (once the splinters and planks have been removed) inspired The Way of Love Charism.
I feel inspired to live out the Charism of Mary Magdalene, and to bring her Love of Christ to other people. I am fully aware of the traditions that have inspired my journey and I find it immensely frustrating that there are Marian traditions that are focused upon the Virgin Mary, and yet Saint Mary whom sealed the first covenant in pure oil of nard at the foot of the temple, and whom sat at our Lords feet in both formation and Love, who walked everywhere with the Lord and his mother, whose ritual foot washing Jesus then blessed the disciples with at the last supper, the beloved whom Jesus chose to first appear to, Mary whom was the apostle to the apostles, a woman of such integrity, courage, evangelization, and perfect Love ~ has not as of yet a formal tradition for her devotees, in which her Sisters and Brothers can follow, in order to become like her, the closest Beloved of Christ.
The time has come for Catholic parishes and dioceses and everyone else besides, to embrace St Mary of Magdala, and afford the contemporary woman and man a pathway back to the Original Traditional Way of Love.