Great is the mystery of faithThe Common Book of Prayer
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in Rochester cathedral staring at a scaled model of the moon created using NASA images, lit from the inside.
In any esoteric wisdom tradition, the moon is the symbol of the feminine divine, the goddess. So, for it to light up the nave of a patriarchal power structure was nothing short of extraordinary. It changed the very energy of where we were standing. Not least of all because there were lots of people milling about.
I hate Rochester cathedral. The oppressive energy in there normally leaves me feeling crushed and miserable. For, it is, truly, a celebration of war, patriarchy and suppression. Every wall has a plaque on it to a man, more often than not, who had no choice but to give up his life, far too young, in the name of war, but had a heartbroken family rich enough to propagate the old lie: In dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
I lit a candle for my mother (my youngest lit one for our cat Pooh), as it was two years to the day since my mother died. I often think of her when I stare up at the moon, like the one which should appear tonight – this month’s worm moon, which is also a super moon. I wonder what our mam would have made of the moon in the nave.
Growing up, my mum, our mam, was, in the words she often used to describe other people, a big church-goer. My dad was a spiritualist and it’s only now that I am untangling the cognitive dissonance their respective religions caused me, not least of all, because her church regularly prayed for his soul, dabbling in the devil, as he did. Although looking back, I think the vicar was a bit nuts as he believed most things were from the devil: yoga, bingo, horoscopes, spiritualism, all the activities my parents engaged in.
My dad didn’t look like someone who dabbled with the devil, he was not like Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, though he did spend a lot of time in the gas cupboard under the stairs. (Nowadays, I see why. I could do with a mama cave of my own.) Sometimes, my dad would read out his automatic writing and he taught us how to use a pendulum and how to dowse. He brought a sense of the mystical to everyday life.
My mum, would roll her eyes at him and go to bed, always blowing a kiss to the statue of the Virgin Mary, which had belonged to her mother and which sat next to a rosary on her dressing table. Each in their own way, had their rituals, which is probably why I have long been of the opinion of whatever works to get you through the day, or night, is totally fine by me. I could hold your hand if you think it would help, or get two coat hangers and find us some gold (my dad would hide his wedding ring).
It used to be the Church who handled ritual, but when my mum died, I realised that there was nothing any man in authority could say to me, and no story from the Bible either, which could make me feel better. After all, my name is Ruth. My mum was the same too, when her mum died, she stopped going to church too. She never said exactly why, but now I know, it just seemed irrelevant and time consuming after losing the woman who meant the most to her, but seems to mean the least in society’s and the church’s eyes. The church offers very little in the way of comfort. Just a peculiar codependent relationship with poor old Jesus, who like the rest of them is up on the wall, after giving his life, far too young.
At my mum’s funeral, we sang Praise my Soul, the King of Heaven, which she probably didn’t want but it is how I remember her, singing super loudly and slightly out of tune either in church or along with Songs of Praise. I also chose Dear Lord and Father of Mankind which was her favourite hymn. It has a lovely tune but honestly the title – the patriarchal language. When my dad died and we were choosing his hymns as I sat by my mum’s hospital bed, it was then that she told me that she wanted Dear Lord and Father at her funeral. I cried and she patted my hand, saying: Don’t cry.
I cried as her coffin rolled away to Nat King Cole’s Stardust and everybody else did, as they could relate to that song, much more so than the hymns. I sat down as I couldn’t bear it. She had gone. She was dead and yet Nat King Cole was still singing. She loved Nat King Cole. I sat and cried until the vicar came over and asked us to leave the crematorium chapel as the next funeral needed to come in.
I actually stopped going to church a year before my mum died because the vicar at the church I went to who had never bothered his arse to speak to me before, even though that is his job, sent me an email asking for my help with social media so that he could serve the local community i.e., people who weren’t coming to church but whom he wanted to, to boost his numbers. I was so bloody angry, my mum was dying, and he wanted me to talk to me about social media. I replied asking what he was doing to serve me the community he already had, and if he knew me at all, he would know that he was asking the wrong person. I went to bed to sleep on the email before sending it, which is what I know I am supposed to do when cross, but when I got out of bed the next day, I couldn’t stop myself typing in yet more words, about how let down I felt by him, and the church, and this endless desire to entice people into the building under false pretences – hence the need to hang a moon in the nave.
It reminds me rather of trying to get more women into computing – you can pretend all you like that you care, and you are inclusive, and that everyone counts, but unless you change the very culture and language of computing, of your hymns, of your services, of what you preach, whilst your lovely moon may thrill me, it will only do so temporarily. What happens when you take it down? I need you to be constant like the moon. I need you to have my back and I want you to speak in a way which is relevant to me. I need to be seen, I need to be heard, I need a story, a ritual, something to get me through. I need you to care enough to hold my hand, that is, after all, your job, the one you are paid to do. The next time I saw the cheeky man he told me that he forgave me for sending that email. Irritated by his patronising spiritual bypassing, I told him that I did not forgive him. He hasn’t even tried to engage with me, nor look at me ever since.
It was not long after that the Jehovah’s witnesses came round, two women at my doorstep. I put it to them: In an age where we regularly update and improve everything (I won’t start on the myth of progress), why has no one touched the Bible? Why hasn’t anyone updated the Bible? They were completely baffled: You can’t update the Bible. To which I responded Why not? Quoting endless scripture, learnt by rote from what my brother refers to as my happy-clappy days, I mean why else would I have a good working knowledge of the Good Book if not to get into a big argument? My desire to express myself irritated my mother no end: You could cause a row in an empty house, is what she used to say to me.
I am not my husband’s possession, and yet the Bible was written back when I would have been. Why has this not been updated? I firmly believe that marriage is an outdated institution too. Bless my husband, he just rolls his eyes at me and says before we go out anywhere: And don’t be going on about that polygamy thing again. I keep telling him: commune not polygamy. I think he is worried about the numbers of takers. He is, after all, a good looking man, own hair and teeth, and sexy buns. My mum adored him and in her eyes, my greatest achievement was getting married to him. The lovely Jehovah’s Witnesses ladies and I got into quite a lively debate, as I pointed out the super patriarchy – like a super moon – it’s so in your face. The ladies shook their heads and kept saying all the stories about women were hidden. Well get them unhidden, get that Bible rewritten, and then get back to me with your message of what going to church will do for me.
My favourite line in all of it, all the years I went to church, steeped as I am in the incense and prayer, services and devotion, is quoted at the top of this blog: Great is the mystery of faith.
In a High Church (Oh, I know, patriarchy and hierarchy) the vicar says: Great is the mystery of faith and bangs a gong and waves around the frankincense on that fabulous long chain. I love the smell, and burn my own frankincense at home (though at the moment, I am really into dragonsblood in particular, the lovely one which they sell in Treadwell’s). It’s probably why I wear Yves Saint-Laurent’s Opium perfume. My mother bought me my first bottle years and years ago and I remember thinking: It smells like church, which gives me an experience every time I wear it. As I’ve said before, in the blog I link to above, and even in The heart of programming, it’s the experience I want. I want to smell it, touch it, love it. I want it to resonate. I used to love it how after communion my mum would return from the altar all full up of her own mystical experience. She would sometimes kiss me and envelope me in a cloud of Opium, the smell of the sweet communion wine still on her lips. Church, love, and grace, they are all experiences to me, they are the mystery of faith.
The late, amazing, Anne Wilson Schaef said in many of her books, especially: There Will Be a Thousand Years, that we live in a White Male System which is destructive. It is Newtonian and reduces and dissects the world, whereas, a female based system, like Mother Nature herself, is much more complex, constantly evolving and expanding: Great is the mystery of faith. She allows room for surprise and delight, and for waiting in the liminal spaces in which new things can happen, if we take time to birth them.
I got a tingling all over as I typed that, like I did the other day in my yin yoga class, that all over body experience of connecting to something bigger than myself, and as we were getting dressed, another woman said that she had had the same experience too, the tingles, the joy, the feeling. We smiled about it, and that was it. We didn’t need to define it, dissect it, nor wrestle it to the ground. We just enjoyed the surprise and mystery of it all.
For great is the mystery of faith, and of grace, and of tingling.
Great is the mystery of our bodies, and of the planets, those heavenly bodies in space.
And, great is the mystery of the sky and air, and of computers and communication, of the magic of mobile phones, and the stars, and rainbows, and the earth in which things grow.
Great is the mystery of the moon and of stardust and of love. As, loving and being loved requires the greatest faith of all.
I was going to finish here with Hafiz’s poem about the moon but instead, I will finish with Stardust, and a request that you hold me in your heart, when the purple dusk of twilight time, steals across the meadows of my heart, as I stand under the moon and remember my mum, with mystery, gratitude, and faith, up the Hills, where we would walk and talk and be in the heart of Mother Nature, Herself:
Love is now the stardust of yesterdayStardust, Hoagy Carmichael
The music of the years gone by