today i am thinking about

September 30, 2012


Thirst for power really is at the root of so much of what is profoundly wrong with us. We want to control everything, and history seems to suggest that we will do whatever it takes to wrestle power from others.

Every day in the prison I watch men destroy themselves and the lives of their peers and loved ones in the pursuit of power. Gaining a foothold becomes particularly important when you have been rendered powerless in the ordinary sense. Thus, the more insecure we are, the more we seek power. Men ritually cut off contact entirely with partners and children, to send the message that they are not willing to be manipulated by the dangling carrot of potential visitation rights, as long as the mother is steering the ship. Others will only attend group events if they can direct the proceedings. And nowhere else have I seen gossip and lies multiply at such rapid-fire speed (I was even at the centre of a pretty funny – and entirely fabricated – rumour myself), so that even reality itself becomes subject to the manipulation and control of certain inmates. Today I had a long conversation with a troubled chap who was attacked recently by another inmate, about his agony over how to respond. His impulse is revenge. His impulse is to save face, and more importantly, to find a response that will ward off future attacks. But in his core he is drawn to forgive, but is frightened of the consequences. Because forgiveness is to give up power and pay the cost yourself.

One the one hand, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to others to assert and protect our dignity – each other’s dignity. But how to do so without grasping at power and control – the desire to be top dog, the desire to be seen to be strong, unflappable, unperturbed? Even the desire to be cool (aren’t we sad?). What does this dignity look like?

Being a Christian, if I can be reductionist here, seems to me at this point to be largely about surrendering power. Laying aside reputation. Laying aside approval from others. Laying aside the (sometimes overwhelming) urge to put others ‘in their place’. Laying aside war and revenge and violence. Laying aside the need to be seen to be right, coherent, important, successful, attractive, credible. Laying aside the self.

This only becomes possible when we are no longer insecure, no longer self-loathing, no longer afraid. And thus there is this dichotomy at play, wherein we discover our deepest humanity at the points of deepest vulnerability and surrender. We find peace within ourselves when we give up these selfsame selves. I believe it was some sandle-wearing hippy who said that whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life, will find it. And it seems he wasn’t above that himself, either.

Oh to communicate this to my own heart, and to all the hearts broken by the need for power! What if we just…let go?




is it safe to come out now? and thoughts on communion

September 15, 2012

Hello crunchy children! I hope we’ve all recovered from my previous post and can carry on as though nothing has happened, simply squeezing all of our collective rage into a bitter little ball to be released at an appropriate time, like that day I hit the referee with a whiskey bottle. Remember that day?

It is a grey Saturday in my town and I am in my winter pyjamas eating red velvet cupcakes and drinking tea at the kitchen table and recovering from a challenging, busy and somehow still-beautiful week. Free Saturdays always fill me with this unbridled sense of possibility. Not for the day, but for the world. It’s like, suddenly, anything could happen. And it could be really good. It’s a great feeling.

I was lying in bed this morning listening to David McRory’s All Time Greats show on the wonderful Dublin City fm and David had a guest. I don’t know who she was: I tuned in too late. Her name, though, was Annmarie. I got the impression that she was an Irish musician, who was maybe in her early sixties. Annmarie was sharing some of her favourite pieces of music, and related anecdotes. She spoke of being a music student in Dublin in the sixties and buying poor-people’s tickets with her friend to an upcoming concert due to be given by the legendary British mezzo-soprano, Janet Baker, in the RDS, and the utter excitement that preceded the show. She recounted going to the Golden Spoon in Grafton Street with her friend the evening before the concert, for a cup of coffee, with piles of sheet music on the table between them, brimming with anticipation at the prospect of seeing one of their idols live in person. As they gushed, an elegant woman and her husband stepped into the restaurant and walked past them. Certain that it was Janet Baker and her husband, Annmarie nervously got up and approached them. She said, “Mrs. Baker, I am so looking forward to seeing you in concert tomorrow night.” Janet, taken by surprise, and wearing a large fur hat and dark glasses replied, “How on earth did you recognise me?” Annmarie simply replied, “I just wanted to welcome you to Dublin.” Janet and her husband were very touched and invited the young women to visit them after the performance the following evening.

At the end of a spectacular concert, during the encore, Janet Baker said to the listening crowd, “Last night I experienced one of the most wonderful things that has ever happened to me. A young woman took the time to approach me and welcome me to Dublin. She is here this evening. Annmarie, I dedicate this last song of the evening to you.”

At this point in the story, tears were pouring down my face, and I heard David McRory say softly, “Oh Annmarie.”

And I had a moment of worship in my heart, because I thought yes. That is communion. A moment of stepping out, making welcome, receiving warmth, and responding in grace. That is communion. Come in, come in, come in.