This morning the sunrise was painted in pastels, with a crisp breeze and a receding tide, rivulets rippling along the beach to the sea and birds feasting on a harvest of shellfish. These fallow times of strolling at the start of each day have become the seedbed of my writing. Thoughts of the mind and moods of the heart drift like dandelions. Some barely find expression before they float away into silence and forgetfulness. Others settle long enough for me to cast a net of words around them and carry them home. Some emerge from the deep dark loam of the soul with an intensity too complex and mysterious to unravel. So today I decided I would write a few pensées, sowing seeds of ideas which won't all germinate and grow, but some might.
Attentiveness: These drifting and seemingly random thoughts and moods reverberate with whatever idea has currrently found space within me. A few days ago it was melancholy, today it's attentiveness from yesterday's blog. It occurs to me that only God can be attentive to everything all at once. For us mortal humans, to be attentive is to be finite, limited and selective. I'm reminded of William Blake's observation that to do good to another one must "do it in Minute Particulars; general Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer". Attentiveness is surely about minute particulars, and therefore it always entails the sacrifice of something. To attend to the miracle of a seashell catching the glow of the rising sun may be to miss the flock of birds tossing themselves up into the golden light. To gaze out at the restless ocean and attend to what it is saying is to miss the shimmer of the grass on the dunes and the sound of each blade caressing its neighbour.
Seashells: There are stretches of beach almost empty of shells, and others where they are so abundant that they crunch underfoot. Each shell is a beautiful memory of a life, food for the birds, empty of the creature that once inhabited it, turning its smile to the dawn and lending its luminous surfaces to the light. Sometimes attentiveness can hold in tension the particular and the universal, the inside of a seashell and the morning sky. It's attentiveness that allows us to see "a World in a Grain of Sand, And a Heaven in a Wild Flower". Clever bloke, that Blake.
Seabirds: They spiral over the dunes, playing in the wind, joy incarnate. Is playfulness the most neglected aspect of creation's loveliness? These birds are God's wisdom, "filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence". (Proverbs 8). I don't think those gulls are serving any evolutionary function when they call to one another and spread their wings to soar and spin and swoop in the currents of air. Christians used to know that each creature prays in its own way, and maybe the birds are telling us something about the nature of prayer.
Maternal life: Out of nowhere, it churns in my gut, rises up and sweeps away everything else - the dark grace of mothering. Maybe it's because this week I've had a Zoom conversation with US theologian Natalie Carnes about feminism, writing, birth and creativity. (I love the connections and encounters Zoom is bringing during this time of isolation). It occurs to me that I'd like to edit a book of creative writings on Blood by Catholic women. Maybe I'm thinking of blood because I watched an episode of I May Destroy You last night. Never before have I seen a man extricate a bloody tampon from a woman's body, let alone do it with such tenderness, or gently lift a clot of menstrual blood off the bed and marvel at its softness and its delicacy. When I was growing up, these natural bodily functions were shameful secrets to be hidden away, and oh the excruciating embarrassment if there were any leaks. There are many advantages to post-menopausal life.
Beginnings: There's something about each new day which scrubs us clean and sends us out to start anew. (Perhaps I feel like that because I've managed two days without wine, so I don't have to spend the first half hour swimming up through the fog of wishing I'd stopped one or two glasses sooner). A snatch of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poetry feathers through me. "I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day." I think of those for whom each new day is not an opportunity but a waking to loss and grief and fear and pain. I know what it is to feel the burden of the day like the rock of Sisyphus - something we must push up the mountain of time until evening, knowing that it will roll back down and almost crush us during our restless sleep.
Catholicism: I love that the Catholic tradition structures the year around beginnings and endings and limbos in between. Feasts and fasts, Lent and Advent, Easter and Christmas - vast lunar cycles spiralling through chronological time, weaving our lives into patterns and rhythms of being which shape eternity and give depth to the year. I roll through undifferentiated time thinking I should do better, but I roll on the prayers of those who are marking the rhythms, observing the seasons, carrying me along on the tides of their faith.
Nuns: Nuns on Twitter are a redeeming grace amidst the sometimes toxic atmosphere of Catholic social media. I love to think of these women - full of wit and humour, no doubt as clay-footed as the rest of us, but dancing through time with the lightness of being that comes from being devoted to that which the world regards as folly and madness. These prayer factories produce the fuel which fires the world with grace.
I'm back at the dunes and I haven't said my morning prayers. The names of my loved ones are rosary beads trickling through my soul, each one a bubble with a face and a name and an airy presence evoked at the start of the day. Each child that is born brings another world into being, so that the names never stop multiplying - friends, teenage lovers, lifelong partners, mothers and others in-law, grandchildren - each new name rekindling that dark grace of maternal life where love and sorrow, joy and fear, hope and regret, are forever intertwined. If we women were to write about maternal life as it really is, could the world bear our joy and our pain? I might yet edit that book, Blood.
This is what I listened to this morning on the beach.
It sounds like those tidal streams rippling down to the sea - or the ripple of blood with which life begins and ends.