On Monday afternoon, I will be meeting up with the Jesuit Provincial, whom I happen to know personally, from my CLC days in Johannesburg, when I was the newly appointed regional co-ordinator for Johannesburg, and he was our newly appointed contact person for the J’s, based in Cape Town.
This is a strictly personal interview I’ve been wanting to set up for the past year (about personal spiritual direction and filling a gap in my life without the CLC), but I’ve stalled on doing so up to now. The current fuss, and also some possible CLC developments in my local parish, pushed me off my butt, to finally fix this meeting.
I will have a great deal to talk about, and not enough time. To give him some advance warning of what’s bothering me, I wrote him a preparatory email. As I’m pretty lazy, and don’t like to waste anything I’ve written, I thought it could be helpful to share what I wrote, with my readers. It offers a fairly reasonable account of my current state of mind.
Some information, about me. I’m not going to go into background in any detail, as some of it you already know, and more is freely available on-line. If you want or need more, just ask.
Here are the bare bones of absolutely essential background, followed by observations on my current need.
The core take aways I got out of my 10 years or so with CLC, were a strong commitment to the importance of trust and surrender, to discernment of mission (and continuing discernment in all things in daily life), and being attentive to the voice of the Spirit, speaking deep in our hearts (and of course, much more – but those are key, right now). In working through the concept of mission, one of the books we went through, by some American brothers, spoke of finding and opening our “sealed orders”.
Before leaving SA, I had the most astonishing retreat experience. Discussion thereafter with my retreat director, later with Mike Lewis, deeply colour my response to events since my arrival in the UK. This has left me with a (mostly) unshakeable conviction that these have helped me to find, open, and respond to, my own personal sealed orders: to do as much as I can to promote ministry to LGBT Catholics (and other Christians). This I have come to do through writing at my personal blog, by extensive involvement in the Soho Masses, and wherever else I see a role, and increasingly in my own local parish, and through the Call to Action initiative, in the wider A&B diocese.These activities, and the reading and thinking/discussions that support them, probably occupy the equivalent in time and energy of many full-time jobs, (or even more, as its 7 days a week, with no holiday time).
However, its effectively unpaid – or even negatively paid, as I have some direct and indirect expenses, in travel,, books and computer costs. I have a trickle of income from advertising, Amazon sales commission, and the occasional donation – but even in total, these do not cover costs. As I am partnered, with no need to pay rent or mortgage, and no longer have dependent children to provide for, I do not need a large income, but I do need some. To cover that, I work part-time at two low-grade jobs: six nights a week (usually) I deliver pizza, at less than the minimum wage. When exam times come around, I get to do exam invigilation at Surrey University, so between them I get by.
BUT, as result of my earlier disastrous career crash, and some nasty accumulated debt, my financial position overall is extremely precarious – especially in the longer term.
I am also severely short of any personal time for prayer or R & R, and none at all for serious “entertainment”, or even decent clothing.
There are also some difficulties in my relationship with my partner: difficulties which should be minor, easily resolved by just sitting down and talking – but I’m pretty sure he has Asbergeer’s, and “just sitting down and talking” about us, is just what he cannot do. It also doesn’t help that he’s high church Anglican, and positively hostile to Catholicism and the Vatican, or that with his personal background, he’s uncomfortable with being as fully out and open about sexuality as I am – and even more uncomfortable about activism, so that I can’t talk seriously to him about my work, either. Between pounding away at my laptop most days, and he at his PC, and me being out most evenings, either working, or at Soho Masses, we don’t get too much quality time together, either.
So, I find myself with a lifestyle which is frankly bizarre and unsustainable. But, convinced (most of the time) that I am simply following through on those sealed orders, I blithely carry on. To sustain me, I have that good old trust and surrender. I’m like the bumble bee.
Do you know about the bumble bee? It’s said to be aerodynamically impossible for the bumble bee to fly – too heavy, with wings too small. Fortunately for it, the bee doesn’t know that, so it just flies, anyway.
That’s me, the bumble bee.
Or perhaps Mother Theresa, who is reputed to have brushed aside complaints that there was no money for her ambitious building plans, with “The Lord will provide”.
David Birchall said much the same to me, in Calpe. “When you’re doing the right thing, money usually looks after itself”. And so I’ve found. But its still a heck of a precarious way to plan a pension, when I’ve not been here long enough to qualify for a full state one.
And so, while I continue to push ahead, convinced that I have some kind of hot-line to the Holy Spirit to guide and protect me, sometimes I’ve a nagging little voice that says I’m fooling myself. Perhaps its all spiritual arrogance of the highest order. Perhaps (only remotely possible) I really am possessed by demons (of a “particularly perverse kind”) leading me astray, putting my site under Satanic influence, as some people allege (yes, I kid you not). There are people out there who have asked on-line for Vincent Nichols to call in the exorcists, to bring me to order.
or, more realistically – perhaps this is all just an elaborate escapist strategy, designed to evade facing up to the very real horrors and responsibilities of my own life.
I need to step back from time to time, and ask in all seriousness – “but what if I’m wrong?”
And even if I’m right, even if, with the Lord’s remarkable sense of humour and inexplicable judgement, he really has singled me out for what I am firmly convinced is a seriously important and valuable task – what then? How am I to juggle responsibilities, balance all the competing demands on my energies, and still meet responsibilities to my families (all of them), and to creditors – and to myself?
AND now, deal with the new responsibilities around Farm Street, and Haslemere CLC – and my new grandson, expected to announce his arrival any day now.
(and just possibly, squeeze in a little time alone with the Lord, whom I’ve sorely neglected, since that remarkable retreat when he quite directly grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, and gave me a right talking to).
Which sometimes leaves me feeling a total fraud. I’m constantly on about discernment, and the importance of growth in prayer, and of Ignatian spirituality: but without the CLC group to keep me on the straight and narrow, and hold me to account for my life – I very rarely actually practice any Ignatian spirituality, or formal prayer of any kind.
But then, from another perspective, my whole life has become a form of prayer.
That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.
And now, no more to say, except “Help, please”