(I really hope you don't think I've come unhinged if I share this with you)
You know how when you have zero expectations of some plans and that because they were made by someone else, you shrug your shoulders and tag along easily enough and it turns out to be a great big huge exciting amazing night out? That is pretty much how I would summarise the last week watching the Pope in town. Historically of course it was a huge affair and utterly absorbing for me as I adore English history. Politically in view of the controversy that rightfully follows the Church everywhere it was a searching questioning kind of political experience. However, connecting with something a frankly almost obscure German man would say was not something I expected at all to happen.
As various stories shared of a decade of drug laced parties will attest to I don't think I am a prudish bore about life but it is no secret I suppose that I find modern culture too brutal and ugly sometimes and society, year by year, a bit of a modern cultural challenge. I have mentioned it a few times here. I am out of sorts with the secular society I find myself living in, contrasted with the more religious, Catholic, one I grew up with.
If you can guess how old I am you will maybe come to understand how recent these huge social changes here are. I, we are literally living through them. If you watched the sweating and the hand wringing of the secularists and atheists here in the run up to this visit you will appreciate the anxious strangle hold they currently have on social and political debate. And let's face it the only religious experience of any major impact on modern British society to have occurred here in my lifetime was an attack on the Underground in which a bunch of people were killed.
So in that last respect, this visit has turned out to be a positive experience of religion and more than that it has brought back into sharp focus very fond memories of a wonderful Convent education from age 5 to 16. I had rejected the whole essence of that experience in my twenties and now because I figured patriarchy was the game in the Church and I would never play along with that.
Or would I.
I found two quotes to share that summarise things right at this moment after listening to this hugely intellectual man speak, and the extent to which I am weighing this all up in terms of value to me as a person, my politics and living here in the UK. (A feels the same way).
The first is a quote from the man the Pope beatified on Sunday - a word I had to look up I was so out of touch with Catholicism. His name is Cardinal Newman:
From Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England (1851) (Lecture 7)
This is what we call an enlightened age: we are to have large views of things; everything is to be put on a philosophical basis; reason is to rule: the world is to begin again; a new and transporting set of views is about to be exhibited to the great human family. Well and good; have them, preach them, enjoy them, but deign to recollect the while, that there have been views in the world before you: that the world has not been going on up to this day without any principles whatever; that the Old Religion was based on principles, and that it is not enough to flourish about your “new lamps,” if you would make us give up our “old” ones. Catholicism, I say, had its First Principles before you were born: you say they are false; very well, prove them to be so: they are false, indeed, if yours are true; but not false merely because yours are yours. While yours are yours it is self-evident, indeed, to you, that ours are false; but it is not the common way of carrying on business in the world, to value English goods by French measures, or to pay a debt in paper which was contracted in gold. Catholicism has its First Principles, overthrow them, if you can; endure them, if you cannot. It is not enough to call them effete because they are old, or antiquated because they are ancient.
The second is a response to me on another blog where I shared how I felt about all this. It knocked me for six and then some:
I am a 40-something professional woman in Ireland. Alison's sentiments mirror mine almost exactly.
Speaking with like-minded friends during and since the Pope's visit, I sense an almost palpable collective reawakening of spiritual consciousness amongst us, not manifested in a dramatic sense, but rather in a shared exercise of questioning, in parallel with a quieter personal quest to re-examine our spiritual dimension and reconsider our lives. Questions that have been spurring me in my own personal quest have been:
Morally, if I do not stand for something, have I inadvertently placed myself in the sorry position of in fact standing for nothing?
Watching the protesters as they align themselves to groupings with whom they share little in terms of morals and human values, and indeed in some cases even collide morally, have I too, by default, allowed myself to become similarly aligned to groupings with whom I morally collide?
Observing the sheer happiness in the faces and personas of the Catholic people whom I saw welcoming the Pope, I ask myself why it is that my own experience of that same depth of happiness remains solidly embedded in the past - in my days as a practising Catholic. Despite living my life as a good, kind and caring person, why has that depth of happiness not manifested itself since I stopped practising and proclaiming my faith two decades ago? Why have I suddenly tasted it again this weekend?
In my secular lifestyle I know where my mental and physical dimensions begin and end. But as a three-dimensional being, where does my spiritual dimension begin and end? And without a fixed and unswerving spiritual reference how can I ever even begin to find out?
Why does life suddenly feel exciting?
Best wishes to others who, like me, are finding that fitting life into just two dimensions is no longer a comfortable fit..