You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2008.
And New Year follows Christmas, with a long silence between. I’m away now until New Year’s Day, and so here is a couple of silences to fill the gap.
I am peasant
next to your language
because I am not
a peasant, simple
next to your love
because I wound it,
dumb next to your voice
because you are my lips
and leave me speechless,
leave me also loneliness,
with the inexpressible,
and because you
live the way you do
and I cannot,
I must go elsewhere
in this corner of
my shoulder and weep you,
who love me inexhaustibly
more than I can ever hope
to silence with a poem,
because it is the silence
I hope for, because
it is the very pure
silence hope itself is,
and so I bend, to
my pencil I say: you,
to the beautiful page, you,
I say Yes without speaking,
I say many things, and still
there is room, there is space,
your face is where I see forever.
By noon, the bestial roar of surplus-driven labor,
concrete of traffic and construction, a furious torrent, blankets even
the quiet residential suburbs with a sheen of clamor,
a set of agitation,
so that in all the city silence is but a lesser noise.
And tho the sea of sound subsides, its composition shifting,
the shouts of children piercing
the detonations of combustion,
the even tenor of a million conversations
rising to the sky,
as in a gasping exhalation later
the roar subsides into a growl, the growl into a nightime sigh,
the inner city’s raucous breathing never stops,
for when in early morning hours
the city’s lungs are almost empty and like a fog a silence threatens
the scanty footfalls and the conversations
of late pedestrians, the early trucks begin to rumble
& in a murm’ring trickle, the floods of clerks and laborers again begins to rise,
This breath of life, the higher potency of birdcry
& of the sound of wind & of domestic conversation
is my space of silence,
and with this breath breathe I.
by Karin Mackay Feb 2008
“Any woman who does not have their mothers support during the crucial transitional stage of becoming a mother is bound to feel vulnerable, insecure and have a sensation of missing out on something whether it be real or imagined. They do not have the benefit of experiencing first hand the ancient wisdom that is surreptitiously stored in their mother’s actions, verbalizations or body language that has been passed down from thousands of generations before.
If the link to the birth mother is broken, a woman can feel a profound sense of loss, loneliness and isolation particularly when they experience any major life events such as marriage, the birth of their first child, their first child stating school or any other time when sharing joy and pain intimately is needed. Motherless daughters just don’t have that someone who supposedly loves them unconditionally that they can lean on. Even if the daughter has a surrogate mother who loves them dearly it is not the same as the bond between blood mother and daughter. The new mother will find her way but this is often at great personal cost as she may also be left with feelings of not being good enough, low self esteem, being over motherly and feeling overwhelmed when she has no back up support that many other mothers may take for granted.
One characteristic is that unmothered mothers are often very independent and have difficulty asking for help as help has possibly never been there for them in any reliable way. They may display outward strength but you can bet that inside they are very soft and vulnerable
The unmothered mother cannot intimately watch and know from one who has “done it before” even if she would have wanted to birth and mother very differently “her way” and change it all anyway. She still doesn’t have that knowing which is not spoken of or taught or read about in books but is absorbed through watching, feeling and sensing. She feels she has missed out on crucial information, even if she hasn’t, and will attempt to make up for it by wishing to be the perfect mother………., all loving, kind, caring, the cleanest, the best cook, and produce children that prove that she is doing all the right things or by reading everything she can get her hands on about “how to mother” and so on and so forth…….. She may even seek out other mothers, grandmothers, aunts of blood or in name only, to help her with her task. And she will find answers, and she will be able to be the almost perfect mother for a while but there will be a gap, a missing piece to the puzzle, a hole in her heart. She may feel “if a mother can’t love me then who can?”
She will want to be the perfect mother so she does not repeat the same mistakes with her own children, hoping desperately to break the cycle but there is an innate danger to her personal wellbeing because she carries the burden of the generation before her and the one that is to follow. She trying to be the bridge that closes the gap and creates connections and this may prove to be an arduous journey. In her perfect mother quest she is doomed to fail as she can never live up to her own expectations.
One day she may wake up and realize that to make up for her own lack of mothering she is mothering everyone else – her husband, her friends, her children and even acquaintances but she is not mothering herself. She has tried to gain love through mothering but cannot find it until she learns to mother herself. This can be an extremely painful realization because no matter which way she looks whether it is up the line to her elders or down the line to her children and grandchildren she has been the mother. This may be especially so if her mother was there physically but unable to be there emotionally, a double blow really because she is playing the mother but is really the daughter and may have had this relationship with her mother from a very young age.
The unmothered mother needs to accept that there is no such thing as the perfect mother, that she is loveable and worthwhile and deserves to be mothered herself, to be respected. She needs to find a way to heal the pain and the grief so that she can find within herself the nurturance to love herself, give time to herself and follow her own passions. She can do this by seeking other understanding women to share her story with respectfully, who will listen to and acknowledge her challenges without judgment. She needs to find another way to access her stored memory of the grandmother and mother memory through other mothers or older women to learn that they are probably not doing such a bad job of mothering their children after all and to just relax a little.
She needs to learn to give herself time to grieve every so often the loss of never having a mother, for the pain will never go away completely; but she also needs to learn that there is no need to carry your pain like a flag that identifies you. It may be time to move on from that so you can experience life more fully wholly and to allow yourself guiltless pleasure in filling your own cup to the brim with the amazing love and acceptance that you have been giving to others but now need to give to yourself.
And finally to appreciate your women friends that truly accept you as you really are as they are precious indeed.”
Toni Morrison, in an interview [with Bill Moyers in 1989]:
“There was something so valuable about what happened when one became a mother. For me it was the most liberating thing that ever happened to me. . . . Liberating because the demands that children make are not the demands of a normal ‘other.’ The children’s demands on me were things that nobody ever asked me to do. To be a good manager. To have a sense of humor. To deliver something that somebody could use. And they were not interested in all the things that other people were interested in, like what I was wearing or if I were sensual. . . . Somehow all of the baggage that I had accumulated as a person about what was valuable just fell away. I could not only be me -– whatever that was -– but somebody actually needed me to be that. . . . If you listen to [your children], somehow you are able to free yourself from baggage and vanity and all sorts of things, and deliver a better self, one that you like. The person that was in me that I liked best was the one my children seemed to want.”
othersThere is a core aspect of a woman’s psyche called the Mother Complex. This complex includes the Ambivilent Mother, Collapsed Mother, and the Unmothered Mother. They represent the internalized versions of our own mother and the cultural ideas of motherhood. We each have an unbroken chain of what it means to be a mother/woman within us. Part of our process as women is to identify, embrace, and claim our own individual female nature.
A pause. The presents are wrapped, the guests have gone home, our children have been kissed goodnight, and somewhere, not far away,
Father Christmas is waiting to swoop down to deliver presents that are eagerly anticipated. Faith is no barrier to his arrival. He comes whether they believe in him or not.
Soon the midnight mass will begin in the tiny country church, miles from any settlement. Between now and then there is peace and quiet and time for thoughts.
Merry Christmas to all my readers, whoever and wherever you are – to those I know, and to those I’ll never know. I wish you all peace and happiness for the next few days, and then more in 2009.
Questions About Angels
Of all the questions you might want to ask
about angels, the only one you ever hear
is how many can dance on the head of a pin.
No curiosity about how they pass the eternal time
besides circling the Throne chanting in Latin
or delivering a crust of bread to a hermit on earth
or guiding a boy and girl across a rickety wooden bridge.
Do they fly through God’s body and come out singing?
Do they swing like children from the hinges
of the spirit world saying their names backwards and forwards?
Do they sit alone in little gardens changing colors?
What about their sleeping habits, the fabric of their robes,
their diet of unfiltered divine light?
What goes on inside their luminous heads? Is there a wall
these tall presences can look over and see hell?
If an angel fell off a cloud, would he leave a hole
in a river and would the hole float along endlessly
filled with the silent letters of every angelic word?
If an angel delivered the mail, would he arrive
in a blinding rush of wings or would he just assume
the appearance of the regular mailman and
whistle up the driveway reading the postcards?
No, the medieval theologians control the court.
The only question you ever hear is about
the little dance floor on the head of a pin
where halos are meant to converge and drift invisibly.
It is designed to make us think in millions,
billions, to make us run out of numbers and collapse
into infinity, but perhaps the answer is simply one:
one female angel dancing alone in her stocking feet,
a small jazz combo working in the background.
She sways like a branch in the wind, her beautiful
eyes closed, and the tall thin bassist leans over
to glance at his watch because she has been dancing
forever, and now it is very late, even for musicians.
Mary Hodegetria, painted by Ellen Francis, a contemporay icon painter
Byzantium has had a bad press in history books, but the current exhibition at the Royal Academy in London aims to contribute to the revision of the old historical view, replacing it with a new appreciation of the wealth of culture that infused the Empire as well as an appreciation of the contribution the Empire made to countries that lay outside its boundaries.
I went to see the exhibition first just after it opened. Although not quite alone, I still had room to move freely from exhibit to exhibit and back again, admiring the beauty of the jewelled objects, the decorated manuscripts and the everyday tableware, the stone carvings, the micro-mosaics and the gilded icons.
The exhibition opens with a hall devoted to the pre-Christian Empire. Roman floor mosaics depicting the months, and secular objects, plates, a tomb, carvings, set the scene for the conversion of Emperor Constantine on his death bed, and for the influence of his mother, a follower of Christ before him. The palette is terracotta, yellow ochre, browns and greys.
And then it changes to silver, to gold, to emerald and ruby and sapphire. A Bible has a silver cover studded with semi-precious roundels of stone, and a spine made up of hundreds of tiny hinges. A statue of the virgin sits in a crysal grotto as clear as glass. Enameled decorations take everyday objects out of the ordinary.
For someone who has not grown up in an Orthodox or Catholic tradition, the imagery is sometimes difficult to interpret, but gradually the repetition of image after image builds up a composite picture of Christ, of Mary, of Gabriel, of the Saints, that begins to hint of the perfect forms behind the many attempts to depict the personage of God, his mother, the angels and the saints.
So there is the icon of the Mother of God Hodegetria, the image of Mary cradling the baby Jesus on her left arm, a copy of the icon painted by St Luke and venerated in the Hodegon monastery in Constantinople to be paraded at times of celebration and triumph. Later Italianate icons sometimes show Mary holding her baby on her right arm – an usual position, for a mother normally instinctively holds her child where the child can feel her heart beat. There is also the image of Mary, lying dead, her soul ascending into heaven, surrounded by other Biblical figures.
There is Christ the Pantokrator, the all powerful Christ with his right hand raised in blessing, and his left hand holding or resting on a Bible. There is the Mandylion, the traditional icon of Christ showing only his face which refers to a sacred relic, a piece of cloth bearing the imprint of Christ’s face brought to Constantinople in 944 AD and kept there until its disappearance in 1204 following the occupation of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade, and linked, controversially, to the Shroud of Turin . Yet Christ is not confined to any one of the images. He is not any of these images, but is in all of them. Familiarity with the traditional icon forms is important. I felt very anxious the first time I visited the exhibition because I neither understood the labels, nor were they explained. Having had them explained to me, or having found out what they meant, I was able to set aside the anxiety the second time, and concentrate instead on the now familiar image of the divine.
The final room at the exhibition holds a small collection of large icons borrowed from the Orthodox monastery in the desert, St Catherine’s monastery at Mount Sinai. These paintings are priceless, very rare icons that date from before the period of iconoclasm that lasted from 726 to 843 AD – when all depictions of Christ were forbidden and those pictures that existed within the Byzantine Empire were destroyed. St Catherine’s was outside the Empire’s reach, in a region already conquered by the Arabs, and so its icons remained safe. Some of the icons date from the 6th century, hundreds of years older than any other surviving icons.
At first the icons seemed like flat representations, almost two dimensional. Then, before I visited the exhibition again, I discovered “reverse perspective” and my view of icons changed completely.
Icons are different. Other paintings usually try to draw the observer into the scene that is depicted by the use of perspective. Our eye is drawn beyond the foreground to the horizon in the distance, to the distant hills or the dark corners of a room. The vanishing point of the lines of perspective is pointing away from us, behind the picture.
Icons have a reverse perspective that proceeds from the eyes of the subject depicted and the vanishing point is not behind the picture but in front of it. The subject looks into us and disappears into our head behind our eyes. At least, that is what the most successful icon painters manage to achieve. Icons then are food for contemplation and meditation, looking inwards not outwards. Even conventional portraits usually have a background that encourages us to look through the subject rather than allowing the subject to look through us.
Bishop Kallistos Ware, the English Orthodox Bishop of Great Britain, now Metropolitan of Diokleia, in The Orthodox Way, describes the spiritual way to God as being divided into three parts, the middle part being a call to contemplate the world around us and to find God in it. The challenge, he says, is as described by George Herbert in his reflection on the passage in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13 (βλεπομεν γαρ αρτι δι εσοπτρου εν αινιγματι), “For now we see through a glass darkly, then face to face”:
“A man that looks on glasse,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleases, through it passe,
And then the heav’n espie.”
Bishop Ware elaborates: “To look on the glass is the perceive the “thisness”, the intense reality, of each thing; to look through the glass and so to “espie” the heaven is to discern God’s presence within and yet beyond that thing.”
Thus every icon presents us with a challenge, to find God’s presence within it. Of course the skill of the icon painter is important, but one imagines it is not essential. Many of the early icons cannot be attributed to a particular painter, though later artists are often easier to identify. The exhibition includes work by Andreas Ritzos, the famous Cretan icon painter, as part of a body of icons originating in Crete, painted both alla latina or alla greca depending on the wishes of the client for whom the icon was painted. I tried and failed at the weekend to watch a film about the life of Andrei Rublev, a famous Russian Orthodox icon painter. I am not sure that anything matters – the author, the style – as much as our stance before them.
The Old Testament commandment prohibits the creation of an image of God. Theologians have argued that since Jesus is fully and completely God, then it would be unlawful to depict Jesus, and yet there was a strong human need to own, to hold, to look at pictures of loved ones, of their Saviour. Emperor Constantine resolved the dilemma at the First Ecumenical Council in 325 AD. The Council stipulated that since Christ was consubstantial with God, but had also become man, and it was permissible, desirable even, to depict this human aspect of his nature as evidence of God’s incarnation in Jesus. Subsequent Councils refined this compromise. The fourth Council spoke of the two natures of Jesus Christ, being both one in essence with God and one in essence with man. The seventh Council of Nicaea in 787 AD proclaimed – during a brief hiatus in the Iconoclastic Controversy – that it was legitimate to depict Christ’s image since he had become man, but that since he was one person and not two, these images of Christ would not show us just his humanity, but also his divinity and that the one was inseparable from the other.
When I visited the exhibition for the second time the rooms were crowded with people and it was difficult to get close to many of the exhibits without waiting patiently in turn, and then feeling it was impolite to stay too long. I stood in front of some of the Sinai icons, treasuring their presence here outside their usual inaccessible place of safety, testing the power of their reverse perspective, and I skirted around the unusual icon, the Ladder of Ascent, which more than any other claimed my attention.
The exhibition continues until the end of March. Its treasures, which I have been fortunate enough to see with my own eyes, will stay with me for much longer.
Exhibition Education Guide to Byzantium:
Currently on loan from St Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai, to the Royal Academy of Arts as part of the quite wonderful Byzantium exhibition on until the end of March. I keep meaning to write about it, because I’ve been twice, but the subject and my ignorance seem too great. Go and see it for yourself if you have time and are in the UK.
[I found the Jeff Buckley version on Friday, and played it over and over and over again, and then put it in a post-dated post for Sunday. Little did I know that the winner of the X-factor was going to cover the same song for her finale, and that it was her new single. I like it when things like that happen …]
I have been reading some of the blog posts reporting the violence in Greece this past week. I was struck particularly by the stark contrast between two adjacent posts on Stavros’s blog, My Greek Odyssey and decided to play with a few ideas that flew out of my reading.
The first post was a biographical post about Elder Paisios, an ascetic Athonite monk in the Russian Orthodox church who crucified his health in his relentless quest for spirituality and whose words are a comfort to many loyal followers. The post described a daunting pattern, one which I revolt against, but one which represented, I thought, the victory of the superego, the conscience, over less saintly primal urges.
A YouTube clip of one of Elder Paisios’s homilies shows him warning us to mistrust our thoughts. For just as some of them may originate in God, others may be the work of the devil or the barren fruits of our own endeavours and discernment is needed to distinguish the first from the others. The tri-partite summary of the origin of thought seemed to me to fit neatly into the three divisions of our personalities which Freud labelled our id, our ego and our superego.
I left this comment on the post with some trepidation as my overly active superego worried about upsetting Stavros:
I’m in awe of Elder Paisios’s sacrifices, and admire the tradition of Elders which is much less prominent in our church. I was thinking about your final video clip, and comparing Elder Paisios’s three origins of thought (devil, man, God) with the division of the personality as conceived by Freud. For the devil, think “id”, for man think “ego”, for God think “superego”:
“According to Freud, there are three components to a human’s personality. The three components are the id, the ego, and the superego. To him, a person’s behavior is determined by the interactions among these components.
The id is the primitive, instinctive component of personality that operated according to the pleasure principle” (Weiten 2005). The id is the reservoir of psychic energy- it houses the fundamental biological needs. These include eating, sleeping, defecating, copulating, etc. All of these aspects energize humans. The id demands immediate gratification, and it operates according to the pleasure principle “which demands immediate gratification of its urges” (Weiten 2005). It operates within the parameters of primary process thinking which is primitive, illogical, irrational, and fantasy-oriented (Weiten 2005).
The ego operates according to the reality principle and is the decision-making component of personality. The ego is a mediator between the id and the external social world. The ego delays the gratification of the id until it is socially appropriate to satisfy the id. The ego is interested in social and personal success and happiness, but it has the means to delay gratification for those purposes (Weiten 2005).
The superego is in control of our conscience. The superego involves social standards which represent right and wrong. The superego strives for moral decency, and people with an overactive superego will easily experience feelings of guilt (Weiten 2005).”
That Freud made a similar distinction in no way takes away from the truth or otherwise of Elder Paisos’s division – though Freud’s explanation is more prosaic. What is perhaps more challenging is to wonder whether the saints amongst us are just those whose superegos have become the controlling force in their personality for reasons of environment, if not faith…
The second post was a response to the reports of the rioting in Athens, and was the first of several posts I then read on other blogs I visit regularly, all of which responded the unravelling events.
Two adjacent posts. The Good and the Evil. The two aspects of humanity that war within each of us. I wonder if that is not why the reports are so upsetting; that each of us struggles – to a greater or lesser degree – to keep the wanton urges at bay, that we are appalled by the riot within ourselves when it rises from its subconscious slime, the ugly id being given free rein to run amok.
The violence has been like a volcanic boil, lancing the unspeakable forces that can no longer be kept invisible, that the ego has vainly tried to control. Shame, turning away our eyes. It happens.
Interestingly, each of the bloggers I selected seemed to adopt a different approach to the problem as each suggested how one might try to stem the flow of violence. [Links to each blog in the sidebar soon, or in previous post but one]
Hellenic Antidote appeals to reason, to a heavy handed logical thinking solution that educates the id into submission. A heavy handed parent. My Greek Odyssey prays to God for help restoring peace as if nothing else but the supernatural will work and in doing so absolves us of the ability to solve the problem ourselves in our humanity. Others criticise the parents for having let these boys on the cusp of manhood out of their sight and one imagines the critical parent tut-tutting at other more liberal parents at the school gate, at those who are disorganised and turn up late with unkempt hair. Kat at An American in Athens gets in touch with the dark side in an attempt to understand the forces involved, interviewing both one of the feared MAT police officers and a revolting youth. Her interview with the police officer uncovers his humanity, the daily difficulties he faces, and through the frank engagement, we begin to see his point of view, to be kinder to him, to be less judgmental. Others rewind through recent history in a search for an explanation, a prior event to learn from, or appeal to a sense of justice or fairness, a very engaged ego to mitigate between the opposing sides.
Each in his or her own way seeks to control the unruly forces, and I wonder if they don’t reveal their own personal way of being when it comes to internal problem solving, when temptation to sin, to give in to our animal natures, rears its ugly head. I wonder whether our responses to the crisis reveal quite a bit about our parenting styles, or about the way we were parented.
Boils come and go. They are embarrassing and shameful and they may leave scars behind. We worry what people will think of us when they see the boil – we fear their disgust and their teasing. We turn our face away. We hate having our less than perfect side on display. But we survive. Afterwards we can see it wasn’t the end of the world. Just a boil: we all get them from time to time. And we love the people who loved us when we were lepers. We probably try to improve our diet, cleanse our skin more carefully, remove some of the stress from our lives, and, if all goes well, our skin stays clear.
As for the Wisdom who is called “the barren,” she is the mother of the angels. And the companion of the […] Mary Magdalene. […] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples […]. They said to him “Why do you love her more than all of us?” The Savior answered and said to them,”Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.”