About Me

Friday, 17 September 2021

Sealed in the Book of Life

 G’mar chatima tova” is the Hebrew greeting on Yom Kippur. It means “May you be sealed in the Book of Life.” (Source: Marriane Williams) 

What a blessing, what a hope to be sealed in the Book of Life. 

 I have always struggled with dualistic takes on spirituality, the goodies and the baddies version of spirituality. All those poor souls on the left hand path or languishing in hell; those poor goats sprily gamboling away from love, light and peace. No one is entirely beyond the pale, surely? 

The idea of the righteous and the unrighteousness seems too bound up with social control and religious power. Woman in pure white gown go straight to heaven, while woman struggling with ambiguity goes straight to purgatory. And as for the  big bad woman, she's already on her way to hell, right? No. That doesn't seem right to me, especially if such a philosophy/theology is wielded by those in authority. 

I  did a bit of lazy research on Wikipedia and discovered there is also a Book of the Dead in the  Jewish tradition and, once your name gets written in there, you're knackered, unlike those lucky souls who get written into the Book of Life and are  therefore guaranteed a passport to heaven. Surely it's not so simple? People are not wholely or good or wholely bad. (Not that I've ever had much truck with the self declared followers of darkness such as Satanists and Alister Crowleyites. Something lacking there, I think.) 

Despite  my issues with dualism, though, I would want my name to be sealed in the Book of Life, who wouldn't?  To be, metaphorically and spiritually, sealed into to growth, wisdom, love, forgiveness, compassion, to radiate the love of something greater and infinitely precious would be just grand.

For me, being 'included in the book' would not be about perfection or being some goody- two - shoes-holier-than-thou arse-hole but something far more human altogether. Being a good friend, a wise counsellor, to be kind and funny, to be less of dick when it comes to my relationship with other people. To be internally at peace with myself and the world around me, and being filled with the 'divine' spark of life. To be able to get out of bed in the morning with a bit of joy inside. 

That would be nice. That would feel really blessed. 

And because I want this for myself, I want it for all those with whom l share space, those with whom I interact and anyone who has taken the time to engage with my ramblings. 

So, several days after Yom Kippur, and within a wide and very secular context, please accept my blessing  that you 'be sealed within the book  of life.' 

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Late August, Early September

 The birds are putting on their winter coats.


Sparrows shedding feathers, 

starlings sporting brown backs and black 

speckled breasts, caught between seasons.

Young blue tits in smart yellow shirts have yet 

to find their thin black ties.


Flocking in my tree, 

busily attacking nuts and seeds,

preparing for the turning.


Wednesday, 15 September 2021

A letter to you

I guess this is the nearest I have ever come to writing a fan letter.


A letter to you


When you were young, you were a pause 

in an upbeat, riotous rhythm. 

Dour. Plaintive. Sullen. 

You broke up the band at the height of its  

success. 

You said you couldn't cope with all the 

fighting, 

so you formed new bands and did more 

writing.


When you went solo, your mates played on 

your sessions, 

combining lush arrangements with heart on 

sleeve confessions. 

Loaded with longing, spilling joy and  pain

I played those songs over again. 


Then I  read about your life, 

how you struggled with your wife

and experienced deep depression. 

Uncomfortable interviews

cut your tongue in two.  

Somewhat at a loss; unsure what to 

say; what to do.                                          


And when you sang, wearing that face

I'd mistaken for a pose,

I knew you'd pricked your hands on every 

gathered rose.

Damaged. Haunted. Triggered.

Abused. I read it in the news.

You were only twelve years old.


These days you've filled out and have more 

rounded shoulders.

Yet still you stand and sing those songs. 

Melodic. Plaintive. Older 

A liitle tired; a lot more knowing. 

Despite it all, you kept on going. 





Saturday, 11 September 2021

One of million blogs today

11th of September 2001, twenty years since Dave the reprographics technician came out of his little cubby hole next to the photocopier at Clarence St Community Education Centre and said, ‘Something really bad has happened in New York.’  On the television screen, in his pokey little room, a tower was on fire. A plane had flown into it and the no one at the BBC seemed to know what was going on but they-  and we - were beginning to realise that, whatever it was, was unprecedented.  I went back to the staff room and brought my colleagues back to Dave’s little room, where we watched - almost in silence - as history unfolded before our eyes.

At home that evening, I checked into the Literazti Lobby, an American chat room set up by would be writers and lovers of reading, which I had come across earlier that year and had taken to visiting regularly.  Instead of the usual quick-fire repartee and occasional sharing of ideas, participants shared their shock at what had happened. Being English and not exactly a fan of American foreign policy or President Bush, I read the words and phrases as they unfolded on screen like a witness at some remove. It had been over 10 years since America had invaded Iran but it was clear to me that new wars loomed on the horizon. I particularly remember the shock of ‘DarcyBingley’ a young woman with a baby and a love of Jane Austen, to whom I had been chatting quite regularly. She lived in New York and her father had worked for the NYPD. In weeks to come Hap, a laconic Texan, who made tunes on a program that made music sound like  doorbells, declared himself a Hawk. I can still remember the email discussions we had in which I played the Dove.

The responses to the tragedy ranged from the burning of the American flag by groups of angry Islamists to the pacificist pleas of ‘Not In My Name’ demonstrators as the ‘Powers that Be’ invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite the pleas for sense from the UN, American and Britain forged ahead on dodgy intelligence.  People demonstrated in London, while Blair and Bush prayed together for victory in God’s name. Later down the line, America would shock the world with the  human rights abuses perpetrated at Guantanamo Bay.  

Now, America has left Afghanistan. Maybe there was a never a right time to withdraw, the occupation lasted twenty years but the world watches with bated breath now the Taliban are back in control. 

Today, from New York, the BBC reported:

‘As the first moment of silence began to mark the moment the first plane hit the North Tower, people gathered on Greenwich Street and looked directly up at One World Trade Center.

Many were New York firefighters.

A man quietly whispered to his young child.

An elderly man wiped a tear.

A few minutes later, a local New York reporter tells me that this was the moment, 20 years ago, that his network started rolling news, and didn’t run a single commercial for three weeks.’

It is to these people to whom, once again, my heart goes out. I still don’t feel comfortable with Dubya, though. Let's hope Biden proves to be a wiser leader in the years to come. 

Saturday, 17 July 2021

Deeper meanings

A family member, Neela, has sent me some information through social media on a forthcoming exhibition of Grayson Perry’s work at Rochdale Art Gallery. It's really interesting how Perry modernises ideas from Renaissance and Christian art. I remember my son studying Vanitas when he was at High School and how he explained the use of the hidden skulls in Vanitas paintings. Death lies in wait, the old master’s tell us, even for the grandest and most successful.  Grayson Perry has placed a skull within this series of tapestries to suggest the inescapability of death and its role as the ultimate social leveller.  The main theme of these tapestries is class and the kinds of cultural signifiers that signal class differences are used to satirise social and cultural aspirations - the small vanities which signal real or perceived status in much the same way his Renaissance predecessors did.  This is most witty, yet Perry also draws on religious imagery within these tapestries to add additional meaning, using poses and structures from classic religious works.  In doing so, I wonder if he means to show how culture crucifies and - most certainly -  limits us?

The vanity of small differences

 

 I visited one of Perry’s exhibitions a few years ago at the Turner in Margate, which my dad and his late wife took me to see. The woman in the middle of this painting reminds me very much of the Virgin Mary. Is she representative of the witness standing at the foot of cross? Does she represent the apprehensions of mothers everywhere? Or is she merely puzzled by what goes on around her? I think she is a secular Mary.  Yet the connection to the idea of universal suffering as embodied through a Catholic icon cannot be discounted. 

 


 

The idea of witnessing is an interesting one, particularly if one takes it beyond the narrow Evangelical Christian definition, which basically means telling others about Jesus Christ. Something I have always been deeply uncomfortable with. The idea of witnessing life, in a meaningful or spiritual context can be a deeply religious experience, one that can make sense within a humanistic Christian context, and beyond. The ability of artists in all kinds of different fields to explore and present the ‘truths of life’ as they see them, or want us to see them is an incredible gift.   Think of how the seven deadly sins and the seven virtues have provided endless source material for artists and writers. Pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, sloth, and wrath; faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, prudence and temperance.  They interweave through life on many human levels:  individual, family, community, society.  Of course, there are not just seven faults and seven good qualities, there are many and for most of us they intermingle and most of us will, often unexpectedly, be shaken by the hidden reach of our shadow side. It’s so very easy to point the finger when the clay feet of those in the public eye give way.  Hypocrisy is never far from the surface, not just within the fallen but also resides within those who poke the finger and/or take joy at others downfall. And even those who don't.

Well, that’s all a bit serious for a sunny afternoon.