This it it! The middle of life. The middle of uncharted territory. The middle of ‘time’.
If it weren’t for the threat of death, the reality of imminent bankruptcy, collective grief and the fear of loneliness all looming heavily on the horizon of human consciousness; we could see this time as a gift. We really could. Those healthy and #stayingathome could embrace the truth that the one thing we never have, time, is suddenly abundant. That’s what I have decided to do.
Pope Francis, surrounded by thousands of the faithful, usually gives his Urbi and Orbi blessing on the Catholic Church’s most sacred days. But this was no ordinary address. From his lonely podium in Rome, his words tapped into our collective crisis powered by the holy internet:
“We find ourselves afraid and lost, we have been taken aback by an unexpected and furious storm. We find ourselves in the same boat. Fragile and disoriented but, at the same time, important and necessary. All called to row together, all in need of comfort from each other.
Everyone, everyone is in this boat. We cannot go forward, each on our own, but only together“
For me, ‘Papa Francesco’s message is the real deal. One that does not bubble up from the muddy dogma of religion, but the cool clear waters of spirit.
Mother Mary Comforts Me
Although one of my favourite quotes has always been Carl Jung’s: ‘Religion is a defence against the experience of God’, once upon another dark-night-of-the-soul I reached out to the sanctified air of the church. Heavy with the spirit of the feminine Mary, the heady aroma of Frankincense and the alluring comfort of ritual; I decided to convert. Father Joe was kind and warm and very, very old. Older than God was my best guess. Week after week, two times a week, his creaking fingers flicked through the rules, stories and prayers of the church: the Catechism. Sunday school for adults. And on Sundays my kids didn’t moan too much. I suspect that had more to do with the huge doughnuts served at break than it did with the do-nots.
I passed my Catechism with flying colours and finally, Baptism day arrived. The kids and I had confessed and were ready for the sacred dip. Godparents hastily found amongst the congregation, Father Joe’s eyes twinkled. He said: “You’ll be getting married at the same time.” Like that was a good thing! That particular marital mistake was the catalyst that had cast me into the dark-night-du-jour and I knew better than to make it twice. My dream of baptism, and whatever comfort I had hoped to find in doctrine; drained like holy water down the plug hole.
Now, years later and reflecting upon the Pope’s words, I look across the living room. A visible cloud of brooding testosterone has formed above my two trapped teens. The noxious ammonia from the dwindling cat litter (seriously, which MF bought all the cat litter in London?), assaults my nose. Banal banter of YouTube boobs is a physical attack on my eardrums (“What’s that? That’s vile. Is that a blood blister? Shall we pop it? Ewwww he popped it! I knew it!) But I recognise that I am alive on this lonely boat.
When I knead the next task on my quarantine survival list – seeded and gluten free bread – I will be contemplating the many spiritual and physical ways in which we are all connected. I am rowing my boat in the direction of love. I am rowing my boat away from fear.
And when this boat docks, when (God willing) it does, I will be a leaner meaner sailor who can grow a balcony garden, bake bread, meditate and (sorry) over-share all about it.
This is our baptism of fire and my connection to you, a holy communion.