Monthly Archives: July 2010

Desperately Seeking Annie: Swimming in a secret sea (iii)

Where does the longing come from?

Early memories may carry clues – tucked up in bed, cosy and warm, safe and sound, listening to the winter North wind tearing the world apart. Night after night after night. Other nights, clear cold, wintry, still. Standing on the concrete of the garden path, gazing at the clear night sky above the roofs of the houses at the top of Ellison Road hill, awestruck with delight at the blaze of radiance dancing in the heavens. The Northern Lights, heavenly dancers.

(I have never seen them since childhood. It is my keen wish to see them again before I die.)

I used to ask myself : what vast Power generates the destructive energies of the wind, the visual delight of the Northern Lights? What are they for? Who performed the long, hard labour of setting upright on a Hebridean moor that great Neolithic astronomical calendar, the Callanish Stones? Why did they do it? What rites were performed there? What gods were honoured ?

Where does the longing come from?

For as long as I can recall, I have longed to know  why we are here, why the world with its staggering diversity of  teeming, turbulent life is here. I have tried to find out what our presence here may mean, whether it is random or not.

During my lifetime, the vast scale of  the Universe has been visually confirmed by the explorations of science far beyond the boundaries imagined by Darwin or Einstein. I have the Hubble images on my wall, and gaze at them every day. Their beauty, and the vastness they invoke, goes beyond the power of words to express.

We now know that our Universe is one of  many, that there may be a vast Multiverse: matrix from which arise countless Universes. We are so minute, here on planet Earth, the Solar System, The Milky Way Galaxy, home to millions of other stars. Why am I standing here, wondering why we are here and what it all means?

New Hubble Image: Carina Nebula

New Hubble Image: Carina Nebula

(http://blogs.sacbee.com/photos/2009/09/hubble-telescopes-latest-image.html)

It’s a long way from the Metaverse to the eccentric Rev. Dr. de Sousa in his green plus fours and his rusty bicycle, teetering precariously from his gloomy rectory to his sombre church during the late nineteen fifties.The small island town in which I grew up, a place of some five thousand souls, was remarkably well served for churches in those days. There was no shortage of  Christian establishments in which I could place myself in an attempt to find some answers to my big WHY.

The Episcopal church was regarded with suspicion because of its uncomfortable perceived closeness to Rome.

There was the United Free Church, where Popery would have shrivelled to a cinder had it ever crossed the threshold. Serious Christianity was practised here. No flowers, no music (apart from precenting), definitely no graven images. An old testament God hung out here. Fun and laughter were not encouraged.

Then there were the Seceeders, whose precise denominational and doctrinal position remained a mystery to me throughout my youth. I knew they had split off from some other lot, and therefore regarded themselves as “a cut above” – but above what, I never quite established.

Then there was the plain old Church of Scotland. The minister, a mild, thin, bookish looking soul who had been at school with my father, bore the distinctly uninspiring nickname of “Optic” which had stuck with him since his very short-sighted schooldays. His spectacles, I was convinced, really were made out of the bottoms of milk bottles.

I used to attend his sermons with hair rollers under my Sunday hat as a mute and invisible but satisfying form of protest. He had had a charisma bypass, and took boredom to punishing levels. However, I always liked the Benediction at the end …...In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost…” it always seemed to come from somewhere other  than him, although he was saying the words. This sense never failed to confuse me…..

We went there on our intermittent forays to Church, depending on whether inertia or guilt dominated my mother’s frame of mind on a Sunday evening. Trips to Church were usually minus my father, apart from hatches, matches and despatches.

A spiritualist medium, describing my father’s wayward character to me with remarkable and eerie accuracy not long after his death, said he was a man “who knew his God.” Wherever Dad’s God hung out, it was not in any of the establishments on offer in our mid-20th century small Scottish town.

Personally, long before my encounter with the medium, I always thought my father’s God was out there in the distant hills where he went to poach deer, or in the eye of a storm at sea.  Not that we ever talked about such matters. The only time we ever discussed my spiritual life was when, aged twelve, I realised that I could not face replacing the utter tedium of seven years of Sunday School with the probable continuing tedium of Bible Class, which is where you went on entering secondary education.

An epiphany prompted my nervous and tentative approach to my father. We had recently aquired a Readers’ Digest World Atlas, a huge book which I could barely lift. I was riveted by a double page spread of the whole world, with countries coloured in according to religion. I realised that day how many world religions there were.

Although Christianity appeared to hold its own across the world, it was visually clear  that the great majority of the world’s population – which was a mere two and a half billion in total when I was doing my big religious sums – believed in something else altogether.

I then looked for the tiny isles of the Outer Hebrides, coloured Christian pink. Next, the top island where I lived, barely discernible in the context of the whole world. A wave of inescapable logic washed me away that day. It simply did not make sense that a few thousand members of eg the Free Church of Scotland considered themselves to be right and saved, leaving almost the total remaining population of the world wrong and damned regardless of the integrity and sincerity of their differing beliefs.

My mind buzzing with this powerful realisation, I told my father that I didn’t want to go to Bible Class. I now wanted to do some of my own reading and work out religion for myself.  “Fine” he said. “Don’t go, then.”

At the age of twelve, that was it for me and Christianity, for a very long time, although I continued under pressure to attend church intermittently and always enjoyed singing the hymns at hatches, matches and despatches.

The longing, however, continued, like a barely audible ghost of a sound, echoing my heartbeat….

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To read the first two parts of “Swimming in a secret sea” click HERE

The next episode will be

(iv)

Not Finding

Fortunately, it was a peat bank we hit. That cushioned the impact, saving the car from much damage. Uncle Patrick had stopped singing “Abide with me”: for once, he was completely silent. Perhaps he was wondering how to get the car out of the ditch. Aunt Maria, white faced, was leaning over into the back of the car where I had been jolted onto the floor behind the driver’s seat. No one had heard of seatbelts  in the 1950s. “Are you all right, dear?” she said anxiously. “I think so,” I said. “Maybe I’ve bruised my knee, that’s all.” ….

to be continued

(note: inspiration for the title of this series of posts was taken from a book which I read a very long time ago but whose haunting title I have never forgotten: “Swimmer in the Secret Sea by William Kotzwinkle)

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1300 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2010
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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“Sisterectomy”: a new poem from Scottish poet Carole Bone

In the late 1990s Carole Bone turned up in my daytime astrology class: red hair, big eyes, bright mind, very eager to learn, fast talker, very hard to keep her quiet. Irrepressible. A great student to teach. Ten years on, and I was at last emerging  from my 2001-8 retreat. Carole had just left my house, staggering under the weight of a bag full of poetry books…. T.S.Eliot, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Dylan Thomas, Archy and Mehitabel, e e cummings, Anne Stevenson, Tom Leonard, Liz Lochhead.….she had kept in touch throughout my time out, sending messages of support, sending me her poems to read. She is a born writer. I remember thinking that day  “She’ll be getting published before long.”

Here is her second published poem,“Sisterectomy”, which appeared in May 2010 in the Poetry Anthology 2010 published by United Press Ltd.

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Sisterectomy

I’ve had a sisterectomy
There’s no wound
or scar to show

No empty sleeve
to neatly fold and pin
in badge of loss

Elusive sibling ache
I carry it somewhere still
In head, in heart or gut

No scale can weigh its pain
No gauge can measure
The depth of its careless cut

Unhealed sorrow
flows through blood
that once ran thick

Its devastation hidden
In fractured bonds
Of severed root and tribe

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(Carole’s submission for the Poetry Anthology 2011 has been shortlisted. Our fingers are crossed, Carole!)

Carole Bone
Carole Bone

(carolebone@hotmail.co.uk)

Carole’s Biog : “…. mother of two magic boys – wife for thirty three years to a Capricorn who is without doubt my rock.  Would be astrologer; this subject has kept me (relatively) sane by helping me to understand the contradictory pulls existing in my nature between the home-loving dreamer and the restless seeker after knowledge. And – a shy Virgo Rising…

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ps….I am delighted to report that ‘Lilith and the Devil’ – the first of Carole’s poems to be published on “Writing from the Twelfth House” in February 2010, was re-published on 16.3.10 on the Write Anything site as part of a fine reflective piece by Carole, offering advice to would-be poets. To read it, and some more comments on Carole’s work, check out

http://writeanything.wordpress.com/2010/03/16/lillith-and-the-devil/

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350 words copyright Carole Bone/ Anne Whitaker 2010

Favourite Quotes: “On loan to each other” – an Aztec prayer

Each morning since a week last Tuesday I have stepped out of our third floor flat onto a very silent landing. No kids’ clutter outside the door opposite. Double doors firmly shut. Our next door neighbours and friends are in Australia for a month. I miss them. Second floor next. More closed doors. Since a week last Wednesday another family of neighbours and friends has been gone, en route to California for six months. Wee Lauchie has just started to walk. I miss them too.

It is a blessing to have neighbours who are friends, to have neighbours with lively twins who aged 10 make you cakes and yorkshire puddings. These things are precious and we should not take them for granted.

Another of my communities is in shock. One of our members, only 51, died suddenly last Saturday. We all grieve for his wife, family and friends. We are brutally reminded of how fleeting life is – a fact we do not care to face in western society which likes to insulate itself from life’s rough edges, from risk, from death, from transience.

But today there was an uplifting email from a young friend, a former student of mine, whom I have not seen for a long time. After many difficulties, she has just been allocated a flat she can afford, in a part of London she loves, within a supportive community. Better still, her art work is coming together in a wonderful way. She sounds joyful; at last her direction is opening out.

Many years ago I read her horoscope, telling her she needed to paint her life on a big canvas – that symbolic art, perhaps astrological art, could be her forte. She got in touch to tell me that her work is now taking off in just that direction.  She also said kind things about my first book, which she has just read. Her email made my day.

As I walked to my office, a passage about the richness and transience of life, and our connectedness with one another, floated into my mind and lodged there. It expresses beautifully and poignantly how I feel today. Aware of the rich weave of dark and light which is our life: very, very aware of the importance and also the underlying frailty of all our relationships. Truly, we are but on loan to one another, should cherish one another….

Beautiful Rainbow Obsidian

(http://www.statemaster.com/encyclopedia/Obsidian)

“ There is an ancient Aztec Indian prayer that reflects on the preciousness of life and the fleetingness of it. As the Aztecs thank the Creator for their life and breath, they acknowledge that they are only on loan to each other for a short while, and just like the drawings that they have made in crystalline obsidian fade, so, too, will their life quickly be gone.

‘Oh, only for so short a while you have loaned us
to each other,
because we take form in your act
of drawing us.
And we take life in your painting us,
And we breathe in your singing us.
But only for so short a while have you loaned us
to each other.’ ”

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Grateful thanks to my friend C.M. for reading me this passage recently, thereby inspiring me to use it too!

(from p55, PRAYING OUR GOODBYES The Spirituality of Change by Joyce Rupp 1988)

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550 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2010

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page