Quote of the Day

Growth for the sake of growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell. PHiLOSOPHY and LiFE blog

Monday, July 31, 2006

On being a patient

Our new daughter, Esther Ruby, was born at 20:23, Saturday 29th July. The antenatal care was wonderful — presence without unwanted interference — and, when Claire needed a caesarean section, wonderfully professional whilst remaining human.

For me, it was an interesting and important experience of living between two worlds: that of the patient and that of the NHS employee. Patient-care is something I experienced vicariously though Claire and Esther, and directly as a father. The postnatal care, both in this birth and with my other daughter, Hannah Lola, whilst good during the day, left a lot to be desired over-night. It made me wonder whether staff morale was low on the ward. It was also angering and taught me some lessons.

Nurses and other hospital staff (of which I am one) work in a public space with nowhere to flee from the constant presence of people's needs. It is very wearing and at times inhuman; but many of us hospital staff act as if the hospital were set up for us and patients are there on sufferance.

I truth, hospitals belong to patients: it is they who are at the centre. It is obvious really, but so easy to forget, to think that, as a member of staff, patients are coming into my space. In reality, I am a guest in their space.

While I am a patient in a hosptial (receiving hospitality) my bed-space becomes my own: it is my home, my shelter from the storm. Anyone — family, friend, nurse, doctor, chaplain — who enters that space is a guest to act, with politeness, as if they were entering my home at my request, with a service to be offered, ideally with the joy of being able to serve, but at least with care and a recognition of my vulnerability and indigence. Such a person I shall receive with gratitude.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


Yesterday, in A&E where I work, a 2 year old child died - or was already dead when she arrived. There are few things worse to witness than a dead child and the grief of parents. None, especially those of us with our own children, could fail to be moved deeply by sadness and fear.

On reflection I learnt, or had reaffirmed, some things from this:

  • God did not cause this tragedy; God could not prevent it. God was present at every moment and never abandoned her. (God is present at every moment and never abandons us.) This child has not fallen out of God's hands — is still held firmly in God's loving embrace. She is not lost.
  • Life on this Earth was and is formed out of cosmic forces of change too vast for us to grasp. A world without risk, without vulnerability to accident, is a world with out change, without possibility, without life.
  • We humans create many of the conditions that lead to the death and destruction of our brothers and sisters. God has nothing to do with this: the culpability and the solutions are down to us.
  • But, we can't escape the fact the world as given to us is not safe: it could not be otherwise.

Fear of God

Sometimes, when we consider really praying, coming close to God (or, perhaps more accurately, letting God come close), we fear what God might expect of us — some great trial, some difficult deed — or we fear that we will be asked to give up what is most precious to us — a loved one, a lifestyle.

We're right to be afraid, but these fears are a kind of projection: the truth is far worse: God wants us to give up our very selves, our lives.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Desiring Subject

Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires. from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake

I want to write about desire.

We find ourselves inhabited by all sorts of desires, some welcome, others less so:

  • perhaps I'm uncomfortable today and wish the weather was cooler, warmer, sunnier, drier, wetter, ...;
  • perhaps I'm unhappy today and I reminise about how good things used to be;
  • perhaps my attention is caught by an attractive person and I want them to love me or have sex with me;
  • perhaps I am hurt or frightened by someone and my thoughts circle around making the cutting riposte, revenge, murder.

It seems to me that there is an important distinction, but what can feel like a fine line, between indulging (what Blake calls 'nursing') a desire and investigating it.

Indulging Investigating
I allow the emotion and fantasy of the desire to build into a scenario of fulfilment. I am simply with the qualities of the desire: with longing, with anger, with ache.
I move into future possibilities, or worry (like a dog with a bone) at past events. I stay in the present to give the desire room to breathe, to allow it's true nature to unfold and tell its story.
I am had by the desire. I have the desire.
I am elsewhere. I am present to myself and the desire.

I realise this is all true, not just about desire, but about anything that draws me away from the present into the past or future. God is only here and now.

The Bright Field

I have seen the sun break through

to illuminate a small field

for a while, and gone my way

and forgotten it. But that was the pearl

of great price, the one field that had

treasure in it. I realize now

that I must give all that I have

to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after

an imagined past. It is the turning

aside like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush, to a brightness

that seemed as transitory as your youth

once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

R. S. Thomas

Friday, July 21, 2006

The ASBOs of Desire

In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy. Ivan Illich

I am uneasy when I hear about Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs). I, too, am angry when I have to suffer noise, litter, graffiti, abuse and the effects of the use of alcohol and other drugs. But it seems to me that it is too easy to scapegoat children, teenagers and bad (if that they be) parents. I wonder if anti-social behaviour is a symptom of some deeper cause. An ASBO, like some other elements of our punishment system, is a painkiller, not a cure for what ails us. How much are we all complicit in creating the society we live in? How much is anti-social behaviour the fault of all us?

The Creation of Desire

We learn what we want through mimesis — through imitating what another desires. A Consumer Society works by the creation and frustration of desire. Advertising, in various media, provides an unremitting overwhelm of images of a better life that play on our lust, gluttony, greed and envy; as do TV soaps, game-shows and make-over programmes. These images and entertainments create the desire for things we did not know we wanted, let alone even existed, before we saw them. This all keeps the economic ball rolling. It is all under-pinned by the fundamentally flawed and elusive goals of economic growth and stability. It leads to addiction and to an addictive society. We have allowed ourselves to be brainwashed into desiring.

The Frustration of Desire

We just cannot have all that we see and desire. There's never enough time or money to 'have it all.' But, there are some people, some groups whose desires are particularly frustrated: through poverty or prejudice; and because some of us get rich at the expense of, and through the exploitation and squashing of others. Some people are going to feel they are failures, frustrated, angry, worthless, without hope, without a sense of a life worth living. Perhaps anti-social behaviour is the distorted expression of a frustrated desire — desire which itself has been distorted by design.

We collude in creating desire, frustrating it's fulfillment, and scapegoating and punishing those who enact their frustration upon us all.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Reasons not to pray: 5

Reason 5: loss of control. Prayer requires me to give myself into the hands of the Other, but I'd much rather be self-determining.

Richard Rohr says that there are five difficult messages we need to learn:

  1. Life is hard.
  2. You are going to die.
  3. You are not that important.
  4. You are not in control.
  5. Your life is not about you.

Do I dare to give up this much sense of self and agency?

Of course, there is the potential for great comfort and relief in this: I can relax my grip on what I (fondly, but mistakenly) think of as 'my' life.

... it does not really matter what we understand about ourselves or our context so long as we put ourselves in God's hands. ... God coming to us where we are; we surrendering in total trust from where we are . . . it is simple enough. Ruth Burrows: Guidelines for Mystical Prayer, p.44

What God is waiting for is not a right conclusion about a matter but our suppleness in falling into his hands for him to work in us. John Climacus (579-649)

Previously in series: Reasons not to pray: 4.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Love Dogs

One night a man was crying,

Allah! Allah!

His lips grew sweet with the praising,

until a cynic said,

"So! I have heard you

calling out, but have you ever

gotten any response?"

The man had no answer to that.

He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.

He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,

in a thick, green foliage.

"Why did you stop praising?"

"Because I've never heard anything back."

"This longing

you express is the return message."

The grief you cry out from

draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness

that wants help

is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.

That whining is the connection.

There are love dogs

no one knows the names of.

Give your life

to be one of them.

Jalal Al-Din Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Silence and Honey Cakes, part 3

Cover image

Well, here's some more (continuing where I left off).

Life, Death and Neighbours (cont.)

... the only way in which you know the seriousness of separation from God is in your own experience of yourself. ... 'If you have sin enough in your own life and your own home, you have no need to go searching for it elsewhere.' ... 'If you have a corpse laid out in your own front room, you won't have leisure to go to a neighbour's funeral.' This is not about minimising sin; it is about learning how to recognise it from seeing the cost in yourself. p.30

For me, this next is a real killer.

... to assume that you have arrived at a settled spiritual maturity which entitles you to prescribe confidently at a distance for another's sickness is in fact to leave them without the therapy they need for their souls; it is to cut them off from God, to leave them in their spiritual slavery — while reinforcing your own slavery. ... As in the words of Jesus [Mt 21.13], you have shut up heaven for others and for yourself. p.31

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Silence and Honey Cakes, part 2

Cover image

Continuing from my last post on this book with more quotes from the first chapter. Really, you should just beg, borrow or even buy the book, and read it yourself, but I need to remember the essence of what he says — not that there is any spare flesh in Rowan's writing.

Life, Death and Neighbours (cont.)

Everything begins with this vision and hope of putting the neighbour in touch with God in Christ [which] entails facing the death of a particular kind of picture of myself. ...one of the great temptations of religious living is the urge to intrude between God and other people. We love to think that we know more of God that others; we find it comfortable and comforting to try and control the access of others to God. p.25

[We] are only trying to make others in [our] own image ...[with] this deep-rooted longing to manage the access of other people to God ... everyone is drawn almost irresistibly back towards this urge to manage ...[through] inattention, the failure to see what is truly there in front of us — because our own vision is clouded by self-obsession or self-satisfaction. p.26

If we don't really know how to attend to the reality that is our own inner turmoil, we shall fail in responding to the needs of someone else. ...readiness to judge and prescribe — normally has its roots in that kind of inattention to ourselves. 'How can I pass judgment when I don't know the full truth about myself?' p.26

Self-satisfaction is dealt with not by confrontation or condemnation but by the quiet personal exposure of failure in such a way as to prompt the same truthfulness in someone else: the neighbour is won, or converted, by Macaruis's 'death' to any hint of superiority in his vision of himself. ...the goal is reconciliation with God by way of this combination of truth and mercy. ... The fundamental need as far as the counsellor is concerned is first of all to put themselves on the level of the one who has sinned, to heal by solidarity not condemnation. p.26-9

To be continued ...

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Tory Outlet

Roll up, roll up. Get your cut-price Tories here. Four David Camerons for the price of one. It's a real bargain, a once-in-a-lifetime offer.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Silence and Honey Cakes

Cover image

I think Rowan Williams is simply incapable of writing a bad word. Someone, I forget who, introduced me to this book. I cannot tell you how thankful I am, how great a blessing it has been. I feel scoured (convicted, reproached) by the way he presents the wisdom of the desert mothers and fathers. Amazing Grace, indeed! I want to record here some quotes from the book as much to help me remember as to share.

Life, Death and Neighbours

... the facts of human life together are normally so messy, so unpromising and unedifying ... spirituality — the cultivation of sensitive and rewarding relationship with eternal truth and love ... simply doesn't happen unless we mend our relations with Tom, Dick and Harriet. p.22

'The monk ... must die to his neighbour and never judge him at all in any way whatever.' If our life and our death are with the neighbour, this spells out something of what our 'death' to the neighbour might mean: it is to renounce the power of jugdment over someone else — a task hard enough indeed to merit being described as death. p.24

I must die to myself, a self understood as the solid possessor of virtues and gifts, entitled to pronounce on the neighbour's spiritual condition. My own awareness of my failure and weakness iindispensablele to my communicating the gospel to my neighbour. I put the neighbour in touch with God by a particular kind of detachment from her. ... this is absolutely basic for our growth in the life of grace. p.24-5

To be continued ...

Friday, June 16, 2006

Reasons not to pray: 4

This may be the next in an on-going, infinite series begun with Reasons not to pray: 1, 2, 3.

Reason 4: the fear of emptiness, of nothing happening this time. Of course, nothing may happen, and there is nothing to be done about that. Indeed, if God is not an object in The Universe, if God is no-thing, then this is an entirely reasonable state of affairs and only to be expected.

[Next in the series: Reasons not to pray: 5.]