What a momentous and unusual few weeks.
First there was the submission of the deferred assignment, with all the relief and celebration at managing to complete it, and then the pursuing period of all the angst of waiting for its mark. Then there was the realization that my degree averaged (a good for me) 61.5 %, only to then be disappointed with my final grade in comparison to the rest of the class. That the final grades are purely based on academic ability (for someone dyslexic like me) and not practical contribution, dedication and input, attendance, enthusiasm, passion, practical presentation skills or any other criteria is a frustration. Alas I now have a good University of London foundation degree, something which 3 years ago seemed like only a remote possibility for me.
Then there was the unrelenting endless whisper calling me to make tangible from prayer ‘The Way of Love’ Charism. And all the wonder and peace at having done it, and of having printed and posted off several carefully presented copies, and now my continued determination to live my life in witness and commitment to it.
Then there was a house of 8 children instead of the usual 5 for two weeks, whilst my inspirational friend, who has bone cancer, trains in a different part of the country for a new business which she is beginning with her husband. Beautiful courageous woman. We both believe in miracles. It has been a very blessed and special few weeks in this little ancient cottage with less room and more Love. It’s intriguing that God can expand Love without making any less of the Love before, after he has expanded it. Miracle. Like a mother who has each time another child, loving no less the child before, but having expanded her Love for the new child. Amazing Grace. God who is Love and Spirit.
The weekend before they came, I went to a beautiful discernment weekend in Hammersmith with The Sisters of Nazareth. I had been to the beautiful spirit imbued convent before, to their spirituality centre on a day retreat with Uni, so I was familiar with the serene surroundings.
It has forever been a frustration to me that I constantly fall outside of the age group for everything that is of interest to me at any one moment in time! Else I forever fail to meet the criteria needed, in order to be accepted. For e.g Growing up my eldest sister worked in the same place as my mother and father, and so she was invited to all the formal and informal social events of the company and it’s staff. I never was, and so on these occasion I would baby sit the younger two children, and although disappointed at not getting an invite, it was a very special time for me as we got treats, and I got to choose my pick of the t.v and stay up extra late.
I was forever the one sharing a room, my big sister got her own room because she was studying for exams, then when that room became available my brother got it because he was a boy, then when I moved out my younger sister got her own room, and only then I finally had a room of my own. Before that I was always sharing a room for three. My sister usually got the high fashion things, I was blessed with the quirky alternatives probably because they were less expensive, and Mum and Dad struggled with finance as do many, especially those of us with many children. My baseball rollerboots were one quirky present that I was blessed to receive over her ‘blue with yellow stripe’ roller disco boots which everyone had :O) I so Love my big sister, she is straight down the line, a modest good and humble women xxx We had a close and happy family life.
Then I auditioned and got into drama school, but the I.L.E.A wouldn’t give me a grant because I had left home and had only lived in central London for 11 months at the time of my application, and not 1 complete year. So instead I took a place at Salford University which was the then polytechnic, with people who were a couple of years below me (it seamed like such a big age difference at the time). In order to do this I had to give up my Islington council flat, but after one year with no maintenance grant I could ill-afford to live in Manchester any longer, and so I returned back home to my parents, before settling down in life. Anyhow this is all irrelevant life twaddle, just to show you that one way or another I never quite fit the bill, most often the age/criteria/financial bill. I am sure at times this has been the same for many of us, especially for the working classes.
Now twenty years down the line and with my current interests and frustrations, upon seeing the advertisement for the discernment weekend at Nazareth House (with no age limit) having complained about ageist discrimination at other vocational events, I took the opportunity to write to their dear Sister Frances
‘I am presently writing a Charism for people who want to live out their (more formal) vocation whilst still living in their parish. I personally have been looking at third orders as I have 5 children who are growing up fast, however God calls me not only as a mother, but as a woman of determined and strong faith. I wondered if the ‘come and see’ weekend would be appropriate for me to come and experience the formalities of vocational life, as I am sure that it would give me direction for my Charism and formal prayer life, beyond daily Mass? I have just finished a foundation degree in Pastoral Mission at Heythrop, and we came to Nazareth house for our retreat day.’†
Sr Frances was lovely and very open in her response, and so despite my situation I was warmly welcomed to join them. My weekend was so very special and I shall remember it for a long time. Coincidentally out of the 6 girls present, one of them was from my own tiny parish and one was from my diocese, this was such a blessing and I am sure providence. I never told anyone I was going on this weekend and so it was a complete surprise to me. I now have the close experience of knowing 3 different communities of Sisters and I can honestly say the Sisters of Nazareth were simply full of warmth and Joy.
To attend Mass in the beautiful Church at Nazareth House is such a very special experience. You see the convent has a dementia home within her grounds, and the residents are either accompanied into Mass, or pushed into Mass in their wheelchairs, where they sit at the front of the church. These residents are shown so very much Love by the care staff and the Sisters, I watched them disoriented, shouting out before the service things like, ‘somebody take me home’ and ‘where am I’ and other random outbursts, it was heartbreaking. Each time a resident dribbled or sneezed or slipped down in their chair, or leaned over in sleep as if to fall slightly too far, a gentle hand from a nurse, carer or sister would suddenly appear (as if from nowhere) to gently support the resident and correct their posture, so as to make them more comfortable. And the glazed over look of the person gave off nothing more than a look of dignified helplessness in response to the Love and kindness they had just received. It was so very moving and touched something deep down in the depths of my being, to be witness to nothing but Love beyond response.
I had just been reading Chesterton’s Orthodoxy where there was a moving and thought provoking reflection on people who have lost their mind. I know that God is Spirit, and in people of dementia when all else is stripped away absolutely something of Spirit alone is present. At Mass I just happened to be sitting directly behind the first row, I naturally walked to the front and offered peace to the wheelchair bound residents. One man held onto my hand without letting go, he looked into my eyes and without even moving his mouth his soul held mine in smile, way beyond the surface of his eyes. So deeply dignified. He was not old by any means.
I think of the inspirational Iris Murdoch and I wonder private wonders to myself.
I know that whatever happens the peace and stillness that God brought through Mass to those residents was visible like no other peace. Absolute. Once Mass had begun, there reigned peace supreme, and the residents from their confusion were stilled. Who could have thought that people with dementia could bear such beautiful witness to the tangible presence of God’s Love and Spirit.
It inspired me this week to complete my no. III purchase of the Divine Office. A complete life-time investment. Now I just need to be taught how to find my way around it properly.
Please may I ask for you all to remember me in your prayer. Having been wondering what was to be next, and dreading the void left by my beloved Saturdays at Heythrop coming to a close, I have spent many weeks praying for direction, where seemingly there was none. I looked at different Spiritual Direction courses as I thought it would be a brilliant process to go through myself, and then to be able to use those skills acquired to help my children in their spiritual journeys, and to also have a deeper insight in order to support any one who might be inspired to live ‘The Way of Love’ Charism.
I found no affordable or immediate courses beginning on which I could be welcomed. And then as if by pure accident a course caught my attention, for which there is possible funding. This course would be perfect for me as I was so inspired by the spirituality of all my Jesuit lecturers at Heythrop, which itself is a Jesuit run College. Having nothing else planned I phoned up and enquired and immediately within days an interview was booked for me. I went last week and was absolutely unsure as to how it had gone, however by 7.30 that evening I had an offer.
This course is perfect for me, it takes me back to my beloved London once a week on a Tuesday, thus leaving me the weekends with my children. The course is 3 years long. The first year is a foundation year in Ignatius of Loyola Spirituality, he is the founder of the Jesuits. The second year will see us examining the texts and ourselves in intimate detail, and the third year will equip us to take retreats and lead us to spiritually direct others in the exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, and the art of Spiritual Direction. Each year is subject to fulfilling the previous year successfully. This course will be brilliant for me, it will equip me to serve others in ministry beyond my own parish and diocese and can very much become a part of the way I live out the fulness of ‘The Way of Love’ Charism. And how fitting that Papa Francis is a Jesuit, and that my favourite piece of spiritual writing is by Pedro Arupe.
“What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what gets you out of bed in the mornings, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” – Pedro Arrupe
Thank you dearest Lord for this wonderful unexpected Holy Spirit led opportunity.
Please may I request all of your prayers that the funding will be made available to me; as without it I will not be able to afford the £1300 fees each year, along with the travel expenses, and therefore could not accept the otherwise unconditional offer.
It has been such a time of unknowing where yet again I have been held suspended, gently transcendent in the hands of someone else.
I wait in wonder and in Love.