I once heard someone tell me that you should “grow where you’re planted”. Those words have never truly left me. When I take a closer look at myself, my home, my family, my neighbourhood, I am filled with a deeper sense of stillness. The roots I have planted here run very deep. They are an invitation for me to grow, not to move. The following passage from John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress seems very apt:
Excerpts on the Slough of Despond and Giant Despair
“Now I saw in my dream, that just as they had ended this talk, they drew nigh to a very miry slough that was in the midst of the plain: and they being heedless, did both fall suddenly into the bog. The name of the slough was Despond. Here, therefore, they wallowed for a time, being grievously bedaubed with the dirt; and Christian, because of the burden that was on his back, began to sink in the mire.
PLIABLE: Then said Pliable, Ah, neighbor Christian, where are you now?
CHRISTIAN: Truly, said Christian, I do not know.
PLIABLE: At this Pliable began to be offended, and angrily said to his fellow, Is this the happiness you have told me all this while of? If we have such ill speed at our first setting out, what may we expect between this and our journey’s end? May I get out again with my life, you shall possess the brave country alone for me. And with that he gave a desperate struggle or two, and got out of the mire on that side of the slough which was next to his own house: so away he went, and Christian saw him no more.
Wherefore Christian was left to tumble in the Slough of Despond alone; but still he endeavored to struggle to that side of the slough that was farthest from his own house, and next to the wicket-gate; the which he did, but could not get out because of the burden that was upon his back: but I beheld in my dream, that a man came to him, whose name was Help, and asked him what he did there.
CHRISTIAN: Sir, said Christian, I was bid to go this way by a man called Evangelist, who directed me also to yonder gate, that I might escape the wrath to come. And as I was going thither, I fell in here.
HELP: But why did not you look for the steps?
CHRISTIAN: Fear followed me so hard that I fled the next way, and fell in.
HELP: Then, said he, Give me thine hand: so he gave him his hand, and he drew him out,Psalm 40:2, and he set him upon sound ground, and bid him go on his way.
Then I stepped to him that plucked him out, and said, “Sir, wherefore, since over this place is the way from the city of Destruction to yonder gate, is it, that this plat is not mended, that poor travellers might go thither with more security?” And he said unto me, “This miry slough is such a place as cannot be mended: it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore it is called the Slough of Despond; for still, as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there arise in his soul many fears and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place: and this is the reason of the badness of this ground.”
The road sign below is a pleasant reminder that the best way to find your way around Ireland is to…..well…err….ignore the road signs! Reminded me of something me mum once said which was based on her experience of growing up in rural north Donegal. And when I say rural, I mean rural. When a stranger asks you how to get from here to there, the response always being the same, wherever you are, whoever you are:
“Well sir/madam…you go straight down that road and that will take you wherever you want to get to.” Now this may sound funny, unhelpful or even spiritual depending on where you are coming from, or in this case, going to. But I can assure you dear reader; the directions were uttered with 100 per cent sincerity!
Anyone who can guess correctly where this particular signpost is situated wins a FREE compass and a 12 month subscription to ‘Unhelpful Irish erections daily’. Closing date to be announced so watch this space folks.
Online Confession #1
“Bless me Father for I have sinned. It’s a long time since my last confession and the first one on this here web site. I hope you don’t mind but I just couldn’t be arsed to go down to church.”
“Why haven’t you accepted my Friend request? Anyway, please carry on…”
“Oh yes; my confession. It’s a very grave matter altogether Father and one I fear may be beyond divine redemption. “
“I’m all ears.”
“Well Father, I have indulged gratuitously on a certain cartoon character since, well, when I was a mere whippersnapper. I’m sorry I haven’t mentioned this before but I’ve only just started to come to terms with this canine obsession, thanks to some therapy.”
“How was that?”
“What, the exorbitant cost of therapy, or the matter of my obsession?”
Pregnant pause in the confessional proceedings.
“Are you there Father? Father?”
“Did you get my friend request?” asks the slightly disgruntled confidant.
“I did Father.”
“Continue my son.”
“I love Scooby Doo. Actually.”
“Did you say Scooby Doo? That dopey but lovable sleuth from the 1970’s?”
“Yes I did sir. From back in the day.”
Sharp intake of breath.
“That’s going to cost you at least one Our Father and two Hail Mary’s”.
“Make that three Hail Mary’s. ”
“Where was I?”
“In the 1970’s.”
“Oh yes. Scooby. Well Father, it’s like this. It’s not like I love Scooby the way I love my children, or my family, or my beloved Luton Town Football Club, or X Factor, blogging, stuff like that..”
“…and the Church.”
“Of course Father. And the Holy Apostolic Church.”
“Ok, I’ve just downgraded your penance to One Our Father and two Hail Mary’s. Continue my son.”
“It’s nothing weird Father. I mean it’s not like this other blogger I met recently. She confessed to meeting a man on a blind date who enjoyed sleeping with his dog in the buff. Because that is just wrong Father, on so many levels.”
“Have you met my dog, Francisco?”
“Is that the Jack Russell Terrier Father? The one that once peed on Mrs Brady’s handbag.”
“We don’t talk about Mrs Brady. I’ll hear no mention of that woman’s name here. Not in this virtual confessional. Not in my parish!”
The atmosphere clears.
“Anyway, Francisco has now got his own Facebook page. He’s got more friends than me! Loads of muts from across the parish and some much further afield. Even His Holiness the Pope!”
“Jeyz!! Christ on a bike!!!”
“Blasphemy boy! You’re up to one Our Father and five Hail Mary’s. Careful now.”
“Where was I?”
“The serious matter of sleeping naked with dogs. Down with that sort of thing now.”
“Oh yes Father. But that was just to show how innocent my love was for Scooby.”
“Go on boy.” In a lightly patronising sort of way.
“No Father, it’s more than that. One of the great things about being a dad is you get to relive some of your childhood. And for me, one of the highlights of my school day was not just eating my friends unfinished lunches on the bus home, not just flirting with Tara (because I would be arrested if I tried to do that now) …but it was arriving home in time for the next episode. And you know what Father, I love seeing my children now huddled together on the sofa and gleefully watching Scooby Doo in the same way I used to. There’s something comforting about that. It’s like the meeting of generations sharing a common interest. Do you know what I mean Father.”
“Yes my son. That’s a surprisingly deep level of insight given the subject matter. G’wan now.”
“Sure, I know Scooby is not everyone’s mug of cappuccino with sprinkles on the top.”
“Mine’s a mug of PG tea. Which reminds me…..”
“Mrs Brady!!!!!! Can you put the fecking kettle on now.”
“Like I was saying Father. There were the ridiculously predictable plots, Fred’s infatuation for Daphne…not to mention Velma’s shocking lack of dress sense.”
“Don’t get me started.” Nodding in sympathy.
“And I guess if it were real life, there would be concerns about Shaggy’s unkempt appearance, his strange swagger. And some might say that Scooby sets a bad example to kids what with his overeating and all. I mean, Scooby snacks aren’t exactly very healthy. Some parents today might say that leads to obesity.”
“I think you might be taking it too seriously son. It’s a cartoon.”
“But you know Father. That’s exactly why I do love Scooby and his friends. It’s the knowledge and comfort of a happy ending at a time when the media pursue the unhappy endings with their half empty glasses in tow. And the whole paranoia around stranger danger. When you were growing up, a stranger was a friend you had not yet met. Things have changed Father.”
“You may be onto something there. I’m thinking one Our Father will do you.”
“But I’ll tell you something Father. I think it has helped me come to terms with those classic lines, like when the bad guy would say ‘And I would have done it too if it weren’t for those meddling kids.’ Or when Shaggy says ‘Yikes!’ when he spots a very strangely attired monster. Or when Daphne shrieks ‘Jeepies!’. And do you know what else gets inside you and kind of stays with you Father? It’s that light jolly music that accompanies the whole piece. I wish my life was as jolly and frivolous as that!”
“Every child needs a super hero. A super Scooby and a super mama and dadda. But who says that should end when you ‘grow up’? Who says, Father?”
“That’s surprisingly profound my son. But you now have kids of your own and I have my parish and my loyal friend, Francisco”.
“Mrs Brady!!!!! Is that tea ready yet?! I’m dying of thirst so I am!”
“Well I didn’t have that many super heroes as a kid. I didn’t really like to idolise anything or anyone too much. But as a parent, it’s good to have these positive references to your childhood. Especially when you look back and see how hard life may have been for those who loved you.”
“Have you been on match.com son?”
“Can’t say I have. Is that online dating Father?!”
“Well I recommend you get on there my son, a handsome fella like yourself with your beautiful daughters. What are you waiting for? Get out there and enjoy yourself!”
“Maybe you’re right Father. But where does that leave me with my penance?”
“I’ve been giving that some thought. After some careful consideration…and seeing how much you love children and animals, real and imaginary; I’m going to waive that Our Father. You know, I sometimes wonder if any of the original voice actors are still with us son. Or whether they passed away into obscurity, or perhaps, eventually, into paradise…into Scooby heaven. You know something? Even if there is no God, or no heaven, just those simple jolly thoughts put a smile on an old man’s face and a Shaggy style swagger in my step. God bless you my son. Go in Scooby peace.”
Father Ted and the Confessor
“In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen”
He shuts down the Parish portal.
And he logs on to Facebook.
Friend Request from Fr Ted – ACCEPTED.
6th October, 2013
A place in my heart,
Where common land marks the start.
The lone beech tree almost hidden,
Around it, tracks have been ridden.
The bank of trees standing nearby,
And dappled light from the summer sky.
From the roadside to the field,
A good many memories does this track yield.
My dog’s musings still echo.
As do picnics, walks and other assorted capers.
I can still walk lightly through the glade,
From the dawn of spring
through mid winter and evening shade.
22nd February 1998
I write this having undergone a considerable period of writers block and also having had some time to reflect upon the ongoing discernment process. The weekend at Worth North (15-16th March 2003) meant a return to my student stomping ground in sunny Wolverhamtpon. Amazingly, every retreat and pilgrimage I have ever gone on in my journey towards God has been accompanied by clear blue skies. Startling, given the fact that these have included visits to Ireland, Canada, France, Hungary as well as my native England. The weekend itself was loaded with significance. In addition, it was sandwiched mouth-wateringly between two EUFA Cup fixtures involving Liverpool and Glasgow Celtic, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Saint Patrick’s Day. Events that seemed to perfectly reflect my journey out of a large Irish family. As the Anderton household was full to brimming, I stayed with an old student friend in nearby Penn. Shortly after my arrival on Friday evening, myself, Leigh & Emma, plus Kayla (the dog) headed off to the local park for a stroll. At the park’s entrance, Kayla was set free to enjoy the evening sun amongst her friends. Now Kayla is of fine hunting pedigree. Strong race-like proportions and 7 ½ stone of pure muscle. Indeed, she would not have looked too out of place at Cheltenham! Kayla’s popularity has ensured that both Leigh & Emma have settled well into the local neighbourhood. As the evening progressed, dogs and owners started to emerge from all directions. Each of the characters seemed to play out some form of canine ritual. The most prominent character took the stage, in the wings of his owner, Ms X. In contrast to Kayla’s thoroughbred credentials, this dog was the scruffiest mutt imaginable. There were certainly no pretensions of grandeur. His name was…wait for it…Clive!? Not Bouncer, Muffin, Minxy or Flopsy (grand names is the dog’s world), but Clive. The resemblance between owner and dog was striking, both sporting wild and voluminous grey hair. They even shared a gregarious nature, though just stopping short of being on first-name terms. While Ms X gave us a detailed running commentary on the prevailing canine antics, it soon became clear that the human part in this ritual was secondary. Everything and everyone was in relation to the canine. I was no more than Kayla’s master’s friend. I was the man with no name. At this point, a reality-check kicked in of Anthony De Mello proportions. Words like bonkers sprang to mind. Poor old Saint Francis would have been turning in his grave. Mercifully, given the surreal nature of the proceedings, the spectacle was interrupted by one aloof owner and disinterested dog. Both of them managed to circumnavigate the crazy gang. They were bit–part players in this play, and I was a spectator. Eventually, the dogs ran out their legs. This was a blessing, as it seemed Ms X had small talk down to a fine art. We took the setting sun’s cue and hastened into the Wolverhampton sunset and back towards human society.
Saturday morning started soon enough, awoken by a bright spring sun. With time to spare before lunch at Worth North, the pooch posse re-assembled and converged on the park. Who appeared from nowhere but Clive and Ms X. They were joined by another dog called Linda and Mr X (Junior). The ritual duly commenced and dogs arrived from all directions. A stocky little black dog played fetch with Junior, or was it the other way round? Junior was the conductor of this unruly ensemble.
At this stage, I felt vicariously acquainted with half of Penn’s citizens, albeit through their respective dogs. It was one of those profound ‘Only in England’ moments. As time wore on, I developed a plausible conspiracy theory about Clive’s faction. I believed they were creatures of the park. They walked the neighbourhood only to create the pretence of normality amongst the dog-walking fraternity. My train of thought was now going like the proverbial clappers, faster and more efficient than GWR you might say. The next stop was the White House lawn in Washington DC. An image emerged of George W Bush and his trusty canine companion. Suddenly, the man that many have come to revile post Kyoto and 9/11 had a human face. Now GW Bush and I are a long way from being on backslapping terms, but the image prompted me to ponder the canine influence on human society. How often do dogs provide comfort to the sick, elderly and lonely? It reminded me of a quote I read somewhere recently. “To each dog, man is Napoleon, hence their eternal popularity”. However, we can also use dogs, coveting them to attract others. At the other extreme, they can become devices or barriers in the way people use cell phones, newspapers, books and computers to shield fear and insecurity. Devices that affect our capacity to form meaningful relationships, and ultimately, to reach intimacy.
So how does this comedy have any bearing on discernment within the Lay Community? Do we want our values to be God-centred, or dog-reversed? Do our four-legged friends have an inner life, surrounded by their kennel enclosure? A life that contrasts with their outer world, amongst their soul chums in the park. I wonder if their wilder cousins and ascendants retreat to the inner world. Is there a place under the stars where they can dream of suburban domestic bliss? Do their domestic cousins, by contrast, dream of freedom in a vast fertile wilderness? A place where each dog finds peace with their inner puppy. Where they can fulfil their dog-given potential. How I strive to be in Clive’s (not Wayne’s!) world. There is a certain darkness in this inner world, which can seduce you. The symptoms of which can lead to lethargy and introspection. My Celtic ascendants seemed to understand the contrast between these worlds very well. They become clearer in those beautiful places that enjoy the caress of pure blue skies. In places like Worth Abbey and Glendalough, these contrasts become manifest. The contrasts are acted out in each of our journeys, and are being played out dramatically during the Lay Community’s and my own discernment process.
Note: No animals or humans were hurt or offended during this production.
Part I – Darkness
On the little shimmering lake,
I met my demons,
Not by mistake.
An echo of shattering calm,
As fresh water caressed my palm.
Cold on my face,
But new light I embrace.
Along the seeker’s green road,
Emotional baggage I sought to offload.
Encircling a Celtic shrine,
Somehow drawn towards the divine.
Summoned by the mountains’ spirits
During a dream of early summer,
I recall its peak and vibrant colour.
In the valley of the light,
Dreams flow out of the night.
The bitter wind pierces me,
Leaving me cold and exposed.
The winter chill snakes through the hills,
Taking the edge off a visual thrill.
Descending through the valley,
I count the crosses I must carry.
Against nature’s brute force,
I struggle for my own inner source.
A fountain of well-being,
What my dreams are seeing?
An angel to fall out of the sky,
How that would catch my romantic eye.
Up to the cell of Saint Kevin,
Eyes lifted up to heaven.
In this peaceful place,
I felt the presence of God’s grace.
The oak circle draws energy in,
Casting out my pain and sin.
The black lake I visited before,
But with guardians
Who kept me safe and secure.
The blackness left me disturbed,
Imagined depths that were absurd.
But from the Saint’s glade,
The dream’s message was played.
And of this irrational fear,
I now embrace the lake
Like the babe I hold so dear.
On the dark side of the lake,
There was a warmth, a welcome break.
A green enclosure and a cavern bed
For a saint; made to measure.
How the volumnous waters descend
They effortlessly glide down
Every crevice and bend.
Ancient rocks alter the flow.
In winter sun, the crystal waters glow.
In the forest, soft soil lies underfoot,
Autumn colours decorate the route.
Rustic reds, bronze and brown,
Warm the face and disperse a cold frown.
Shades enriched by a moist orange sky,
Colouring the carpet where fallen leaves lie.
On this hallowed ground,
Celtic treasures can be found.
Under this sky,
I keep the dream in my mind’s eye.
In a simple visualisation,
I can add to this creation.
In the darkness of the womb,
My own growth was given room.
A watery existence, one can assume.
In this cavernous domain,
I was warmed not in vain.
But upon the first light ray,
Comes the cold light of day!
This moment of birth,
We sub-consciously carry.
Until we revisit
Our own special valley.
Through the wisdom, this poetry sends,
A deeper message soon transcends.
Part II – Retreat House
As the sun crept across the window,
A ray of gentle light streaked across my page.
As if to animate
The beast in my cage!
That same light hugged the mountains,
Just as water filled up fountains.
The colours of earth illuminated,
Just as my dream illustrated.
Part III – Monastic City
On the mountain slopes, a rich carnival of colour.
Green, purple, yellow, red, orange and brown.
The spectrum of seasons
Project on its daunting incline.
How I will cherish this sweet moment of mine.
To the round tower, lofting skyward
Half dressed in shadow.
Its upper body exposed.
As the sun’s rays sweep across the holy city,
Protecting the graves that many so pity.
Celtic souls rest in its looming shadow.
At peace with themselves.
But of some, their lives I poise to ponder.
A thirty month old infant,
Buried with her elderly mother.
Barely a harvest did that babe grow,
But amongst so many,
Her little soul radiates a magnificent glow.
Part IV – Light
The sun’s rays bring out the blue,
And positive thoughts
That have been too few.
Upon the fast-flowing waters,
An explosion of light.
Winter’s mist shines so bright.
As I ascend the forest,
The Goddess moves through its shadows.
The tree spirits cheerfully whisper
To their descendants in stone.
Including those that children have thrown.
I sit aghast, as light pours on water,
And as water travels down the valley.
Down the old mountain,
To a well,
Or perhaps through a fountain.
On the lower lake, blue meets green.
And the demons can now be seen!!
The elegant pines point majestically
Towards the blue sky.
A leafy green surface over which,
Birds only fly.
As I continue my ascent,
The forest’s light show
Luminates my lament.
Light trickles through,
Thoughts and colours imbue.
Back to the lower lake
And a rock for a perch.
Where I can admire
The ‘lady of the forest’, the silver birch.
A tree’s roots pierce the ground,
Like the veins of a wise old woman,
They hold a certain wisdom; profound.
Only when my energies flow,
Can my own spirit
Flourish and grow.
14th-16th November 1998.
Why does everyone want something now? Or yesterday? What is wrong with waiting? Have we forgotten how to wait? Have we no time for delayed gratification?
So where do they pass me? They pass me in their car. They pass me at work. They pass me in the street. They pass me in the supermarket. They pass me in conversation. They pass me in their thinking.
No time for strangers to become acquainted. No time for eye contact. No time to smile.
So why wait? Why take it easy? Well, you can sense more, see more, hear more, feel more, taste more, enjoy more. Why rush from start to finish when there is so much to experience along the way?
So enjoy the ride. Enjoy the journey. Take in the view, breathe in the air and feel your own existence. For destinations and objectives eventually yield to new journeys, new riches, new vistas, new people and renewal. Life is a journey to be enjoyed and lived to the full. We are not machines. We are not slaves to technology.
If we are reduced to goals and objectives, our humanity, compassion and vitality is lost. We are more than machines. We are more than disposable human resources. Let us enjoy who we are and in our own good time.
Time may wait for no man…but man must know the virtue of patience.
A stately father looms in my conscience,
As he earnestly toils the stricken land.
It yields at best, a life threatening harvest,
Barely strong enough to eat, lest trawl.
This evil blight casts a long shadow of death.
My pre-existence falters,
As he treads the narrow valley
Between life and death.
Empowered only by his faith,
His weak spirit gently lights up the land.
Spreading hope; and life.
Only the sinewy grass
Offers him a moment of strength.
The sun shines mercilessly on his weary back;
His prayers usher back the poison,
As it recedes toward its earthly core.
A woman beckons; and his pain sets forth.
And from these grass roots,
Generations have spawned.
A prayer of gratitude we owe this great man.
For although his tomb is grassed over,
‘Tis these grasses that rendered us life.
No more empty voices
Shall bellow and beg;
As we recall the grassy sprawl,
Written January, 1997.