The Boat Awaits…

I get increasing numbers of hits about what I have written about boats, sailing and practical tips. We all seem to be raring to go, but we still have at least two months of winter with perishing cold or foul weather.

Perhaps we approach a time for getting out of our own hibernation towards the time for doing maintenance work on boats and spring cleaning in the house. My next project on the boat, apart from some repairs, is making two fixed watertight lockers either side of the centreboard to put my galley and food supplies. I already have a fore compartment for tools and camping equipment – and my safety equipment goes in the lazarette (stern locker). I look forward to the Semaine du Golfe in May – we are already 866 boats registered and it is in four months from now!

It is a frustrating time of year, because it isn’t yet the time to take off the wintering tarpaulin and begin to check everything thoroughly. I suppose I could begin on things like the rudder, mast, gaff and boom. I did my sail repairs at the end of last season (my mainsails are still in the chapel from when they were folded). The first launch of the new season is so far away, but tantalisingly close…

Patience, my dear sailors reading this blog.

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Sturm und Drang

Only a day or so ago, I mentioned the dark prophecies of Our Lady of Fatima, La Salette and other places, and now I find Here at the End of All Things. The article is headed with an image that could have been inspired by William Blake or the poetry of Lord Byron.

We have distinctly returned to a new Romantic era as some of us feel increasingly alienated from this world and look to the things of God, what lies beyond the Veil, but which involve the dissolution of the body we know and even the beautiful things of this world. We exchange what we know for what is unknown or known only partially through communications with the souls of the departed and testimonies of those who have remained conscious despite the total inactivity of their brain.

We not only look with nostalgia towards the Kingdom which is within and beyond everything we know. We also contemplate the παρουσία, the second coming of Christ, the recapitulation of creation and the end of our world. The thought has always terrified all those who believe that our world and lives will end, though leaving us with hope for our salvation.

I have always disliked the systematisation of the apparitions of Fatima almost a hundred years ago. The story is simple, involving three children, two of whom died young and Sister Lucia who lived to old age in a Carmelite convent in Portugal. Many terrifying things were revealed to those children including a vision of hell and signs of the Spanish Civil War, the rise of Hitler and World War II. The messages suggested the crisis in the Roman Catholic Church and western Christianity in general. The question of the third secret is still controversial, but it might be possible that only a part was revealed by Cardinal Ratzinger under John Paul II’s pontificate and another part with information about the disarray in the Church or something like World War III or a comet hitting the earth was withheld. These questions can become very obsessive and unhealthy, replacing peaceful and serene hope with anxiety and fanaticism.

It is always when the world is uncertain and when things are not well in the Church that the eschatological theme comes to the fore. It is also a device of human psychology that can be used to absolve ourselves from the responsibilities we have here and now for our families, our flock if we are clergy with the cure of souls and for our communities.

It is a difficult one, because we know that our death is inevitable, and that all creation is finite. We are more likely to die from a common cause like illness, accident or human wickedness than face the end of the world whether it happens through the instrumental cause of a natural catastrophe or an all-out nuclear war. After our own death, we will no longer be concerned for this world but the world or universe in which we find ourselves without our bodies or physical brains.

Some have made a real system of eschatology: the stories of the Antichrist, what would happen should the Jews restore the sacrifices and the priesthood of the Temple, three days of darkness, a great chastisement, a great Pope and a great (French) Monarch. We are told that we must use the rosary for our private and family prayers and put in the right trimmin’s as devout Irish people used to say. We had the Rosary each day at seminary whilst on a walk outside, because in chapel it drove some of us to sleep. I have never had much of a liking for the Rosary, through I will occasionally pray with it in the car on a long journey or when on my own in some unfamiliar place. Why make things mandatory, when the Church has a whole range of devotions and ways of spirituality alongside the daily Mass and Office?

I have not forgotten that novel of Umberto Eco that has fired my imagination, The Name of the Rose, in which Fr William says to his young apprentice, “The only sign I see of the Evil One is everyone’s desire to see him at work“. I imagine that many devout souls in the fourteenth century, when the Papacy was at its most corrupt and the Great Plague raged, believed the apocalyptic events to be near as at the Sack of Jerusalem and the end of the Roman Empire. Every time there were changes, the Romantic imagination would fire up, as when Lord Byron wrote his harrowing poem in the early nineteenth century. Christ told us two thousand years ago that these events were near, and nearness may be more in terms of eternity than in time.

We look for coincidences and the meaning of numbers. Such speculations are often foolish and futile, yet they continue to fascinate us. The end times will come sooner or later, and the Scriptures and Tradition exhort us to be ready, each night when we lay down for our little death and say the prayers of Compline. Death can come at any time, and we are so fragile. There are terrifying signs of the times like totalitarianism and the Islamic Caliphate and a return to public executions and tortures alongside our complete loss of freedom and personality. Some of us get so worried about politics, President Trump, Brexit, the EU, a Pope who seems so un-Catholic – the list never ends.

Popes have exhorted us Be not afraid, but the fear and angst are always there. It’s not easy to allay our fear when we are afraid. I am a very anxious person and can so easily be overwhelmed by other people’s emotions, especially fear. We must learn to trust and love our Lord Jesus as he loves us. However it ends, his love and mercy will prevail as he teaches us in the Gospel. We have to shed our fear so that our souls may be filled with love and longing for the Kingdom. Our greatest nostalgia is what lies beyond the Veil and everything we know here.

Have faith and love and hope, and all will be well.

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Another Light in the Darkness

This delighted me – Starting Again, from someone who occasionally sends in comments and writes me e-mails from time to time. Like myself, Timothy Graham uses his real name on his blog and tells us who he is. This is a tremendous human input to our discussions and of our very real Christian fellowship over the geographical distances.

He will be posting things about the Sarum Office, especially his reflections and the way it nourishes the prayer of isolated laymen and clergy alike. Above all, this is another witness of the Use of Sarum never having died in the collective imagination and aspiration, and its remaining a living rite of the Catholic Church.

I encourage Mr Graham in this assiduous work of presenting the prayer of the English Church and nourishing the spiritual life of us all.

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And Thereto I Plight Thee My Troth

Since I seem to share my English “stuffiness” with Fr John Hunwicke, I share his most recent article Bishop Stephen Lopes and Remarried Divorcees which is more about the rite of marriage than the moral and sacramental issues of adultery discussed in the current controversy over Amoris Laetitia. I have the suspicion that he might have taken up the challenge of Multiplying Entities which seems to ridicule the archaic language used in our wedding service.

Some of these expression like plighting one’s troth come from middle and old English, because, unlike the rest of the Sarum Use in Latin, the marriage service has always been in the vernacular. Such a consideration has been one of the most cogent arguments for using Latin in the liturgy rather than the constantly changing vernacular languages, especially English and German which have been used liturgically for centuries outside the Counter-Reformation Roman Catholic Church. It might surprise some readers to know that the vernacular was used in southern Germanic countries at least from about the time of the Council of Constance (1414-1418), and even much earlier as the old Latin and German carol In Dulci Jubilo from about 1328 attests.

Perhaps the more extreme archaisms need to be updated or explained, like our English tradition of statute law, common law and jurisprudence. However, it does convey a notion of immemorial custom in liturgy that overrides reforming legislation. It is an argument for reviving the Use of Sarum, even if it remains only as an “extraordinary” use in the way I use it in a Church predominantly using the Anglican Missal and the less Protestant versions of the Book of Common Prayer.

The marriage service is a remarkable survival of the Sarum Use and the pastoral use of the vernacular in England and in many of the small German-speaking countries. The issue does bring up the question of how archaic the liturgical language may be as opposed to using something like the new translation of the Paul VI Roman missal. We in the Continuing Anglican Churches are very attached to Cranmer’s translations, the Coverdale psalter, the King James Bible and various other translations of liturgical texts in the same style like the Anglican Missal, the Warren translation of Sarum and the English Missal. The Slavic Orthodox Churches use Church Slavonic rather than modern Russian and the other languages of that part of the world. There is a value to using an idiom that can be understood but which is no longer our current way of communicating, and it is something that needs to be studied and discussed.

I thank both Fr Hunwicke and John Bruce for highlighting this issue.

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Practical Ideas

I sometimes look at unorthodox ideas of the finer points of life in the New Age tendency. I think a lot of it is bollocks, but I do discern some things that are a good idea for those of us who are sensitive and easily overwhelmed by the world around us. We are above all bombarded by toxic news about politics, wars in the world, the horrors of Sunni Islam and the general degradation we see around us.

Probably most of those who read my blog wonder what the fuss is all about and enjoy the cut-and-thrust of the modern world and its reflection in mainstream churches (since this blog is mostly occupied with religious topics). On the other hand, my approach is so different that some come looking for something else, as I find when I read my comments that appear day after day. Like the New Age people, I do believe that something is happening imperceptibly in the world among a certain number of eccentric and different souls. A psychotherapist in Switzerland once related to me the story of the bombing of Dresden by the Allies, that the intensity of the bombing was such that it was more or less equivalent to a nuclear bomb. Some of the bombs fell on the outside wall of the psychiatric hospital (which is odd considering that the Nazis killed people suffering from mental illnesses), but to continue the story, some of the patients got out and began to “become normal” when they helped people in the bombed and burning buildings. On completing their rescue work, their various illnesses resumed.

I have read some very fascinating accounts about the spiritual awareness of many institutionalised mental patients with issues like paranoia and schizophrenia. The tradition of the Shaman often goes through a person whose reality is not the same as that of most people. I would recommend the reading of The Shamanic View of Mental Illness.

I think there are many things we can do to improve our lives, though there are others that some will recommend that do not appeal to me – like for example working out at the gym and competitive sports. This is what I recommend in particular and what goes well with my own particularities.

The first is our relationship with sound and noise. Most people have become so insensitive that they need noise and the organised noise known as “music” according to various contemporary sub-cultures. Most households have the TV on from morning to evening with the volume turned up, whether they are watching it or not. Life in cities is unbearable with human and mechanical sounds. It is difficult to know what to advise sensitive souls who live in cities for reasons of work, family or others. Wearing earplugs is a possibility as is listening to music with a Walkman.

Music: I discovered “classical” music as a small boy, on being given an old 1930’s gramophone and some 78 rpm records. I also has a radio from about 9 or 10 years of age, and discovered various BBC stations that gave classical or British light music. From 8 I began piano lessons and progressed to the organ at 13, and that led to singing in the choir. Most of my life has been taken with the love of music. I greatly admire the British radio initiative of Classic FM, which has done a lot to introduce people to classical music in a light disk-jockey style.

For the uninitiated, I recommend Mozart and most of the German composers of the Romantic era like Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schubert. Brahms is a little more challenging in terms of chromatic harmony. Bach is also more challenging by his very dense harmonic progressions and chromaticism. I see Brahms as almost taking up Bach where he left off – but the eras and style are very different whilst sharing the same essentially German philosophy of “pure music”. Then, you discover other eras going back to the Middle-Ages, Gregorian chant – and then to the more challenging twentieth-century music of Vaughan-Williams, Holst and others (if you are English), or Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland if you are American. There are no outer barriers, but in my reckoning, the limits are the eternal laws of harmony, counterpoint and rhythm.

Silence can be ordered sound like music or the absence of sound. My own sister reminded me about a notion of silence that corresponds with that of Benedictine monasticism. Get rid of the clutter in your mind: echoed words from other people, films, political figures, whatever. We need to find peace by telling all the clutter to go away and be quiet, so that we can find our real selves, that spark of divinity that brings us to participate in the things of God.

Chapter 6 of the Rule says:

Let us do what the Prophet says: “I said, ‘I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue. I have set a guard to my mouth.’ I was mute and was humbled, and kept silence even from good things” (Ps. 38[39]:2-3). Here the Prophet shows that if the spirit of silence ought to lead us at times to refrain even from good speech, so much the more ought the punishment for sin make us avoid evil words.

Therefore, since the spirit of silence is so important, permission to speak should rarely be granted even to perfect disciples, even though it be for good, holy edifying conversation; for it is written, “In much speaking you will not escape sin” (Prov. 10:19), and in another place, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21).

For speaking and teaching belong to the mistress; the disciple’s part is to be silent and to listen. And for that reason if anything has to be asked of the Superior, it should be asked with all the humility and submission inspired by reverence.

But as for coarse jests and idle words or words that move to laughter, these we condemn everywhere with a perpetual ban, and for such conversation we do not permit a disciple to open her mouth.

It is partly a precaution against sinning by careless speech, especially detraction and calumny. However it is also a way to learn to listen, to have confidence in other people known to be trustworthy and good. Aspergers people often have an inappropriate sense of humour and attempts to tell jokes fall flat. This is the case with me. Some things are funny and laughter is a human emotion. It would be silly to forbid it completely, but it does need to be kept under reasonable control – moderation in all things. The Scriptures have many examples of raucous guffawing laughter being something very degrading among lewd and crude people, and hurtful to the butts of the jokes. This is part of silence and the peace God asks us to find in our souls.

Culture vs entertainment: I have noticed something about many “normal” people, their thirst for entertainment. Again, what people like should not be banned, but people need to rediscover books and literature, decrease the time they spend on “social” internet and smartphones and in front of the TV. I have been surprised that my love of cinema has changed over the past few years, and that I am much less motivated to watch films. I still do watch some, but I am more attracted to reading and writing. For me, the internet is a public library and the computer a glorified typewriter.

Music is capital, but so is literature and appreciation of art. I have also been fascinated by the sciences, especially biology and physics, but my study of them ceased at a young age as other things took priority.

Stay away from conflict: I think neurotypical people too need to discover life away from crowds and extreme stimulus. Another thing that can happen is the small group where people talk at the same time and shout each other down. My wife does this all the time, and I suppose I do too in a different way because I can’t understand all the signals for participating in the group. This happened in my in-law family on Christmas Day (there are some very good sites about teaching aspies how to survive a family Christmas). I quietly got up and went to have a siesta on someone’s bed upstairs away from it all. Other people’s anger has an extremely negative effect. My wife had a very violent (verbally) dispute with her sister about old family issues. It was probably the greatest provocation of my own extreme anxiety since about mid November. I don’t think my wife gets it yet, but I won’t be able to help her until I sort out my own difficulties or come to terms with them. The time will come to bring it in the open with someone to douse the flames!

Smells: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Especially since I stopped smoking just over ten years ago, I discovered an extremely sensitive sense of smell. Animals like dogs and cats are much more sensitive to smell than any other sense. It is a part of their quest for food and their self-defence mechanism. For us humans, it is much more complex, because we have emotional associations with smells, especially the smell in someone’s house, which can be pleasant or unpleasant, or similar to the smell of a house I knew in my childhood, perhaps where I lived. I find a lot of emotions in smells of old wood and freshly washed cotton.

I do think it is a mistake to want to cover up all smells with chemical perfumes. I always thought that fresh flowers belong in the garden, not in the house. Most women have to have the house looking like a garden! Then the flowers wane and start rotting, and it isn’t easy to decide on the right moment for getting rid of them into the compost heap. A moderate use of essence oils can be good. I have quite a nice one, just a couple of small squirts into the air, which helps me get over my recent chest virus, cough and laryngitis.

Keep the artificial  smells to the minimum, and it will have a positive effect on our cooking, and our use of fresh vegetables, herbs and spices. Here in France, we use a lot of garlic and herbes de Provence. In my forays on the internet, I have discovered some fine medieval recipes. They used a lot of cinnamon in those days, still used for making hot wine in France for cold winter days like right now.

It is important to open the windows and let in the fresh air when it isn’t perishing cold, and enjoy the ozone smell as the outside air takes the place of the stale gases that filled our house. That extremely subtle smell has a big effect on me! It is well worth the effort to keep the house clean and at least vacuum the dust out of the carpets. I really do look forward to the first spring days so that I can get a really good spring clean done. The result is sensual and deeply satisfying.

The bed is very important, and it is probably where I am most quirky. I would love to have silk sheets, but they are very expensive. Perhaps one day, but cotton satin is not a bad substitute. Polyester feels good but it doesn’t breathe. It can’t be used in the summer. My wife and I have slept separately for several years, but we still have moments of intimacy outside the periods of crisis. I am attracted to the idea of a box bed like in Brittany and some other places. The old ones were like ornate cupboards and closets, but they can be made more simply and built into the room. They can be very cosy. My office / study / box bed is a project I am thinking about for this year if I can keep costs down and rearrange my old office for my wife, so that she can have somewhere for her books and files. The real issue is getting rid of the unnecessary clobber, which is a real problem here!

Touch and sensuality: I have already written about sensuality, which may seem to go against traditional Christian ascetic discipline, but it needs to be rediscovered and distinguished from sexual fetishes.

As I left my father last week, I hugged him in a very awkward way, and I still cringe about it. Perhaps he is awkward with physical contact and I failed to respect his space. We do have to be careful. I am more physical than my father, brought up in the old English way, but also a private and contemplative soul. A handshake would have been sufficient (don’t grab too hard) and perhaps a light touch on the shoulder to show something more than the formal method of greeting. These things are not obvious to aspies!

Disciplines: No one gets anywhere in life without making resolutions and sticking at them. Goals have to be realistic and attainable – baby steps – one at a time. We are not going to get anywhere all at once. For a priest, the essential is daily Mass and Office, plus a time of solitude and prayer. If that goes, everything goes.

The orthodox Christian disciplines need to be expanded by others from elsewhere. Yoga is a possibility, and I find Éiriú Eolas, an old Celtic way, very intriguing. It begins with breathing exercises to master the vagus nerve, with very beneficial effects on our physical, psychological and spiritual health. There are also some extremely interesting ideas about diet including the ketogenic plan which cuts down severely on carbohydrates and sugar whilst maintaining the input from animal fat – anathema to doctors a few years ago, but butter and animal fat are again becoming acceptable. I need to study it carefully to do it properly and I need to lose weight! It will also have to be goodbye to junk food and easy stuff to save kitchen time. Gluten is very harmful to some people. I don’t know what it’s doing to me, but I have never been a big bread eater, to the surprise of French people who can’t eat anything without the piece of bread in the left hand.

Above all, I am happy and proud to be addiction-free. I can spend days without any alcohol and not miss it. I saw the back of nicotine ten years ago, though I still enjoy the smell of very old cigarette smoke impregnated into curtains and furniture. I’ll accept what the doctor really judges to be necessary against a particular problem, but I have religiously avoided anti-depressants and tranquillizers. They might bring relief, but they have side effects, and some anti-depressants can be very dangerous for some people. I won’t touch them, but I do need to learn to relax and be quiet when the black dog gets too near or I start panicking. I have written already about addictions and given my views on Damian Thompson’s writings, especially The Fix. The subject is controversial between the medical profession and such points of view. Read it critically. If we have addictions, it is absolutely essential to get rid of them – go to the doctor and get help. That’s what I did to kick cigarettes.

Home: I have discovered that I need a home within a home. I will have to work this out carefully with my wife, but I’m sure that she will find out that she needs as much. The idea of the nest is a part of stabilitas loci, the Benedictine and Oratorian concept of finding peace and grace in the place where we belong. Many things need to be worked out, and the real work has yet to begin. It’s just holding at present and we are nice to each other and quiet. My home within my home will be the attic room where I am now writing on a temporary table and sitting on my bed. With the box bed, I’ll have more room for my bookshelves, archive spaces and my desk – but it has to wait for the moment. The timing is not yet right. Home is very important to any of us.

Religion and spirituality: Many of us need a really good overhaul. Many of my internet contacts are quite uptight about things like the “one true church” and which bishops are letting go on moral standards and orthodox doctrine. I find many of the polemics around Pope Francis, from both sides, quite toxic – not unlike the American presidential election and the upcoming Inauguration.

My own journey has brought me out of some of the more rigid certitudes of my RC traditionalist days, without forgetting that there are limits of compatibility with Continuing Anglicanism. My approach is contemplative rather than political, involving polemics over moral teaching, apologetics and doctrine. I relate well to the ACC because we are a small Church and we resist any temptation to shout each other down. It might have happened in the past, but I am very attached to my Bishop and fellow clergy. I have found a place I would never find in Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy, or in the Church of England for that matter. Like our home where we live and sleep, I think it is essential to have our spiritual home. I am not a Franciscan, even though I admire those who are called to that way of life – which was recommended by Christ himself.

Sometimes, we need to give the Church a gentle push-away (not too far) so that we can catch up with our own spiritual longing. We mustn’t be too intense about those either, whether it’s best to go with one Church Father or another or use this or that method or prayer. Stick to simple things, and above all what is quiet, private and sincere – nothing ostentatious. You can use a rosary or prayer rope, but you don’t have to. We have to be free and detached from the idea that only such or such a thing will “save the world”. I have never had time for Marian apparitions that some people go head over heels about. That’s not to say that I disbelieve them in their essential apocalyptic or prophetic messages, but we need to be free and enlightened, not imprisoned in systems.

Get outdoors: It’s not so easy just now in January in the freezing cold, but if we can’t sail, we can walk or get the bicycle out. Most aspies hate competitive sports like football or running, but we can find things we like doing to be outdoors and in communion with nature. I have never had anxiety problems when sailing! That is unless I was under pressure from strong wind and a heavy sea that provide a challenge. But that is a different kind of concern. Hobbies are also great – making things, doing the garden, getting some long overdue maintenance work done. That also gets us outdoors.

Be yourself: This is something I appreciated from Quentin Crisp’s The Naked Civil Servant. There are things I could not stand about that man, but he had as much right to be his effeminate self as I have to have long hair. For all his wild eccentricity and outrageous high-camp, his message was “be yourself” whatever persecution that brings you from convention, society and other people – just as long as you are not hurting anyone else.

If our eccentricities are our real selves, then we need them. But be warned that society will always find fault. We are challenging the Orwellian totalitarian dystopia where everyone has to be controlled and all come out of the same mould like products in a factory. A lot of psychiatry is in this perspective, seeking to make us all normal through the use of drugs and the assumption that the problem is a chemical imbalance in the brain, since we have no souls (so they believe in their crass materialism). People take far too many drugs and get addicted to them, and some can even cause suicidal thoughts. Sometimes, medication is really necessary, but perhaps only in hospital coupled with good surveillance and care.

Education of children is another problem, and I am unqualified to write about it. I have read about children being made to do everything corporately, not individually. That sounds really unhealthy to me. I wrote about corporate management some time ago – don’t get me started!

Are big things happening to humanity? It’s too difficult to tell. I suspected there were big changes in politics and a reaction against the toxic system of the global elites. Trump doesn’t look good to me, but he seems independent in his manifesto and a great improvement over Obama and the Bush dynasty. I’m not an American, but America affects the rest of us in the world. Their atomic bombs would kill us as much as the Russians! Perhaps we should all die – but is that what we really want?

Perhaps, as the New Age people say, some of us find enlightenment in our differences from the mainstream. Some of us seem to be called to be channels or shamans, wisdom from great suffering and testing, from pain and an initiation involving death and rebirth like our Baptism. We need to set the example, and for the first time, a genetic anomaly becomes something highly compatible with the priesthood and contemplative life, against vocations directors and seminary rectors seeking complete neurotypicality and conformity in their selection criteria. Priests can be Christian shamans as well as dynamic and charismatic community leaders. That idea needs to develop.

I don’t have any grandiose ideas. Don’t come to me to have your palm read or fortune told. I might have a talk with you and have an impression, but it’s more likely to be wrong than anything else! People with special gifts often pay for them very dearly. I’m better at writing than being face to face, except with people I know and trust like my family, my Bishop and my friends. This is where my pastoral ministry as a priest is. If anyone asks me to go and visit a sick or housebound soul, I will go at the drop of a hat with the Holy Oils and the Blessed Sacrament. But it just doesn’t happen. If someone asks me questions about faith and religion, I’ll answer as best as I can, respecting their freedom – but it just doesn’t happen here. But it does on the blog and in some of my e-mails.

I would like to hope that the world is being enlightened rather than darkened, and that knowledge (γνῶσις) will bring man back to God and his true self. This is the purpose of my blog, whether I talk about liturgy, sailing or these profound transformations I live through. I give conventional society a kick in the teeth, and it doesn’t like it one little bit! That looks and sounds very 1960’s, but it is as essential as when Oscar Wilde dared to defy Victorian respectability and hypocrisy, even if he was a fool to trust untrustworthy persons. Aren’t we all?

If we are ourselves, then we can examine and analyse advice from others to correct and improve our faulty judgement. I’ll be a better priest for it and a better human soul.

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Intimations of Aspiedom

I have been hesitating about writing another posting on Aspergers Syndrome (high functioning autism). What I have already written has attracted different reactions. One has been someone who seemed to be sick and tired of the subject and that all that was wrong with him was the rest of the world. Perhaps I am being unjust and oversimplifying, but I have had to decide whether this is my blog or his. The anonymity and mechanical nature of the internet make it possible to create whether ego image you want. I could be a pope or a cardinal or a king or a company director. The trouble is that none of those descriptions is true of me.

Should I stop being “self-referencing” and hide my identity and being? Just talk about other people and things outside myself. What do I know about the Great Wall of China or the city of Los Angeles? I have nothing to say about either because they are outside my experience (unless I read books about them and look at photos). I think that attempts at writing about things that have absolutely nothing to do with my personal experience would sound hollow and lack interest. Finally, I don’t care if some think I am selfish or odd. It’s not very nice to be put into the category of “unacceptable”, but some will label us so whatever we say or don’t say. Just a day ago, I learned that I was “stuffy”, perhaps because I am English! Oh gee! We English also have stereotypes about gun-slinging American galoots in the saloon with John Wayne or Clint Eastwood wearing the Sheriff’s star to clean up the town – or whatever else we see in American movies. I have been to the USA four times, so these steroetypes are not a part of my belief system.

My week in England has been very important for me. To begin with, I spent the weekend with the dear friend who had me discover Keble’s parish and grave in Hampshire, and with whom I talked about my marriage difficulties. That weekend was followed by a visit to my father who lives up north, and spent many hours talking with him and my two sisters who have an immense amount of experience in nursing, teaching mentally handicapped children, counselling and social community work. We have many talents in our family, and I was extremely humbled by their lucidity about their brother who never seemed to fit in anywhere. The task of breaking their suspicion to me was eliminated by my coming out with it myself – Aspergers Syndrome. I have not as yet received a diagnosis because I am on a long waiting list with the autism centre attached to the main hospital of Rouen, and I just have to wait my turn patiently.

Going by my notes, I began to research this thing about a year ago, after having read about some people’s experiences and how they rang a familiar note. I looked it up on the internet and found some online tests. I did four of them, trying as best as possible to give honest answers to get an honest a posteriori result. They all come out positive, though mildly because I have good physical coordination, spatial perception and have less of the sensory issues some have. My difficulties all lay in my social awkwardness and anxiety when faced with an overbearing situation. As I read more, I began to see myself like in a mirror. It answered my old childhood questions, because I came from a stable family background with loving and caring parents. I was unable to identify with any psychological issue or “classical” mental illness. If I was not crazy, then I had to be morally wrong, selfish, unconcerned about other people, hardly Christian dispositions! The contradiction tormented me for years, through my studies, seminary and the hard positions expressed by some of the priests with whom I have come into contact.

As far as I have been able to understand, it isn’t a disease or a psychological neurosis. It is a genetic difference in the brain that makes some of the neurons different in some way. There is no cure, all we can do is use the intellect to compensate for misleading emotions, in the way a blind man learns to use his ears to tune pianos to earn his living. It isn’t anyone’s fault, not mine, not that of my parents, teachers or anyone. For some reason, this is how God made me for his mysterious purpose.

There is still work to do: get the diagnosis, see a psychiatrist recommended by the autism centre, seek out the right kind of counselling to help my wife find out who she married and “get used to it”. I seem already to have a diagnosis, since it can’t be anything else, but something “official” can be useful in many ways. It also gives a rigid label that society tends to demand, that leaves little consideration for a human person. It is a double-edged sword. It has to faced that this is an anomaly, something out of the ordinary, and something we have to accept and come to terms with. We can go through our life in denial and cognitive dissonance, or we can put the pieces together and accept the truth.

What is the experience like? It is obviously different from that of most human beings. An answer is only possible in terms of comparison, but I don’t have the experience of being neurotypical, any more than being a woman or Chinese. What is it like to be me? What is it like to be another person? Every day, I see humans of different races and languages, elderly folk and children, ordinary people and occasionally the owner of a château or a large business. I can’t begin to imagine their experience, though they and I are all human beings. In the same way, all they have to go on with me is what they see and observe of my behaviour.

Some people are born with disabilities, and they learn what they can and can’t do as they grow up. Others suffer accidents and become disabled, so they know what it was like to walk, and be confined to a wheelchair. The Asperger’s person grows up being simply himself. I found other people as hard to understand as they have found me difficult to comprehend. I often think how fortunate I am to be in reasonable to good health, able to go sailing, say Mass in a normal way, be able to drive a car and all the things able-bodied people can do. I have often had a profound sense of alienation from this world, a sentiment that prevailed with the old Gnostics and is still present in the Christian Scriptures and Tradition. I was marked by the saying of Fr Gabriel in The Mission as he said “If love has no place in the world, I do not want to be a part of it”. How many times do we repeat the words in the Mass and the Office – despicere terram et amare coelestia?

I have found many spiritual notions in science, especially quantum physics and this branch of medicine. There are many more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy, to quote Shakespeare loosely.

In my life before tying the knot with my wife, there was always a workaround. At seminary, I went to chapel, refectory, some of the classes and other corporate activities, but a part of the discipline was a partial “monastic” silence. This made me awkward and relieved at the same time. It made community life more tolerable, and most conversations during recreation were more profound and interesting than small talk. I was able to spend good parts of the day alone in my room, at the organ or smoking a cigarette in what was dubbed La Via Nicotina, since smoking was not allowed in the seminary building (rightly so). Marriage brought me a life without bolt holes or in which bolt holes became rare, for example going to England on Church business or to a sailing gathering. A wife can accept the limitations or attempt to construct an ideal to which the reality has to conform by changing to her expectations. I have done some very painful “work” this week with my family, but the job is far from finished. I have had the “retreat of my life” but everything remains to be resolved with the help of the right people.

Aspies (not a nice name, because it makes me think of snakes and stinging nettles) experience life in different ways. Like this example, many words have their normal conventional meanings, then some give me “impressions” that have nothing to do with their use as a part of the English language. I don’t have the same sensory problems, though I can smell things other people can’t detect. I must be like a dog! Woof! woof! I enjoy good food. My ears are sensitive and I have more or less perfect pitch. I do a good job of tuning an organ. I love and live with music following the rules of harmony, counterpoint and rhythm. Don’t ask me to like the modern atonal crap or oof-ta-oof-ta-oof-ta! I have good sailor’s eyes and wear glasses only for reading. I have sensitive skin and I have my preferences for soft clothing and bedding – and I appreciate my old silk curtain in bed. However, I can easily be overwhelmed by groups of people or individuals who stress me and demand things like competition, team work and multi-tasking. My old school reports often mentioned my tendency to “switch off” and retreat into my little world of the imagination.

It is easy to get into an “us and them” mentality like the LGBT scene or militant feminism, a kind a politically correct taboo on discrimination. I know that this kind of thing makes the majority blow back against the minority, so that the “oppressed” become even more so. Hitler was putting a lot of people in gas chambers, not only Jewish people. It could happen again! God forbid, but it is possible. We have sometimes to be very careful with people and play the game, even if it is acting and is wearing us out with exhaustion.

One thing self-knowledge does, a professional diagnosis even more, is to bring those who matter to us to understand what is going on. Unacceptable aloofness and tactlessness become things we can’t help or occasions to be damned careful what we say and when. Words mean different things to different people. As a linguist (translator) I understand words more literally than analogically. I look for the Greek, Latin, French or Anglo-Saxon etymology and the original meaning. But, meanings do change as do conventions. It isn’t rocket science, but it isn’t intuitive for aspies either. We have to work it all out and the process is often slow. It is also a temptation to use this thing as an excuse for moral failings, but we are usually honest, too honest – and have the faculty of self-criticism of our sins of omission and commission.

In my own life, it is quite unnerving to find myself on this journey at 57 years of age, the age of many young grandfathers and well-established people. Karol Wojtyla was only one year older than I when he became Pope! All my life, I have had to take advice from family, friends, teachers, priests, just about everyone about living in society, doing and saying the right things. I just couldn’t feel it intuitively, so had to use my reason. It is like not being able to rely on your reflexes when in a dangerous situation on the road, because the rational faculties are too slow.

I could keep quiet about all this, and write a blog that would no longer be me – or I can use my blog as part of the means of coming to terms with reality and learning to live with it better. I have every reason to believe that my wife will learn to identify and respect her real husband. It isn’t going to be easy for her if we are to stay together as a Christian marriage should, in love and fidelity in accordance with our vows and promises. Of course it’s a label, and that means different things to different people. The difference is that I have nothing to lose and nothing to hide, even if I am “stuffy” and “self-referenced” (please excuse my waspish humour which usually falls flat in company). For the information of some, I cannot think of anything more dull and boring than paying exorbitant membership fees to go into a large Georgian building in London, sit in an armchair, read a newspaper and make grunting noises! I might be odd, but stuffy I am not!

Where is it all going? Many of us can adapt and play the game when we have to, and have a well-defined private life. It is another experience of life, but one that is so subtle that most people miss it altogether. Perhaps it is a gift rather than a disability. Self-knowledge will certainly bring me the ability and motivation to work, work hard and transcend my difficulties with the sublimity of which an individual human being is capable. That is one advantage of keeping away from playing silly role games and small talk. We see things too straight, and it’s even worse being a descendent of a solid Yorkshire family!

Don’t feel sorry for me! That’s the worst thing in the world. Some of you readers might be aware of similar things in yourselves – some but not all, often what makes us interested in old liturgies and academia. It isn’t relevant to most people, but that doesn’t matter. It’s important to those of us who really go into things and seek to get to the bottom of them. I do believe that God put aspies here for a reason, to bring good, love, compassion and criticism of the absurd as has always been the vocation of the Fool for Christ in the western and eastern traditions alike.

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Fifth Anniversary

fifth-birthdayIt just occurred to me that this blog is celebrating its fifth birthday. The first post Invitation was sent in on 17th January 2012 at a time when I was still running the English Catholic blog from which I desperately needed a break.

I had intended a more academic and liturgical angle, inviting guest authors or associates as I had on the English Catholic or before then as a contributor to The Anglo-Catholic. The blog gradually wandered from a purely liturgical theme to the idea of New Goliards, inspired by some of the odd wandering souls of the Middle Ages who were not always very respectful to the established Church or its clergy. This theme has remained together with my openness to all my guests who come in good will and sympathise with my unconventional approach to everything. The way God made me seems to have disposed me to rejecting much of the game-playing of society and small talk in order to be able to devote myself better to some way of life above this material and uncaring world. I write through my own experience, no one else’s. That is threatening to some, refreshing to others – take your pick.

I used to be something of a star in those heady days of Archbishop Hepworth’s tailor-made narratives about the future Ordinariate to each and every bishop and priest of his Church and from elsewhere. I wrote on The Anglo-Catholic, and was invited to talk to French traditionalist radio broadcasting stations and conferences in Versailles. Those days are over and I am left in peace as someone who doesn’t matter. I give my thoughts to those who appreciate them and live my life carrying my cross and being a very bad Christian.

Keep the lines of communication going. Many have given up, perhaps because their superiors told them to shut up and be Churches of Silence. Perhaps they were demolished by the trolls and the negative vibes coming over the ether, fibre-optics and wires. Perhaps they expected to be famous. I am far from being the oldest blogger around. There is John Beeler, my fellow “aspie” who loves classic cars and is finding his way around Catholic Christianity. Fr Hunwicke has been around for a long time since his Anglican days and there are many others. Some are Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans or living out in the sticks and doing their best to keep a life of prayer going with a more or less monastic ideal. Fr David Chislett, an Australian priest in the Church of England (the Forward in Faith part) runs Streams of the River, and has some lovely spiritual reflections.

I have discovered blogging as a form of priestly ministry which involves at least teaching and offering spiritual counsel when appropriate and asked for. Some of us bloggers try to usher in a new paradigm of Christianity in those places where the institutional Church has failed. The promise of Christ clearly applied to the Church as a sacramental body gathered by the Mystery of Christ, not necessarily to diocesan bureaucracies or crumbling and empty parish churches. Evangelism is not cheap advertising or gimmicks from extroverts, but something much deeper conveyed through spiritual intuition, profound words, knowledge of self and others. It is the preserve of those who have suffered. The Church of the future may well be very invisible, lived and shared in little “cells”, groups or individual persons armed with little more than a traditional monastic rule and a breviary or prayer book. Sometimes a priest can get out there and say Mass and give the Sacraments to those who draw near in faith and love. Much of the time, communion will be spiritual and over huge distances.

I’ll do my best to carry on and offer something fresh and different. I’ll need your prayers, and greatly appreciate the more tender-hearted of my readers and guests.

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