A talent for chaos

I blame it on my grandfather. When he came round to tea, my grandmother told stories about a funny man who was always getting himself into trouble, Laurel and Hardy style. One time, he locked himself out of his car and had to go through a pile of old keys from scrapped cars until he found one which unlocked his own car. While visiting friends, he mislaid his car keys and they turned the house upside down in a futile effort to find them. He gave up, decided to walk home and the missing keys tumbled out of his hat as he put it on his head. Another time, he locked himself out of his house and had to break in through the bathroom window. A neighbour caught sight of his legs disappearing through the window and called the police.

I was quite old, perhaps eleven or twelve, before I twigged that the hero of all these stories was my grandfather.

I’ve inherited his talent for self-created chaos. It lay dormant for a while, but it’s come back in full force over the last few months. Not long ago, I had an incident with car keys which my grandfather would have been proud of. I bundled the dog into the back of the car and closed the boot. The car doors clicked as they automatically locked, and I realised that I had dropped the car keys onto the floor of the boot while I adjusted the dog’s seat belt. I could see the keys lying beside the dog, but none of the doors would budge.

Fortunately more help is available for people like me than there was in my grandfather’s day. I called the AA, with the help of my mobile ‘phone, an invention which my grandfather never took to, although he did learn to use a computer in his eighties. The AA man managed to squeeze a wire through the door and hook up the handle to unlock it. I was amazed at how easy it is to break into a car. Perhaps car doors aren’t as solid now as they were in my grandfather’s day.

That wasn’t the last silly mistake. The bank sent me a card to replace the one I had accidentally torn up. Well and good. Life went back to normal and I could pay for the shopping. Not long after, I was sent yet another new bank card. Perhaps this was the one I would have got anyway, if I hadn’t needed a replacement. I decided that I didn’t need two new bank cards and so I shoved the new, new one onto my in-tray and made a note to myself to ‘phone the bank and ask them about it. I hate ‘phoning the bank, especially giving my personal details to a computer while I wait to talk to a flesh and blood person, and so this item was way down my priority list.

Last week I did the kind of mega shop I do once in six weeks to stock up on tins and food for the freezer. I put everything through the check-out, bagged it and when I tried to pay, my card was refused. Shooting an apologetic look at the queue of customers behind me, I ran out and tried the bank machine which informed me that my card was invalid.

Hmm. I suspected that it had something to do with that new, new card and so I asked the supermarket staff to put my bags in the chiller while I ran home to check. I ‘phoned the bank and a very nice lady explained that my new card ran out one month after the new new card was issued, regardless of the expiry date.

I had to return to the supermarket, put everything through the checkout and bag it all up again. This time the payment worked. I returned home, tired, but feeling as if I had managed to maintain a sense of humour and a little bit of peacefulness and patience with myself. Sometimes it’s hard living with myself, and so I have sympathy with other people who have to put up with me.

What has this got to do with faith? Nothing except that it’s part of life.

This was going to be mainly a funny post, but since I wrote the first draft, I received news that the close relative I wrote about earlier has become ill again. It felt as if I was taking up a burden, that is almost too heavy for me, one which I had perhaps never completely put down. It’s a burden which doesn’t make any sense because there is nothing I can do by worrying. Didn’t Jesus say something about burdens? Handing my burden over means trusting that God really is there, knows what he’s doing and that he’s really got our best interests at heart. It’s comparatively easy with a self-induced mix up with bank cards, but it’s a lot harder when it comes to the health of someone you love. I’m not sure I can manage that much trust right now.

If anyone is reading it, I would appreciate a prayer, or just a thought, if you prefer to put it that way, for me and my family.

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More on nits

The writing of this blog has been interrupted by nit-eradication schemes. Don’t worry. It’s under control and you can’t catch them off the internet.

I’ve decided to be honest in this blog. That doesn’t mean that I’ll tell everything, but it means that if I’m finding things difficult as far as faith is concerned, I won’t pretend that everything is fine.

Recently I’ve hit a difficult stage. I’m picturing the spiritual journey as being like an excavation to the core of my being or to borrow a phrase from Cyprian Smith’s book ‘The Path of Paradox’, the ‘ground of the soul’. There are different layers of soil and rock, some easy to dig through and some requiring a pick-axe. In the last week or so, I’ve hit a hard rocky layer. I feel as if I can’t trust God. God seems very distant and it’s hard for me to believe in a merciful God who actually cares about what happens to me.

I was brought up with a very literal sort of faith and when I got older and doubts hit, I had no way to accommodate them. I felt like a failure for not accepting Christianity without questions and came to the conclusion that I wasn’t cut out for religion.

I now see doubt as an inevitable part of spiritual growth rather than as some kind of treachery. Right now I feel as if my doubts have taken me backwards rather than forwards, but I’ll stick to the image of the excavation and believe that I’m still going forward, slowly and painfully, working through a layer of myself which was always there, but which I’ve just become aware of.

I am reading Fr. Gerard W. Hughes’ last book, ‘Cry of Wonder’. It is in three sections, Unity, Peace and Holiness. The section on Unity has triggered a lot of thoughts which I’ll write about another time. I started reading Peace earlier this week. Recently, just by chance, while on my way to catch a train, my path crossed a Bairns not Bombs march. Bairns is Scots for children and the march was about getting rid of nuclear weapons. I felt joy that people actually cared enough to come out and make a stand.

I liked these nice feelings of joy and perhaps also the smug feeling that in supporting nuclear disarmament, I am on the side with the moral high ground. I thought that I had nothing to fear from reading about Peace. Here is what Fr. Hughes has to say about Peace in his preface:

Peace, within an individual, includes a ‘divine restlessness’, a profound discontent with what we discover around and, above all, within ourselves. Peace, in spite of our protestations of being dedicated to it, is a state against which we defend ourselves with verbal smokescreens and subtle reasoning, so subtle that we deceive ourselves, preferring violence and calling it ‘Peace’.

It wasn’t very reassuring. The next day I had one of my least peaceful days in a long time. When you live with children and an animal (I’m referring to the family pet, not my husband), you have to accept a background level of chaos and lack of outward peace in your circumstances. Usually I manage to maintain a certain amount of calmness in the face of continual mini crises, such as spilt cereal, and lost school clothes. However, the day after starting to read about peace, I reacted with anger, all day, to the usual minor irritations and frustrations, including one child bursting a plastic toy that had been filled with flour, a few minutes before we were due to leave for school. I snapped at the children and mentally cursed the designer of that particular toy as I tried to remove flour from clothes and floor.

Gerard Hughes has a point. I’ve discovered the lack of peace within myself. It’s like finding head lice in my soul. I wish that the solution was as simple as applying Hedrin.

Nit-picking

As I write this, I’m enjoying my first piece of chocolate since the start of Lent, and my first cup of coffee in, well, not quite so long as that. I haven’t met my own goals. Giving up some of my favourite food and drink was the easier bit. However, there were so many exceptions: chocolate cake at family celebrations, times when I was invited out and didn’t want to make a fuss, and a few occasions when I was working and felt that I couldn’t stay awake without a strong cup of coffee.

Giving up what I consider as ‘my time’, was much harder. By the time I pack the oldest child off to bed, I don’t want to talk to anyone. My husband doesn’t get a look-in. I don’t feel like trying to talk to an elusive entity called God who doesn’t seem to reply in any direct way, although if I pray regularly, little glimpses of a response seem to slip quietly through my defences.

A few nights I did manage to keep my Lenten resolution and go to bed early to do yoga and meditation in order to calm my mind. Each time I did this, I felt so much more alive and peaceful that I resolved to do it more often. The next night, however, I found myself surfing the internet or finding some urgent thing which needed done. By the time I dragged myself to bed, goggle-eyed, I was too tired for exercise or prayer.

I didn’t manage the fast on Ash Wednesday, but I thought I had Good Friday sorted. I had read the rules. Every Catholic over the age of fourteen is required to take part in a not too onerous fast, which means eating only one meal plus two snacks which together don’t constitute a full meal. Even though I was staying with my Protestant family, I managed to skip breakfast without anyone noticing, and eat a meagre snack for lunch. That afternoon, I congratulated myself on finally managing to keep one of these new Catholic rules as I experienced hunger pangs.

I was half-way through my one meal of the day, when I realised that I was eating meat, and therefore breaking another rule: no meat on Fridays during Lent. Since I had made the dinner myself, I had no excuse although it is harder to cook when you’re away from home.

Our inability to properly keep the requirements of the law is a recurrent theme in the New Testament. Galations 2:15 and 16 says, ‘We who were born Jews and not gentile sinners have nevertheless learnt that someone is reckoned as upright not by practising the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ.’

Why do we have Lent, then? Is it just to throw up our own inadequacies and lack of self-discipline, or is it to help us realise our need for Christ and enable us to appreciate his death and the joy of his resurrection?

One of my Catholic in-laws kindly sent me a card wishing me joy for my first Easter as a member of the Catholic church. I was really looking forward to Easter, especially since the church in which I was brought up was so reformed that we didn’t celebrate either Christmas or Easter. However, it didn’t happen. One child became sick and couldn’t go out, and on Easter Sunday itself, I discovered that another had head lice. Aaarch!

I have spent most of Easter Sunday nit-checking. By some miracle, the lice haven’t spread to the rest of the family. My external circumstances aren’t particularly peaceful. Shortly after I sat down to write this, the dog knocked my precious cup of coffee over my foot. It was another reminder that faith and spirituality isn’t just, or even mainly, about sitting in church trying to have holy thoughts and be on my best behaviour. Faith has to run through the nitty-gritty things in life (excuse the choice of words), or it isn’t relevant.

I did manage to get out in the sun with the family. For anyone who’s reading this, I wish you a peaceful, healthy and nit-free Easter.