gwyn_bywyd: Photo of a yellow orchid. (Default)
... and to dust you shall return.
Ash Wednesday has been one of my favourite days in the year for a while now. Sitting in the sanctuary these words become a mantra, said over and over as each person comes forward and a cross of ashes is made on their forehead. At the second service this evening an organist played softly during this time, I actually prefer silence, and just the words over and over.
Remember you are but dust, and to dust you shall return.
I find something intensely comforting in the repeated phrase. Perhaps it is a reminder that nothing is ultimately reliant on me, everything will carry on as it needs to without me there, I am but one part of a much greater whole. It reminds me of my relationship with the earth, and with all the people and plants and animals and bugs and stars that have come before me, and all those that shall follow me.
Remember you are but dust, and to dust you shall return.
I'm always reminded of a meditation we did when I was doing a unit on Meditative Practices during my Studies of Religion major. Our teacher had us reflecting on the decay of this body, with the aim of distancing ourselves from it. I was intensely uncomfortable with the practice at the time, because I felt it had been such a long road for me to try to be an embodied being, that to then try to distance myself from body once more would be counter-productive.
Remember you are but dust, and to dust you shall return.
In contrast with that meditation this mantra tends not to leave me feeling distant from my body, but closer to it.
In recent years there has been an element of acknowledging physical frailty on this day. It's ok that my legs don't always work
Remember you are but dust, and to dust you shall return.
for everyone's body is ultimately fragile.
I've only ever wanted to be cremated, but since I started burying people, I find I rather like it - where I stand I can see lower into the grave than the phoney plastic grass that undertakers place so no-one will get upset by the sight of earth. From where I stand I can see the walls of the grave, plain earth, without prettying up or pretence. I'd like to be able to sprinkle some actual earth on the coffin, but all I'm allowed by undertakers is some nice, sanitised sand. I'm somewhat sad to think I won't have that earth surrounding me, or the patter of earth on the lid of my coffin. But by then, of course, I shan't care.
Remember you are but dust, and to dust you shall return.
Because any contemplation of mortality is for the Christian coupled with the belief in God's invitation to all creation to enter into eternal life. The fierce conviction that love is stronger than death peals as an echo behind the mantra.
Remember that you are but dust, and to dust you shall return.

On Fasting

Feb. 16th, 2010 04:30 pm
gwyn_bywyd: Photo of a yellow orchid. (Default)
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and it raises for me the question, "Should I be fasting, and if so in what way?"
Fasting and I have an odd relationship. Having embarked upon my Christian journey aged 12 with what could be called a mystic experience, I was probably an unusually pious child, but in odd ways, and without much information to go on about what forms piety might take.

Fasting was not a big part of the tradition I grew up in, and was in the form of "giving something up for Lent." The focus as I remember it was on this being a kind of reminder of the suffering of Jesus, and also on giving to those in need the money usually used for whatever it was you had given up. I think I might have started by giving up chocolate (very common in the church of which I was a part.) Certainly by my later years in school, I would give up all sweet things and dessert in general - the only exception being to eat birthday cake as many of my family and one of my friends all had birthdays during this time and would be upset to think I wasn't sharing their cake.
Upon moving away from home I started to not eat meat during Lent as well (the practice in the Eastern tradition of the church is generally much stricter than the West, and involves a fast from meat, dairy and a variety of other things)

But by the time I went to Theological College, the emphasis was increasingly on "taking something UP for Lent." So, to take on a spiritual practice of increased Bible reading, or more prayer or journaling. Which, I must be honest, often went the way of New Year's Resolutions.

And then I developed cfs. While my memory is impaired for this period, I'm pretty sure that I haven't fasted at all during my illness. For two reasons, because eating the right things at the right time has become immensely important to my health, and also that my whole life is a fast in some ways now, if the intention is to "mortify the flesh" or however we might phrase that to pretend that isn't what we're saying.

Which brings me to an issue which troubles me: Do Feminists Fast?
(Speaking here, not of fasting as political protest, but of the religious fast, and I make apologies for this conversation being so limited to my experience in Australian Western Christianity.) (Although I am very interested to read about the Hindu fast for married women called Karva Chauth: )

What is the point of a fast? Is it irredeemably anti-body? 'Cause I'm not ok with that! Do fasts of necessity buy into a dualism that states that the only way to be spiritual is to distance oneself from the body? Is it a part of the mind-set of the church that confuses care of self with selfishness and says this is the essential sin.
I also feel horror at the idea that as a teenager I felt that giving up dessert could be a reminder of the suffering of Jesus, and indeed of so many people throughout the world today who go hungry.

What other reason is there for fasting? I feel as if there is one, but it is eluding me at present. Perhaps this might be my Lenten discipline, to develop a theology of fasting that resists dualism and embraces life.

gwyn_bywyd: Photo of a yellow orchid. (Default)
Now I don't know what to think!
For the nearly 4 1/2 years of my illness I have been plagued by rosy cheeks, curly/bouncy hair and my parents having been fortunate enough to be able to pay for orthodontic work on my teeth throughout my teens. Not to mention being merrily chubby. People were always saying "you look so well!" Which so often comes across as questioning the validity of my own experience of being in horrendous pain, barely able to pull myself out of bed, and having brain-fog so badly I'm missing whole weeks of my life.
But the last fortnight or so I have been getting a lot of comments along the lines "You really DON'T look well." And not just from the tiny handful of people who can see past the self-defensive mask of cheeriness. This is coming from all sorts of people. It is just such a shock. Sure, I'm not well. But I would think that this is no worse than most of the time, and in fact a damn sight better than various relapses I've had.
I just don't know what is going on, and the world feels a bit topsy-turvy.


Feb. 12th, 2010 01:08 pm
gwyn_bywyd: Photo of a yellow orchid. (Default)
I'm moved by the privilege of being with people and invited to create sacred space with them.
I dragged myself out of bed, and over to a nursing home for their service (incidentally, very interested in the thread on FWD/Forward at the moment about such places) only to discover that the staff hadn't let people know about it. And allegedly, no-one wanted to come because there was a Valentine's Day entertainment thing going on. Cue annoyance. But there was one resident who would appreciate a room visit.
An incredible woman, with a deep faith. Whose great-grandparents fled the pogroms in Europe, and eventually ended up in Australia. To be invited to hear her story, to reflect with her on faith and God ... I'm overwhelmed with gratitude.
And yet she thanked me. I've come away feeling that she gave me a far greater gift than I gave her, I wish I'd been able to help her see that.
gwyn_bywyd: Photo of a yellow orchid. (Default)
... be forced to use your walking stick.
This inevitably leads to "what have you done to yourself?" (the most common form of this question, I have discovered) Whereupon I reply that I haven't done anything it is 'just' the cfs*. And each time I do it, I hate that I sound somehow apologetic. What is the narrative behind what I'm saying? "I'm sorry to have worried you, casual acquaintance, but fear not, I haven't injured myself, it is merely a debilitating, chronic illness that I suffer all the time, but usually without having to trouble you by using a stick."?
And even though I've done this apologetic thing, and even though I have mostly been upbeat about it ("oh, I just got the balance wrong this week!" said in a blithe tone) I have completely screwed up the script that apparently exists for speaking to youngish people with a walking stick. One can just tell that their next question - after I revealed I had sprained my ankle in an amusing incident involving an aubergine - was going to be "and how long will you need the stick?"  But no, I have to have a socially awkward open-ended relationship with a walking stick. Their next cue in the script evaporates before our very eyes, and we are left with "Um, well, hope you're feeling better soon." Which is well-intentioned, I feel certain.
But here is the dirty little secret, the one I work so hard not to reveal, so much more shocking than the priest saying "bloody" (which I did at last night's pot-luck dinner. Whoopsie) I won't be feeling better soon. I may not use the stick, (because, frankly, it is a pain only having one hand) but I won't be feeling 'normal'.
Whatever that is supposed to be.
In other news, strongly considering buying a range of sticks in the liturgical colours, so that if worst comes to worst, at least my stick will match the vestments.

* Lower-case for cfs is entirely intentional.
gwyn_bywyd: Photo of a yellow orchid. (Default)
Recently I've been reading a few different journals, and have been struck by the quality and beauty of the writing I've found there. It has made me yearn in a small way to start writing again. Apart from my sermons, I think I've not really written anything since finally finishing the last essay of my theology degree, 3 years ago come Easter.
In the plans for my life I had pre-cfs I would have completed my honours by now, and possibly be embarking upon my PhD. These days, I'm having difficulty even imagining ever being capable of further academic work.
So I'm hoping that this space will encourage me to develop, expand and express my thoughts in creative ways. I am also hoping that I might be even half as erudite as those writers who've inspired me.


gwyn_bywyd: Photo of a yellow orchid. (Default)

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