Heart's ease - an infusion was said to help mend a broken heart

Monday, 24 October 2016

Autumn spring

A few days ago a friend posted a photo on Facebook of a stunning autumnal tree, and casually quoted Albert Camus: Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. It struck a chord with me, as only the day before I had been talking with someone about the parallels between the two seasons, and - if choice were possible - which one is the more visually stunning.

Six months ago I walked along the Woodstock Road beneath frothy pink and white canopies, the blossom falling as delicate confetti at my feet. Spring's colour palette was pastel, set off by a hazy green-gold sheen; now those trees blaze red, copper and gold, and cast before me a crisp, multi-coloured carpet. In May pale wisteria cascaded down walls; now flaming red creepers crawl up them, bold and vibrant against dull grey. Leaves curl up in slow desiccation, echoing their unfurling into new life, six months ago and in six months to come; but when they glisten in rain or are resplendent in sunshine they are gloriously, beautifully alive, belying their imminent death.

Spring is a time filled with promise and new life; autumn is about letting go and dying, yes - but dying in a way which still speaks of life. In its colour and vibrancy autumn speaks powerfully of another way of living.

Spring is indeed beautiful and heart-lifting, but autumn is truly glorious!

And for those who have spring's energy and playfulness in their hearts, and eyes able to see beyond shedding and decay, autumn offers opportunities for dancing and play, as in this image which also appeared in my Facebook feed...

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Filled with the utter fullness of God

Within the wide world of the Society of the Sacred Heart, today is the feast of Mater Admirabilis, an image of Mary as a rosy-cheeked young girl, caught up in contemplation and serenity between various everyday tasks. But in the even wider world of the Church today is an ordinary Thursday, and so those of us attending Mass in parishes and chaplaincies will hear the ordinary readings of the day - readings which are not designed to be about Mary or Mater.

And yet... today we have the gift of a second reading which is St Paul at his most breathtakingly lyrical; a reading which is both prayer and inspiration, and which can certainly speak to us of Mary...

Out of his infinite glory, may he give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, you will with all the saints have strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.

Glory be to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine... ~ Ephesians 3: 16-19

Because surely if anyone was filled with the utter fullness of God it was Mary! Filled with God's fullness in her contemplation and stillness, and thus filled with God in her busyness, and her life as a wife and mother. She was someone who was undoubtedly planted in love and built on love: someone who, in all she pondered in her spacious heart, was able not just to grasp but to understand the unbounded extent and depth of God's love; someone who allowed God's power to work in and through her. And thus, not only during her pregnancy, when she bore God within her, but in every moment before, during and after, she was - as Gabriel proclaimed - full of grace, because she was full of God; and full of God because she was full of grace!

Paul's prayer, though, was on behalf of ordinary, struggling, grappling people, who had never had the joy and privilege of knowing Jesus as a fellow human, much less bearing his life within them. And this prayer echoes across the centuries and resounds for us, today, that our hidden selves may grow strong; that Christ may live in our hearts and we too may be planted in love and built on love, grasping and knowing a Love beyond knowing, so that we too might be filled with the utter fullness of God. Filled not so that we keep this glorious fullness within us (as if we could!), but so that it overflows as it surely must. Filled so that, like Mary, we too can bear the life of Jesus within us, for the greater life and love of our world...

I'm sure that today especially Mary will join her prayer on our behalf to Paul's. With her care and example may we too be enabled to bear the plenitude of God within us, and thus in our life and mission become the best selves God created us to be, able to give glory to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine...

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Impressed with God's love

For if at some time the Lord should grant us the grace of impressing his love on our hearts, all will become easy for us and we shall accomplish great things quickly and without effort.

Today's Office of Readings contains an extract from the writing of the saint whose feast we celebrate, that great-hearted woman of prayer and passion Teresa of Avila. And if you'll forgive the play on words, the final sentence of the reading especially impressed itself on me.

If... the Lord should grant us the grace of impressing his love on our hearts... We generally speak of an impression as a strong, lasting, at times intangible effect on us, a sense or assessment; but this is a shadow of the word's original meaning. It derives from something much deeper, stronger and indelible - the mark, or imprint, produced by pressure. In Teresa's time it would especially have referred to impressing a personal, recognisable seal in hot wax, or the imprint of those early printing presses, their heavy type causing indentations in paper, and I'm sure that this imprint, this recognisable seal, is what she meant when she wrote of God impressing his love on our hearts.

So I sit wondering what it must feel like, and how it comes about, this impressing of God's love on our hearts. There is, I'm sure, the pain of woundedness, but also the joy of freedom and openness - and the supreme joy of being truly of God. And then I wonder what this imprint looks like for each person - and what it looks like for me. Just as our life experiences make their mark on each of us in distinctive ways, deepening our uniqueness, so, I'm sure, God impresses his love on each heart in a different way, leaving a unique, distinctive mark... the mark of the love each one is called to be and to share.

I know what I hope my heart's imprint looks like... what about you?

May we all live, love and grow in such a way that God can readily grant all of us the grace of impressing his love on our hearts, so that we may be that love - God's love - in and for our world...

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Faith powered by love

What matters is faith that makes its power felt through love ~ Galatians 5: 6

These words, from today's first reading, struck me quite forcefully today. We hear about and talk so often about faith; about what we believe or not, about rules and discipline, about the outward signs which show our faith... but what is faith without love? And what is our faith about if it isn't powered by love?

And how do we show the power and strength of our faith if not through the power and strength of our love? That, after all, is what lies at the heart of the Gospel, of the whole life, message, example and death of Jesus; it is what lies at the heart of God, and of every call to live for God.

May we desire and learn to live so that it is love, only love, which powers our faith, our hope, our way of being, believing, seeing, responding... our whole lives...

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

In praise of... educators and teachers

When I opened my Twitter feed this morning, I discovered that today is World Teachers' Day. For many, it's been an opportunity to shout out their gratitude to those teachers who have inspired them and made a positive impact on their lives - and to record our appreciation for all those who work in education, often in exhausting and difficult circumstances.

I can remember most of my former teachers, especially the ones who taught with passion and creativity, and inspired this in us, their pupils. Several of my middle school teachers were real characters, who somehow coped with a few hundred chaotic, hormonal 9-13 year olds; some with strict rules, others, at times giving us the trust and free reins we needed as we moved awkwardly from childhood into adolescence. I disliked maths but retain a fond memory for Miss McCabe, who taught an unpopular subject with energy and enthusiasm - and a winning combination of strictness and eccentricity. I also recall Miss Peters, the art teacher who encouraged me with extra tuition; she was our form teacher while we collectively went through a difficult phase, and somehow communicated that she believed in us, and trusted the best selves we usually kept hidden.

The Ursuline Convent High School was, by contrast, a calmer, more contained environment, with some lovely rooms and grounds. Ursuline sisters have been educating girls for over 400 years, and there was a sense of solidity and tradition which rooted us, teenagers whose lives were full of change and uncertainties. Standards and expectations were high, for personal and spiritual growth as well as academically; but our school motto, like that of all Ursuline schools, was Serviam - I will serve. So we were encouraged to use and develop our gifts, and success was applauded, but the ideal of service was central.

And then I joined the Society of the Sacred Heart, founded in the aftermath of the French Revolution for the education of hearts as well as minds, and now responsible for over a hundred schools and colleges throughout the world, many now staffed by lay colleagues. Over the years, in several different settings, I have lived with a lot of committed educators, while my own pre-entry enjoyment of training and mentoring has been nurtured and developed. In a way, in the Sacred Heart every day is world teachers' day! - and we've been able to celebrate the achievements of our different schools and their students, for example when we cheered on "our" Olympians this summer.

There are no Sacred Heart Olympians in England, but several former students are well-known figures in politics, media and the arts. I used to live with a sister who proudly followed the careers of two journalists she had taught: the affection was mutual, as we saw a few months ago, when one of them wrote a lovely and loving appreciation of this sister in a feature in The Tablet called The teacher who inspired me. She ended by recording her appreciation of all the sisters who had taught her, words describing vowed religious but which can also be applied and aspired to by anyone who truly serves and educates from their heart...

In the way they lived ...[the sisters]... taught us so much about the value of a life spent serving God and our fellow humans. They also made clear to us that the worth of a human life cannot be measured in money or possessions, but in the love and kindness in our hearts and the difference we try to make in the world. And that there is very little that a woman cannot do if she sets her mind to it.

Caroline Wyatt, The Tablet - 9th April 2016


Tuesday, 4 October 2016

First fruits and Brother Sun

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendour!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

~ from the Canticle of Brother Sun, by St Francis of Assisi

A mild, sunny early autumn can be a gloriously liminal space, teetering on the very edge of summer, before finally, inevitably, surrendering to the new season's embrace. Yes, the nights are definitely chillier and longer, but daytime skies have been brilliantly blue, with the sun turning red-gold leaves to fire, and ensuring it still feels warm enough to entice butterflies and bees out for some final, sun-blessed suckles.

A few weeks ago I picked several ripe apples from our tree, and since then I've also been keeping a proprietorial eye on "my" vine's progress. The grapes, which were in their tiny, promising infancy in May, have been growing, ripening and deepening, from green to rosy to a shining, purply-black, and the occasional tasting has confirmed that they are indeed sweetly edible. Interestingly, some bunches have been simultaneously displaying the complete colour and size range, with grapes almost bursting in their ripeness nestling up to others which are still little more than seeds. There's no discernible reason for this - all grapes on the same bunch receive the same amount of sunshine and rain, but some have grown and reached their full potential whilst others never will.

This afternoon I decided those few bunches needed to be picked - the rest will, I hope, benefit from several more days of forecasted sun and dry weather. Somehow it seemed a good way to celebrate the feast of St Francis: harvesting and holding those first, tiny fruits of "my" vine, while Brother Sun beamed down and a few Red Admirals fluttered and peered inquisitively from the top of whatever plant is entwined within the vine. Always and right now, all around and right here, in my hands, Francis' Sister Mother Earth has been generously yielding varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs. 

And Brother Sun...? For a few days more, at least, he continues to be beautiful and radiant in all his splendour, nurturing, enlivening and bearing the likeness of the most radiant Light of all...

Thursday, 29 September 2016

The likeness of God

Today on Twitter, in among all the images of archangels, I saw this haiku from Catholic Scot (@stevhep)

Michaelmas daisies,
Foretelling autumn's advent.
Bronze tinted forests.

And appropriately for today's feast, there was a profusion of Michaelmas daisies along the canal; pale, shadowy lilac against all the greenery and grey-brown water. In Italian we call them settembrini, as this is their month; my mother had a huge clump of them just inside the garden gate, leaning forward - unless severely tethered - in friendly, golden-nosed, lilac-y greeting.

The name Michael means Who is like God? It's meant as a rhetorical question, implying nobody could ever be anything like God - which is very true. And yet... we are all called to be as Godlike as possible, to be the likeness of God. And part of the gracious loveliness of God is that he allows and indeed wants us all to be his likeness... and to see his likeness in all people, places and things. God rejoiced to be with us in Jesus, his truest, most complete likeness - and rejoices to be in and with us now and forever: in the everyday and the mundane as much as in the extraordinary and eventful; in the breath-taking and the barely-noticed, in beauty, ugliness, sorrow, joy and in the tiny and humble... including a little bunch of pale lilac flowers, late summer's quiet foretellers of autumn's approach.