Saturday, 28 November 2015

The One-Trick Morning Prayer (or How to Re-Invent the Wheel)

I have found it pretty hard to develop a good prayer life since I reverted. 

Theoretically, I would love to stop my day and reflect at all the times wisely allocated by the Liturgy of the Hours, ponder the Angelus three times a day, do a family rosary after dinner, an examination of conscience before bed, ALL.THE. THINGS.

Poor under-used oratory.

So far I have mostly failed.

Unless I roped Simon in (he is the one with self-discipline in the family, I am the one with the... cakes, I guess?).

In the past, I have been able to do the Angelus three times a day through Lent, and before Jude was born we did say a rosary before bed (after Jude was born, we said a "Hail Ma;jdfv;brv zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz").

Then early this year, we wanted to really commit to a morning and evening routine, and with Simon's help, we've managed to finally do an Examination of Conscience and say evening prayers before bed every night. Angels are (cautiously, my resistance to routine is impressive) singing in Heaven.

The problem is, Simon is not here during the day, and leaves before we get up most mornings. So What Do We Do About Morning Prayers?

What we did, for a long time, was fail.

And then, I remembered advice I read many times, but particularly in The Little Oratory. When I first read the book, I dutifully set aside some shelves to create a nice oratory, and calligraphied many prayers (because I don't need to be pushed much to do some calligraphy). And then I started wondering how we would actually make use of all of this.

The oratory is behind our dining room table, making it awkward to stand in front of it, and making us crane our necks and still not see anything if we try to look at it whilst sat around the table.

See? Awkward.

It seemed to be condemned to just looking pretty and offering me new occasions of practising humility every time I passed it and contemplated my own failure.

Until I remembered the oldest trick in the book, the thing everybody knows about worship, the most basic thing associated with prayer life: candles.

Candles finally solved the problem(s).

One morning, I grabbed the images from the oratory, put them on the table in front of Patapon and I, lit a candle and started saying the morning prayers whilst Jude ate - he did interject a "Amen" here and there (he's worked out long ago that once he says "Amen" at the end of grace before meals, he gets food, so he is a very keen user of the word, exclaiming "Amen" as soon as he is in his chair so we can get on with eating already).

Look at me becoming magically pious whilst eating my weetabix!

And the next day, once he had his food in front of him, he started pointing as the images, and mostly, the candle, saying "Amen". Because I may forget the pretty light, but he certainly doesn't.

Pretty Light!

So just like that, we started saying our morning prayers every day. Cue more (still cautious) singing from angels in Heaven.

Of course, I wouldn't say I now have a good prayer life, but at least I kinda have one, which is a huge step for me. So, just in case there are still people out there as inept as me when it comes to prayer life, here it is, my earth-shattering discovery of the wheel, just for you.

For everybody else, you can have a good chuckle at my expense for not figuring it out sooner. It's ok, I am amused too.

Next I'll discover the power incense and tell you all about it. 

Maybe that will help with finding a way to say the rosary.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Sound of Silence

I remember 9/11 quite well. I was on the bus home from school (it was the afternoon in France), and I remember the hush falling on the shocked teenagers, as the sound of the bus driver's radio grew louder, and the eery silence in which we traveled afterwards.

I remember putting on the news and watching the second plane crash.

I remember the chatter as well. The "Then They Shouldn't Have X"s and "They Brought It on Themselves Because Y"s. I even joined in. Although, as I wasn't quite 15 at the time, I'm pretty sure my own chatter was ridiculous.

I remember being quietened by two things. First, the next day, as I started blathering on the things I had heard, I remember my friend telling me "This is not the place or the time for ill-thought-through anti-Americanism". And of course she was right.
But then, the thing that stayed with me the most, was a letter sent by an American couple living in Paris to a newspaper I read. It said "Before you start blaming us for what has happened, give us some time to bury our dead." 

That shut me up for good.

So on Friday, when the news started pouring in, of attacks in my aunt's favourite restaurant, and in the stadium where my cousins were watching the game, in the very streets I know so well, I was first swallowed up by frantic messages to make sure everybody was safe. 

When things quietened down the next day, and people started chattering on Facebook though, I remembered.

And I realised anew, that when they attack the streets you roamed and the people you love, all you want is not the pithy Facebook status of political abrasiveness, nor the "religion is at fault" or the "well, Christians are just as bad".

No, all you want, and all you should get, if the world wasn't dancing on its head these days, is the sound of The Last Post and silence thereafter.

And thank you, everyone who prayed, and checked on us. It was all very precious to me.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Hold Them Close

The attacks were so close to my family this time. So close. And my Facebook feed is awash with friends looking for friends. 
But my little boy came into the room to hold my hand, whilst his little brother was doing somersaults inside me. All I can do is hold them close, and trust in the Lord. 

Saint Genevieve, pray for us. You can see Paris through again. 

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Armistice Day

So, yesterday was Armistice Day (or, Just A Random Day for the British, because apparently they don't believe in holidays the way the French do <sigh>). To celebrate, Simon and I watched Is Paris Burning? and that led me to two considerations.

My great-cousin twice removed (or something like that) arriving just in time to take credit.

First, the story of the liberation of Paris during WWII is just great. And so typically Parisian. Seriously. I mentioned it before, it's part of the compulsory curriculum created by me for my A Level students (Lord help them).

If you put it into a dialogue, it would go something like this:

The scene is August 1944. The Allied Forces have brought the front line all the way to Mantes, 50km away from Paris.

Parisians to the Allied Forces:  Fantastic, you're nearly here! When shall we fight?

Allied Forces: Actually, the plan is more to go AROUND Paris and on to the German border, because, you know, we want to get to Germany quickly and, I don't know, get this thing over and done with. 

Parisians: Great! So, when shall we fight?

Allied Forces: No, you don't get it, you don't fight, we go AROUND you.

Parisians: Ok. And when are we fighting?

Allied Forces: No, no, no, no, no! The relief effort we would have to send to millions of starving Parisians would slow us down! YOU. DON'T FIGHT. Ok?

Parisians: Aaaaah. Got it. We don't fight. No problem.

Parisians go away.

Parisians return.

Parisians: So, as you said, we freed ourselves. The fighting was great. Now you just need to come over and hang around, because we can't hold for very long. Cheers guys!

Allied Forces: Face palm. 

Parisians: Seriously, it was so much fun! We got to do the barricade thing again! Aaah, barricades! They are just great. Really bring the generations together. So, when are you guys coming?

Allied Forces: Bury face in hands.

French Part of the Allied Forces: Look guys, we know them, Parisians are like that, it's easier for everyone if you just go along with their plan. Seriously. We've got, like, centuries of experience at dealing with Parisians

Allied Forces: 

French Part of the Allied Forces: Besides, you can't really say you've got France, if you haven't got Paris. Ask the 1871 Prussians.

Allied Forces:

French Part of the Allied Forces: Look, we're just going to go over there now. See you in a bit.

Allied Forces: What exactly just happened?

Général Leclerc. Totally my favourite.

Now you know.

The second thing it made me think about though, Parisianism aside,  is that it is quite funny to think about what Armistice day means to people nowadays (apart from offering yet another opportunity for politicians to disgrace themselves over a poppy). 

I did a seminar the other day on the Vietnam War, and even though most of the students, of their own admission, had absolutely no understanding of how the war had come about, they were unanimously adamant in condemning the American Army. Pretty much without a trial. I had to make them go through WWI, WWII, Irak, Syria and Libya before they even admitted that the Americans weren't just always itching to get involved in any fight.

They also had no notion of a war that could be necessary. 

You see, they are ten years younger than me (more or less, I'm eternally young), and my own generation is already quite removed from WWII. For me, the people who did the fighting weren't my grandparents. My grandparents were children at the time. The Great Generation is my great-grandparents' generation. I didn't meet a single one of them (to be fair, both my Mum's grandfathers died before the war, and of my dad's grandfathers, one died in Dunkerque [which is why I don't take it kindly when my son-of-an-un-drafted-boot-maker father-in-law says things like "well, the French just didn't want to fight"], and the other was too old to be drafted).

War has simply ceased to be something we have any kind of intimate knowledge of. The families involved in the army are always other. I don't know a single soldier. And I think we may be the poorer for it. There simply aren't any narratives of making this kind of sacrifice around. The empty rhetoric of politicians is seen as just that, and I don't know many people who actually agree that one is supposed to be willing to die for his own country. Everything has been so sanitised and politicised  that we barely cheer for our own side anymore. And it makes me wonder what would happen if we were to face similar challenges to those encountered by the Great Generation. What would we do?

Apart from Paris. We know what Paris would do.


FYI, in case we would all choose to go AWOL, I know a lot of anti-conscription songs from the Napoleonic wars, my Dad used to sing them to me at bedtime (I had a weird childhood), so just give me a call!

Friday, 6 November 2015

Strange Celebrations

As is often the case, reading American blogs put me in a weird situation last week: kind of feeling like the day should be special, and then - oh wait, no, it's not a celebration in your country. 

Thanksgiving is another typical case. 

But yes, definitely true for Halloween. 

In my experience, adults do Halloween over here, as an excuse to have a fancy dress party. I hear some kids go trick-or-treating, but I am yet to meet them. 

This year, we were in France, where no-one even pretends to have the slightest interest. My parents were told some grandparents in the neighbourhood were doing something, so they had some sweets ready, but predictably, no-one turned up. And we only thought about it the next morning, when we put away the sweets. 

So yeah, if you are feeling like the Halloween/All Saints war is wearing you down, just come over to Europe, and celebrate neither. 

On the other hand, this week there was a celebration that always sneaks up on me and leaves me bewildered. 

Bonfire night. Guy Fawkes day, for non-English people.

It's a funny one, because, basically, people just burn stuff or make stuff explode. That's it. That's the celebration. Oh, and parents get inwardly annoyed at their neighbours, because don'tyoudarewakeupthebabyyoustupid@&%%#^! (My inner dialogue is not very pretty.)

It makes me wonder: why are people still celebrating it?

I mean, I know that the fact that it's a tradition is plenty reason enough for the British, but isn't it, you know, mostly boring? And since people don't overtly say that all Catholics should be burnt at the stake anymore (polite ostracism is the go-to strategy), isn't it kind of pointless? 

Just in case you wanted to pretend it's not an anti-catholic holiday. It is. Deal with it.

It makes me think of people who will say to you "you haven't lived!" because you didn't party hard, or go insult foreign cultures under the guise of "travelling". 

Actually, I didn't party hard, because I never had much interest in it, and didn't particularly relish finding myself coerced into boredom because I was supposed to, "come on, live a little!" the few times people made me. 

And I didn't travel (apart from, you know, moving countries and stuff) because instead I studied hard, then started working, because I neither enjoyed depending on my parents nor getting into debt. 

The Victorians knew how to live.

I know, such an un-exciting life! Such a non-instagram period! Such a lack of hi-la-rious stories of drunken madness! 

Surely I am going to explode and have a midlife crisis soon? How else can one explain NOT doing all the approved fun things? 

Well, maybe I will. Ask me again in ten years or so. But my sneaky suspicion is that I won't. Because the approved fun things, just like Bonfire Night, don't withstand much scrutiny, don't give meaning to your life, and aren't even that fun most of the time. But we just go along with them, like we burn Guy Fawkes in effigy, because that's what we are supposed to do. But underneath, just like my wild-partying students, I don't think we enjoy it very much. 

So let's buck the trend, let's cosy up with a book, have a quiet dinner with three or four friends or just a very nerdy conversation with our spouses. Or, if you are not a crazy introvert with strong hermit tendencies, go ahead and have a big celebration. About something you are actually happy about and want to celebrate. Let's enjoy what we like to do without worrying about making sure we "have lived". 

I promise you I will breathe in and out during all these activities.